October 27, 2006

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW:

Webb on sex passage recital: 'It's smear after smear' (Joshua Levs, 10/27/06, CNN)

In a news release and list of quotes posted Friday on the Drudge Report Web site, Sen. George Allen, R-Virginia, accused his opponent, former Navy Secretary Jim Webb, of "demeaning women" and "dehumanizing women, men and even children" through his fiction writings. At least two of the listed passages include children in sexual situations. [...]

He has written six best-selling novels from 1978 to 2001, his Web site says. His writings have largely focused on war and military storylines, influenced by things he experienced.

The first quote describes a shirtless man picking up a naked boy who runs toward him. The book describes what happens after the man picks up the boy and turns him upside down. It comes from the 2001 book "Lost Soldiers."

Webb responded Friday morning on Washington Post radio. "Let me explain what that was," he said. "I actually saw this happen in a slum of Bangkok and when I was there as a journalist. A man placing his lips on his son's private parts ... and the duty of a writer is to illuminate the surroundings."


His defense is that he was a passive observer of incestual pedophilia and just related what he saw?

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 27, 2006 4:23 PM
Comments

I've read that such genital kissing is a nonsexual custom in S.E. Asia. Not that I'm advocating it, but different customs and all that.

I once read that in that part of the world, many women consider the back of the neck an extremely private and intimate area. Not to go all cultural relativist on you, but seeing an American man kiss his daughter there might seem just as disturbing to them.

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 27, 2006 4:53 PM

Where do we catagorize having Putin kiss a boy's stomach? Near pedophilia, czar's healing kiss or just an irresistable political instinct?

Posted by: Ray Clutts at October 27, 2006 5:28 PM

I thought I'd seen all that Bangkok had to offer but haven't seen what Webb claims. I haven't seen or heard of the practice anywhere it Asia but don't suppose that precludes its existence.

I remember the Inupiat in the Arctic practiced something similar to quiet crying babies but the practice was pretty well stopped in the early 80's.

Posted by: Tom Wall at October 27, 2006 6:12 PM

How many times did he observe a stripper slice a bananna?

Posted by: GER at October 27, 2006 6:32 PM

There's a Cambodian woman in Las Vegas who's been arrested for doing something similar.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at October 27, 2006 6:51 PM

But macaca, a Jewish mother, the use of the "n" word in college, wearing cowboy boots, the confederate flag - that's not "smear after smear" on Senator Allen, right?

Posted by: obc at October 27, 2006 8:07 PM

I read that those living in S.E. Asia responded that there is no practice like what Webb wrote about. A mother may do that to an infant boy, but never a father or other male and only then on infants rather than toddlers.

Posted by: Emma at October 27, 2006 8:59 PM

Webb probably wanted to be thought of as Joseph Conrad. Instead, he will be remembered as having run one of the worst Senate campaigns ever. It will be interesting to see how all his putative GOP supporters (who lionized him a year ago and fretted that he wasn't running as a Republican) react now.

Meanwhile, as Rush said today, Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer should resign. They should have known about Webb. They recruited him, after all.

Posted by: ratbert at October 27, 2006 9:30 PM

If nothing else, this whole Webb-Allen smut affair allowed Lynn Cheney to serve up a big children's book of whup-arse on Wolf Blitzer during his CNN show Friday afternoon.

Posted by: John at October 28, 2006 2:07 AM

His defense is that he was a passive observer of incestual pedophilia and just related what he saw? Posted by Orrin Judd at October 27, 2006 4:23 PM

His defense, oj, was that he saw this act take place in front of about a hundred people and that it was in no way a sexual act (ie, done for enjoyment.) It is indeed a ritual in some parts of the world, as the following scientific article demonstrates:

"The fact that a son is bound up with significant symbolic meaning, is inseparable from a local recognition of a boy's body in biological terms, that is to say, his genitals (i.e. the Phallus). In Thinh Tri, the body of a little boy is generally a matter of common interest and concern. For example, a little boy is usually fondly called a thang cu, which means 'penis boy' (lit. male penis). The genitals of small Thinh Tri boys receive a great deal of attention by being commented on, joked about, or even grasped. The local ways in which boys' genitals are paid attention to are in sharp contrast to the fact that girls' genitals do not receive any special attention. The widespread concern in Thinh Tri with respect to boys' genitals is related to the symbolism of blood, which does not mean the same with regard to females and males. Despite blood being acknowledged as a 'vital life force' (khi huyet) of both the female and male body, it is basically perceived of as a female energy. Its complementary male vital life force is 'semen' (khi), which is said to be the substance of male energy. This energy is thought to guarantee the continuation of the blood of a male's patrilineage. Due to such assumptions about blood, a boy's genitals—and by extension, his body—are always already inscribed with the collected morality (dao duc), honor (danh du), and 'obligations' (nghia) of his past generations. Boys' bodies have accumulated body capital while girls' bodies have not . Because a Thinh Tri boy's body holds inborn morality, honor, and reputation due to his relation to his patrilineage, his body i.e. the Phallus) condenses the preconditions for practicing good male morality. His body symbolizes the future good morality, honor, and reputation of his patrilineage and the performance of certain patrilineal rituals".

Hence,

" a child's body is construed as a powerful socio-symbolic and material sign that reflects local life in terms of hierarchies, positions, and power. Local understandings of female and male bodies crystallize the fact that a child's body simultaneously is wrought socially (i.e. in terms of 'gender') and biologically (i.e. in terms of 'sex'). In this way, both the notions of sex and gender have a history, which is constructed discursively. In other words, both notions address the same question, which is namely, how female and male bodies are rendered meaningful in time and space".


9.2.1 Verbal Indices

Matters become more directly apparent in accompanying verbal reinforcements, directed to the baby/toddler or to audience. Only a selection of descriptions provide such accompanying commentaries:

The Vietnamese case being mentioned; Ordos Mongols: " commonly touch the child's genitals and caress them, saying at the same time: "Give me this" "; Okinawans: "Old women like to tweak a little boy's penis and jokingly say. "What is that, what is that?"; Balinese: "With the slight titillation go the repeated words: "Handsome, handsome, handsome", an adjective applied only to males. The little girl's vulva is patted gently, with the accompanying feminine adjective "Pretty, pretty, pretty" "; Borneo: "Mothers often hold infant boys aloft in the course of singing magical growth songs, blowing softly on the penis, while noting aloud sexual powers to come at maturity"; Sarawak: "Not infrequently, when brother's or sister's young child visits Ego, the latter will "make glad over him" (begaga ka ia) with the words, Jaum aku, ulun aku ("My captive, my slave")" ; Aritama: "Adults make joking remarks about the future virility of the baby, about the size of his penis, and about his reactions to such caresses"; Martinique: "Men fondle the penises of little boys, remarking publicly on their size and potential, impressing on the children expectations of their masculinity"; Puerto Rico: " adults and older brothers and sisters are likely to tease and play with his genitals, kissing them and remarking on their size, commenting that he is a machito (real little male) or a machote (real he-man)"; " parents and friends may play with the boy's genitals until he is around seven years old"; "parents would pull a two-year-old's penis, and inquire for its function. The answer would be, "For the women!"; "A two-year-old boy will be asked, "What is it for?" while an adult pulls at his penis; and sometimes the child will answer, "For women". Such a child is called malo (bad) or even malcria'o (badly brought up), but actually the terms are used with some measure of approval"; "As soon as they started talking, they asked them questions about their penis, for whom it was and for what it was needed. They answered it was for the chacha or the girl friend, or to playa trick on the girl friend. If they had an erection, they were praised and the parents would celebrate it by telling them they had joined the masculine race". Morocco: " affectionate genital contact some women extend when they greet or communicate with an infant"; "Little sisters, aunts, maids, and mothers often attract the little boy's attention to his htewta and try to teach him to pronounce the word, which is quite a task given the gutteral initial letter h. One of the common games played by adult females with a male child is to get him to understand the connection between sidi (master) and the htwta. Hada sidhum ("This is their master"), say the women, pointing to the child's penis. The kissing of the child's penis is a normal gesture for a female relative who has not seen him since his birth. Tbarkallah 'ala-r-Rajal ("God protect the man"), she may whisper"; Turkey: " grandparents and parents fondled their genitals and repeated: "You are male, you are male" ". Olson-Prather noted that a teenage neighbour girl of the elite class expressed verbal but not physical admiration; "In Egypt the mother may attempt to prepare her son gradually for the circumcision operation by "caressing his organ and playfully endeavoring to separate the foreskin from the glans. While doing this she would hum words to the effect that what she is doing will help to make him become a man amongst men"; Eskimo children would copy the practice "to caricature the physical raptures of their parents with cries of "It's wonderful!" ".

