December 2003

von Dach, Hans. Total Resistance. Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, [1958] 1965. ISBN 0-87364-021-7.
This is an English translation of Swiss Army Major von Dach's Der totale Widerstand — Kleinkriegsanleitung für jedermann, published in 1958 by the Swiss Non-commissioned Officers' Association. It remains one of the best manuals for guerrilla warfare and civilian resistance to enemy occupation in developed countries. This is not a book for the faint-hearted: von Dach does not shrink from practical advice such as, “Fire upon the driver and the assistant driver with an air rifle. …the force of the projectile is great enough to wound them so that you can dispose of them right afterward with a bayonet.” and “The simplest and surest way to dispose of guards noiselessly is to kill them with an ax. Do not use the sharp edge but the blunt end of the ax.” There is strategic wisdom as well—making the case for a general public uprising when the enemy is near defeat, he observes, “This way you can also prevent your country from being occupied again even though by friendly forces. Past experience shows that even ‘allies’ and ‘liberators’ cannot be removed so easily. At least, it's harder to get them to leave than to enter.”

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Seuss, Dr. [Theodor Seuss Geisel]. Horton Hears a Who! New York: Random House, 1954. ISBN 0-679-80003-4.

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Ross, John F. Unintended Consequences. St. Louis: Accurate Press, 1996. ISBN 1-888118-04-0.
I don't know about you, but when I hear the phrases “first novel” and “small press” applied to the same book, I'm apt to emit an involuntary groan, followed by a wince upon hearing said volume is more than 860 pages in length. John Ross has created the rarest of exceptions to this prejudice. This is a big, sprawling, complicated novel with a multitude of characters (real and fictional) and a plot which spans most of the 20th century, and it works. What's even more astonishing is that it describes an armed insurrection against the United States government which is almost plausible. The information age has changed warfare at the national level beyond recognition; Ross explores what civil war might look like in the 21st century. The book is virtually free of typographical errors and I only noted a few factual errors—few bestsellers from the largest publishers manifest such attention to detail. Some readers may find this novel intensely offensive—the philosophy, morality, and tolerance for violence may be deemed “out of the mainstream” and some of the characterisations in the last 200 pages may be taken as embodying racial stereotypes—you have been warned.

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Becker, Jasper. Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine. New York: Henry Holt, [1996] 1998. ISBN 0-8050-5668-8.

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Hirshfeld, Alan W. Parallax. New York: Henry Holt, 2001. ISBN 0-8050-7133-4.

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Popper, Karl R. The Open Society and Its Enemies. Vol. 1: The Spell of Plato. 5th ed., rev. Princeton: Princeton University Press, [1945, 1950, 1952, 1957, 1962] 1966. ISBN 0-691-01968-1.
The two hundred intricately-argued pages of main text are accompanied by more than a hundred pages of notes in small type. Popper states that “The text of the book is self-contained and may be read without these Notes. However, a considerable amount of material which is likely to interest all readers of the book will be found here, as well as some references and controversies which may not be of general interest.” My recommendation? Read the notes. If you skip them, you'll miss Popper's characterisation of Plato as the first philosopher to adopt a geometrical (as opposed to arithmetic) model of the world along with his speculations based on the sum of the square roots of 2 and 3 (known to Plato) differing from π by less than 1.5 parts per thousand (Note 9 to Chapter 6), or the exquisitely lucid exposition (written in 1942!) of why international law and institutions must ultimately defend the rights of human individuals as opposed to the sovereignty of nation states (Note 7 to Chapter 9). The second volume, which dissects the theories of Hegel and Marx, is currently out of print in the U.S. but a U.K. edition is available.

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Carlos [Ilich Ramírez Sánchez]. L'Islam révolutionnaire. Textes et propos recueillis, rassemblés et présentés par Jean-Michel Vernochet. Monaco: Éditions du Rocher, 2003. ISBN 2-268-04433-5.
Prior to his capture in Sudan in 1994 and “exfiltration” to a prison in France by the French DST, Carlos (“the Jackal”), nom de guerre of Venezuelan-born Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (a true red diaper baby, his brothers were named “Vladimir” and “Lenin”) was one of the most notorious and elusive terrorists of the latter part of the twentieth century. This is a collection of his writings and interviews from prison, mostly dating from the early months of 2003. I didn't plan it that way, but I found reading Carlos immediately after Popper's The Open Society and its Enemies (above) extremely enlightening, particularly in explaining the rather mysterious emerging informal alliance among Western leftists and intellectuals, the political wing of Islam, the remaining dribs and drabs of Marxism, and third world kleptocratic and theocratic dictators. Unlike some Western news media, Carlos doesn't shrink from the word “terrorism”, although he prefers to be referred to as a “militant revolutionary”, but this is in many ways a deeply conservative book. Carlos decries Western popular culture and its assault on traditional morality and family values in words which wouldn't seem out of place in a Heritage Foundation white paper. A convert to Islam in 1975, he admits he paid little attention to the duties and restrictions of his new religion until much later. He now believes that only Islam provides the framework to resist what he describes as U.S. totalitarian imperialism. Essentially, he's exchanged utopian Marxism for Islam as a comprehensive belief system. Now consider Popper: the essence of what he terms the open society, dating back to the Athens of Pericles, is the absence of any utopian vision, or plan, or theory of historical inevitability, religious or otherwise. Open societies have learned to distinguish physical laws (discovered through the scientific method) from social laws (or conventions), which are made by fallible humans and evolve as societies do. The sense of uncertainty and requirement for personal responsibility which come with an open society, replacing the certainties of tribal life and taboos which humans evolved with, induce what Popper calls the “strain of civilisation”, motivating utopian social engineers from Plato through Marx to attempt to create an ideal society, an endpoint of human social evolution, forever frozen in time. Look at Carlos; he finds the open-ended, make your own rules, everything's open to revision outlook of Western civilisation repellent. Communism having failed, he seizes upon Islam as a replacement. Now consider the motley anti-Western alliance I mentioned earlier. What unifies them is simply that they're anti-Western: Popper's enemies of the open society. All have a vision of a utopian society (albeit very different from one another), and all share a visceral disdain for Western civilisation, which doesn't need no steenkin' utopias but rather proceeds incrementally toward its goals, in a massively parallel trial and error fashion, precisely as the free market drives improvements in products and services.

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McMath, Robert M. and Thom Forbes. What Were They Thinking?. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998. ISBN 0-812-93203-X.

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