Sunday, April 02, 2006

War in a Time of Beach Reading

Some sad day, when you're poking through David Halberstam's "War in a Time of Peace" for the third round or so, you ask yourself how you can be troubled to believe any given thing you're being told. After all, some fine smart people in Washington were obviously interested in filling Mr. Halberstam's ear with their take on events, events whose momentousness is perhaps overstrained by an author who, despite his subtitle and some spiffy character-sketches of the Bush warriors has precious little interest in the military doings of the George H. W. Bush Administration (one which, one might think, would provide a more fertile ground to pick over than the long slow slog of the Clinton terms) and perhaps in choosing his subject as he does already betrays a certain prejudice. It's easy to enjoy having Bill Cohen shot up; like Bill Frist, he's one of those mannequin-come-morticians of DC whose unstudied grimace betrays a heart full of bile and a head full of bilge. And I won't blame a journalist for falling a little bit in love with Wes Clark; I'm a little in love with Wes Clark too, and if he never runs again and never finds his way into the shoes of Kissinger and Brezinski which he could so capably fill, I'll still have sweet memories of a night spent in front of a Ramada Inn's tv set watching him on C-Span with my honey. Better still, for Clark at least, was that gem of a townhall meeting on C-Span the week before, which I watched with my little cousin in his trailer park bedroom, the both of us eagerly sucking in Clark's Kadima-like centrist wisdom (you just make so much goshdarn sense, Wes!) before the added refinement of the postshow meet-and-greet (cameras still rollin, Wes!) where the General confided in an eager pro-Israeli voter his own Jewish heritage and assured her that, where "Bring it on!" concerns go, he'd be sure to "beat the sh*t out of" that George W. Bush.
But Halberstam, just as bad as Woodward, has rolled up his history-as-it-flies wrap with just the scraps of anecdote and insight that appeal to him-- appeal to his "literary" or "psychological" instincts as much as, or rather quite more than, any prejudicial political inclinations. But Pulitzers be damned, so many of these choice tidbits are worthless simplifications, so many fussy little 'that's when I knew that Sandy Berger was on board'isms, that it's hard not to want to throttle Halberstam for even publishing them. Just look at his coverage of Clinton's little Putting Green Day spazfest and ask yourself, Why, as an author, does Halberstam even bother to show up? If you couldn't authenticate one good line of Clintonian cussing, or invent one even, you're just embarassing yourself to even mention it. Look at "Dutch: A Memoir" and ask yourself, what have you given your readers? Essentially, a six-hundred page weekend editorial score-settler; and it is sufficient testimony to the flimsiness of the endeavor that, giving himself a couple of hours to pour through it, the reader realizes what a light tome it is. That Penguin Lives tract on George H.W. Bush feels like the "Iliad" by comparison. --But sincerely, I did love the Larry Eagleburger sketch. Secretary Eagleburger should be the model civil servant for us all.

No comments: