Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A review of "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time"

by Greg Mortenson

Three Cups of Tea is an interesting story, I grant that, and it is worth reading. Greg Mortenson’s work is admirable, and he seems to be reasonably effective, if not perfectly efficient. But I have some quibbles with the book.

The two authors are listed as Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Greg Mortenson is depicted in such a rah-rah hero-worshipping light that the book comes off as being a self-congratulatory work, a monument to himself. The book would have been better written with more objective distance, leaving the readers free to judge the acts of Mortenson for themselves, rather than having this viewpoint foisted on them; as it is, I find it a bit hard to swallow.

Second, there was some disdain [293 ff] reserved for Rumsfeld, which is certainly appropriate (and which should have nothing to do with Rumsfeld’s cologne, his polished shoes, the shiny hallways of the Pentagon, or the fact that Mortenson was not offered a seat during his interview with Rumsfeld!). However, of an Afghani warlord, Sadhar Khan, we hear a much more favorable treatment [p 327]: he’s a “good” man, who just happens to sometimes draw and quarter his enemies. Khan greets Mortenson like a brother, and seems more than happy to work with him; from then on Khan’s peccadilloes are forgotten. One might get the impression that Mortenson is happy to pal around with Khan because he was offered respect when they met (or perhaps because he doesn’t wear expensive shoes). Hopefully one would be mistaken.

I understand why Mortenson would not want to take money from the US military, even if it were laundered [p 295]. But if you don’t take the money, then it rings a bit hollow to conclude that the US military is not contributing to humanitarian aide in the region – perhaps they found some group who were willing to accept the offer that Mortenson declined.

Further, I do understand that certain practicalities would cause him to associate with underworld characters in Afghanistan. However, for the same reasons that he refused to take money from the US military, it may be difficult for well-meaning Americans to give money to Mortenson, wondering just whose pockets the money will line. I suppose if one is going to give aide to regions in such chaos, this is a risk one has to be willing to take.

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