By Chet Yarbrough
Landfall (A Novel)
By: Thomas Mallon
Narrated by: Robert Petkoff
Thomas Mallon (Author, novelist, essayist, and critic.)
Thomas Mallon’s book is a fictionalized account of George W. Bush’s administration. Mallon cleverly includes a fictional love story that adds some drama to his story. What one should be wary of is Mallon’s political bias and how it might color the story.
In listening to a book of fiction that uses the names of the known, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction.
Fictionalizing history-making characters is particularly difficult when it is written about events of the near past. What helps is the knowledge that all history books are partly fictionalized by choice of an author’s facts. Revisionist history is why past Presidents have both risen and fallen in the eyes of historians and the public.
George W. Bush makes some bad decisions as a young man, but more importantly and significantly, as a two-term President.
The son of former President H. W. Bush comes across as a decent and flawed human being. America’s consequence from Iraq and Afghanistan invasions and George W.s response to Katrina show American government hubris and failure. Mallon’s story shows American’s fallibility as a democratic government. Both Republican and Democratic parties in America have made good and bad domestic and international decisions; some of which have been reversed, others not.
Mallon chooses to write a fictional account of the bad decisions made by President George W. Bush. Some of us have short memories but Mallon reminds listeners of the last four years of George W.’s Presidency. Some in Bush’s administration reluctantly suggest America must withdraw from the mess America created by removing Iraq’s autocratic and brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein. Some of George W.’s leaders were misled (or lied to themselves) about Iraq’s threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). No one in George W.’s administration manages to persuade policy makers that American nation-building in foreign cultures is a fool’s errand.
Autocratic governments know little about what it means to be free, or at least free within the rule of law.
Mallon creates a story that implies there is a great deal of descension in the second term of George W.’s administration. This is particularly evident in the intellectual conflict between the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. There is a growing recognition by leaders in the administration, that America could not re-build Iraq’s government. Rumsfeld may have suggested immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq with political spin that infers America’s job is done. The President and Secretary of State Rice realize the Presidency and American resolve is tarnished by withdrawal, whether it is militarily or diplomatically accomplished. Mallon’s novel concludes G.W.’s legacy is the Iraq debacle and the mishandling of the Katrina disaster in Louisiana.
As time passes and history is rewritten, Mallon’s conclusions are likely to be repeated. Neither George W. Bush, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, nor Secretary Rice will be remembered as great leaders. It is not judgement about their patriotism or their desire to make America safer or better, but a consequence of political mistakes.
George W’s administration fails to understand nation-building is folly, and natural disasters are not about the dead but about quick and organized aid to survivors. Mallon’s book is a reminder of how difficult it is for any organization’s leader to become great in the eyes of history.