Posted by: zola at October 28, 2006 3:48 AM

Another article:

Thira Srey, office manager for the Southern California-based Cambodian Association of America, said it is acceptable for a mother or caretaker in Cambodia, especially those from rural areas, to kiss the penis of an infant or put it in her mouth as a sign of respect or love.

The child is usually 1 year old or younger, "but no more than 2 years old," he said.

The act has nothing to do with sexual feelings, he said, noting that it can be viewed as a sign of high respect by a caretaker for a future "master."

Posted by: zola at October 28, 2006 5:53 AM

Impressive research there. Now, what do the anthropologists say about Southeast Asian nude banana-slicing rituals?

Posted by: Mike Morley at October 28, 2006 7:06 AM

Impressive ignorance there.
Ask any Marine, soldier, sailor who has ever visited Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, the Phillipines, etc, and they will tell you that the banana-splitting scene is an accurate reflection of what girls in desperately poor Third Word slums will do get money from foreigners at strip joints. (Actually, the scene is rather tame compared to the reality, and so the outcry over it can only come from people who don't get out much and have never seen the Third World at first hand. I'm also guessing you haven't read Webb's novels and are talking out of your ass.)

Posted by: zola at October 28, 2006 7:55 AM

Webb probably wanted to be thought of as Joseph Conrad. Instead, he will be remembered as having run one of the worst Senate campaigns ever.

Posted by: ratbert at October 27, 2006 9:30 PM

Not according to conservative commentators like Michelle Malkin.
Also John Podhoretz lambastes Allen at the National Review ---

Sometimes I'm embarrassed to be on the Right. The outbreak of cynical Babbitry on the part of the George Allen campaign in using sentences from novels written by James Webb against Webb makes this day one of those days.
Posted at 5:18 PM

Posted by: zola at October 28, 2006 8:58 AM

Of course the Zeus-worshippers don't mind such things. That's why they don't get the GOP.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2006 9:07 AM

Of course the Zeus-worshippers don't mind such things. That's why they don't get the GOP.
Posted by: oj at October 28, 2006 9:07 AM

Your point being...what? That Webb should not have described what he saw in the slums of Thailand even though parts of the novel are set in the slums of Thailand? That Webb has a perverted mind for describing reality objectively? Could you delineate a coherent statement on your position on this issue that actually makes sense?

Posted by: zola at October 28, 2006 9:15 AM

Yes. Yes. That if he actually saw such a thing -- which appears increasingly implausible -- he ought to have intervened. And that such sexual behavior is a non-issue for the Left, the Beltway, libertarians and neocons, but matters to the Party and the country. His sex tourism alone is reason enough to vote against him for normal Americans.

Funny thing is, if he'd gone somewhere to watch female circumsicions the Left would be irate.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2006 9:27 AM

Well, I've been to the Phillipines, Viet Nam and Thailand, and I never witnessed a girl slicing a banana with her thingy. And, I can assure you, that I spent any free time that I had, trying to get laid. I never once witnessed, nor heard of any man or woman placing their mouth over a young child's penis. Be careful over here zola, some of us have been around the world.

