An act of government that presumes it knows what is good for everyone mocks omniscience.
The GAO (Government Accountability Office) finds President Trump broke the law by delaying Ukrainian military aid.
Today, it is terrorism; yesterday, it was communism, day before yesterday, it was Japanese internment camps.
James Risen’s “Pay Any Price” exposes government hubris that tortures suspected terrorists and invades personal privacy to feed human greed and desire for power; all under the guise of protecting America.
Japanese internment during WWII.
Guantanamo tramples human rights; the red-scare of the 1950s breeds mistrust of elected officials, and Japanese internment camps during WWII stain the American’ conscience.
Greed and power are two of the three motivations for endless war.
The third is presumed status which leads to a false sense of omniscience and hubris.
Sadly, 9/11 is not the first or last terrorist event in America’s future but without a measure of human freedom, America loses more than it gains by suspecting everyone is a terrorist.
Government should protect Americans from the greed and power of the few over the many, rather than concoct wasteful government programs that only feed the worst parts of human nature.
President Trump believes he knows best and fails to seek the advice or counsel of those who are in a position to offer a more balanced perspective.
Few, if any, would suggest Qassem Soleimani was not a murderer of Americans. But what price has been paid by the world for Trump’s unilateral decision to have Soleimani assassinated?
A Concise History
of the Middle East, Ninth Edition
Goldschmidt and Lawrence Davidson
Narrated by Tom Weiner
Messieurs Goldschmidt and Davidson have created an insightful overview of the origins and impacts of an area of the world not well known or understood by much of the American public.
Arthur Goldschmidt Jr. (Author, historian)
Lawrence Davidson (Author, History professor)
History is made up of facts but never the whole truth. Events are reported out of the context of their historical era, a time which can never be fully explained; even by the most knowledgeable historian.
So, why is understanding the Middle East important?
In the Middle East, more than a million human lives have been lost from war since 2001.
Since 2001, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syrian conflicts have killed over 6,700 Americans, nearly 3,000 NATO coalition soldiers, an unpublished number of Russian and Turkish soldiers, 182,000 Iraqis, 111,000 Afghans, and 400,000 to 570,000 Syrians.
MORE REASONS ABOUND
From an economic perspective, there is the importance of oil imports from the Middle East.
IRAQ INVASION’S COST
There is the cost of military intervention in foreign countries.
From a religious and cultural perspective, the Muslim religion is the second most common in the world.
SYRIAN REFUGEES IN TURKEY (Turkey spends $30 billion on Syrian refugees.)
Countries like Turkey are overwhelmed by the cost of housing and feeding refugees from the Syrian war.
From a humanitarian perspective, hundreds of thousands of refugees have been created. Where do they go? How will they live. There are many consequential reasons for a better understanding of the Middle East.
This audio book provides some history and, more importantly, perspective on religious belief, ethnicities, and secularism in the Middle East; i.e., it explains some of the differences within and among Middle Eastern countries.
Goldschmidt and Davidson help one understand the difference between a Muslim Sunni and a Muslim Shiite. Their history gives the listener a better appreciation of the importance of an Imam to a Shiite and what happens in Shiite dominated Iran versus what might occur in a majority Sunni country like Saudi Arabia or Kuwait.
Goldschmidt and Davidson point out that Shiite’ beliefs are evolving because they are Imam’ interpretations of the Koran while Sunni’s beliefs are more static and grounded in literal readings of the Koran.
The authors reflect on religious conflicts among believers in Islam, the creation and growth of the state of Israel, the secular leanings of Turkey, the Kurdish conflicts between Turkey and Iraq, the history of Iraq and its makeup of Kurds, Shiite, Sunni, and Christian factions. They report on the Hezbollah and Palestinian movements surrounding Israel. They touch on our 2001 New York tragedy and the hostility of al-Qaeda and its influence on American perception of the Middle East.
“A Concise History of the Middle East” is an eye opening journey through centuries of border conflicts, colonialism, nation building, and evolving nationalism.
