November 17, 2011


Jason Burke, The 9/11 Wars (London: Allen Lane, 2011) ("A broader mistake which also proved tragically expensive in lives and resources was the insistence that the violence suddenly sweeping two, even three, continents was the product of a single, unitary conflict pitting good against evil, the West against Islam, the modern against the retrograde. For the last decade has not seen one conflict but many. Inevitably, a multi-polar, multifaceted, chaotic world without overarching ideological narratives generates conflicts in its own image. The events described in this book can only be understood as part of matrix of ongoing, overlaid, interlinked and overlapping conflicts, some of which ended during the ten years since 9/11 and some of which started; some of which worsened and some of which died away; some of which have roots going back decades if not centuries and some of which are relatively recent in origins." "This is not a unique characteristic of the current crisis but is certainly one of its essentially distinguishing qualities. The wars that make up this most recent conflict spans the globe geographically--from Indonesia in the east to the Atlantic-Mediterranean coastline in the west, from south-west China to south-west Spain, from small-town America to small-town Pakistan--as well as culturally, politically and ideologically. With no obvious starting point and no obvious end, with no sense of what might constitute victory or defeat, their chronological span is impossible to determine. No soldier at the battle of Castillon in 1453 knew they were fighting the last major engagement of the Hundred Years War. No one fighting at Waterloo could have known they were taking part in what turned out to be the ultimate confrontation of the Napoleonic Wars. The First World War was the Great War until the Second World War came along. Inevitably perhaps, this present conflict is currently without a name. In decades or centuries to come historians will no doubt find one--or several, as is usually the case. In the interim, given the one event that, in the Western public consciousness at least, saw hostilities commence, 'the 9/11 Wars' seems an apt working title for a conflict in progress. Id. at xviii-xix. An excellent read for those who actually care about what we have done to others these last ten years, what others have been done to, and what we and others will do in the future. One on the implicit themes is that the United States may be a large player, but it is not necessarily the central player, the controlling player, etc., and may very well be the one ultimately played. That unshaken belief in so-called American Exceptionalism may be our biggest blind spot.).