The Impact of The Wars We Inherit

In this blog entry, Lori Amy, author of The Wars We Inherit, asks, How much of our identities come from the “enemy” against which we define ourselves?

I was finishing the revisions to The Wars We Inherit as I was beginning research for my next book in Albania.

When I posted a picture on Facebook of the view from my apartment, my sister, Zane, immediately replied: “That looks just like East Berlin before the wall came down. I know. I was there.” It’s not just the view from my balcony that brings back the divided Germany. To enter Albania is to enter the still bleeding, raw wounds of the Cold War – wounds that are simultaneously bound up with the “War on Terror.” Tied up like this: Albania has stockpiles of cold-war guns and ammunitions — hundreds of thousands of tons, mostly Russian and Chinese. Two years ago, a fire at the factory that was supposed to be “dismantling” the explosives caused a series of explosions; for miles in all directions, houses burned, windows were blown out of cars and buildings. Following the death and destruction of the explosion, investigations revealed that an American Arms dealer was selling Albanian stock piles to the US Military for use in Afghanistan and Iraq. Recently, Efraim Diveroli, a 24 year old Miami arms dealer who was a player in the arms deals, was convicted and sentenced to 5 years in prison – for defrauding the US Government by passing off banned Chinese ammunition as Albanian-made.

Of all of the crimes that led up to this explosion, in exchange for all of the lives lost and ruined, a conviction for “defrauding the US government” is what counts as justice? Why am I having flashbacks to Oliver North, the fall guy in the Iran-Contra affair? But, of course, North is no longer a part of American cultural consciousness. Nor is the cold war. In 1985, finishing my undergraduate degree at the University of Hawaii, I watched commercials featuring a Russian bear, stalking Americans, posing the threat of nuclear annihilation from the Soviet Union. After invoking the audience’s fear, the commercial asked: isn’t it better to be prepared? Just six years later – only 2 years after the Berlin wall came down – I watched as America created a new enemy to replace the cold war bear we had lost: the Islamic “terrorist,” the “muslim threat,” the “Arab.” In barely a generation, we have lost the memory of the “cold war” bear that mobilized our fantasies, funded our military, gave us meaning. But we did not lose – we could not afford to lose – an “enemy.”

How much of our identities come from the “enemy” against which we define ourselves? The same year I watched commercials about the Russian Bear, I interviewed men on nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers stationed in Honolulu Hawaii. (Those interviews are the basis of the chapter “The Work of War” in the The Wars We Inherit.) From those Hawaii days, I learned a few things about how we teach average young men and women to fear others, how we use fear to grow hatred, and how our fear and our hatred allow us to kill the other that we define as “enemy.” (From my interviews, I also learned more than I care to know about the intertwining of war and sex – this is the basis for the Interlude “On the Violence of Nations in the Violence of Homes.”) Now, in Albania, I find myself, uncannily, tracing, still, the trajectory of the cold war into which I was born. And this is not just “my” history: this is the unarticulated, disavowed history of our present age of warfare. Our challenge, now, is to find a way to work through our legacy of violence.

The Wars We Inherit is my contribution to this project.

A soccer fan’s musings about the FIFA World Cup

As the FIFA World Cup draws near, Grant Farred, author of Long Distance Love offers his thoughts on players from his favorite team taking the pitch.

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I believe in club. Not before country, just in club über alles. It’s a little more complicated than that, obviously, because some of my club’s players represent their countries and then I root for them. Always, however, individually. I think that the nation is a suspect and, almost invariably, a violent concept. It brings out the worst in people: patriotism, and its dark underside, nationalist jingoism; the belief in a kind of superiority that is nothing but the accident of geography, and, of course, the politics that girds that. It’s the one moment when it is almost possible to be a US fan since this is a country that is so committed to the club, or, the “franchise,” to use the proper term, that the notion of a larger concept that can inspire devotion and passion is inconceivable. The 1980 “Miracle on Ice” excepted, needless to say, and even that was produced out of the ideological conflict known as the Cold War.

