Book Reports (2004) Back to Home

Hegemony or Survival, written by Norm Chomsky

At first I was a little uncomfortable with Chomsky's hard-edged remarks and continual references to American actions as "terrorism," again and again. However, as I kept reading I understood that his point is clear enough; America has chosen to call terrorism whatever actions harm the country or its citizens, while nearly the same actions taken against others by the US, or conducted under its authorization or support, are justified in the name of defense, freedom, democracy, or counter terrorism.

Chomsky shows a view of American foreign policy, which is quite different from what I used to hear and read, depicted by media, political pundits (in Japan as well), and the US government. He discusses how the USA has become 'unilateral' from the beginning of its history, particularly after the fall of the Soviet Union; the USA has emerged as the preeminent superpower of the world. Chomsky explains with detailed research how the United States has taken advantage of that position to seek after an "imperial grand strategy" to get "unilateral world domination through absolute military superiority" through all ages.

I also felt ill at ease with Chomsky's theory that portrays America's foreign policy as being consistent across partisan lines. Democrats and Republicans are the same capitalist and imperialist parties for that matter, which is considerably different from the publicity that is presented in the popular medias. He is equally critical of the Democratic party as he is of the Republican party.

Chomsky shows us some intentions of American foreign agenda rather than the superficial calls for 'democracy and totalitarian regime change' through reexamining its history. It is convincing if you know what the US did for Indonesia, Nicaragua and other Latin American countries, etc., while it didn't do any harm if some countries are friendly or useful to the US. And now in Iraq. He warns if the US continues to pursue 'a grand imperial strategy with the aim of staking out the globe', it will threaten our species.

I remember Kenzaburou Ooe, Novel prize for literature laureate, once said 'Chomsky is an American conscience'. Now I understand what he meant.

(December, 7 2004)


Ishmael (An Adventure of Mind and Spirit) Written by Daniel Quinn

I bought this book just because its title drew my attention. When having this, I learned that Daniel Quinn, the author of this book, is the winner of the Turner Tommorrow Fellowship. And it is used in many schools and even colleges in the US as a reading material.

An American friend of mine told me about Ishmael in the Old Testament. The name has never left my mind. I was pretty much interested in the story and especially Ishmael himself, for he was an ancestor of Mohammed. I thought 'Wow, Jesus Christ and Mohammed are cousins.' But the book 'Ishemael' is no connection with this Biblical Ishmael. Or the author might have a certain intention to name the Gorilla, the main character of this book, Ishmael. I just don't know.

The narrator's name of this book is unknown, he says just I. One day he meets a massive full-grown gorilla, Ishmael, through the following paper-ad:

TEACHER seeks pupil, Must have an earnest desire to save the
world. Apply in person.

Then he learns Ishmael has the ability to be able to talk through the mind (like telepathically) and why he is so learned. The whole story of the book is dialogues between Ishmael and the narrator. The teacher is the gorilla and the pupil is the unknown narrator.

Ishmael talks about many of our global problems. Why humankind is like this. He categorizes humankind by two, taker, people who got out our culture, and leaver, the people who live in harmony with the nature but if they don't follow the cultivated people, taker, their doom is to be killed by taker. Ishemael abridges our problems, we 'taker' have been taking anything available, and never concerned with other lives at all.@He takes approaches to this issue with anthropological and ecological standpoints. He even tells his own translation for Genesis story in Bible. This part was particularly interesting to me.

We assume ourselves to be chosen species (by Gods) that can conquer the world at will. At first it is shocking to read the way of Ishmael's definition of humankind's culture as errancy, but as I keep reading I thought no one can contradict mankind's destructive role on the planet, and anyone concludes that we have no choice but have to make decisions about whether or not we should be concerned with the natural balance of living things in the near future. If we continue to enact our mother culture, we will destroy ourselves with our environments involving other species.

But how we can stop doing this? I really wish I knew the way. Ishmael tells that if we really want to do, anything will happen, like the Berlin Wall was knocked down which no one ever thought would have happened.

(December, 5 2004)


Against All Enemies, written by Richard A. Clarke

This is an insider story told by Richard A. Clark, starting with memories of the events he encountered as the nation's crisis manager on September 11.
He served several presidents mainly Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. He tells how he and his coworkers got to know about terrorists, especially 'how al Qaeda developed and attacked the United States.' This is also a kind of political history of the American presidents and their Middle and Near East agenda from Reagan's era to G.W. Bush. Chapter 1, Evacuate the White House, is very dramatic and vivid but I was more interested in the historical part, because my memory of what happened in the Middle and Near East was very vague.

