COMMAND AND CONTROL: NUCLEAR WEAPONS, the DAMASCUS INCIDENT, and the ILLUSION OF SAFETY by Eric Schlosser

After reading Eric Schlosser’s COMMAND AND CONTROL: NUCLEAR WEAPONS, THE DAMASCUS INCIDENT, AND THE ILLUSION OF SAFETY, I felt a sense of wonderment that mankind has survived the Cold War and the nuclear age in general.  Schlosser, who earned a Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for his work, has written a forceful indictment of American nuclear policy and a realistic assessment of what has gone wrong with the American nuclear program; including strategy, safety, and the lack of transparency and honesty that a democratic system of government is entitled.  The book presents a general history of the development of nuclear weapons dating back to World War II through the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.  In reviewing the history of the nuclear age Schlosser narrates and analyzes the different approaches of each administration from Harry Truman through the first President Bush.  In telling his story Schlosser intersperses alternate chapters dealing with the Damascus incident, an accident that took place on September 18, 1980 at a nuclear missile complex in Damascus, Arkansas that contained a Titan II missile armed with a nuclear warhead.  The book reads like a fast moving suspense thriller as Schlosser takes the reader inside the Titan II complex and step by step leads you on various missions designed to defuse the crisis that resulted from a technician dropping a socket from a wrench inside the missile silo that pierced the Titan II rocket resulting in a fuel leak.  The book is a sobering and yet fascinating narrative of the danger posed by the numerous examples of the mishandling American nuclear weapons.

The Titan II missile contained a warhead with a “yield of 9 megatons-about three times the explosive force of all the bombs dropped during the Second World War, including both atomic bombs.” (3)  Though Schlosser concentrates a significant part of his thrilling narrative on the Damascus incident, another accident had taken place outside Searcy, Arkansas on August 9, 1965 involving a Titan II launch complex that resulted in the death of 53 men, and what is equally disturbing is that the same missile that had been in the silo near Searcy was involved in the accident in Damascus fifteen years later.  After introducing these accidents, and providing the backgrounds of the individuals involved, Schlosser turns his attention from the discovery of the Titan II problem to July, 1945 and the assembly of the atomic bomb.  A mini-history of the Manhattan Project and the scientists involved is provided as Schlosser blends the political and military history relating to nuclear research and strategy following World War II.  The author reviews the contentious arguments between the military and civilian branches of government as to who should have ultimate decision making power over nuclear weapons.  This is a theme that will be carried out well into the 1980s and the Reagan administration, even though the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 which the military sought to undermine, placed the weapons under civilian control.  Schlosser offers the standard account of the causes of the Cold War and the development of the containment policy.  There are no major breakthroughs offered, but the narrative is concise and thoughtfully dealt with.   The inter-service competition among the military branches, particularly the Navy and Air Force over control and implementation of nuclear strategy are detailed, with particular emphasis on the role of General Curtis LeMay, who headed the Strategic Air Command following the Berlin Air Lift.  Schlosser moves on to discuss the major issues of each administration turning to  Eisenhower’s New Look, that relied less on conventional weaponry and more on the nuclear option as he trimmed the defense budget, as the administration called for “more bang for the buck.”  Following the discussion of Eisenhower, under the leadership of John F. Kennedy we see a shift in nuclear strategy as the president was faced with two crises, one in Berlin and one in Cuba that almost resulted in a nuclear confrontation. Under Lyndon Johnson the war in Vietnam dominated and with the Nixon presidency the Soviets were confronted with Kissinger’s ideas of limited nuclear war with tactical nuclear weapons, and the use of the “madman concept,” based on the unpredictable nature of the president.  In all cases the idea of “mutual assured destruction” (MAD) dominated our approach in that the Soviets would not launch an attack as it was fully aware of the consequences.

The concept that bothered me most about the book was the practice of employing mathematical probabilities to our nuclear strategies.  What were then odds that an accident would take place under a certain scenario?  What would be an acceptable amount of destruction and death if a certain sequence was introduced into our nuclear preparation, was 1 in 100,000 acceptable, or should the odds be better.  Schlosser takes the reader through countless discussions in dealing with this zero sum game and as I read it I became very unsettled as I kept thinking about the B-52 bombers loaded with nuclear warheads that experienced numerous accidents since the plane was first put into service in the 1950s.  Government officials put their dilemmas very clearly as they wrestled with two interconnected questions: “What was the ‘acceptable’ probability of an accidental nuclear explosion?  And what were the technical means to keep the odds as low as possible?” (171)  The countless accidents that Schlosser describes, makes it a wonder that a nuclear catastrophe has never occurred. As General George Lee Butler, who became head of the Strategic Air Command in 1991 has stated, “I came to fully appreciate the truth…we escaped the Cold War without a nuclear holocaust by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.” (457)

The most wrenching aspect of the book is Schlosser’s detailed description of the events that led up to the Titan II accident at Damascus in September, 1980, and the way the event was treated by the military following the explosion that took place.  Schlosser’s approach is worthy of the best suspense novelists.  His narrative is very telling and puts the reader on the edge of their seat, i.e.,   “Kennedy reached the top of the stairs and stepped into the night air.  It felt good to be out there.  The cloud of fuel vapor was insane; he’d never seen anything like it.  Kennedy was tired.  He decided to sit for a moment on the concrete curb outside the access portal.  It had been a hell of a night.  Livingston switched the fan on and came back upstairs.  He was a foot or two behind Kennedy when the Titan II exploded.” (392)  Following the explosion, chaos resulted, in part because of human nature, but also because of the lack of planning and communication due to bureaucratic incompetence.  The Air Force refused to publicly admit what had occurred and the danger involved.  Schlosser grows incredulous at the obstinacy and carelessness of the military as they confront the crisis and to cover themselves, Kennedy and Livingston, two “Explosive Ordinance Disposal” technicians are blamed for the explosion.