As a Liverpool Football Club (FC) fan, I’ll have my share of players to root for at this year’s World Cup in South Africa. I’ll be pulling for the Liverpool skipper, Stevie Gerrard, or, “God’s Own Son,” as I call him, when he dons the England strip, now as national captain. Alongside him in the squad will be the other native-born Scouser (as Liverpudlians are known) Jamie Carragher, most likely a player to spend a lot of time on the England bench, but, with Rio Ferdinand (original captain, now injured, hence Gerrard’s taking the armband) now out of the tournament, it remains to be seen if this redoubtable Scouser is England manager Fabio Capello’s choice to replace Ferdinand. The Liverpool right back, Glen Johnson, who really believes that defending is somebody else’s business, is the best England has at his position. Johnson believes that defending is the business of, say, the right midfielder or, as is more often the case, the central defenders. I’ve seen Carragher give Johnson many a dirty look and, occasionally, a tongue lashing. But, it’s not stopped our Glen from marauding up the flank with nary a thought for defense. In Johnson’s defense, no pun intended, he is rather good at attacking. Regrettably, he is altogether too taken with his offensive skills because his defense consists mainly of running, at full pace, alongside attackers and then, as though the defensive blood just came rushing to his head, he throws himself, legs first, at the opposing player. It really is an ungainly sight and should be kept from prospective young defenders for fear of turning them into little, defensively brittle prima donnas.
Liverpool Logo
Gerrard, however, makes my point about club above country. He has been, this past season apart, unfailingly brilliant for Liverpool. A superb leader, the best since the Scotsman Graeme Souness in the 1980s, Stevie sets the bar extraordinarily high. And, having figured out that his Liverpool teammates lack his talent, he simply decides when to take over a game. The blood in his veins matches, exactly, the red of his Liverpool jersey. An awkward analogy, I know, but that to be a Liverpool Red is to be a red of a very particular ideological stripe and only a true Red can know the difference. I can only wish Stevie the best as he leads England. He’s the most complete footballer I have ever seen.

When Jamie Carragher, visiting a Liverpool school, was asked who his favorite player was, he replied: “Steven Gerrard, without him I’d have no medals.” True, Carra, true. But for England, Stevie seems strangely unaffected. His talent is obvious, but the belief – that faith now known for decades as “The Liverpool Way” – in the cause, the England cause, is impossible to detect. In the spring of 2008, Zinedine Zidane proclaimed Gerrard the best player in the world. No arguments from me, he’s the most complete player I have ever seen, but let us be clear: Zidane was referring to the Liverpool Gerrard, not the England one. So, while I am not an England fan, I would never cheer for anyone on the opposing side as long as Stevie is on the pitch. And, captain.

Joining Stevie, Glen and Carra in South Africa will be a host of Reds and ex-Reds who all have claim to my affections. I want to see Martin Skertl do well for Slovakia. He has a huge heart, our Slovakian central defender, and Skertl is brave to the point of stupidity, sticking his head in where mere mortals, sensing the danger, only too happily desist. Besides, no one really respects the Slovaks, treating them as poor replacements for their Czech neighbors. All the more reason, of course, to root for big Marty to do well. Two other Liverpool central defenders will be in South Africa, Daniel Agger for Denmark and Sotirios Kyrgiakos for Greece. “Danny” Agger’s a talented player, that archetypical elegant Liverpool central defender. However, he is rare among his defensive colleagues in his ability to go forward. Because he has a fearsome shot, and is a big lad, midfielders and even opposing defenders are a little afraid of him. They back off him and, next thing you know, our “Danny’s” rifled one from a good 30 metres out. Kyrgiakos, on the other hand, is a bit of bruiser. He’s tough, so he is entirely unafraid of tackling the life out of forwards, midfielders and anyone who so much as dares to wander into his territory. I like “Kyrgi,” in part because I think he really is a Scouser who happened to be born in Greece.

I have incredible admiration for the Argentine captain, Javier Mascherano. “Masch,” of course, to the Scousers. He covers acres of ground, he is beyond fierce in the tackle and he’d whack you all day around the calves and the ankles if the ref let him get away with it. But, “Masch” is committed above all else. He protects the back four like no one in world football, much as Marcos Senna’s fans might disagree, he runs for the full ninety minutes, and he is truly versatile. Not Jamie Carragher versatile, which is about that famed English quality, “heart,” which simply means a player is doggedly determined not to let the side down. No, “Masch” is versatile in the proper sense: he has the technical gifts to adapt his play to the position, to show greater speed down the flanks when he asked to slot in as auxiliary right back, to combine his ability to tackle, and win the ball with the good sense to know when to hold back in the tackle when the winger’s tearing down your flank and figure out, at a moment’s notice, how to whip in a testing cross after haring down the right side touchline for a good 40  meters. That’s “Masch” versatile, utterly distinct from Carra versatile.
World Cup Logo
Ryan Babbel and Dirk Kuyt will be representing the Netherlands. Babbel’s an enigma. Immensely talented, infuriatingly incapable of maximizing his potential. You can just sense that Babbel does not know what he is capable of; he often fails to execute the routine, like simply controlling a ball or rolling an 8 yard pass to a teammate, but he can turn international defenders into statues. On his day, of course; or, more precisely, in that one instant when you can see all that Mr. Babbel might be. Kuyt, on the other hand, is all effort and he squeezes every iota of talent from his Energizer Bunny body. Kuyt, neither a bona fide striker (he can’t lead the line properly) nor a genuine winger (too slow, too ponderous, too beloved of tracking back on defense, a tendency that has, thankfully for Carragher, increased disproportionately since Glen Johnson arrived at Liverpool FC), gives nothing less than absolute everything. He will run and run, and then run some more. When he scores, you are left with nothing but the compulsively honest response: “DK (my nickname for him) deserved that.” Or, almost puritanically, “He worked hard for that goal,” you find yourself saying.

