33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 2000
A previous Amazon reviewer described this book as "dispassionate." Must have been reading a different book to the one I bought.
As a former foreign correspondent (for Australian television)I also spent time in Somalia, Rwanda and Sudan. I picked up this book out of curiosity but without much in the way of expectations.
Having read it, I am stunned and in awe.
There are many more famous and exalted names in foreign journalism than Scott Peterson's - at least until now. The sheer passion of his reporting, the level of his commitment, his fearlessness both when faced by African violence and the equally grotesque rationalisations of those who clumsily intervene (and those who fail to intervene)deserve him a place in the highest rankings.
He stuck with Somalia when most of the rest of the world lost interest (I plead guilty). He took trouble to understand the Somali perspective when most others saw it as an American story. He writes illuminatingly about Sudan - perhaps the world's most overlooked war zone, rich in terrible, hopeless, wasteful loss. His writings on Rwanda add renewed freshness to the gut-churning horrors of the genocide - after Gourevitch's "We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families" apparently left little more to be said.
Peterson returns the degraded craft of journalism to its purest form: he "bears witness." He risks his life to do so. He loses friends. He confesses his fear. He disdains received wisdom. He redeems the lazy journalism of the pampered hacks with one eye on the room service menu and the other on how well their "heroism" will play back home.
Anyone with an interest in Africa, reporting, the nature of the human condition, the politics of humanitarian intervention, or just a damn good, disturbing read about the ways of the world would do well to read this book.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Peterson does a great job of documenting the trajedies of Africa that simply doesn't seem to interest most Americans. With Sierra Leonne in the news recently, this book takes on even more urgency. Peterson deserves credit for sticking it out in the destitute war zones, even after nearly losing his life in Somalia (and seeing close friends butchered by the mobs) He is (justifiably) highly critical of the U.S. and UN efforts there, but he also assigns the blame for the famine where it belongs, with the warlords. This is an excellent and informative book that will unfortunately never find as big an audience as it deserves.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2000
Mr Peterson does an amazing job of bringing the reader to an understandng of the tragedy that occurred in the three countries that he focuses upon Somalia, Rwanada and Sudan)but he does so without pushing the reader over the edge into compassion fatigue. His book is also extremely useful for understanding some of what actually happened at the time; for the first time I actually have an understanding of the dynamic that existed between the Tutsi and Hutus. His inclusion of Sudan is remarkable and notable given that it is one of the most overlooked conflicts in American eyes, yet well worth understanding. Mr Peterson also makes clear the paradox that relief agencies face in alleviating suffering when their efforts can actually prolong conflict.
The excellent writing was the only thing that kept me going through the more emotionally disturbing sections. Finally,the photo insert, while unsettling, was an extremely important addition to the whole experience of reading the book.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2002
British journalist Scott Peterson was an old hand at reporting in Africa by the time the 'New World Order' was tested by Somalia in the early '90s. For this reason, his shock and horror at the events he describes in this book carries weight. Covering Somalia, Sudan, and Rwanda, different approaches to solving the same problems of civil war and hunger are effectively juxtaposed - ultimately providing few concrete answers to the 'peacekeeping problem', but being highly instructive all the same.
For those just home from seeing the new movie _Black Hawk Down_ (Americans especially), I think _Me Against My Brother_ should be required reading. Peterson spends half of his book on Somalia, and provides clear and concise background information on the origins of the unrest there. His analysis is evenhanded, spreading plenty of blame around: to the UN, the U.S. Armed Forces, the Somali warlords, and the Somali people themselves. I felt the book portrayed a bad situation steadily made worse by all parties involved, rightly leaving them smarting from their involvement.
The next quarter of the book examines the Sudan. A timely topic in this time of heightened sensitivity to Muslim/Christian conflict, Peterson shows how damaging such conflicts can be. Again he provides good, brief background material and plenty of firsthand accounts from southern Sudan; the front lines. The section on the Sudan underscored a civil war where, unlike Somalia, humanitarian aid was distributed without accompanying military intervention. The result is a graphic illustration of how such well meaning aid organizations can be manipulated, prolonging suffering rather than quelling it.
A third contrast is provided by the last section of the book - Rwanda. There, the conflict was so terrifying that not only was there no military intervention, but no humanitarian effort either. Rwanda was so atrocious, so dangerous, that Peterson (who had been-there-done-that as far as African wars are concerned) was almost too overwhelmed with fear to go there. No aid, few pictures, nearly a million dead. Essentially an inferno of violence that burned until there no no fuel of Tutsi and moderate Hutu bodies left to sustain it.
