I do not enjoy confessing, but Iâ€™m sure it is good for the soul. Hereâ€™s mine: breathtaking, embarrassing ignorance of whatâ€™s really gone on in the Middle East, and especially Iraq, over the past 20 years. Iâ€™ve just read The Wars Against Saddam by BBC journalist John Simpson. Itâ€™s a very fine book, and does a tremendous job of fitting one personâ€™s experience into the whole story of what has been going on in that region, as well as in Washington, London, and elsewhere. Thereâ€™s a reasonable amount of history, too, and I suddenly feel far more informed, and painfully aware of how I accepted the superficial media accounts and word of mouth, too, instead of digging deeper.
But Simpsonâ€™s story also makes it easy to see why an ordinary citizen, trying to get a handle on a global crisis, just doesnâ€™t have access to enough information. A clip on the news, a newspaper column, just arenâ€™t enough. How on earth can we get reliable data fast enough to help us make decisions? Whom can we trust? Moveon.org? The president or the prime ministerâ€™s men? A particular columnist? Jon Stewart?
I donâ€™t entirely trust any of them. I want a guide I can get to know a little, see his or her biases, hear her or him talk about principles, about honor and courage. A book is a great medium for this, but I know Iâ€™m not going to read a book about every major world issue, and by the time thereâ€™s a book itâ€™ll be too late, anyhow. Can blogs provide this, I wonder? But thereâ€™s no way a blogger is going to provide the crisp storytelling, the summary accounts, and the historical background, that a good book does.