BASEBALL MAVERICK: HOW SANDY ALDERSON REVOLUTIONIZED BASEBALL AND REVIVED THE METS by Steve Kettmann

(Citi Field, the home of the New York Mets…brings back memories of Ebbetts Field)

When Sandy Alderson agreed to become general manager of the New York Mets in 2010 he was somewhat aware of their financial situation.  He was cognizant of their ownership involvement with the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal, but not the depth of their financial losses.  Believing that accepting the job was a career challenge, plus it would bring joy to his father who lived in Florida, Alderson accepted the position.  What Alderson did not know was that the Wilpon family, who owned the Mets invested over $500 million dollars with Madoff and counted on a constant 10% return to run the team.  Once the scandal broke that money was gone, and they no longer had the funds to pay off the debt from their 2002 purchase of the team from Nelson Doubleday, Jr.  The team was in such bad shape that baseball commissioner, Bud Selig agreed to an immediate short term loan of $25 million so the team could meet payroll expenses, and convinced Alderson to take over as general manager.  On top of that one of the trustees involved with the Madoff investigation sued the Wilpons for being “willfully blind” in dealing with the “Ponzi master” for $300 million.  The suit was finally settled on March 20, 2012, for $162 million, in addition the Mets had lost $70 million in the 2011 season.  When Alderson came aboard the Mets had reduced their payroll from $140 to $85 million in one year, the highest percentage salary reduction in baseball history.  This is what Alderson had to deal with during his first few years at the helm.  The debacle that had encompassed the Mets and Alderson’s plan to restore confidence in the team as well as rebuilding their baseball operation is told in Steve Kettmann’s new book, BASEBALL MAVERICK: HOW SANDY ALDERSON REVOLUTIONIZED BASEBALL AND REVIVED THE METS.  The book is not your typical sports narrative.  It is more of an intellectual biography of Alderson where the author weaves the Mets’ general manager’s life story that saw him as a Dartmouth and Harvard Law graduate, a Marine officer in Vietnam, in addition to his baseball successes as he applied his analytical, “moneyball” approach to rescue the franchise.

The reader gains insights into Alderson’s personality and approach to organization during his tour in Vietnam, when he goes over the head of his commanding officer who passed him over for a position because he had once disagreed with a decision that involved the constant rotation of company commanders in his unit.  As a Marine, normally this was not acceptable behavior.  However, in this case, Alderson used a seldom employed Marine tradition for officers and “requested mast,” the right to go over the head of a commanding officer to the regimental commander, who in this case was Colonel P.X. Kelley, Commander of the First Marines, a formidable figure who would later become the Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Kelly agreed with Alderson and gave him a plum position in intelligence.  Following a description of Alderson’s eight month tour in Vietnam, Kettman traces his journey from a law office in San Francisco, his education as a baseball administrative novice, to his present position.

(Sandy Alderson, General Manager of the NY Mets after a loss)

Alderson’s first step toward a career in baseball occurred when Roy Eisenhardt, an attorney in the firm that Alderson worked for asked him to oversee a major deal.  Eisenhardt’s father-in-law was Walter A. Haas, Jr. Chairman of Levi Strauss who wanted to purchase the Oakland A’s from Charley Finley and save the team for the Oakland area.  Along with Haas’s son, Wally, Alderson oversaw the purchase from the inimitable “Charlie O.” and the result was that he could not avoid being “bitten by the baseball bug.”   Kettman provides an ideological history of sabermetrics going back to Branch Rickey, who hired Allan Roth who developed the “on base percentage.”  Kettman next introduces, Eric Walker a young sabermatrician who prepared “The Oakland Athletics: A Quantitative Analysis by Mathematical Methods.”  Alderson hired Walker and their friendship would continue for years.  Oakland became Alderson’s baptism under fire as he employed his analytical or sabermetric approach to evaluating personnel and aspects of being a successful general manager.  Alderson’s baseball philosophy can be summed up as, “once you established a correlation between on-base percentage and slugging percentage with run production, then you also established a correlation between gross run production and win-loss percentage, and it became apparent that the best approach was on-high base percentage and hit the ball out of the ballpark, as opposed to batting average, as opposed to the hit-and-run and bunting.” (78)  Many baseball lifers had difficulty accepting “computerball,” but since Alderson was trained as a Marine military officer and a lawyer he had no difficulty adjusting.  If things made sense from an analytical and organizational perspective Alderson was on board.  Alderson applied this approach in Oakland and took Charlie Finley’s run down operation and turned the A’s into a World Series team between 1988 and 1990 under Tony La Russo, and winning it all by sweeping the San Francisco Giants in the “earthquake series” in 1989.

