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Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Book Review: Made Love, Got War

I always enjoy Norman Solomon's writing. There are many writers on the left who combine his encylopedic knowledge with his insights, but few (Mumia Abu-Jamal is one of the few others who come to mind) who add a wonderfully literate style on top of those two.

If you feel the way I do, then you'll enjoy Solomon's latest book, Made Love, Got War. It's basically Solomon's autobiography, but it's not a standard sort of autobiography, because Solomon is a journalist, so his "life" consists not only of the things he's done and the events he's lived through, but what he's written about them as well. The book reflects that, mixing more standard autobiographical elements with excerpts from Solomon's columns, to take us on a historical tour from the 50's through to today.

Not surprisingly, the book shares a lot in common with Bill Bryson's latest, The Adventures of the Thunderbolt Kid (both, for example, deal with the impact of nuclear weapons testing and the "duck and cover" mentality of kids raised in the 50's), although Solomon's book quite obviously includes a lot more politics and a lot less culture. Even the cultural aspects of the book provide an occasion for political insights, however, as when he discusses the co-opting of the counterculture (e.g., the use of the Beatles' "Revolution" to sell Nikes) and the mentality which thought (and thinks) that elements of the counterculture (e.g., long hair) or even the not-so-counterculture (e.g., organic food) have for many people become "a kind of substitute for political action, a way of justifying what might otherwise seem like inordinately self-centered fixations."

One of the benefits in reading any of Solomon's books or columns is being reminded of things which you knew, but aren't always at the tip of your tongue ready to be used when the occasion demands. Politicians are, of course, at the top of the list of people whose offenses need to be remembered, and who so perfectly illustrate the French maxim, Plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose. A sampler:

Solomon, like myself, in also intensely intersted in the role that the media plays in promoting the interests of the ruling class, and he provides helpful reminders of some of what the pundits have had to say over the years. Two examples:"Made Love, Got War" also reminds us of entire events we may have forgotten or, in the case of younger people, not even known about. Everyone talks about "Vietnam." How many remember, or know, that Laos (not to mention Cambodia) was part of the death and destruction wreaked by United States bombing? And this was no small matter either:
"I soon learned that a tiny handful of American leaders, a U.S. executive branch led by Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Henry Kissinger, had taken it upon themselves -- without even informing let along consulting the U.S. Congress or public -- to massively bomb Laos and murder tens of thousands of subsistence-level, innocent Laotian civilians who did not even know where America was, let alone commit an offense against it. The targets of U.S. bombing were almost entirely civilian villiages inhabited by peasants."
Illustrating the breadth of this book, here's something else Solomon made me think about that I hadn't previously thought about. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, thanks to a recent contribution from billionaire (the term seems almost belittling in this case) Warren Buffet, has assets of $60 billion, which they are contributing to noble causes. It seems like a staggering amount. Solomon puts it in perspective: This amounts "to about five weeks of the Pentagon's real budget. And of course the Defense Department coffers are fully replenished each year."

If there is a weakness in "Made Love, Got War," it's the lack of a vision for the future. Solomon presents a clear picture of what he doesn't want - a society dominated by corporate power and anti-human priorities. And he fully realizes the need for change - his book ends with these words: "If we want a future that sustains life, we'd better create it ourselves." But create what? Solomon doesn't say. In passing, somewhere in the book, he mentions that his father was a socialist, but other than that, the word "socialism," even made more palatable to more people by putting the word "democratic" in front of it, doesn't appear in the book. And, even with some goal in mind, how to get there? Solomon clearly believes in nonviolence, and returns to that concept on several occasions in the book, but he never confronts the dilemma, or perhaps the impossibility, of trying to overturn a powerful, violent system with nonviolence.

Do I have all the answers, either about where we need to go or how we get there? Obviously not. But they are questions that need to be confronted. Perhaps that will be the subject of Solomon's next book. Or my first. :-)

I'll close with another quote from the book, with Solomon discussing how he (and others) felt during the 60's and 70's (and many, including both Solomon and myself, still feel):

While history would surely have profound effects on our lives, there was no assurance that our lives could have positive effects on history -- but the only way to change the course was to try.

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