Schlosser’s descriptions are based on impeccable research through interviewing the participants and familiarizing himself with the pertinent secondary and primary source material.  His command of the events narrated allow him to take the reader inside the stair wells, behind the blast doors, into the command center as people are met with deadly fumes.  The narrative points to an inability to integrate the necessary safety conditions by employing available techniques to make our nuclear assets safer.  Even in the 1980s, when it was realized that the Titan II needed an overhaul, attitudes existed to not institute safety changes in the Titan II rationalizing that since they were much older than the newer weapons the money to make them safer was not a priority.  Positions such as this make the reader boil and it is with a measure of hope that one can point to the retirement of the Titan II during the Reagan administration.  However, one must not feel too secure as Reagan spent $1.5 trillion on new weaponry during his administration, but at least $18 billion went to rectify some of the safety issues and address the concerns dealing with who was in charge and who would make decisions concerning nuclear weapons, better known as command and control.  Schlosser’s book is extremely unsettling in the post Cold War world where countries like Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran either have nuclear weapons or are very close to developing them, but despite the discomfort of learning the story Schlosser tells, he is to be commended for telling it.

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THE WRONG ENEMY: AMERICA IN AFGHANISTAN 2001-2014 by Carlotta Gall

 

As presidential election results in Afghanistan are being counted one must ask the question; how much better off is Afghanistan today, as compared to the period before the American invasion following 9/11?  Further one must ask; what is the future outlook for Afghanistan as the United States and its NATO allies are about to withdraw by the end of the year?  Carlotta Gall, a New York Times reporter who has worked in Afghanistan and Pakistan for more than ten years attempts to answer these questions and many others in her new book, THE WRONG ENEMY, AMERICA IN AFGHANISTAN 2001-2014.  A number of  books have been written about America’s role in Afghanistan and its relationship with Pakistan the best of which are Steven Coll’s GHOST WARS, Ahmed Rashid’s DESCENT INTO CHAOS, and Barnet R. Rubin’s AFGHANISTAN FROM THE COLD WAR THROUGH THE WAR ON TERROR, but what sets Gall’s apart is her knowledge of the region and her ability to coax interviews with villagers, mujahideen, Taliban fighters, government officials, intelligence sources, and major decision makers involved on both sides of this never ending war.  Gall takes the reader inside councils held by the Taliban, government meetings in Kabul, decision making within Pakistan’s chief spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, and discussions among village elders as they try to cope with the threats they face on a daily basis.  Gall’s premise is that the United States has failed to confront the real enemy in its Afghani war, Pakistan.  Gall argues that the Pakistani governments, including its presidents over a period of time and the ISI have pursued a duplicitous policy by publicly claiming to be an ally in the war on terror with the United States, but privately creating and supporting the Taliban as a means of manipulating events in Afghanistan and controlling its government in Kabul.  These conclusions are sound, well argued, and supported by abundant research and sources that only she has had access to.

From the outset Gall writes from the perspective of the victims and does not claim to be objective.  She argues persuasively that the ISI is the real power in Pakistan and controls its press and media.  By December, 2001 after the Taliban’s leadership misjudged the strength of the American attack, and their standing with the Afghani people, thereby forcing them to flee to the safety of Peshawar across the Pakistani border.  Soon after, Taliban commanders convened a council of war which included Afghan Taliban commanders, their Pakistani allies from the Pashtun border areas, and Pakistani militant and religious leaders to discuss how they should respond to the American attack.  Watching from the sidelines, but present at these meetings were representatives from the ISI and Pakistani Special Forces who had been involved with the Afghan resistance against the Soviet Union in the 1980s.  Also in attendance was the son of the powerful Taliban commander and minister, Jalaluddin Haqqani, a stalwart against the Soviet Union and a favorite of Pakistani intelligence and Arab donors.  The goal of the Taliban was to create an Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan would now be continued as a guerilla war against the United States and its western allies.  The goal for Pakistan was to continue to employ “proxy forces, Afghan mijahideen, Taliban in Afghanistan, and Kashmiri militants against India to project its influence beyond its border.”(21) As Seth Jones, the author of IN THE GRAVEYARD OF EMPIRES: AMERICA’S WAR IN AFGHANISTAN wrote in the New York Times on April 10, 2014, “Islamabad’s rationale for supporting Afghan insurgents is straightforward and, in many ways, understandable.  Hemmed in by its archenemy, India, to the east, Pakistan wants an ally in the west.  It doesn’t have one at the moment.  Instead, New Delhi has a close relationship with the Afghan government.  Feeling strategically encircled by India, Islamabad has resorted to proxy warfare to replace the current Afghan government with a friendlier regime.”

Gall follows the war as the United States pursued its neocon agenda of the Bush administration and shifted important resources from Afghanistan to support its ill conceived invasion of Iraq in 2003.  This left open the door for the Taliban to try and recapture its position in Afghanistan.  Many have asked why the United States chose Hamid Karzai to head the government in Kabul.  Gall concludes that he was a compromise candidate as he was Pashtun and acceptable in the northern part of the country.  Gall accurately concludes further that Karzai was the problem from the outset.  For the next thirteen years Karzai would oversee the most corrupt country in the world as stated in the “Transparency International Scale”, as  it was tied with Myanmar,” with only Somalia lower. (216)  the key to the Taliban resurgence would be their “friends and supporters in power in Pakistan’s border provinces.” This would allow Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader to emerge in February 2003 and publicly call on all Afghans to wage holy war against American forces. (67)

Galls details the Taliban resurgence and Pakistan’s role in their successes and points out the flaw in American policy towards Afghanistan.  According to Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official who wrote a strategic review on Afghanistan for the incoming Obama administration in 2009, the Bush administration considered the Taliban irrelevant once they were defeated.  In addition, the Bush White House never gave instructions to its intelligence officials in Pakistan to follow the Taliban and CIA officials in Pakistan saw the Taliban as a “spent force.” (75)  The road was open for the Taliban to succeed especially when the ISI forced many Taliban exiles that fled to Pakistan to join the insurgency.  Gall describes the situations in northern and southern Waziristan were foreign militants were sheltered in tribal areas and foreign journalists were banned by the Pakistani government from traveling.  Gall explores the role of President Pervez Musharraf and his double dealing with the United States.  He would feign being an ally and turn over a few Taliban wanted by Washington, but in reality was training, supplying, and encouraging the insurgency to the detriment of Afghanistan who he needed to control because of his fears of India.