(Sandy Alderson, NY Mets general manager after a win)

Kettman explores a number of important issues in baseball apart from Alderson’s organizational successes.  The author provides insights into the life of a sportswriter.  The task of attending mostly boring baseball meetings, having your newspaper columns evaluated by how many “tweets” it generates, the lack of time to think and reflect on subjects they are investigating, and the rhythms of spring training are all described.  Kettman goes on to explain the controversy concerning steroids in baseball.  The issue created a great deal of controversy, particularly for the A’s since two of their best players, Mark McGuire and Jose Canseco, the “bash brothers” were users.  The question that Kettman asks was should someone as smart as Alderson have known about it, but with no testing, no punishment, and no official baseball PED policy, how could he be accountable.  Another interesting aspect of the book is the relationship between Alderson and Billy Beane, a former New York Mets prospect who finished an uneventful career in Oakland.  Beane became Alderson’s protégé and eventually he became assistant general manager in 1993.  Beane is described as a younger version of his mentor and when Alderson left the A’s, Beane took over complete control and if you have seen the film or read the book Moneyball, the relationship proved very successful.

Before taking over the Mets in 2010, Alderson did a stint with the San Diego Padres and worked with Major League baseball in the Dominican Republic to internationalize the game.  The book is essentially a case study in leadership and Alderson’s approach to restoring the Mets to prominence bears that out.  First, Kettman describes how Alderson constructed his organizational team.    Hiring two former general managers, Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi, and keeping John Ricco, the Mets assistant general manager reflects Alderson’s own personal security and his vision in employing individuals who have their own expertise in creating a superb front office.  Each had their own special talents that blended together nicely.  Their approach toward grooming younger players, signing free agents, dealing with player representatives, i.e.; Scott Boras and Jay Z, and creating a winning culture in the locker room should provide encouragement for despondent Mets’ fans for the future.

(Alderson during his tour of Vietnam)

Alderson’s approach in dealing with young players with great potential is fascinating.  Kettman uses Zach Wheeler, a young phenom that Alderson acquired in a trade for Carlos Beltran, Jacob deGrom, a former short stop who was National League rookie of the year in 2014, and Lucas Duda, who the Mets could not decide whether to trade or not, as case studies in how to develop players.  He explores when to promote a player to the major leagues, the burden placed on a young player who seemingly is seen as a major part of the future success of the franchise, how a young player deals with their own development, balancing fan expectations, handling a prospects first big league appearance, and how a young player adjusts to playing on the major league level, particularly with the distractions that playing in New York can bring.  In Wheeler’s case it worked well, until a few weeks ago when he succumbed to “Tommy John” surgery, for deGrom and Duda the 2015 season has begun very nicely.

Kettman analyzes how Alderson puts together a roster in conjunction with his staff as well as how they went about trades with other teams.  Currently, the Mets on the precipice of actually having a winning season.  If in the end the Mets finally become financially sound on the field and off, Alderson will be declared a “genius,” if not despite his past resume he will be roasted as a failure in the New York tabloids.  Overall, Kettman has delivered a strong “baseball book,” that has applications for leadership in other venues.  If you enjoy baseball and how a thoughtful and intelligent person goes about creating a winning culture for success, this book is a wonderful read.

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MENACHEM BEGIN: A LIFE by Avi Shilon

(Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin speaking to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset advocating acceptance of the Camp David accords, March 20, 1979.  Future Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzchak Shamir is seated to his right.)

