O'Rourke opens this engaging sojourn through various realms of conflict with a reminiscence of Berlin in 1989 when the Wall came down. He takes a wry look at American foreign policy during the Cold War, under Clinton and under the first President Bush.
Next stop is Kosovo 1989 where the author shares his conversations with refugees, peacekeepers and veterans of the Kosovo Liberation Army. From there he takes us to Israel where he shares his impressions of the land and of Z, his witty tour guide. The author observes that Zionism was ultimately right and the only utopian "ism" to become a success.
The chapter 9/11 Diary records the reactions of ordinary Americans to that infamous day and considers overseas reactions while also presenting a picture of the kooks in a Washington "peace" rally.
He visited Egypt in Dec 2000 and regales the reader with reflections on Egypt's present and past. His thoughts on why the Arab World has fallen so far behind the West and the Far East are noteworthy as well as his descriptions of Anti-Semitism in the Egyptian media.
In Nobel Sentiments, O'Rourke skewers a group of Nobel prize winners (including Jose Saramago and Nadine Gordimer) who issued a banal and empty statement in 2001, pointing out their imbecilic notions on the political and social future. As he so accurately observes, nothing in their fatuous statement indicates that the opinions of ordinary people are more foolish than those of Nobel laureates.
In April 2002 the author attended a Palestinian Solidarity March in Washington DC. Commenting on the demonstration's lack of intelligible demands, he nails down the core issue of the Middle East conflict: Israel's stubborn insistence on existing and the stubborn refusal of the Arab dictatorships to accept the fact. The demonstrators consisted of a wide spectrum of moonbats, from Environmental Nuts to Black Panthers, a crazy bunch of nihilists with only one thing in common: they're all losers.
Thoughts On The Eve of War reflects his experiences in Iraq before and after Operation Iraqi Freedom, plus reminiscences of the situation in Kuwait after the First Gulf War. The book concludes with a visit to Iwo Jima and reflections on the nature of modern warfare.
Peace Kills may not provide as many side-splittingly funny moments as some of O'Rourke's earlier masterpieces, but it remains compelling and thought provoking throughout. He still has the great gift of making associations that at first appear improbable but then reveals meaningful sets of correspondences.
Peace Kills is a collection of mostly previously published writing by P.J. O'Rourke as he looks at America's progression from a peace keeper under President Clinton to a democracy implanter under President Bush with an interlude as a target of terrorist violence in the United States.
Here are the sections:
Why Americans Hate Foreign Policy; Kosovo (November 1999); Israel (April 2001); 9/11 Diary; Egypt (December 2001); Nobel Sentiments; Washington, D.C. Demonstrations (April 2002); Thoughts on the Eve of War; Kuwait and Iraq (March and April 2003); and Postscript (Iwo Jima and the End of Modern Warfare).
The book is deeply skeptical about how well any human activity can succeed, whether its purpose is noble or not. Perhaps the most telling section is about ancient and modern Egypt in which Mr. O'Rourke postulates that people have always been crazy . . . with the pyramids as lasting evidence of that observation.
Most of the essays take an ironical cast. First, the official purpose of an activity is described. Second, a counter-example is presented to show the purpose is being undercut. Third, a segue-way occurs into a further irony relative to the counter-example. You have left shaking your head in wonder. These sections are most interesting when they provide local color that you didn't know before. I loved all of the examples from Egypt of the antiterrorist safeguards being ignored in favor of either religious observances or advancing tourism.
What makes the book special to me is the incredibly fine writing that shows up in each essay in explaining a complicated event and circumstance in terms of our American perspective. These are real gems and show careful rewriting. One yearns in vain for more of this type of writing in the essays . . . rather than having one more point, counter-point, segue-way example of irony.
If you already think that war doesn't make sense, you won't need this book to convince you.
But if you love fine, witty writing and don't mind slogging through too many ironic examples to find it, this book will reward you with ten or so remarkable paragraphs.
on July 6, 2004
O'Rourke breaks down a Nobel laureate set of assertions by advocating the post-Reagan pan-national wisdom: 'tis better to feel good than to actually DO good...Morning in America is no-risk, baby!