There is little doubt, considering what has happened in Iran (and is presently happening in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and Syria), that there is a growing discontent in the Middle East, a burgeoning desire for freedom; a freedom that is forged by a variety of belief systems, tempered by the will of its indigenous people.
Goldschmidt and Davidson help one understand that, like America, there are many conflicting beliefs in the Middle East that have led to misconceptions, tragic mistakes, civil wars, and violent actions perpetrated and perpetuated by committed believers. These believers are either vilified or commended by the passing of time and the distance of recorded history.
ANCIENT MIDDLE EASTERN MAP
The Middle East is shown as the world power it once was; its devolution into a variety of colonial and/or monarchical nation states; and its re-growth as an oil producing behemoth.
The Middle East is working its way into the 21st century as a new world power. One is drawn to the conclusion that this new world power is in a state of creation from a variety of competing Middle Eastern nation states that may or may not survive the 21st century.
What Goldschmidt and Davidson remind one of is the folly of outside military intervention in countries of which one has little understanding.
Goldschmidt and Davidson’s writing is a gift that makes reports of the Middle East more accessible to the general public.
The Unwomanly Face of War–An Oral History of Women in World War
Svetlana Alexievich, Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
by Julia Emelin, Yelena Shmulenson
Svetlana Alexievich (Author, Belorussian Investigative Journalist, 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature–for her polyphonic writings.)
The author of “The Unwomanly Face of War”, Svetlana Alexievich, suggests women’s deployment in war dates to the Greco-Roman wars. However, some say Russia is the first nation to deploy women as combat troops. History shows Russia enlisted women as combat troops in WWI.
“The Unwomanly Face of War” notes nearly 1,000,000 women joined the Russian military to defeat the German armies in WWII.
Alexievich interviews former WWII Russian women as pilots, snipers, mine clearing commanders, and military tank leaders. Some were as young as 13; others in their late teens or early 20’s when they joined. At the time of the interviews, all were in their 50’s or older. By any definition, these Russian women were combat troops.
This is a particularly timely release of a translation of “The Unwomanly Face of War”. In western nations, as early as the 1940 s, the role of women in the military has been in transition.
Most countries recognize the immense contribution “women in war” have made since WWI. However, the WWII veterans in Russia’s battles were not fully recognized until the 1950s.
What Alexievich offers is a peek into what Russian women in combat experienced during WWII. She identifies similarities and differences military men and women experience in war. To listeners of Alexievich’s interviews, similarities appear much greater than the differences.
The preeminent common characteristic among combat troops is nationalism. Whether man or woman, the belief in the sovereignty of one’s country supersedes gender. The disgust for an invading country and its military is equally reviled.
Alexievich suggests women feel the atrocity of war more than men because women bare and raise children. She argues women are more nurturing and emotion driven than men.
However, her interviews recount two events that would equally engage and enrage men as women.
Two interviews reveal a mother’s decision to sacrifice her children. One circumstance is for a mother to quiet a crying child by infanticide because of an approaching German troop. The second is a mother who has her child carry a bomb into a military mess hall to kill the enemy as well as the sacrificed child. How does maternal instinct differ from the worst actions taken by men?
The human response to war seems as brutally evident in
women as men. The trauma of war seems to
be absorbed in similar ways. War
experience is something never forgotten, and often repressed. There seems little difference among the sexes
based on Alexievich’s interviews of WWII women veterans.
Another example that seems more of a provisioning than
sex difference is the reality of menstruation and how it is to be dealt with in
combat circumstances. With proper
provisioning the difference between the sexes seems miniscule.
Another circumstance alluded to is the physical strength differences between the sexes. The circumstance recalled is a woman tank commander who cannot physically rescue an injured tank soldier because she is unable to lift him out of the tank.
Pulling dead weight is a limit for men as well as women. Though the average strength differences might be true between all men and all women, brute strength is an extraordinary need in war; not a common requirement. If one person is not enough to move a wounded soldier, he/she gets help.
