On the Other Hand...
by Jim Davies
Concord Bridge, All Over Again?
My personal Book the of the Year for 1997 was a monumental novel by a hitherto unknown author (John Ross) called "Unintended Consequences". Anyone who distrusts government or likes shooting should not wait another day: go buy it, you will find it a very rare and satisfying treat. Its ISBN is 1-888118-04-0.
But not only those folk; people generally unsympathetic to the "gun culture" and generally favoring government institutions will also find it gripping, and a rich source of information about both. I can be sure of that, for I watched one such devour it, hardly pausing to put it down! It's so powerful, in its 80 year long saga of American life in the 20th Century, that it may give a whole new perspective to some who have so far gone along with the conventional view.
It's formidably long; 861 pages, printed quite closely. Yet I found very few of them I wanted to skip. The style (remarkable, for one who has never previously written a full-length novel) is such as to rivet the reader's attention on the next; there is never a dull moment, the tension is kept high.
Take vintage cars, golf, sailing, football, baseball, stamp-collecting or virtually any other sport or hobby, and the person who lives for it day and night is properly called an "enthusiast" or "fan". The one exception is the person who enthuses about guns; he is called a "gun nut" by the media, as if anyone who likes shooting must be nuts, off his rocker, borderline insane. Or sometimes they call him a "member of the gun lobby", as if their friends who want guns prohibited never lobby! John Ross has, in one volume, gone a long way to correct those mis-uses of language.
Flaws in the book? - I found only two. One, he's a bit too detailed for my taste in describing the dimensions of a zillion types of cartridge, and two, in one incident he has his heroes killing for "sport", not for food, some harmless birds who wanted no more than to fly free. Unconscionable, in my view. Clay, fine; flesh & feathers, no. But in the great span of the book, these are minor.
Author Ross invents several dozen American characters and one Pole, introducing each in chronological sequence and portraying his main hero (an alter ego, I suspect) from boyhood to maturity, showing how his skills and attitudes came largely from his family background. There are many reading this review who will readily identify with this portrayal of sturdy independence in rural America; the stoicism during the Depression, the delight in country life, in automobiles and guns and biplanes and friends who are the salt of the earth. Those things appear to us today only through media that have sanitized them, purged them of all that is now politically incorrect. Ross provides a refreshing rebalancing.
The character who provides the exception provides also the focal point of my own favorite part of the book: a person ("Irwin Mann") who grew up in Danzig between the World Wars and is Jewish. He was placed in the Warsaw Ghetto, and while he is fictional, he took part in the historically real Uprising of 1943. The picture given in that story has awesome implications.
Almost a million Jews were crowded into that walled-off area of Warsaw. About 300,000 of them died of malnutrition and another 600,000 were trained off to the death camps. Mann found himself one of the 60,000 remaining and, in Ross's story, is the one who first knifed a guard and stole his pistol and ammunition.
That weapon was used to kill other guards and steal some more, until just twenty prisoners had marshalled an armory of a couple of guns each with enough bullets to start a rebellion. They taught themselves not only how to shoot straight (still the only valid kind of "gun control") but even what are the basic components of a weapon; having stolen one, they would take it apart to find out how it worked! - for not one of the group had ever been a "gun nut". Necessity, it seems, is the mother of some radical changes of outlook.
The uprising was of course put down, by burning the buildings and everyone in them à la Waco, and by flooding the sewers with poison gas. But, led only by those twenty armed men, it delayed the entire might of the German army for longer than had the whole Polish military four years earlier. A very few escaped, through the sewers, and Mann was one; he played a key role in this country later on in the saga, after meeting several of its other characters.
The utterly profound deduction one is forced to make from this chapter is that if just 20 armed and determined Jews could achieve so much, what if even only a few thousand of them, let alone a few million, had refused a decade earlier to submit to Hitler's first edict: that their guns be surrendered? The whole course of modern history would have been radically different. In that terrible sense, the Holocaust took place with the consent of the victims.
In a masterly fashion, "Unintended Consequences" recalls the relentless erosion of liberties during this Century in the United States; notably, but not solely, that same liberty to own and carry firearms which those Jews so easily gave up.
One reviewer well wrote "What's going to happen when these [government] guys finally hit someone who knows how to hit back?" It is an awesome story, told through the characters Ross portrays; and he very well conveys the rising sense of outrage that that steady erosion has produced - primarily, but not at all solely, in the community of the gun culture. Working with real historical events like the Bonus March and the Chicago riots and Ruby Ridge and, of course, Waco, Ross brings us up to the present and to a near future in which the People's patience runs out and their rage erupts into a form of civil war.
I'll not spoil it by telling how or when or what the outcome is. But with whichever "side" you identify, I promise: you'll find it utterly enthralling.
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