In exploring the creation of the state of Israel over the last 67 years the dominant figure that emerges is David Ben-Gurion.  The head of the Jewish Agency before and after World War II, Ben-Gurion guided the nascent Israeli state and dominated its politics for decades.  However, another transformative figure emerged during the same time period that many outside Israel seem to avoid giving him his due, Menachem Begin.  Whether speaking about Begin’s leadership of the Irgun and the pressure he placed on the British to relinquish its Palestinian mandate; his political leadership that brought about his election to the Prime Minister’s office in 1977 which fundamentally realigned Israeli politics to this day; or his evolution as a terrorist or freedom fighter to a respected politician, depending on your viewpoint, in negotiating the Camp David Accords, the first peace treaty with an Arab state that recognized the state of Israel and altered the balance of power in the Middle East, Begin’s life has left an indelible mark on the Israeli people.  The latest example of Begin’s profound ideological influence on Israel are the recent elections that returned Benjamin Netanyahu to the Prime Minister’s office, leading the Likud bloc that Begin helped create in the 1970s.  The most complete biography of Begin’s life and career is written by Israeli historian, Avi Shilon, MENACHEM BEGIN: A LIFE that mines the Israeli archives and reflects numerous interviews in producing a complete picture of Begin in all aspects of his long career, in addition to providing an interesting analysis that delves into his personality and the motivations for the actions he took.  Daniel Gordis has written the most recent biography of Begin, entitled, MENACHEM BEGIN: THE BATTLE FOR ISRAEL’S SOUL, in which the author admits he is not concerned with all aspects of Begin’s life but “the story he evoked in Jews, of what he said to the world about Jewish history and the Jewish people and the legacy he bequeathed to the state he was instrumental in creating,” as well as looking at his life “through the lens of the passion he still evokes.” (Xiv-xv)  However, Gordis does not come close to Shilon’s book published in English in 2012 in scope and depth of analysis.

The common theme in Shilon’s life of Begin was his pride in being Jewish, a pride that would shape his entire life.  He idealized his father who was a committed Zionist who raised his children with a blend of Jewish tradition and the ideas of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, a leading figure in the movement to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine.  Begin’s father was his life’s role model as a man living in a Polish village named Brisk, who would use an axe to open a synagogue to allow Theodore Herzl to speak when the head rabbi refused to allow the founder of Zionism to address his congregation.  Further, he would confront anti-Semitic Polish soldiers who almost shot him in front of his son.  Ze’ev-Dov, Begin’s father encouraged his children to go to Palestine and was a model of persistence or stubbornness who would perish along with Begin’s mother and sister in the Holocaust.  Begin’s father stressed the solidarity of the Jewish people and vigorously opposed those who disagreed with him.   Along with his exposure to Judaism as a child, the actions of his father that he witnessed, and the events of the Shoah are all mirrored throughout Begin’s career and the development of his worldview.

(The arrival of Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat in Israel alongside Prime Minister Begin, November 19, 1977)

When discussing Menachem Begin, opinions range from the beloved leader that impacted Israel greatly as a statesman and a man of the people, or a stubborn individual who has authoritarian tendencies with an acerbic tongue and supported violence to achieve his aims.  Shilon comes down between the two extremes as he develops a fascinating portrait of Begin.  From the outset Shilon traces Begin’s ideological roots back to his enrollment in the Beitar Movement that stressed the ideas of Ze’ev Jabotinsky at the age of sixteen.  The movement called on Jews to hold their heads up high, stressed nationalistic issues, and the power of the Jewish people to achieve a future in Israel.  The young Begin was greatly influenced by Jabotinsky, but also Marshall Jozef Pilsudki who led the Polish nationalist movement after World War I, and Guiseppi  Garibaldi, the Italian nationalist who worked to achieve the unification of Italy in the 1860s.  By the time Begin entered his twenties his worldview was formulated as Shilon accurately points out, he “applied Polish nationalistic concepts to his perception of Jewish nationalism – especially regarding the importance of using military means to expand territory – and to this notion he added the spiritual nationalistic anchor – Jewish tradition.” (12)  These themes would be evident in all aspects of Begin’s life’s work.

Shilon’s chronological narrative focuses a great deal on the ideological rifts that developed as Begin worked his way up in the Beitar movement to positions of leadership, the implementation of the Irgun’s war against the British, his time in opposition after the creation of the state of Israel, and his period as Prime Minister.  As Begin rose to prominence in the Beitar movement he would disagree with Jabotinsky in a number of areas, most importantly over the use of terror and cooperation with the British.  During the Irgun years the issue was the application of violence and whether to go along with the Jewish Agency, led by David Ben-Gurion and his strategy.  After independence Begin was adamant about not negotiating with the West German government over reparations as the Holocaust impacted him so severely, and once in power the issue of returning territories won in the 1967 war forced him to change his position of never returning territory that was part of “Eretz Yisroel.”  However, no matter the situation, Shilon credits Begin with his courage and his ability to discern the mood of the public in any decision he made.

