Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur

by Mark Perry

This book is largely limited to an account of the Pacific war during World War II and the part MacArthur played in it. MacArthur is treated quite fairly - despite the title. For instance, he did not ‘flee’ Corregidor - a calumny often expressed - he was ordered to leave. 

It was Roosevelt who called MacArthur “the most dangerous man in America”, realizing early on that he had ambitions to one day be Commander in Chief. Unlike Roosevelt, MacArthur was a conservative. He was also autocratic and prone to clashes with others of high rank. Men like Marshall and Eisenhower disliked him, yet MacArthur and Roosevelt  were able to - more or less - work together with minimum clashes. They had a mutual respect despite their differences.

It is amazing that MacArthur was successful in the Pacific Theater. The European war took precedence with Washington and it was like pulling teeth to obtain the men and supplies he needed. In addition, he had to cope with the Navy which tried to claim ascendence over the Army - considering the Pacific “their war”. There was so much infighting between the Army and Navy that’s it’s a wonder we won!

The accounts of various battles, the invasion of island after island are harrowing. The men were fighting through tropical conditions on thickly forested islands, enduring terrible heat. The Japanese would not surrender. They preferred death - some officers, facing defeat, committed hara kiri - disemboweling themselves with their Samurai sword. 

The account ends with the surrender of Japan and mentions MacArthur’s governance of Japan but does not go into the Korean War or his ultimate removal from command by President Harry Truman.

Friday, May 30, 2014

George Washington's Secret Six

 by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger

This is an account of Washington’s little known, organized spy ring operating out of New York City during the Revolution. It’s also a fascinating account of what New York City and environs were like during the British occupation. The men who were recruited were ordinary citizens and businessmen who served with some trepidation but served faithfully. The authors had to do some real ‘digging’ since little was known about them - not even their names in some cases. Most lived on Long Island and at least one lived in New York City, where he maintained a printing shop and was known as a Tory sympathizer.

Long Island was occupied by the British who moved into the homes of citizens. They were often abusive to those known as Patriots as opposed to the Tory families who favored the British. The descriptions of life on the Island - and in the city - at that time are vivid.

Everyone knows the story of Benedict Arnold and Major Andre. Arnold, who was the hero of Champlain married a woman from a Tory family. He was later given command of West Point, the crucial fort on the  Hudson. He always felt that he was not appreciated and - with the probable encouragement of his wife - plotted to turn West Point over to the British. 

What is so interesting is the detailed account of the personalities of both Arnold and Andre. Andre in particular comes to life here. The reader will be surprised by many of the vivid details of his apprehension and trial. I recommend this book as both a ‘good read’ and most enlightening.

*An amusing footnote: I bought the book before reading the back cover where various notables wrote blurbs — words of praise. I was stunned when the names read like a roster of Conservative stars, among them: Karl Rove (!), Donald Rumsfeld and (oh my) the eminent ‘birther’, Donald Trump. Author Kilmeade himself is host of “Fox & Friends”! It made me approach the book gingerly. Shame on me.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Kings Mountain by Sharon McCrumb

This is what I would call a narrative history - the events and the names of people are real - but the words and many actions come from the imagination and supposition of the author. I saw the 'Battle of King's Mountain' reenacted on the television series "The Revolution" - so I could easily picture in my own mind the action taking place. This is the back story. What these men - all volunteers - endured on the march over the mountains to and from the battle site is incredible. The great anger on both sides led to a virtual massacre of the British troops who were not about to give up to men they considered so inferior to their trained and uniformed army. It's well known that the Americans had the advantage in the site and the fact that they fought like Indians against the robotic formations of the British gave them a huge advantage. Well worth the read.

The Devil Amongst the Lawyers: A Ballad Novel (Ballad Novels) by Sharon McCrumb

This book is also about an actual event but the author imagines virtually all the events surrounding the 1920's trial of a woman of the Tennessee mountains who was charged with the murder of her father. The plot deals mainly with the big city reporters - and one lad representing a local paper - who covered the trial. The ways in which they manipulate the facts to fit a preconceived idea of what the public wants and what will induce that public to follow events avidly are really the main story. Reading, one can't help reflecting that nothing has changed since the Spanish American War - often called 'Hearst's War' because the war mongering newspaper editor whipped people into a nationalistic frenzy - to the present day. Readers are ruthlessly manipulated - and to hell with the truth.We still deal with it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Guest of Honor

by Deborah Davis

This slim volume is an account of what happened when Teddy Roosevelt invited Booker T.  Washington to have dinner with him and his family at the White House.