I consider myself fairly educated and aware. Peterson jolted me awake. His eyewitness accounts are riveting, his analyses fairly impartial. In this book he shows a conflict where we tried to intervene with force, one where the intervention was in the form of aid, and one where no one lifted a finger. In all three cases, the results were varying degrees of the same hunger, anarchy, and death. Therefore, Peterson gives no prescription for curing the ills of Africa, but does a fine job of noting the symptoms of the illness.
I highly recommend this book. I learned from it immensely, and I'm sure you will too.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2000
This is fascinating reading regarding some of the most intense struggles and war zones of 1990's Africa which the author experienced first hand. What I appreciate about the book is that Scott Peterson brings deeper insight into the war theatres by being involved with those at ground zero. This book is a reality check for the Western world, so that we may fully see some of the critical problems in Africa. Hopefully this will bring about some sort of understanding of how terribly sheltered we are from Africa's situation. This book helps to bring this world disparity out of the darkness and ultimately establishes a good forum for us all to address Africa more critically. Only by caring enough about the crucial situations there, like Scott Peterson has, can we at least try to frame Africa in our world-view; Sadly you'd have to admit that most westerners are extremely detached from the widespread sufferings in Africa. Scott Peterson's perspective is equally compassionate as it is dispassionate. Perhaps that is the sort of mind required to live at the frontlines. Whatever the case, his perspective has brought me inside the struggles of Africa. We all should try to see beyond our comforts and try to be concerned about what is going on over there. This book will help to educate you.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Scott Peterson’s Me Against My Brother is about the horrors of African war. Peterson has covered it as a journalist for years, and is no fan of it. In fact, he is unrelentingly negative. For instance, in his largest section, on the UN intervention in Somalia, Western governmental powers (including the UN) can do no right. When they ignore Somali famine, Peterson reviles them. When they intervene after the worst of the famine is over, again Peterson reviles them. When they fail to make a strong show of force and disarm the warlords, Peterson reviles them. When they do make a strong show of force by attempting to disarm powerful warlord Mohamed Aidid – which leads to immediate street violence that leaves 25 Pakistani UN soldiers dead – again Peterson reviles them. When they appease Aidid, Peterson reviles them; when they fight him, Peterson reviles them. Peterson says the UN did not understand the Somali culture of violence and made themselves look foolish and weak, but when the UN struck back with an helicopter assault against key Aidid personnel, Peterson is horrified that the UN might do such a violent thing. It’s not that I disagreed with most of what Peterson writes. He points out errors and foibles with a practiced eye and a passionate pen, and his efforts have convinced me that there may have been no way to effectively intervene in Somalia – that, indeed, every move the UN made or could have made was a terrible error. But he seems to have no point; he just lashes out in all directions, as if there’s a simple answer he is not telling us and it is everybody’s fault for not getting it.
Peterson makes up for his emotionalism in his later chapters on Sudan, not by being less impassioned or less negative but by better acknowledging the complexities of that situation. While agonizing over the horrors of the Sudanese civil war and attacking various political and charitable organizations for their parts in it, he finally loses his self-righteousness and voices honest, complicated questions about how and whether outside intervention should have taken place. He does not have the answers, but I do not count that against him since no one else does, either. At least he is trying to draw lessons from these situations, rather than merely drubbing everyone in sight. His closing chapters on Rwanda are his best yet, perhaps because the moral equation is even simpler, the evil even greater, than in Somalia and Sudan.
Despite the fact that I read the second paperback edition of this book, there were a number of typos and editorial screw-ups, including a couple of misspellings and a substantial number of mixed-up soundalikes (the most embarrassing being that the author twice, when he describes people chewing, says they are "emasculating" things rather than "masticating" them). But other than these errors, Peterson’s vivid and powerful writing works. While Me Against My Brother is not a comprehensive policy discussion (even where it tries to be), the book perhaps fulfills a greater function. Peterson’s authorial power and passionate heart make it impossible for the reader not to care about the subject matter, and want to find out more about it. The generation that solves the problems Peterson decries can only do so if it knows about, and cares about, those problems. Peterson is doing his part to bring that generation into being, and he deserves our thanks for it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2001
The author falls squarely into the category of those foreigners who perceive Mogadishu (and everything that happens there) as Somalia - big mistake. Generally Peterson's angle praises the ICRC, bashes the UN, but then moves to exonerate UNOSOM by completely trashing the US involvement (intelligence, initiatives and actions) within UNITAF and UNOSOM I & II. From my few years in Somalia during the same time, that all seems quite fair. The author writes well - but his sources are not very broad (despite the many footnotes which at first give the impression of good research)and so he tends to look at his own navel a bit too much. Somalia was and is so much more than the manifestations of an amazing society at its capital.