(The Beitar Movement that Begin joined at the age of 16, he is seated in the center)

The most controversial part of Begin’s career was his leadership of the Irgun, which the British labeled as a terrorist group before, during, and after World War II.  Begin’s raison detre was to rebel against the British.  At the outset, Begin had no knowledge about leading an underground organization and planning and carrying out operations.  He rose to leadership in the Irgun based on his European background, particularly his training in the Polish army, and his fluency in a number of languages.  As in most cases during his career, Begin let his ideas that many felt were beyond reality, and his oratorical ability to carry the day, and left military planning to experts, a concept that appears over and over during his career.  Begin saw the British refusal to allow Holocaust refugees into Palestine as enough of a reason to declare war on them.  He strongly believed that the British were solely responsible for blocking the creation of the state of Israel.  Begin believed the employment of terror against the British mandate during and after World War II would force them out of the region, buttress the confidence of the Yishuv, damage British prestige, and arouse international public opinion, especially in the United States.  One must ask was terror a successful strategy to accomplish ones goals?  In Bruce Hoffman’s new book ANONYMOUS SOLDIERS: THE STRUGGHLE FOR ISRAEL 1917-1947, the author asks, does terror work?  Based on historical events and the creation of Israel in 1948, his conclusion is that it does.  Shilon does not skirt over the controversial actions taken by the Irgun, the bombing of the King David Hotel, the hanging of the British sergeants, the Deir Yassin massacre, the Altalena Affair, and other events are explored in detail and the author does not hold back any criticism in discussing Begin’s actions.

The contentious relationship and almost hatred between David Ben-Gurion and Begin is a common theme throughout the narrative.  Ben-Gurion always feared Begin’s popularity among the young and wanted to prevent him from gaining any political power.  Shilon points to the fact that Ben-Gurion and Begin shared many characteristics, including a propensity to act in an authoritative manner.  Begin never could accept an Israeli democracy under Ben-Gurion’s control.   For Begin, Ben-Gurion was too secular, and Begin believed in a Hebrew republic that distinguished between the state and religion – a dichotomy that still exists today when one listens to Netanyahu’s repeated call for a “Jewish state.” The integration of the arguments into the narrative between the two in the Knesset and the Israeli media enhances an understanding of the two men as well as providing insights into why they disagreed over policy and their personality differences.  For Begin, religion was the unifying principle of the Jewish people.  For him, the Israeli national concept was based on the Jewish people in its biblical version, and pursuing the military path was a legitimate means to a desired end.

(Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, Begin’s political rival/enemy)

Shilon’s use of primary materials to reflect on Begin’s relationships is important in gaining an accurate view of how he dealt with people.  Begin always respected military men, particularly those he felt were “warriors.”  His relationship with Moshe Dayan, who was a member of the Labour coalition reflects Begin’s ability to compromise when necessary.  His relationship with Ariel Sharon, another military hero is important in addition to his up and down relationship with Ezer Weizmann, an Air Force hero who represented the younger generation that at times would revere Begin because of his background.  In overseeing the dismantling of the Irgun after independence we witness a distraught Begin as he must pursue realpolitik to further his Herut party politically.  The discussions and overt hostility that arises between Begin and his Irgun fighters is important as it reflects the evolution of Begin as a politician and what he sees as the best interests of the Israeli people.

Shilon does an excellent job in analyzing three events that form turning points in Begin’s rise to power in 1977.  The first, in 1952 is his opposition to accepting reparations payment from the West German government, highlighting the impact of the Holocaust in every decision Begin made.  Occurring at a time when his Herut party was in decline it provided a platform for Begin to touch the soul of Israel.  Later in his career when German Chencellor Helmut Schmidt stated on a state visit to Saudi Arabia in 1981 that Germany had a moral obligation toward the Palestinians because it was Germany that was responsible for their plight due to the Holocaust.  An incensed Begin responded at a political rally that, “He is greedy….he seeks two things.  To buy oil cheaply and sell weapons dearly.  He talks about moral obligation to the Arabs?  The obligation to the Jews will never end.” (337)  the second event, the 1967 Six Day War brought Begin into a unity government as a minister without portfolio.  Here the Labour government was following Begin’s approach in dealing with Israeli security and resulted in the capture of the West Bank, or as Begin referred to as Judea and Samaria, Jerusalem, Gaza, the Sinai, and the Golan Heights.  This period of Israeli euphoria is well chronicled and leads to the third event that brings Begin to power, the 1973 Yom Kippur War.  The soul searching that followed the war would lead to the coalition of Herut and two other parties to form the Likud bloc that would produce the election of Begin as Prime Minister in May, 1977.  Shilon’s analysis and questions pertaining to Begin’s rise are valid and thought provoking.

