[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
As a cartoonist, columnist, radio host, TV guest and graphic novelist, Ted Rall has always been hard to categorize. Rall is liberal and an environmentalist, to be sure, but he’s a peculiar brand of both. He’s not scared of guns or all gun owners and he’s got a strong law-and-order streak. He seems to dismiss popular “peak oil” theories that anticipate a rapid and disastrous fall-off in petroleum production. He’s equally critical of Democrats and Republicans.
Rall is most notorious for his U.S. political commentary. A 2004 cartoon criticizing football player-turned-soldier Pat Tillman, who was killed by “friendly” fire in Afghanistan, is easily Rall’s most famous work. But arguably Rall’s most unique and important work has grown out of his infrequent jaunts through foreign conflict zones, particularly in Central Asia. A trip to Afghanistan in 2001 produced the graphic novel To Afghanistan and Back, one of the best and most prescient books on the now decade-old war. For all that, Rall’s most eloquent work isn’t political at all. His memoir The Year of Loving Dangerously recounts his turbulent but passionate youth.
Rall’s new book, The Anti-American Manifesto, is a polemic, a call to revolution against a U.S. government that Rall claims “has become so undemocratic and unresponsive that the only reasonable means of opposing it is to strive for its violent overthrow.” Equally, the book is a prism for viewing the rest of Rall’s work. In reading Manifesto, it becomes clearer what lies at the heart of Ted’s sometimes schizophrenic-seeming career. In short, Rall is a contrarian and a firebrand. He knows it. He believes it’s an important role to play. He admits as much in Manifesto: “I don’t want you to buy into everything I say. … I MAY BE WRONG ABOUT EVERYTHING. I want you to THINK, dammit!”
The time has passed when Americans could afford to coast through their comparatively comfortable lives, neither caring about nor participating in politics, Rall argues. Indeed, he writes, “the U.S. is going to end soon. There’s going to be an intense, violent, probably haphazard struggle for control” owing to decades of economic, political and environmental decay. “A war is coming,” Rall concludes. “At stake: our lives, the planet, freedom, living. … Are you going to fight back?”
I know Rall well. We’ve shared publishers. We’ve worked with some of the same artists. We’ve written on similar topics for some of the same publications. We’ve both risked our lives reporting from Afghanistan and other conflict zones. We’re friends. I know him well enough to believe: if he’s right, and violent revolution is coming, Rall will fight back even if few others do. If he’s right, I just might join him.
But I don’t believe he’s right. Because as bad as things are in America in 2010, I’ve spent time in many places — Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, East Timor, Somalia, Chad, Congo — where conditions are far, far worse. For all our crises, we remain a comparatively sensible, prosperous and secure nation. Rall disagrees. In Manifesto, he’s asking Americans to at least consider the possibility that collapse is coming, and revolution is necessary. If you consider the issue, and decide collapse is not coming, and revolution is not necessary, Rall is probably just fine with that, as long as we “THINK, dammit.”