HERO OF THE EMPIRE:THE BOER WAR, A DARING ESCAPE AND THE MAKING OF WINSTON CHURCHILL by Candice Millard

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(Winston Churchill as a war correspondent)

Author Candice Millard’s recent successes include RIVER OF DOUBT: THEODORE ROOSEVELT’S DARKEST JOURNEY which chronicles the former president’s exploration of the Amazon River, and DESTINY OF THE REPUBLIC: A TALE OF MADNESS, MEDICINE AND THE MURDER OF A PRESIDENT that categorizes the life and assassination of President James A. Garfield.  She has followed these works with her latest book, HERO OF THE EMPIRE: THE BOER WAR, A DARING ESCAPE AND THE MAKING OF WINSTON CHURCHILL that introduces the reader to Churchill’s early career exploits during the Boer War, a war which brought Churchill to the attention of a British public that was shocked by the difficulties that Her Majesty’s soldiers experienced in fighting the Boers.  Churchill found himself in South Africa hoping to achieve the military fame that had eluded him previously in Cuba, India, and the Sudan.  He was driven by an insecure ego that hoped to make a name for himself so he would not only be known as the scion of a rich of an aristocratic family.  Early on, Churchill would inform others that soon he would soon earn a seat in Parliament, and eventually would become Prime Minister.  In England at the time he was considered a “self-promoter par excellence.”

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Churchill’s sense of his own destiny is well known and was reinforced by his experiences in witnessing British troops fighting the Pashtuns in what today is Pakistan, and Madhists in the Sudan.  Churchill used family connections to be placed in whatever colonial war England was engaged in at the time, and was able to build a resume as an important figure in British politics as he felt the weight of his ancestor, John Churchill, the First Duke of Marlborough who throughout the last 17th and early 18th century never left a battlefield unless he was victorious.  After being defeated in his run for a seat in Parliament at the age of twenty-five, Churchill realized he needed a “good war” to propel his career and events in South Africa presented a unique opportunity with its reserves of gold and diamonds.  Storm clouds in the region gathered throughout the second half of the 19th century and by October, 1899 the Boer (a combination of Dutch, German, and British people who had migrated to the area since the 17th century) had enough of London’s encroachment into what they deemed to be their “republics” and war became official on October, 11, 1899.

Millard is a wonderful stylist who provides enough detail that the reader gains a true understanding of the makeup of Boer society and politics, along with an accurate portrayal of local topography, Boer villages, and culture.  The author captures British military arrogance from the outset of the first Boer attack in Dundee, an attack that was designed by Boer commander, Louis Botha to shake British confidence. For the British the goal of defeating the Boer by Christmas was no longer a forgone conclusion.  Millard’s comparison of Boer and British fighters is priceless as she described the British as moving at a “glacial pace,” and the Boer being “astonishingly mobile.”

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Millard explains the background history of the region before Churchill’s arrival from the Dutch extermination and removal of local tribes, the British settlement of the Cape Colony, and the Boer “trek” to the Transvaal, and wars against the Xhosa and Zulu.  The importance of the war against the Zulu cannot be underestimated because it provided the Boer with military lessons and strategy which allowed them to fight like no Europeans had previously and gave the British such difficulties.  Once Churchill zeroed in on South Africa he had to use family connections to gain an appointment as a journalist to enter the war zone since he was no longer a member of the military.  It is interesting that the future First Lord of the Admiralty hated to travel by sea which was how he reached Cape Town!

The author provides a number of mini-biographies of the major players in her narrative.  Aside from Churchill and his coterie of friends like Adam Brockie and Aylmer Haldane, she explores the lives of important Boer figures like Louis Botha, the Boer commander, and Boer President Paul Kruger.  Her discussion of Boer leadership is especially important because her discussion of their leadership and strategic skills takes the reader inside their movement and when she compares it to the British approach it explains the poor showing of Her Majesty’s forces.  Further, if one projects into future Boer methodology, it is useful to imagine the decline of the “Empire” beginning between 1899 and 1902 in South Africa.

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(Two Boer soldiers)

The narrative recounts Churchill’s experiences and exploits during the Boer War and its implications for Churchill’s future career and the effect on Britain’s political and military history.  Millard explores Churchill’s captivity and treatment and how he was able to acquire the many amenities that he had been used to as a member of the aristocracy.  Churchill’s argument with the Boers rested on his “status” as a journalist for the Morning Mail, demanding that he be released immediately.  When the Boers realized the type of prisoner they possessed there was no way they would restore his freedom.  The Boer reaction to his escape was one of obsession and the need to recapture him, and humiliate him to the point that for a period his recapture was more important than the war itself.  We witness the planning that went into his escape, his life as a fugitive, and his final arrival in Portuguese East Africa, a trek of over 300 miles to freedom.

