Read It Or Repeat It

Duff McKagan's column runs every Thursday on Reverb. He writes about what music is circulating through his space every Monday.
The more books about history I read, the more I see history repeating itself. I have been reading fiction as of late, but it's when I read good historical nonfiction that I get completely lost in the story. Fact is, to me, always much more engrossing than fiction. The truly bizarre and heinous just can't be made up:

--Big lessons, like how "inside" Wall Street is, and how greed has made the common investor just a pawn in the game--starting about 125 YEARS ago (yes, it's not just a recent phenomenon).

--War and the displacement of indigenous peoples too. Just 40 years ago in Vietnam, by moving whole villages out of their ancient homelands, the invading U.S. Army bumbled and stumbled and created an enemy out of the friendly and, before then, helpful South Vietnamese. Heck, go back even further, and you'll see that Ho Chi Minh modeled his Declaration of Independence after ours, and that the U.S. backed Vietnam's struggle for independence in the late 1940s. How did we create such an ardent enemy within the following 20 years or so?

I received an e-mail from my best friend Andy yesterday. He and I are big "war buffs," and we sometimes trade tips on what books to read. He is an armchair historian like me. Neither of us are, however, military geniuses--just common, regular guys who try to figure stuff out as we go. Andy's e-mail was rather poignant and to-the-point, though. It DOES have something to do with books and reading too, so it should bring me back to my reading list:

"I did read Three Cups of Tea; it explains a lot about the area of North Pakistan. I've been looking into that area for the last year or so. Pakistan and the Afghan area is a really fucked-up place. If we spent half the money we spend to bomb the shit out of them, we could "win." It's a lesson we learned in Vietnam, but it looks like they (our "leaders") forgot. It's like when we moved all of those little tribes in the way-out areas to new "camps." If we could have just helped them to live a better life somehow, they would not have worked with the VC; but instead, we moved them from a place that they had lived for thousands of years. If we could just get those Wahidis out of there (Pakistan and Afghanistan), and build new schools that somehow taught them not to hate us and make a better life, they would and could thrive."

I'm not trying to get political here at all. It's just that with all the reading I do--and reading from all different viewpoints (not just an "Anglo" one), I just start to bang my head against a wall sometimes!

--Three Cups of Tea (Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin): I think I was first attracted to this book because I had heard it was a story of a K2 mountain-climber who had gotten lost on the hike out of that area. While, yes, this is indeed how the story got its start, Three Cups is a heartwarming story of humanity, ancient tribal ways, fundamental-religious rule, and perseverance in the mountains above Pakistan and Afghanistan. If you haven't read this book yet, put it on top of your list.

--The Forever War (Dexter Filkins): Yes, I think I have written about this book here before, but it seems to become everyone's favorite read after I suggest it to them. Iraq and Afghanistan are two big cluster-fucks that have put so many people's lives on the line. We should all be as well-informed as we can, I think, and The Forever War gives a view with some scope and honesty.

--The Things They Carried (Tim O'Brien): This is an epic and poetic first-hand account of the brutality and humanity of the Vietnam War. If you were to read this book before Three Cups and The Forever War, you would surely scratch your head and wonder if our Western leaders can add two and two.

--The Moneychangers (Upton Sinclair): I'm not sure what the difference is between Goldman Sachs selling financial vehicles that are built to fail, and Sinclair's 1910 "Northern Mississippi Railroad" stock being sold to a public who had no idea of the bad intentions of its chairmen. In The Jungle, Sinclair did much to change child-labor laws and food-inspection laws; I wonder why Wall Street wasn't put on a tighter leash after it was exposed by Moneychangers? This 100-year-old book is suddenly very topical and relevant.

Again, I know I have previously covered a few of these books, but there are new readers here all the time, and these reads are just too important and good. Anyone want to chime in?

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