Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Penny Press! Boots on the ground, and Germans!

The latest London Review of Books offers a few interesting items, most of them good and rant-worthy (and be honest! If you weren't enamored of my rants, would you really still BE here?)

Our first item is a positive review by James Wood of Edward St. Aubyn's new book "Mother's Milk."

The review is positive, but that need not detain us here: we at stevereads haven't yet read the book in question, and therefore none of YOU know whether or not it's any good. Once I read it, I'll tell you all what to think about it.

In the meantime, this review gives me the perfect opportunity to whole-heartedly recommend St. Aubyn's previous book, "Some Hope," which is indeed available in this country (I know, I know - thanks to the Interweb, everything's available everywhere ... nevertheless!).

"Some Hope" is marvellous, and its middle chapter, a truly harrowing fictional account of what it's like to be a drug addict, is outstanding. "Some Hope" is a strong, subtle, totally knowing book, not exactly the kind of thing you'd recommend to your Aunt Bertha, but still - it's well worth hunting up yourself, for a fictive experience you'll remember a long time (unless of course you're stoned when you read it)

Elsewhere, there's an omnibus review of entirely online sources, a first in my reading of proper literary journals. All the sources deal with the US invasion and occupation of Iraq and the pig's breakfast it's become, or was from the start.

A typical paragraph:

'Iraq has a Commission on Public Integrity, along with the Iraqi Board of Supreme Audit and inspector generals in the ministries, which is supposed to investigate corruption. Arrest warrants were issued last year for several former cabinet ministers. The defence minister Hazem Shaalan, accused of being party to corruption involving more than $1.3 billion, fled to London. He is now said to be in Iraqi Kurdistan. The transport minister Louay Hatim Sultan al-Aris disappeared. The electricity minister Abdul Muhsin Shalash is reportedly living in Jordan. There are signs that the efforts to prosecute these people are finally being stepped up. The labour minister Laila Abdul Latif at least went to court, though she was only convicted of a minor offence and given a suspended sentence. Another electricity minister, Aiham al-Sammarai, has now been convicted of corruption and embezzlement and sentenced to two years in prison. But he's also an American citizen so he isn't in an Iraqi jail."

Reading such accounts makes me sigh a heavy sigh for the days when military occupations - and let's be clear, that's exactly what the United States is conducting in Iraq, no matter what it tells itself - were conducted with a maximum of effeciency and a minimum of garden-variety futzing around.

Let's have a little clarity about what a military occupation is, shall we? I'll give you a small hint: it has nothing whatsoever to do with electricity ministers getting two-year jail sentences..

In a true military occupation, there are no grey areas, no confusion, and, after a very brief initial settling-in period, no chaos. Most ordinary Iraqis hate the American military people in their midst not on idealogical grounds but on practical grounds - those armed men and women are the face of the vast, unthinkable chaos now at loose in their land. Chaos only happens in poorly-run occupations.

This is not a mystery - at least a dozen army commanders on the ground in the Green Zone know exactly what to do, what changes to make. They're hampered only by an ignorant chain of command and absolutely ridiculous set of restrictions.

Step One, an important trifle: banish all forms of reportage. Revoke all press privileges, criminalize the production of all video footage of any kind, and evict all reporters from the country.

Step Two, far more important: impose uniform martial law and an ironclad sunset curfew. This means exactly what it says - martial law means you can't do anything, not any little thing at all of any kind whatsoever, without obtaining written permission from your occupiers, and sunset curfew means if you're seen outside after sunset for any reason, any little reason whatsoever, you get shot and dumped in a ditch. No reporters to cry your outrage to: you'll simply be gone.

Step Three grows out of Step Two: once you've declared an honest-to-gosh martial law, anyone - anyone at all - operating outside its boundaries is your openly declared enemy. Once the rules are clearly, non-politically declared - and once the press is absent from distorting them - things become very simple. Unpleasant, yes, but simple. You have a gun, a bomb, a knife, a rock? You're dead. You're demonstrably connected to such? You, too, are dead. You're approaching an armed picket, talking a bluestreak in a language he doesn't understand? You're dead, because it's after dark. No reporters - and hence no idiotic court of world opinion - to litigate or mitigate for you.

It's obvious immediately, the benefits of such an arrangement, such a true military occupation. For starters, the nascent civil authorities would have a great deal of weight taken from their shoulders - they wouldn't need to look around every corner whenever they go to meetings, nor would they need to take time out of their busy schedules to LEGISLATE over matters more properly left to the military occupation force.
This would leave them free to create a working government - which is a good thing since no military occupation should last too long... there being, after all, other places to occupy.

But the benefits most certainly extend to the average citizen, whose water supply, road infrastructure, and basic utilities (including electricity, as we've seen) will no longer be mishandled by corrupt or incompetent civil officials - the Army Corps of Engineers will be in charge, since in a true military occupation, no vital system (and certainly no system that could possibly be used against the occupiers) is left in civilian control.

Two things need to be pointed out about such a genuine military occupation, however: first, it would be more expensive, in the first few months, than the current patchwork non-method in place (there'd need to be more troops, and they'd need additional training), and second, it shouldn't be done. The United States shouldn't be occupying Iraq. The United States should certainly be occupying Mexico, and perhaps North Korea, but not Iraq.

