Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"The Liberator" by Alex Kershaw (2012)

It's been since, like last October since you have read a World War II book. Sometimes you just need to get your fix. The 'small unit history of European liberation' genre is what really got you into history books (well, that and "A People's History of the United States") so sometimes it is nice to indulge that original satisfaction and pick up a new one.

So, right off the bat you noticed that "The Liberator" is not the best written book that you've ever read. It isn't awful, but it wasn't particularly well written either. I guess not everyone can be Stephen E. Ambrose. But a book doesn't have to be perfectly written for the story to make an impact on a reader (I mean, they're making "Lone Survivor" into a movie and that book was so poorly written it's embarrassing). The first half of "The Liberator" felt like Kershaw was rushing it, sacrificing the story for the sake of the narrative. Maybe that is more his editor's fault than his, but it made for some awkward reading. Kershaw did, however, hit his stride about halfway through the book and it got considerably more enjoyable to read, but the first half was pretty rough.

The story mostly follows one man, Felix Sparks, from Arizona. Sparks would later become a general and a highly decorated veteran who liberated thousands of oppressed people, but he started his adult life as a train-hopping hobo just trying to survive the Great Depression. He eventually enlisted in the Army even before war broke out. Sparks was stationed in Hawaii, protecting the Navy from a traditional surface attack that would never come. He had been rotated back home when the Japanese attacked from the air instead.

Sparks left for war with his new wife pregnant and heading back to Arizona to have their baby near family. With all of the war books you've read, you'd think you would have gotten used to that kind of story, but you have not. It still fills you with awe and sad admiration that people are still being deployed to combat zones with pregnant wives back at home. How is anyone capable of such extraordinary sacrifice? How are soldiers able to put themselves in harm's way knowing that they have people back home counting on them to return, children who have never met them? But they did, and they do, and they probably will in the future as well.

Sparks was assigned to a National Guard unit formed from four Southwestern states, Arizona Colorado, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. For the first 15 years of the 45th Infantry Division's life, their shoulder patch was an insignia reflecting the Native American roots of their home states. The swastika was an ancient Indian symbol for good luck. The Nazi party had besmirched this ancient symbol and the 45th had retired its use for months, preferring to have no shoulder patch instead of sporting the symbol of the Third Reich. Just before they were shipped out to go fight those same Nazis, the 45th adopted another ancient native symbol to identify themselves. The Thunderbird was chosen, and the 45th, previously untested by battle, would soon get the chance to earn that patch in combat.

The 45th infantry soon landed in North Africa, but the fighting was already over on that continent since the Germans and Italians had fled back into the Mediterranean. Allied Command had plans to keep the pressure on the Axis and the 45th was soon landing on the beaches of Sicily. Sparks bristled at his posting as a staff officer (pencil pusher) and begged to be put in charge of a company. He got his wish and saw a mere month of combat before being wounded by falling friendly anti-aircraft artillery. Sparks was shipped to Algiers for recovery, but went AWOL and stowed away on a B-17 in order to get back to his men who were now fighting in Italy.

It's easy to forget how excruciating and costly the campaign in Italy was. Audy Murphy was the most decorated soldier in the history of the United States military. He was fighting in Sicily and Italy, too, his 3rd division was at the 45th's shoulder through most of the war. Murphy he titled his book about his experience "To Hell and Back" for a reason. The attrition suffered by the units fighting in Italy is almost inconceivable. It is not entirely accurate to say that Felix Sparks led E company during that campaign. Saying that implies that he led one group of about 150-200 men. After nine months in combat, however, the men who made up the company that had hit those Sicilian beaches were all gone. The men Sparks led now were brand new replacements, unknown to him.

"The Liberator" follows Sparks and his men on their ill-fated amphibious invasion of Anzio and the killing field that battle became. Sparks lost his entire company in February of '44 when the Germans tried to overrun the beaches. His entire company was lost, killed or captured, but the beach head remained in Allied hands. Somehow, Sparks alone survived and fought his way back to American lines. In 36 hours of combat, the entire 45th division lost 50% of their strength. The German commander in Italy, Albert Kesselring, the undisputed master of defensive warfare in World War II, was amazed at the tenacity of soldiers from a decadent democracy. He called their defense of that beach the Allies' greatest "epic of bravery."

