Thursday, October 31, 2013

Liam McIlvanney; plus the way some presidents lie

As was the case last Friday, I'm too lazy to assemble and develop a coherent string of thought, so I'm going to play newspaper columnist again. If I were a real columnist, I'd try to make a virtue of my failure, and I'd call this post "While I was cleaning out the cobwebs of my mental attic" or "Stuff I wish I woulda thoughta." But, as that recently departed former journalism student Lou Reed sang in lines that could have been a copy editor serenading a columnist, "Some people, they like to go out dancing / And other people like us, we gotta work."  So, let's get to it.

1) Liam McIlvanney's All the Colours of the Town squarely confronts an issue I've long thought lurks beneath the surface of crime stories, especially those set during wartime: the queer, in-between situation of taking part in the action and, at the same time, observing it from the outside. McIlvanney's protagonist, Gerry Conway, is a Glasgow journalist sent to Belfast to dig up information on a Scottish politician's connections with sectarian paramilitaries in Northern Ireland:
"Maybe the News-Letter staffer was right. I was here to pick at scabs. I was greedy for all the old badness, the past’s bitter quota of hurt.

"I wasn’t alone. Across the West of Scotland, in the clubs and lodges, the stadiums and bars, people missed the Troubles. They mightn’t admit it, but they rued a little the ceasefires’ durability, the Armalite’s silence. We had followed the Troubles so closely for so long. There is something narcotic in watching a war unfold on your doorstep, knowing all the while it can’t harm you."
 Liam McIlvanney is William McIlvanney's son, and he shares something of that fine writer's penchant for long, loving descriptions of his protagonists' physical and human surroundings.

2) H.R. McMaster's Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam got me thinking about changing fashions in presidential lies, evasions, and deceptions. McMaster's (and also Thomas E. Ricks') censure of Gen. Maxwell Taylor's close personal and social ties with the Kennedy family and of President Lyndon Johnson's preference for hand-picked advisers who would tell him what he wanted to hear reminded me of President Clinton and the Friends of Bill.  Johnson's insecurity reminded me of Richard Nixon and, reading how Johnson took advantage of instability in the Dominican Republic to divert attention from (and funding to) Vietnam in 1965 reminded me of the Iran/Contra scandal. I wonder if Reagan's advisers learned from Johnson's fate to make sure the president was well insulated from any dubious activities his administration might get up to.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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