Posted by: AllenS at October 28, 2006 9:46 AM

zola:

Are you defending Webb, or making a comment on Western attitudes towards sexuality?

And what I should have said is that Webb probably wanted to be thought of as Joseph Conrad, but instead he will be remebered like Colonel Kurz.

And he can't blame Allen or the GOP - he did it to himself. Sure, Allen stumbled a lot. But he hasn't thrown himself into the ditch like Webb.

When are Schumer and Reid going to resign?

Posted by: ratbert at October 28, 2006 9:47 AM

the banana bit is certainly true--though why Webb should be elected if he hangs around in Third World sex clubs is beyond me. The obsessive descriptions of the father gobbling his son's penis is deeply odd and likely untrue. If he did witness it and did nothing about it that raises obvious questions in a congress where turning a blind eye to IM's is such an issue.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2006 9:56 AM

zola:

I have no doubt that such things are common as bugs in third world strip joints. I have no doubt that I could see similar acts in the "gentleman's club" in Sharon Township were I so inclined. I choose not to avail myself of such opportunities because my mother raised me to have some class. If that makes me "ignorant" in your eyes, well . . . your judgment on my intelligence and worth doesn't carry a lot of weight with me, let's put it that way.

My question for Webb, or anyone else who chooses to write about such things, is why is it in the story? What's your purpose? I could write a novel set in Nanjing just after the Japanese arrived, and it could (if I were a good enough writer) be a harrowing and gritty tale of the atrocity known as the Rape of Nanjing, commenting on good and evil and the human condition--or, handled a bit differently, the same material could be low-class gratuitous death-porn. The 13th Valley is a Vietnam war novel; so is the book adaptation of Rambo: First Blood Part II, but one's a helluva lot better literature than the other.

Now, let's talk about the penis-kissing bit a bit more, if you don't mind. Webb describes the incident in one scene, and back-references it later in the story. Over in another thread, you take great pains to explain to us how this is a book about Vietnam under Stalinism, and one guy is forcing another to perform an assasination in this nasty slum district, and you comment:

There is no obsession with pedophilia or whatever in the scene. It's just that one of the things Webb was doing in the scene was giving a brutally realistic and detailed decription of some the bizarre, violent or strange things that actually happen in Third World slums, as strange as they may seem to the delicate sensibilities of American readers.

Okay. For purposes of argument, I'll accept your premise. The incident is just furniture, set dressing, background, no more significant than the hog butchering described in the next paragraph. That being the case, if you cut the penis-kissing incident out completely, but left in the hogs and the mud and all the rest of the description of the area, would the story lose anything substantive? By your premise, probably not, so why have it there in the first place? Why include something so creepy, and yet so minor?

More to the point, why refer back to this particular little insignificant, eyt creepy, detail? Also, if (as you tell us above) it's just atmosphere, and this is a normal part of Vietnamese culture and it's no big deal, why does Dzung, a Vietnamese who lives in Vietnam and can therefore be presumed to know something about Vietnamese culture, wonder aloud about why it took place? And why can't Manh, who is also Vietnamese and presumably knows something of the local culture, explain it either?

James Webb seems to think the incident is significant, since he brings it up when he doesn't need it to either advance the plot or add to the atmosphere. In fact, he goes out of his way to have a Vietnamese character ask a very non-Vietnamese rhetorical question about it, and have another Vietnamese profess ignorance about what's supposed to be a common Vietnamese cultural practice, just to give it added emphasis--after which, they drop the subject cold. (Manh could have at least responded with something like, "Bloody peasants!" or "You see a lot of disgusting things in a place like this" or even "As my friend Zola would say, you need to get out more!")

The most charitable interpretation I can have of this is that James Webb and his editor really needed to do a better job of, you know, editing. However, add it to the banana-slicing and some of the other nastiness in Webb's other books, and it's not unreasonable to start to wonder.

