On December 7, 1941, Imperial Japanese naval air forces attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Unless your primary and secondary school education was completely deficient, you should already be well aware of this fact.
The Reader’s Digest narrative of the event tells us that the surprise attack brought the previously reluctant U.S. of A. into World War II. The tinfoil hat narrative also suggests that President Roosevelt and his top brass were aware of the Japanese plan and did nothing, believing the attack would finally get the United States into the war.
The theory that FDR allowed the attack to happen in order to go to war with Nazi Germany to help his buddy Churchill is almost accepted as fact these days. Certain right wing sources embellish it to suggest that Roosevelt and George C. Marshall, two “known” communists in their eyes, really wanted into the war to help their good pal Joe Stalin.
There’s only one problem with any version of this theory. It’s bullshit.
That FDR wanted the U.S. to join the war against Nazi Germany is well established. He had been gently nudging the country’s foreign policy that way for the last year, over the concerted opposition of isolationist politicians, so the conspiracy theory seems superficially credible.
But if that was Roosevelt’s plan, it was a stupid plan that should not have worked.
What most people forget these days is that from December 8 through December 10 of that year, The U.S. was only at war with the Empire of Japan. On December 11, Nazi Germany and fascist Italy declared war on the United States, finally getting Roosevelt into the war he wanted to fight.
And Hitler’s declaration of war came over the strenuous (but probably silent) objections of his top advisors. He was not under any treaty obligation to declare war, since the Japanese had been the aggressors. And his advisors were correct. After unwisely starting a war with the Soviet Union and its nearly bottomless supply of manpower, the Fuhrer gave the Brits and Soviets another ally, this one with a bottomless supply of natural resources and industrial capacity far beyond Hitler’s reach to capture or bomb.
In other words, Roosevelt’s alleged plan depended on Hitler being a complete idiot. In December of 1941, with the advance on Moscow just beaten back, Hitler’s idiocy was still mostly a rumor, and it was his declaration of war on the United States that confirmed it. Roosevelt would have no way to know that Hitler would cooperate in his plan. And since the United State getting into the war was not in Hitler’s interests at all, Roosevelt had every reason to believe that the Fuhrer would not play his part in the grand conspiracy.
Also, rather than get the United States into the war Roosevelt wanted, the attack on Pearl Harbor got us into a war with Japan that he didn’t want. And had Hitler not been so cooperative, the job of getting the country into the war in Europe would have gone from difficult to almost impossible.
In the early days of the war, sentiment ran vastly in favor of “getting the Japs first,” since they had attacked Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt and Churchill’s “Germany first” strategy was far from universally popular (and never really followed by the U.S. until the D-Day invasions of 1944).
Had the U.S. found itself only at war with Imperial Japan, convincing the American people to enter a “second” war against Germany would have been a tough sell. Germany would have been seen as London and Moscow’s problem. We had to lick Tokyo.
So we would have gone to war with Japan, leaving Europe to Britain and the Soviets. It’s impossible to predict what would have happened, but I suspect that first several months of the war in the Pacific, up through the Battle of Midway, would have been very close to what actually happened. After that, without the war in Europe to distract American plans, the counter offensive against Japan would have occurred on an accelerated timetable. It would not have been a whole lot faster, since the historic timetable also depended on the United States ramping up its war production.
Also, without a war with Germany, concerns about the Germans developing an atomic bomb would have seemed less urgent, and the Manhattan project would have been scaled back, given a much lower priority, or never happened at all. Whichever the case, it’s unlikely that the U.S. would have had an atomic bomb ready to use against Japan by the end of that war. Therefore, the invasion of Japan we avoided in reality would have been necessary. The consequences for Japan would probably have been devastating. People who are appalled by the use of the bomb against Japan should consider the impact of a million or more revenge-minded GIs rampaging across the home islands.
The altered course of the European war would have depended greatly on the fate of “Lend Lease.” Giving vast mounds of the U.S. war materiel to Great Britain and the USSR largely on credit was not universally popular in the States, and if we had found ourselves at war alone with Japan, it would have been even less so. It might even have been politically impossible for Roosevelt to keep the program intact as is, making very likely the program would have been cut back or scrapped entirely.