The D-Day invasion of Normandy in June of '44 gets all the glory, but there was another amphibious invasion of France that most people forget about. Sparks and a few hundred thousand other soldiers stormed France's Mediterranean shores in August and pushed up from the south as well. The Germans fled from them like they never had in Italy, right back to the borders of their fatherland. The Americans swept through hundreds of miles of French wine country in a mere matter of weeks.

And then those Germans turned and struck back. Hitler had ordered a massive counteroffensive designed to drive a wedge between the American and British forces in Belgium. Eisenhower saw it as an opportunity and ordered Patton's entire Third Army to swing left and smash into the exposed Nazi flank. But the Americans to Patton's south had to stretch out to fill the gap his maneuver left along the German border.

As the whole world watched the Battle of the Bulge being fought far to his north, Felix Sparks, now a lieutenant colonel, watched a division of crack SS troops drive his men backwards over ground that had been dearly won. Colonel Sparks watched as his entire battalion was surrounded and chewed apart by some of the best troops in the German arsenal. His men, although being cut off, had orders to hold their ground and were refused repeated requests to attempt to fight back to American lines.

A relief force was sent to reinforce Sparks' men but became pinned down under accurate machine gun and mortar fire. Colonel Sparks commandeered two tanks and personally led the rescue mission to save the relief force. The SS watched as Sparks retrieved the wounded men. They had decided there was no honor in killing an officer who was rescuing wounded soldiers. Somehow, Kershaw was able to find and interview one of the SS soldiers who held his fire that day and watched in awe as this American colonel carried wounded men out of the line of fire and loaded them on to a tank heading for safety. In all your years of reading history books, you can only think of one other commander who would have done that. Irwin Rommel was famous for racing to the places his men were in the most danger too. Both Rommel and Sparks were compelled to fight alongside their men, at great personal risk, when almost all other commanders, on both sides, stayed back and gave orders from relative safety. Colonel Sparks lost his entire battalion that day, but he risked his life to do everything he could to save them. Comparing Sparks to Rommel may be a bit of a stretch (Sparks was never allowed the freedom of command that let Rommel's brilliance blossom) but you cannot think of higher praise.

Although the SS were fanatical Nazis, they were outstanding soldiers and earned the respect of the American Thunderbirds. At least, until those Americans found Dachau. Colonel Sparks didn't even know what 'concentration camp' meant until he saw one with his own eyes. As a young man, Sparks had searched for jobs by crisscrossing America in box cars. Outside of Dachau, he saw box cars filled with tortured and emaciated corpses. Trains had once given him a freedom that allowed him to survive the unintended calamities of the modern economic world. Now he saw what evil could be wrought with the purposeful inventions of that modern world. Trains turned to death traps. Factories promising death, not jobs. The machinery of the 20th Century had been twisted to churn out nightmares instead of dreams. And the farther into the camp he went, the more hellish the nightmares became.

His men couldn't handle the realities of what they were seeing, the inhumanity of it all. Some of his men snapped and in a rage summarily executed many of the men they found wearing SS uniforms in the death camp. The word inconceivable doesn't do justice to the horrors of the Holocaust. Faced with those horrors, the boys of the Depression momentarily lost their grip on sanity and exacted justice right there on the spot. Colonel Sparks had to fire his sidearm into the air to stop the killings (there is a picture of this moment in the book's first few pages). These executions were wrong, they were possibly a war crime, and they should not have happened, but you couldn't blame the Americans for their actions.

As the war came to a close, Sparks found himself in Munich, his headquarters in the famous Hofbrauhaus, the very beer hall where Hitler had tried to start a revolution with his "Beer Hall Putsch" back in 1923. When the war finally ended, the 45th Infantry Division had lost 90% of their original men either killed, wounded, or captured. They had replaced the entire number of their soldiers seven times since the invasion of Sicily. The Thunderbirds had fought for 511 days. Sparks had personally been through 8 campaigns, earned 2 Silver Stars, 2 Purple Hearts, and the French Croix de Guerre. He had taken part in the amphibious invasion of Sicily, Salerno, Anzio, and the French Riviera. His unit had liberated more people from Hitler's tyranny than anyone could accurately calculate, and he had a 2 year old son at home whom he had never laid eyes on.

