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Famous writer on the Iraq War

Why Are We at War?

by Norman Mailer
New York: Random House, 2003, 111pp. pb

Born in 1923, Norman Mailer is an old and familiar face in the united $tates. Known at times as a democratic socialist and in this book and elsewhere as a "left conservative," Mailer is probably best thought of as a writer and a representative of that occupation.

Much like Gore Vidal, Mailer enters the political fray with a profound concern for where the united $tates is heading since 911: "The fact that we've been a great democracy doesn't mean we will automatically keep being one if we keep waving the flag."(p. 17) Mailer expresses his fear repeatedly that in the current circumstances, patriotism, "the last refuge of the scoundrel" will land the united $tates in fascism.

To be sure, Mailer's factual grasp of the UN resolutions regarding Iraq, the weapons inspections and Clinton's role with the CIA and the destruction of the weapons inspections is weak-to-nonexistent. He blames everything on Saddam Hussein just like Bush. Readers will not gain many new factual insights from this book.

Nonetheless, we regard Mailer as an ally at this time. He is the quintessential petty-bourgeois democrat standing for civil liberties and against mindless nationalist militarism. He does not seem to know much beyond that the united $tates is acting like the worst imperialist that its critics have always said it was, but Mailer is sure and correct about the connection between a permanent war state-of-mind and the slide into fascism.

We can sense Mailer's foreboding. He even named a chapter with the words "unanchored uneasiness," by which he refers to his class's own sense of how imperialism's latest actions may not be good for the petty-bourgeoisie's freedom of action. He links most evils in the united $tates to the growth of large corporations. It's not that he supports the proletariat, but that he feels the quintessential petty-bourgeois individuality and "humanity" threatened by large corporations. In the squeeze from the proletariat below and the imperialists above, Norman Mailer would prefer to believe that his class continues to exist and even dominate.

The problem with 911 is that it has caused a search for patriotism and reaffirmation according to Mailer. That left an open space for pressures to conform to the majority. That's why he advocates as in the past a "left-right" unity to confront the majority.

This book reads more like a kitchen-type discussion with the people. It's a very fast read and not heavy on any investigation, just the reasoning process behind how the war on Iraq and 911 connect to freedom. Although he makes many political errors, we regard his petty-bourgeois take on freedom and opposed to imperialist nationalism as friendly to our own class position.

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