Thursday, April 16, 2009

A review of "Babylon by Bus (Unabridged)"

by Neumann, Ray, Jeff LeMoine

Babylon by Bus is the autobiographical account of two young American men, Ray Lemoine and Jeff Neumann, who head for Iraq to become NGO workers soon after the defeat of Saddam Hussein, during the “lull” before the major insurgency.

I’ll be brief. My impressions are accurately reflected by the 1-star and 2-star reviews at Amazon.

The narrator (the story is told from the POV of LeMoine) has an almost comically arrogant attitude. He and his friend, both surprisingly jaded for people so young, seem compelled to encourage each other into the most inane, pointless behaviors. If you ever want to understand why people hate Americans, this book gives numerous examples of the stupidity that sometimes makes me embarrassed to be American myself.

The story makes some vague claims about the good that was done by the two authors in organizing aid to war victims under the CPA. I suppose this proves that two fools just might accidentally do something right once in a while.

I give this book two stars because I think it might be educational. In a few instances, their underlying experiences are interesting, from a sort of back-alley perspective. Unfortunately, the whole story reeks of their overweening self-righteousness and “too cool for school” perspective. When they are assaulted by two men who beat them with their shoes, you want to join in and shout along with the attackers “You are stupid men! You are arrogant Americans!”

To get a grittier feel for post-war Iraq, I’d much rather have heard from some of the interesting characters described in the book, such as Marla Ruzicka or A Heather Coyne. I don’t have any good recommendations for alternative information sources, however.

Full disclosure: I opposed the invasion of Iraq, as did the two authors. So my criticisms have nothing to do with their claims of liberalism.

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