Posted by: Mike Morley at October 28, 2006 10:08 AM

Webb can write about anything he wants and the reading public can read it or not.

Webb and Zola's description of pagan practices whether accurate or not, is totally besides the point. The point here is whether we want another congress critter without a moral compass. One who gladly "smears" his opponent by outing his grandmother as Jewish and calling him out for using a word unknown to most of us and one which it turns out, is not derogatory, but gets all huffy when his published work is exposed and criticized.

In the silver lining department for Webb: He'll lose the election, but sell a heck of lot more books and perhaps can collaborate with Zola on a series of books about the droll childrearing practices among Southeast Asians.

I hope Bushco demands that Democratic leadership in the house and senate resign immediately because of their lack of "oversight" over the candidates their party supports.

The next week or so may prove very entertaining, but don't get distracted by too much merriment, please remember to get out the VOTE. Lynne Cheney can't do it all by herself. Whatta girl!

Posted by: erp at October 28, 2006 10:48 AM

In response to Michael Morley:
My question for Webb, or anyone else who chooses to write about such things, is why is it in the story? What's your purpose?


The purpose is to fulfill the aims of what most people who write realistic fiction aim for: to provide full sensory descriptions of the environment in which a particular character is inhabiting. The stripper scene is nothing unusual to any enlisted man or officer, and as much a part of the recreation of soldiers trying to let off steam as is binge drinking, fighting, etc. If you embrace a brotherhood, like say the Marine Corps, (which is what the book is about) that embraces killing and dying as a way of life, sex, drinking, etc is not unusual and would naturally feature in a piece of realistic fiction about the warrior lifestyle.
----------
Why include something so creepy, and yet so minor?

Again, Lost Soldiers is a realistic novel about Third World life, and as the anthropological articles I posted point out, such an act is not as unusual as you would think in certain parts of Southeast Asia. Webb's simply being honest about everything he saw in the decades he's spent researching Southeast Asian cultures and getting to know the tribes and peoples there. I don't see the controversy there

------

Also, if (as you tell us above) it's just atmosphere, and this is a normal part of Vietnamese culture and it's no big deal, why does Dzung, a Vietnamese who lives in Vietnam and can therefore be presumed to know something about Vietnamese culture, wonder aloud about why it took place? And why can't Manh, who is also Vietnamese and presumably knows something of the local culture, explain it either?

This because the scene in question takes place in a slum in Bangkok, Thailand, not the metropolitan parts of Vietnam, which is where the characters hail from. And different people from different parts of the country won't necessarily anything about each other. City people from Sai Gon have different manners and lifestyles than country people, etc. I doubt, for example, that you know anything about the day-to-day existence of a bagperson or a farmer or a billionaire CEO even though these types exist in America.

-----
James Webb seems to think the incident is significant, since he brings it up when he doesn't need it to either advance the plot or add to the atmosphere.

On what basis do you make this judgement? Have you read the book? Or at least the chapter from which the scene is taken on Amazon? If you would at least do some elementary homework and browse through the chapter on Amazon you can see that it is in fact just one detail in a lengthy description of an environment of wretched poverty. The detail isn't meant to advance the plot as such, it's just there because that's the reality in Klong Toey.

------
OJ:
Yes. Yes. That if he actually saw such a thing -- which appears increasingly implausible -- he ought to have intervened. And that such sexual behavior is a non-issue for the Left, the Beltway, libertarians and neocons, but matters to the Party and the country. His sex tourism alone is reason enough to vote against him for normal Americans.

Funny thing is, if he'd gone somewhere to watch female circumsicions the Left would be irate.
Posted by: oj at October 28, 2006 9:27 AM

He's already explained on the Washington Post's politics program that he saw this act take place in full view of a hundred poeple, and that it was not a sexual act done for perverse pleasure. It is a ritual of some sort, and I don't get why he should have intervened if the culture seemed comfortable with it. In the novel, it simply comes across as a puzzling bizarre but completely non-erotic act that evokes unease in the character observing it.