“The Unwomanly Face of War” addresses the reality of conjugal sex in war. War is little different than life in the civilized world when it comes to the battle of the sexes. Alexievich recounts affections that rise between men and women in the field of war. One can appreciate exaggerated interdependence when one’s life is at stake. Maybe there is a difference, but the difference seems more of imagination than reality. Peace has its own way of corrupting the relationship between men and women. One must question how different the battle between the sexes is in war than in peace.
Common purpose brings the sexes together in both war and peace. When common purpose is absent, the sexes battle for their personal interests. What distorts the battle is power.
History suggests power more often lies with men than women whether in civilian or military life. Until there is equalization in power, the potential for fairness among the sexes is unlikely.
Whether in war or peace, sexual orientation is subject to inequality. The only remedy is a set of rules and regulations judiciously enforced.
One will draw their own conclusion about the role of
women in war after listening to “The Unwomanly Face of War”. Whether in a time of war or peace, what is
incontestable is unequal treatment of women
Victory is sweet; defeat is bitter. Victory engenders responsibility for the defeated; defeat demands fealty to a victor. Fealty is not the goal of a victorious leader who seeks lasting peace.
Peace among nations has a price. John Dower’s reflection on WWII and Japan holds lessons for today’s American leadership.
John Dower, in “Embracing Defeat”, endeavors to picture Japan’s condition; i.e. the state of its economy and its people, after surrender in WWII.
History’s complexity is difficult to capture in words. Dower makes an effort to explain the context of post war Japan by showing Japanese attitude in media reports and literature of the time. The irony of Dower’s effort is that media reports and literature are censored by Allied forces, particularly the United States.
MICHINOMIYA HIROHITO (124TH EMPEROR OF JAPAN 1901-1989) Dower covers the history of an American white wash of Hirohito’s war complicity and responsibility. The American government uses Hirohito to make occupation and influence in Japan more acceptable to its population. It became politically expedient to hide Hirohito’s true involvement in Japan’s war plans.
Dower reports on post-war trials of Japanese military and government leaders; i.e. Dower writes about trial testimony of Japan’s WWII’ atrocities but his history shows that victor’ justice is not necessarily victim’ justice.
Hideki Tojo as hero and/or goat–tried and convicted; sentenced to a prison in which he dies. Tojo refuses to implicate the Emperor in his actions during the war.
In spite of (partly because of) American military occupation of Japan, financial aid is misdirected and food goods and material are stolen, a black market develops, gangs are formed, and corruption thrives. (Sounds like Iraq after America’s invasion.). Prostitution became a way of making a living, and immoral behavior became semi-acceptable because of rising poverty.
NICOLAS MADURO (PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA SINCE 2013) A case in point today is the President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro. Are his actions a “crime against humanity” or is he fighting for his country’s independence?
Economic sanctions are as likely to punish the innocent as the guilty in countries that fight for their own identity. One’s interest is peaked by Japan’s experience after WWII because of the current Middle East muddle.
Syria, Iraq, and Iran are challenged by domestic unrest and punitive actions by non-indigenous forces. These three countries are particularly impacted by military and/or economic pressures from outsiders. What is going to happen in those countries? Are there any clues in the great change that occurred in Japan after WWII?
General MacArthur assumed the role of “Dear Leader”, treating the Japanese like 12-year-olds that were to be taught the ways of Democracy with a capital “D”. This role by MacArthur in post war Japan is accepted by many Japanese because of centuries of Imperial control, exemplified by Emperor Hirohito.
BONNER FELLERS (U.S. ARMY OFFICER, SERVED AS A MILTARY ATTACHE IN WWII) Dower also suggests that a large part of General MacArthur’s success is due to Major Bonner Fellers, a Japanese scholar that predicted Japan’s war several years before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Major Fellers’ respect and understanding of Japanese culture and his influence contributes much to the success of American policy in post war Japan.
