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LITERARY REVIEW Dec 2010 / Jan 2011
THE STATE WE’RE IN
suspected) as having a psychopathic personality disorder and discharged from the army. He had grown up as the avowedly unwanted child of a neglectful single mother who left him, for much of his childhood, in the care of his thuggish older brother. Although intelligent and surprisingly well-read, he was a white supremacist misanthrope, with a juvenile criminal record that required the army to give him a ‘moral waiver’ in order to join. Privates Cortez, Spielman and Barker, the other three directly involved, came from apparently similarly dysfunctional backgrounds.
The immediate cause of the crime seems to have been the fact that these four individuals were left together practically unsupervised at an isolated outpost where they had access to both alcohol and drugs, bought from members of the Iraqi Army stationed nearby, as well as considerable firepower. When it took place, they were drunk on Iraqi whisky, and bored and strung out by lengthy guard duties. They considered killing a carload of Iraqis at their checkpoint to relieve their boredom but decided instead that rape would be more diverting. Apart from the fact that these were soldiers on duty in Iraq, it is difficult to see how this differs from the kind of mindless, intoxicated violence that takes place with all too monotonous regularity in towns and cities across the US, Britain and the rest of the developed world.
This is where Freder ick’s book leaves me with an uneasy feeling. By describing in detail 1/502’s tour prior to the crime, he seems to be suggesting that this abhorrent event was some kind of culmination: a violent, murderous reaction to unbearable stress. But if this was the case why has this kind of cr ime not been much more widespread in Iraq and Afghanistan? The reality seems to have been that dire leadership led to a small group of unstable individuals being put in a situation where they could wind each other up to commit an appalling atrocity without interference. The fact that this took place during the occupation of Iraq forms part of the circumstances but doesn’t really ‘explain’ the crime. Nevertheless, this is a powerful and compelling read. From the point of view of a military professional, the picture Frederick paints of 1/502 – based on trial testimony and interviews – is amazing. Distrust, animosity and incompetence held sway: no wonder Green, Barker, Cortez and Spielman thought they would be able to get away with murder. The fact that they were caught was due to the action of a whistle-blower, a soldier with a moral compass who nevertheless seems to have been treated almost as a pariah by the battalion hierarchy as they tried to avoid any kind of responsibility. Green – who actually shot all the al Janabis as well as taking his turn raping Abeer – is now serving five consecutive hundred-year sentences and will never be released; the others are serving ninety-year sentences and will eventually be eligible for parole. Black Hearts is highly recommended, but you will need a strong stomach. To order this book at £10.39, see LR bookshop opposite FOREIGN PARTS
SPOOKED OUT THE NEW NOBILITY: THE RESTORATION OF
RUSSIA’S SECURITY STATE AND THE ENDURING LEGACY OF THE KGB
By Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan
(PublicAffairs 301pp £18.99)
THIS IMPORTANT MONOGRAPH, written by a brave and talented team, is a history of the KGB (now called the FSB) over the last fifteen years. It covers, if not always explicitly, the full range of the organisation’s interests: strengthening the state and weakening society; gradually infiltrating independent groups that might otherwise become unduly influential at some time in the future; creating the impression that Russia is actively opposed by a variety of aggressive, inimical forces (while simultaneously claiming that the Cold War is over); encouraging anti-Western attitudes (not least towards Estonia and Latvia); restarting the war against Chechnya; grabbing parts of Georgia (rather reminiscent of the annexation of part of Finland after the Winter War of 1939–40); controlling almost all the media, especially television (which is used as the main means of brainwashing the population), while allowing a few small critical voices to let off steam as in the post-Stalin Soviet period; arresting a few scientists and killing a few journalists from time to time to maintain an atmosphere of healthy anxiety among the intellectuals; purporting to struggle against various manifestations of vaguely defined extremism (thereby trying to give the impression that it professes a middle-of-the-road political outlook); using all manner of devices in an attempt to improve its own image, sometimes with the assistance of ‘useful idiots’ abroad; covering up its abysmal failures such as the theatre siege in 2002 and the massacre of schoolchildren and others in 2004; and resuming ‘active measures’ (influencing the governments) in foreign countries such as Turkey, Azerbaijan, Poland, Germany, Ukraine, Austria and Britain, as in Stalinist times. In other words, the book is not only about the FSB but also, and inevitably, about contemporary Russia and the prospects for the Russian state and Russian society.
The authors provide us with a great deal of detailed information about the FSB and its institutional mindset. Of exceptional importance is Appendix 1, which details the structure of this vast organisation. How vast it is remains one of the major state secrets – a sure sign that Russia is still a closed rather than an open society. Judg ing f rom the var ious ‘ ser vices’, ‘directorates’, ‘departments’ and ‘centres’ in Moscow and all over the country, there must be no fewer than 600,000 FSB
officers in today’s Russia. The FSB propaganda claims it is merely 200,000. But in addition, as the authors point out, there are innumerable ‘former’ KGB and FSB officers, members of the ‘active reserve’ or ‘apparatus of attached officers’, who now occupy important positions in every sphere of Russian life. In other words, the FSB is now more powerful and proportionally even larger than the KGB was in Soviet times, given the smaller population (about 142 million) of the contemporary Russian Federation. And of course in the past the KGB, however brutal and dangerous, was under the firm and effective control of the Communist Party. Now that the latter has almost vanished from the scene, there is no higher power that can maintain a firm grip on the FSB, which has thereby become the main ‘state-bear ing’ force. The FSB, with its sinister past, huge resources and aggressive inclinations, should be taken very seriously by Western politicians and statesmen.
Boris Yeltsin made a catastrophic mistake in 1999 when he, in effect, appointed a dyed-in-the-wool KGB officer as the next president of Russia. Yeltsin thought that Vladimir Putin’s basic instincts could be kept under control, repeating the error of those Communist Party barons in the 1920s who backed Stalin, thinking that he was a small and insignificant member of the leadership and a good compromise choice for the top job. Moving so gradually and inconspicuously that hardly anyone
LITERARY REVIEW Dec 2010 / Jan 2011