Gall correctly argues that America’s approach in dealing with counter terrorism through the use of massive bombing was self defeating.  It alienated the Afghan villagers and turned the Afghan people further against what they viewed as their corrupt government in Kabul that was allied with the United States.  In 2004 the United States supported the reelection of Karzai, but despite his reelection his policies under the heavy handedness of his brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who was in charge of the southern part of the country further alienated the Afghan people and did little to counter the onslaught of the Taliban.  With the economy in dire straits and little hope for improvement, “young unemployed men were going to Pakistan in search of work and being recruited by the Taliban….who paid $175 a month to join and fight.” (133)

Gall makes many important observations in her narrative.  It was clear that America’s NATO allies were not very successful.  With only 2000 Canadian troops in the south the task for the Taliban to seize control of the Kandahar region was made easier.  The U.S. asked its allies for further troop commitments, but they refused.  Exacerbating the problem was the increase in suicide bombings in 2006, many of which were in the south.  Gall accurately describes the voyage of young men to madrassas to receive suicide bombing indoctrination and the final committing of the act.  Most were traced back to Pakistan were Islamic cells functioned quite freely.  Afghan intelligence would share information with NATO allies, who would forward the information to the ISI, which was like warning the suicide cells and resulted in the torture and death of Afghan informers.  The nexus of Pakistani support for the Taliban was Quetta and other border areas.  “The madrassas are a cover, a camouflage,” a Pashtun legislator told the author, “behind the curtain, hidden in the shadows, lurked the ISI.” (159)  From Gall’s extensive interviews in the border region her contention that the ISI played the major role in the Taliban success is well founded.

Some of Gall’s most interesting chapters deal with militant blow back in Pakistan as the ISI periodically would lose some control and then recover, a cycle that went on for years; how close the Taliban came to conquering the south as they reached the outskirts of Kandahar; and the role of Ahmed Karzai.  Many Americans have grown tired of Karzai’s act over the years believing he was ungrateful for the sacrifices and support given by the United States.  However, despite his antics Karzai’s point of view is important in understanding the events of the last thirteen years.  Gall does a remarkable job presenting Karzai’s perspective and making sense out of his statements and actions.  Granted his government was corrupt and appointments were based on tribal membership or political faction, but the United States was aware of the political culture around him from the outset.  But as Gall correctly points out that when a society functions “on patronage, a duty to help your relatives and clans comb[ined] with Karzai’s poor management and the influx of vast sums of assistance, often poorly administered by donors, [it] created the most corrupt regime Afghans had ever seen.” (216)  By 2010, $900 million in loans disappeared implicating Karzai’s family.  The problem is that Karzai is not personally corrupt, yet he has tolerated and benefited from it.  Karzai would brush off complaints “as a necessary way of doing business in cash strapped country.” (217)

By 2009, after the United States mistakenly bombed a wedding party in eastern Afghanistan and Washington’s failure to deal with Pakistan, Karzai became convinced that the US was not going to defeat the Taliban. As Pakistan continued to ignore American requests to reign in the Taliban, Karzai’s bitterness increased and he decided the only way forward that made sense was to negotiate peace with the Taliban and Pakistan.  Richard C. Holbrooke, the US Special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan began back channel contacts with the Taliban.  Holbrooke realized the difficulty Karzai faced and realized further that peace with Pakistan was the key; as he summed up the situation in 2010, “we may be fighting the wrong enemy in the wrong country.” (222)

In 2009 the Obama administration also announced a “surge” of 30,000 troops in the south as Kandahar was in danger of falling to the Taliban.  The joint operation with Afghan and Canadian troops lifted the Taliban siege and Gall’s description of the fighting as she went on patrol with US troops brought the reader to the battlefield.   The IEDs, the mines, the booby traps, the rigged houses provide insight into Taliban tactics and what American and Afghan troops faced and have to undo.  However, the Taliban hold in the south was broken.  Over the next three years the Taliban would be kept at bay, but a new crisis developed with Pakistan over the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden.  Gall has an excellent chapter on the raid and Pakistan’s culpability in having Bin Laden seized from under its nose.  From Gall’s interviews it is clear that Pakistani officials were involved with Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.  Whether it was military or ISI involvement is not totally clear, but it’s beyond the pale to imagine that the Pakistani government was not involved.

Gall closes her book with a somewhat optimistic chapter about the future of Afghanistan, however the threat from Pakistan remains constant and they must be reined in.  At the outset of this review I asked whether Afghanistan was in a better position since the pre-9/11 period.  One thing is clear the United States has brought modernity, rebuilding and bright educated graduates in every government office, but “the fundamentals of Afghanistan’s predicament remain the same: a weak state, prey to ambitions of its neighbors and extremist Islamists.” (286)  2014 is a perfect storm for Afghanistan, NATO and US forces are withdrawing, the election of a new president and the appointment of a new government, and the handover of security to Afghan forces in the middle of the summer fighting season.  What will the future hold?  I would be naive to think that once the US withdraws the security situation will not collapse, but we will see.  For those who are interested in reaching an educated guess about Afghanistan’s future I would read Carlotta Gall’s powerful new book.