(Begin in disguise as a rabbi during his years underground.  His wife Aliza and daughter Chasia are also pictured)

The final section of the book culminates with a shift in Begin’s approach to foreign policy.  His view was that the Sinai and Golan Heights were not part of the promise land that God gave to the Jewish people, therefore he was willing to negotiate their return.  This would allow him to reduce international pressure over Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, Gaza, and the settlement program.  This shift in his thinking allowed Begin to go to Camp David and reach an accord with Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, but being very careful not to give into demands concerning the Palestinians.  For Begin the autonomy agreement that was reached was nothing more than papering over a problem and pushing it into the future when Begin accurately predicted there would be a massive influx of Soviet Jews to Israel alleviating the demographic challenges that Israel faced with the Arabs. Begin’s biggest mistake as Prime Minister was his invasion of southern Lebanon as a means of destroying the Palestine Liberation Organization.  As Robin Wright, the Middle East historian has noted, this became Israel’s Vietnam, and it would take a number of years after Begin retired to extricate itself from.  For Begin the decision to invade Lebanon has been fraught with controversy.  The role of then Defense Minister, Ariel Sharon is at the center of the debate whether he exceeded instructions approved by the Israeli cabinet and pursued his own agenda while keeping Begin in the dark.  According to Shilon, the Prime Minister was “detached from what was happening on the ground,” and though he supported Sharon’s actions, he was culpable for the disasters that followed, including the Shatila and Sabra refugee camp massacre, the increasing Israeli casualty rate, and the eventual emergence of Iranian backed Hezbollah.

Foreign policy was Begin’s bailiwick, and social and economic issues did not create the same interest.  However, he would take advantage of the poverty that recent immigrants from the Arab countries and Ethiopia endured as they tried to assimilate into Israeli society.  He would pit these Sephardic Jews against the ruling Ashkenazis to gain their political support and enhance Likud’s popularity.  Further, he would employ a populist message to gain the support of workers and the middle class to reflect an image of fighting for those who did not benefit from the Labour government’s policies.  Begin would make economic policy pronouncements to assist the poor, but losing interest, he would as he always said, would turn implementation of those policies to the experts.

Shilon’s effort and the excellent translation from Hebrew by Danielle Zilberberg and Yoram Sharett should stand as the preeminent biography of Begin for a great while.  Though at times somewhat wordy, the author has captured the essence of who Begin was, and what his place in history has become.  Today he remains as one of the most popular figures in Israeli history and if Bruce Hoffman is to be believed Begin showed that the use of terror in certain situations can be successful, and that even a rigid ideologue can evolve and have a positive impact on his people.

CHICKENHAWK by Robert Mason

(Bell AH-1 Cobra)

One of the most iconic sounds that people relate to the Vietnam War is the “womp, woosh” of American Huey helicopters.  Whether watching a film like Apocalypse Now or reading a book on the war those sounds will reverberate in the reader’s mind.  During the war about 12,000 helicopters were deployed by the United States military.  Of that number 7,013 were Hueys, almost all of which were US Army.  The total number of helicopter pilots killed in Vietnam was 2202, and total non-pilot crew members who died were 2704.  The most accurate estimate of the number of helicopter pilots who served in the war was roughly 40,000. (www.vhpa.org/heliloss.pdf)  As we think about these statistics we can only admire the bravery and fortitude of the men called upon to undertake the many diverse missions these pilots engaged in.  One of the pilots, Robert Mason has written one of the most important accounts of the war available in his memoir, CHICKENHAWK.  Mason’s account is probably one of the most accurate and realistic accounts we have about the American serviceman’s experience in Vietnam.  From the vantage point of a helicopter pilot, Mason explores his daily life during his tour of duty.  Mason’s approach to his memoir is simple, clear, and honest.  As he completes basic training, advanced individual training, and two attempts at passing preflight training, he comments that he never “suspected that the army taught people how to fly helicopters the same way they taught them to march and shoot.  But they did.” (23)  He realized early on that if you washed out of the flight program you would wind up as a PFC in the infantry.  Mason’s journey begins in 1964 and carries him through 1968, a time when the United States, under President Lyndon B. Johnson was ramping up the American commitment to save South Vietnam from communism.  Mason’s insights echo those of historians that were written years later.  Mason’s memoir was first published in 1983, and was reissued in 2005 with a new afterword describing how the war affected his life for decades following his service.

