Book Review by Heidi Simmons
500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars by Kurt Eichenwald
How much do you think you know about the events surrounding September 11, 2001? Do you have lingering question about how the attacks were handled and how the United States government made decisions? Are you satisfied with what you think you know?
500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars (Touchstone, 611 pages) by Kurt Eichenwald may be the most enlightening history book of our time. This book is not for those who are content with the present narrative. It’s a horror story — a suspense thriller you’ll wish was fiction.
500 Days begins twelve months before the attacks on September 11, 2001 and follows the decision-making processes of the Bush Administration to “fight terror” over the next eighteen months.
Eichenwald did not set out to write an exposé of the political nightmare and madness of the Bush Administration. He neither condemns nor supports a particular position but leaves it up to the reader. Eichenwald is not pressing a private view. However, the research and information is so intense and scathing, and written with such passionate prose, the reader definitely gets a new perspective.
A contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a New York Times bestselling author of three books, Eichenwald is an experienced, award-winning journalist. With six hundred hours of interviews and thousands of documents, he has uncovered never before reported details about detainees, warrantless wiretapping, conflicts between Washington and London, to name a few. Eichenwald aptly drops the reader into the room and lets us witness those who got the big picture and those who didn’t.
Like a Shakespearean tragedy, Eichenwald begins his book with a cast of characters. A list of names from the White House, the CIA, The Pentagon, The Department of Justice, State Department, Britain, Afghanistan, al-Qaeda, etc. and many, many more. It’s great to get all the familiar players in line and finally understand the detrimental role each played.
Sure, perhaps we understand the knee-jerk reaction when we are unprepared and ill equipped to act against something so out-of-the-blue, but that was not the case. There were opportunities and there were good people on top of their game. This is not retrospective opinion. This is an uncovering and detailing of the facts and they are not what you’ve been told in the past.
At the time, who didn’t hate the French for not being, at the very least, supportive –remember Freedom Fries, Garden Doors? But here’s one reason why. When Bush called French President Jacques Chirac to get him to support the first UN resolution (which would authorize military action) Bush went Biblical.
He said to Chirac: “We are both Christians committed to the teachings of the Bible. We share a common Lord. Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East. Biblical prophecies are being fulfilled. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase His people’s enemies before a new age begins.” Chirac, a secular Catholic, didn’t know what Bush was talking about ‘Gog and Magog?’ but thought Bush sounded like a religious fanatic.
There are bad people but not all of them are al-Qaeda. For example, the Bush Administration lied to Colin Powell causing the Secretary of State to unknowingly pass false information to key allies. There are many revelations in this book that are disturbing and frightening. Familiar named players deliberately manipulated and lied and disregarded or ignored US laws, US policy and the US Constitution. Sometimes it appears for personal gain, other times perhaps out of ignorance and stupidity.
500 Days is an important book. It is our history. There is much to learn from its very turnable pages. Maybe the best approach to reading this book is to look at it as if it were a crime novel. Eichenwald vividly writes as if he were in the room, but of course he wasn’t. So, to avoid your blood pressure from rising at the horror of the unnecessary bloodshed, try to see the juggernaut of human weaknesses, failures and ignorance as fiction. But sadly it is not.