Future: Tense

Reviewed: April 24, 2007
By: Gwynne Dyer
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
254 pages, $19.99

I could have titled this column “Four years in the Trenches with Gwynne Dyer” but that would not have been fair, since not everything the man writes is about warfare, though the tenor of the times has dictated that a lot of it is.

I could have called it “A World in Dyer Straits”, emulating the allusion to the Beatles in the second book on this list, but our editor doesn’t always appreciate my puns and, besides, not all of Dyer’s columns are gloomy.

The Star runs a fair bit of his work, and it brightens my day when I see his byline next to the editorial page or in the “Letters/Opinion” box on the website. It means I’m going to read something interesting, written with style, and that I’m going to learn something.

Future: Tense is his second book length examination of issues leading up to and arising from the invasion of Iraq, following Ignorant Armies, which came out in 2003.  A year into the conflict, Dyer had had time to test some theories and take a second run at figuring out what had gone wrong with US foreign policy and why.

Is all this as much of a conspiracy as Michael Moore seems to believe, or is this mess, to quote the late Kurt Vonnegut, the “revenge of the Harvard “C” students”?

What comes out of the second book is the warning that the Middle Eastern adventures from 2003 to now have unraveled the fragile tapestry of international law that governed the interactions of nations, advancing the age old reality that the fellow with the most guns gets to make the rules. Worse, it has played right into the hands of Bin Laden and his cohorts and allowed hundreds of power mad men to gain power in a country where there was once only one mad man, while actually enhancing the likelihood that terrorism will spread beyond that sad nation.

President George H. Bush announced a New World Order when the Berlin Wall crumbled and the USSR collapsed. His heir, President George W. Bush, has undone much of what G.H. might have hoped to see, and spent American moral capital even faster than he has spent the monetary surplus that Bill Clinton left him.

Nothing in the two years since that Future: Tense appeared has made the future seem anything other than tense as far into it as we can see.

The second book on this list is a collection of columns spanning the years from 2001 to 2005. Some of them are about the Iraq mess, and probably served as first draft thoughts for the two books, but there are many other topics covered as well.

That the Star publishes Dyer is to our credit. His material does appear in 150 papers around the world and is widely circulated in the US, but no Canadian paper that has been touched by the hand of Lord Black of Crossharbour bears his byline. Lady Black, who often defends the policies of Israel under her byline of Barbara Amiel, apparently doesn’t like the fact that Dyer has been known to disagree (not always, but sometimes) with that nation’s policies. The situation did not improve when the Black holdings were bought up by the CanWest group, owned by one Israel Asper.

With Every Mistake is not just a collection of columns; it is also a compendium of after thoughts, with Dyer commenting on his own successes and failures as a columnist. He has frequently underestimated just how far other people will go to gain their ends, but that’s probably because he is trying to be a reasonable person himself. He does have this notion that democracy will eventually triumph everywhere (he did a delightful radio series on this theme back around 1999-2000) and tends to view the world through that lens of optimism.

He’s been writing about that, about climate change, about AIDS, about world disasters, about North Korean nuclear ambition, about the economic disparity between the north and south, about drug wars and about the need to get a sense of perspective about all of these things.

The columns are short items, mostly under 2000 words. Park the book in your bathroom and you may find yourself seeking relief more often.