It also, in the  initial chapters, recounts the lives of both men - Booker T. who was born a slave and educated himself and TR who was born an aristocrat from a monied background. I had already read much about TR but very little about Booker T. The biographical accounts for both men are extraordinary - just as these two men themselves were.

The news of the dinner, which occurs well into the book, was received by the public as scandalous - even in the North and especially in the South. The general public was stirred into a frenzy by the media, (sounds familiar), which built up and kept the ‘scandal’ going with scurrilous cartoons and text.

Both men were astounded by the ruckus - even Book T. who was used to ‘walking on eggs’ where whites were concerned.  Though in England, he had been invited to Tea by Queen Victoria, he expected no such respect in his home country. TR however was surprised and appalled. He had been using Booker T. as a consultant on the appointment of southerners to various government jobs in an attempt to exclude the most intractable racists. The relationship was not publicly known but after the dinner brouhaha, it continued with greater secrecy.

Now, one hundred years later, we have a black president living in the White House. Things have changed. Right? They have, haven’t they……………….?

The Glory and The Dream

by William Manchester

Published in 1973, it is now out of print and accordingly is relatively high priced. Luckily I snagged this tome from a used book website for a pittance. When it was delivered, I was intimidated by its size. Not only was it two thick volumes but the text, though not small, was dense and the paragraphs long. Formidable! I ‘tackled’ it and found that each evening, I looked forward to reading it, as one would a good novel.

It covers our American history from 1933 to 1973 - forty very eventful years encompassing the Great Depression and three wars. Since I was born in 1931, all the historical names - places, politicians, events - were familiar to me. What was fascinating were the nuances and machinations behind these events. Sometimes the details were jaw dropping. "I didn’t know that" - went through my mind many times as I read accounts of  the background of events I remembered. The author, who died in 2004, explored the culture of the times as well as events and politics. Those parts are great fun.

The Depression, Roosevelt, World War II, Truman, the atom bomb, the Korean War, Eisenhower, the years of post war affluence, Kennedy, Viet Nam, Johnson, Nixon. It covers the McCarthy era with an account of how everyone was cowed by the man who was an obvious charlatan. Even the United States Army backed off over special treatment demanded for David Schine, one of McCarthy’s minions. It was attorney Joseph Welch who eventually brought McCarthy down with the words “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

The politics then was as dirty as it is now. Some things never change. In a sense, it’s a ‘tell all’ book because it records all the political maneuvering behind decisions through these forty years and the social changes in mores, manners and morals. The latter passages have an almost ‘gossipy’ feel.

The book ends with Watergate which is presented here as an incredibly ‘bollixed’ up plan that - in detail - reads like a Keystone Cops comedy of errors. Hindsight shows it as terminal stupidity which was destined for failure from the beginning and it was so unnecessary, since Nixon was at the height of his popularity. The book ends before Ford’s presidency. I closed it with regret and wished for more.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Dakota Blues by Lynne Morgan Spreen

This first novel by Spreen held my interest from beginning to end. The author was brought up in North Dakota but this doesn’t mean it’s a memoir. It does mean that she has a fine sense of the place and its people. The main character is Karen, a fifty year old woman, who goes home for her mother's funeral in North Dakota. Karen has a high pressure job and while there she is informed that she has been 'let go'. To make matter worse, she's in the throes of a divorce.

When she is about to return home to California, she is persuaded to drive a camper belonging to a ninety year old woman, who is in ill health and who wishes to see her new great granddaughter. Reluctantly she agrees to sidetrack to Denver and leave the woman with her daughter, with the promise that then the camper will become her property and she can proceed to California.

Gradually her impatience gives way to a curious bonding with the woman. At that point, it turns briefly into a 'road trip' story with an unlikely duo. The two meet assorted people at the various campgrounds and even have a narrow escape in one instance. After finally depositing her companion in Denver Karen drives on to California, faces what awaits her and makes a decision - a surprising resolution to her problems.

I look forward to another book by this author.