A NICE LITTLE PLACE ON THE NORTH SIDE by George F. Will

(Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL)

George F. Will’s latest book will touch the soul of everyone who loves baseball.  Though the book titled A NICE LITTLE PLACE ON THE NORTH SIDE is a short history of Wrigley Field and the futility of being a Chicago Cubs fan Will takes the reader on a hundred year journey encompassing numerous historical, sociological, philosophical, and political components that relate to the ivy covered ballpark on West Addison Street.  Will, a conservative political columnist and a regular on the Sunday talk show circuit has written other books on the nation’s pastime.  MEN AT WORK: THE CRAFT OF BASEBALL and BUNTS were excellent treatises on their subject matter, written with an intellectual approach and a witty style.  Will’s latest effort follows the same model as he presents a history of Chicago from the late 19th century to the present, commenting on things as diverse as Carl Sandburg’s poetry, the philosophy of John Locke, to Ernie Banks homerun numbers.  In discussing the origins of Wrigley Field, Will takes us back to the Haymarket Massacre of 1886 when Chicago was a rather dangerous city, especially for labor.  This setting produced the need for recreation and Wrigley Field was the perfect progressive remedy for the working class to spend their spare time rather than getting involved with non-productive aspects of society.  Will’s history of Wrigley Field is interspersed with vignettes, facts, and stories that are not common knowledge, presented in a humorous fashion, and are a joy to read.

Since the Chicago Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908 when they defeated the Detroit Tigers, their fans are considered the longest suffering supporters of a team in baseball.  The “Cubbies” have proven fodder for many jokes over the years.  Will integrates numerous funny stories as he sprinkles them throughout the book.  For example, “in 1968, Cubs pitcher Bill Hands recorded fourteen consecutive strikeouts.  Regrettably, he did this as a batter in consecutive at bats.”  Another, “What does a female bear taking birth control have in common with the World Series? No Cubs.”   The Cubs have been so bad that in 1948 their owner P. K. Wrigley publicly apologized for the futility of his team.

On our journey Will relates many diverse historical figures to the Cubs.  We meet Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds; Jack Ruby, Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassin; and former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan as Will explains in detail how their lives are intertwined to the resident of “the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.”  Literary figures abound, including William Shakespeare and Theodore Dreiser, whose writings are used in trying to explain the agony of being a fan of the Chicago Cubs.  This is all part of Will’s profession of love for the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field.  I assume he realizes that his emotions are irrational, but like all love it is based on faith, which in of itself is irrational.  Then why does Will feel so strongly?  The book is his attempt to answer that question.

The story Will tells is one of human tragedy as he speaks of Wrigley Field as the final resting place for many Cubs fans as they have instructed their families to sprinkle their ashes in the outfield after they are gone.  It is clear from my study of baseball history that Cub fans have little to be thankful for except a beautiful ball park that has altered the course of baseball history as many stadium architects have used it to create the newer parks of the last twenty-two years.  In the late nineteen sixties baseball developed what I refer to as “cookie-cutter ballparks,” multi-use stadiums shared with football.  All were outside urban areas and to say it mildly; were very unattractive, not very fan friendly, and thankfully most have been torn down.  In 1992, Camden Yards opened, in part as a means of urban renewal.  The architects studied Wrigley, and Brooklyn’s long gone Ebbets Field as a means of creating a venue that was comfortable and help refurbish urban neighborhoods.  Camden Yards has become a model for numerous new stadiums all around baseball including minor league cities.  This has helped revive numerous urban areas and have created new revenue streams for teams and their cities.  As a result the goal of replicating the feel of Wrigley Field as a neighborhood institution has been a success.   Overall, Will’s concise and intellectually humorous approach to baseball history is a wonderful addition to any library, not just the nation’s pastime.  If you can spare a few hours, It is a great read that you will not be able to relinquish until completed.

 

 

(Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD.)

SEYMOUR HERSH: SCOOP ARTIST by Robert Miraldi

When Robert Miraldi sat down to choose the title of his new book, SEYMOUR HERSH: SCOOP ARTIST, he might have thought about a different title to describe one of the most important investigative reporters of his generation.  Seymour Hersh was more than a scoop artist, to use Theodore Roosevelt’s term to describe the likes of Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair and others during the Progressive Era, he was more of a muckraker, a writer who thrives in the muck to locate and develop a story.  This was Seymour Hersh, a reporter whose tactics were unconventional to say the least, which developed his own stories no matter where they took him, and became a thorn in the side of any person with power who he set his sights on.  Hersh was a Pulitzer Prize winner and a recipient of the George S. Polk award for distinguished journalism, and the author of numerous books.  In exploring Hersh’s career, Robert Miraldi has not produced a traditional biography, but an examination of Hersh’s methodology in tracking down stories, and he provides numerous insights into his subject’s character and relationship to the people and topics he is drawn to.  What emerges is a flawed Seymour Hersh, who fights for justice and righteousness, but at times, allows his larger than life ego take hold of him, resulting in great praise from the public, but also denigration, and enemies from the protectors of his targets.

Having read most of Hersh’s books over the years I had little insight into the type of individual that he was on a personal level.  I always believed after reading a book or article written by Hersh that he was a person who let the public peer into the halls of power and was driven to seek justice whether it be the My Lai massacre, the downing of flight 007 by the Soviet Union, the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, or any of the myriad of causes he took up.   Miraldi opens a window into Hersh’s work that is both personal and analytical.  Resting on numerous interviews, documents, and an encyclopedic knowledge of Hersh’s writings, Miraldi has produced a useful narrative that seems to track his subject’s life from book to book, and article to article that he has written.  By adopting this approach the reader is exposed to a history of the United States from 1960 through the present, through the eyes of Seymour Hersh.