But, despite himself, Peterson does seem to have encountered something of the spirit of Somalia and he does recognize that Somalis stand very much on their own pedestal. Not a bad read.
26 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on February 10, 2002
"Me Against My Brother" is the summary of the author's experiences in the middle of the African wars during the mid-1990s. Scott Peterson's bravery in reporting these events, which most of the civilized world simply ignored, is admirable. At the same time, his finger-pointing is overwhelmingly in the direction of the U.S. and the U.N., and it becomes tiresome.
The book is broken into 3 sections focusing on Peterson's experiences in the war zones of these countries: Somalia, Sudan, and Rwanda. The section on Somalia provided a great background and lead-in to the events recently made famous through Mark Bowden's "Black Hawk Down." The Sudan chapters gave me a deeper insight into the most widely ignored African country at war in the 1990s, but disappointingly, Peterson's focus was mainly on the in-fighting between Christian factions in southern Sudan, despite the fact that the Muslim government in Khartoum (which sheltered Osama Bin Laden for years) is clearly most responsible for the horrendous slave and murder industry that still exists in Sudan to this day. Finally, Peterson's discussion of Rwanda is easily the most depressing and convicting when one considers what the U.S. and U.N. failed to prevent.
Obviously, the United States and the United Nations (specifically its Western members) are worthy targets of some blame for failure to act and, possibly, for criminal behavior in some acts when intervention was attempted. But Peterson's focus is so lopsided in the direction of these governments that it almost seems he has forgotten who the actual perpetrators of the massacres were. It reminded me of a quote I read recently from a Western diplomat who was frustrated with the amazing ability of the international media to find moral equivalency between the West and the most murderous, tyrannical regimes: "They equate our imperfections with their evil."
Peterson provides the perfect example of this. Despite giving accounts of the most horrific murders and evils performed by Somalian warlords, Peterson harps incessantly on American and U.N. imperfections, even claiming: "If brought before an international court, UN forces in Somalia would almost certainly have been found guilty of violating the laws of war." Reading that, I can only wonder of what Somalian warlords, who machine-gunned the women and children of their own country in order to prevent the success of U.N. airdrops of food, would be found guilty. Moral equivalency...
Again, in Rwanda, the overwhelming objects of Peterson's criticism are the United States and the Clinton administration, the latter of which I was no fan. But the guilt in the United States' failure to intervene and stop the Hutus' genocidal massacres of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, while sad, is simply not morally comparable to what these Rwandan murderers did. Peterson seems to have lost sight of this fact.
One story, for sake of example: several Belgian U.N. troops were dispatched to try and stop the killing of the Rwandan prime minister, a woman. When confronted by the advancing Hutus, these U.N. troops laid down their weapons in hopes of preventing an annhilation of both sides. In return, their Achilles tendons were eached hacked with machetes to prevent their escape. They were then castrated and gagged with their own genitalia, then killed along with the prime minister. One could scan the entire list of atrocities perpetrated by Americans throughout their country's history, and it would take a serious stretch to equate the very worst of that list to this one event in Rwanda, which occurred less than 8 years ago. Even then, those far-stretched incidents would be extreme anomalies, whereas this event was, and is, very close to the norm in Rwanda and many African and Muslim countries. Moral equivalency...
This is a well-written, courageous book full of facts and events that depressingly few Americans know anything about, but it is sadly tainted by yet another member of the mainstream American and European media who is unable to differentiate between the imperfections of our leaders and societies... and the utter evil at the very core of theirs. For those of you hoping or thinking that the United States and its allies will decide once and for all to put an end to these evil regimes (Sudan and Somalia, as well as Syria, Iraq, the Palestinian Authority, etc., etc.), look no further than this book for a good example of why our leaders will continue to balk at taking the necessary (and morally justified) steps to do so anytime in the foreseeable future.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2002
Scott Peterson has written a first hand reporter's account of his experiences in Somalia, Sudan and Rwanda. It is a compelling read for all interested in war, ethnic conflict, genocide and international relations. If you are interested in only one of the three debacles, the book is broken into three sections that make it easy to focus on, say, Sudan, and ignore the other two. Finally, the book includes three maps, one of each region, that are helpful in reading the text.