But such a genuine military occupation WOULD work. When it's done properly, military occupations almost always work. If you swapped out their swords for guns, the Roman 10th Legion could have Baghdad blood-free and peaceful in about three months. What's needed is the stomach for it.

Speaking of stomachs, there's something else in this issue that TURNED ours, here at stevereads. It crops up in the long and very sympathetic review Neal Ascherson gives of Gunter Grass' new memoir:

"In the postwar decades, foreigners were upset by the apparent inability of many Germans to grasp the suffering that their nation had inflicted on others. But somebody - perhaps it was Grass - wrote recently that this silence was really the continuation of another, earlier silence: their reluctance to be open about what they themselves had suffered."

To which we here at stevereads respond: Nein!

If your country tries to take over Europe once, wellllll MAYBE the rest of the world can let it slide. Chalk it up to youthful hijinks, that sort of thing.

But if your country tries to take over Europe TWICE in twenty friggin years, you don't get to talk about YOUR suffering, and you don't get to feel self-pity when nobody else talks about it either.

For ten years, Hitler preached a doctrine combining unapologetic militarism and jubilant anti-Semitism. Then for ten years he ACTED on exactly that. Say what you want about the man, but he was no hypocrite.

Granted, a technical majority didn't vote for him - which raises two points: 1) how did he get even what votes he got, and 2) why didn't the technical majority FIGHT?

The German people acquiesced to a virulent dictator because he offered them a way out of the crushing economic and psychological depression they'd been in since the end of the last war. He told them exactly what the INGREDIENTS of that way out were, and they swallowed it anyway. None of this 'we didn't know' business - they knew perfectly well and they did it anyway.
Which renders me slightly disinclined to credit their suffering, unless it's the remorse of having made a mistake.

And it isn't! Every German I've ever met, I search their eyes, their minds, their voices for it, and it's never there. Germans - and especially Germans of the war years - aren't sorry they tried Hitler. They're sorry Hitler didn't WORK.

So let's wrap things up, Larry King-style (Cantabridgians: he's a television commentator):

Rants - great, aren't they?

Iraq - should US stay or go, and why?

Germans - genetically evil, or what?


Kevin Caron said...

...Wait, why should we be occupying Mexico? I'm missing a joke here, right?

locke said...

[Wait, why should we be occupying Mexico? I'm missing a joke here, right?]

Oh, Jebus... someone bit at it. Batten down the hatches! Incoming!

steve said...

The joke is that the US has waited so long to do it. To our continental south we have a bloated, blighted ULCER of despotic corruption and graft-fueled depressions. A hugely, drastically unstable, venal, incompetent 'nation' that squanders its own resources while exporting through a totally porous border not only its poor and desperate but also a big and growing chunk of its organized crime, in the shape of drug-and-gun-running.

No great power in the history of the world would have waited this long to do what's obviously needed. Mexico is ruled by drug-runners and warlords, to the tragic detriment of its ordinary people AND the ordinary people of the southwest US. The country should roll them up like a cheap rug.

And don't get me started on Canada! I'm NOT thrilled about having feckin REDCOATS massed ominously on the border ...

Sam Sacks said...

ALL US occupations are bad and wrong, regardless of how corrupt or obnoxious the nation in question is. They invariably lead to rulers acting like tyrants and grossly abusing their occupational license for personal interests. They attenuate national defense and drive up taxes, which spurs further occupations and increasing occupational corruption. They create a climate of perpetual borderland warfare (especially now, since guerrilla fighting and terrorism can be hugely effective and is nearly impossible to stamp out). Elemental to all of them is de facto, if not de jure, racism, as well as torture and extralegal murder, the sorts of inhumane things that we could only abide with the aid of deeply engrained racism. The strained economy and the constant military culling breeds internal dissatisfaction that eventually undoes a country from within. Occupation, in time, makes every empire odious and weak.
We should only ever fight wars when somebody ELSE tries to occupy US, in which case the fighting should be absolute, determined, and ruthless. Once the war ends, the leader of the country should be lavished with honors and forced to resign and hand over all power.
No standing forces in Japan and Germany and Kuwait (unless the American soldiers are serving under the orders of the United Nations). No military prisons in lawless leased land in Cuba. Notwithstanding that all of this is already accomplished fact...

Jeff E. said...

Just Mexico, Steve? Why in the world would we stop there? Surely we should roll through Latin America (at least!) while we're at it. We could reduce that "porous border" right down to an itsy-bitsy isthmus, AND stop having to pay tolls on the Panama canal. Then we could catch our breath before making our bold move on down to Cape Horn.

But I would personally avoid making offhand remarks about occupying North Korea. Those nutjobs would be tough to crack. Their resistance to an occupation would look like something out of Null-A. We could only occupy them if we were prepared from the outset to laying claim to a 50,000sq mi radioactive crater.

steve said...

I don't think it's racism to acknowledge that a huge, well-run country can run a chaotic, poorly-run country better than its current opportunistic despots can.

The real question is the will, the stomach, to do the occupying RIGHT - no half-measures.

But Sam makes a valid point - virtually all US occupations have been failures ... is that the fault of the principle itself, or just its execution?