In One Man Caravan, Robert Edison Fulton, Jr., heir to the Mack Truck fortune, recounts his rather spontaneous round-the-world motorcycle journey, undertaken solo in 1932-33 on a Douglas twin. Fulton’s narrative is insightful and relevant, while maintaining the eclectic, rambling flavor of a good travelogue and generally avoiding the monotony of a bad one. I would definitely recommend it.
Fulton’s journey takes him through lands very much in our minds today, recovering in a Baghdad hospital, camping with the British Army in Waziristan, and trekking into a hostile Afghanistan.
On Afghanistan (pp. 169-70):
When the star of Afghanistan first rose on my horizon, little did I realize what a large and truly important part it has played in world affairs. Even as the present name implies, the country is the “place of the Afghan.” Wild nomadic tribes made it their stamping ground at the dawn of history, each stamping on the other, fighting for existence.
Alexander of Macedonia; Timur, the lame Tartar of Smarkand; Mahmud of Ghazni; Nadir Shah, the Persian–all came and saw and conquered; exacting a vague submission from the Afghans. But the tribes bowed down only until the current conqueror’s death. Then they would be free again until the next conqueror came along. They knew no law in their allegiance, and became masters at straddling the proverbial fence.
I think we can add Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States to the list.
From a discussion with a bazaari in Baghdad (p. 74):
“No, but I have been to England,” he explained. “I have read much about America. A very fine land.”
. . .
“Someday, someday we too shall have a country like yours, but we have far to go; very far, many centuries. Things move slowly with us here in the East. We have our customs and formalities and, do not misunderstand me, our ideas of what is right and wrong are very different from yours.”
I also think Fulton’s description of pre World War II Japan is important. On many occasions, I have commented about the Bush administration’s arrogance in thinking that we would be able to wipe the Iraqi slate clean and build a functioning liberal democracy from nothing, especially given our track record at nation building. Inevitably, someone mentions Japan as an example of success. But, Fulton’s account of Japan shows the fallacy of this argument. Pre-war Japan seems nothing like the Iraq of then or now.
On Japanese infrastructure (p. 260):
On other roads, other muscles had ached, but the roads of Japan, from Nagasaki to Tokyo, were a dream and for one who had spent many months on practically no roads at all, Japan was a bit of heaven’s highway. Dirt or paved, they were well-marked and kept in tip-top condition.
On the press (p. 264):
“Where did you learn all this?” I asked.
“We read it in our newspaper!” They were surpised that I did not know. The Japanese, even more so than the Americans, are a nation of newspaper readers, their principle papers having a daily circulation running into the millions.
Fulton’s account of Japan is an anecdotal travelogue, not an intelligence briefing or a policy whitepaper, but he shows us a picture of a society and culture far removed from Sadam’s Iraq.