Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #358: Weapons of Mass Diplomacy by Lanzac and Blain

It's good to be sober and adult and serious, to think about consequences and weigh possibilities, to consider options and use caution. But, sometimes, that's not enough. Sometimes, everyone else is in a frenzy to be petty and violent and destructive, and the "serious adults" are dragged along behind, trying to make a slight delay or a minor change of wording into a moral victory.

Weapons of Mass Diplomacy is one of those stories, though it won't tell you that directly: you need to know the real history to pierce the thin veil of fiction cloaking this graphic novel. It's the story of a young writer, Arthur Vlaminck, who goes to work for the French Foreign Minister, Alexandre Taillard de Vorms, in the tumultuous year 2002, and gets caught up in an international crisis about the Kingdom of Khemed, terrorism, and purported weapons of mass destruction.

Nearly all of the players appear here in masks -- de Vorms was in real life Dominique de Villepin, for whom Weapons writer Abel Lanzac (under his real name, Antonin Baudry) worked as a speechwriter in the actual 2002. Khemed is of course Iraq. Even Weapons has a new name in English; the original French version was named Quai d'Orsay, after the eponymous home of the Foreign Ministry -- a name as clear in France as a book called Pennsylvania Avenue would be here. Only one person appears here under his real name: Weapons' artist, Christophe Blain. (Though many nations -- France, the USA, Germany, Syria, etc. -- are called by their true names.)

Weapons collects what was two French albums: two hundred pages of dense comics, full of long speeches and frenzied activity, as de Vorms's staff runs from one crisis to the next. (It's a bit like The Thick of It, but with less cursing.) Vlaminck is our viewpoint, but the charismatic and energizing de Vorms is the central character: all activity circles around him, and his shifting demands and stances drive Vlaminck and the rest of his staff to ever-greater efforts.

But we know this was all useless. "Khemed" was invaded, by the USA with some hangers-on to make a "coalition of the willing." There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no connection to international terrorism. There were no crowds meeting the foreign troops as liberators. And, most importantly, there was no peace, only a grinding, horrible guerrilla war that still goes on a dozen years later. Diplomacy failed entirely; all of de Vorms's work was worthless.

France has played only a small part in that war: in real life, as in Weapons, they tried to be the sensible adults and were ruthlessly attacked by American fools and charlatans for their reward. So this is yet another story of a campaign that failed: valiantly fought, certainly, but completely lost.

Amazingly, Lanzac and Blain keep it amusing and quick throughout, even with big pages full of panels and long dialogue stretches filled with polysyllabic words -- Blain is a master of body language as always, and his people are heavily caricatured but still human, all huge noses and beetling brows. Weapons is even funny a lot of the time, as with the dramatic DOOM sound effect every time de Vorms enters a room.

This is a big book for serious adults who nevertheless have a sense of humor and proportion -- who know what really happened but can still avoid despair, who want to believe that diplomacy can still work and that getting the words just right is an excellent use of time. I want to believe that is a lot of people; I want to believe that's most of us.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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