Why Are We at War?

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Overview

Beginning with his debut masterpiece, The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer has repeatedly told the truth about war. Why Are We at War? returns Mailer to the gravity of the battlefield and the grand hubris of the politicians who send soldiers there to die. First published in the early days of the Iraq War, Why Are We at War? is an explosive argument about the American quest for empire that still carries weight today. Scrutinizing the Bush administration’s words and actions, Mailer unleashes his trademark moral ...

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Overview

Beginning with his debut masterpiece, The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer has repeatedly told the truth about war. Why Are We at War? returns Mailer to the gravity of the battlefield and the grand hubris of the politicians who send soldiers there to die. First published in the early days of the Iraq War, Why Are We at War? is an explosive argument about the American quest for empire that still carries weight today. Scrutinizing the Bush administration’s words and actions, Mailer unleashes his trademark moral rigor: “Because democracy is noble, it is always endangered. . . . To assume blithely that we can export democracy into any country we choose can serve paradoxically to encourage more fascism at home and abroad.”
 
Praise for Why Are We at War?
 
“We’re overloaded with information these days, some of it possibly true. Mailer offers a provocative—and persuasive—cultural and intellectual frame.”Newsweek
 
“[Mailer] still has the stamina to churn out hard-hitting criticism.”Los Angeles Times
 
“Penetrating . . . There’s plenty of irreverent wit and fresh thinking on display.”San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Eloquent . . . thoughtful . . . Why Are We at War? pulls no punches.”Fort Worth Star-Telegram
 
Praise for Norman Mailer
 
“[Norman Mailer] loomed over American letters longer and larger than any other writer of his generation.”The New York Times
 
“A writer of the greatest and most reckless talent.”The New Yorker
 
“Mailer is indispensable, an American treasure.”The Washington Post
 
“A devastatingly alive and original creative mind.”Life
 
“Mailer is fierce, courageous, and reckless and nearly everything he writes has sections of headlong brilliance.”The New York Review of Books
 
“The largest mind and imagination [in modern] American literature . . . Unlike just about every American writer since Henry James, Mailer has managed to grow and become richer in wisdom with each new book.”Chicago Tribune
 
“Mailer is a master of his craft. His language carries you through the story like a leaf on a stream.”The Cincinnati Post

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Why Are We at War?
 
“We’re overloaded with information these days, some of it possibly true. Mailer offers a provocative—and persuasive—cultural and intellectual frame.”Newsweek
 
“[Mailer] still has the stamina to churn out hard-hitting criticism.”Los Angeles Times
 
“Penetrating . . . There’s plenty of irreverent wit and fresh thinking on display.”San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Eloquent . . . thoughtful . . . Why Are We at War? pulls no punches.”Fort Worth Star-Telegram
 
Praise for Norman Mailer
 
“[Norman Mailer] loomed over American letters longer and larger than any other writer of his generation.”The New York Times
 
“A writer of the greatest and most reckless talent.”The New Yorker
 
“Mailer is indispensable, an American treasure.”The Washington Post
 
“A devastatingly alive and original creative mind.”Life
 
“Mailer is fierce, courageous, and reckless and nearly everything he writes has sections of headlong brilliance.”The New York Review of Books
 
“The largest mind and imagination [in modern] American literature . . . Unlike just about every American writer since Henry James, Mailer has managed to grow and become richer in wisdom with each new book.”Chicago Tribune
 
“Mailer is a master of his craft. His language carries you through the story like a leaf on a stream.”The Cincinnati Post
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812971118
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/8/2003
  • Pages: 128
  • Sales rank: 840,461
  • Product dimensions: 5.22 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 0.39 (d)

Meet the Author

Norman Mailer

Born in 1923 in Long Branch, New Jersey, and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Norman Mailer was one of the most influential writers of the second half of the twentieth century and a leading public intellectual for nearly sixty years. He is the author of more than thirty books. The Castle in the Forest, his last novel, was his eleventh New York Times bestseller. His first novel, The Naked and the Dead, has never gone out of print. His 1968 nonfiction narrative, The Armies of the Night, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He won a second Pulitzer for The Executioner’s Song and is the only person to have won Pulitzers in both fiction and nonfiction. Five of his books were nominated for National Book Awards, and he won a lifetime achievement award from the National Book Foundation in 2005. Mr. Mailer died in 2007 in New York City.

