Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ellroy in Afghanistan, or conspiracies we can believe in.

As I’ve no doubt tediously mentioned in the past, I’m a James Ellroy fan. At Christmas I bought his most recent book, Blood's a Rover. It is the third part of his Underworld U.S.A. trilogy – a sort of alternative history to American history in the 1950s and 60s. A couple of years ago I re-read the second in part of the trilogy, The Cold Six Thousand, and decided that it is one of my favourite books. I then decided I should re-read the first part of the trilogy as well, American Tabloid, so ordered at copy of my own realising I must have borrowed it from someone originally. I finished this re-read just a couple of days back: a dark and wonderful whirl of Cuban exiles, corrupt FBI men, killing-krazed klansmen, ridiculous and violent Mafioso, sleazy lounge singers and brutal gun slingers. Jack the hair, Bobby the dark knight, Fidel the beard, J. Edgar Hoover, Jack Ruby and his dogs all get walk-on roles. Everyone lies, everyone cheats, nothing is at it seems. Forces are in play and those who know about them have no wish to stop them. The denouement, of course, takes place at Dealey Plaza, Dallas, as shots ring out from the Texas book depository.

The vortex of interests and conspiracies are so richly entwined, having finished it I thought I might read the first and last chapters of The Cold Six Thousand for a third time, just to remind myself before diving in to Blood’s a Rover. Of course, it seemed silly to stop after just the first chapter so I’m now 100 pages and will re-read it all once more, just to really be warmed up for the final and supposedly masterful part of this dark trilogy. You just have to keep reminding yourself that this is fiction, and fiction from a depraved-if genius-mind, not history. We were talking about the Bildeberg conspiracy today, and how this old chestnut refuses to die. Probably sooner or later Google will lead a true believer to this post and they can tell me how I have been suckered by the deep forces of global Jewish bankers, space alien lizards or whatever their particular take is on how to explain this ridiculous world where far less goes to plan than the conspiracy theorists would have us believe. Ellroy’s story of Mob/CIA/Cuban exile complicity in the murder of a president is just that. A story. Maybe his story is going in the right direction, maybe it is not, but it remains a tale not history.

Conspiracies are easy ways to understand the world; if 9/11 was an inside job, we don’t need to bother ourselves with understanding how the duelling attempts at nation-building between the House of Saud and Shia clerical dictators of Post-Revolutionary Iran amplified, in different ways, old trends of Islamic radicalism. Or how the fuse was lit under those New York skyscrapers by US-USSR rivalry that turned the Cold War into a hot one in far off land that we cared little about when our soldier weren’t dying in the dust of Helmand province. All these things are beside the point if 9/11 was an attempt to deprive American citizens of their rights by dark forces inside their own government, or even simply insurance fraud by the buildings’ owner. Conspiracies give easy answers.

But Ellroy’s visions of conspiracy: opportunistic actors with get-rich-quick schemes or dogmatic idealists and a fuck-you attitude to those in their way, sometimes moving in parallel with those who share those interests, or who can be paid enough to pretend they do, does have parallels in the America of the modern world. When the Pentagon pays security companies that then pay-off the Taliban, or other dope-slinging Afghan warlords, to protect their Afghan trucks, you get into Ellroy territory. Add in an Afghan-American owner of one of those trucking companies (who just happens to also be son of the Afghan defence minister who is himself a former CIA-supported mujahideen) who on the side runs an influential Washington based campaigning group for US-Afghan relations and we are more Ellroy-esque. Scrape at the surface of that lobbying group a bit more and see that it was set up on the advice of one of the most influential Washington legal and lobbying firms and you can dig it hep-cats – très Ellroy. And let’s not forget that on the board of Mujahideen Jr.’s trucking firm sits one of the most respected former CIA old Afghan hands. And what with Langley subcontracting its worldwide hit squad plan to a shadowy mercenary company, with various 'interesting' Christian right political linkages, and we are just beaucoup Ellroy. But groove on this- it’s all for real.

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