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The International Writers Magazine
: Book Review - An End to Evil?

An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror
David Frum and Richard Perle
Random House: New York, 2003
ISBN 1-40006194-6

Review by Kate Moreland

'Almost every sentence in the book can be disqualified, even its title'.

It’s frighteningly ironic.
Penned by David Frum and Richard Perle, two of America’s "intellectuals", An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror reveals just how unthinking Frum and Perle are. I don’t know if the book is a parody, if the two authors, maybe blinded by self interest, believe what they have written or if they simply underestimate the public and wrote the book in an attempt to scare people into supporting the perspectives they hold.
On the back cover is written, "David Frum and Richard Perle are two of Washington’s most influential insiders. Their words have steered the direction of American foreign policy". If this book is a reflection of either Frum or Perle’s intellectual process, if either of them maintains his influence in American foreign policy than I think the world will be filled with misunderstanding and extremism for a long time. In the book, there’s no attempt to understand, define or think critically about terrorism or anything else: if I was a tree, I would uproot myself and hunt down the authors for the insult.

Maybe it’s inevitable that history be distorted somewhat in directing it to a particular present but Frum and Perle do much more than the inevitable. The whole book, all its accusations and recommendations are put forth without history or with only the small part of it that questionably supports their arguments. Favourite fragments repeatedly appealed to are the specters of Hitler and Stalin. The authors invoke these ghosts whenever they want to disqualify an obstacle or person and they seem to think the appellation of either Stalin or Hitler marks the end of the discussion. What more could be said? Militant Islam is compared to both communism and Nazism when the authors assert that it is "an aggressive ideology of world domination". (42) First of all, communism was opposed to mysticism. The foundations of communism and Islam, the essences of what they are, oppose each other. Nazism was nationalism. The god of Nazism was the state, borne out of distortions of Hegelian philosophy and a palpable prehistory in German thought and bourgeois revolution that took the power from god and monarchy and gave it to the people and the state. They are at least over simplified comparisons though I submit they are entirely false and dishonest. Frum and Perle are using these comparisons to scare people or maybe they don’t think, but what happens when the thinkers with influence no longer think.

