Book Reviews: Military & Politics
Making the Future by Noam Chomsky
Read by Tracy in February 2012
Tracy recommends as a staggering look at the US's ability to ignore anything bad
The latest collection of articles (published between April 2007 and October 2011) by Noam Chomsky focuses on political commentaries based mainly in the U.S. Chomsky looks at articles surrounding the continuing decision by the US to secure regime change in Middle Eastern countries. As usual there is the division in the government agencies - some advisers want war at any cost regardless if it is based on a desire for a more democratic government or ultimately just access to the oil reserves. What baffles me is that any country would particularly want to embrace the same model of government as the Americans, hardly a shining example! The country has a huge debt, standard of living is falling and there is no money left for any major infrastructure repairs or building. What is interesting is that some surprising elements of the US government did not agree with the more militant actions required and argued that the outcomes may not be ultimately better? As usual these voices loose out to the more voracious but mindless ones and yet again the US is involved in an invasion which even now seems totally pointless (or am I amongst the minority, well me and Chomsky anyway). Strangely though, Chomsky seems to be anti-everyone from Bush, Clinton and Obama believing America continues on the path of imperialism and if we are to believe Chomsky they are the sole reason there is no peace on earth. Slightly radical, but not totally disagreeable. I did feel that the US definitely got a large share of the blame by Chomsky, who only rarely mentioned other governments. I disagree and believe a lot of western governments are just as guilty (including the UN); it is almost like a school yard fight with everyone egging each other on! Historically, the US are acting the same as Britain, Spain, Portugal and other empirical countries, who have all since declined in power substantially. Of course along the way we have forgotten about the countries that have been invaded and their ongoing internal wars that are continuously sponsored by richer countries, and for what purpose, usually resources. Chomsky argues that peace can be brokered if the US withdrew its forces, this may be slightly unrealistic due to the complete power vacuums that would be left, but definitely a startling point for diplomatic bargaining. If the money the US would save in reducing its military was instead used to aid countries to overcome domestic stability, I at least, would think it was better targeted. Chomsky is right in some startling moments of clarity - I sat there trying to think of a major conflict that the US has not been involved in and in hindsight started and the only one I could think of was Pakistan and India's tension over the Kashmir region (I could be wrong though). I do think that times are changing and after the Global Financial Crisis the US is starting to lose its shine and its power to impose its wishes on anyone and anything are diminishing - along with its bank balance. Currently US military spending can only continue as long as China funds the federal debt, now that sounds like more of an issue and hopefully some great books in the pipeline. With the election campaigns in full swing at the moment, I am staggered by the amounts of money required to literally buy voters, no wonder the US is in retreat and as one article alludes to in the article titled "America in decline," money shapes legislation in Congress.
Nor the Years Condemn by Justin Sheedy
Read by Scott and Tracy in January 2012
Scott recommends as a fictional yet historical account of WWII
This is the fictional story of Quinn (Defence Forces don't use first names often, so neither will I) who is in Australia whilst so many other young men of the time were overseas fighting in the latter half of WWII. Quinn is studying Law and playing rugby at university, but enlists with the Air Force and is eventually accepted. The reader didn't find Quinn the most likable character; on the contrary, at times he was hoping for Quinn to finally find the bullet with his name on it. Like so many other lead characters, such as Miss Marple, Detective Debra Morgan or anyone who lives in Midsommer Village, just about everyone our lead character meets eventually ends up dead (but I guess there was a war on and that happened often!) Never-the-less, we follow Quinn through his initial military training and flight training, eventually to the UK where he joins his first operational squadron. The Battle of Britain is long over and the war is now finally swinging the Allied favour. We watch Quinn as he moves his way through different operational squadrons and different aircraft; we watch him rise through the ranks (oxymoronically promoted for making mistakes). The detail of each of the stories is portrayed well enough, but this reader thought it lacked the required thrill factor; the missions were interesting enough, but not the edge-of-the-seat, white-knuckled tension anticipated of such a story.
Whereas the author failed to develop some of the excitement, he made up for this in his excellent technical detail and historical facts. Purists might be dismayed the author only (very accurately) lists some of the fighter aircraft performance data, but for the lay-person there is more than enough information. The historical accuracy is achieved, demonstrating the admirable effort the author put into his research. The author acknowledges instances where he digresses from the historical truth for the purposes of 'artistic licence'; something of which Hollywood and many other authors should take note!
The story moves along well enough to keep the reader interested in the missions of Quinn and his counterparts, with occasional sidetracks into his personal life, and a subterfuge plot in the latter half of the story leading to the eventual D-Day landings, none of which are too distracting. This book is recommended for those who like war stories without the Mills and Boon element, or those who like historically accurate fiction.
Tracy recommends if you are interested in war fiction.
The story starts in Sydney during 1939 and we are introduced to Daniel Quinn currently reading law at university and who spends his time wondering about the hot weather, rugby practice and the newly declared war on Australia. First impressions of Quinn lead you to believe he is one of those lucky souls where everything just falls at his feet. After the church service, Quinn is joined by his friend McCarthy who is on his way to enlist but unlike McCarthy, Quinn isn’t keen, however on further contemplation he finds himself interested in being a fighter pilot. Quinn isn’t confident at being selected but after the initial medical, where the questions involve his school and rugby (again), you know the inevitable outcome.
We then follow Quinn through his initial training and his trip to Britain where the war has taken a turn for the worst. Here the language that Sheedy uses becomes cringe worthy Australian – I don’t know many people who say “you’re a mongrel” unless you are Alf from Home and Away, this language is used throughout different social settings and the words streuth, bloody oath, wuckin furries and beudy really start to grate. As already anticipated Quinn quickly progresses through the different instructional courses. It is here that Sheedy uses his knowledge and explains, in detail, the different planes and their capabilities. Personally, I would have liked to know more about Quinn as a person, his family, his friends, and his life, there are a few random letters from his brother Matthew but everyone is different and the market for this book may be aimed towards those wanting the technical details. As Quinn progresses through the different courses you also start to realise that his nearest and dearest friends are doomed. Although personal attachment and its demise is a hard lesson for Quinn, it was harder for his friends. Eventually Quinn makes it to an operational squadron and continues to progress through the ranks but as he does so, his dream of returning to Australia to fight the Japanese changes and he elects to stay in Britain to fight the Germans.
There is some romance of Quinn. An initial romantic dalliance with WAAF Assistant Section Officer Victoria Haimes sees their relationship move at the speed of lightning and I felt the language she uses doesn’t seem to match someone from the English aristocracy. However, Victoria has long term plans for Quinn and it doesn’t involve marrying him whilst he is on operational duties, so she soon turns her attentions to making sure that Quinn is removed from harms’ way. Alas their relationship is cut short but this turn of events finally imparts on Quinn the anger and rage needed to take the next step as a fighter pilot. Quinn eventually meets WAAF Section Officer Jillian Brown and initially she uses her relationship to advance some of her intelligence work. They meet randomly at different events and their relationship progresses at a much more sedate pace. Eventually the inevitable happens and they fall in love – or do they?
There are a couple of storylines that I thought could have been explored in more depth i.e. Virginie Piquot and Mr Reiser. One of my pet hates is when using a name you should stick to it i.e. Quinn is known as Quinn, Daniel, Danny and it can be slightly confusing depending on the situation. In addition, over the radio you would be called by your first name) and also the ranking system within the defence force (flight lieutenant should not be called sir).
My complaints put aside, I did enjoy the book as a whole and note that there will be a sequel which would tie up some of the storylines so look forward to that.
The author very generously provided us with a copy of his book