The most detailed section (fully half the book) focuses on Somalia. Other books and monographs have given a good view of the difficulties of United Nations mandated versus authorized Peace Operations, and of the tactical details of various battles (Mark Bowden's "Blackhawk Down.") The advantage of Peterson's work is that it is fresh, almost unedited, and thus a grisly look at war, tribalism, ethnic conflict, scarce resource competition and the inability of international will to alter these stark realities. The last chapter "Back to Zero" is a damning indictment of President Clinton his foreign policy, especially Presidential Decision Directive 25. The most salient lesson in all the revealed savagery of Somalia, though, is in the story of British Colonel "Somali" Smith-after a camel-seizing raid in 1947, he left the country for several years. When he returned in 1967, he was stabbed to death the day after his arrival by the son of one of the men killed in the 1947 raid. It seems Somalis DO bear a grudge a long time-regardless of where the problem originated, Americans would do well to remember this before returning to Mogadishu.
The second part of the book tries in some detail to come to grips with the endless bloodletting of Sudan's civil war between (alleged) Christians and Muslims. This section is not as well written as the first, and the reader begins to tire of one dusty corpse and massacre after another, but Peterson makes his point. The would be "solver" of this religious quagmire, fueled by poverty and generational cycles of violence, will have untied a modern Gordian Knot. Peterson gives a quick overview of the history of Sudan, the tides of fortune sweeping back and forth, raiding for slaves, attacking Sufism, a mystical sub sect of Islam, and always, always fighting for control of the Nile. In some ways, then, nothing has changed, only the technologies for spreading propaganda and death. A new twist to which Peterson pays particular attention, and wrestles with well, is the dilemma of aid organizations. If you are providing aid that "others may live" many of them shall live to fight, and either live some more, or die at the hands of others. Second, your very aid shall become a resource worth fighting over, so your provision of sustenance is actually an incentive TO fight, rather than not.
The last part of the book focuses on the carnage of Rwanda. Peterson jumps into the fray of whether or not a "Peace Operations force" could have averted the carnage, or at least slowed it down. Peterson sides with Monsieur Prunier, a French scholar who believes that as few as 20 armored vehicles would have made the difference. I think this understates the calculated assault, led by a military sometimes called "the Prussians of Africa." I think it would have taken tens of thousands of soldiers, with helicopters and fixed wing transports, lots of communications gear and fierce political resolve to staunch the flow of blood here.
All in all, a good "raw" book, well worth the read, but by no means a definitive scholarly work on the central African swamp of the last 20 years.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 2006
I appreciated Peterson's book because it is the honest personal evaluation of seemingly a super-human record of journalism for an American in a time when American foreign correspondence is increasingly cowardly.
Peterson has a good hold on the English language, and he certainly has a story to tell. As a personal memoir, I would say the book is first rate. I gave the book only 3 stars because the book purports to be a critical analysis of US foreign policy, and in this it fails in largely the same way (though without the same arrogance) that mainstream American journalism fails. Peterson fails to ask the important questions. It is true that as a "combat journalist" he has a very unique perspective on war-time Africa. I don't doubt his courage, and it's impossible not to like him after reading his book. But his analysis never really goes beyond criticizing high-ranking ineptitude. And ineptitude, though rampant in our military and political power circles, is not the problem with American foreign policy. The fundamental problem with American foreign policy (in Africa most of all) is our wanton motives going into conflicts such as this. The problem is the corporatist neo-colonial exploitation of the third world. The big picture may have improved by shades, but it still hasn't changed. Peterson fails to confront the problem in this way. As a correspondent on the ground, he has a unique but very narrow perspective. He would have to be paranoid to guess at the motives, especially the economic motives, of the IMF and the World Bank and America itself. In his entrenched position, it is sad to say, he is still blinded by the American media gloss and the Third World media vaccuum. And because Peterson is not truly an intellectual (more of a goodhearted poetic cowboy), he does not know where to go for primary sources that would give him insight into the true nature of economic exploitation. Rather, like most journalists, he goes straight for the quotes from the top. Almost all his sources are indeed high-level press releases and generic (journalistic) histories of the African countries.
I can't help but like Peterson because he seems so honest when he points out the obvious lies and stupid decisions of American thugs who only contribute to chaos when they claim to be restoring order. But in the end he is part of the system because the best advice he comes up with is to stop US aid to these countries (which is not an evil position in itself, but is a shallow excuse for a solution to a much deeper problem.)
In short, Scott Peterson is a good memoirist, a good person, but a bad political analyst. Putting political analysis in the hands of these cowboy journalists is the same mistake as putting political analysis in the hands of American soldiers (read Black Hawk Down). They can tell you about the battles, but they might not have any wider angle on the matter than someone at home. People like Peterson are indispensable because they are driven by an intention to help people, but they rarely get the big picture right. There are political analists, even some journalists, who offer a more profound view of the root causes of African conflicts. For Rwanda in particular, A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda's Genocide is an indespensible work by an American journalist. Reading that book, then reading Peterson's account of Rwanda, will begin to give you some idea of the difference between successful journalism and the journalism that has failed us.