Without Lend Lease, I suspect that the United Kingdom might have successfully beaten Rommel’s forces in North Africa, but would probably not have had the manpower or wherewithal to undertake offensive actions against Sicily and Italy. With Lend Lease at least partially intact, I’d like to think that Great Britain would have been able to invade Sicily and Italy, and perhaps knock Mussolini out of the war.
Under neither scenario is there a cross-channel invasion of France. That was mostly an American initiative that Churchill did not favor. Without the U.S. actively in the war, I can’t see the UK having the manpower, materiel, and national will at that stage to successfully invade the continent. The war in Western Europe would probably have ended in a negotiated peace, with Germany still in control of the continent.
In the East, I believe the existence of Lend Lease would only impact the length of the war. Ultimately, the vast landmass and manpower of the Soviet Union would have worn down the German invaders. The Red Army would have at least beaten the Nazis back to the original Soviet frontier. With less of a war in the West, however, Germany resistance would have stiffened, stalling the counter attack. With or without Lend Lease, the war in the East also ends in a negotiated peace with Nazi Germany.
This post-war Europe looks much different than the one we have. France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Poland, Greece, Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary are all Nazi puppet states. Czechoslovakia and Austria are permanently absorbed into Germany. Britain, broke and its manpower spent, has to toe a very careful line with Berlin.
The Soviet Union is probably worse off than it actually was at the end of the war, having had no help in beating back the Nazis. Whatever victory it achieved was probably at greater costs than in reality, and its ability to project its power worldwide is less than historically true. Possibly the USSR turns inward to licks its wounds. On the other hand, there is probably even more hostility toward the U.S., since we never got into the war with Hitler, and possibly even cut off Lend Lease.
Perhaps most significant, the millions of descendants of Holocaust survivors living today are never born. It’s likely the world suspects that something monstrous happened to European Jews but the exact details would be sketchy for a long time to come.
In Asia and the Pacific, the lack of a Grand Alliance means that the Soviets probably don’t commit to enter the war against Japan, which means no such country as North Korea, and no Korean war.
The continued Nazi domination of France probably means no attempt to reclaim its colony in Indochina, and the lack of Soviet presence in Asia means no communist insurgency against the non-existent colonial power. In other words, there’s also no Vietnam War.
I believe the United States emerges from the war much as it did in reality, strong and prosperous, but forced by circumstance to get along with the Nazi reality in Europe. But we do so as the predominant power in Asia and the Pacific. Our chief theater of post-war conflict is probably China. It’s impossible to know what all this means for that country. If the Soviets emerged from the war a lot weaker than they really did, it’s possible the communist victory in China is less than absolute or their civil war just drags on and on.
This is the world that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor should have created, had Adolf Hitler had an ounce of common sense. Fortunately for the world, he didn’t, and he gave Franklin Roosevelt the greatest early Christmas gift a maniacal dictator could give the world, the seeds of his own destruction.
Since Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Seth MacFarlane aired their brilliant update of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos earlier this year, I’ve heard occasional misguided talk of a second “season” of the show, perhaps starring Dr. Michio Kaku.
Apparently, people in the TV industry have gotten it into their heads that either A) a show must run for seven years or more to be considered a “success,” or more likely, B) something that got ass-kicking ratings like Cosmos needs to be milked for every dime it’s worth.
Dr. Sagan didn’t need a second “season” of his immortal 1980 series, and neither does Dr. Tyson. Cosmos is what it was and all it ever needs to be. I have nothing against Dr. Kaku, and if Fox wants to finance another science show with him, that would be outstanding.
As far as Cosmos goes, let sleeping classics lie until we have 35 years of new science to illuminate.
