Monday, February 3, 2014

Quote of the day

"Maybe it was already over for us in Indochina when Alden Pyle's body washed up under the bridge at Dakao, his lungs all full of mud; maybe it caved in with Dien Bien Phu. But the first happened in a novel, and while the second happened on the ground it happened to the French, and Washington gave it no more substance than if Graham Greene had made it up too. Straight history, auto-revised history, history without handles, for all the books and articles and white papers, all the talk and the miles of film, something wasn't answered, it wasn't even asked. We were backgrounded, deep, but when the background started sliding forward not a single life was saved by the information. The thing had transmitted too much energy, it heated up too hot, hiding low under the fact-figure crossfire there was a secret history, and not a lot of people felt like running in there to bring it out."
-- Michael Herr, Dispatches (pb. ed., 1978), pp.49-50.


Anonymous said...

I've been reading "Embers of War" on the leadup to the U.S. entanglement in Vietnam, which thus far (1946?) is very good. Seems right up the IR alley, as I understand that alley.

LFC said...

Frederik Logevall is a v. respected historian of this subject. I haven't read his work except for little bits.

As for 'the IR alley', that would be a longer discussion (much longer, I'm afraid). In U.S. universities, most people who "do" IR are political scientists (that's somewhat less true outside the U.S.). Even the subset of those people who are 'closest' to historians generally have a more instrumental, 'generalizing' approach than historians do. They use historians' work for their own ends. Occasionally, a historian gets interested in IR theory and the intellectual traffic becomes more two-way, so to speak, but that doesn't happen all that often, I think.

Btw Herr's Dispatches, which I was looking at the other day, has some stunning writing -- the passage I quoted does not really show that, though I liked the secret-history-under-the-crossfire metaphor, which is why I put it up.

P.s. An archetypal "IR book" about Vietnam is something like Yuen Foong-Khong's Analogies at War (1992). It's good but I don't think you'd have much patience for it.

If I had to do it over again I wouldn't have gone up 'the IR alley' myself, but there's no use crying over spilled milk.

Anonymous said...

I really don't know why I haven't read Herr - his work on "Apocalypse Now" should have been enough for me.

As for the Logevall, I would think the book's subject is relevant to how powers interact - i.e., ripe for being used for its own ends. But my comment was naive, because I'm sure Vietnam has been done to death in that regard.

... As for me, I shoulda taken the hint and become a philosophy professor.

LFC said...

oh well... but you seem to rather like being a lawyer, from what i can tell (which admittedly isn't that much)...

Anonymous said...

Well, it pays the bills. Most of them.

Either way, it's reading, writing, and arguing with people.