"The Liberator" reminded you that there were more units fighting in World War II than just the fabled 101st Airborne. There were more outstanding commanders than just Patton. The famous battles were not the only battles. The Western Front was not the only front. Soldiers sacrificed their lives for plots of ground that are now inconsequential and forgotten, families left back home suffered in fear and uncertainty. This war was the single greatest event in human history. There are millions and millions of stories from the war that the world will never know about. It is estimated that over 500 US WWII veterans die every day. Many of them have yet to have their stories told. Books like this make you want to keep finding more of those stories.

On to the next book!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell (2000)

You are always fascinated by Malcom Gladwell's Ted Talks. They are insightful, challenging, funny, and thought provoking. You've always wanted to read one of his five books. Might as well start with his first, right?

"The Tipping Point" is an examination of that moment when a social trend or idea becomes an epidemic. The book was written before social networking sites became a thing, otherwise Gladwell would have most likely called the book "Going Viral." Small trends build on themselves until they abruptly become larger patterns, something happens that moves the events to another level. You can rub the head of a match over and over again with no impressive effects, but when you reach the tipping point, it explodes. "Tipping Point" tries to identify why some trends ignite while others don't, and how those trends can be controlled.

The subject is fascinating and keeps your attention even if Gladwell's writing style isn't nearly as impressive as his flare for public speaking. He almost writes with a journalist's dry tone, as if he's reporting on a news story rather than telling a good story. It's not bad, but other writers are more gifted at infecting you with their sense of wonder and enthusiasm. He is quite brilliant, he does great research, and he has a gift for contextualizing difficult concepts in a way that makes them understandable. Hopefully his writing style improves over the course of his next books because you intend to read them all eventually.

According to Gladwell, there are three rules that an idea needs to follow before it becomes a social epidemic: The Law of the Few, The Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context. These three rules constitute the structure of the book.

The first rule, the Law of the Few, is pretty easy to understand. It stresses the importance of certain types of people in getting a movement to catch on. Some people are extremely adept at maintaining huge numbers of personal contacts, some are good at learning the most they can about a subject and passionately spreading the word about it in convincing ways. This section reminded you of the early Christian church. Christianity obviously needed a Messiah character in Jesus of Nazareth to spark the movement, but it would probably never have taken root as widely or as deeply as it did in that first century if it had not been for the works of the Apostle Paul. Both types of people were needed for that idea, that religion, to gain popularity, to become an epidemic... to tip. A few people can make all the difference in getting an idea to catch on.

The second rule, The Stickiness Factor, is oddly named, but makes as much sense as the first law. In order for something to become popular. It has to have staying power, it has to be memorable or intrinsically attractive, it has to be able to stick. MySpace and Facebook were essentially the same idea, but MySpace proved to be less sticky, it didn't have that certain something that made Facebook the king of all social networking sites. Even though we are all sick of it, most of us have Facebook accounts today, while we use MySpace as a way to make fun of those who are tragically uncool. Stickiness is a bit mysterious and hard to pin down. Nevertheless, there are people who spend their professional lives tweaking and perfecting the stickiness of certain ideas or products, there is an industry dedicated to it. This rule is, like the first, fairly intuitive.

The third rule, The Power of Context, is more counterintuitive. This is the rule that is the most fascinating to you. The idea is that by changing the little things, small behaviors, environmental details, you can force change on a much larger scale. Cleaning up the subways in New York City in the late 80's and early 90's, literally scrubbing the trains of graffiti and busting people who ignored the fares, had a major effect on the crime rate on the public transit system. Fixing all of broken windows in a sketchy neighborhood can improve the quality of living and lower crime there. Gladwell observes that, "in order to create one contagious movement, you often have to create many small movements first."

But not all of the examples of the power of context were positive ones. One memorable example was an experiment done at Princeton University. Several theology students were asked to prepare an extemporaneous lesson. On the way to give the lesson, each student passed a stranger clearly in need of medical assistance. The stranger was part of the experiment. Researchers were observing to see who would stop to help him. Before heading out, each student was asked why they entered the ministry with answers varying from personal fulfillment, to a desire to examine the meaning of life, to a passion to help other people. The topics of the lesson each student gave were changed up. Some were asked to give a vague doctrinal lesson while others were asked to give a sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan. The students were either told that they were already late for the lesson or that there was plenty of time to spare. This third factor was the one that overwhelmingly determined whether or not the theology students would stop and render aide to someone clearly in physical distress. They would stop to help only if they weren't in a hurry, no matter what their motivations for entering the ministry, no matter what topic or parable they had just studied. Their context was more important than their convictions.