Seriously, o'Rourke is basically asserting that death, the avoidance of it, the fear of it, the threat of it, must, in teh post 9/11 world, be central to our lives.
Problem is twofold. One, there are ALOT of people who think thatdeath is nowhere NEAR the worst thing that can happen to ya. Who think that there are ALOT ofthings actually worse than death, and who have actualized themselves tothe point that they cen clearly articulate those things, people and ideas for which they would be willing to die. That sensibility has been edged out by citizenship defined as the right to Road Rage on the way to getting home in time for a microwave meal and FRIENDS (or JOEY, sorry).
Two, what kind of world, and way of being in the world, springs from the social primacy of fear and the political primacy of death, when all of that is combined with the illusory expression of the American Dream through Reagan's long lens?
Well, it produces a world that encourages interlocking elites like O'Rourle to advocate the sending of the masses upon whose back they stand to give up their life in service of both the fear and the illusory sense of "American citizen" as equal to "I have the right to feel good!!!!"
The only counter to O'Rourke foolishness is intimate awareness, and moment-to-moment education, towards the end of promoting a society interested in pledging not to a flag, but to the Constitution, a society that wouldn't know the names of all the FRIENDS' characters, b/c their mind is filled with the names and votes and positions of their representatives, local to global.
In other words, Peace doesn't kill; a fundamental failure to understand what citizenship MUST mean in a democracy (or even in what we have in the States, a represenatative republic, and not a democracy) kills not only you abut everyone else. And when radical statists like the Bsuh cabal can enact nuclear petulance in the sandbox of the world, citizenship, fearless, knoweldgable and empowered, in the only countervailing force, the only other superpower.
O'Rourke's book is Kryptonite to that notion, and crippled in its ability to move anybody forward to do anyting other than fear fear itself and fear death, and beg for Hobbes' Leviathan.
on June 27, 2004
Not only is this collection of pieces he has written fun to read but O'Rourke is probably the only chauvinistic writer I utterly enjoy reading. I also appreciate that he dislikes GWB's stumbles as much as I do, which makes him damn fair when it comes to Republican leaning writers. And I laugh when he talks about how war for Americans and American kids is often the only way they learn geography. He isn't easy on the 'average' American which I applaud. He has a wonderful way of incorporating the 'dumbed down' American state of affairs into his first hand adventures.
And if you get the chance to ever catch him speaking on C-Spans Booknotes you will not be disappointed and may well spend some hard earned dollars ordering the VHS tape of the show, if you are to lazy to record it.
And I agree 100% with Amazon.com reviewer rexferal from Grand Junction, CO who notes ' Less bitter than Ann Coulter, far funnier than Al Franken, this is a book with an eye for the absurd that has chosen to laugh rather than to cry'. And as others have noted do a google.com search for his pieces in both Rolling Stone and The Atlantic publications.
on June 26, 2004
"I like the places I write about. I enjoy the people. I have had a good time where ever I've
gone, Iraq included. My subject in a way is pleasure. This is a book about pleasantness which is why I have dedicated it to Mike Kelly", so says PJ O'Rourke in his new book "Peace Kills: America's New Imperialism. Mike Kelly was the editor of "The Atlantic" until he was killed in an accident in Iraq. Mike Kelly is the kind of person you want as a friend, funny, irreverent, kind, a family man who adored his wife and children- sounds like P.J.O'Rourke as a matter of fact.
I have adored P. J. O'Rourke for several years. P.J. O'Rourke is an admitted Libertarian, as am I. P. J. lives in New England, he moved here after 9-11. He found the kind of simple life he wanted for his family and himself. but, he also has a home in the city, Washington, D.C. so he meet and greet old friends and do his job as a writer/reporter. P.J. also appears on NPR's "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" on a semi-regular basis. All in all a man to be admired.
