AFGHANISTAN

HOW THE WEST LOST ITS WAY

Books explaining America’s botched war in Afghanistan are catching up with those doing the same for Iraq; this lucid account by two British military historians will keep readers gnashing their teeth throughout.

Bird (Defense Studies/King’s College, London) and Marshall (History and War Studies/Univ. of Glasgow) stress that righteous anger drove the American invasion in October 2001, and the U.S. military followed a clear strategy—remove the Taliban, destroy al-Qaeda and eliminate Afghanistan as a base for international terrorism. After an apparently easy victory, clarity vanished. By early 2002, troops were departing for Iraq, leaving free Afghans to build a modern society which was assumed to mean a strong central government and free elections. This was disastrously naive because traditional Afghan tribal networks treat government as a winner-take-all arena in which those in power enrich themselves and their tribe to the exclusion of others. Preoccupied in Iraq, five years passed before the U.S. administration noticed that a revived Taliban was thrashing the incompetent Afghan army, predatory police and kleptocratic local warlords. A corrupt, ineffectual central government relied on foreign assistance and the flourishing drug trade, which now supplies nearly 90 percent of the world’s heroin; taxes provide less than 10 percent of Afghanistan’s budget. Always conscious that its major ally, Pakistan, supported the Taliban, the American government grew uncomfortably aware that billions in aid had not bought its loyalty. Despite revived efforts, the authors conclude that competent central government and victory over the insurgents remains unattainable. Despite the Obama administration’s optimistic rhetoric, it is likely that most of its energy is aimed at a politically acceptable exit strategy. A gloomily convincing portrait of American misadventures in Afghanistan.

 

Pub Date: June 28, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-300-15457-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2011

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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