Short Breaks in Mordor – Peter Hitchens

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For many in the Western world, hating Peter Hitchens is easy.

At least he thinks so.

As an anti-drug, anti-abortion, and vehemently Christian journalist, his opinions are increasingly seen as out of the mainstream. Furthermore, his small c conservative politics, paradoxically, anger many politicians on his side of the political spectrum. This is different from his late brother Christopher, who after an unexpected pitch for the 2003 Iraq war, still found Leftist support in attacking organized religion. Simply listening to Peter is a good way to glean his anomalous view and appreciate his sardonic wit. However, it is his journalism that has been lauded with awards such as the Orwell Prize.

Thus Living with Literature seeks to better understand Peter, and his unique brand of conservatism, with 2014’s Short Breaks in Mordor.

Short Breaks in Mordor is a chronicle of Peter Hitchens’ most tumultuous years as a foreign correspondent. The time spans from the fall of the Soviet Union, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and beyond. Despite the typical perception of Peter as personified English snobbery, his reporting is not from the proverbial ivory tower. Locations include Chinese human-rights abusing mines in Africa, stategy-less American and British missions in the Middle East, and run-ins in with the KGB. Hence, invoking Tolkien’s hellish inferno in The Lord of the Rings, Peter gives readers a detailed and personal glimpse of experiences in a non-fiction Mordor.

The world of geopolitics is predominately brushed off by the general public. Topics are seen as too convoluted and complex to understand. Even those dedicated to comprehending popular international questions, such as the Palestine-Israel conflict, are confronted with an increasingly literal mountain of treaties and history. Knowing this, Hitchens consolidates knotty geopolitical conflicts into pithy and personal passages. Not only are the situations made simple for the reader, but they are accented with biting grace.

“In the days of Soviet power, [the African National Congress] happily supported every grotesque show trial, Red Army invasion, and KGB repression that was available and would have supported more if asked. Its complete devotion to the Kremlin, and its leading position in the ANC, was one of the main reasons for the long survival of the repulsive Apartheid system. Western powers feared that the end of Apartheid would necessarily mean the establishment of a Soviet satellite on the strategic southern tip of Africa, in possession of its gold and diamond fields and much else besides. That is why the USSR had to fall before Apartheid did.”

George Orwell’s debut novel Burmese Days highlights British imperialism in South Asia by the then-expatriate writer. Naturally, these depictions of the world are a product of personal bias. As Orwell demonstrates, one can condemn imperialism while also appreciating its benefits. Hitchens engages in a similar style. For example, while realizing that North Korea is undoubtedly a police state, the author believes that Western policy should dissuade authoritarianism rather than demonize it. This nuanced approach allows readers to understand that such geopolitical distinctions must be made at a microbial level. Especially when delicate countries like North Korea are concerned:

“But where Orwell’s [Ministry of Truth] was a glittering white, the abandoned Ryugyong Hotel is a dingy dung-brown, its hundreds of glassless windows like sockets gazing at what its maker, the Great Leader Kim Il Sung, has wrought. And what he has wrought is hopeless failure, a long, grim joke that has yet to reach its punchline. Kim’s city is the capital of a state that is far more of a danger to its own people than it is to the rest of the world. I think the evidence is sketchy that North Korea has a nuclear bomb. What is certain is that it has almost nothing else. It cannot any longer even fake success at its very heart. Its great propaganda festival, the Arirang Games where thousands of young Koreans create vast pictures with eerily synchronised movements, is a pathetic remnant. It is the only show I have ever been to where the cast is far bigger than the audience.”

Being the loudest anti-drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll voice of the U.K. (and likely the Western world), it is expected that the personal views of the author occasionally permeate the text of Short Breaks in Mordor. Yet Hitchens’ is under no false assumption that his politics appear contemporarily unfashionable. He has even gone so far as to title himself ‘Britain’s obituarist‘. Despite holding to such traditional sentiments, Hitchens is cynical about and begrudgingly acquiescent to the changing world.

“Until [Fidel] Castro, communism was about tanks crushing romantic revolts in the streets, and dreary, potato- shaped, middle- aged men in hats and overcoats saluting rockets on Red Square. After Castro it was about romantic revolts and guerrilla bands, featuring young bearded heroes and smoldering, beautiful revolutionary women, overthrowing corrupt dictatorships in a festival of the oppressed. And it began in Havana, Ernest Hemingway’s ‘great white city on the bay’, perhaps the most perfect backdrop on the world with its happy music, its picturesque, easygoing people, its enjoyably grotesque mobster hotels, its cigars and rum. Marx and Lenin, dressed up in fatigues, were suddenly fun and sexy, freed from the Kremlin puritans. Castro was to revolution what Mick Jagger was to rock, and his image (and Guevara’s) had a lot to do with the strange student revolt that destroyed Charles de Gaulle’s conservative France in 1968, and with the wave of cultural revolution that changed the morals and attitudes of the Western world and has now subsided into the weary swamps of political correctness. Interestingly, the student revolutionaries who loved Castro and Guevara got Fidel wholly wrong. He loathed rock music as degenerate and only in recent years has he recognized it as an ally, permitting a John Lennon memorial park in Havana. They got a lot of other things about him wrong, too.”

