Category Archives: Book Review

Patriarchy Problems

I already know this post will be a bit of a multi-topic mess, but sometimes the dots just connect themselves…

I recently finished reading a lovely novel called Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Much like Adichie herself, the protagonist of Americanah is a young Nigerian woman who comes to the United States in pursuit of a college education. I really enjoyed this book, not so much for the love story at its center, as for the glimpse into what life is like for an African in America (as opposed to an African-American).

As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to see the uncomfortable truth in the feminist trope that we white males in America spend our lives enjoying the benefits of patriarchy without acknowledging — or even realizing — that it exists. Parts of Americanah really brought that truth home for me. (Along with more than I ever wanted to know about black women’s hair.) I found it fascinating that something written in English could be so foreign to me.

Speaking of patriarchy, a couple of weeks ago, while I was in the middle of reading a Nigerian writer’s novel, Nigeria was in the news because of a mass kidnapping in the town of Chibok. The Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram attacked a government girls school, shot the guards, loaded 234 teenage girls into trucks, and disappeared into the forest.

The name “Boko Haram” loosely translates as meaning “Western education is sin.” That’s right, their entire reason for existence is to keep people ignorant. Especially the women. They are neanderthals that use religion to justify treating women as property.

Which brings me to this AlterNet article I discovered this morning using my google-fu. It’s two years old, but still very topical. The author delves into why our very own religious conservatives are constantly fighting against contraception.

Until the condom, the diaphragm, the Pill, the IUD, and all the subsequent variants of hormonal fertility control came along, anatomy really was destiny — and all of the world’s societies were organized around that central fact. Women were born to bear children; they had no other life options. With a few rebellious or well-born exceptions (and a few outlier cultures that somehow found their way to a more equal footing), the vast majority of women who’ve ever lived on this planet were tied to home, dependent on men, and subject to all kinds of religious and cultural restrictions designed to guarantee that they bore the right kids to the right man at the right time — even if that meant effectively jailing them at home.

No surprise really, just as with Boko Haram, it’s all about keeping the women folk in line. Otherwise, bitches get uppity.

I Read A Book

I have long believed that, with the possible exception of our invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11, the United States has not engaged in any truly necessary military action since World War II. Reading “Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country” by Andrew J. Bacevich reinforces my belief. This book is a brutal takedown of our military and civilian leadership over the last half century. Bacevich pulls no punches, Democratic and Republican administrations alike feel his wrath, along with their enablers, a patriotic, flag-waving (but otherwise disengaged and disinterested) citizenry that has become “conditioned to believe that leadership best expresses itself in the wielding of military might.”

Punching is an apt metaphor for Bacevich’s style of prose. He just keeps pummeling the reader with one unpleasant truth after another. It’s tough to find a suitably short bit to illustrate what I mean. Here he is, talking about waging our recent wars on credit while our economy at home tanked:

The crux of the problem lay with two symmetrical one-percents: the 1 percent whose members get sent to fight seemingly endless wars and that other 1 percent whose members demonstrate such a knack for enriching themselves in “wartime.” Needless to say, the two one-percents neither intersect nor overlap. Few of the very rich send their sons or daughters to fight. Few of those leaving the military ranks find their way into the ranks of the plutocracy.

{snippage}

Yet people who permit war to be waged in their name while offloading onto a tiny minority responsibility for its actual conduct have no cause to complain about an equally small minority milking the system for all it’s worth. Crudely put, if the very rich are engaged in exploiting the 99 percent who are not, their actions are analogous to that of American society as a whole in its treatment of soldiers: the 99 percent who do not serve in uniform just as ruthlessly exploit the 1 percent who do.

Bacevich returns again and again to this point: Since the abolishment of the draft (the end of the citizen soldier military), and the establishment of an all-volunteer (professional soldier) military, the vast majority of us no longer have any meaningful connection to the armed services. This, along with the insane amounts of money floating around in the defense industry, has led directly to our political and military leaders ability — and willingness — to employ force instead of diplomacy. Our defense is becoming increasingly more offensive.

Bacevich calls our adventures in interventionism, and normalization of the use of force, the “Israelification” of US policy. Back when dubya was preznit, it was referred to as the “Bush Doctrine” in his Global War on Terra. I don’t know what Michelle’s husband calls it, but it’s clear that preemptive attacks in the name of self-defense have not just continued, but increased. In the news just today, I learned his drone program is still making friends.

Bacevich doesn’t offer much along the line of solutions to these problems, other than suggesting we start paying for our wars in real time, and create a citizen army in which we must all participate in some way. Those are good ideas, but they just aren’t going to happen, because, as Bacevich keeps pointing out, most Americans aren’t paying attention.

This book left me with a bleak feeling that the military-industrial complex Dwight Eisenhower warned us about on his way out of office has won, and there is not a damn thing we can do about it. When all you have is a hammer, all the world is a nail. When a significant portion of your economy revolves around the manufacture of hammers, the world is, of necessity, overrun with nails.