Biography

One of the most provocative authors of the 20th century, Norman Mailer stood at the forefront of the New Journalism, a form of creative nonfiction that wove autobiography, real events, and political commentary into unconventional novels. In a career that spanned nearly 60 years, he wrote more than 30 books, including The Naked and the Dead; The Armies of the Night,, for which he won a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize; The Executioner's Song, for which he won his second Pulitzer Prize; Harlot's Ghost; Oswald's Tale; The Gospel According to the Son; and his last novel, The Castle in the Forest, a chilling fictional portrait of the youthful Adolf Hitler. On November 10, 2007, he died of renal failure, leaving behind an astonishing literary legacy.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Nachem Malech Mailer
      Norman Mailer
    2. Hometown:
      Provincetown, Massachusetts, and New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 31, 1923
    2. Place of Birth:
      Long Branch, New Jersey
    1. Date of Death:
      November 10, 2007

Read an Excerpt

1

dotson rader: I was at home in my apartment on East Eighty-fifth Street in Manhattan when the first of the Twin Towers was hit by one of the planes. But at the time I didn’t know it had happened. Later that morning I tried to make a phone call, and my phone was dead. So I got dressed and went outside. I live four blocks from Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the mayor. None of the pay phones on the street worked. People were wandering oddly about, sort of dazed, as if kind of lost. It was very strange. I started walking downtown—it was a bright, almost hot day in New York. I was supposed to have lunch with a friend on Fifty-seventh Street, and I was walking down Third Avenue to meet him at the restaurant. When I reached Sixty-fourth Street, I noticed this huge, bubbling cloud in the sky above Manhattan south of me. The rest of the sky was blue and clear. I didn’t know what it was. And then, looking down Third Avenue, six or seven blocks away, as far as I could see, I suddenly noticed a vast throng of people, a flood of humanity, like a slow wave rolling north up the avenue. Many of them were men in white shirts. They were the office workers from Wall Street, fleeing the disaster. This quiet mass of people, tens of thousands, was walking up the island like a funeral procession and turning at Fifty-seventh Street and then moving as one toward the 59th Street Bridge to cross over out of the island. And I thought, “Jesus! Is this Christ’s Second Coming?” Because they were in white, covered in dust, and they looked stunned, and they were speaking in whispers, like kids in church. I thought it was the Rapture and Jesus was calling his saints home, and that I was being left behind. That was my initial feeling.

norman mailer: Wouldn’t that be it? Jesus had come and everybody has gone to meet him by crossing the bridge from Manhattan to Queens. That does capture my pessimism concerning cosmic matters. [laughter]

dotson rader: Okay. Where were you on September 11? How did you learn about the terrorist attacks, and what was your initial reaction?

norman mailer: I was in my house up here in Provincetown. I remember a phone call telling me to turn on the TV. While I was watching I called my youngest daughter, Maggie. I have an apartment in Brooklyn Heights, and she was staying there with a friend. You can see lower Manhattan and the Twin Towers from that apartment. Our windows look across the East River. So Maggie had witnessed the first attack and was terribly affected by it. Then, while we were on the phone, the second plane hit the other building. I’m still watching on TV. In Brooklyn, Maggie and her friend are both seeing it through the window as well as viewing it on TV. That was a considerable shock. Why? Because the one thing TV always promises us is that, deep down, what we see on television is not real. It’s why there’s always that subtle numbness to TV. The most astonishing events, even terrifying events, nonetheless have a touch of nonexistence when seen on the tube. They don’t terrify us. We see something that’s hideous, but we’re not shocked proportionally. It’s why we can watch anything on TV.

Now, there are exceptions. The shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby was one; the second plane striking the second Tower; the collapse of the Towers. TV at that moment was no longer a coat of insulation between us and the horrific. When broken, the impact is enormous.

dotson rader: What struck me, what I’ll never forget, is the silence. Everyone was just silent. Or if they spoke, they whispered. It was like everyone was at a funeral. And this went on for hours and hours. Occasionally, the silence was broken by an ambulance or police siren. And what I’d never seen in New York before—military jets started flying over the island, because they started closing Manhattan down. The military started showing up in the streets. I thought, What in God’s name is happening?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2005

    You stupid conservative!