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While Peter Hitchens may be a ‘Burkean‘, or paleo-conservative conservative, cultural relevance fails to avoid his work and voice. This is likely why he appears regularly on television and engages in various Twitter fights. His encounters in Short Breaks in Mordor contain as much apocalyptic excitement and tension as any espionage novel. Albeit a post-colonial one. His political sentiments too, when presented, beg for a counter-argument. I’ve referred to Peter as Britain’s answer to William F. Buckley. Why? The sentiments may not be agreeable, but the razor-sharp analysis is important for Left (and Right) to reckon with. As well as read.

‘The Turner Diaries’ – William Luther Pierce 

IMG_0192Contemporary literary culture has little acceptance for novels that outright condone a race war between White and minority populations. Neither did the 1978 canon, as White Nationalist leader William Luther Pierce’s, alias Andrew Macdonald, novel The Turner Diaries failed to make The New York Times’ Best Seller list. In fact, the book was only available by mail-order (through Pierce’s National Alliance magazine) until Lyle Stuart had it re-published in 1997. The F.B.I. declared the novel as the ‘Bible of the Racist Right’ and allegedly served as the ‘blueprint’ for the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1991. Now there is speculation that the novel was an influence on Dylann Roof’s massacre of nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina. In an effort to understand the literature behind the pathology, Living with Literature decided to review The Turner Diaries.

The Turner Diaries opens in the year 2099. Author Andrew Macdonald informs readers it is the centennial of the Great Revolution. A century prior, a White-supremacist militia, known as ‘The Order’, took control of world power and ousted any and every minority. The Introduction concludes with the publication of the recently discovered diary of Earl Turner, a  guerrilla fighter in the Great Revolution. What follows is a journalistic chronicle of ‘The Order’ and their fight against the “liberal-Zionist” government known as ‘The System’.

When approaching an ideological-driven novel like The Turner Diaries, it is important to investigate the roots underpinning the motivation. In this case, what elements fuel the prejudice. To Earl Turner, and by proxy William Pierce, Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics are unsavory ancillary components of a base cause. That is, as professed at length in the novel, Judaism and the Israeli state. The diary-structured manifesto argues that Jews condone race mixing and thus can be guilted for nearly every ill plaguing the United States and Western society.

“And is that not key to the whole problem? The corruption of our people by the Jewish-liberal-democratic-equalitarian plague which afflicts us is more clearly manifested in our soft-mindedness, our unwillingness to recognize the harder realities of life, than in anything else.”
While followers of Judaism and Zionism are attributed fundamental blame, the Diaries slanders America’s Black and Hispanic population for quotidian crimes. In the mind of Turner and Pierce, if an interracial relationship occurs, it is undoubtedly against the will of a (predominately female) caucasian. The lack of prohibition against these ‘crimes’, the author argues, is as much a consequence of the ‘liberal Zionist agenda'(e.g.’Cohen anti-gun bill’) as the White population’s fear of being labeled a ‘racist’:

“I have been surprised to see how callous our volunteer Blacks are toward their own people. Some of the older Blacks, who haven’t been able to fend for themselves, are obviously near the point of death and starvation and dehydration, yet our volunteers handle them so roughly and pack them so tightly into the cars that it makes me flinch to watch them. When one overloaded Cadillac started onto the eastbound freeway with a lurch this morning, an ancient Negro lost his grip and fell off the roof, landing headfirst on the pavement and crushing his skull like an egg. The Blacks who had just loaded the car roared with laughter; it was apparently the funniest thing they’ve seen in a long time.”

The most intriguing feature of The Turner Diaries is the representation of the past. Like in this world, history has heavily effected the alternative future of the novel. There is little surprise that Turner and Pierce believe Nazi genocide in the 1940’s was a noble cause. However, this ignores many of the other conspiratorial and complex elements cited in the novel’s neofascist historical lens. This misunderstanding of history by the general public, the novel argues, is precisely what Pierece and followers of the movement feel legitimize their convictions and ambitions for various forms of ‘re-education’:

“But it was immediately apparent to the Revolutionary Command – and it soon became apparent to everyone else – that a new element had entered the picture. From our contacts inside one of the Federal police agencies we learned that our people are being killed by two groups: a special Israeli assassination squad and an assortment of Mafia ‘hit men’ under contract to the government of Israel. Where both these groups are concerned, U.S police have been given a hands off order by the FBI. (Note to the reader: The Mafia was a criminal confederation composed primarily of Italians and Siclians but usually masterminded by Jews, which flourished in the United States in the eight decades prior to the Great Revolution. There were several half-hearted government efforts to stamp out the Mafia during this period, but the unrestricted capitalism then flourshing provided ideal conditions for large-scale , organized crime and its concomitant political corruption. The Mafia remained in existence until virtually all its membmers – more than 8,000 men – were rounded up and executed in a single, massive operation by the Organization during the mopping-up period which followed the Revolution.)”

