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Reviewing DY's book review on Gordon G. Chang's Nuclear Showdown

"Nuclear Showdown" and its author

There is one thing I always have difficulty understanding. Some bookworms seem to be buying books only to nitpick on them. Obviously they don't care too much about maximizing their return on investment. But it's basically none of my business if they feel like sharing their single-star or 2-star assessment with others by posting their nasty remarks on the Amazon website, because that doesn't do any harm to anyone.

Also beyond my comprehension are supposedly professional book editors in Japan's major media organizations who sometimes take up books they don't like only to quibble with them. Unlike amateur reviewers whose pastime is fault-finding, these guys are inexcusable because they make their living on reviewing someone else's works, instead of writing their own. And it's these "professional" book reviewers who, instead of giving valid tips on whether to buy them or how to make the most of the investment, constantly misrepresent the authors to those who cannot afford the time, or money, to read these books by themselves, or are undecided on whether to buy them. James Hardy, the Daily Yomiuri's staff writer, falls on this category.

On February 26, the DY ran his book review on Nuclear Showdown - North Korea Takes on the World (Random House, 2006), the second book by Gordon G. Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China (Random House, 2001). In his review piece, Hardy ridicules Chang in an unfair and indecent manner, by cherrypicking words and phrases from the book and distorting them to make them fit into his pointless and self-righteous argument.

Actually, the author's messages here are such that they deny being wrenched out of the entire context, as was also true with his previous book. Hence, Chang is very vulnerable to an attack by a malicious critic with a mastery of cherrypicking and the use of the wrench, such as Yomiuri's Hardy.

For instance, in the chapter titled "Last Exit Before the Dark Ages", Chang brings up a bold suggestion to break the nuclear standoff. He argues that in the wake of the virtual bankruptcy of the Nonproliferation Treaty and other America's counterproliferation initiatives, the U.S. should take a unilateral step to drastically reduce its nuclear arsenal. He asks: "The American president can give the order to eliminate all human life on this planet several times over. If he decides to reduce his arsenal so that he can kill everyone only once, are his constituents any less safe?" Only by doing so, he goes on, "Americans would, paradoxically, become even more powerful."

It must be a cinch for professional nitpickers just to single out this particular part of Chang's solution to say this will never work. But if you carefully scrutinize Chang's potentially controversial prescriptions in their entirety, you will most probably find it compellingly convincing. Not that, though, the DY staff writer specifically touches on any part of the proposals put forth by the author in a package. Actually Hardy doesn't seem to have any interest, let alone insight, into the most relevant issue of the times. In fact, the belligerent reviewer took up a wrong book as the target of his verbal attack because it's obvious Nuclear Showdown is something way beyond what little intellectual prowess he has.

As if to avoid an intellectual showdown with the author, Hardy quickly concludes his rubbish with this sentence: "More often than not, our own Clouseau of Counterproliferation - hey, this alliteration thing's easy - misses the point, and Nuclear Showdown is a sensationalized, contradictory, jumbled, half-baked mess of a book." Earlier, he playfully writes: "Welcome to the sensational world of sound-bite political analysis." What the hell is he getting at with all this misplaced assault? He certainly knew that the most effective way to un-promote a book would be to just ignore it, if that's what was intended.

So the only possible way to explain why Hardy took up this book when he was not in the mood for discussing the serious issue at hand in earnest seems to be that he just wanted to vent his frustration over having to cooperate with and get assimilated into his predominantly Japanese team of editors and commentators at the Daily Yomiuri. Apparently the main source of his frustration is these guys sitting next to him who can only turn out commentaries and editorials filled with choplogic, blandness, fallacies, and "irritating truism", if I may borrow the words he pelted at the author of Nuclear Showdown. I suspect he would be much better off if he was reassigned to review his colleagues' writing in what looks like English, so he could direct his first-rate pejorative on a daily basis directly to the right people, i.e., his bosses and coworkers.

Getting back to the book at hand, my recommended way of reading it, to make your time and money pay off, would be to make believe you are on a work by Arnold J. Toynbee (1889-1975). True, Chang's writing style has very little in common with the great British historian's. Throughout the book he scatters around pop culture vocabulary and references to the likes of Britney Spears and Spider-Man. And yet he talks about everything he does from a broader historical perspective backed with strenuous studies and research. So never expect him to give you a quick remedy for the ongoing crisis caused and protracted primarily by North Korea and the People's Republic of China.

In this context I respect Gordon G. Chang who once again showed his exceptional courage to even possibly risk a well-deserved commercial success with his propositions rather prone to be misrepresented, and thus, misunderstood.

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