If Hersh had you in your cross hairs it meant you were a very powerful individual or a government agency that had overstepped its constitutional limits as seen by Miraldi’s, “scoop artist.”  After an early career at the Chicago City News Bureau and UPI, Hersh latched on to the AP Chicago bureau by 1965 proclaiming that David Habersham, the award winning New York Times reporter as his role model and would soon pursue similar investigative subjects.  Early on Hersh was interested in civil rights and the military and after being transferred to Washington, D.C. Hersh began his first investigation of the military confronting the truth behind General William Westmoreland’s thirty hour bombing freeze in December, 1965.  Hersh’s first major crusade dealt with the inequalities of the draft.  We witness Hersh’s standard writing technique as he refused to name sources as his articles are sprinkled with “unnamed sources,” informants, anonymous citations which led many to question the veracity of his approach.  One of the most important parts of Miraldi’s book is his description of Hersh’s tactics which were very successful, but as he correctly points out, at times, are over bearing and based on falsehoods and bullying.  For Hersh, the investigation meant the ends justified the means.  The My Lai massacre investigation that Hersh turned into a book, MY LAI MASSACRE: A REPORT ON THE MASSACRE AND ITS AFTERMATH made him nationally known figure, and created a reputation as a tenacious investigator who knew how to uncover information better than any of his peers.  If he wanted to talk to you, he had a way to extract what he needed even if you did not want to provide the information.  From the outset the “Hersh treatment” was ever present.  First, Hersh is a voracious reader.  No matter the subject if it dealt with an ongoing investigation he would consume books, articles, and documents so that he was as well versed, or more in the subject matter than the person he wanted to interview.  To get to a source Hersh was extremely disingenuous and outright lied, bullied, or threatened a target until they succumbed to a conversation.  Most of this took place on the phone and at times in person.  Jay Peterzell, a researcher at the Center for National Security Studies, an advocacy group in Washington had a “bird’s eye view of the telephone terrorist” as Hersh conducted over a thousand interviews for his book on Kissinger.  He would “overwhelm you with his verbal barrage” and bait his target into finally granting his wishes, as “they got caught in the enthusiasm, the importance, his energy.” (237)  This approach was evident in all of his research but especially when dealing with Henry Kissinger, who Hersh despised, at one point stating that he would “love to get that son of a bitch.”  The question must be asked is Hersh’s approach too over the top, or did his mantra of “terrible things happen in war, [but] the responsibility of the press…to find, verify, and publish the truth” justifies everything. (32)  Hersh was able to alienate his targets as well as his colleagues who resented his success, but in many cases felt that he was very biased in his approach and he could not “fairly evaluate reality.” (95)

bodies of civilians killed in My Lai massacre

Bodies of Vietnamese villagers killed at My Lai, March 16, 1968

One of the most surprising things that I learned from Miraldi’s book is that Hersh worked for Senator Eugene McCarthy’s campaign in 1968 as its Public Relations director.  This brought two imposing personalities head to head, as McCarthy, who hated publicity that he did not control, and Hersh who was overbearing and controlling, it was obvious that after a short period of time they could not coexist.  After Hersh quit or was fired from the campaign he published CHEMICAL AND BIOLOGICAL WARFARE: THE HIDDEN ARSENAL making him the “Ralph Nader of the bio-chemical industry” and helped to push the Nixon administration to stop building biological weapons.  Nixon had his own reasons apart from what Hersh exposed, but Hersh must get some of the credit for Nixon’s actions.  Hersh followed this success by becoming involved with the POW issue in Vietnam.  He even visited Hanoi and after joining the New York Times he continued to get under Richard Nixon’s skin.  Another surprising aspect of the book is Miraldi’s discussion of Hersh’s view of Bob Woodward and the Watergate investigation.  Woodward and his partner at that time, Carl Bernstein were out front in the investigation from the outset.  Hersh was caught up in the New York Times, Washington Post competition and grew jealous of Woodward’s success and growing reputation.  Throughout the book this competition remains in the background as Hersh wanted to be considered the number one investigative reporter in the American press, and though he praised Woodward’s work, and became his friend, he never truly accepted him as his equal.  Hersh was able to enter the “Watergate competition” late and eventually the Nixon White House became “scared to death of this guy…We don’t know what he can prove or can’t prove,” (158) as stated by an unidentified White House source during the investigation into the illegal bombing of Cambodia.

What was shocking to me was Miraldi’s discussion of how many top governmental figures, be it political or military that spoke with Hersh and leaked important information to him.  For example subjects as diverse as Senate Armed Services Committee head, John Stennis, a conservative Democrat during hearings concerning U.S. bombing of Cambodia; Frank Sturgis, a Watergate co-conspirator, dealing with hush money paid by the Nixon White House; to CIA Director William Colby who became a Hersh “phone mate” during the investigation dealing with the coup against Salvatore Allende in Chile.  Hersh always sought out new sources, particularly in the Pentagon, and according to Miraldi when Hersh called declaring, “Hi I’m Sy Hersh and you probably want to talk with me,” retired generals, in particular liked to hear from him.” (171) The book is also useful for shedding light on the inner workings of the New York Times editorial board and how the “paper of record…did not seek to create or make that record.” (233) The reader also witnesses the competition between staff and board members and the volatile nature of the Hersh-Abe Rosenthal relationship.  The two sides tolerated each other for six years but after Hersh’s articles dealing with Gulf and Western Industries in 1979 they went their separate ways.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is Miraldi’s description of how Hersh went about writing his work on Kissinger, THE PRICE OF POWER.  Having read the book I agree with the author’s critique that the book is difficult to read and Hersh is probably guilty of overwriting, particularly certain topics, i.e., SALT negotiations with the Soviet Union.  On a more positive note, historian, Stanley Hoffman has written, “this is a book that through its factual density avoids the typically hectoring tone of the investigative reporter or the ideologue with an ax to grind.” (252)  This cannot also be said of THE DARK SIDE OF CAMELOT where Hersh ran up against the myth of JFK and the family that tried to protect the image of Camelot.  As Hersh uncovered some of the more salacious details of Kennedy’s private life he fell for some doctored documents and his reputation suffered and in the end he wound up mentally exhausted.

