Review

Peace Kills: America's Fun New Imperialism

by P.J. O'Rourke



For the past twenty years or so, P.J. O'Rourke's beat has been the
bizarre, the inexplicable, and the stupid. It is no surprise that
this particular mix has taken him, more than once, to Washington,
D.C. and to the Middle East. It is to these familiar O'Rourkian
climes that he returns in PEACE KILLS, asking the major questions
of our time. Why do nominally peaceful religions cause so much
bloodshed? Can Serbians and Albanians --- or Israelis and
Palestinians, or radical com-symp college students and
neo-troglodyte book reviewers, for that matter --- live together
peacefully? Can you get a Heineken in Kuwait City? How about
Budweiser? Whiskey?

O'Rourke is a self-described "trouble tourist," and in a world
where trouble means something more serious now than, say,
Presidential grand-jury testimony, the arrival of a new book on
"America's Fun New Imperialism" is more than welcome. Even more
welcome than that, because O'Rourke's previous book dealt with
manners domestic --- really, really domestic; a work in which the
author's three-year old daughter predominated. One got the opinion
that P.J. really needed to get out of the house a bit, which he
does here.

Like most books in the O'Rourke canon, PEACE KILLS is largely a
collection of magazine articles tied together with some common
theme. The most logical common theme would, of course, seem to be
the war on terror, but O'Rourke's journey starts well before that
--- with prewar trips to Kosovo and Israel. In Kosovo, the author
witnesses the post-invasion of the Balkans by international peace
organizations, and ponders how American forces can achieve a
stable, multicultural society when similar efforts have failed, and
failed badly, in places like, well, Detroit. He finds that Israel
is, surprisingly, a lot like New Jersey --- that is, if there were
barbed wire all across the Delaware River, with dispossessed
Pennsylvanians holding a nearby intifada.

Then September 11th happens (and no one familiar with the O'Rourke
public persona will be surprised that there's at least one stop to
a bar in his narrative of that day). His first stop is Cairo, the
cradle of modern civilization, now exhibiting only bits and pieces
of it --- NASCAR-scale traffic jams, ugly sofas, pyramids, the
"Pizza Hat" restaurant, and the Arab-language version of the Conan
O'Brien show.

There is then a brief return to American cultural and social
issues. ("How come I've never heard of anyone --- Linkin Park,
Ludacris, OutKast --- on the Billboard Top 50?" O'Rourke asks. "Why
can't they spell?") He deconstructs a document opposed to the
American war effort signed by a variety of Nobel Prize laureates
(and that, for some reason, does not include Yasser Arafat),
thereby demonstrating that very, very smart people can write some
very, very stupid claptrap now and then.

But the home of claptrap has always been Washington, and the best
part of PEACE KILLS is that O'Rourke rarity --- straight reporting.
O'Rourke attends a peace rally on The Mall and does absolutely
nothing but relate what he sees there --- because some things, like
middle-aged women dressed up as fairies and wearing Rollerblades,
are simply beyond the capacity that ridicule has to address such
things.

PEACE KILLS ends with a behind-the-scenes --- well, behind the
curtains of a fancy Kuwait hotel, at least --- look at the kick-off
of the Iraq war. Readers aren't necessarily supposed to support the
O'Rourke view here --- sow the ground with salt, sell the
population into slavery, roast the Baath party over a slow fire ---
but, having gotten this far, will be treated to the cutting
rhetoric, quick wit, and outrageous conduct of America's greatest
gonzo journalist currently in captivity.

Peace Kills: America's Fun New Imperialism
by P.J. O'Rourke

  • Publication Date: April 19, 2004
  • Genres: Humor, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
  • ISBN-10: 0871139197
  • ISBN-13: 9780871139191