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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction



Eliot Weinberger

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To purchase 9/12

Title: 9/12
Author: Eliot Weinberger
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2003
Length: 83 pages
Availability: 9/12 - US
9/12 - UK
9/12 - Canada
  • New York After

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Our Assessment:

B+ : good polemic, and fine glimpses of New York and beyond in the days, weeks, and months after 11 September 2001

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Village Voice A 16/9/2003 Ed Park

  From the Reviews:
  • "Weinberger discerns Chinese boxes apparently owned by Pandora, and his agile mind draws from a wealth of sources. (...) The last page of the impassioned, often brilliant 9/12 disappoints a bit, as Weinberger writes, "We no longer have the words to even think about what is happening." But we do, and he does." - Ed Park, The Village Voice

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       9/12: New York After offers a prelude (about how the junior Bush became President in 2001) and then five glimpses from New York in light of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center (from the day after to sixteen months after). In a brief introductory statement Weinberger describes them as "snapshots of what one person who reads the newspapers was thinking on six given days in recent history".
       Weinberger is a New York City resident who lives close to where the buildings stood, and -- aside from the prelude -- the essays are written in the shadow of the World Trade Center attacks; it is, however, the Bush jr. administration that is the main focus almost throughout. Weinberger is not a fan.
       Weinberger includes a discussion of the junior Bush's problematic election-victory because he sees those events as central in considering what came after. The piece questions the legitimacy of how Bush became President ("the United States has suffered the first coup d'etat in its history"), quickly going over the main contentious decisions made by various actors and courts, and then briefly offers sketches of the man who became President ("the least qualified man ever to become President", "he may be the least curious man on earth") and what can be expected from his administration. It's eerily prescient -- a useful reminder that Bush (or rather his cronies, using Bush as figurehead) have always had a very specific programme in mind and have done their best to implement it.
       In the essays that then follow Weinberger focusses on how the "White House Team" has both presented and used the events of 11 September to re-shape American policy and foist it on the American people. The President is not solely to blame; as he sees it, "George W. Bush has exactly the same relationship to the policies of his government as Britney Spears does to the operations of the Pepsi corporation", and Weinberger usefully reminds readers of the backgrounds and histories of various actually dominant figures in the generally shadowy background (Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, and the like).
       Weinberger was obviously affected by the events of 11 September. Living nearby, he experienced those first days from near the centre of the storm -- and captures well how New York and New Yorkers dealt with it. Already the day after, however, his concern quickly shifts to the the possible consequences, particularly as suggested by the worrisome initial reactions of the Bush jr. administration.
       As is well known, most of the fears were realised, and things have only gotten worse (and Weinberger doesn't even focus much on the jr. Bush's ill-advised (and very ill-conceived) tax-'cuts', now enacted). Weinberger notes that even the scrap steel from the World Trade Center will be turned into a: " 'state of the art' amphibious assault ship. In Bush America, every ploughshare must be beaten into a sword."
       These pieces were written for international periodicals, and first published in a variety of foreign languages. There is some simplification, as these are broad overviews for an audience that might not have the everyday-familiarity with these events and characters that could (?) be expected of an American audience. There are occasional rhetorical flourishes, and the jr. Bush gets almost no respect whatsoever, but Weinberger is working with the facts -- employing them to his ends, certainly, but undeniable nevertheless. Impressive (or scary) too: that Weinberger has such a good sense for what is to come: the early pieces suggest what he sees will happen, and lo and behold it came to pass (which does not bode well for the future).
       9/12 is a polemic, and there will be those who disagree with how Weinberger sees things; the US as Banana Republic isn't an idea a large part of the population will likely even want to consider (though Weinberger makes a nice case for it). Clearly, a number of Americans like the jr. Bush administration's 'vision' (or at least what they perceive of it) -- and don't care much about the consequences. It's not surprising that Weinberger's pieces were first published abroad, where they are much more likely to find an audience; noteworthy among the post-11-September reactions has been the willingness of a large segment of the American population to watch their words and uncritically follow their appointed leaders, rather than engage in any sort of dialogue about what has happened and the road (or dark alley) the country is being led down. Weinberger's voice is part of the small if vigorous debate about events -- but he's surely preaching to the converted, and will likely not be able to reach the greater American public.
       Remarkable, too, as Weinberger notes, is how difficult debate has become: "there are no words to describe this Administration", Weinberger finds -- "All the pejoratives, however accurate, that might be applied (...) have been drained of their meaning by decades of propaganda." And one can only shake one's head in wonder that the Bush administration has yet to be held in any way accountable for a multitude of shameless and dangerous lies -- from the reasons for invading Iraq (and the provision of funds for that military operation) to the tax benefits supposedly accruing to all citizens (never mind the ridiculous reasons proffered for those cuts in the first place). The Anglo-American invasion of Iraq is particularly instructive: it was an exercise that can now only be viewed as entirely illegitimate, given that the administration's reasons for it -- as presented to the UN and the American public -- have all turned out to be completely without basis. (That the invasion had positive aspects -- such as the removal of the ridiculous (and -- except to his own people -- almost entirely harmless) one-time American ally Saddam Hussein -- in no way justifies the misrepresentations of the administration. The American people should have been told the truth -- and would likely have supported such actions anyway (the international community would, of course, however have protested considerably more forcibly against an infringement of national sovereignty of this sort).)
       Weinberger's presentation of the facts (and his opinions) is good: a great deal in a short space, without just cramming information in. He has a nice way with the uncomfortable facts -- those quirky biographical details that reveal how fanatical some of those in power are (or, in the case of the man nominally in charge, how limited), those moments when the President says one thing but does essentially the opposite -- though, of course it's easy to get carried away to score the easy point, as when Weinberger writes about the jr. Bush:

The person he resembles most is Osama bin Laden: both the formerly dissolute sons of rich families; both called by the One God (who seems to be contradicting Himself); both cut off from the world, on in a cave and one on a ranch in the middle of nowhere; one who reads no books and the other who presumably reads one book. Is it any wonder that their families are business partners ?
       Weinberger offers a world-view: what America has done and is now doing from the perspective of one very internationally oriented and aware New Yorker. He describes what he sees, the people he encounters, and the stories he hears, and digests that along with the information gathered from new-scources. He is bewildered and deeply disturbed by what it amounts to.
       For the most part the personal antipathy is tempered -- the jr. Bush is ridiculed, but then the jr. Bush is an entirely ridiculous figure; as Weinberger puts it: "Bush is the first [President] who is universally recognized as a fool. (Even his supporters maintain he's just an okay guy, but surrounded with excellent people.)" -- and the many facts cited do support Weinberger's conclusions. But will anyone's eyes be opened by this sort of thing ? Many readers are apparently likely to disagree with Weinberger's interpretation, fully (and apparently blindly) committed in their support of the Bush administration's plans, actions, and world-view: for them the facts, even as presented and discussed by Weinberger, speak for the jr. Bush's doings, and not against them. (There's the rub, of course: that so many think that all the horrible things Weinberger describes are reasonable and acceptable.)
       The small minority who agree with Weinberger will find validation for their views in this pamphlet. Small consolation, however, as the US continues down this path.
       A worthwhile little volume. here's hoping it finds an American readership.

       Note: Weinberger is pretty good with the facts, with a few generally minor exceptions -- including some that are perfectly understandable (e.g. the inflated death total of the terrorist attacks in the US of six thousand cited four week after they occurred) -- but there's one that we nit-pickingly were particularly bothered by: his misjudgement of the number of American movie-goers.
       At one point he writes:
Since the election of Reagan in 1980, many now refer to the US as the Republic of Entertainment. It's quite true: less than half of its citizens bother to vote but nearly all will dutifully line up to buy tickets to whatever blockbuster film has hysterically been promoted.
       Weinberger's statement implies that more people watch any number of summer blockbusters than vote. The percentage of Americans eligible to vote who actually do is embarrassingly small but -- at least in Presidential elections -- far, far greater than the number of Americans who have gone to see any single movie. And no film release in recent decades has ever attracted anything approaching "near all" American citizens -- getting a few ten million people to see any one flick is a major success. (Remember also that smashing long-term box office success -- such as that of Titanic -- relies heavily on repeat viewers, i.e. the same people buying multiple tickets to see it over and over again, inflating ticket-sales totals but not adding to the number who actually see a movie.)
       Similarly, Weinberger writes in September 2002:
More people than ever went to the movies this summer to watch things getting blown up
       Perhaps he really did mean that there were a record number of viewers who went to the movies specifically to see things getting blown up (which might even be true), but it's more likely that he means Hollywood had a record-breaking summer. So it did -- in dollar terms (box office take). But total viewership -- in absolute numbers -- remains a fraction of the cinematic highs of decades ago: movie-going peaked around the 1940s, when some four times as many tickets were sold as are today (despite the fact that the American population was much smaller back then).

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9/12: Reviews: Eliot Weinberger: Other books by Eliot Weinberger under review: Books translated and/or edited by Weinberger under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American essayist and translator Eliot Weinberger has published several collections of non-fiction and translated the works of numerous (mainly Latin American) authors -- notably those of Octavio Paz.

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