In this new book, he has put together some of his articles from "The Atlantic" and "The Wall Street Journal". He talks about the start of the Iraq War. He was in Kuwait and was awakened by his wife in the US who called to tell him the war had started. He finally arrives in Baghdad and as he visits one of Saddam's palaces he says "If a reason for invading Iraq was needed, felony interior decorating would have sufficed." Now, do you understand why I love this guy's wit? He goes on to discuss his visit to Kosovo and Israel after 9-11. But the largest portion of the book is devoted to Iraq and Kuwait. He bargains with a local for a case of beer starting at $20 and ended up paying $24.50. What a country! He concludes that we will never have Peace but we will have a war where we talk about our soldiers we can say "They are our Heroes".
P.J. O'Rourke is never dull. I search for his articles in "The Atlantic" first- they are always informative, entertaining and irreverent. This is my kind of book. He doesn't clear up my confusion but then, it's mine, anyway. prisrob.
on June 21, 2004
This, PJ's latest, (...) a grab-bag of vaguely-connected pieces dealing with essentially the same theme (Give War A Chance). As such, it is a nice snapshot of the time, but doesn't give much in the way of lasting significance.
The travelogues to Israel and Egypt are among O'Rourke's finest foreign-correspondent pieces, but the brief look at why we went to war with Iraq seems facile and uninvolving. It may just be that I disagree with O'Rourke over the necessity of this war, but I didn't find his own criteria for why we did all that convincing. The trip through Kuwait and Iraq is illuminating in its portrait of the war some time before it really turned into a bloodshed, but offers little in the way of more than a cultural snapshot.
I think the chapter dealing with the anti-war protestors is a bit mixed. The war the protesters were up in arms against was Afghanistan, not Iraq, so I side with PJ on that one being the right war to engage in. But O'Rourke's overall dismissal of the protesters smacks of the same narrow-minded logic that disassociates most Republican pundits from the mainstream of American thought. If O'Rourke feels the protestors are wasting their time, he can't really offer much alternative to dispute their inherent views on the meaninglessness of war.
That being said, it's still an enjoyable read: The humor is crackling, and O'Rourke lets in trademark comments about how utterly stupid war is to balance out what I found as T.R.W.A.D. (Typical Republican Whining About Dissent - feel free to use that anytime). The last chapter on Iwo Jima deals with the utter senselessness of either side's will to hold or take the island. It's a sobering thought, considering what so many died for amounts to a less-than-paradisical island with little in the way of natural beauty.
Overall, I liked this book pretty well, even though I disagreed totally with O'Rourke's rationalizations for the crisis in Iraq. It's really up to the individual reader to determine where they stand on that issue, but it shouldn't take away from anyone's ability to enjoy this book in total. Four stars due to the haphazard way it was put together (would have worked better as a cohesive treatise on the modern state of warfare, post-9/11), and because it's over far too soon.
on June 21, 2004
I gotta give PJ 3 stars, as I used to be a big fan. Now that I know something, he's not as funny. It's harder to be funny from the right, or from the top... and in "Peace Kills" it doesn't work so well for me. Now that I think back, PJ's style could be summed up as "I wonder what the poor people are doing? Heh heh." That angle provided a boost when I was a little twerp, and somehow still thought the left was a dominant threat, and the right-wing an embattled minority. But time tells me otherwise... so PJ doesn't ring as true (to me) now. Tip o' the hat to PJ, though, as he still handles his hippie to conserative transition with a cool unseen in so many neocons. (Say, for example, David - stop foaming - Horowitz!!!).
I first saw PJ on Letterman years ago, and was amazed at how shaken he was. On more recent TV appearences, PJ is pleasant, if not the confident aggressor/prankster/wisecracker in print. But, I guess a lot of folks are like that. I mean, if PJ lost confidence with the right, he'd tell us... or would he?!! Who knows. 3 stars because PJ is "good people," injects humor (and often depth!)into world affairs, and he has the Irish gene for good storytelling.
