A Review of What Happened Here: Bush Chronicles by Eliot Weinberger


You plan a trip outside the United States and want to prepare for questions, perhaps even hostility, aimed at a foreign policy even mainstream Jimmy Carter calls a radical departure from any other President.[1]


You want to get across to potential critics of the current administration that U.S. opinion isnt monolithic and that the most vehement critics live here. He asks for proof, you whip out What Happened Here: Bush Chronicles. Written by Eliot Weinberger, its a series of essays published by the most prestigious American literary press of the 20th Century, New Directions, who has published writers like Apollinaire, Borges, Hesse, Li Po, Lorca, Neruda, and on and on, without naming any Americans.


The book has hundreds of maddening examples of the U.S. being off-track, such as, counting so-called intelligence, militarism takes approximately two-thirds of every tax dollar. Or how W, (my Great Aunt in Cuba calls him Bushito) is the mirror of Osama Bin Laden, both religious fundamentalists, unbending in their respective ideologies and dedicated to violence as a solution. Or how the climate of fear (color-coded alerts, repeated use of the word terror, and the duct tape frenzy) is the living hallmark of the totalitarian state. Weinberger points out all this with a poets fire.


But the two most effective chapters of the book are:


1)      A Few Facts and Questions. Weinberger wonders what Republicans would have done if a Democratic Administration had:

-         leaked the name of a covert CIA operative in petty revenge;

-         awarded former employers billion-dollar contracts without competitive bidding and then allowed them to grossly inflate prices;

-         ignored intelligence about terrorist threats before 911;

-         failed to apprehend the anthrax killer and so on, and


2)      The prose poetry section entitled: What I Heard About Iraq, now turned into a performance piece. Its a long list of misstatements, exaggerations and outright lies that led up to the current war in Iraq, with such classics as:


I heard Donald Rumsfeld say: It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months, and: I heard the Vice President say: I really do believe we will be greeted as liberators.


In a recent interview, Weinberger told me about the writing process for the book, as well as the material inside it, but when asked about language like calling Ronald Reagan a dodo he suggested I was taking this out of context. Here lies the books great missed opportunity, to state the facts without name calling and encourage a deeper level of discourse. Perhaps a minor point, but this book is an essential reminder of the landslide of deception history will regard as the hallmark of the current administration.


Weinberger did have the good sense to bring up the words of the 8th century Baghdad poet, Abbas Ibn al-Ahnaf whose advice is particularly valuable for Americans troubled by the present course:


Dont let your life be governed by what disturbs you.



Paul Nelson

Slaughter, WA

4, November, 2005


[1] http://www.cnn.com/2005/POLITICS/11/04/carter.lookback/index.html