You’d never say that of Liverpool’s main striker, chief of our Spanish Armada, because he evokes a very different set of emotions. When manager Rafa Benitez arrived on Merseyside some 6 years ago, it signaled the beginning of the Spanish influx. Our Armada composes a collection of players with whom I have a complicate set of affections because it encompasses both past and present Reds. In the current Liverpool team, there are two Spaniards, and they may both be the best at their position, even though only one, Fernando Torres, may be recognized as such. “El Nino,” as Torres is known, has that most rare of futbol qualities: he can score goals, he knows how and is utterly capable of doing so, unlike the ever-industrious Kuyt; Torres can score, often out of nothing, but he can, as easily, tuck away routine opportunities because, such is his gift and his hunger for goals, he can make them look routine. As strikers will tell you, it’s the routine ones that require the greatest concentration. Torres can score with a cracker of a shot from 25 yards out, he heads with a fearsome authority, and he can turn his man with the kind of ease, such is his skill, that not only gives defenders nightmares, it just plain embarrasses them. And, he is capable of a winsome petulance, swearing with alacrity in English, even as he pats down those blond locks in a fashion only known to dashing Spaniards from Madrid.
soccer player

At the other end
of the pitch, in goal for Liverpool is Torres’  Spain teammate, Pepe Reina. I have an odd relationship with Reina. He came to us highly touted, but for the first couple of seasons he struggled to adapt to the physical demands of the English game. Instead of catching the ball when the opposition crossed into the Liverpool penalty area, in so doing relieving the pressure on the team, he’d punch, a skill he obviously had not perfected in the La Liga. The result was a kind of flap-happiness that made me very nervous. I still don’t trust him on crosses, but he has matured into the best shot stopper in the world, bar none. And, he has the amazing ability to, knees bent, head down, to whip low, driving kicks from his goal area directly to Liverpool players in attack. He can, better than any other goalkeeper, convert defense into offense.

Also in the Spain squad, the favorites to lift the trophy, a fair assessment of their talent, are two former Liverpool players. Alvaro Arbeloa’s a player whose skills are too often underestimated. He is frequently thought “competent” when he really is inventive in attack and sure in defense; it would be better to describe him as “poised.” Arbeloa is the kind of player you never notice because he is so good at his job. I was sorry to see Arbeloa sold, to Real Madrid. Great pain, however, accompanied for me the departure of Xavi Alonso to Real Madrid. Xavi, pronounced “ChaAHbee,” son of the Basque country, possessed of beautiful futbol mind. Ah, I miss him so, our former midfield mastermind. “Two Touch” I call him for his ability to demonstrate the minimalist essence of his brilliance: trap the ball immediately upon receipt and then, in one languorous swift movement, pass it to an open teammate. Xavi can create space before it exists; he can carve open defenses with a single pass; he can change play from one side of the pitch to the other without, apparently, looking up. Do you see now why I miss you wearing our colors? “Masch” is a ball winner, and very good at it. But, Xavi, him, he’s a thing of beauty: the kind of midfielder who comes along only once every three or four generations. And, Rafa, in his arrogance, let him go. The specter of your talent lives on in my heart, Xavi.

Torres is already a legend, having scored, in typical opportunistic fashion, the only goal in Spain’s 2008 European Championship win. Reina will never get his proper due, not as long as the Spanish coach, Vicente del Bosque, prefers the inferior Iker Casillas in goal. And Arbeloa’s going along, if he makes the final cut, as defensive insurance. He is likely to make the Spanish back four more fluid, but I suspect that Sergio Ramos will get the right back nod. However, if Alonso’s on the pitch for Spain, never a guarantee given the riches of midfield talent (Xavi, Iniesta, just for starters) del Bosque has at his disposal, I’d root for them. Stevie versus Xavi, teammates just yesterday, it seems, now that would be painful for me. But, since both Spain and England know how to underperform on the big stage, I am more or less sure that I’ll be spared that choice. Buena suerte, los Liverpudlians.

What U.S. fans can expect in the World Cup

David Wangerin, author of  Soccer in a Football World, discusses what it takes–and what it really means–to be in the World Cup.

Cover ArtNot so long ago, it was a question you wouldn’t have expected Americans to ask. But this summer, it’s on the lips of a few million: how will we do at the World Cup?

