Short reviews

Kevin Mayhew (ed), 'Remember War, Make Peace: Services, reflections, prayers and readings for Remembrance Sunday'

Providing material not only for Remembrance Sunday but for other occasions which call for reflection on the reality of war and its cost, and the desire to work for peace and its cost too. The introduction on Henry Allingham and Harry Patch sets the tone which, in a variety of ways, honours the words of Harry Patch: “War isn’t worth one life”.

Gareth Peirce, 'Dispatches from the Dark Side: On Torture and the Death of Justice'

Don’t let the rather complicated title of this book put you off. Gareth Peirce, the author of this very important book, is more than well known as the solicitor who has given hope to so many lost in the networks of legal injustice.

She gives us a sombre warning: “We could never have envisaged that the history of the new century would encompass the destruction and distortion of fundamental Anglo-American legal and political principles in place since the 17th century.”

That is just what has happened. Torture, and evidence based on torture, rendition, secret trials, and official obfuscation are now the name of the game. She describes “terrorist legislation” and its victims, the framing of Al Megrahi and the suffering of Irish suspects during the IRA campaign.

Most shocking for me was the description of US SuperMax prisons. There are now some 20,000 prisoners in the US living in total isolation in windowless cells. A few times a week they are allowed out for exercise, always in isolation.

In the Middle Ages such secret places were known as oubliettes – the places for the forgotten. Now they are normal in the most powerful country in the world.

Gareth Peirce recently received a prize from the Irish community here for her work for justice. She richly deserved it.

GA Cohen, 'Why Not Socialism?'

The late GA Cohen opens this tiny monograph (barely 10,000 words, if that) with a simple thought experiment. Imagine a camping trip where one of your fellow campers is very good at fishing but demands that he should have better fish to eat than the rest of you in recognition of his abilities. A cache of nuts is discovered, but only Leslie knows the trick to crack them open – however, she wants to charge for sharing this information.
It sounds crazy, of course, because most people instinctively adopt socialist values of equality and community when they go camping. Should one – and could one – try to run an economy on these lines? Cohen believes that we should, and though he concludes on a Rumsfeldian note that “we now know that we do not now know how to do that”, he also writes that the “right conclusion is [not] to give up”. Pricey, but worth reading.

Jeff Cloves and Fred Chance, 'Picture This'

Our columnist Jeff Cloves has a fine new book out. Horray for the small press. Outside the highrise city of Amazon and HarperCollins there lies a beautiful world of the little books, the nonprofit making pamphlets, the poetry, the experiments, the zines, the finely crafted, the books of love, books stapled by authors, books believed in by small presses. Jeff Cloves and Fred Chance bring us Picture This, a beautiful collection of photographs and writings.