The difficultly with The Turner Diaries is categorization. Despite the alternative future, it does not read like a science fiction novel. Nor is it ‘dystopian’, as that leads the reader to believe there is a protagonist whom beats the injustice or becomes a maytr during the attempt. Instead, Pierce conceives a blueprint on how to achieve his vision of utopia. While politically opposite, the pyschological passages in ‘The Turner Diaries’ correspond most with the wildly influential pan-Africanist advocate writer Frantz Fanon. One supposes the most appropriate label for this vein of writing would be ‘racially-conscious’ literature.

The Turner Diaries
has been condemned by the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and many others. Author and Dr. William Luther Pierce has likewise been a persona non grata since leaving his Oregon State University teaching post in the 1970’s to become an outspoken white supremacist. This is, as contemporary culture deems, as it should be. In fact, most readers cringe and cower at the idea of reading such a vitriolic, yet undoubtedly important novel. However, for a culture supposedly so entrenched in socially-progressive initiatives, at least relative to genocide-supporting neofascists, why is there a fear of investigating the designated enemy? This is not a call for compulsory reading of The Turner Diaries. Or The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Or any other neofascist literature. Rather, it is a call for social awareness to rationally and intellectually reckon with deeply-rooted prejudice as a way to, hopefully, prevent future tragedy.

Stained Glass – William F. Buckley Jr.

stainedglassNo Conservative thinker of last century struck more ire and fear into the heart of the American left than William F. Buckley Jr. Author of a dozen Right-leaning books – with titles like Up From Liberalism – and his monthly periodical National Review, the fiercely anti-communist ideologue was one of the principal characters in 20th-century Conservative thinking. Alongside non-fiction, Buckley produced a number of novels about fictionalized C.I.A. officer Blackford Oakes. Like fellow contemporary and arch-nemesis Gore Vidal, the opinion is divided on whether Buckley was a better novelist or political columnist. So, using Stained Glass, the second entry in the Blackford Oakes series, we’ll try and come to a consensus.

The time is the early 1950’s. Relations between the West and Soviet East have soured, leaving Germany cracked in half by the concrete Berlin wall. A young German count, Alex Wintergrin, has called for his people to unite and overthrow their Communist oppressors. The Soviet press, in response, sounds the alarm that Wintegrin is another Hitler. The West is hesitant before making their next move. On one hand, booting out Russian troops in the name of democracy is not only supported in theory, but in policy ala the Truman Doctrine. However, prodding the nuclear holding Soviets – who already assume Wintegrin is funded by Western forces – could bring about the apocalypse. What to do? Keep a watchful eye on Wintergrin with the ace C.I.A. operative, Blackford Oakes.

Buckley once said, “We must confront the World as it is, not as we wish it to be.” Thus, Stained Glass is heavily grounded in the tense Cold War atmosphere of the 1950’s. Many actual American political characters, German parliamentary parties, and post-war situations exist freely and frequently throughout the novel. To even basic followers of Cold War history, this could be a challenge. However, these nuanced inclusions fail to curb any entertainment. On the contrary, readers receive a glimpse of  the awesomely consequential internal conflicts of Germany and the World at play:

“When he rose at his alma mater to announce that if the Occupation Forces would not deliver an ultimatum to the Russian to reopen the road to Berlin, the German people should do so, he was suddenly a conspicuous figure on the European scene, a man not yet thirty years old. Until then no national notice of him had been taken, only here and there a character piece in a local newspaper about the aristocratic curio who dreamed of irredentism and talked as if he would smash the Red Army with the might of his left fist, trained at the gymnasium at Heidelberg. These efforts at caricature failed when undertaken by reporters who went to hear him talk. They could no longer bring off conventional ideological denigration. (‘Count Wintergrin seems to have forgotten the horrors of war…’) But after Heidelberg, all the major papers in Europe suddenly began to take notice of Axel Wintergrin and his – his what? they asked themselves. Here was someone who, biologically could have been the grandson of Adenauer, the de factor leader of the country (with his Christian Democrat Union, serving as chancellor under the authority of the joint occupation command.) And when direct elections came in November 1952, Adenauer would surely win – with the Social Democrats under Erich Ollenhauer talking perhaps one-third of the seats. Germany’s future would be a generation’s oscillation of power between these two parties, the analysis joined in predicting. There was no room for the so-called ‘Reunification’ Party of this Wintergin. Why so much fuss over a quixotic Heidelberg Manifesto? Why had groups in every major city in Germany suddenly invited the young count to address them: elated veterans’ organizations, cynical student associations, inquisitive business associations, wary labor unions – even, here and there, always discreetly, organizations of civil servants…why the fascination with him?”

