How Three Unrelated Books Relate


I recently read "102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers," by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn (book #1)…a detailed account of the events inside the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11. The title refers to the time that elapsed between the first plane hitting the north tower and the both towers being reduced to rubble.

Riveting reading…as you might imagine. The stories are edge-of-your-seat stuff and made me wish we had similar books about attacks in other countries. After all, there are far more victims OF America than victims IN America.

It could be quite a bridge for U.S. readers to have such a graphic retelling of, say, the assault on Falluja (or even the Israeli attack on Jenin, for that matter). If we could get to know, so to speak, those victims and learn about their often-heroic behavior under fire (a la "102 Minutes"), how could it not at least humanize these issues a bit? You know…put a face on those living under the bombs America perpetually drops. Since I figured such books exist, I asked on my website if anything might be found in English. By providence, a regular visitor had just translated "Nights of the Full Moon," by Gojko Beara (book #2).

Beara’s book was written during the brutal NATO bombing over Yugoslavia in 1999. Each night, he’d write a short essay on the experience. It wasn’t specifically what I was looking for…not nearly as graphic as "102 Minutes" and almost exclusively the reaction of one man. Still, passages like this from Night #27 offer a glimpse of life as an official U.S. enemy: "Tonight, bombs hit the chemical industry complex in Baric, a village 1.5 kilometers away from the center of Belgrade. For several days now, the oil refineries in Pancevo, Novi Sad, and Smedervo have been in flames. Carried by the winds, huge black clouds hover about our towns full of sulphur, chlorine, chlorine oxide, ammonia, nitrogen oxide, and monomeric finyl chloride. … The consequences of these contaminations will be long-term since they contain carcinogen, mutagen, and teratogen agents."

Beara writes with justifiable scorn for the Europeans who ignored the assault. "Europe, can you sleep during these sleepless nights of ours?" he asks on Night #47. "Do you see the houses in flames, the ruins, and the crushed and torn bodies? Are you going to the movies, to school, to work? Are you playing golf or soccer? Are you still enjoying your five-o’clock-tea?"

This lack of solidarity and interconnectedness loomed large in my mind as I read the soon-to-be-released, "Chomsky on Anarchism," from AK Press (book #3). This collection of articles, lectures, and interviews dates as far back as 1969 and offers one of the more readable examinations of anarchism you will find.

As Chomsky puts its, "whatever social structures and arrangements are developed" in an anarchist society, "they ought to maximize the possibilities for people to pursue their own creative potential." His words remind us that to be an anarchist is be, in a sense, an optimist. Who else but an optimist could be fully aware of the horrendous litany of human behavior yet remain steadfast in the belief that we are best suited for a life with minimal or no authority?

It was in 1961 that James Baldwin identified "the two most powerful movements" in America. He said the student integrationists were seeking "nothing less than the liberation of an entire country from its crippling attitudes and habits." Running counter was the Nation of Islam, or "Black Muslims." The members of this movement, Baldwin explained, "do not expect anything at all from the white people of this country." Baldwin sided with the integrationists…but admitted that the "Muslim movement has all the evidence on its side."

Today, most of the evidence supports a blanket indictment of America and Americans…but Exhibit A remains the "social structures and arrangements" that create such a terrain. This Exhibit A was the evidence that led Malcolm X to move from contempt to solidarity, e.g. "I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who is for or against it. I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole."

Gojko Beara dusts off a hackneyed stanza from John Donne in "Nights of Full Moon." Sure, it’s cliché but–with the first part of that quote in place–it’s just too perfect to not call upon as a closer here:

"Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

MICKEY Z. is currently writing a book on related topics, "50 American Revolutions: People’s Patriotism Since 1776," to be released by Disinformation in fall 2005. He can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.


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