Fellers recognizes Japan’s people, with new found freedom, are inwardly driven toward a capitalist philosophy inherent in democracy. The Japanese did not abandon their ideas of production, the ideas of small business cooperation to achieve common goals. Those ideas made them a military behemoth in the 1920s. They redirected that belief system toward domestically driven capitalism. Japan became a dominant 20th century economic power. Japan’s experience suggests that freedom will not be denied but how it exhibits is a mystery wrapped in nation’s histories, beliefs, and practices.
Are there equivalents of “Major Bonner Fellers” to guide America’s policy toward other countries like Venezuela and the Middle East? America can help or hinder a peoples’ drive for freedom but where it leads, in Venezuela or the Middle East, must be their peoples’ decision.
Nature abhors a vacuum (Spinoza). The centralized governments and economies of Venezuela, Syria, Iraq, and Iran will be occupied democratically, autocratically, or some combination thereof, when domestic tumult subsides.
Outside countries cannot mandate lasting peace within other countries; let alone their own country. Sovereignty should be recognized as an inalienable right. It is not America’s job to pick winners and losers.
Howard Zinn (American Historian, Author) November 19, 2009. Photo By: Rob Kim/Everett Collection
The pitfall of history is subjectivity. Howard Zinn offers a coda for history’s myopia. Harry Truman is alleged to have said “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know”. Zinn shows how little Americans know about America’s failure to create a “…more perfect union” (a name given to a speech delivered by Senator Barack Obama on March 18, 2008).
No American institution is untarnished by Zinn’s rumination. Zinn challenges every aspect of American culture. The malpractice of American businesses, politicians, and society are exposed by Zinn. Neither Republicans, Democrats, or other party affiliates, escape responsibility for America’s abhorrent actions.
Unadorned historical facts show Indians indiscriminately isolated and murdered, Blacks treated as property and hung, immigrants vilified for being different, wars being waged on the innocent, women being treated unequally, and greed being praised as virtue–all in the face of professed American freedom and equality.
Zinn implies all Presidents; including Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, the Bushes, and Obama buy into an economic principle that the business of America is business. (He certainly could have included President Trump.)
With few exceptions, Zinn argues every President tacitly or overtly supports corporate America. The only Presidential exception Zinn notes is Eisenhower’s expressed concern about the military/industrial complex and its penchant for distorting American values.
Zinn recounts Andrew Jackson’s isolation and murder of Indians, Lincoln’s willingness to preserve the union at the cost of slavery, Andrew Johnson’s southern sympathies, Roosevelt’s incarceration of American Japanese, Harry Truman’s decision to nuke Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Carter’s support for Iran’s military dictatorship, Reagan’s expansion of the military/industrial complex, Clinton’s cuts in taxes and welfare, the Bushes’ wars, and Obama’s rescue of the banking industry.
Zinn argues—both Republican and Democratic presidents endorse corporate control of America at the expense of citizen values written into the Constitution.
From discrimination against minorities to unequal pay for women, America has failed to follow the ideals of the Constitution of the United States.
Zinn implies there is never a justification for war; presumably even in the case of WWII.
Some Americans would agree that Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan wars were and are a waste of human lives.
This is a hard argument to dispute when seen in the context of a burgeoning gap between rich and poor, and man’s inhumanity to man. One might argue as some historians do, sovereignty of a country is an inalienable right, even when it is ignored or used as an excuse for war.
Zinn argues there is no moral or ethical justification for political repression, murder, slavery, sexual or racial discrimination. (That begs the question of a war’s justification in light of Nazi Germany’s intent to exterminate all Jews.)
But, Zinn argues the right of sovereign nations to choose their own government. Genocide is a potential consequence of such a hard rule when a minority only has a right to resist and/or revolt. That is in the news today in regard to Myanmar and the Rohingya.
Suu Kyi Defends Myanmar from the accusation of genocide.
What nation (based on its own cultural belief) has the right to invade another country that chooses to victimize its own citizens.
Zinn is not suggesting countries should become isolationists. He argues that to the extent that humanitarian relief may be offered by an outside country, it should be offered. Relief would not include transfer of weapons of war, but aid in goods and services meant to sustain life. Outside military intervention in a sovereign country seems destined only to lead to more loss of innocent life.
