War

The Battle for the Arab Spring: Revolution, Counter-Revolution and the Making of a New Era by Lin Noueihed and Alex Warren & Libya: The Rise and Fall of Qaddafi by Alison Pargeter

by
September 2012, no. 344

The danger in writing about unfolding dramas is that they keep unfolding, potentially stranding both writer and reader. Not so with these two fine books, whose authors have long experience of the Middle East. Quite different in scope – a sweep of the Arab world contrasting with the ascent and decay of Muammar Gaddafi’s brutal régime – they deal with past, present, and possible future events in a lucid, compelling way. Anyone with an interest in what is at stake in the Middle East would be well advised to read them.

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Fighting to the Finish does not get off to a good start; its title is overstated. The First Australian Task Force (1ATF), trimmed down in 1970 from three to two battalions, withdrew from the Vietnam War by December 1971. The small remaining advisory group withdrew in December 1972. Fighting finished in April 1975, when more than 180 battalions of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) swarmed around Saigon, causing it to fall. It hardly seems sensible to declare that the Australian Army fought to the finish over two years before the end of the war.

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Violent and non-violent harm is endured, inflicted, and internalised by all people at different times, and to varying degrees. It was Cicero who is believed to have first posited that the main obligation human beings have is to refrain from harming one another, and that any unnecessary act of doing so renders that person an enemy of the human race.

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Sylvia Lawson is an award-winning and highly respected essayist and film critic. Her subject matter, though generally Australian, is also concerned with our nearer neighbours and with the culture and politics f the world beyond. The theme of this new collection is resistance to oppression in seven parts of the world.

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This book is the second in a series compiled by a group of Canberra academics on the distortions they perceive to surround the writing of military history in this country. Before the book itself is tackled, a word should be said about the titles they have chosen for their two volumes. The first (published in 2010) is called Zombie Myths of Australian Military History; this one is entitled Anzac’s Dirty Dozen: 12 Myths of Australian Military History. As happens to many a poor author, these hideously ugly titles may have been imposed on the book by the publisher. If not, they need serious help when they title future volumes.

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It is a brave undertaking to write a single-volume history of World War II. As Max Hastings notes, we already have many good books in this category: Weinberg, A World At Arms: A Global History of World War II (1994); Calvocoressi, Wint, and Pritchard, Total War: The Causes and Courses of the Second World War (1989); Millett and Murray, A War To Be Won: Fighting the Second World War (2000); and Hastings might have mentioned Parker’s Struggle For Survival: The History of the Second World War (1989) and Ellis’s Brute Force: Allied Strategy and Tactics in the Second World War (1990). He was too late to notice Andrew Roberts’s latest contribution.

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War is one of the great paradoxes of Australia. Why should a people occupying a continent so far from the world’s trouble spots have spent so much of their history dying in often distant wars? It is one of the questions that drew me to the study of Australian history. I am little the wiser after reading this collection of Australian war writing. This is partly because editor Mark Dapin is intent simply on providing a range of Australian literary responses, and a few not so literary, to the experience of war.

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Many of us would find it as hard as Shaw’s Ladvenu does to think of any good reason for torture. It seems medieval, it is abhorrent, it is internationally illegal, and it doesn’t work. Statements made under torture are legally useless, and their value as intelligence is not much better ...

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Amos Oz, who is at the pinnacle of Israeli writing, epitomises the role of writer as a voice of hope, a moral guide, as well as the spinner of dream tales. Speaking recently at the Melbourne Town Hall, Oz captured the mood of progressive thought in Israel when he spoke of the pressing need for a two-state solution to resolve the Palestinian–Israeli crisis, where the warring forces would negotiate over the small tracts of land at issue, and would respect each other’s claims of sovereignty over their lands as indigenous peoples and equals. With his gift for striking images, Oz spoke of a time when Israel and Palestine would have embassies in each other’s countries. Israel, Oz declared, should be the first state to recognise the new state of Palestine. But is it all a dream?

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Tariq Ali, proclaims the Guardian, ‘has been a leading figure of the international left since the 60s’. If his latest book is the best the left can muster, I fear that its chances of influencing political debate are minimal – and, even worse, undesirable.

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