7.25.2008

what i'm reading (updated for clarification)

As I finish up Stephen Kinzer's Overthrow, I want to again recommend it as a must-read for understanding US foreign policy. And that means understanding it in a way that most USians will never do.
On the evening of March 19, 2003, shortly before announcing that the United States was about to launch its long-expected invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush sat behind an antique desk in the White House and practiced reading his speech. It struck all the appropriate notes, including a declaration that the purpose of this invasion was "to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger." Some would later point to it as the speech that ripped the United States away from a long tradition of cooperative diplomacy, turning it into an arrogant power that assumed the right to determine which foreign governments could live and which must die. The man who looked down on Busy from a large oil painting on the wall behind him would have understood better than anyone how wrong that was.

Bush rehearsed this speech in the Treaty Room, at the same desk from which he had announced the invasion of Afghanistan seventeen months before. It was one of his favorite rooms in the White House, at least in part because of the imposing painting that is the first thing visitors see when they enter. It depicts President William McKinley, the first great American practitioner of "regime change," watching as diplomats sign the protocol that turned Cuba into a protectorate and Puerto Rico into a colony. . . .

Bush's decision to invade Iraq was no break with history but a faithful reflection of the same forces and beliefs that had motivated McKinley and most of the presidents who would later sit in his shadow beneath Chartran's historic painting.

Read this book. It's fascinating and absorbing, and chances are you will learn a lot.

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I've been disappointed in how little time I make for reading books now. Although I read more books than most people, I also love books more than most people. When I think of what interests have most absorbed me over my entire life, books must be first on the list, even before travel and dogs, and well before baseball and music.* Yet reading books takes up less and less of my time, as I spend more and more of it in front of a keyboard and monitor.

A month ago I determined to make time for a book every day, a modest goal of one hour per day. No matter how busy I am, no matter what I'm doing, I decided I can set aside one hour of uninterrupted reading. So far it's working beautifully. I feel better for it.

Next up, Theatre of Fish: Travels Through Newfoundland And Labrador, by John Gimlette. I guess I should have read this before we went to Newfoundland, but I'm sure it will still be very enjoyable.

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* Apparently this can be misinterpreted. I'm saying that my interest in books pre-dates my love of dogs, or of anything else in my life - that I have been reading and loving books for more years than I have been loving dogs, travel, music or baseball, my other abiding interests. I am not implying that books are more important to me than my dogs!

5 comments:

Sarah O. said...

I always like hearing about what you are reading. Have you ever considered cataloguing your books online, using something like LibraryThing or just a list on a blog post that you update as you read? You might not want to devote the time to keeping up something like that, of course, but since you do share excerpts and reviews regularly, I thought I would mention it. I know I would use it.

L-girl said...

Uh-oh... sounds like a fun time-waster. In my obsessive way, my first thought is, what about all the books I've read over my whole life that wouldn't be on the list?

So how does this work?

Thanks for the feedback, too, Sarah. An old friend who surprised me by turning up in comments told me she mainly reads wmtc for book suggestions. She just finished Naomi Wolf's The End of America and emailed to tell me. I was so pleased.

Nancy said...

I love books...but the cat comes first, since she is alive and has needs, and the book (while alive in a way) can wait til I've taken care of her.
McKinley was hardly the first person to practice empire-building: the Mexican War and attempted US land grabs in Canada long predate the 'imperial' plans of McKinley and his manager Mark Hanna (the Karl Rove of his day.)
US history is full of sad facts like this...then again, so is the history of many other nations. Human beings prey on each other as well as on other living things. Not a square inch of the planet, barring a few insignificant islands, is in the hands of original settlers (or species, in the even case of Neanderthals-versus-Cro-Magnon).

L-girl said...

I love books...but the cat comes first, since she is alive and has needs, and the book (while alive in a way) can wait til I've taken care of her.

I didn't mean I love books more than I love my dogs. I meant my interest in books pre-dates my love of dogs, or of anything else in my life. That I have been reading and loving books even longer - for more years - than I have been loving dogs, travel or baseball, my other abiding interests.

Of course my dogs' needs come before books!

L-girl said...

McKinley was hardly the first person to practice empire-building

Also, Kinzer is not saying that McKinley was the first US president to practice empire-building.

But empire building took many forms. Of the form that Kinzer is calling "regime change", McKinley was the first. The parallels between the two eras are very strong.

The point is that Bush's actions were called "unprecedented" and millions of liberal Americans claimed the invasion of Iraq was a huge break with history, an aberration - when it was exactly the opposite.