This whole section of "The Tipping Point" bothered you. This idea, that we are simply slaves to our surroundings, seems to rob us all of our agency, it denies us our integrity. It seems to insist that who we are at our core changes with every new situation. That doesn't sit well with you. But the more you thought about it, the more you realized that it was not exactly true. Context does matter, but it doesn't change who we are inside. Crimes are not committed entirely because people are or are not good at heart. This is why we have a jury system, to allow people to consider, not just the evidence, but also the context of crimes before rendering judgement (and even the validity of the law itself). This is why the introduction of a gun into a potentially violent situation so often ends up in tragedy. The people involved are still the same, but when the context changes, the outcome does as well. If a young man goes on a killing spree in an American suburb, it is a case for national sorrow. If he does the same thing on the field of battle, he is hailed as a hero and patriot. We pin medals on his chest. Of all of Gladwell's three rules, the Power of Context seems to you to be the most potent, the one that has the most influence on whether or not something goes viral.

"The Tipping Point" made you think about the world in a different way. That is always a good thing. One thing it made clear for you is that human beings are powerfully influenced by one major factor... other human beings. We are wired to be extraordinarily sensitive to the influence of other people. Individually, we have distinct personalities and thoughts, but we, as a race, act as one giant hive or colony. The greater our means of instant communication grow, the stronger the bonds in that colony become. This realization made you wonder what influence you are having on the colony. What change are you a part of and what can you do to help influence the world for the better?

On to the next book!

P.S. These tipping points are called threshold moments by another scientist with a Ted Talk. He has a different name for these tipping points, he calls them threshold moments. But he's not talking about fashion trends or crime rates. On a larger scale, these threshold moments seem to defy the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Order should not be able to arise from a universe that is supposed to be getting more chaotic every moment. Tipping points, threshold moments, are nature's way of creating complexity and order from all the noise. A big ball of hydrogen eventually gets to a point where it ignites into a star. This is one of the coolest Ted Talks you seen yet (even though it's not Malcolm Gladwell).

"The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman (2008)

You recently read the book "Coraline" to your oldest son's 2nd grade class. The kids loved the book and you fell in love with Neil Gaiman's writing style. When you saw this one in the store, you thought it might be fun to read to them too. That didn't work out so well.

The only reason you didn't read "The Graveyard Book" to the 2nd graders is because of the opening pages. Gaiman starts the book with a triple homicide. Even though he doesn't describe the murders and the action all takes place just after the gruesome deeds, the knife is still dripping with fresh blood, and that is just not okay to read to other people's kids. You would be fine if Nico read it, but other parents should get to make that call for their own children, not you.

The homicides didn't stop you from reading the book however! Winner of the Carnegie Medal, "The Graveyard Book" is classically British and deliciously dark. The murderer, called only 'the man Jack,' in the book's opening scene misses one member of the family, the baby. The nameless toddler escapes the carnage and finds himself in a nearby ancient cemetery. He falls under the protection of the ghosts who live there and he is adopted by a couple who died a hundred years before he was born. They name the baby Nobody and give him their own last name Owens. Since Nobody Owens is raised by spirits, he is protected and provided for by someone who can actually leave the graveyard, a foreboding character named Silas (who is totally a vampire, but Gaiman never admits it). Nobody (or 'Bod' for short) grows up rarely ever leaving the borders of the graveyard. He is granted certain special powers and knowledge as part of his status as a denizen of the realms of the dead.

"The Graveyard Book" is written for younger readers but it gives them credit for being able to handle darker subject matters. Bod explores the more grim aspects of life, how some lives are ended unfulfilled, the realization that life is anything but fair, the undeniable fact that death comes for all of us, and the freedom in understanding that that fact is not something to be afraid of. He is more comfortable with the dead than with the living. As he grows, Bod befriends a friendless witch, goes on a sortie into the underworld of the ghouls, and consorts with a  werewolf, among other adventures.