on June 5, 2004
A witty and incisive collection of articles on the state of the world, it stars with 'Why Americans Hate Foreign Policy', and goes on to describe the baffling and tangled stae of affairs in Kosovo in 1999. I found the chapter describing his visit to Israel in 2001 particularly interesting, his comments on Zionism are fascinating. The chapter on Egypt is excellent too, though I did have rservations about his comment that we had no civilisation in Europe when the Pyramids were built. We didn't have civilisation on the scale and grandeur of Egypt, but we had some, after all, Newgrange was built before the Pyramids, and it's still standing. He also drags out those old chestnuts about the Arab world being more civilised than Europe during the Middle Ages, and about classical learning being unknown here until the Renaissance, both quite untrue. Mr O'Rourke knows a lot about a lot of things, but I don't think he knows much about the Middle Ages. The chapter about the anti-war demonstrations in Washington is very funny, and the chapter on Kuwait and Iraq during the early part of the war utterly fascinating. O'Rourke's genius for describing countries at war is unequeled. The chapter on Iwo Jima is interesting, but I found myself somewhat bemused by his statement that the Japanese officers were arguably more sensitive - nad more intelligent-than their American counterparts. Praising the culutral attaintments of the Japanese officers, he tells us that one of them knew Spencer Tracy, and that all three officers fought to the death. Having had an uncle who was taken prisoner by the Japanese, and was put to work building their vile Burma railway, I am not disposed to shed any tears over Japanese deaths during the war, and I don't care if every officer in the Japanese army knew Spencer Tracy AND Katherine Hepburn, there was nothing intelligent or sensitive about the way they treated their prisoners. This is a very good book, but not quite as dazzlingly brilliant and witty as some of his earlier books like 'Holidays in Hell' 'Give War a Chance' "All the Trouble in the World" and 'Eat the Rich'. And I definitely feel that when it came to writing about Iwo jima, he must have had too much saki
on May 26, 2004
You probably either love or hate P.J. O'Rourke. From the ranting Marxist maniac of thirty years ago to the libertarian leaning Republican of today, he has been consistently funny. This book covers 9/11 through the early stages of the war in Iraq.
O'Rourke is something of a gonzo journalist in the Hunter S. Thompson tradition in that the story is his adventures in getting the story. The fault is not as grievous with O'Rourke, however, in that he is both far less pretentious and far funnier. (He mentions the personal effect of 9/11 on him of driving his prior book off the medium well sellers list, for example.) We travel with O'Rourke as he watches the well intentioned fail to bring order out of chaos while delivering free food to the semi-starving, while he dickers up the cost of buying what he thinks is alcoholic beer in dry Iraq, and while he visits Holy Land, or is it the holely land?
There are certain insights here although the book is played primarily for laughs. It is difficult to dislike the people O'Rourke meets in his travels eventhough they dislike ech other to the point of killing. There is no strong political message in this book and O'Rourke does not burden us with any proposed solutions. Rather, he describes the scenes and the people in such a way as to recall to mind Oliver Hardy saying to Stan Laurel, "This is another fine mess you've gotten me into."
I might mention that this is not a book for the ages. Although there will be no problem for the reasonably well informed now, in ten years you won't be able to get the jokes without reference to footnotes.
Less bitter than Ann Coulter, far funnier than Al Franken, this is a book with an eye for the absurd that has chosen to laugh rather than to cry.
on May 13, 2004
War is hell - but sometimes peace is worse. P.J. O'Rourke's latest book is one of his best. You could shave with this wit. Humor is always funnier when it comes from a particular point of view. When he travels the world and reports on its trouble spots, O'Rourke strikes the pose of the kid in the back of the class making funny noises, but secretly he's the kid in the front row who has done all his homework. He knows his stuff which makes his it funnier and more insightful. Take this passage on how to tell the difference between piles of rubble in the war in Kosovo: "When the destruction was general, it was Serbian. Serbs surrounded Albanian villages and shelled them. When the destruction was specific, it was Albanian. Albaninas set fire to Serbian homes and businesses. And when the destruction was pointless - involving a bridge to nowhere, an empty oil storage tank, an evacuated Serb police headquarters and the like - it was NATO trying to fight a war without hurting anybody." O'Rourke is a former hippie turned Republican frat boy and his work has appeal across the political spectrum - regardless of how much he can't stand Hillary Clinton. Stuffed shirts, people who refuse to laugh because there's so much suffering in the world, people who don't like a good politically incorrect joke over drinks should stay a hundred miles from this book. Anyone who refuses to take the world seriously should ring up several.