BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

War, and stuff ...

This was one of those “dollar store finds” that I was amazed to see in that context. After all, P.J. O'Rourke is a major author, and is still with the same publisher, and this book is relatively recent (2004, with the paperback out in 2005), so why in the dollar store? The only thing I could think was that they dumped the hardcover, go figure.

Anyway, P.J. O'Rourke's Peace Kills: America's Fun New Imperialism was a nice find for a buck. It's a collection of pieces initially published in The Atlantic Monthly between 1999 and 2003. Obviously, “article collection” books are probably the simplest things to get into print, as all the “heavy lifting” of researching, writing, and editing are already done, and there is frequently a considerably variability in the final product, depending on how well the pieces were selected, how well they work in conjunction with each other, and how they stand as “a book” as opposed to one which had been written to be a single entity. The over-all theme of this is more “America & War” than the fun new imperialism of the sub-title, and O'Rourke has, conveniently, written from many war zones over the years. However, each of these pieces is self-contained for a particular conflict, event, or occurrence, and there is very little holding the whole together.

Now, I was quite enthusiastic as I plowed into this, eagerly spinning through the first half or so, but at some point it just began to drag, and I found myself somewhat relieved to finish it. This is not to say that the component articles aren't informative and entertaining in their own right, it's just that at some stage, there seemed to cease to be a point, and began to read something like a Nexis article return from a search on “war” and “O'Rourke”. Perhaps if this had sat in a “bathroom reading” stack and been read in drips and drabs over a period of weeks or months, it would have stayed “fresher” than having been the “currently reading” feature in my recent schedule. Again, there aren't really any “clunkers” in here, it's that that the whole is perhaps less than the sum of its parts.

As far as subject matter is concerned, the book starts with “Kosovo – November 1999”, which focuses on the “down the rabbit hole” aspects of the UN/Clinton adventure in the Balkans; it then moves to “Israel – April 2001”, with a look at the bizarre “permanent conflict” in the middle east, and how mundane and relatively bloodless (he quotes fatality figures merely in the hundreds and compares them to “civil wars you never heard of” which killed tens of thousands, if not millions) this has been; next up is “9/11 Diary” which are his notes of the odd state of Washington DC following the attacks there and in New York, and the strange responses arising around the country (oh, and re-written lyrics to “The Banana Boat Song” which are hilarious); his next stop is “Egypt – December 2001”, which is more of a cultural/historical piece than anything really related to either the USA or warfare, except for the constant complaint that “Osama has ruined the tourist business”; next come “Nobel Sentiments” where he examines one of the evergreen idiocies coming from the Nobel Prize crew (I wonder how he covered B.O.'s recent prize for the remarkable feat of not being GWB!), proving that being a “Nobel Laureate” does not necessarily mean that one is not a moron; at this point he moves on to another batch of morons in “Washington DC Demonstrations – April 2002” where a “Palestinian Solidarity March” had turned into something fairly basic (some Palestinian-American groups staging a march) into a zoo of the lunatic left (with dozens of specific examples of the extent of such lunacy); after a brief interlude, “Thoughts on the Eve of War”, O'Rourke takes us back to the middle east with “Kuwait and Iraq – March and April 2003” which largely focused on the civility and rationality of the Kuwaitis and the feral mob aspects of the Iraqis, both in the looting and the lack of even basic cultural ethics; finally, there is “Postscript: Iwo Jima and the End of Modern Warfare – July 2003” where he goes (as part of a team working on a documentary) to the tiny, yet iconic, battle site from WW2, and reflects on the history and nature of war.

Again, as noted above, this is all “good stuff”, and (piece by piece) is quite entertaining and informative, but it probably should be consumed in those bite-size bits over a period of time rather than at one intense push. This is still available in the paperback, so should be available via your local brick-and-mortar book vendor, but “very good” copies of the hardcover are available from the new/used guys for a penny, with “new” copies coming in just over a buck, so if you can't find this at your local dollar store, those are options for getting it. Peace Kills may not be O'Rourke's finest moment, but it is a collection of thoughtful impressions of some very interesting conflicts, and may well be something that would fit in your library.

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Tags: book review
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