Gaiman often writes about worlds beneath our reality, or parallel to it, worlds which are otherwise unseen, but no less real. He writes in the perfect way to allow the reader's mind to effortlessly fill in the gaps. As you read "The Graveyard Book" (and "Coraline") you were fascinated with how he could tease out your imagination, how the writing itself set your mind on a course to create a depth to this imaginary world that exists somewhere other than on the pages. Gaiman leaves certain details tantalizingly un-fleshed out, questions frustratingly unanswered. This style of writing makes it clear that the author has their world fully formed and is only telling you a small story that exists in a tiny corner of that larger world. This entices you to think about the book and the fantasy world far after you are done reading. And it reminds you that this world, the one in which we are all living, is filled with wonder and mystery. It reminds you to keep your mind open and find the story in everyday events, the wonder in the depths of your own mind.

On to the next book!

Friday, January 10, 2014

"Lawrence in Arabia" by Scott Anderson (2013)

You have always been interested in the story of Lawrence of Arabia, but after you watched the movie a few years ago, you became totally fascinated by him (or maybe it it's really Peter O'Toole... he is just so damn beautiful!). Everyone has heard of Lawrence of Arabia. The name tells a story in itself, like Robin Hood, or King Arthur, or Beowulf. But all of those examples are fiction or legend. TE Lawrence was a real person whose legendary exploits occurred only one hundred years ago. You decided to learn more about this man and looked for a good book about him.

The title of the book suggests that it is about the man who has become a legend, but that is misleading. The real focus of "Lawrence in Arabia" is the Middle East and how the events of the First World War shaped the region into what it is today. Anderson clearly did some exhaustive research when writing this book. It is intimately detailed. He poured over personal diaries from many of the people he writes about and some of the reports he was given access to have only recently been declassified by the British government. All of this allows Anderson a chance to give a fresh take on a subject that has been tackled by countless authors over the last century and contextualize the mythology of the legend of Lawrence of Arabia into the broader story of the Great War. Anderson takes you step by step from the childhoods of the people involved in the story, their experiences through the war, and right up to their deaths. The book is not about one man. It is an ensemble cast working together, often with no knowledge of one another, to shape the course of momentous events: an American oil man, a German spy master, a Jewish agronomist. However, TE Lawrence was such a remarkable force in the Arab peninsula during the war that telling the story of the region absolutely requires that he gets the lion's share of the spotlight.

As a young man, Lawrence was prone to challenging himself to feats of endurance. This quality would later serve him well since riding a camel for hundreds of miles through desert wastelands is about as grueling as it gets. Before any clouds of war were gathering, Lawrence went on a walking tour of the Holy Land. Westerners simply did not do this. Tours were fine, but not intimacy with the people of the region. Lawrence flew in the face of that convention (and so many others as his life unfolded) and fell in love with the people native to those Holy Lands and they, in turn, fell in love with him. The hospitality of the people entranced him and he gathered a crowd of followers everywhere he went. In a prophetic letter to his family, he wrote, "I will have such difficulty becoming English again." He was more right than he knew. Showing that he viewed the region and the people differently than any other Westerner, Lawrence wrote, "The foreigner comes here always to teach, whereas they had much better learn."

And so he did go there to learn. After his formal education, Lawrence learned Arabic, became an archaeologist, and went to study sites in the Sinai peninsula. After The Great War broke out, he was stationed in Cairo as an intelligence officer. Soon he was traveling the length and breadth of the Middle East and befriended several of the tribal leaders of the Bedouins there. After watching his countrymen being thrown back from their assaults on the Turkish-held borders of Palestine and squandered in a futile and stupid amphibious invasion at Galipoli, he decided to encourage the Arab peoples to rise up against the Turks and do more than just assist the British in their war efforts. Rather than seeing the Arab tribes as mere vassals or even obstacles, he saw their promise to defeat an ancient empire in the heart of a region that was soon to become vital to fueling the ambitions of the 20th century. He incited the Arabs to fight for their independence.

Lawrence even committed treason against his king when he informed Prince Faisal ibn Hussein of the classified details of the Sykes-Picot agreement. The secret deal between France and England outlined how the entire Middle East was to be carved up after the war into the imperial holdings each nation preferred. No concern was wasted on thoughts of Arab self rule. This information proved to be enough to inspire the tribes to fight for their freedom.

