Country Sentiment – 2/5 Stars
Here’s the poem that ends this collection:
A FIRST REVIEW.
Love, Fear and Hate and Childish Toys
Are here discreetly blent;
Admire, you ladies, read, you boys,
My Country Sentiment.
But Kate says, “Cut that anger and fear,
True love’s the stuff we need!
With laughing children and the running deer
That makes a book indeed.”
Then Tom, a hard and bloody chap,
Though much beloved by me,
“Robert, have done with nursery pap,
Write like a man,” says he.
Hate and Fear are not wanted here,
Nor Toys nor Country Lovers,
Everything they took from my new poem book
But the flyleaf and the covers.
Here’s the thing, I agree with the children. In searching for a copy of Robert Graves’s WWI memoir “Goodbye to All That” I found that my online service has this collection of poems, and because I more or less knew that he’s as famous for, or perhaps considered himself more of a poet, I read them.
There’s an attempt to capture, as the title says, Country Sentiment, especially as a returning soldier coming back to a country that sent him off to die. But there’s not a clear sense of the poet in these poems. So while, we get a little in the last section, the poems themselves are pretty detached and narrative or ballads or other kinds of songs, but there’s nothing much in the way of voice or feeling. That by itself may be the point, but that doesn’t make for much in the way of an interesting read. I like Nick Cave a lot, but sometimes his songs fall into the kind of sentimental pablum we find here. And so my experience is similar.
Vietnam by Mary McCarthy – 4/5 Stars
This book is a kind of savage takedown of the myth-making involved in US war mongering. There’s a lost art presented that many Americans have sort of forgotten in the ways in which we salivate over military service (not that dissimilar to the way many many people salivate over the police). Don’t ever forget that Nixon killed 100,000s of people to win an election and take the heat off her crimes and Bush killed 1,000,000 to retroactively justify intelligence snafus and ideology. This book reminds us that all US wars, even the “good ones,” just like almost all wars have ever been, are failed imperial projects. And so the winning against enemies is both true and untrue at the same time.
Mary McCarthy though takes no prisoners. She’s not shy about the war crimes committed by individuals and the brainwashed ideologies of those who are fighting (she targets officers in this), as well as the general psychological warfare of ensnaring other cultures in capitalism (read: debt):
“The American taxpayer who thinks that aid means help has missed the idea. Aid is, first of all, to achieve economic stability within the present system, i.e., polit- ical stability for the present ruling groups. Loans are extended, under the coun- terpart-fund arrangement, to finance Vietnamese imports of American capital equipment (thus AIDing, with the other hand, American industry). Second, aid is education. Distribution of canned goods (instill new food habits), distribution of seeds, fertilizer, chewing gum and candy (the Vietnamese complain that the G.I.’s fire candy at their children, like a spray of bullets), lessons in sanitation, hog- raising, and crop rotation. The program is designed, not just to make Americans popular, but to shake up the Vietnamese, as in some “stimulating” freshman course where the student learns to question the “prejudices” implanted in him by his parents. “We’re trying to wean them away from the old baiter economy and show them a market economy. Then they’ll really go.” “
“The war does not threaten our immediate well-being. It does not touch us in the consumer-habits that have given us literally our shape. Casualty figures, still low, seldom strike home outside rural and low-income groups—the silent part of society. The absence of sacrifices has had its effect on the opposition, which feels no need, on the whole, to turn away from its habitual standards and
I think my point here is that all of this sounds mighty familiar to me. The rhetoric never changes except that there’s been a concerted effort to valorize service to such a degree that criticizing war efforts is seen as criticizing the service people. And I think deep down that’s the most cynical shit we do as a country.
Reveries of a Solitary Walker by Jean-Jacques Rousseau – 4/5 Stars
Here’s an important quote to set the goal and tone of these ruminations: “These sheets will only contain a concise journals of my reveries, treating principally of myself, because a solitary must be very much employed with his own person, but if during my walk other ideas pass through my mind, they shall equally find place.; I will relate my thoughts, precisely as they strike me, and with as little connection as the ideas of yesterday have with those of today, since from these will result a clearer knowledge of my temper, with the complexion and tendency of those thoughts and sentiments which are my daily food, in the singular situation I am thrown into, than could otherwise be obtained. “
And here’s another:
“Deciding on discourses from the effects they produce, is a method very liable to error; for, exclusive of the consideration that these effects are not always suffi- ciently obvious, they vary to infinity, with the circumstances that produce them: we should endeavour, therefore, to weigh the intention of the speaker, and determine the degree of malice or benevolence they contain. To advance an untruth, is not to lie, except it is done with an intention to deceive, and even that intention, far from being always attended by a mischievous design, has sometimes a quite contrary tendency. But to render a lie innocent, it is not sufficient there should be no injury intended; a fixed persuasion should be obtained, that the mistake into which we lead the person our discourse is directed to, can be of no possible detriment either