Clarke devotes many pages to a discussion of how the George H. W. Bush administration and that of Bill Clinton gradually come to realize the existence of al Qaeda and strong threat of it. Both administrations tried to figure out what they should do to counter their threat. Especially, Clinton tried to liquidate Usama bin Laden, but to no avail because of his sex scandal and the right wing's bitter accusation for it. I understood how deeply Clarke was disappointed at Clinton's withdrawal from attacking al Qaeda. It seems that he put such a great trust in Clinton foreign policy, that his disappointment was tremendous.

After Clinton, Clarke continuously served the G.W.Bush administration and tried to advise them the danger of al Qaeda. But his strong requests to move terrorism up the list of priorities were pushed back or were not taken seriously by the administration.

He writes,
'Wolfowitz turned to me. "You give bin Laden too much credit. He could not do all these things like the 1993 attack on New York, not without a state sponsor. Just because FBI and CIA have failed to find the linkages does not mean they don't exist." I could not believe it, but Wolfowitz was actually spouting the totally discredited Laurie Mylroie theory that Iraq was behind the 1993 truck bomb at the World Trade Center, a theory that had been investigated for years and found to be totally untrue.'

Then after the attacks on September 11, Bush and his key advisers such as Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Dick Cheney almost immediately turned their attention to Iraq. Clarke strongly criticizes the government for lacking righteous action to terrorism and attacking Iraq, under the garb of terrorism, which, he says, made terrorists much easier to recruit young suicide corps to attack America and other countries. That was what Usama bin Laden wanted the most.

And Bush uses taxes for military not for the vulnerability of home of the country. He argues, 'Far from being asked to pay additional taxes to fund the war on terrorism, Americans were told that they would pay fewer taxes and costs to our grandchildren.' He also dissertates the importance of 'seeking to cultivate an unified global consensus to destroy the ideological roots of terrorism,' rather than lashing out 'in a largely unilateral and entirely irelevant military adventure against a Muslim nation.' I really agree with him.

(August, 26 2004)


Stupid White Men, written by Michael Moore

I finished this book a few days ago. In chapter one 'A Very American Coup', I was depressed to know how Bush had won the election in Florida. At that time I wanted Gore to win. You'll think it's strange for me to hope that Democrats win, since I'm not an American. But I'm the kind of person who worries about environment-related issues of our planet.

I was very much discouraged when I heard that the USA (Clinton ) didn't ratify the Kyoto Protocol agreement on global warming. I always want to stand by the weaker and poorer, because I'm one, too. (I thought Gore was the person who cared about those people). So I was watching the 2000 election debacle in Florida. I was very much disappointed by the result.
And I was very sad about G. Bush's pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol when he became the president. Though I had anticipated it when Republicans won the election.

Also Michael Moore opened my eye by criticizing of Democrats which are not the old type Democrats anymore. Because they are financed by almost the same companies as Republicans are. The differences are that they are not oil or weapons-making companies and Republicans are more patent to show those tendencies while Democrats hide them. But both parties are working for the richest people who are only 1% of people in the USA, the author says.

Maybe he is a little over emphatic on some issues but I understand his worry and anger, because those are the same as mine. Since America is the biggest and most powerful country in the world, the future of human beings is depends upon how America behaves. I understand well why he supported Nader of the Green Party.

The book also covers health care, prisons issue, race relations, and foreign affairs. Moore ticks off what Bush (and Clinton) did and didn't do as President. He also mentions 1984 written by George Orwell, saying 'What most people remember from that book is "Big Brother." But even more relevant today is the part about how The Leader needed to have a "permanent war." He needed to keep the citizens in perpetual fear of the enemy so they would give him all the power he desired.'

This reminded me of my graduation thesis on George Orwell, Animal Farm and 1984. Though I was young in those days, I really appreciated what George Orwell and now MiChael Moore tried to say.

The book is easy to read and I often laughed at Michael's biting and bitter satire.

(June, 11 2004)


Shutter Babe; Adventure in Love and War (With a new Afterword), written by Deborah Copaken Kogan

This is also Deborah Copaken Kogan's autobiographical novel.
Maybe because I'm old and have a conservative mind about woman's sexual behavior, I don't like this book. Well, at first, even the author's naive attitudes for men, I thought she'll learn. As there is a lot of potential in this book at first, I expected her to grow up as a human and a photojournalist. But this story didn't meet my expectation. Okay, to be fair, we can see what it's like to be a photojournalist and we can have some insight of a photojournalist's world to some extent.