That’s not true, but I needed to say that so I could post this:
— Paul McElligott (@PaulMcElligott) March 10, 2014
James Scott Bell is a published author with a diverse portfolio of fiction, from period short stories about boxing to zombie lawyer novels (don’t ask). Anyway, in the promotional material for his writer’s coaching service, Mr. Bell divides writers into two groups:
- Plotters map out their stories in advance, making sure they know how it’s going to end before they even start writing.
- Bell calls the other type “Pantsers,” but that’s an unfortunate choice of words. Puts me in mind of bullies yanking down a freshman’s shorts in gym class. Whatever you call them, they just start writing, with implicit faith that their stories will find their way to the end. They plunge ahead. So maybe “plungers?” That’s got an unsavory connotation, too. We’ll have to work on it.
Of course, most writers will find them in both camps to varying degrees at different times of their lives. For the first two published novels of my career, I have definitely been a hybrid of the two.
In the case of Human X, I had been sitting on the back story of my main character for about 15 years, waiting for a storyline worthy of it, so the first two chapters or so almost wrote themselves. They had been percolating in my brain the whole time. After they were written and chapter three had started to take shape, I began alternating between writing and plotting.
For plotting, I don’t use any fancy software, but a web-based service called Backpack from 37 Signals. It’s really nothing more than an elaborate note-taking system, but it allowed me to collect all my thoughts regarding characters and story elements. Most important, it’s checklist feature allowed to do a kind of “free association” plotting, where I jotted down “story waypoints” as items on the list. I could then rearrange them on the fly.
I could map out the story, concentrating on what happens next but also sketching in the later plot points a little more loosely. As the story evolved, I could add, modify, and rearrange the points as I go, but having the novel mapped out gives me the confidence to keep writing, knowing I can poke my head above water and check my bearings.
For Human X, a relatively short and straightforward novel, I didn’t need a hugely detailed outline to keep myself on course. My second novel, The Coat Hanger Railroad, the story involved multiple character and story lines, building toward two different crescendos, plus a love story for the main character and the political backdrop. My outline of this story ended up being insanely detailed, but it worked. As I re-read the first draft, I failed to find any elements where something I said early in the novel contradicted a later story element. Again, the ability to know my heading, the route of my journey, allowed me to plunge forward with confidence.
So why am I a “seat-of-the-pantser” first, a plotter second? Why not just plot the whole story out before starting to write? That might work for some people. Probably works for a lot of people, but by starting to write first, I get a feeling about whether I actually connect to the story, if there’s any “there” there. If I can get two decent chapters out of an idea, I have confidence that it worth my time to start hammering out the rest of the story.
It works for me. Your mileage may vary.
When I was a kid, Bill Eadington was the likeable low-key guy who married my godmother, Margaret Dean. The Deans and McElligotts grew up next to each other on Coronado Drive in Fullerton, California. When I was little, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners were cooked in both kitchens and passed over the side fence. On the Fourth of July, our two families, plus our neighbors on the other side, the Bakers, and another family down the street, the Marcons, managed to spread the party across all four yards. It wasn’t exactly Norman Rockwell, but it was close enough.
In our little town, Bill was descended from citrus industry royalty. Back when the land around Fullerton was just one big orange grove, the Eadingtons and the Bastanchurys were the kings of the Valencia orange. There are still streets named after both families.
To rest of the world, for most of my adult life, William R. Eadington, Professor of Economics at the University of Nevada, Reno, was the go-to guy on the subject of the gaming industry. I’ll let his own school say it:
Eadington is the current holder of the Philip J. Satre chair in Gaming Studies, a professor of economics, and director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). He is an internationally recognized authority on the legalization and regulation of commercial gaming and has written extensively on issues relating to the economic and social impacts of the industry.
That’s all true, but one fact alone tells me that Bill was a sharp cookie on the subject of the gaming industry. He didn’t gamble himself.
Bill died today after a battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife, two children, Michael and Diana, and three adorable granddaughters.
He may have been the oracle of all things gambling, and flags are probably flying at half-staff from Vegas to Macau, but tonight I’m remembering the all-around nice guy who literally married the girl next door.
I’ll miss you, Bill.
John Scalzi is a science-fiction writer, and a former President of the Science Fiction Writers of America. For reasons passing understanding, he gained the attention of an unpleasant fellow who roams the ether under the modest pseudonym of “Vox Day.”1 This the second time in as many weeks that Vox Day, or “VD” as people have taken to calling him, has come to my attention. This is two too many. The first time, I learned that VD is also the author of a hilarious book entitled The Irrational Atheist (Wait… he was serious about that?!).
Scalzi has become on of VD’s favorite targets, and the unpleasant fellow has been trolling Scalzi’s blog, being sufficiently racist, sexist, and/or homophobic in the author’s eye to warrant an inspired response. In effect, Scalzi will donate $5 to one of four charities dedicated to fighting racism, sexism, or homophobia. Others has pledged to support his campaign and, to date, he has raised as much as $50,000. The good news is that there’s still time to get in on the fun.
I could go on, but really, Mr. Scalzi can tell it better than I can and already has.
- A play on “Vox Dei,” or “the voice of God.” [↩]
January 22, 1973. The United States Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that no government, state or federal, had the power to outlaw abortion, that it was an individual choice. That has been the law of the land ever since, but many will not rest until that decision is reversed.
What would happen if Roe v. Wade were overturned? My next novel drops you right into the middle of a world where that has already happened.
In the year 2019, more than half the states in the Union have outlawed abortion. A underground network has emerged to help women get to those states where the procedure is still accessible. Already facing harassment and arrest, they are suddenly confronted with a new threat as a serial bomber starts targeting their members. As FBI Special Agent Roana DeSanto hunts the bomber, her investigation is stymied when the victims she is trying to help are unwilling to trust her while she works alongside the same local law enforcement agencies that have been trying to throw members of the network, the bomber’s targets, in jail.
Coming this spring: The Coat Hanger Railroad.
True sequels are as rare in fiction as they are all-too-common in other media. Of course, many authors have series characters, such as Sue Grafton and Kinsey Milhone. These are probably as close as fiction gets to a true Hollywood sequel, in that they are often the same novel written over and over, but they are closer to a television series than sequels in the cinematic sense of the word.
Multi-book cycles like the Harry Potter novels have more in common with preplanned movie series like the Star Wars prequels or the Lord of the Rings movies, where the number of movies and the overall storyline are planned in advance.
Typically, movie sequels follow the sequence A) “Holy shit, that movie was successful!” and B) “How can we replicate that success as quickly and cheaply as possible.” As a result, the experience of seeing a film like Taken 2 is depressingly similar to seeing the first Taken, only less satisfying.
In one sense, Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep is a sequel to The Shining in that classic Hollywood mold, but no one can accuse the author of turning out a rushed project to cash in on the success of the original, considering that 26 years elapsed between their publication dates.
But if Doctor Sleep were a cynical exercise in rehashing the formula of the first novel, Wendy and Danny Torrance would have wound up snow bound in another haunted hotel with another deranged alcoholic.
That is not the story of Doctor Sleep. Twenty-six years after the tragic winter in the Overlook Hotel, Dan Torrance has followed his father down the road of alcoholism but manage to crawl his way back. 2013 finds him as an orderly in a New England hospice, where his “shining” enables him to ease the final passage of dying patients, earning him the nickname “Doctor Sleep.”
Dan’s shining also helps him make contact with another child with the same talent, in this case a young girl named Abra Stone. Born on September 11, 2001, her shining dwarfs even Dan’s.
[types field=”author-phonto” alt=”stephen_king-coming-to-boulder” title=”stephen_king-coming-to-boulder” size=”medium” align=”left” resize=”proportional” class=”author-photo”][/types]That makes her a target for a band of nearly immortal “psychic vampires” called the True Knot, who feed on the “shining” (or “steam,” as they call it) of children like Abra by torturing them to death. To the outside world, the True Knot appears to be harmless senior citizens trundling about the country in tricked-out motor homes. To them, young Abra represents an unimaginable bounty and they will let nothing stand between them and their “feast.”
