Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Laura Miller on Fascism, Kakutani on Woodward.
Laura Miller reviews Robert O. Paxton's The Anatomy of Fascism in Salon. It could be just academic territoriality, but the review was superficial and seemed to want to use the book, which is a scholarly history and analysis of fascism, for scoring political points. It is not necessary to bring George W. Bush into a discussion of this book, yet Miller does. For example, when commenting on fascism’s habit of bringing together traditional conservative elites and more radical, revolutionary elements drawn from the nationalist right and the non-Marxist left, Miller feels it is necessary to point out to the reader that Bush “belongs to what Paxton would call America’s ‘traditional elite’, the part of society that grudgingly collaborated with fascist parties rather than founding them”. Certainly she is technically right (at least in the first half of the sentence), but what is the purpose of pointing this out, if not to make the semantic if not logical connection between Bush, fascists and collaborators. To top it all off, Miller ends her piece by asking the question “Is George W. Bush a fascist?” Her reasoned and deliberate answer is “Nah. America in the early 2000s doesn’t resemble Germany in the 1930s much at all, really.” Indeed. In fact, it resembles it so little that to simply pose the question is nothing more than to unfairly compare Bush with inter-war fascists (unfair in whose favour I will leave it to you to judge). As for Paxton’s thesis itself, the Australian publication has been pushed back to June by the publisher, so I will have to wait to review it til later.

An example of a good review is Michiko Kakutani's review of Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack. Woodward's is the latest in a series of revelatory works on the Bush administration's lead-up to and handling of the Iraq War. Each of these books, such as Suskind's telling of Paul O'Neil's story, or Richard Clarke's memoir, will one day prove to be invaluable sources for when the full is eventually told. I look forward to a cross between these books and the more scholarly policy analyses like Daalder and Lindsay's America Unbound or Gordon and Shapiro's Allies At War, when the narratives are assembled and the commentaries evaluated to show a complete history of the war. In the meantime, Woodward's Plan of Attack, like his previous book, Bush at War, serves as an intimitate look inside the corridors of power. As Kakutani writes,
The president agreed to be interviewed in depth by the author about how and why he decided to go to war against Iraq. Mr. Woodward, an assistant managing editor of The Washington Post, says the president also made it clear that he wanted administration members to talk with him, and that he interviewed more than 75 key players. Thanks to this wide access, 'Plan of Attack' has a more choral-like narrative than many of the author's earlier books, which tended to spin scenes from the point of view of his most voluble sources. And while Mr. Woodward -- who has long specialized in forward-leaning narratives that are long on details and scoops, and short on analysis -- does not delve into the intellectual and political roots of the war cabinet, he does pause every now and then to put his subjects' actions and statements into perspective. The resulting volume is his most powerful and persuasive book in years.

Contemporary histories from journalists like Woodward, which will eventually be supplemented with the authorised biographies and memoirs that will surely appear when the administration is replaced (whether this November or four years from now), are significant for they provide insight into the decision makers and their processes before the events themselves have been played out in full, thus giving the reader a better portrait of the time than that which will be presnted when people have the luxury of time and hindsight.


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