August 26, 2004


The US Army has released an updated version of its reading list for its personnel. Plenty of classical western stuff but surprisingly nothing on peacekeeping, the Middle East or Islam.
In the meantime, I'm reading Joseph Heller's Catch-22 (one I would recommend to all soldiers to read). I know, I know, I should have read this much, much sooner in life. I am such a Philistine (or was that Sodomite?)

Here's my favourite extract:
"America ," he said, "will lose the war. And Italy will win it." "America is the strongest and most prosperous nation on earth," Nately informed him with lofty fervor and dignity. "And the American fighting man is second to none".
"Exactly", agreed the old man pleasantly, with a hint of taunting amusement. Italy, on the other hand, is one of the least prosperous nations on earth. And the Italian fighting man is probably second to all. And that's exactly why my country is doing so well in this war while yours is doing so poorly.
Nately guffawed with surprise, then blushed apologetically for his impoliteness. "I'm sorry I laughed at you," he said sincerely, and he continued in a tone of respectful condescension. "But Italy was occupied by the Germans and is now being occupied by us. You don't call that doing very well, do you?"
"But of course I do," exclaimed the old man cheerfully. "The Germans are being driven out, and we are still here. In a few years you will be gone, too, and we will still be here. You see, Italy is really a very poor and weak country, and that's what makes us so strong. Italian soldiers are not dying anymore. But American and German officers are. I call that doing extremely well. Yes, I am certain that Italy will survive this war and still be in existence long after your own country has been destroyed."
Nately could scarcely believe his ears. He had never heard such shocking blasphemies before, and he wondered with instinctive logic why the why G-men did not appear to lock the traitorous old man up. "America is not going to be destroyed!" he shouted passionately.
"Never?" prodded the old man softly.
"Well..." Nately faltered.
The old man laughed indulgently, holding in check a deeper, more explosive delight. His goading remained gentle. "Rome was destroyed, Greece was destroyed, Persia was destroyed, Spain was destroyed. All great countries are destroyed. Why not yours? How much longer do you really think your own country will last? Forever? Keep in mind that the earth itself is destined to be destroyed by the sun in twenty-five million years or so.
Nately squirmed uncomfortably. "Well, forever is a long time, I guess."
Could have been written for today's war. But not recommended reading by the US Army.

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