Buckley, contrary to his conservative nature, does not conform to traditional literary styles. Rather his prose is closer to Modernist detail and description; albeit with espionage-novel suspense. T.S. Eliot labels this style ‘mythical’ rather than narrative. The author presumably chose this approach of lengthy dialogue and description to convey a personal essence so characteristic in his writing and speech. While it certainly requires some adjustment, Buckley’s winding execution of the narrative in Stained Glass reads necessary to the tense post-war atmosphere:

“Blackford left his car in the courtyard, and as he walked into the huge archway, the small door embedded in the gate swung open, releasing a shaft of yellow light in to the late-summer dusk. Someone had been waiting for him. He followed a creaky old man wearing a green vest over a white shirt, and an apron over his pants, through a cold hallway into a warm, chintzy living room, the fireplace crackling, over which a single crystal chandelier, its dozen candles lit, hung, illuminating the eight painted panels depicting the Borghese Gardens in midsummer. The countess was there in her drawing room and rose to greet him, a warm but formal smilie on her high-boned face.”

Followers of Buckley will recount that his fierce anti-Soviet nature was matched only by a devout faith in Catholicism. This religiosity ran so deep that the author even condemned the liberal views adopted by the Catholic Church in Vatican II. Naturally, this strong sentiment for the divine seeped into Stained Glass. As a cover while tailing Wintegrin, the C.I.A. assigns Oakes to facilitate the rebuilding of the local church at St. Anslem. This assignment turns into an aesthetically and soulful pet project for Oakes, as well the perfect vehicle to transmute the author’s faith:

“And then, at the eastern end, a hundred meters from the castle, the chapel. It was the Catholic church for the whole village, the churchgoing members of which came the two and one-half kilometers on foot, by bicycle, and increasingly by car and bus to attend Sunday services, weddings, funerals, and baptisms. During the final western offensive, the Nazis had installed a heavy mortar unit on the northern wall of the courtyard. On the first of April 1945, this outpost was manned by three remaining soldiers – the rest of the squad, seeing the end only a few days, had deserted. The Americans, misreckoning it as a massive resistance point, ordered up heavy artillery. The very first shell perforated the seven-hundred-year-old roof of the chapel and passed through a wooden trapdoor to the crypt, exploding beneath the level of the stone floor…And after six weeks spent removing rubble – and segregating lovingly anything that might prove useful if ever the good Lord, having attended to more urgent matters such as Berlin and the cathedral of Cologne, got around to the painstaking job of piecing back together their beloved St. Anselm’s chapel – the parishioners were attending divine services again, sitting on makeshift benches, and using a borrowed table from the castle as an alter.”

Presumably, Stained Glass and the novels of Bill Buckley should be an extension of his outright Conservative views. This is not so. Though full of quips about Soviet policy (‘The Five-Year Plan will have to be postponed, once again’) the second Blackford Oakes novel is more an investigation of politics post-1945. Not only are readers privy to what covert intelligence operatives and Washington officers were probably thinking – and undoubtedly doing – but also the complexity of these decisions:

“‘What we cannot know is exactly when or how the Soviets would move. We know what they are in a position to do on the ground. We’re fighting a war in Korea, where we’ve concentrated practically everything we have. We all but demobilized the army during the panic to get home after the war. We wrote a treaty that forbade West German participation in a joint military command. The French economy is on the floor, and the French military is completely absorbed all to hell and gone, off in Indochina. The British are exhausted, and engaged in full-time decolonization. We put up a good front about NATO, and Ike made some nice speeches over here but here are the facts. The Russians have three million men on their western border, comprising one hundred and seventy-five divisions facing west; East Europe has sixty to seventy divisions under arms. We have ten divisions in West Germany – most of them under strength, backed by commitments for twenty divisions. The Russians presence in Korea is negligible. So they have available to fight in Europe the whole of their military machine.'”

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Published in 1978, the 1980 paperback edition of Stained Glass would win the National Book Award for Mystery. Buckley would continue ‘Blackford Oakes’ (which started with Saving the Queen in 1967) until 2005, the year before his death. The following novels, predictably, confront further Cold War exigencies that affected the American public and policy makers. While a committed Conservative, the writer famously lambasted the War on Drugs and famously derided fellow Right-leaning thinkers like Ayn Rand.

Having also read Buckley’s memoir Overdrive, it is easy to see why readers have a divided literary preference. For this reviewer, however, the consensus remains unanswerable, so my only contribution is to edify.