Also I don't like her feminist account of the world of photojournalism. If she didn't behave in that way, this book must have fulfilled that purpose.
Is she too honest or trying too much to appeal to the readers? I don't know, but she uses so many abusive sexual descriptions. She slept with so many men from in her college days. I felt she used her quality of being a pretty woman when she needed. Can we call it love? I wonder.

The book is divided into three parts--'Develop' 'Stop' 'Fix'-- and each part has two sections, which have names she knows. Pascal, Pierre, Julian, Doru, Paul (whom she eventually married,) and her son Jacob.
She tells the stories of those men (and other men as well) whom she had sexual relations with, (except, of course, his son) and her photojournalistic quest, from Afghanistan when the Soviet Army pulled out at the end of the war, drug addicts in Switzerland, the "Rhino war" in Zimbabwe, orphanages in Romania and the failed coup in Moscow in 1991.

In the afterword, Deborah C. Kogan mentions September 11, 2001, saying
"America has been raped, and, like all victims of violent assault, she will never be the same."
"But...knowing what I think about the aftermath of violence, knowing what I think I know about the resilience of the human spirit in the face of evil and adversity, I will say it. I am hopeful about our future."
"Our country will come back from this trauma not only in good health, but perhaps stronger, wiser, and with a greater appreciation of life for having endured it."

I felt a little strange, for she uses the word 'rape' for America. In advance she tells her own story about her being raped by her friend in her younger days. When I read the episode, I thought that she was too vulnerable and thoughtless to invite the boy to her room. She should have known what would happen if she let her friend, whom she didn't know well, get into her room. She showed him her college graduation assignment album which contains a photo of a man exposing his sex.
I thought she is insinuating that America herself invited 'September 11', of course unintentionally, though.

(Apr. 9, 2004)


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, (writen by Robert M. Pirsig)

It took me a few days to decide to write this review.
Because I wasn't (and still am not) sure if I understood this book. The entire of this book describes a few weeks journey on a motorcycle of a father and his son, Chris, from Minneapolis, Minnesota to California. The half of their journey they were with a befriended couple. And the author depicts how important motorcycle maintenance is when you travel on it. He describes the differences between trips on motorcycles and in cars.

Along side of the motorcycle journey description, the narrator, the father, writes his inner thought, calling his former-self 'Phaedrus'. Since he was detained in a mental hospital and destroyed his memory and personality there. So this is also his former-self quest journey. He decided to do this for his son and for himself to deal with the incipient signs of their mental instability.

"What follows is based on actual occurrences. Although much has been changed for rhetorical purposes, it must be regarded in its essence as fact. However, it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It's not very factual on motorcycles, either".

As Pirsig writes in Author's Note of the first page of this book, this is his autobiographical novel. In the book he tries to identify what he thought before his being hospitalized. That is his philosophical quest of 'quality,' (that was the main reason which made him depressed or insane). And he calls that part of this book 'Chautaqua' ( an institution that flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries providing popular education combined with entertainment in the form of lectures, concerts, and plays often presented outdoors or in a tent )

"I would like to use the time to talk in some depth about things that seem important. What is in mind is a sort of Chautaqua that's the only name that I can think of for it "

He breaks the world down into two outlooks, Classic and Romantic. Aesthetics (the study of beauty) is form based on Romantic thinking, while mechanics (the study of how things work) is function based on Classical thinking. Classicists deal in pragmatics and facts, while Romantics deal in feelings and appearances.

Pirsig wonders whether science and logic (western thinking) can really bring us closer to the Truth. Ever since Socrates began using the dialectic to try to discover Truth, humans have been on a quest to find it. The tool we use is scientific method but that science is only one possibility out of many other hypotheses. And our science is on that one of the hypotheses. He quotes Einstein's words, "Evolution has shown that at any given moment out of all conceivable constructions a single one has always proved itself superior to the rest."

Pirsig tries to reconciliate Eastern and Western philosophy. He uses philosophy of Socrates and the Sophists to Hume, Kant and Poincar. He also refers to Hinduism and Buddhism.