Taking Zinn’s observations to heart suggests there is no justification for war or violence against our fellow man. However, human nature is what it is. Humans choose what they choose; often out of the instinctual desire for money, power, and prestige, rather than any common good. Individual cultures are based on memes of the country in which they were born.
Invasion of a sovereign country is a slippery slope that only leads to more death and destruction. However, Zinn’s review of history seems to deny all reasons for war. There seem two modern exceptions to Zinn’s argument.
Nazi Concentration Camp WWII
WWII and the way H. W. Bush handled the invasion of Kuwait. These two exceptions are clearly related to one country’s violation of another’s sovereignty. In both cases, America’s Presidents enlisted cooperation from other countries, before taking any military action.
It is a
dangerous world, but the danger is in human beings and their quest for personal
gain; i.e. their greed for money, power, and prestige. America needs to look at itself and its
reliance on corporate excess. The gap
between rich and poor must be addressed in all nations; not the least of which,
the United States. Zinn reminds America
of how flawed we are in “A People’s History of the United States”.
This is a disturbing book because it brings a wolf to the door. The wolf may blow your house down whether it is made of brick or straw.
Herman Cain (Previous Presidential candidate, Tea Party Activist who believes in returning to a gold standard for the American dollar. Most recently, President Trump tried, unsuccessfully, to have Cain appointed to the Federal Reserve Board.)
President Trump’s harangue about the independence of the Federal Reserve is old news. Packing the Federal Reserve has been done before. The selection of Herman Cain reflects on an Executive branch that lives in the past.
James Rickards infers the sky is falling because we are in a war that cannot be won without returning the American dollar to a gold standard. The argument is that returning to a gold standard will create a level playing field for currency that will stabilize the economy and break down barriers to free trade; i.e. not free trade exactly but regulated trade. Somehow, currency backed up by gold will be more stable than the full faith and credit of a government—really?
What is roiling the market today is a trade war; not currency manipulation.
Gold was over $1600 per ounce when Rickards was published. It is now under $1529 per ounce. Without a fixed standard, Rickards argues national economic security is at risk. Rickards argues that America has fought two currency wars in its history and is now in the middle of its third war, using weapons that cannot defend America in a currency war.
America is part of a world market; not a singular self-sufficient economic island.
Trade wars between nations is twentieth century thinking. World interconnection through travel, media, and education demand constructive cooperation between nation-state economies. It is economic improvement of all nations that makes each nation stronger. As national economies improve, free trade flourishes. It is a waste of human life to engage in restrictive trade policies or artificial standards of value like gold.
BEN BERNANKE (CHAIRMAN OF THE FEDERAL RESERVE 2006-2014)
Rickards goes on to suggest the Euro crises are examples of currency instability and the unpredictability of many battles being fought in the currency wars. His assessment is that political interests of China and Germany are the only glue that keeps countries like Greece from economic collapse.
Rickards is an attorney and an economist. That makes him capable of structuring an argument about the economy with more credibility than a bumbling blogger. However, to this bumbler, Rickards’ arguments are specious.
In contrast, it appears President Trump may be steering the American economy into an economic ditch.
Countries are run by different government philosophies, different national interests, and rely on different economic resources—how will creating a gold standard for currency in one country or all countries reduce conflicting self-interests? The currency war will not be changed with a return to the gold standard; i.e. currency wars will continue and evolve based on whatever standard is used for currency to determine value.
The gold standard is not a magic bean that can be exchanged for a milk cow. There is no bean stock to golden egg land.
Geo-political thinking and self-interest do not change because of a gold pegged American dollar. Currency conflicts will not disappear; i.e. they will re-set to commodity wars, or maybe bitcoin wars. America is as capable as any post-industrial nation to compete on that basis.
Rickards observes the trillion-dollar American Treasury bill hoard held by China and sees the sword of Damocles raised to slice America’s neck. Why would Jack want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs? America is “Mr. and Mrs. Consumer” on steroids.
