Monday, October 16, 2006


Book Roundup # 13: The Red Army, History Of The US Senate And North Korea And Nukes
By Thomas Riggins [PA Archives]

Here is number 13 in our series of Book Roundups--- which are essentially reviews of reviews of the current literature. The 12 previous roundups are archived on our website. Anyone who wants to do a full review of any of these books, please contact us at

IVAN’S WAR: LIFE AND DEATH IN THE RED ARMY, 1939-1945 by Catherine Merridale, Metropolitan Books, pp. 462, reviewed by William Grimes, New York Times 2-15-06.
I’m sure it was no fun being in the Red Army during W.W.II. Grimes’ review is very positive about this book which paints a very negative picture of the Soviet Army-- one almost forgets that they were fighting 80% of the German army and basically saved Europe from the Nazis. To paint her picture the author relies not only on “historical reconstruction” but also “sympathetic projection.” Her only problem seems to be that when she interviews the actual Soviet veterans of W.W.II her reconstructions and projections are rejected by them. Grimes says that “Ms. Merridale is understanding about why that might be.” But it doesn’t occur to him, or it seems to her, that it might be because her book is more cold war fiction than it is actual historical fact.

THE MOST EXCLUSIVE CLUB: A HISTORY OF THE MODERN UNITED STATES SENATE by Lewis L. Gould, Basic Books, 416 pages, reviewed by Sam Rosenfeld in The American Prospect, December 2005.
This review will lead you to really think about the role of the Senate. It begins by remarking on the Senate minority leader Harry Reid’s defense of the filibuster as a weapon against the Republicans. We should remember that the filibuster was traditionally condemned by progressives as anti-democratic because a determined minority could disrupt the will of the majority. It was infamously used by segregationist senators to prevent civil rights legislation from being passed. O tempora, O mores!
When Gould began his book he thought he was going to find out what a noble and good institution the Senate was. Instead, he writes, it has “genuinely impede[d] the nation’s vitality and evolution.” The reviewer points out that this is a history covering the time from Teddy Roosevelt to George W. Bush’s re-election (that should be “re-election” since he was not really elected to his first term). The author’s theme is the Senate “as a graveyard of progressive reform.” Gould points out that “the filibuster has stood in the way of necessary reform.” The times the Senate has had a chance to do something progressive have been few and far between and this is primarily due to the filibuster. It would seem that it should go. The Senate itself should go too for it is inherently ant-democratic and anti-working class.
When New York has the same representation as Montana or South Dakota there is not even an illusion of democratic equality of representation. Going beyond Gould, the reviewer points out that “the Senate will almost invariably be whiter and wealthier than the House.” Rosenfeld concludes that “liberalism stands to gain the most” in the long run if the Republicans get rid of the filibuster and other undemocratic procedures in an effort to stifle Democratic attempts to foil their plans. They would inadvertently “effect a lasting transformation of the Congress into a more parliamentary-style institution.”

NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE WORLD by Gordon C. Chang, Random House, 327 pages, reviewed by David Sanger in The New York Times 1-19-06.
After reading this review it is difficult to tell which of the two, the author or the reviewer, is more ignorant ( a polite word). The title itself is stupid. North Korea doesn’t want to “take on” anyone, let alone the world. Chang seems to think if you don’t bow down to the US that is “taking on the world.” North Korea’s having the bomb bugs the US but it is ok for Israel to have it. Israel, of course, is not “taking on the world”-- despite its record of ignoring UN resolutions.
Sanger opines that the DPRK wants the bomb “figuring that Saddam Hussein’s mistake was taking on the the United States without getting his nukes in order.” It is really idiotic to suggest that Iraq wanted to “take on” the United States. The reviewer also writes that the DPKR “is a tiny country that should have collapsed years ago in a radioactive heap.” Is this a suggestion that it should have been nuked by the US a long time ago? When the Times lets such BS decorate it’s pages one can only wonder why it is promoting such ill considered propaganda under the guise of “journalism.”
Chang himself, who is sometimes referred to as Mr. Gordon by the reviewer, shows his own level of intellectual deficiency when he thinks himself clever by referring to the DPRK as “Kim’s [i.e., Kim Jong Il] Ku Klux Korea.” This is enough of a hint that this book is just a pile of pro-imperialist trash trying to pass itself off as a serious work. Sanger is just as bad as Chang. He tells us we have to fear an al Qaeda terrorist or an Iranian mulla “tired of waiting for his scientists to cook their own uranium” turning to North Korea for bomb fuel. I didn’t know that there was a viable job market for scientists in the mulla/terrorist community. I wonder how this review would have been received if besides “an Iranian mulla” Sanger had also included “ a West Bank Rabbi” from illegally occupied Palestinian land. The up shot of all this is that neither the book nor the review is worth while reading, and neither will be The New York Times if it keeps on putting this type of junk in its pages.

Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

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