Hersh would recover and he latched on with the New Yorker, under the influence of its editor David Remnick who supported Hersh’s work and gave him the leeway and resources that reenergized him.  This resulted in Hersh becoming a “war correspondent” after 9/11.  Hersh was truly shaken by the attack and over the next three years “Hersh produced twenty stories and over 110,000 words.” (319)  Hersh concluded that the intelligence community was not prepared to stop the terrorists as government agencies and the military lacked the training and communication to be successful.  Once the United States invaded Iraq, Hersh concluded that President Bush had lost control of his foreign policy to the cabal of neocons inside and outside his administration.  Hersh argued that “the intelligence community had ignored the sacrosanct ‘stove piping’ rule-that only carefully vetted information should go up the chain of command.” (323)  Hersh was once again faced criticism of his sourcing as most of his sources were anonymous, but he felt the neocons were now out of the closet.  This would lead to his book, CHAIN OF COMMAND: THE ROAD FROM 9/11 TO ABU GHRAIB, which took advantage of over thirty years of sources who were at the Pentagon, the CIA, and other places to critique US policy on Afghanistan, Iraq, and terrorism.  Donald Rumsfeld became part of the center piece of Hersh’s narrative in the book and articles written based on his own research dealing with the torture at Abu Ghraib.  Hersh’s presentation has proven very accurate during the last ten years since the book was written. PHOTOGRAPH: ABU GHRAIB PRISONER ABUSE Abu Ghraib prison, site of US torture and demeaning of prisoners in Iraq

Whether Seymour Hersh uses unethical tactics to obtain information, whether he is a bully who extracts the necessary documents he needs, what is important for Miraldi is that Hersh presents the facts and lets others ponder the consequences.  If you are a fan of Hersh’s raison ‘detre, or believe he has gone too far, Miraldi’s book is comprehensive and provides the best portrait of one of the most important journalistic figure of his age.

OPERATION PAPERCLIP by Annie Jacobsen

At the conclusion of her new book, OPERATION PAPERCLIP: THE SECRET INTELLIGENCE PROGRAM THAT NAZI SCIENTISTS BROUGHT TO AMERICA, Annie Jacobsen discusses her battles with American military and intelligence authorities in trying to obtain documents relating to the employ of Nazi scientists by the United States Army and other government agencies following World War II.  In her discussion a common theme reaches fruition in 2012 as the Department of Defense finally declassified a 1945 list of Nazi doctors who were sought for “mercy killings and medical murder cases.”  On that list were seven Nazi doctors who were employed by the U.S. government even though “U.S. Army intelligence knew all along that these doctors were implicated in murder yet chose to classify the list and hire the doctors.” (437)  These doctors were hired as part of Operation Paperclip a postwar program designed to use the technological and medical knowledge of Nazi scientists for the benefit of American policy as the Cold War was burgeoning.  This raises a number of moral questions, the most important of which is when does a government draw the line in working with individuals who are guilty of directly or indirectly causing the death of tens of thousands of concentration camp victims, slave laborers, or innocent civilians.  In the case of the United States following World War II that line was invisible no matter what evidence existed that the individuals that the government was interested in had either engaged directly or indirectly in genocide.  For American officials following the war it was easy to dismiss evidence because in their eyes American national security interests trumped any documents that might interfere with their goal of using Nazi technological and medical advances to further the American agenda against the Soviet Union.