06 Returning Fire

(American “slick” with a machine gun mount)

Mason’s experience in Vietnam was much diversified. Even as a warrant officer he engaged in the activities of a typical grunt rooting out tree stumps, digging fox holes, filling sand bags, and building a perimeter for his assault division.  Mason’s primary activity was flying a Huey helicopter that involved him in support of troops in the Bon Song Valley and Ia Drang Valley where in November, 1965 the United States won its first large scale encounter with the North Vietnamese.  Though it appeared to be a victory, Mason questions what American strategy was as we killed the enemy at an increasing rate, but we would withdraw and not hold the land taken.  Mason points out repeatedly, that later American troops would fight to retake the same territory as it had won earlier, but at an increasing cost for the United States.  Mason’s buddy, Connors summed it up well, “Why the fuck don’t they keep some troops out there.  This is like trying to plug fifty leaks with one finger.” (351)  This is not the only thing that Mason questions.  He did some reading before he went to Vietnam, Bernard Fall’s Street without Victory having had the most impact on him as it describes the political situation in South Vietnam, the corruption of the Saigon regime, and the lack of commitment on the part of the South Vietnamese peasants who just wanted to till their own soil.  The poor training and refusal to fight on the part of the ARVN (South Vietnamese army), the fear in the eyes of South Vietnamese he came in contact with bothered Mason a great deal.  The resentment between ARVN and American officers was readily apparent.   At times when ferrying ARVN troops to a landing zone Mason had to be careful that once on the ground they would not turn and fire on his Huey.  For Mason, there were many times that he questioned why he was in Vietnam.

14 My Chair

(the author in Dak To during his tour)

In exploring the Vietnam War from the lens of a Huey pilot the reader will experience with Mason a myriad of situations. Mason provides an excellent description of how he learned how to fly helicopters.  He also provides a useful amount of technical information about the problems that pilots faced and how they could maneuver their Hueys out of many tough situations.   He engaged in spraying defoliants to eliminate ground cover for the VC (Viet Cong, South Vietnamese communists), not knowing what havoc these chemicals would reap in the future.  Mason’s primary activities centered on transporting troops, wounded, and bodies to and from the battlefield, but he was also involved with relocating refuges, to training missions, as a mail courier, to picking up and delivering supplies to combat areas and rear compounds.  But there were other missions of importance, the pickup and delivery of tons of ice so the officer’s club would be stocked and if any was not needed it would be traded for appliances from other units.  Further, the transport of small groups of officers on their own “secret” missions, as well as using the Hueys to visit friends a hundred miles away.  Some of these tasks were obviously would not be considered “militarily relevant,” but to maintain the sanity of people who have flown over 1000 missions they were none the less very important.

18 Preacher Camp

(the author walking along a trench by his, as he calls it, “spiffy digs”)

Throughout the narrative Mason supplies the reader the historical context of what was occurring on the ground in Vietnam.  The intensity of Mason’s descriptions of his flights and what he observed provides the reader the feel and the smell of war.  Supply shortages were constant in his unit, particularly chest armor that was a necessity for Huey pilots.  Mason highlights it further after he transfers to another unit that is overflowing in chest armor.  A recurrent them is the weakness of American intelligence, provoking Connors to comment after a fire fight that “the intelligence branch must have read their maps upside down, [and was] getting its information from smuggled Chinese fortune cookies.” (146)  Early on Mason was led to believe the reason the French had been forced out of Vietnam was because they weren’t “air mobile.”  Once the American Air Cavalry arrived it was supposed to change the course of the war.  For Mason at times he believed the United States was winning, then doubts would creep in based on his experiences in combat.  It led to a discussion with  his co-pilot, Gary Resler as they tried to determine their attitude toward the war; where they afraid or “chicken,” or after seeing the constant pile of dead American bodies they wanted revenge, making them “hawks.” Their conclusion was a combination of the two, hence, they were “chickenhawks.”

17 Washing Out the Blood

(Cleaning the chopper from the blood and other aspects of war)

Mason provides the reader insights to his thinking about his personal feelings.  He left his wife, Patience, and young son, Jack in the United States, and he integrates his personal letters to his family throughout the narrative.  His feelings of guilt are present as he is honest about his activities during R & R in Saigon, Taipei, and Hong Kong.  It should be obvious that Mason suffered from PTSD before he left Vietnam.  Constant nightmares, anxiety, and fear centered on the murder of VC prisoners, the use of napalm and the damage it caused, and the casualties he witnessed drove him to use medication after his missions in order to complete his tour of duty.  In addition, he pours his heart out about what he witnesses and cannot cope with.  Chickenhawk, though written over twenty years ago provides lessons for future soldiers, and it is an exceptional Vietnam memoir that has stood the test of time.