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American history does not begin with 9/11, yet the worldview of so many in the United States since then has
(Haymarket Books, Chicago – Illinois, 2010)
Book review of Tom Engelhardt's 'The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s'.
By Mamoon Alabbasi – LONDON
been shaped by how the mainstream media had coloured events following the terrorist attacks. But to break free from that distorted perception which bears little resemblance to reality – as people once knew it – one needs the help of a little imagination.
In Tom Engelhardt's The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s, you could step back and see all the views that you had taken for granted challenged, as you indulge yourself in a world of ideas that are logical and straightforward but just were not quite visible to you before. All of course are backed by key facts, sound analysis and invaluable context.
Since first appearing in articles at TomDispatch.com, some of these ideas have become accepted as conventional wisdom nowadays, but it's important to remember that when Engelhardt first put them forth they were not met with wide acceptance. However, with time they proved to be true prophecies, over and over again, while the analyses of so called experts, splashed over major newspapers or broadcasted in news television programmes, have become increasingly shameful, if anyone bothers to keep track of their record.
With a focus on US national security, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other linked topics, the book serves as a concise but most-insightful history of post-9/11 America. It penetrates deep into American culture and psychology, citing fascinating examples of military history (and future) in some instances, while in others highlighting the impact of certain movies on people's understanding of the world around them.
But the book also offers details that provoke much thought: Why is "Ground Zero" called by that name when the site was never hit by anything atomic? Did you know that the first bomb ever to be dropped on a people from a plane was against Libya in early twentieth century? Is killing civilians by superior airpower or via drones directed from afar less "barbaric" than taking life face to face? Why does the US have so many military bases around the world? Is the US safer after the Afghan and Iraq wars? Who has done more damage to America, the terrorists or US administrations? And who really stands to gain from a perpetual state of fear?
Engelhardt, citing the US press prior to and after 9/11, also showed how yesterday's "freedom fighters" became today's "terrorists", in a way that brings to mind the famous line in George Orwell's 1984: "Eurasia has always been at war with Oceania".
But perhaps the most important question that the book raises is why isn't anyone investing enough time, effort and money in a bid to achieve peace? As all forms of technology, planning and funding have been exhausted to secure an ever illusive "victory" (over an undefined enemy); isn't time to try a new strategy instead of repeating more of the same old failed ones again and again?
As editor of TomDispatch.com, Engelhardt has provided a pioneering platform to a number of illuminating articles by Chalmers Johnson, Juan Cole, Dilip Hiro, Jonathan Shell, Nick Turse, Andrew Bacevich, William Astore, Pratap Chatterjee, James Carroll, Stephen Kinzer, David Swanson, Max Blumenthal, Tony Karon and Dahr Jamail, among others. But excellent editors are not necessarily outstanding authors; "The American Way of War" shows that Engelhardt is among the exceptions.
Mamoon Alabbasi can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org.