Posted by: zola at October 28, 2006 12:57 PM

I think much of the fake outrage and incompetent book-reviewing on this page comes from gullible people being manipulated by some pretty heavy handed propaganda by George Allen's campaign staff. His novels have been uniformly praised by such people as John McCain, Bob Kerrey, Tom Wolfe, George Will, David Hackworth, etc etc and it's pretty obvious that if his works were merely pornographic smut written by a hack he couldn't have managed to gain such wide acclaim for so many decades. Nor would his novels be on the Marine Corps Commandant's Recommended Reading List.

Posted by: zola at October 28, 2006 1:10 PM

If the Marquis de Sade wrote a pro-Vietnam War novel all those guys would praise it. He's a hack--he just happens to be our hack.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2006 1:42 PM

zola:

Of course you don't see why he should intervene or mind that he writes about it with such obvious interest. That's the point.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2006 1:45 PM

Zola, I'm actually inclined to agree with you, as my first post indicates, but as erp points out, all this about the content of Webb's books comes after the Webb camp made a big deal out of the silly "macaca" thing, the shameful "You're actually part Jewish, aren't you, admit it!" thing, and by trying to claim that a Virginia college student 30+ years ago having a Confederate flag is proof of racism. The Webb camp clearly went first with lines of attack that were unfair and out of context and full of fake outrage, and is now getting some gander sauce it doesn't like. Well, tough.

(My favorite part of the macaca incident was a quote a reporter got from someone who said he was offended by the word, but admitted he didn't know what it meant.)

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 28, 2006 1:46 PM

Good fiction writing is never merely observational.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2006 1:46 PM

Good fiction writing is never merely observational.
Posted by: oj at October 28, 2006 1:46 PM

Sure, but I think the ideal that writers like Webb strive for is the kind of realism Emile Zola (one of my favourites, as you can tell) achieved when he wrote stuff like Germinal and The Earth: down and dirty realism that deals with all the strange details of real life. If you want to pretend that describing reality is as obscene as calling a brown-skinned dude "macaca", that's your problem. Again, your post reveals that you haven't actually read Lost Soldiers at all, because you still exhibit that fake outrage at a passage that is perfectly in tone with the narrative.

Posted by: zola at October 28, 2006 2:03 PM

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 28, 2006 1:46 PM

I agree the macaca thing is silly, but there's still a difference between causing minor racial offence and having people who have not read your book take passages out of context to make it seem you are peverse. If Webb had come out and done something like point to a Chinese American during a speech and said "Hey let's welcome Chinky Chong over there to the real world of Virginia" then we'd have a moral equivalence between the two candidates.
Still, I agree with you that in the era of Iraq, Afghanistan, etc, Allen's stupid gaffe's are trivial and should have been passed over after a day or so by the MSM.

Posted by: zola at October 28, 2006 2:15 PM

You've nearly stumbled into an insight. Zola wrote to remedy such abuses, not to celebrate them.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2006 2:15 PM

zola: I read the chapter. I'll admit I didn't get the setting right when I wrote my 10:08 post, but that's a detail I'd probably have picked up better if I'd been reading the whole book nose-to-tail this morning, which I've not had time to do. However, even with that correction, I still find it odd that the characters in the book would make such a point of noticing the behavior, and yet be so uninformed about it. As your article states, Vietnamese culture has similar folkways--so if this sort of thing is common in Southeast Asia, I'd still think Viets would be not terribly fazed. It's also still true that if you cut those four or five sentences, what's left is still a brutally realistic description of a Third World slum, and still works fine artistically.

