måndag 14 februari 2011

Mike Davis: Buda's Wagon. A Brief History of the Car Bomb

Question: So what does one read when laid low by a stomach flu? Answer: Nothing that requires any effort.

Mike Davis's car bomb history is a rapid-clip exposé of the car bomb's use starting with anarchist Mario Buda's explosives-laden horse-drawn wagon that caused devastation on Wall Street in 1920. The weapon's history ranges from Zionist terrorists attacking the British in Palestine, the US retaliating against Middle Eastern terrorists, various religiously and/or politically motivated attacks on US and Israeli people and buildings, Tamil Tigers, the Italian Mafia attacking judges and art museums, cocaine barons, the IRA, the frightening amount of car bombs in Iraq, etc. 

This was a useful read since I didn't actually know how wide-spread the practice of car bombings has actually been, nor that for instance the far-right French terrorist organization the OAS had used them so extensively, so that's a plus. Or the reference to political scientist Robert Pape's work – showing that most suicide bombers aren't so much socially maladjusted mental cases as reacting to what they see as a collective injustice, especially a feeling of anger at a foreign occupation.

However, there are minuses as well. First, Davis's politics shine through a bit much. If there are any entities whose violence is never acceptable, it's the US and Israel. For example, the Basque separatists ETA's use of bombing campaigns gets a "well, they were persecuted by Franco and the so-called 'socialist' government that replaced him", but when Israel and the US does something bad, the notion that perhaps they, too, were provoked doesn't seem to exist. (For the record, I don't think "we were provoked" is much of a defense for the indefensible, I'm just pointing out that Prof. Davis seems to have an ever-so-slight double standard.)

Another problem is that Davis relies very much on secondary sources and journalism (and in one more amusing instance, taxi drivers) for his facts, and some of those facts are even of the "some say" variety. That does not inspire confidence. Finally, the language is a bit on the lurid side – with plenty of descriptions of the slabs of meat and blown-off limbs that result from bombings. I can understand the wish to depict the horrors of the bombings, but it gets repetitive after a while, and it doesn't help that the Swedish translation I read isn't all that well made. Not only are some military-style terms translated in a manner that I find less than perfect, various English idiomatic expressions are translated literally and the language just doesn't flow very well in Swedish. It's a bit hard to understand why the Swedish Arts Council considered this book so good that it is worthy of their "quality-based" grants.

Anyway, not really recommended, but not a waste of time as you can still learn something from it.

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