Anne Jacobsen has written a detailed and deeply researched study that raises numerous moral and philosophical questions as she explores the origin, implementation, and eventual downfall of Operation Paperclip.  She leaves no stone unturned as she ferrets out the stories and experiences relating to Wernher von Braun, the director of the German Army’s V2 rocket program and headed the Mittelbau-Dora Planning Office that oversaw experiments that resulted in the death of 30,000 out of 60,000 slave laborers he “hired” from the SS.  Other subjects include, Dr. Walter Schreiber, the Surgeon General of the Third Reich who carried out medical experiments on concentration camp victims for gas and bacterial warfare; Georg Rickhey, the General manager of the Mittlewerk slave labor facility; Otto Ambros, chemist and co discoverer of sarin gas and manager of IG Farben’s slave labor factory at Auschwitz; Dr. Kurt Blome, Deputy Surgeon General of the Reich; Major General Walter Dornberger who was in charge of V-weapons development and the technical officer in the Nordhausen slave labor tunnels; and Dr. Hubertus Strughold the wartime director for aviation research for the Reich.  These are just a few of the individuals that Jacobsen’s narrative exposes.  All are war criminals, and all participated in Operation Paperclip and developed important programs that the US military came to rely on during the Cold War, for example, Kurt Debus, an ardent Nazi and V-weapons flight test director who later became the first director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Jacobsen follows Operation Paperclip from its inception in 1945 as American authorities had to decide what to do with Hitler’s former scientists and engineers.  Proponents of Operation Paperclip decided to use Nazi scientists to assist in the war against Japan.  However, once the Japanese threat ended in August, 1945 and relations with the Soviet Union began to deteriorate the race to acquire as many scientists and technological experts before the Soviet Union could capture them gained momentum.  Jacobsen does an excellent job describing certain Nazi scientists and why their particular specialty was so important to the United States.  US policy for hiring German scientists was supposed to be based on the condition that “provided they were not known or alleged war criminals,” however this caveat was easily overlooked.  I found the mini-biographies that Jacobsen provides to be fascinating.  The author discusses many individuals that people with knowledge of World War II will easily recognize, i.e.; Hermann Goering, Albert Speer, and Heinrich Himmler, but the character studies of those not easily recognizable are the most fascinating.  Dr. Leopold Alexander, a Boston psychiatrist and German Jew left Germany in 1933 for a fellowship in China and never returned to his homeland.  He ended up working in a mental hospital outside Boston in 1934 and returned to Germany after the war to try and determine which of his former colleagues and students were guilty.  Alexander was shocked by the deviance of Nazi science and noted they did not practice science, but a “really depraved pseudoscientific criminality.”  Dr. Alexander also investigated crimes committed in the name of neuropsychiatry and neuropathology and in this capacity he came face to face with the odious Nazi belief of “untermenschen” that was the core of Hitler’s ideological framework and those individuals who implemented the murder thousands under the Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring carried out by Dr. Karl Kleist, a former neurology professor of Alexander.  We also meet Americans such as John J. McCloy who was in charge of setting up war crimes programs, but also coordinated policy regarding the transfer of Nazi scientists to the United States which he supported at the end of the war and later when he became High Commissioner for the American occupation zone replacing General Lucius Clay in 1949.  Not all Americans that Jacobsen integrates into the narrative were guilty of facilitating Operation Paperclip.  There were people like John Dolibois, a G2 Army intelligence officer who was sent to Dachau after its liberation to interrogate Nazi suspects and to investigate whether any important Nazis were hiding among the general prison population.  Dolibois was shocked by the reaction of the men he interrogated as they could not believe they were being prosecuted and they used the excuse that they “were only following orders.”  To their credit many State Department functionaries argued repeatedly to keep Nazi scientists who were proven criminals out of the United States, but the military establishment was difficult to defeat.

Jacobsen’s discussion of IG Farben and their development of sarin and tabun gases are eye opening especially when the same scientists are the ones who helped develop it for the United States.  Farben’s research reflects the depravity of the Nazi scientists, the same men whose expertise the US would use, rather than having these men face the prosecution and punishment they deserved.  It was not just chemists the US was interested in.  When the Washington Post uncovered “freezing experiments” conducted at Dachau were by men would be tortured, then frozen for a period of time, then Nazi doctors would try and revive them.   The fact that the Nazi biologists involved were already working for the US was kept from the public.  Throughout Operation Paperclip officials had to work just as hard recruiting scientists as they did keeping information away from Congress and the American public.  This led to covert programs to smuggle scientists into the United States or the American zone in what became West Germany on many occasions.

Perhaps the most interesting and disturbing chapter was entitled, “Science at Any Price,” which explained how the military was able to maneuver the State Department out of the business of approving visa for the Nazi scientists that they opposed admitting to the United States.  From that point on the Joint Intelligence Objective Agency (JIOA) that had been created by the War Department was in charge of Operation Paperclip and the policy became; any scientist the Russians were interested in would be of interest to the US.  By October, 1946 there were 233 German scientists in US military custody.  At the same time the New York Times made the public aware of Operation Paperclip, the army had to go on a charm offensive by bringing out the most “wholesome looking German scientists they had working for them.” (250)

Jacobsen artfully describes army cover-up tactics when one of their “new” employees had their Nazi past catch up to them, i.e., Georg Rickhey who oversaw production and the hanging of prisoners at Nordhausen, a rocket factory housed in a salt mine.  When Rickhey was arrested he was acquitted in the Dora-Nordhausen trial as the judges were military and the future of the American missile program took precedence.  Jacobsen weaves her narrative nicely with the use of trial transcripts and documents to support her thesis and reflects American angst that the Soviet Union was ahead in the “chemical warfare race.”  In fact Karl Krauck, IG Farben’s head chemist and Goering’s main advisor on chemicals was being recruited by the US at the same time he was on trial.  America’s rational was simple, “when working with ardent Nazis American handlers appear to have developed the ability to look the other way.  Others…..looked straight at the man and saw only the scientist, not the Nazi.” (300)

The Berlin Crisis that began on June 24, 1948 gave Operation Paperclip further momentum as the newly created CIA joined forces with the JIOA and led to the employ of Major General Reinhard Gehlen, the former head of  Nazi intelligence operations against the Soviet Union.  The US made a deal with the devil and put Gehlen’s organization at the forefront of the Cold War and made the Major General head of the entire American anti-communist intelligence operation.  Jacobsen also zeroes in on the cases of Otto Ambros, Dr. Walter Schreiber, and Dr. Kurt Blome exploring their Nazi past, their involvement in war crimes, and how they came to work for the United States.  Jacobsen follows that discussion with that of John J. McCloy’s commutation of Ambros’ and others sentences when he became High Commissioner, in part because of pressure from West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, and the outbreak of the Korean War.  A new shift in US policy evolved as it was now more important to be anti-communist as opposed to anti-Nazi.

The saga of Dr. Walter Schreiber as described by Jacobsen is emblematic of the American governments experience with former Nazi scientists after the war.  Schreiber was involved with medical experiments at Ravensbruck among his other crimes, but yet he was never prosecuted at Nuremberg.  In fact he became a Russian witness against his former colleagues at the trial.  His journey to the United States and his final eviction in 1952 is a twisted voyage that brings to the surface the role of the Air Force, CIA and other agencies that did everything they could bureaucratically to allow him to remain in the United States so that we could employ his knowledge of Nazi and Soviet chemical experiments.  In 1952 when his presence in Texas reached the Boston press and went national, the fear of scandal that could reach the highest levels of the Truman administration finally saw the government force him to emigrate to Argentina with his family.  What is evident is that being an anti-communist trumped being a Nazi war criminal.   If you could assist in the Cold War battle any past crimes could be glossed over and explained away in the name of national security.

