David Kunzle's monumental book, fusing deep historical scholarship with polemical zeal and pictorial acumen, has appeared at an apt historical moment. Several weeks ago I looked up from studying some of its illustrations, and my eye fell on the front-page photograph in that day's International Herald Tribune. The picture seemed to have slid straight out of Kunzle's book, from somewhere between Soldiers Threatening a Peasant by Pieter Codde (1599-1678) and Soldiers and Hostages by Willem Duyster (1599-1635). There was a desperate-looking woman draped in black with a frightened child clinging to her arm, leaning forward to plead with an upright, massively clad and armed soldier, his anonymous back to us, the light on her face. The caption said the woman was begging the soldier to release the child, whom he had just arrested as a terrorist. It occurred to me that Kunzle is very good at suggesting that where the uneasy relations between powerless civilians and the armed military are concerned, some things haven't changed since the 17th century - and perhaps not since the seventh, or the 17th BC - even when the civilians and the military are on the same side.
LRB 6 November 2003 | PDF Download