The first Bonus Book of the Week is “Tower of Babble, How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos” by Dore Gold, published in 2004.
“It is telling that the United Nations could not even reach a working definition of the very thing [“aggression”] that it had been created to prevent… [and to the book’s writing] Rather than outlawing terrorism, the United Nations was finding ways of condoning it as a legitimate form of political expression.”
This was an oversimplified, disorganized book-long rant on the United Nations’ history of handling conflicts in the hotspots of the world. It is possible the author thought that high schools might use this as a textbook, or perhaps this too-cursory volume would be a quick, easy reference tool– for newly minted UN employees, foreign correspondents or foreign service officers– to be used to acquire a little context on the places to which they would be traveling to, or assigned in the future.
The author provided summaries of the UN’s role in major international hostilities and events, such as those of the Palestinians and Israelis, India and Pakistan, North Korea and South Korea, and China and Tibet, among other countries with tribes warring within, between and among; plus the Korean War, Congo in 1961, Hungary in 1956, the Suez Canal Crisis, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Six-Day War in 1967, UN Resolution 242, the First Gulf War, the Iran-Iraq War, human rights abuses of the Kurds in the 1980’s, the Oil-For-Food Program and Kofi Annan’s various misdeeds, genocide in Rwanda, anarchy in Somalia, genocide in the Balkans, Hezbollah’s terrorist acts in Lebanon, and Hamas in connection with refugee camps in Lebanon.
Yes, this book could be a starting point. However, it takes years to get a well-rounded education in geopolitics. Readings in modern international history should include, if possible, numerous personal accounts of each of the major stakeholders in the conflicts.
In the too-long introduction (which should have been included in the book-at-large), the author argued that the United States was justified in punishing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in 2003. He wrote, “… the UN’s failures mean that in some situations the U.S. is compelled to protect world order by itself, or within more limited coalitions outside of the UN.” For arguments against the war, see this blog’s posts:
- From Jailer to Jailed
- Second Chance
- Halliburton’s Army
- The Good Fight
- The Greatest Story Ever Sold
- Fire-Breathing Liberal
- Sleeping With the Devil
- Talking Back
- Waiting For An Ordinary Day
and the post below.
The second Bonus Book of the Week is “The Weight of the Mustard Seed, The Intimate Story of an Iraqi General and His Family During Thirty Years of Tyranny” by Wendell Steavenson, published in 2009. This slim volume contained a rambling, disorganized collection of descriptions of a patriarch and his family, his colleagues, and a “where are they now” epilogue.
The patriarch, Kamel Sachet, had a successful military career largely similar to hundreds of other Muslim Iraqi men born just after WWII– until their lives and those of their families were turned upside down or cut short by Saddam Hussein’s regime, which began in 1979.
The ruling Baath Party favored funding education and economic diversification to reduce total dependency on oil revenues, and was not averse to Western cultural influences.
Nevertheless, according to the author, with the increasing governmental crackdown on dissidents through the years, the Iraqis chose to either drown their sorrows with alcohol or become more religious. The women stopped wearing makeup, and covered up their bodies with clothing; the men prayed five times a day and memorized passages of the Koran.
Tribal or religious leaders were replaced by political (Baath) leaders. Traditionally, from the cradle to the grave, Iraqis were told what to think, how to behave, how to live. For the most part, they were not independent thinkers.
The Sachet family, which had nine children, took solace in the tenets of Islam. The head of the elementary school where the wife taught told her that she needed to be an active Baath Party member, or she would be fired. So she began to attend the mandatory weekly meetings and paid her financial dues.
The author interviewed a major in the military (a doctor, really) in the army medical corps who had met Mr. Sachet, a then-lieutenant colonel in a military prison in 1983, during the Iran-Iraq war.
The doctor was in a military prison perhaps because he was a Shia from the shrine of Kerbala. He was fortunate in that his friends in high places got him released after he signed a statement confessing to a few misdemeanors, including “… having improper relations with the nurses at Rashid hospital…” Sachet was there because he refused to join the Baath Party.
The two were both released after some months of torture and humiliation. The former was forced to witness six executions of soldiers accused of desertion. The accused each got thirty bullets to the head.
By spring 2006, there was anarchy in Iraq, as the Americans, Kurds, Sunna and Shia were loath to lead the country: “… everyone had a gun and every political leader, sheikh and neighborhood don had an army / bodyguard / militia.”
Read the book to learn of the personal stories of the victims.