Jacobsen completes her study by discussing the case of Arthur Rudolph, a man who oversaw slave labor at the Dora-Nordhausen complex where he was involved in working prisoners to death and a number of public hangings.  Rudolph had worked for the US military and NASA for thirty-eight years when he was finally expelled, but even as his role in the Third Reich became known in 1983 there were elements in NASA who claimed the Justice Department was engaged in a witch hunt.   Jacobsen’s magnificent study concludes by asking “What does last?  The desire to seek the truth? Or, in the words of Jean Michel, the ability to take a stand against the monstrous distortion of history when it gives birth to false, foul and suspect myths?”  This for me is the epitaph of Operation Paperclip, one of the most disturbing policies that the United States government has ever pursued.

WHERE NOBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME by John Feinstein

( Home of the New Yankees Double-A team, Trenton Thunder)

Scranton Yankees

(Riverfront Stadium in Scranton, PA, Home of the New York Yankees, Triple-A franchise)

At the outset it is my obligation to inform the reader that I am a baseball junkie!  In fact as I look over my bucket list one of the prominent items is a cross country trip visiting minor league baseball parks as my wife and I transverse the continent.  With that being said John Feinstein’s knew book WHERE NOBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME, a saga of the 2012 minor league baseball season is timely.  I have been a Feinstein fan for many years and have enjoyed his numerous books.  Whether writing about the Army-Navy game, Bobby Knight, Duke Basketball or golf, Feinstein has always delivered a very thoughtful treatment of his subjects.  His new endeavor is no exception as the book reflects a prodigious amount of research that is emblematic of Feinstein’s approach.  Throughout the narrative stories abound concerning baseball lore and tradition, but what is most important are the lives being described and the affect that baseball has on Feinstein’s subjects and their families.  Feinstein’s discussion of Brett Tomko, a major league pitcher who after a number of successful seasons finds himself holding on to his career by a thread as he accepts life in the minors at the age of thirty-six; Mark Lollo, a thirty year old minor league umpire trying to make the grade in the majors learns that after twelve years his umpiring career is about to end; or Ron Johnson, a minor league manager, who tasted the major leagues as a coach for the Boston Red Sox, finds himself back in the minors hoping to obtain a major league managerial position are all interesting and at times, heart warming.  These are just a few of the individuals that Feinstein describes, others like Scott Posednik, Scott Elarton, John Lindsey, Nate McLouth, Charlie Montoya, and Chris Schwinden all share the trials and travails of pursuing a career in the major leagues and the obstacles they face that reduces them to minor league players or managers.  Despite their goal of the major leagues, they seem to accept their situations all because of their love of the game.

Using the perspective of minor league managers, players, coaches, broadcasters and even a groundskeeper Feinstein provides the reader a candid look at the people who make up the lower rungs of baseball.  We all read about the Derek Jeters and “Big Papi,” David Ortiz and their illustrious careers, but not everyone can reach those heights.  The sacrifices that these men and their families make in the pursuit of just one more chance at getting the call that they are “going up to the show” is heartwarming, but also disconcerting as the odds of their being successful is rather miniscule.  Along the way Feinstein integrates the experiences of other players who have interesting stories to tell.  Dontrelle Willis, a young phenom eight years ago, rookie of the year, and a twenty game winner, finds himself out of baseball.  Jamie Farr, one of the stars of the M.A.S.H. television series is from Toledo, Ohio, and becomes a center piece of Feinstein’s discussion of the Toledo Mud Hens, next to the Durham Bulls the most famous minor league franchise in America.

One thing that all of these players have in common is that they appear numerous times in the “transaction” section of the sports pages (a listing of player movements on a daily basis).  This reflects the impersonal side of baseball.  As all players understand that the bottom line is that baseball is a business and that the movement of players, the uprooting of families and the ego crushing experiences happen each and every day.  The constant comparison of minor and major league baseball are enlightening, where one is a fantasy like experience where you do not carry your bags, food and expensive hotel rooms are the norm, and you fly first class on a charter.  This is compared to a different type of reality where you carry everything, your meal money is about $12/day, you room with others and on the road you stay in cheap motels after experiencing an eight hour bus ride.  Feinstein captures the life of a minor league ball player as he writes; “No one wants to get comfortable in a Triple-A clubhouse.  The air inside a Triple-A clubhouse feels different because there are different people breathing it every day.  Players come and go on an almost daily basis; some get called up to the big leagues; some get traded; others get sent down to Double-A; and every once in a while players get released.” (108)

For the subjects of this narrative baseball seems to be in their blood.  Tommy Lasorda, a failed minor league pitcher became a Hall of Fame manager with the Dodgers and was asked about his loyalty to his team and he responded, that “I bleed Dodger blue.”  This encapsulates how these players feel about their sport and what they give up to play and try to reach the major leagues.   There are many interesting parts to the narrative aside from the personal impact of the game on these individuals.  Feinstein explores the decision making process and evaluation of players and the culture that baseball has created for itself.    But my favorite aspect of the book was the discussion of Scott Strickland a minor league groundskeeper who sought to become a head groundskeeper for a major league franchise.  In fact at North Carolina State University he majored in “turf-training!”  WHERE NOBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME is an exceptional read for baseball fans and the general public particularly when the sound of “play ball” is echoing across America as the 2014 baseball season has just begun.  If you are a Feinstein fan the book will not disappoint, if you are not, you may become one.