Many still recall the days when the United States would have been happy just to put in an appearance at soccer’s biggest show. But now there is a level of expectation. American fans are wondering which of their teams will turn up: the one that surprised many in 1994 and 2002, or the one that disappointed in 1998 and 2006.

In the eyes of the country’s wider sporting fraternity, anything other than outright victory would not count for much. But soccer fans know that success at the World Cup is relative. They’ll tell you only seven countries have ever lifted the trophy – and two of them only once, when it was held on their own soil. The odds don’t favor the United States becoming the eighth this summer.

This, though, is a knockout competition, where only seven matches are asked even of the winning team – and where the perception of a successful or an unsuccessful showing can rest on thin evidence. The “success” of the US’s 1994 United States team was largely attributable to a single performance against Colombia, the only match of four it managed to win; the “failures” of four years later lost two of their three matches by a single goal (and in one game they struck the frame of the goal four times). Even the 2002 quarterfinalists were lucky. They needed an unlikely result – South Korea’s win over Portugal – to make it past the group phase.

While good fortune may only carry a team so far, no team will ever win the cup without it. A favorable decision in the penalty area; the wave of a linesman’s flag; a ball that may or may not have crossed the line – on such contentious judgments are crucial matches often decided. Germans continue to dispute the legitimacy of the deciding goal of the 1966 final; the English still wonder how neither referee nor linesman spotted Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” in 1986. And American fans wince at the memory of a late German hand-ball in 2002, which, on another day, would have warranted a penalty kick – one that might have kept their team in the tournament.

Soccer Ball

If one good day’s work and a rub of the green can put a team through to the knockout phase, then the vagaries of a penalty-kick shootout can help it inch closer to the final. In 1994, the United States was paired with Brazil in what most of the world regarded as a colossal mismatch; but the Americans packed their defense and held the eventual champions to a single goal. With better luck they might even have shut them out, and then taken them to the contrivance of penalties – where the outcome becomes more a question of nerve than footballing skill. England are zero for three in World Cup shootouts, but South Korea are one for one; in 2002 the hosts reached the semifinals by taking favored Spain to a shootout – and coolly converting all five of their kicks.

So where will the United States finish in South Africa? The final stages of recent tournaments have usually produced a surprise package: few expected Sweden to reach the semifinals in 1994, or Croatia to do so in 1998, or Turkey in 2002. The 2006 tournament may have been more predictable, but winners Italy still needed a dubious last-minute penalty to slip past  Australia in the round of 16. For all the hype surrounding their match with England, the United States’s crucial performances are likely to be against Algeria and Slovenia. Cheer yourself silly, by all means – but do make sure your fingers are crossed.

Considering the naturalist William Bartram

In this blog entry, Joseph Newland provides a consideration of  Travels of William Bartram Reconsidered by Mark Dion

William Bartram is the artist’s naturalist. A famous traveler, he lived in a house hand-built by his father, John Bartram, botanist to King George III, in what is now West Philadelphia. Bartram’s Garden is one of the treasures, less secret all the time, of the Delaware Valley and its many gardens.

Why the naturalist’s artist? Well, Bartram’s own drawings are powerful and insightfully rendered. And his writings, called The Travels for short, are revered throughout the world and especially the US Southeast, where aficionados follow historical markers on Bartram Trails. William Bartram’s prose is so vivid that his words are even rendered by artists: last winter at a manatee haven at Blue Springs State Park near Orlando, in the kiosk at the springhead I saw an artist’s rendering of the site “as described by William Bartram,” re-envisioning the place in the 1790s: words into pictures.

Mark Dion is the naturalist’s artist. Fascinated by natural history and collecting, he makes art that he often combines with installations of specimens in such august institutions as London’s Natural History Museum. Dion+Bartram is a natural, and recently Dion retraced some of The Travels and drew, painted, wrote, and collected, much as William Bartram had. Dion mailed cards, letters, and packages back to Bartram’s Garden. Selections were displayed in the Bartram House, in cabinets of curiosity, among historical displays: What’s a “real specimen”? Which birds did both Dion and Bartram draw? Does an assembly of similar objects, laid out in rows in a drawer actually contribute to classifying or understanding? How many plastic alligators from flea markets and thrift stores does it take to domesticate this fabled Florida beast?

William Bartram’s Travels Reconsidered documents Mark Dion’s travels: the adventure, the hijinks, the art of it. It includes essays by curator Julie Courtney and art writer Gregory Volk, and the first history of Bartram’s Garden in fifty years, by Joel Fry. And pictures, more than 200 pictures, beautifully laid out for the curious. Words into pictures, pictures into words.

Joseph Newland is an art writer, editor, and frequent visitor to Bartram’s Garden.

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