GUERRILLAS by Jon Lee Anderson


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The bloody world of the modern revolutionary, as seen by free-lance writer (Harper's, etc.) and documentary filmmaker Anderson. Basing his report on firsthand observation, Anderson describes the life, if you can call it that, of five different guerrilla groups, each with its particular coloration. The Polisario of Western Sahara, trapped inside a 1500-mile-long wall built by the invading army of King Hassan II of Morocco, control every aspect of their peoples' lives with ruthless efficiency. The FMLN of El Salvador, by contrast, favor romantic excess in the form of bad poetry and liberal sex. The Afghani mujahedin recite the Koran and stone adulterers to death. And while Palestinians in the Gaza Strip mythologize their movement's origins, the Karen of Burma have no use for ideology, fighting a purely ethnic war for independence. Enough common elements do crop up, however, for Anderson to paint an overall portrait of guerrillas as an international tribe of violence-prone outcasts. With the exception of the FMLN, battles are waged only by men, with women kept outside the power structure. Children often play a role: Anderson chillingly describes kids in El Salvador assembling rocket-propelled grenades. Fear, oppression, and death are everyday events. Compensation comes by way of romanticizing the past and future, and by casting the struggle in religious terms, with fallen warriors as martyrs. The focus here is on individual guerrillas as they make love, build families, set out to slit throats. But the movements are communal and, within each group, shared histories become ""the repositories of their cultural identity, as the weapons with which they fight."" While Anderson keeps a neutral stance, his evidence does not, suggesting that the guerrilla life is more Boschian than beatific. It took guts to research and write this; relentlessly grim--not through Anderson's fault, since he does a superb reporting job--it's no picnic to read either.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1992
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Times Books