Currency wars are real but America has fought them before with results that have made it the bully of the world. Maybe America needs to learn how to be a little more humble rather than gamble on a currency play or trade war that has as much chance of causing as curing world economic collapse.
Consumption is threatening humanity. Human resource should be deployed to improve living standards of all people, but economies that strictly focus on consumption are killing the golden goose.
Work on the environment is truly an improvement that “lifts all boats”. Better waste management, clean water, clean air, and education are investments with infinite returns. Wars of any kind between nations is twentieth century thinking.
As Ronald Reagan famously said in his successful campaign against Jimmy Carter, “There you go again”.
Dave Eggers writes another book about a tragic human event. However, Eggers avoids character controversy like that which followed “Zeitoun”, a story about the Katrina disaster.
Eggers classifies “What Is the What” as a novel, without any claim to source-vetted facts or the integrity of its primary character.
SUDAN IN THE WORLD
“What Is the What” is about Sudan and its 20th century genocidal history. This is a story of the complex religious, ethnic, and moral conflict that exists in Sudan and in all nations peopled by extremes of wealth and poverty.
“What Is the What” is a tautology exemplified by a story of one who has something, knows it, and another that has nothing, and knows not why.
Valentino Achak Deng, the hero of Eggar’s story, tells of his father. Achak’s father explains the story of “What is the What”.
God offers man a choice of cows or something called the What. God asks, “Do you want the cows or the What?
But, man asks, “What is the What”? God says, “The What is for you to decide.”
Achak’s father explains that with cows a man has something; he learns how to care for something; becomes a good caretaker of a life-sustaining something, but a man who has no cows has nothing, learns nothing about caring; and only becomes a taker of other’s something.
By mixing truth with fiction, Eggers cleverly reveals the story of Sudan’s “lost boys”, refugees from the murderous regime of President Al-Bashir in Sudan. At every turn, Achak is faced with hard choices.
Omar Al-Bashir is deposed in April 2019 after almost 30 years in power.
Omar Al-Bashir, a Muslim Sudanese military leader who becomes President, releases dogs of war by condoning the rape and pillage of indigenous Sudanese by Muslim extremists. It is partly a religious war of Muslims against Christians but, more fundamentally, it is about greed.
Greed is engendered by oil reserves found in southern Sudan in 1978. Bashir strikes a match that ignites a guerrilla war. Eggers reveals the consequence of that war in the story of Achak, one of thousands of lost boys that fled Sudan when their parents were robbed, raped, and murdered. Bashir’s intent was to rid Sudan of an ethnic minority that held lands in southern Sudan.
Eggers cleverly begins his story with Achak being robbed in Atlanta, Georgia. But, this is America; not Sudan.
Robbers knock on Achak’s door with a request to use his telephone. Achak is pistol whipped, tied, and trapped in his apartment while his and his roommate’s goods are stolen.
There is much to be taken from the apartment. The robbers leave a young boy to guard Achak while they leave to get a larger vehicle to remove the stolen goods.
Achak identifies with the young boy. Achak recalls his life in Sudan and his escape to America; i.e.the land of the free; the land of opportunity. Achak sees the young boy as himself, victimized by life’s circumstances, hardened by poverty, and mired in the “What” (the takers of other’s something).
Eggers continues to juxtapose the consequence of poverty and powerlessness in Atlanta with Achak’s experience in Sudan. Achak’s roommate returns to the apartment to find Achak tied and gagged in an emptied apartment. He releases Achak.
They call the police to report the robbery and assault. An officer arrives to investigate. The police officer listens, takes brief notes, offers no hope for the victims, and leaves; i.e., just another case of poor people being victimized by poor people.
The episode reminds one of the Sudanese government’s abandonment of the “lost boys”. They are citizens governed by leaders who look to rule-of-law for the rich, and powerful; not the poor and powerless. They are leaders of the “what” (takers of other’s something); rather than leaders of all citizens.
