Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.

Freedom's Fidelity

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Book Review: Emergency Sex and other Desperate Measures

When the U.N. wants to suppress a book, that is usually enough, by itself, to make it worth the read. But, the best thing about Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures (other than the title) is the fresh insight it offers. For the most part, the world's hotspots have been covered by mainstream media from 40,000 feet in the air, rather than from a more personal level. That is one of the reasons why, when we hear about 1 million massacred in a genocide, it is easy for the average westerner to dismiss it from the conscious. Numbers like that are simply too high for a civilized brain to comprehend as anything more than a mind-numbing statistic, especially pre-9/11.

The authors of this book, Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson offer something fresh. All three decided on UN peace keeping missions for different, often idealistic reasons at various points in their lives. A Harvard law school grad (Ken) who didn't want to spend his time in corporate law, a recently divorced woman (Heidi) looking for meaning, and a New Zealand doctor (Andrew) who felt he could be of better use helping the desperate in war ravaged countries.

Emergency Sex is written in a very accessible, almost conversational tone that makes it a compelling page turner. I immediately felt connected to these people - all looking for a higher cause in life, and despite their coming of age and their likely realization that they are very small players in a maddening world they still put the efforts forth to make the world better place, even if it's one small victory at a time. Pick a cliché - innocence lost, a betrayal of ideals, coming of age, etc. The book is all of those, but in a context that is far from hackneyed.

The authors are just self-indulgent enough (without being obnoxious) to honestly tell us about themselves and share very intimate moments, not all of which make them look like heroes. This leads to very raw, eyewitness testimonials to some horrific events on the ground from those that experienced it, rather than from those who would first like to assert the moral high ground of the UN, and then tell you all about it... from their hotel bar.

It's not overtly political - there is no agenda, the authors state up front that it is not meant to be a foreign policy critique. But the UN and some of the Clinton administrations foreign policy decisions can't help but look disasterous at times. (I certainly don't put all the blame on Clinton, but that's another column.) At any sign of resistance the U.S. or UN peacekeepers were ordered to tuck tail and run. Perhaps the most telling proof of this was when we (UN/U.S.) nearly simultaneously pulled out of Somalia and Haiti because of a few thug militias. As the UN began its withdrawal the Haitian militia men (The Macoutes) were chanting the name of the Somali militia leader - Muhammed Farah Aidid - understanding the significance of UN/US withdrawal even though they were worlds apart. Perhaps more than anything, this solidified the United States reputation as a paper tiger - Inflict a few casualties, America will run. This became the strategy for anti-US forces everywhere (see bin-Laden's calculations when considering the 9/11 attacks). "HAITI, SOMALIA, HAITI, SOMALIA, AIDID, AIDID!!" were the chants in the Haitian streets. As Andrew lamented at one point: "The Macoutes torture, we write reports and nothing changes."

It is not so much UN corruption that causes it to fail (though there is certainly enough of that to go around) but rather UN toothlesness. They absolutely do everything possible to avoid using force, and the warlords of the various countries know and exploit this to their great advantage.

You'll get a close up of the, at times, horrifying work of a peacekeeper juxtaposed with said peacekeepers returning to their UN houses for all night parties of drugs and alcohol. And they do it all again the next day.

You'll get an insight into events on the ground and the result of some of our foreign policy decisions. A Rwandan housemate of the authors, Mr. Innocente, tells stories of how he survived the genocide by burying himself in the garbage dump for days as he heard his name called to come out for his execution. He tells of hearing some of the villagers actually paying their slaughterers for the price of a bullet so they could be shot in the head rather than hacked to pieces. Then he turns towards our authors and through his tears, hauntingly questions, "How could you, the world stand by and let this happen?!?"

One of the more memorable scenes took place in Rwanda. The genocide is over and now Ken is charged with making sure that the prison holding those that perpetrated the genocide is in sufficient humanitarian condition. He finds the jail is hopelessly overcrowded, (it takes a lot of people to murder a million with machetes) and brings this to the attention of a Rwandan official, and gets an understandable stare of bewilderment and reflects, 'We let this happen and now that it's over, we've come back to ensure that the genociders are receiving proper care.... I get it!'

You'll read about "peacekeepers" from Ghana that trade handfuls of rice to starving young (10 years old) Liberian girls for sexual favors. Except when those girls begin to "visit" Nigerian "peacekeeping" soldiers for two handfuls of rice, they end up lining the road... dead... with their heads placed in their genitals. A warning from the peacekeepers to other little girls you see.

Ever wonder what it's like to dig through thousands of skeletons day after day after day?

Want to know what its like to treat a man whose thighs were beaten to the bone with a car door because some rebel soldiers got drunk?

You'll see how painfully most of the rest of the world lives... you'll see that our (Western) way of life, of wealth civility and stability is the exception rather than the rule.

Several times this book made me say to myself, "I'm 27 and I know nothing," that's one of many reasons I would recommend this book to anyone. Including you.


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