on 22 August 2008
I read this book a couple of years ago having decided to read it after listening to Robert Fisk on Desert Island Disks. It occured to me that I was approching 40 and had no understanding what so ever of the history or politics or wars of the Middle East and frankly up till then I had no interest in the subject. However I decided it was time to find out and so read this book. I have never looked back and it set me on a journey that as a nearly 40 year old housewife with a husband and 3 children I never dreamed that I'd take. I have now studied certain areas of this book in much greater detail in other texts and have travelled to the Middle East and actively take part in peace initiatives. I know my title sounds melodramatic but it happens to be true.
on 30 January 2007
I'll begin with a little true story. A very good friend of mine, best man at my wedding in fact, was working as a teacher in Lebanon a few years ago. He loved working there until the day he nearly died. That was when he almost became collateral damage, as it's quaintly known, when the block of flats he was living in was attacked by some, no doubt, highly sophisticated rocket fired from an Israeli helicopter. Apparently some wanted PLO man was supposed to be in the building and it was just tough luck that he happened to be around when the missile was launched.
Anyway he lived to tell the tale, but headed home in order to extend his life expectancy. Now it seems to me that this is what a lot of Fisk's magnum opus is all about. How innocent people are randomly slaughtered for no particular good reason at all and the problem is that the number of such people is vast. By dipping backwards and forwards over the last 150 years or so Fisk very convincingly makes the points that history repeats itself and then that few, if any lessons, seemed to have been learnt from the mistakes made in the past. His father is repeatedly used as a touchstone throughout the book,because he took part in the senseless mass slaughter of World War 1.
And so we come to today and strangely many of the really efficient mass killers over the last 50 years, who invade other countries and destroy homes and the means to live and maybe even steal the land too( and we all know who they are don't we ? ) are the GOOD GUYS !!! Well that's if you look at most newspapers or watch television.One thing that Fisk forces you to face up to is the fact that the, ahem, free world is, for the most part, shackled to a truly supine and mendacious media.
All I know is that if anyone can read this book and not feel shocked and deeply ashamed at the conduct of the supposedly great powers then he or she must possess a blunted moral sensibility. Going back to my bombed-out friend for a moment, you might be interested to know that his interview with either Sky or CNN or Fox etc,you know the plucky if not to say lucky western survivor was never aired. He was convinced this was because he refused to accept the line being fed to him that it must be truly scary living in Lebanon and instead replied that he loved being there, found the people delightful and was extremely angry to have enjoyed a near death experience courtesy of peace-loving Israel. As Fisk repeatedly says in his book, victims of such attacks wherever they take place are either, obviously terrorists or terrorist sympathisers or merely collateral damage. The fact that by far the greatest proportion of the victims in such attacks are totally innocent is conveniently passed over by the perpetrators, since they are, of course, peace loving democrats, who just happen to have sufficient armaments to destroy the world a few times over. Needless to say,this situation is diametrically reversed, when even one or two of the good guys die. These people have usually been killed by evil men etc etc and although we are god-fearing folk our revenge will be swift and terrible. It happens time and time again.
Yes the book is long, but Fisk is never less than highly literate and anyone who enjoys reading will fly through this book. It's not a tough read at all. It is however a devastating one and I would implore anyone with even an ounce of interest in the modern world to read this book. You will be rewarded many times over.
on 20 March 2006
You don't have to be a fan of Robert Fisk to realise that this is an important book. Aim-off if he irritates you, but read the damn thing. It is hugely long, but hugely informative. It took me over two months to read, but is the best book of its type I have ever read. The best bits are when Fisk writes about events he has witnessed at first-hand. The parts on the Iran/Iraq war are masterly. And, for those who mighty expect a long diatribe on Israel/Palestine...well there isn't one. Yes, it plays an important part in the book, but it isn't the focus.
Buy it in hardback or wait until the paperback is available. It's your choice. But I urge you to read this important historical work.
