Sunday 20 November, 2011
Never Trust an Autobiography
Hameed Abdul Karim
Years ago I read Jimmy Carter’s autobiography thinking I might find a few behind the scenes narratives that might interest me. I wanted to know, for example, why he had authorised covert CIA operations against the Sandinistas after they overthrew the American backed dictator Anastasio Somoza and also his rationale behind the letter he had written to him heaping praise on his ‘human rights initiatives’, which were non-existent. Something on that? Nothing. Any remorse? None.
Then came the cowboy president Ronald Reagan. When his term ended, sure enough he too came up with an autobiography – ‘An American Life’. Did we expect him to tell us nice juicy stories of how he wanted to finance the Catholic Church and private institutions in Nicaragua to help topple the new government? When the new Nicaraguan government blocked such ‘aid’, did he tell us that he had authorised the CIA to finance Cardinal Miguel Obando to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in covert aid to overthrow the Sandinista government? No way, sir! So next time we hear nations complaining that the CIA is covertly financing opposition groups to topple their governments because they are not following the dictates of the empire, we might as well give them a second hearing lest we be made to look like monkey’s uncles at a later point of time.
A thought struck me. Were these ‘worthies’ cashing in on the top posts they held just to make a few million dollars on the side? Could be. Reagan, after he left office, went over to Tokyo to open an American toy store for a cool fee of US $ 150,000. Doubtless he would have taken a few copies of his book asking customers ‘would you like to by my autobiography?’
There was hardly anything that could be new in George Bush’s auto b so I was not tempted. But temptation came flowing back when Bill Clinton came up with his book ‘My Life’. I thought Clinton’s book would be a tell-it-all-like-it-was. So I went into a bookstore and flipped through the pages to see if there was anything that was saucy. I didn’t expect him to confess he bombed that pharmaceutical plant in Sudan because they were supplying drugs at cheap prices to an impoverished Africa in order to prop up diminishing sales of American drug conglomerates. That would be too much to expect even of an incurable optimist such as I. But what I certainly expected to see was some searing stuff on his take on Monica Lewinsky. But he was not randy in his book as he was in the Oral Office …err… I mean Oval. Nothing of the sort. Not even his penchant for smoking tempered cigars! So I didn’t buy, much to the annoyance of the young salesman.
At this point I swore on all the saints I would never touch another autobiography for the rest of my days on mother earth. So when I saw Tony Blair’s book ‘A Journey – My Political Life’ with his mug on the cover with his Dracula like sneer, I knew I wouldn’t be impressed by what he had to say. But reviews indicated that he had called his pal George Bush - the lesser - stupid (not much of a revelation that) for not recognising Belgium’s Prime Minister at the G8 Summit. Jonathan Jones of UK’s Guardian had said ‘If this book proves nothing else, it’s that he’s an experienced manipulator of his own image’. Besides, there were ‘face book’ messages saying that you can find his book in the crime section of bookstores. That was enough for me. After reviews like that I you would be dumb to waste money on stuff like that.
But if you think the authors of autobiographies are deterred by the likes of me, you would be mistaken. There is a glut of biographies that have hit the market. George Bush (the lesser) as expected has got himself in all sorts of bother when he bragged about how nice he felt about his water boarding technique of torture. Some European countries might not allow him to land on their shores because of his love for torture and his obsession for locking up people in Guantanamo Bay without the due process of the law. Dick Cheney in his book ‘In My Time’ whilst embellishing his memoir with praise for the likes of Tony Blair and his shared passion for torture says that he doesn’t think ‘water boarding’ was wrong and the empire must continue these ‘time honoured techniques’ if the world is to be saved for democracy and the rule of law. ‘Humanitarian bombing’ like the one we saw in Libya is okay, according to him. Is there anything new in that? Not even the arrogance. So why waste your money.
The latest news is that Condoleezza Rice has come up with her story on how hard she had to work as an African-American to reach the position she held along with other sob-sob stories on the same lines. Her main selling point is that Gaddafi was concerned that his ‘African Princess’ had not visited him though there were pictures on TV showing her shaking hands with him in his tent out there in the dessert.
No autobiography ever tells you what you are looking for. In the end the purpose of AB’s, especially by politicians, is to rake in the shekels and tell the world they were not such bad guys never mind all the wicked and evil things they did. If Jack the Ripper had written his autobiography he might have told us that all he wanted to do was to save Londoners from sex-related diseases and then maybe we might end up thinking he was not such a bad bloke after all.