Achak has been injured in the robbery. He goes to a hospital emergency room for help. Achak waits for nine hours to be seen by a radiologist. He presumes it is because he has no insurance but it is really because he has no power.
He has enough money to pay for treatment but without insurance, this emergency room puts Achak on a “when we can get around to it” list. The doctor who can read the radiology film is not due for another three hours; presumably when his regular work day begins. Achak waits for eleven hours and finally decides to leave. It is 3:00 am and he has to be at work at 5:30 am.
As Achak waits for the doctor he remembers his experience in Sudan. When the Muslim extremists first attack his village, many boys of his village, and surrounding villages are orphaned. These orphans have nowhere to go. By plan or circumstance the lost boys are assembled by a leader who has the outward-appearing objective of protecting the children. The reality of the “what” (takers of other’s something) raises its head when the children are recruited by this leader for the “red army” of South Sudan (aka SPLA or Sudan People’s Liberation Army).
The reality of the “what” (takers of other’s something) raises its head when Sudanese children are recruited by this leader for the “red army” of South Sudan (aka SPLA or Sudan People’s Liberation Army).
These are boys of 8, 9, 10, 11 years of age. This army-of-recruits begins a march from South Sudan to Ethiopia, a journey of over 700 miles, gathering more orphans as they travel across Sudan. Along the way, they become food for lions, and crocodiles; they are reviled as outsiders by frightened villagers and, unbeknownst to Achak and many of the boys—they are meant to become seeds of a revolution to overthrow Al-Bashir’s repressive government. These children are to be educated and trained in Ethiopia to fight for the independence of South Sudan. They are led by leaders of the “what” (takers of other’s something).
The lost boys are victims of believers in the “what”. Achak and other Sudanese’ refugees walk, run, and swim a river to arrive in Kenya, hundreds of miles south of Ethiopia. Some Sudanese were shot by Ethiopians; some were eaten by crocodiles; some died from disease and starvation.
Then, in 1991, Ethiopia’s government changes. The lost boys, a part of an estimated 20,000 Sudanese’ refugees, are forcibly ejected by the new government.
The Sudanese’ refugees arrive in Kakuma, Kenya. Achak says Kakuma is a Swahili word for “nowhere”. In 1992, it becomes home to an estimated 138,000 refugees who fled from several different warring African nations. The SPLA remains a part of the refugee camp but their recruiting activity is mitigated in this new environment. The camp is somewhat better organized but meals are limited to one per day with disease and wild animals as ever-present dangers. Education classes are supported by Kenya, Japan, and the United Nations to help refugees manage themselves and escape their past.
Achak survives these ordeals and reflects on his unhappiness in Atlanta, Georgia. Achak clearly acknowledges how much better living in America is than living in Africa. However, Achak makes the wry suggestion that Sudanese settlement in America changed his countrymen from abusers to killers of their women.
He suggests Sudanese killing of their women is because of freedom. He explains freedom exercised by women in America is missing in Sudan. In Sudan, Sudanese women would not think of doing something contrary to wishes of their husbands. Achak infers Sudanese women adapt to freedom while Sudanese men feel emasculated. The emasculation leads to deadly force in Sudanese families; a deadly force that includes murder of wives or girlfriends and suicide by male companions.
Eggers successfully and artistically reveals the tragedy of Sudan. Cultural and religious conflict in the world and American freedom are called into question. The cultural belief of parts of the Middle East, Africa, and America drive Achak from nation to nation. Achak, despite misgivings, appears to love America. But, American democracy is no utopia. Achak realizes no system of government is perfect. His ambition is to educate himself and his home country. Achak realizes education is the key to a life well lived.
What is the What? Ironically, it is more than cows; it is education that combats cultural ignorance and celebrates freedom and equal opportunity for all.
Eggers story implies America needs to re-think its policy on immigration. We are a nation of immigrants. Achak’s story highlights what is wrong with America and other parts of the world. But it also shows the “what” (“the ‘what’ that is for you to decide”) can be made better because it is more than cows.