I am, however, glad now not to have to lug the thing in my rucksack to read to/from work on the train!
on 20 December 2006
I first became aware of Robert Fisk (I am not a keen follower of English journalism) after listening online to a talk Fisk gave a year ago, which is essentially the foreword to this book. His strident, urgent yet tender voice would not leave me and it was with this voice ringing in my mind that I read "The Great War for Civilisation"
This book should be obligatory reading for all those with even a passing interest in 20th century history. Here is a first hand account of events which have shaped our present and will continue shaping our increasingly bleak future. It is essential that we are aware of the forces behind the news headlines and Robert Fisk does just that while "keeping it real", staying on the ground, among the people, the victims and survivors of horrific slaughter. This book is essential reading because the author does not flinch from the horror, and miraculously (and here is where Fisk climbs head and shoulders above the competition) he does so with extreme impartiality. If there's one thing the reader will come away with after reading this massive tome is that all sides have their hands dipped in the blood of the innocent, west, north, south, east, christian, muslim, jew, kurd, shia, sunni, white house, downing street, saddam hussein and khomeni, arafat, turkey etc etc... the list goes on and on... a depressing yet strangely empowering read.
on 5 March 2006
Robert Fisk’s massive, thoughtful and humanistic portrayal of the killing fields of the middle east, brought on by the thoughtless and arrogant interventions over the past century of Britain, France and America in such areas we now know as Syria, Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Iran. Its 1300 pages are a modern “War and Peace” – and can be put down only long enough to rest one’s arms from the weight of the book! I’ve tried before to understand the history and events of this area – but the previous books have clinically recited events and dates and referred in a few cliches only to the horror of those events. The only individuals who figure in these other books are the leaders – but this book portrays both the victims of the slaughter and their families and also those in the Western bureaucracies – both private and public – who make the slaughter possible. Their words are closely analysed – and their actions held to account in a relentless way which restores one faith in journalism. The book’s theme of our lack of historical perspective is echoed in a much shorter book first published in 2003 by Karl Meyer - but Fisk’s book is interlaced with powerful references to his father and others who fought in these same places at the beginning of the 20th Century. This is the book which should be required reading for students of government and for those aspiring to leadership – and the subject of discussion at all book clubs. It is writing and humanity at its highest level. Government is about individuals making, or colluding with, decisions - and how rarely do we get this level of research and critical scrutiny of the words individuals use to protect themselves from questions which might challenge the lives they lead.
I too have read his previous book on Lebanon - and disagree with another reviewer's comparison. This is the more significant book - which needs this detail to balance the countless times the victims are simply written out of history. But yes, perhaps, the chapter on Armenia is overdone - and fails to mention the slaughter by Armenians of Azeris in the 1990s and the displacement by them of 1 million Azeris to tent cities.
on 4 June 2007
There are many bad things you could say about this book, it is big, heavy and the font is just too small. Also, if you are more than forty years of age you would have lived most of this history yourself and have your own opinion about it. Despite that I could not put the book down, and was sad when it finished in three weeks. I have decided to add it to one of the five none-holy books that I am going to leave for my children (I still have three more to add to the list). I have also decided to gift it to all my dear American friends as it would save me the long chats trying to explain to them why the Middle East is never appreciative of their efforts to civilize us.
The book is very much like a very will directed documentary. It will keep you on your toes following Mr. Fisk through the many front lines he has been to, will make you cry when he describes the aftermath of savage bombardments and jail treatments, laugh at his silly little adventures and remarks. Most of the time you will just set back and admire the guy.
