What We’re Reading

The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post 9/11 America 
By Susan Faludi
(New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007)
Reviewed by E.M. Broner

Immediately after 9/11 there were no women commentators, women experts, or heroic women relating to the attack on the Twin Towers. Faludi, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Backlash, concludes that this is a continuation of our mythic history from the Puritans to the present.

The Pilgrims’ view of “history” is a distortion of events. Acceptable scenarios are framed as the danger from attack, the capture of a helpless woman, and the rescue by the white male. This was true about the Puritan women captured by the Indians (who either escaped or fell in love, bore children, and were forcibly removed from the tribe) to present-day Jessica Lynch (injured in a collision in Iraq and cared for in an Iraqi hospital until the pretend rescue by American soldiers.)

Since 9/11 the “security mom” has been upheld, and women activists like The New Jersey Girls vilified for questioning the government’s response to the attack. There has been a discernable return to the culture of the 1950s. Check out the ads on television—women as cleaners and mommies.

Distortion and lying have accompanied the stories told by the establishment in every period in which the country felt endangered. Thus, during the Puritan period, when there was vast slaughter of the new colonists by the Indians, the white men felt impotent. A savage was invading, and the men were as helpless as women. In their minds the savage soon turned into the women, the witch—many were burned at the stake. Impotence makes for dangerous fantasy.

Faludi, in this remarkably researched book, ends with the question: What if the nation had responded differently to 9/11? As an example, terror attacks on the railroads in England and Spain did not result in the nation turning ballistic.

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
By Naomi Klein
(New York: Knopf, 2007)
Reviewed by E.M. Broner

An enemy of democracy exists with worldwide influence, as identified by Naomi Klein. This enemy is, or was Milton Friedman, economist of the University of Chicago and founder of the Friedman doctrine—which is what the “shock” and “disaster” in the title refer to.

The theme throughout this beautifully written and academically sound book is that where there is shock—an economic collapse or a natural disaster—the Friedman “boys” come running to take over the country. With the population confused and frightened, they can manipulate the society into a free-wheeling capitalism, with everything for sale. Foreign nations or investors with money are invited in to “invest” and purchase at shockingly low prices. An example of this was Argentina, where the president sold the phone company, airlines, railroads, and telephone industry.

Usually military repression follows the shock of deep cuts in domestic spending, great unemployment, or rising prices. When the population revolts, the military comes in to destroy the opposition. This was true in the brutal American-backed Chile coup against Salvador Allende. This was true with the Harvard University professors who went to “help” Russia go from a young democracy to autocracy, from a voting public to a class divide where rich citizens bought out the natural resources and other citizens became impoverished.

Klein is not a Cassandra, warning what might happen, but an analyst who has studied the trend of what did happen that caused the Southern tip of South America to go fascist and Russia and Poland to turn away from democracy. A young economist, she is an author whom the enlightened world is watching and following.

Bella Abzug: How One Tough Broad from the Bronx Fought Jim Crow, Pissed Off Jimmy Carter . . .  And Shook Up Politics along the Way
By Suzanne Braun Levine and Mary Thom
(New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007)
Reviewed by E.M. Broner

Bella Abzug was so forthright and public that women over sixty know everything about her, right? Wrong.

We don’t know anything yet. We don’t know of her tenderness or her pepper temper. We don’t know that in her first term in Congress, she introduced one bill after another—from bringing the soldiers home from Vietnam on her first day in office to a motion to impeach Nixon. We know that President Carter fired her, but we don’t know he did it to enlarge his macho image before the upcoming elections against Reagan. We may also not know that in her last years she energized the NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) and the United Nations to include the women of the world.

In this gracefully edited book, the editors insert chronology before each section of interviews for a context of time and place. This oral history is more than memory; it follows Bella from tomboy to Congresswoman, from grieving widow to world leader. Her friends serve as a chorus, including her high school gym teacher and adoring Senator Edward Kennedy. (Disclosure: I am among them.)

Her past was more than prologue: civil rights lawyer, one of the first white women to go down to Mississippi to defend a Black man accused of raping a white woman (Willie McGee). She defended theater people against HUAC. She was the first major electoral candidate to go to the gay community. Finally, at fifty, she decided to run for Congress. “Get her out of our house and into the nation’s House,” her daughters campaigned. She was one of the great passionate women of the twentieth century.

Flying Close To the Sun: My Life and Times as a Weatherman 
By Cathy Wilkerson
(New York, Seven Stories Press, 2007)
Reviewed by Judy Gumbo Albert

If you were active in the social protest movements of the 1960s and 70s, you likely remember the explosion that ripped through a New York City townhouse. The explosion took the lives of three young radicals, while two others, Kathy Boudin and Cathy Wilkerson, escaped with minor injuries. Flying Close to the Sun is Cathy Wilkerson’s memoir of that moment, of the personal and political forces in her life that shaped her participation, and what followed from that event.

Cathy’s story is compelling. She takes the reader from her privileged New England background, to her involvement with the growing anti-war organization Students for a Democratic Society, to her leadership in its militant offshoot Weatherman. We follow her through her years underground following the explosion, and her ultimate emergence as a mathematics educator in New York City schools.

The story provides an in-depth and, I assume, accurate account of the violence-worshipping, cult-like atmosphere that increasingly came to define Weatherman. Her description of the explosion makes you feel as if you are right there with her as the building crumbles. As Cathy re-examines her life, she acknowledges how much she learned, grew, and became a leader during those turbulent times, but she also portrays herself as someone who was so passive and insecure that she rarely acted on her gut instinct about the things she disagreed with. As a result, she is full of regret. In the light of the present, Cathy still defends Weatherman’s extremist anti-war, anti-racist moral politics, while, at the same time, she bemoans and apologizes for her participation in them.

Everyone has their own 60s, and this is Cathy’s. I wish that Cathy had been able to view her past with a little more affirmation and a little less ambivalence. Then young women of today who are looking for role models and ways to become leaders in progressive causes could find greater positive inspiration from this very interesting memoir.

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