Skip to the index: it’s poetry and all the news you need.

In this last pre-pub gasp, I had the honor of working with an expert in crafting a book’s index. She asked me to brainstorm some possible categories, so I went to books that share mine’s DNA. Looking more closely than I usually do, I’m reminded that a good index constitutes poetry, commentary and relentless fact checking.

Some notes from that exploration:

In Hersh’s Reporter the index feels a kind of critique: under “Kissinger, Henry” comes both arms control expertise of and next and attacking of unlawful targets, Chile coup. Even for Eugene McCarthy, for whom he was press sec, Hersh’s first sub-theme is black community appearances canceled by,” followed a few lines later with joint smoked by all. I’m now wondering if he’s revisiting that “long memo about racism” he wrote to McC back then, in today’s tumult. Under “Vietnam War” he has stuff like draft in and end of but also more damning terms; Mere Gook Rule, CBW use in.

Hans Schmidt’s MAVERICK MARINE, about Smedley Butler, has a wonderful group of sub-listings under “imperialism”: from in military adventure genre literature, British/ French/Nicaraguan comments on, Mexican reaction to, “gangsterism”  terminology.

Under Haiti Schmidt has US international life in, High Commission ship of, issue in 1920 US election, 1929 uprising . See also corvee. For Marine Corps we get smaller Expeditionary mission in, means preferred over army, warrior versus centrist-technocrat conflict explanation of, core politics of, origins of bulldog and devil dog imagery in, ‘Hollywood movies and, and  see also Quantico. On Mexico we have US intervention in, SCD’s invasion plan 4 see also Veracruz. Under Philadelphia, my current hometown where Butler famously failed at enforcing Prohibition: Navy Yard, crime and law enforcement in, Contrast with Latin America, northwest unemployment really thin.

Gene Sharp’s Civilian-Based Defense has a lubricious index, including multiple definitions of nonviolent intervention. For “noncooperation” we get in 1917 February Russian Revolution, in Algeria, American colonies, objectives of, in Bolivia, conditions for, large scale in Czechoslovakia, in Finland in Haiti Indian campaigns, strategy and nonviolent coercion, in Norwegian teachers’ resistance, in Poland proxy violence and.

Under “nonviolent persuasion and protest” there’s a history list: Algerian street protest, Anti-Nazi pastoral letters, Buddhist protest in South Vietnam, a page or more ending in suffragists’ banner; “noncooperation” does a similar trick,  Under the more capacious “nonviolent action/struggle, accomplishments of,” there are three pages of index and I’m just ready to drown, though I do find the only omention of mutiny: apparently the Philippine Army stood down under Marcos.

A pair of indices from my publisher, The New Press, gave contrasting results. Francis Boyle’s Protesting Power: War, Resistance and The Law had an index with zero personality though some good guideposts. Notably, its one reference to “GI dissent” is an assertion in 2008 that such a movement re Iraq “is well established,” not knowing the damage about to be done by the election of Barack Obama (which put a pin in the balloon of the peace movement.  The other one, Michael Bellesiles’ People’s History of the U.S. Military, has an index far more enlightening than the book, which contained numerous testimonies but none that I remembered.

Unsurprisingly, it’s the index of Adam Hochschild’s To End All Wars that spoke most strongly of all. I was surprised that there wasn’t a category of “Poets” or “Writers,” only individual entries for Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and Pat Barker. I can guess at the arguments against–implicit self-promotion? way too obvious for a book like that?–but as a former teacher of English I missed it, and thought my students would have too.

I loved that there’s a whole column of entries just under “War,” from “group loyalty as impetus to,” “glorification of .. as exhilarating,” the names of various antiwar folk. On-brand for the author of Rebel Cinderella, that category also includes entries on socialism as preventing and as welcome to quell socialist unrest.   

“Conscientious Objectors” get their own category and are then subsumed in the strangely short category of “war resisters.”  The CO category is nicely capacious, following how such individuals were treated in prison, disenfranchisement of and what became of them afterward, including and postwar prison reform. Together, the index tells the book’s and the nation’s story in another way, and gives me more appreciation of the indexer’s craft. Good indexes are poetry, which is why I chose as this post’s image a painting by Francois Boucher (1703-1770): An allegory of poetry.

Published by chrislombardi

Journalist, novelist, educator.

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