Sunday, July 8, 2007

Being Ernest (2007)

Book Review from the July 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

William Hart: Operation Supergoose. Timberline Press $15. (Available from Amazon)

A satirical novel that pokes fun at America's rulers and makes some good political points in a humourous way - that sums up this book. The hero is Lieutenant Ernest Candide and his military superior is General Pangloss, both references to Voltaire's eighteenth-century novel Candide.

Candide starts out as an all-American hero (sorry, Plunderian hero, as he's a citizen of Plunderland). But Plunderland's president is Buzz Twofer II, and the vice-president is Chain Dickey, so you get the idea of where the satire is aimed. The factory which makes official Plunderland flags is burnt down, and Candide is ordered to track down and kill the leader of the terrorists. The Committee for a World Ascendant Plunderland get the war they want, together with tax cuts.

Like his namesake, Candide is initially completely naive, accepting a rosy-coloured view of Plunderland's history (for instance, the native Plunderians had poor hygiene, hence they contracted smallpox). But after various adventures, including a stay in Guantanamo, he comes to see things differently. Just thinking for himself, rather than accepting what he's been taught, is the big step in his political development. As General Pangloss says when a prosecution witness at one of Candide's trials, 'When a soldier thinks, the whole military raison d'etre trembles and threatens to collapse . . .  not thinking has made me the man I am today.'

A book by Chomsky is among those that help Candide see what has been going on, and his new view of his country's history includes: 'Cubaland, Isle of Haiti, Puerta Rita, Panamaland and others were conquered by U.S. Marines and forced to pay tribute as little colonies, with fruit, sugar, cigars, naval bases and nubile women.' He turns down a request to run for governor on behalf of a new political party and prefers to live quietly with his family (cultivating his garden, as Voltaire had it).

Operation Supergoose is mostly great fun, with some nice swipes at Twofer and other politicians, and good exposes of Plunderian/American actions. Occasionally the satire is dropped in favour of more straightforward presentation, for instance on Zionia/Shrinkistan (Israel/Palestine), and this is less effective. And as Hart says at the end, imagine there really were a Plunderland and how people might act to change it. Or, indeed, to change not just one country but the whole world.
Paul Bennett