Provocative Essays on the Post-9/11 World and Wars Beyond Baghdad: Postmodern War and Peace. Ralph Peters. Stackpole Books. 337 pages; $22.95.
In Beyond Baghdad: Postmodern War and Peace, Ralph Peters has collected a set of his writings that bear on the current war. He divides them into three parts. The first, "Our Future," consists of six essays that originally appeared in 2002. These lay out Peters' views on the failures of Arab Islamic civilization; they also include his taxonomies of states and warriors. The second part, "Our Wars," collects shorter columns published in the New York Post, Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. With the exception of the first-"How Saddam Won this Round," which reports on a 1998 face-off between Saddam and President Clinton-these essays represent essentially a running commentary on the post-9/11 war. The book's final section, which Peters calls a "Coda: Au Revoir, Marianne ... Auf Wiedersehen, Lili Marleen," advances the view that American interests and American culture have for the foreseeable future diverged quite sharply from Europe's.
Peters says of himself in his introduction ("A Matter of Identity"):
I write. I write essays and commentaries for a variety of publications, from the mildly fusty to the gleefully feisty. ... The differences between my flirtations with "serious" journalism and my affairs with populist newspapers, the variety of themes I romance and discard, and my refusal to wed any partisan ideology all disconcert those proper souls who abhor such promiscuity. But writing is, indeed, like dating and mating: Honesty is essential, while monogamy is a matter of taste.
Yet the promiscuity he boasts of results in a great deal of what Hank and Peggy Hill would call "the same old same old." This is unsurprising and in itself no bad thing. That this book is a collection of essays and columns shapes one's expectations: it will tend to dwell on the author's preoccupations and repeat his conclusions, and it will neither engage in extended argument nor present detailed evidence.
The book is also quite postmodern. Writers use "postmodern" to mean lots of different things. Sometimes it means no more than "really current, even more up-to-date than modern." Sometimes it is synonymous with "postindustrial" or "information age." It can stand for modes of political or social organization that appear to be succeeding the modern period's typical nation-state. Or it can refer to a family of philosophical positions with roots in Nietzsche and the structuralists: the things people say and believe really amount to masks of power, and the modern project of knowing and understanding a world that exists apart from what we happen to believe about it is at bottom a forlorn hope. Peters does not offer an extended discussion of what he understands by postmodernism, but his subtitle tells us that he wishes to tell us something about it. I think he is mainly concerned with the third sense-a world in which the nation-state is no longer the typical way in which people organize their collective lives-but much of his approach strikes me as post-modern in the fourth sense-he is very interested in relationships of power, and in how the things political actors say and do amount to moves in a power game.
"Our Future" offers Peters' characteristically broad and sharply stated generalizations about the enemies America faces in the current war. We have been attacked by the frustrated representatives of a failed civilization-Arab Islamic civilization-who are unable to compete with the dynamic Western developed civilization whose leading exemplar is the United States. Sexually neurotic, delusional with respect to their own failings and trapped in an inhumane version of Islam that has chosen a frozen dogma over the "adventure of faith," bin Laden and his comrades have set themselves against history. The Taliban, al Qaeda, the Baathists and their like draw their fighters from five pools: the underclass (violent losers found scattered through any society of sufficient size to support them), "course-of-conflict" joiners (young men who join a violent movement when they have few other options), opportunists (who simply seek to advance themselves in whatever circumstances they are in-terrorism as a career choice), hardcore believers (nationalists, religious fanatics, besotted followers of a charismatic leader), and mercenaries (demobilized soldiers, mostly). …