    Don't be hating liberal writers here! They are here to express what THEY feel. Why do you even bother to write a review here if you hate the book so much? Your ONLY reason for disliking this book is probably purely out of your own political beliefs. just because you are a hard-core conservative and a Bush-lover doesn't mean everyone feels the same way as you.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2004

    DON'T read unless you want to feel depressed and hopeless

    I expected greater things from an author who is dubbed on the jacket as being 'one of the greatest authors of our time.' Unfortunately this book is one of the most negative pieces of garbage I¿ve read in a long time. Norman Mailer conveys to us his bitterness toward patriotism and his feelings of hatred toward all things American. Instead of critiquing these problems with an open mind and saying 'Ok, this is what we should do to fix the problem,' Mailer resigns all Americans (except himself, of course) to being materialistic, money grubbing vultures who want to conquer the entire world and make it capitalist. Mailer praises the acts of terrorists. He claims that 'most of us are wicked to a good degree.' He embarrasses victims of 9/11 by saying 'It¿s not the ones who were good fathers and good mothers that I mourn the most. It¿s the ones who came from families that were less happy' (as if any of the lives lost deserve less or more sympathy than the others.) He criticizes proud Americans who wave flags. 'The fact that we¿ve been a great democracy doesn¿t mean we will automatically be one if we keep waving the flag. It¿s ugly.' What Mailer doesn¿t comprehend is that so many people like President Bush because he gives our nation hope. This is all but lost on Mailer, who does nothing but pessimistically criticize instead of offer suggestions: 'We in the west have this habit of looking for solutions¿ There may be no solutions at this time. This may be the beginning of an international cancer we cannot cure.' According to Mailer, 'patriotism becomes the handmaiden to totalitarianism.' What Mailer does a good job of is making you feel a sense of dread. He claims that Bush is a 'bloodthirsty warmonger' and spouts absurdities like 'military presence in the middle east is a stepping stone to taking over the rest of the world.' This absolute hogwash does nothing to answer the question he imposed: Why are we at war? Mailer thinks that a few quotes from obscure sources proves his conspiracy theory that Bush/America is on a quest for world domination. Mailer suggests that we sacrifice security for democracy: 'Americans have to be willing to say at a certain point that we¿re ready to take some terrorist hits without panicking; that freedom is more important to us than security' and that we should 'learn to live with the anxiety' of terrorism. Hold up. WHAT?! Freedom may be more important to Mailer than security, but if one of my family members was killed in a terrorist attack, security would absolutely be my number one priority. Not only this, but I have a few qualms about taking political advice from an author who says that 'fascism is of a more natural state than democracy.' Mailer claims that there is a degeneration of the American society: 'The kids are getting to the point where they can¿t read, but they sure can screw.' Nice, Mailer. Real nice. The lack of confidence Mailer espouses in the American people is astounding as he talks about our 'monstrous arrogance.' He says 'we will never know just what we are fighting for' and 'we never know where our prayers are likely to go.' The only good (and I use that term loosely) thing about this book is that it is short, so you won¿t be mired in hopelessness and negativity for too long. It¿s only 100 pages of large, spaced out print, most of it dialogue.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2003

    Brief and poignant, and always insightful.

    Why Are We At War? is a collection of Mr. Mailer's musings on the state of the union post-9/11, and it's wonderfully written and intellectually engaging. Whether or not you agree with the 'liberal' angle taken in this book (I am much more conservative than Mailer) it is still well worth a read. If you're looking for hardcore evidence or 'proof' regarding the so-called war for oil you should look elsewhere. Most of Mr. Mailer's hard facts are simply borrowed from other prominent, and more exhaustive, sources. However, if you want a great discussion about how Mailer feels, and how many of us feel, in the midst of a war on a faceless enemy, then this monograph will do the trick. Much of the book is set up as a discussion with Mailer¿s close friend, and that unique approach allows the reader to enter into the discussion. Although the title poses the question of the day, Mailer¿s answers are fleeting and inconclusive. Mailer never establishes the 'reason' for the current (and ongoing) incursion, but he tackles the issue head-on. Mailer doesn¿t profess to have all of the answers, and that is the beauty of this book. Turn off the noise, and enter into an honest discussion of an issue that cannot be explained by the pundits, both liberal and conservative, feeding the public pre-packaged ¿truths.¿ None of us can honestly profess to know the true motivations behind this war, but trying to pin down reasons and motives is a laudable, if not trying, affair. Mailer takes the occasion to guide the reader through this debate with style, insight, and, at times, confusion. He¿s one of us after all.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2003

    Once again Mailer hits it right on target!

    Mailer's well written book takes a different look at the reasons behind Bush's action against the Middle East and the right wings ongoing dream of American Imperialism. This book is a refreshing look at what's going on and what the future of America globally and domestically could become if 'flag conservatives' continue unchecked

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