Sunday, March 13, 2011

Andrew Bacevich: Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War

I finished listening to this extended essay on the history of American foreign policy since the beginning of the Cold War. The short summary that I might use: Ike was right. Bacevich, a retired military officer turned IR professor, provides an extended tour over the time span following the Second World War, when the U.S. decided to extend its military presence throughout most of the world, to our current entanglements in Iraq & Afghanistan. The view is not a pretty one. Viet Nam, CIA dirty tricks, the pretty crazy thinking of Curtis LeMay (the first head of SAC), the Iraq and Afghanistan fiascoes. Ike did warn us about this in his farewell speech, but he did little during his administration to stop the ideology and cabal of interests that established these Washington Rules that came to dominate our thinking about foreign involvements. This is a bracing and well-written critique. What I would like now from Bacevich is an alternative way of seeing and acting in the world. This is bad, but what can serve us better? I despair that we can change our current mentality, but perhaps we can, eventually. Perhaps circumstances will limit our willingness to enter into foreign ventures. But we have to have an alternative vision to counter-act the current Washington Rules, and I don't think that we get that from this book. It's a start, not a finish.

Joshua Foer: Moonwalking with Einstein

I finished this delightful, fun book. As I believe I mentioned in an earlier blog post, the book was condensed into a NYT Magazine article a couple of weeks ago, and I couldn't resist the book. If you've read much about memory before, I don't know that you'd learn much new. But if you agree with St. Augustine that sedi anima est in memoria ("the seat of the mind is in the memory"), then you realize that remembering is no small thing. Of course, different events or sources of information have different degrees of inherent memorability and value, so we can pick and choose to some degree. But what we are as persons is in some sense simply the sum of our history, our memory. Some of this history is genetic, some personal, what happened to me from infancy until now. Well, this books goes more to issues of remembering information, but even in this age of instant computers, having knowledge in one's head has value that we can't off-load onto computer disc. The review that I've linked to provides a fair assessment of the book, so you can determine if you'd like it.