A Journey, by Tony Blair; Hutchinson, 2010, 624 pages, $59.95.
Tony Blair comes close to achieving a remarkable feat in his memoirs. By the close of A Journey it is almost possible to feel sorry for a man who at the age of forty-three became the youngest prime minister of Britain since 1812 before going on to win an unprecedented three consecutive elections for his party. Sorry for the man—self-avowed socialist, naturally—who is today a senior adviser at investment bank JP Morgan, advises the Swiss insurance firm Zurich Financial Services, retains a consulting role with the luxury goods firm LVMH, and charges between £100,000 and £200,000 for a ninety-minute speech. What, exactly, is there for us to pity about Phoney Tony?
At one point in A Journey Blair recalls his first euphoric months as prime minister and remembers thinking how good it would be to retire “just past fifty, still popular, still a friendly face in a friendly country”. Fate took a different turn. By 2007 Gordon Brown had tried everything to shift Blair from office bar backing a removalist van up Downing Street to the front entrance of Number 10. Blair did finally go in June that year and yet his enforced exit involved more than falling victim to his nemesis.
Moral Combat: A History of World War II, by Michael Burleigh; HarperCollins, 2010, 576 pages, $69.99.
War is a cruel business and so a degree of moral ambivalence is always going to be a part of the whole picture. All the same, in Moral Combat Michael Burleigh argues that the attempt by some historians to re-apportion criminality and victimhood in the Second World War has gone too far. Burleigh finds his own moral bearings by beginning with the obvious: responsibility for the Second World War and its attendant horror lies with Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan.
All three regimes were predatory, but none more so than the Third Reich. The chapter “The Rape of Poland” illustrates all too clearly the diabolical consequences of Nazi ideology on humanity. The German Labour Front, for instance, took German soldiers on leave through the Warsaw Ghetto to satisfy their ghoulish inquisitiveness: “As time passed, these visitors inevitably saw corpses lying in the streets, waiting to be taken by cart to the cemetery, which was the high point of each trip.” So defiled were they by Nazism, the perpetrators of some of the most notorious murders in history could see their killing as “a form of racial altruism”.
Nomad: A Personal Journey through the Clash of Civilizations, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali;
HarperCollins, 2010, 304 pages, $35.
Few have experienced a more precipitous learning curve than Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Somalia’s most famous (or notorious, depending on your perspective) emigrant has completed a second autobiography, Nomad, at the relatively young age of forty. If her life continues to be as eventful as it has been until now—and her round-the-clock security regime does its job properly—we may see many more memoirs penned by the brave and articulate Hirsi Ali.
During her childhood Hirsi Ali found herself living not only in Somalia but also Kenya, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia, mostly because her father was a leading political opponent of Somalia’s then dictator, President Barre. The tribal world depicted by Hirsi Ali is tough and brutal. Nomad begins with the difficult lives endured by her closest relations, including her mother, father, brother and half-sister, but unlike her previous memoir, Infidel, we now follow them to the present. Though cut off from her family and the “web of values” that inform them, Hirsi Ali tries to re-establish familial connections. Sadly, the barriers—cultural, religious and geographic—prove insurmountable. Her description of the secret (and heart-wrenching) reunion with her dying father in 2008 says it all.
WHILE READING George Friedman’s The Next 100 Years I was reminded of a scene in Jacques Perrin’s spellbinding 2002 documentary, Travelling Birds. Having flown halfway around the world, a small, injured bird seeks refuge on an empty beach, only to discover that the shore is not so empty after all. The camera first discloses a single […]