Doctor Sleep succeeds not just because the author has found a wholly original narrative for the character of Danny Torrance. There is no reason that Doctor Sleep has to be a sequel to The Shining, and you can read this book whether or not you have read the first. If are you familiar with King’s original classic, this provides you an additional rooting interest in Dan’s survival, and not just in his battle against the True Knot. As an adult, he is a nobly flaw protagonist in a classic Stephen King mold. That’s a good thing.
Abra is such a vividly endearing character, the thought of her falling into the clutches of the True Knot is genuinely intolerable.
As villains, the True Knot is just original enough, with nicely realized details that make it all too credible that they could exist in our midst and go unnoticed. What they are not is so invulnerable that it beggars belief that Dan and Abra could emerge victorious. The True Knot suffer from believable weakness that are a logical result of their immortality and their contempt for ordinary people, “rubes” as they call them.
Doctor Sleep is lean and efficiently told, free of the bloat that occasionally plagues King’s lesser works, and his writing is fresh and vivid. I could feel the staleness in the air and smell the dirt as Dan and a friend break into a barn to unearth the remains of the Knot’s previous victim. I felt like I was in the hands of the man who wrote The Shining, ’Salem’s Lot, and The Dead Zone, rather than the guy who unleashed a forgettable stream of works like Insomnia back in the 1990s.
This book is deceptively short, but not because it gives short shrift to its subject. The reason for its brevity is its laser-like focus on the topic. Drift reads like an extended version of the first ten to fifteen minutes of the author’s nightly MSNBC program (very extended, as the audiobook version, read by the author, clocks in at a little over seven hours). She states her thesis and spends the following 270-odd pages relentlessly backing it up.
Her thesis is straightforward: It’s supposed to be hard for the United States to go to war. Obstacles to unfettered warmaking by the Executive branch are built into our Constitution, and since Vietnam, the Executive Branch has been doing it’s level best to brush those impediments aside or trample them underfoot. Those efforts help explain why America is still trying to extricate herself from two wars that have required little notice or sacrifice of the American people.
Historically, with or without Constitutional restraints, the United States has been a nation reluctant to go to war. Recent history may cause you to greet that statement with a degree of cognitive dissonance. Perhaps more accurately, the American people have been reluctant to leave home and hearth to be soldiers, but more than willing when someone else is called upon to make the sacrifice. Soldiering gets in the way of the harvest or tending the herd (or in modern terms, watching football, yoga, and soccer practice), so better them then us.
The Abrams Legacy
Before Vietnam, this wasn’t the case and Drift is the story of how it became the case. Before the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964, President Johnson had campaigned as the peace candidate, more interested in building the Great Society at home than sending American boys to fight someone else’s war in Southeast Asia. After that dubious provocation on the night of August 2, 1964, LBJ was looking for a way to send American boys to Southeast Asia without making people too angry. His solution was not to call up the reserves and National Guard, the part-time citizen soldiers whose dislocation was one of the reasons that American had been reluctant warriors. Deploying the nation’s plumbers and accountants is bound to disrupt a lot of lives, so the President better have a good reason. In place of the reservists and guardsmen, the Pentagon would use draftees to augment the regular troops.
This is why George W. Bush’s Air National Guard post was a cushy shield against going to Vietnam. It should not have been. Poppy Bush’s little boy and his squadron should have been on the way to Hanoi with the rest of the troops. If he had been, if the units deployed to Vietnam had included the Reserve and the National Guard, the war probably would have been a lot shorter and much more unpopular much sooner. We might not have needed to wait for the Tet Offensive to see the clusterfuck under way.
This is did not please General Creighton Abrams, successor to William Westmoreland as commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam (and whose name graces our M1 battle tank). When Abrams become Army Chief of Staff, he instituted the Total Force Policy, or “Abrams Doctrine,” which intertwined the Regular Army, Reserves and National Guard units in such a way that it would be impossible for the United States to go to war the same way it had in Vietnam, to ensure that war disrupted the normal lives of the citizen soldiers. And it worked for almost two decades.
Drift documents how both the Abrams doctrine, and the authority of Congress to declare war, were undermined in the intervening years. Conspiracy theorists may see plots within plots behind the executive power grabs of the Reagan/Bush and Bush/Cheney years, but the reality portrayed by Maddow is both scarier and sadder. It just sort of happened, for both good reasons and bad.
Probably without knowing it, Maddow credits Ronald Reagan with inventing the “reality distortion field” that Steve Jobs would go on to perfect. The world was however Reagan convinced himself to see it, facts often be damned. Such well-known liberal stalwarts as William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater, and John Wayne registered frustration and exasperation at the Great Communicator’s version of the facts.
Perhaps this ability to filter reality to his own liking, as much as the need to distract the public from the degenerating situation in Lebanon, where 299 people had just died in a suicide truck bombing, allowed Reagan to see a Soviet/Cuban plot behind the plan to build a new airport on the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada. In the invasion that followed, U.S. forces proved to be their own worst enemy, doing more damage to each other than the opposing forces managed to do. The mission to rescue the medical students who were in danger of being hostages ran into a couple snags. They weren’t all where the U.S. government thought they’d be (and the soldiers probably needed tourist maps to the places the students actually were). The students were also mostly unaware that they needed rescuing.
Congress was upset that they weren’t informed almost until the Rangers were hitting the beach and they asserted the War Powers Resolution to compel President Reagan to bring the troops home. Reagan was annoyed that Congress was poking their noses into his presidential prerogative to conduct foreign policy as he saw fit. He was also exasperated that neither Congress nor the American people appreciated the threat represented by the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. To the Reagan administration, Daniel Ortega was just another Fidel Castro without the cigar and the beard, and his government represented a Soviet foothold in Central America.
Prehaps still annoyed about Grenada, Congress had specifically barred the Executive branch from using U.S. funds to support the Contra guerillas fighting the Sandinistas. Fully buying into the “Nixon doctrine,” that if the President does something in the name of national security, it’s not illegal, Reagan got creative. He attempted to privatize the Contra war, funding it with proceeds from the ill-advised, ill-fated and thoroughly illegal sales of weapons to Iran in the quixotic, forlorn hope of securing the release of American hostages in Lebanon.
That the Iran/Contra affair did not bring down the Reagan White House is beside the point, because it was the aftermath that mattered. The effort to justify their actions produced some truly creative legal writing from Attorney General Ed Meese, in much the same way that tax evasion produces some truly creative accounting, laying the groundwork for the “Imperial Presidency” with regards to foreign policy.
The Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq: War for Hire
Future administrations would refine this over the years in the run-up to the first Iraq war (really the Kuwait war) in 1991, the war in Afghanistan after 9/11 in 2001, and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Maddow asserts that Congress meekly acquiesced to the Presidents Bush, especially with regard to our wars in Iraq. Her detractors might point out that the president did seek and get Congressional approval for their actions, so their role in warmaking is not as weakened as the author suggests. Maddow believes that the administrations did little more than allow Congress to approve what was already inevitable. Both Bushes backed Congress into a political corner and left them with but one “patriotic” option. Agree or disagree, you can’t say she makes a weak or half-hearted argument for her position.
The erosion of the Abrams doctrine was a fringe benefit of the end of the Cold War and the draw down of U.S. forces with no global enemy left to fight, or so we thought. There would other conflicts in Somalia and the Balkans during the 90s. The Mogadishu debacle documented in Black Hawk Down left the country skittish about committing U.S. troops to another war zone.
At the same time, Vice-president Al Gore was launching a much-touted initiative to streamline government, making it leaner and meaner at all levels. One of these programs sought to make the military more cost-effective by assigning some job functions, such as those most often done in war time by reservists and National Guardsmen, to private contractors.
