books

So I am back, it’s quite late, and having taken a look at my mail I despair of being able to make any sense of it. I have, in other words, lost all track of current events, and will not be able to catch up tonight. There is of course a lot going on — stuff worth commenting on has happened in India, for example; the destruction of Gaza has escalated, if that’s possible; Iraq; I have received quite a few reports on events in Haiti in the days I was away; and more. I can’t cover any of that tonight.


So I am back, it’s quite late, and having taken a look at my mail I despair of being able to make any sense of it. I have, in other words, lost all track of current events, and will not be able to catch up tonight. There is of course a lot going on — stuff worth commenting on has happened in India, for example; the destruction of Gaza has escalated, if that’s possible; Iraq; I have received quite a few reports on events in Haiti in the days I was away; and more. I can’t cover any of that tonight.

But there is something I can do instead. I may not have been able to keep up with current events while away but I was able to do some reading. And I have recommendations. Two related books.

First, there is Gabriel Kolko’s ‘Anatomy of a War’. It is the story of the Vietnam War, with a very sympathetic and knowledgeable view of the Vietnamese perspective coupled with Kolko’s emphasis on the limits of American power. It is an extraordinary story, told in a very dry way. You get a sense of what it is possible for people to do. You come away with a sense of awe of what the Vietnamese people, and the Vietnamese communists, did. Supplementing it I read Marilyn Young’s ‘Vietnam Wars’, which is more of a history than an analysis the way Kolko’s piece is. Reading Young’s book is closer to reading an account of the Holocaust. The war against Vietnam was, after all, a holocaust — 2-5 million people killed, in every manner possible, and still dying of unexploded ordnance all over Indochina.

The related book is CLR James’s ‘The Black Jacobins’. This book is truly extraordinary — it is a history of the slave revolt in Haiti, told again by a very sympathetic revolutionary writer. James was writing in 1938, and if I met him today I would shake his hand all day. This book also fills you with awe, for Toussaint L’Ouverture, Dessalines, and the whole slave population. Their political sure-footedness, courage, military brilliance, and so on. Told by James, even their errors are understandable and admirable in a way.

These books are inspiring tales of extraordinary resistance to empire. They will, in addition to filling you with awe, fill you with hatred for imperialism. That’s to the good as well. I want to quote you from James:

“It is Toussaint’s supreme merit that while he saw European civilization as a valuable and necessary thing, and strove to lay its foundations among his people, he never had the illusion that it conferred any moral superiority. He knew French, British, Spanish imperialists for the insatiable gagsters that they were, that there is no oath too sacred for them to break, no crime, deception, treachery, cruelty, destruction of human life and property which they would not commit against those who could not defend themselves.” (pg. 220)

More tomorrow, and back to normal blogging.