One of the main reasons TE Lawrence has been so lionized in our culture (other than that amazing movie) is that his experience during the Great War was so vastly different from most soldiers. In a war characterized by entrenched front lines and No Man's Land that stayed static for years, by immobility and mud and futility, by infantry charges that were wiped out yards from their starting points, Lawrence's war had a distinctly contrasting feel. He saw cavalry charges that drove the enemy from their positions, he lead daring raids far behind any front lines, he took part in massive pincer movements, sweeping thousands of men hundreds of miles to envelop enemy strongholds.

The Arab rebels harassed the Turks and forced them out of strategically vital areas.  Every victory they won was one more promise of independence. The Arab Revolt created the conditions that allowed the British army to occupy Jerusalem in late 1917 and become the first Christian power to rule in Jerusalem in the 600 years since the Crusades.

Ironically, considering the last 60 years of the conflicts in the area, the Arab Revolt was heavily aided by the information coming out of Palestine supplied by a Jewish spy ring. This spy network, the one that would prove vital for establishing an independent, Arab controlled Middle East, was comprised almost exclusively by Jews. The leader of this spy ring, Chaim Weizmann, was later to become the first president of Israel. The nations established by the information he snuck out of the region would later swear to drive his own nation back into the sea. "Lawrence in Arabia" was a great lesson in recognizing the extraordinary complexities in a story that has always felt fairly simple and well established.

As you read the book, you wondered, if Lawrence were alive today, would he be discouraged by the state of the Middle East? Would he be ashamed of the people he once championed? Would he be impressed? Would he be surprised that the only Middle Eastern power to have truly thrown off the shackles of Western influence is Iran? Or would an Islamic fundamentalist state terrify him as much as it has so many American presidents?

After the war, on their way to the Peace Conference in Paris, Lawrence, Faisal Hussein, and Chaim Weizmann worked out a plan to bring to the conference. Their plan fell apart when met by the imperial ambitions of the British and French leaders. Weizmann would later become Israel's first president. Lawrence would fade into mythology. Faisal would be publicly skewered for his close relationship with such a Zionist as Weizmann and he would be usurped in Arabia by a fundamentalist Wahhabist Sunni sect lead by the house of Saud. This family would soon name their (sort of) independent Arabian country after themselves; Saudi Arabia. Hussein would be installed as ruler of Iraq. What if an independent Israel had been welcomed by other Arab nations in a spirit of friendship borne from war-time alliances, as these three men had planned? What if ethnic groups had not been separated by empires into arbitrary countries with regional minorities foolishly thrust into positions of power? What if jihad and sectarianism were not common words in the world today? That was the world Lawrence was fighting for, and the Arabs he lead. It was the world many who fought in Iraq over the past decade were also fighting for.

Over the last few years, the world has seen nation after nation throughout the Middle East and North Africa rise up against the governments that were mostly put in place immediately after the First World War. The 2010 Arab Spring probably should have happened a century before, but empires have a hard time suppressing their thirst for power, their lust for control. The Arab Spring is the first time since 1918 that Arab peoples have had a say in how they are governed. It is messy and violent and terrifying to many of us in the West, but there is a good chance that it is ultimately a good thing. We will never know, but it is possible that the world might already be a much much better place today if those with the most influence a century ago had listened to those with the most knowledge.

"Lawrence in Arabia" may have reminded you of the complexities of the world and its history, it may have reminded you that momentous events are the result of processes, that they don't happen spontaneously. But it reminded you of one more thing as well. In a world that is so complex, in stories that are subtly influenced by the choices of millions of people over the course of centuries, sometimes individual people do make a difference.

On to the next book!

P.S. TurnerClassicMovies has a wonderful archive of clips from the amazing movie "Lawrence of Arabia." Anderson references the movie throughout the book. He is obviously a big fan too.

P.P.S. In the section of the book about the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, Anderson praises the book "Paris 1919" by Margaret MacMillan. He calls it "definitive." You've been trying to read that daunting chronicle of the Byzantine machinations of the "great powers and national supplicants" for a while now. You had almost given up on it, but Anderson's endorsement has inspired you to keep pecking away at it. You love it when books you are reading reference other books you are reading! It's so meta.