When Croatia and Bosnia pleaded for help in holding off the Serbian ethnic cleansing onslaught, it was not politically feasible for the Clinton Administration to send American troops or other forms of direct U.S. military aid. The capacity to use contractors, however, allowed the President’s foreign policy team to side-step the normal political and constitutional hurdles.
It was not without positive results. After having their clocks thoroughly cleaned by the Serbs in battle, the Croatians faced their enemy one last time, but now with the advantage of new training from a private military contractor with a large number of former U.S. officers on staff. The difference in the results was eye-opening. The Croats not only routed the Serbs, but independent observers remarked that their battle plan looked suspiciously American in character, as if H. Norman Schwarzkopf himself had defected to Croatia and joined their army.
[types field=”author-phonto” alt=”RachelMaddow” title=”RachelMaddow” size=”medium” align=”left” resize=”proportional”][/types]
There were a few snags in the new U.S. love affair with military contractors. They were not all that cost-effective and on one troubling occasion, employees of a specific contractor were regular customers of Serbian sex traffickers. This was offset by the flexibility they gave the chief executive when it came to waging war. The presence of these contractors undermined the Abrams doctrine by making the reserves and National Guard superfluous to the support role, but it also freed them up to act as regular combat troops in a way they had never been before, or at least not since WWII.
Maddow makes her case methodically and is never afraid to get wonky with her facts. She delivers her facts with the same cheerfully snarky attitude familiar to her TV viewers. Some critics have huffed that this sort of insolence is inappropriate for such a serious subject. But this is Rachel Maddow’s voice, and for her to deliver her point with the same somber sobriety of Dan Rather would be as dissonant as Rather himself reading the news wearing a spiked, rainbow-hued Mohawk.
I didn’t need a lot of persuading as to Maddow’s depiction of the current status of our national security posture, and the fact that the CIA is now a de facto, virtually unsupervised arm of the military was not news to me. Drift’s primary value to me was its cogent, reasoned, and detailed explanation as to how we got to where we are.
The word “Kafkaesque” is probably used most liberally by those who have never actually read that author’s work, while those who have done so often possess more effective means of appearing erudite. Therefore, I will show sufficient humility to refrain from using it to describe the life of Salman Rushdie after Valentine’s Day, 1989, even though the term seems to have been lying in wait to ambush the Indian-born author after the publication of his novel, The Satanic Verses.
The title of this memoir refers to the alias that Rushdie adopted during the years that he was under the smothering embrace of the Special Branch of Scotland Yard. It is a mash-up of Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov. During the years of the protective detail, or “prot,” the officers responsible for his safety always called him “Joe,” and never addressed him by his actual name. In many ways, this book is the biography of three men, the private Salman, the fictitious Anton, and an equally false public Rushdie, a unpleasant fellow who brought the whole mess on himself, then insisted the British taxpayers pay for police protection to satisfy his own monumental ego. The public Rushdie become a popular whipping boy of the British press, which never seemed to let facts get in the way of a good vendetta.
The early part of this book details Rushdie’s boyhood in India and his arrival in Britain to attend Rugby School, an English public school where he was too smart, too unathletic, and too non-white to be accepted, and was thus miserable. He survived Rugby to attend King’s College before being accepted to read history at Cambridge. It was there, where he was perhaps the only student to take on a research study on Islamic History, that the seeds of The Satanic Verses were planted.
After making a living after college as an advertising copy writer, Rushdie finally broke in 1980 through with his novel, Midnight’s Children, which established him as a significant author, followed by Shame in 1983. These novels explored the Indian and Pakistani halves of his heritage respectively. The Satanic Verses explored his family’s Islamic background. Much of the first quarter of the memoir is dedicated to illustrating how a godless man with a deep fascination for religion could write the novel that would turn his own world upside down and inside out.
What is clear, and what I will let the reader to discover for him or herself, is that the book that was reviled and condemned by the Ayatollah Khomeini on February 14, 1989, bore little resemblance to the book that Rushdie actually published, much like the author’s life after that date bore little resemblance to anything experienced by any another human being.