The last part, in which his former self wins over his pragmatic new self and reconcilis with Chris, was very impressive. Chris stands up on the foot pegs of their motorcycle and can see everything that he couldn't see over his fathers shoulders before. The father tells him, if he wants to have a motorcycle he has to take care of it. Then Chris asks "Is it hard?" "Not if you have the right attitudes. It's having the right attitudes that's hard."

I thought this scene is very metaphoric.

(Mar. 8, 2004)


Salvation : book 2 of the Horizon Trilogy (written by Ray Andrews)

In Covenant (book 1 of the Horizon Trilogy) Ambassador, a sophisticated spaceship, reached Pluto to detect the origin of a beacon. The Ambassador, itself, was built as a kind of tiny planet, able to travel for long years. But it disappeared, without leaving a trace or explanation.

Salvation starts, 17 years after the Ambassador's disappearance. Earth launches Ambassador's sister spaceship "Ernest Shackleton" in the hope of finding the Ambassador and if possible rescuing its survivors. However when Ernest Shackleton arrives on Pluto, they don't find any survivors except a skeleton-like Ambassador and the remain of three human beings. Who are they? And why are there only three?

The confusion deepens as more strange findings are uncovered. They found a deep hole with lift equipment. Again they find two bodies of humanoids which undoubtedly aren't Ambassador's crew members.
What really happened to Ambassador and its crew members? When they reach under Pluto's thick ice, they find..... ooops, I'd better stop there!
I don't want to spoil it for you!

Andrews has made this book a real page turner; I couldn't put it down. He again talks about human being's vulnerability. For example, his idea that no matter how much professional space training the crew of Ernest Shackleton has, human emotion cannot be contained. Even though they tried to choose the would-be-the-best-crew members for Ernest Shackleton, and make them as comfortable as possible for such a long space travel, one crew member breaks down and threatens the whole mission.

In book 3, Andrews will give us explanations about the questions that have arisen from book 2.

(Feb. 7, 2004)


The Yamato Dynasty (written by Stealing Seagrave and Peggy seagrave)

Sterling Seagrave and his wife and collaborator, Peggy depict the personal histories of Japan's emperors, their wives and other members of the imperial family from Meiji restoration to the present. They used recently discovered sources, including imperial diaries and many other sources from the other countries. Their notes are almost 70 pages. They also discuss Japan's political and economic culture which connect deeply to Japan's imperial system.

The authors argue that the emperors were intentionally veiled behind so that plutocrats (they uses the word oligarchy very often) and militarists could always control Japanese society through disguised emperors ruling. They say the emperors were merely puppets controlled from behind by those financial elite with strings. Those financial elite and militarists were at first from the clan lords mainly Choshu. Then, didn't the emperor have any responsibility for Japan's military aggression, wartime atrocities and looting of wealth from all over Asia before and during W.W.II ? This was my first question.

They explain how the emperor Hirohito was educated by those advisers to follow their opinions. Then the emperor himself wanted to stay the throne, being afraid of any change, couldn't understand the young military officers intention who broke into the politicians' houses to kill them. They worried about Japan's situation thinking those politicians were doing wrong and wanted the emperor to reform Japan's system. Those events happened in 1930's, before Japan's aggression started. In reality however those young naive officers were used by plutocrats and militarists who wanted to begin the war.

After Japan's defeat, the war criminals were punished. However emperor Hirohito and his other family were restored to power and the other war criminals who were clearly guiltier, having actively worked for the war, walked out of Sugamo prison, only a handful of them were punished including Tojyo Hideki (he was used as scapegoat, the authors argue).

The authors criticize U.S. officials, especially MacArthur. The prologue of this book is 'Emperor Meets Shogun'. It is clear that Shogun is MacAther, and it implies that the person who manipulated the emperor after the war was MacAther. The authors discuss where the gold and other treasures looted from the Asian countries were gone. This was really an eye opener to me, too who used to think to have some knowledge. What a fool I was!

However while I am writing this review, I have some ambivalent feelings. I wonder where this feelings come from. Maybe I spent my elementary school days in the war time and was educated that emperor was a god's son, and we had to die under his name. The childhood education is hard to die, even if my father went bankrupt because of an air raid attack in Tokyo and we had to evacuate to Miyagi prefecture, living in poverty. Though I love the life in Miyagi.

Maybe there are some questionable issues and to much arguing, but I think this book is worth reading and I'd like to recommend it to especially young people who don't know anything about Japan's atrocity including 'Nanking Incident (Raping)', and only know about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It's a pity that this book is not likely to be translated into Japanese because of the contents.

(Feb. 6, 2004)