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For background, see:
Part I | Tom Engelhardt: Reading the Imperial Press Back to Front •
Part II | Tom Englehardt: On Not Packing Your Bag and Heading Home When Things Go Wrong
By Nick Turse
Thursday 22 June 2006
.../... Now, four thousand words can come out in twenty-four hours. If I were religious, I would say I was possessed and the next question would be: Whose voice am I channeling? In fact, I know it's mine in some grim moment weirdly made for me. If I ever had two seconds to go back to writing fiction - because doing my novel, The Last Days of Publishing, was one of the quiet joys of my life - I might write about possession.
NT: How do you define what you do at Tomdispatch? Are you a news editor, a journalist, a commentator, or an Internet activist?
.../...NT: So is Tomdispatch providing a service to the country?
TE: When I interviewed Ann Wright, one of three State Department diplomats who resigned in protest as the invasion of Iraq rushed toward us - a brave act - I asked her what she thought her military and State Department careers and her anti-war activism had in common. "Service to America," she said. And here was the thing, I had written the word "service" next to the question beforehand. So I replied, "Hey, I knew you were going to say that," and I showed her. I've come to feel particular sympathy for many of the people you write about, Nick, in your Fallen Legion series, people in government or the military who thought they were serving their country and find themselves serving officials they can't bear, who have betrayed them and the country. In that sense, Tomdispatch has come to feel like my version of service to country.
.../... Officials like Cheney clearly think of the world in terms of energy flows. They think in terms of interlinked military bases and global military power. They've been thinking big, thinking strategically, connecting disparate countries. They look at Russia and, as old Cold Warriors, they think: Rollback. So they're considering Estonia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan in the same frame. You read the press in this period, and you can find a piece about Estonia, another about Ukraine, and yet another about Uzbekistan, but not together. You can read a piece about Uzbekistan, about Afghanistan, about Iran, about Israel, about Iraq, about Turkey. But from mainstream American coverage generally, you would have no idea that those countries were near to, or related to each other, or that our leaders were thinking about them in the same breath and via sweeping geographic labels like "the arc of instability."
The press, in those first few years, was striking in not connecting the dots, even when reporting well on specific subjects. What I think Tomdispatch does best is to connect those dots. My hope is that, when you read a dispatch, it will provide a connect-the-dots framework so that the next little bits that wash over you, you'll be able to slot them into something larger, and say, oh, that makes a kind of sense.
You don't have to accept my way of framing things, but maybe, at its best, Tomdispatch gets you thinking about how to fit these pieces together.
NT: And what if, as readers start to see things in this larger framework, they're outraged and come to you for some guidance ...
TE: Sometimes they do.
NT: ... and want to do something. What advice would you give them?
TE: I'm going to disappoint you on this one, Nick, because the advice I give is terribly limited. I have no hesitation about putting the world together in immodest ways, right or wrong; but I'm modest indeed about telling people what they should do in the world.
I don't see any reason why, because I'm capable of connecting those dots, I should become an oracle. Usually what I write back is very simple. I always suspect that people already know what they should do. There's always something to do in one's world, after all. But who am I to tell them what it is? So I don't.
Oddly enough, if I had anything to tell them on the subject, it would be this: I'm proud of the pieces I've posted at Tomdispatch, especially since many of the authors could be writing for far bigger places. But I'm proudest of all that I didn't do a very American thing, which is to post for a while, get discouraged, and go home.
That was the story of the prewar anti-war movement. I predicted before the invasion of Iraq that the huge anti-war movement would only get bigger. Boy was I wrong. I've been wrong about many things in my life, but one of the bleak miracles of this period is that, to take an example, just about everything that's happened in Iraq looked obvious to me from the beginning. If you were to go back and read the things I wrote just before or after the invasion, it's clear that I sensed more or less what was going to happen. Only on the anti-war movement was I wrong. When they didn't stop the war, so many of them got discouraged, packed their bags, and went home.
.../... TE: Just the feeling that I've hung in there and, if someone asks, that's really the advice I do give. I don't know what you should do, but do it and don't stop when it doesn't quite work out, when you don't get the results you want.
NT: So what's your vision for Tomdispatch? You've gone from clipping service to mailing list to website. Now you've got a book of interviews coming. Where would you like to see it in five years?
TE: A five-year plan, Nick? You know me better than that. I'm usually worried about the last five minutes and the next five. The rest I leave to the gods. Maybe I'll wake up tomorrow morning and that voice in me will have abated, and maybe that'll be that. Proud as I am about having lasted this long, there's nothing wrong with Tomdispatch not going on forever.I don't believe in thinking too carefully about future plans. Not as a lone individual in this world. Spend too much time considering what you want to do and you probably won't do it, because it'll look hopeless. So whatever it is, maybe it's best just to close your eyes and try.