By Jacco van der Veen and Rachelle Wildeboer Schut
Robert Harris is one of the UK’s most widely known authors. Although mainly known from his works of historical fiction, his most recent book is set in the future. In The Second Sleep, the world is experiencing a new dark age following the complete collapse of Western civilisation. Without modern technology, Harris’ characters and setting closely resemble that of medieval England, albeit with some very noticeable differences. Though a fast-paced and intriguing thriller, the real value of the book is its ability to make one think about the present. In Harris’ narrative, the modern world collapsed as a result of an over-reliance on technology, increased urbanisation and interdependence, and an inability to adequately deal with existential threats. The Second Sleep was written before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the timing could not have been better. The vulnerabilities of modern society become increasingly obvious, and Harris’ fictional world forces us to think about this once again, and thus serves as a remarkably potent warning.
It is difficult to imagine a modern world without the United States of America in it. Much of the Post-World War II world order has been shaped by the Americans. Throughout its dealings with the world, the United States also has shaped a vision of itself. Robert B. Zoellick, who not only served as Deputy Secretary of State and Trade Secretary in the Bush Administration, but also Presided over the World Bank, is better positioned than most in providing an overview of America’s foreign policy through the ages. Starting from the days of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, Zoellick paves a way towards the present, outlining the traditions and principles that made American foreign policy unique. From this history, Zoellick seeks to inform about the challenges of the present as well. In a time where it remains to be seen what the future role of the United States on the world stage will be, Zoellick’s overview could also be regarded as an obituary.
In her newly published book Our Bodies, Their Battlefields, Christina Lamb addresses the war crime no one wants to talk about. Having worked in war and combat zones for more than 30 years, Lamb here provides the first major account that addresses the massive scale of rape and sexual violence in modern conflict. She thereby exposes how in today’s warfare, rape is used and deployed by armies, terrorists and militias as a weapon to humiliate, oppress and carry out ethnic cleansing. As Lamb explains, rape is the “most neglected” war crime of the Geneva Convention of 1949, a crime that is rarely prosecuted or written about. The first prosecution of rape as a war crime took place in 1998, almost 50 years after it was declared as such by the Geneva Convention, at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. While most books on conflict focus on military affairs and strategies, male heroism or male suffering, the violence women endure – and especially rape – is barely mentioned. In Our Bodies, Their Battlefields Lamb forces us to face the staggering scale of wartime rape and to recognize the lack of justice that results from these horrific experiences.