Monday, January 03, 2005


Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War by James Carroll, Metropolitan Books, New York, 2004

Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War is a collection of columns from James Carroll of the Boston Herald. Carroll, a columnist; a general's son; a former chaplain and antiwar activist; the author of the National Book Award-winning memoir An American Requiem, Constantine's Sword, a history of Christian anti-Semitism, and ten novels, has written this book as part of the American Empire Project. The columns begin on September 15, 2001 and run through March 16, 2004 -- a two-and-a-half year, mostly chronological, account of Bush's War on Terrorism.

As Carroll puts it, "This collection of writings against Bush's war, a detailed and contemporaneous chronicle of that war, intends to be a book of memory...All the ways George Bush exploited those events, betraying the memory of those who died in them, must be lifted up and examined again, so that the outrageousness of his political purpose can be felt in its fullness...That the first purpose of the war - Osama 'dead or alive' - changed when al Qaeda proved elusive should not be forgotten. That the early justification for the war against Iraq - Saddam's weapons of mass destruction - changed when they proved nonexistent should not be forgotten. That in former times the U.S. government behaved as if facts mattered, as if evidence informed policy, should not be forgotten. That Afghanistan and Iraq are in shambles, with thousands dead and hundreds of thousands at risk from disease, disorder, and despair, should not be forgotten. That a now disdainful world gave itself in unbridled love to America on 9-11 should not be forgotten."

As the book unfolds, we follow the aftermath of the September 11 attacks and Bush's/America's response. In the first column, "War Not Law," Carroll makes the case that war is not the answer, that law enforcement is. Because the book is in chronological order (with a few exceptions - such as a chapter on Israeli-Palestinian relations), we can see the war progress and mutate. A war against al Qaeda becomes a war on the Taliban, which leads to aerial bombing and 'collateral damage' and 'friendly fire. Then comes the leadup to the inevitable Iraq War and the shifting justifications -- a war against Saddam's weapons of mass destruction becomes a war for democracy, then a war to support because our troops are there. Not to compare Iraq to Vietnam, but it reminds me of the slowly growing morass chronicled in The Best and the Brightest. He also explores how Bush's shifting, mutating war on terror has effected other countries, increasing tensions and nuclear proliferation. In the final column of the book, Carroll ruefully marks the one-year anniversary of the start of the Iraq War with a dire prediction: "Whatever happens from this week forward in Iraq, the main outcome of the war, for the United States, is clear. We have defeated ourselves."

Carroll strays away from Bush's war on terror to discuss other issues, such as the Columbia shuttle disaster, the Moscow theater hostage disaster, the thirtieth anniversary of the Christmas bombing of North Vietnam, ecological disaster, The Passion of the Christ, and the Catholic Church's molestation scandal. Carroll is at his best when he is speaking of religion and morality. He makes the point that when Bush called the war on terrorism "this crusade," it was probably more Freudian slip than slip of the tongue. He explores the similarities between "this crusade" and the Crusades of the last millineum. He also makes the point that George W. Bush is the opposite of a conservative: "This presidency marks the overthrow of traditional American values and policies...The most drastic shift involves American attitudes toward war...War is all at once being defined as the essence of who we are."


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