Having read that part of the story, and having considered your arguments, I happened to have come to a different conclusion than the one you wanted me to come to. That doesn't make me gullible, or a tool of the George Allen for Senate Campaign, or a mind-numbed robot partisan, either. I don't have "fake outrage"--I do have legitimate concerns about the man's character and fitness for office, based in part on this incident. Mr. Webb is clearly a talented writer, and there's a lot in his books to be admired--but there's also stuff in there that's not family-friendly, and I do think his poor artistic judgment on the inclusion of, and emphasis upon, salacious details may be a leading indicator of creepy things lurking in his personality. (Many people came to the same conclusion about Newt Gingrich after reading some of the racier parts of 1945.) It also may not; a good friend of mine wrote a very disturbing novel some years ago, but he's probably at least as normal as you, me, and OJ all put together. I'm frankly more bothered by Mr. Webb's adherence to a blood-and-soil brand of nationalism which, as OJ can explain much better than I, is not compatible with American ideals.

Insulting me--and insulting OJ, who's letting you play in his sandbox here, and erp, and ratbert, and the rest of us--is not going to bring me around to your point of view.

(Incidentally, my wife is an RN who worked for several years in a homeless outreach program; while some of my estate planning clients are executives who are pretty far up there. My social circle includes Marines, CPAs, construction workers, Indian doctors, Russian mechanical engineers, and Christian rock musicians I've done audio engineering for, and my best friend was a railroad conductor. You'd be amazed the subcultures I've had contact with.)

Posted by: Mike Morley at October 28, 2006 2:26 PM

There was no racial offense given, just taken.

What's interesting is that Webb, and you, assume that Asians ought not to be held to normal standards of decency so can be treated as mere curiosities.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2006 2:35 PM

You've nearly stumbled into an insight. Zola wrote to remedy such abuses, not to celebrate them.
Posted by: oj at October 28, 2006 2:15 PM

As a social activist Zola tried to remedy abuses, yes, but as a novelist he was an entirely different creature: an observer/scientist rather than propagandist. Incidentally, his novel The Earth was continually lambasted by people who denounced it as filth for including sexually perverse scenes and other graphically depicted incidents like rape, incest, etc, and who could not comprehend why Zola would include that stuff in his narratives. It's just a fact that frank realism attracts critics who feel squeamish about the details of real life. And where does Webb actually celebrate abuses, as opposed to just describing them the way a scientist would? Again, you're projecting onto Webb perverse qualities that aren't there.

Response to Mike Morley:
No harm done. I understand why someone would have concerns about such passages if they hadn't read the books, but I still maintain that such people are being manipulated in a cheap, patronising kind of way by political consultants. What the Webb quotes demonstrate for me is that it's way too easy to pick random stuff out of books and hammer them over the heads of the public in the hopes of smearing an author who is in the end an excellent realistic novelist.

Posted by: zola at October 28, 2006 3:02 PM

What's interesting is that Webb, and you, assume that Asians ought not to be held to normal standards of decency so can be treated as mere curiosities.
Posted by: oj at October 28, 2006 2:35 PM

I actually happen to be Chinese, and no, Webb is not treating Asians as objects or curiosities. When he visited Bangkok as a journalist, his job was not to go around lecturing hundreds of native Thai slum dwellers about the amorality of their behaviour, it was to find out as much about them as he possibly could before writing a novel. The purpose of the scene in Lost Soldiers is not to lecture people about morality, it is to describe the squalor of a Bangkok slum, which is why you will find no editorial comment by Webb himself on the proceedings, just the uneasiness felt by the characters.

Posted by: zola at October 28, 2006 3:48 PM

His job as a decent human being is, of course, to lecture people on aberrant behavior. Of course, if, as appears to be the case, he was there as a sex tourist then it is he who deserves the lecture.

If what the characters observe is a perfectly natural part of their culture they ought not feel unease. That they do feel it suggests it's not. Webb wants to portray a freak show. The purposes seem obvious.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2006 5:22 PM

Why did Zola fight for Dreyfus rather than just observe that France is anti-Semitic? Why did Webb merely observe pedophilia? Well, and then write about it lovingly....

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2006 5:24 PM

OJ, do you really mean that "decent human beings," when in foreign climes, have a duty to lecture the natives when they see what they regard as aberrant behavior? If Mookie showed up in your neighborhood and started lecturing women for being unveiled, you'd have no problem with that? Sorry, I don't consider rudeness a conservative principle.

