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March 18, 2004


Paul Craddick

What I find so galling is the apparent premise of the entire exercise. It might be of interest in various ways - say, sociologically - to know what the literati (to the extent they speak univocally) think of this or that, but to lend any special weight to their opinions grants them an "authority" which they lack.

Similarly in the case of Keegan - a man I respect, whose stock in trade is categorically closer to the matter at hand - one needs to distinguish his authority qua historian (which is certainly relevant in providing context and historical analogies) from his prudential judgments. Even Chomsky - though his reputation trades on the opposite - allows that his role as an expert on "syntactic structures" has no particular relevance to his political convictions.

In these matters, then, who "has authority"? No one - and everyone. I'd qualify the latter by privileging those who have given the question at hand long and serious consideration, evince understanding of the relevant history, and are conversant with political philosophy (Aristotle might add: "those who have a good upbringing"[!]). Admittedly, it would be hard to assemble a marketable volume featuring any old person who seemed to meet those criteria - so publishers fall back on the reigning "Intellectuals."

Perhaps the collection ought to be subtitled: "Herein find confirmation of the fact that people who write well in one domain cannot be counted on to write (or reason) well in another"!

Or maybe we read such a volume to see who - regardless of his/her other achievements - speaks authoritatively.


As a writer myself, who supported the Iraq war from the start because I had read Kanan Makiya's 1991 book, Cruelty and Silence and was horrified by the reveltaions of Saddam's regime's vileness, and also listened to people like Ann Clwyd, I know just how difficult it can be to stand up against the lazy, ignorant and bigoted party line that too many writers, at least those who speak up publically, adhere to. It actually costs when you are supporting an 'unfashionable' view and I got tons of flak for writing letters and articles supporting the war on the basis of humanitarian arguments and against dictatorship. I think that really writers are as a body neither more nor less likely to actually know what they're talking about than any group in the community. Frankly, I think the book is a waste of trees and time and I wouldn't even bother reading it. What I would like to read is a book like Crulety and Silence--something coming out of Iraq itself.

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