Friday, November 25, 2005

Politics: Everybody's gotta right to be an expert.

The latest attempt at scandal-mongering has some unfamiliar words popping out of unlikely mouths. It's unusual, to say the least, to hear the Birkenstock-and-patchouli crowd attempting to discuss white phosphorous rounds and thermobaric warheads. What's raising it to the level of high comedy is, however, their earnestly-held notion that what they are saying makes any sense whatsoever.

What makes someone believe that they can become an overnight authority on anything? Does Cliff's-Noting your way through college give one the ability to cheat sheet through any other topic? I have a book in my library that suggests that there must be a certain demographic out there that thinks so.

Let me first say that history, military history, and military science are three loves of mine. I have, quite literally, thousands of volumes on the topic, ranging from personal memoirs to treatises on tactics; from glossy "weapons worship" coffee-table books to yellowing Field Manuals, so you can imagine my surprise when I found out that all this reading was unnecessary. You see, browsing through the stacks at the used book store, I stumbled across a slim pamphlet from Penguin Books called The Disarmer's Handbook, by one Andrew Wilson. In breathless tones, the back cover blurb informed me that, simply by reading this little 300-page booklet, I would be (and I quote) "as expertly informed as any professional" who supports the nefarious military-industrial complex. I was flabbergasted! All those years, all that time, all that skull-sweat, all for naught. All I needed was this one book.

I bought it as a novelty, but actually decided to read it yesterday. I knew what I was in for when I got to Chapter 2, which promised to give our young Grateful Dead fan a thorough grounding in Military History and Strategic Thought: It listed, with a paragraph for each entry, the great military thinkers who shaped the history of warfare: Napoleon, Clausewitz, Jomini, Mahan, Douhet, Mitchell, Liddell Hart, and (I'm not making this up,) Marx, Engels, Trotsky, and Lenin. Needless to say, on technical matters and recent history, the book was factually accurate, but all information was presented through a lens so distorted as to give PostModernism an even worse name than it already has.

One almost feels pity for someone who reads this book and believes its promises. Mistakenly thinking they're some kind of expert, heaven knows what kind of gaffes they'll set off to commit. Why, with their head bursting with newfound knowledge, they might try to talk about Willie Pete shells on the Errornet.

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