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 28, 2006 6:10 PM

We went to Mookie's neighborhood to rearrange Iraqi state and society, didn't we? It's what Crusaders do.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2006 6:24 PM

After reading the piece on Webb in The New Yorker today, I'm asking myself - why didn't he move to NY and run against Hillary Clinton?

If his strongest motivation is to force those in power to respect the military and its "heritage", he should have run against Hillary, or someone like Robert Byrd or even Chafee.

And ratbert is correct - when will Schumer and Reid resign for sponsoring such a candidate?

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 28, 2006 10:53 PM

By "respect," guys like him mean not use the military just to free the wogs.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2006 11:08 PM

By "respect," guys like him mean not use the military just to free the wogs.
Posted by: oj at October 28, 2006 11:08 PM

By "respect," guys like him mean do not dismiss military advice and dump thousands of troops into harm's way to get killed for little or no strategic reason, or for ill-conceived purposes.

Posted by: zola at October 29, 2006 5:02 AM

If what the characters observe is a perfectly natural part of their culture they ought not feel unease. That they do feel it suggests it's not. Webb wants to portray a freak show. The purposes seem obvious.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2006 5:22 PM

What the Vietnamese characters observed was not a natural part of every single household in Bangkok, just some parts of the slum and rural areas. Also, there's a scene in the early parts of the book that pokes mild fun at how ignorant city dwellers in Sai Gon can be when it comes to country people; in the scene, Quyen, a young man from the city, is described as believing that people from the countryside actually have tails. Not everyone from the same country necessarily knows anything about each other, especially in thirld world areas where communications are bad, and where conspiracy theories and myths and rumors are rife and information is hard to obtain (especially since the story is set, as I've told you before, in a repressive Stalinist regime.)

Posted by: zola at October 29, 2006 5:12 AM

Yes, for a racist there be no purpose to freedom for wogs and gooks.

Posted by: oj at October 29, 2006 8:47 AM

zola:

Yes, we get that you and Webb think these people are mere curiosities to be observed like zoo creatures.

Posted by: oj at October 29, 2006 8:55 AM

Yes, for a racist there be no purpose to freedom for wogs and gooks.
Posted by: oj at October 29, 2006 8:47 AM

zola:

Yes, we get that you and Webb think these people are mere curiosities to be observed like zoo creatures.
Posted by: oj at October 29, 2006 8:55 AM

Congratulations. You win the award for Most Obtuse Person Ever to Comment on Books You Have Not Read or Understood.

Posted by: zola at October 29, 2006 10:47 AM

You hardly need to read his book to understand him. All the paleocon isolationists are the same.

Posted by: oj at October 29, 2006 11:47 AM

You hardly need to read his book to understand him.
Posted by: oj at October 29, 2006 11:47 AM

I rest my case.

Posted by: zola at October 29, 2006 12:14 PM

The delicious irony, of course, is that a hundred years ago he'd have opposed the real Zola over Dreyfus. That's who these guys are.

Posted by: oj at October 29, 2006 12:37 PM

The delicious irony, of course, is that a hundred years ago he'd have opposed the real Zola over Dreyfus. That's who these guys are.
Posted by: oj at October 29, 2006 12:37 PM

The delicious irony, in fact, is that authoritarians such as yourself would have opposed Zola over absolutely everything he did - from the content of his novels to his social activism, which you would have felt revulsion for.

Posted by: zola at October 29, 2006 12:43 PM

No writer who condemns French society will ever be condemned by conservatives after 1789. Anti-semitism is a necessary condition of folks like Webb and the French, which is why they likewise hate America.

Posted by: oj at October 29, 2006 12:47 PM

Karl Rove, is that you?

Posted by: zola at October 29, 2006 1:30 PM

Someone should ask Harold Ford about Webb's fiction.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 29, 2006 10:46 PM
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