Not many people will like Mr. Fisk's direct comments. In fact I would be surprised if he has any friend left in the any of the governments including his own.
on 10 November 2005
Unremitting in its foreceful description of the plight of humans in Arab countries. Unflinching descriptions of massacres, genocides and torture. The underlying assertion is that the source of the ongoing unrest in Arab lands lies with the end of colonial period. The book will enrage the pro-Israeli lobby and the neo-conservatives. For those with an open mind, it demonstrates the double standards that have charaterised the relationship of the West to the Arab nations. It paints an ugly picture for the ongoing involvement of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Highly recommended.
on 22 April 2007
What encourage me to buy this book is the reviws which posted by other readers But when i started reading it, i just can't stop.
Mr Fisk is giving us the conentrate of his experience as a journalsit specialized in the Middle East. Iam a middle eastern myself, Mr Fisk spotlighted the history of the region in the last say 60-70 years in very through, honest, balanced way.
I admired Mr Fisk so much because he tells us his opinion in a very hosnet wayt things like ARAB Leaders not only the current ones but thier ancestors are corrupt and act against the intrest of thier countries.
Iam ashamed that iam from the region, and i have never ever heared about the massacre which has been committed by the Turks against the Armenians.
Of curse i have to raise the hat for him for his courage to condeme the Israeli aggression toward the arab and palstenians.
i wasn't a good reader for the INDEPENDENANT after i read this book i lookforward to buy it every week to read Robert Fisk's article, simply he is better than most of the arab journalsits in analysing the political situation.May be becuase he is not under so much pressure from the middle east corrupt governements.
Last but not least, MR FISK YOUR HONEST AND BRAVE MAN.
on 8 October 2006
Robert Fisk has his detractors, but there aren't many of them that have more knowledge or experience of the Middle East than him. What winds them up is that he has no time for partisan spin - killing lots of people is killing lots of people, full stop, no matter who does it. Journalists like him, in the days of 'embedded reporters', are a rare breed. He has risked his life many times to talk to real people on the ground and get a story - some of the stories in the book bring this home, as Fisk dodges bullets and gets badly beaten up. (Channel 4's Jon Snow also puts in an appearance, in his earlier career.) Worth remembering next time some talking head is pontificating from the safety of London or Washington about the future of countries they've never been to. I hope I'm wrong, but I suspect we'll never see another book like this - it's unlikely that there'll be a future reporter who'll spend the best part of his or her life in a region, since they all want to be editors or news anchors, and getting shot at just isn't worth it.
Does the book have flaws? Well, it's big, and heavy to cart about. I would say that it could have been edited differently, but actually I think it fits together quite well - themes recur and the reader gets a very good sense of Fisk's despair at the continuing tragedies of the region and its peoples - the victims of external interference and internal dictatorships. Contrary to popular belief, Fisk makes no excuses for Saddam and his ilk, but neither does he pull any punches in criticising western and Israeli governments.
The connection of the whole thing to the First World War, in which Fisk's father served, seems odd at first, and isn't essential to the 'plot'. It does reveal something about Fisk's personal background and personality though, which is interesting enough.
Overall, a very great and important book.
on 19 December 2006
This is one of the best accounts I have came across about the Middle-East, and I have lived there all my life...
The problem with reading about this part of the world, is that no one is even close to neutral... You either read the Arab or the Western writers. Arabs have been suffering the results of the west's colonialism for centuries and blame it for all the trouble they are having, and westerners see Arabs as barbaric, un-able-to-modernise peoples who do not understand democracy.. But what we have here is a British reporter, speaks fluent Arabic, has been living in Beirut for 30 years and has had the chance to actually understand the situation...
Fisk has created one of the most interesting accounts of the region, its life, values, people, troubles and joys. Reading him, I have learned about the recent history of my own region much more than I did from my school books. He connects this "war for civilisation" with the memories he has from his father in the First World War, which works pretty well some times.
The problem with the book is despite being fairly easy to read, it is HUGE.. I mean this might be the biggest book I have managed to read. And unless one is really interested in the subject, it would be hard to keep with. I guess he could have made a bit shorter, but that is not for me to say. The man is obviously taking the chance to give details of his precious experience to us.
This is a book that will tell you all you need to know about one very complicated region...