Fortunately, the experience of being targeted for death by a global effort to suppress free expression in the name of rigid religious dogma did not rob the author of his sense of humor, as Joseph Anton is full of the absurd details of Rushdie’s after the fatwa. At first, he moves from home to home, each one rented in someone else name, as the author is forced to hide in bathrooms whenever a repairman comes by to fix anything. He must negotiate with the police for privileges that most of us regard as the mundane details of everyday life. A stroll around the block is virtually out of the question and dinner with friends takes on the characteristics of a military campaign. Great pains must be taken to conceal not only the identity of the person living in the house, but also the presence of four armed officers living with him.
In addition to his forced seclusion, Rushdie also faces the hostility of the outside world. Beyond the unwavering wrath of the Iranian imams and the Islamic world at large, there is also the cheerfully bloodthirsty Islamic population of Great Britain, including some members of Parliament, who speak of the author’s murder with the same casual enthusiasm that the rest of us discuss plans to holiday in the Caribbean. He also has to deal with the stunning ignorance of homegrown politicians, who treat Rushdie as an embarrassment who brought the whole thing on himself and doesn’t deserve their support or sympathy.
In the early years, Rushdie’s effort to rally support from the Thatcher government in the United Kingdom and the Bush administration in the United States is frustrated by both countries’ reluctance to antagonize Iran when they are seeking Tehran’s cooperation to free the Hezbollah hostages in Lebanon. In effect, the author becomes just another hostage, albeit one held in his own home.
Joseph Anton is full of accounts of staggeringly craven cowardice on the parts of governments, businesses, and even within his own publishers, who blanch at the thought of releasing a paperback edition of The Satanic Verses. The book also contains many more accounts of courage and principle, of friends who protect his secret, of fellow authors and publishers who coalesce into a global campaign against not only the fatwa, but also against the efforts to quash freedom of expression inspired by the Iranian atrocity. Among many things, the book is a heartfelt expression of gratitude toward the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way on Rushdie’s behalf.
The author does not spare us many details about his occasionally complicated personal life, either. At the time of The Satanic Verses, Rushdie has already been married for the second time, and the marriage is already in trouble. He remains on good terms, however, with Clarissa, his first wife and mother of his first son, Zafar. Joseph Anton is in many ways a love letter to the boy and young man who would be the author’s one reliable source of joy during the fatwa years.
[types field=”author-phonto” alt=”Salman Rushdie” title=”Salman Rushdie” size=”medium” align=”right” resize=”proportional”][/types]
It may seem like an odd choice, but Rushdie wrote his memoir in the third person, referring to himself mostly as “he” and “him.” I think it helps the author keep the necessary distance to remain objective about his failings, such as his misguided attempts to end the fatwa during the early years by mollifying the British Muslim community. None of these lapses were more glaring than the end of his third marriage to Elizabeth, who selflessly sustained him through the fatwa years and gave him a second son. Their marriage is strained by the author’s desire to live in New York, where he can escape the smothering security bumble, and her desire to remain in the UK and have more children. He abandons her for a young, beautiful, and hopelessly narcissistic Indian-born American actress, who ultimately become his fourth failed marriage. Rushdie is certainly a man who knows how to complicate his own life, although he was completely innocent of the most drastic complication.
I often wonder if those who were responsible were aware of the damage they did to Islam in the eyes of the outside world. Between The Satanic Verses controversy, the Danish cartoon affair and the YouTube video last year, what Rushdie calls the “professional outrage industry” within the Muslim world has succeed mostly in creating an image of Islam as a hysterical and irrational religion. Their sensitivity to slights toward their prophet also shows contempt for the man they claim to revere. Whatever one thinks of Islam, its founder managed to change the shape of his world, almost by sheer force of will, within a single lifetime. Christianity can’t make that claim. The prophet Mohammed does not need to be defended with such bloodthirsty earnest. He is a significant and important figure in history, but the actions of his more ardent followers in recent times have done more to sully their prophet’s reputation than anything Salman Rushdie could have written, even if he had actually been trying to commit blasphemy.