Moments repeat in this book when the authors assert something that seems to apply more appropriately to their vision of America than to whoever or whatever they are trying to vilify. "An aggressive ideology of world domination" might be applied to an ideology that holds, "Our claims to world leadership rest not just on our power and wealth but on our moral authority" (268) as Frum’s and Perle’s ideology does. Almost every sentence in the book can be disqualified, even its title.
It’s a tiresome read and maybe that accounts for many of the contradictions in the book. Perhaps no one could edit it. Throughout the book, the authors continually denounce communism as it was in the Cold War countries, yet they are also in favour of extending the USA Patriot Act which in effect turns the United States, like the cold war countries, into a police state. They claim, "Terrorists, in other words, are motivated by ideology" (234) while themselves spewing out the worst kinds of it. They speak of the dream that inspired the United Nations "a world at peace, a world governed by law" then they blame the UN for undermining the dream, "…we recognize that the UN has traduced and betrayed it." (279) The problem is that the authors had previously conceded, "As Americans see it, the UN is not a force in itself, but merely an international forum in which the countries that are forces can express themselves." (italics theirs) (266) This attitude betrays the charter of the UN in which all member nations agree, "…to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small." (italics mine) So it seems that the United States has betrayed the spirit of the charter by feeling that some countries just don’t count. The contradictions continue when the authors claim that world peace can only be achieved by American military force. (279) They write of the necessity of imposing democracy on the Middle East, perhaps unaware that democracy, by its definition (demos) is people, by the people. The authors never acknowledge the irony. It’s hard to determine if Perle and Frum are serious, perhaps the book is satirical.
Nothing is defined. Terrorism is never given a definition. The authors do not address any concerns that American foreign policy of past and present could easily be perceived as terrorism from the other side of their gun. They don’t refute it or assert it; it is simply not thought. Frum and Perle repeatedly state that America has a right to defend its interests but again they never define what those interests are. For all its words, pages and promotion, the book in the end seems to be about nothing. Getting away from the Hitler and Stalin analogies, I submit that if this book was a swimming pool and a person dove into it, than he or she would crack his or her head open.
The book is not about wanting to understand or protect or "end evil" (whatever that is supposed to mean). It’s about distorting facts and even literature to try to prove the narrowest of world visions. It is anti intellectual and inhumane (meaning done without thought and in detriment to understanding and humankind). To refute everything in the book would take considerably more away from the trees and in the end it can be done with minimal research if not common sense. This book does a disservice, however, to some thinkers. Although they are probably obvious to any reader who has had the good fortune to trip over the likes of Thomas Paine, Joseph Conrad or Frantz Fanon, I want to straighten out a few additional distortions.
The first chapter of the book opens with an epitaph taken from Thomas Paine’s The American Crises,
These are times that try men’s souls. The summer
soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in the crisis,
shrink from the service to their country; but he that
stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man
and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered;
yet we have this consolation with us, that the
harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
The problem with using Paine in this way is that the two authors of An End to Evil steal Paine from his context and have him serve his enemy. Maybe Frum and Perle think no one has read Paine so they can do what they like with him, but I believe many people have. To put Paine back in some context, I’ll relate that he was talking about Britain and Britain’s attempts to force its tyranny on those around the world. He was trying to convince Americans to resist. Clearly, Perle’s and Frum’s ideal America has stepped into Paine’s Britain. Two sentences down from the excerpt employed by Frum and Perle, Paine continues, "Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to tax) but also "to bind us in all cases whatsoever", and if being bound in that manner is not slavery, then there is not such a thing as slavery on earth… so unlimited a power can belong only to God." Now it seems to me the spirit in Paine opposes Frum’s and Perle’s ideology which contains sentiments such as, "Our choice was either to work with Chalabi or to rule Iraq ourselves…" (167). Frum and Perle are dishonest. It would all be laughable but for the fact that they have had an influence in American foreign policy and perhaps still do.
I don’t know if either author has read Heart of Darkness. The quote they use from it is at the beginning of the novel so perhaps whichever author read it, read it only to that point. On the other hand, maybe he didn’t understand the novel. The authors quote Conrad, "And this also has been one of the dark places on earth" and then go on to say that today terrorists are in dark places. I can’t help but think of another part of Heart of Darkness when Mr. Kurtz’s last disciple tries to explain to Marlow why there were bodiless heads impaled on sticks, Marlow relates "he said: these heads were the heads of rebels. I shocked him excessively by laughing. Rebels! What would be the next definition I would hear? There had been enemies, criminals, workers and these were rebels. Those rebels looked very subdued to me on their sticks". (Conrad 574) The next definition - terrorists it seems. Maybe Frum and Perle don’t sense the irony. They don’t see the pilgrims in themselves.
Frantz Fanon spent his career as a psychiatrist in Algeria working with both the natives and the French colonizers trying to understand. He studied the psychological effects of colonialism on oppressor and oppressed. What interest did he have in it? He was from Martinique and studied medicine in France; he didn’t have to go to Algeria but he did. He believed in humanity and wanted to realize it. Frum and Perle have done him an injustice. The quote that the authors take from Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, they slice and present as follows, "Violence is a cleansing force’ Frantz Fanon announced in his hugely influential 1961 manifesto in praise of third world revolution, The Wretched of the Earth. Only violence "frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inactivity: It makes him fearless and restores his self respect.’ For Perle and Frum this serves to vilify the Islamic extremists. The authors claim that the extremists, like Fanon, believe in the cleansing force of violence. Fanon existed in a specific time, in Algeria that is a context. The Algerians were fighting for independence from their colonizers, the French. During the revolution for independence (less than ten years), the French colonizers destroyed 8000 villages and killed more than a million civilians. The French used torture but in 1962 Algeria achieved independence. (The World Guide) This, too, is part of the context of Fanon. Context does not seem to matter to Perle and Frum, but most people consider it relevant. I’ve never read a book that distorts sources as much as An End to Evil does. I didn’t think authors could do what Perle and Frum do. In the end, however, the distortions just leave the reader with the impression that Frum and Perle probably misinterpret everything, so nothing that they write should be taken seriously. What happens when a country’s leaders and those around them have no sense of irony? Perhaps the nation becomes inverted and backward: the people begin to turn to parody for news and news for parody.
An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror is a sad book. Knowing that the authors are people who hold influence in the most powerful nation in the world is horrifying and it leaves the reader in despair. With people like the authors in charge, the world situation will never improve. The United States of America has no shortage of people who think. There are people there who are motivated by the need to understand and realize humanistic goals. Maybe it’s time they took a more active part in their own government. Perhaps they owe it to the rest of the world.

Conrad, Joseph. The Portable Conrad. Ed. Morton Dauwen Zabel. Viking Penguin: Toronto, 1975
The World Guide: An Alternative Reference to the Countries of Our Planet 2003/2004. New Internationalist Publications: Oxford, 2003

© Kate Moreland Feb 2004

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