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(Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener)

Millard lists the advantages that Boers had at the outset of combat and the desperate measures the British employed, (i.e.; concentration camps that resulted in the death of 22,000 women and children out of a total of 26,000 total death) to finally bring about an end to the war in 1902.  The Boers had felt no shame in conducting a war based on staying hidden, not pursuing personal glory, fighting to the death, applying superior knowledge of the veld, and their ability as sharpshooters.  For the British, war was about romance and gallantry as they viewed guerilla tactics as cowardly, and believed they were engaging in an adventure until they realized their approach was a failure.  Their arrogance had been self-defeating and proved very detrimental to their cause until Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener introduced an unprecedented level of savagery to the conflict.

In the end Churchill achieved the level of heroism he sought and gained election to Parliament soon after the war.  A war that taught him many important lessons that he would employ during his marvelous career that followed.  Millard has written a stirring narrative that should interest the general reader and students of Winston Churchill equally.  This is her third straight successful literary venture, and I look forward to the fourth no matter what subject she chooses to tackle.

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(Winston Churchill as a war correspondent)

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HOME by Harlan Coben

Title: Home (Signed Book) (Myron Bolitar Series #11), Author: Harlan Coben

I have always found the characters in Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar series entertaining with doses of humor, sarcasm, and a tinge of seriousness.  After reading the first ten books in the series I anxiously awaited number eleven.  It took over three years as the author concentrated on other projects, but thankfully number eleven was just been released.  The new novel, HOME brings with it the usual cast of characters from previous efforts, Myron, Win, Esperanta, “Big Cyndi” are all present with a host of new creations.  Fans of the series will not be disappointed as the plot line begins with the sighting of two boys, Patrick Moore and Rhys Baldwin in London, missing for ten years since their kidnapping from a suburban New Jersey town.  The discovery takes place under a highway overpass where a separate somewhat perverse mini-society has evolved.  Once the sighting takes place Win contacts his sidekick Myron who he has not seen for over a year.

As usual Coben has created a fast moving plot with the usual snappy dialogue on the part of the “ultimate preppy,” the self-indulgent Windsor Horne Lockwood III, the former all-American college basketball player, Myron Bolitar, and Myron’s nephew, Mickey who is a “chip off his uncle’s block! “ Coben continues his habit of 1940s and 50s movie tropes, particularly detective stories, among his humorous asides.  The story itself begins in what appears to be a straight out kidnapping/hostage case that was never solved, but it takes a number of interesting and nasty turns that will leave the reader guessing for a good part of the story.  For Win, the case is personal since Rhys Baldwin is a cousin and he is very close to his mother, Brooke.  The plot is highlighted by dysfunctional marriages, computer gaming, trafficking in young boys, and a high degree of selfishness by a number of characters.

For the current novel Coben creates a number of interesting characters.  Apart from the parents of the missing boys we meet Chris Alan Weeks, a.k.a. Fat Gandhi who traffics in young boys, Shlomo Avraham, a.k.a. Zorra, a cross dressing former Mossad agent, Spoon, a nerdy computer geek, in addition to others.    The scenario behind the story begins in one place and its completion will be very difficult to predict.  Coben maintains the credibility of the series with another fine effort whose last paragraph will be somewhat shocking.  All in all, a fun read.

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(The author)

HIS FINAL BATTLE: THE LAST MONTHS OF FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT by Joseph Lelyveld

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(President Franklin Roosevelt circa late 1944)

A number of years ago historian, Warren Kimball wrote a book entitled THE JUGGLER which seemed an apt description of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s approach to presidential decision making.  As the bibliography of Roosevelt’s presidency has grown exponentially over the years Kimball’s argument has stood the test of time as FDR dealt with domestic and war related issues simultaneously.  In his new book HIS FINAL BATTLE:  THE LAST MONTHS OF FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT, Joseph Lelyveld concentrates on the period leading up to Roosevelt’s death in April, 1945.  The key question for many was whether Roosevelt would seek a fourth term in office at a time when the planning for D-Day was in full swing, questions about the post war world and our relationship with the Soviet Union seemed paramount, and strategy decisions in the Pacific needed to be addressed.  Lelyveld’s work is highly readable and well researched and reviews much of the domestic and diplomatic aspects of the period that have been mined by others.  At a time when the medical history of candidates for the presidency is front page news, Lelyveld’s work stands out in terms of Roosevelt’s medical history and how his health impacted the political process, war time decision making, and his vision for the post war world.  The secrecy and manipulation of information surrounding his health comes across as a conspiracy to keep the American public ignorant of his true condition thereby allowing him, after months of political calculations to seek reelection and defeat New York Governor Thomas Dewey in 1944.  Roosevelt’s medical records mysteriously have disappeared, but according to Dr. Marvin Moser of Columbia Medical School he was “a textbook case of untreated hypertension progressing to [likely] organ failure and death from stroke.” The question historians have argued since his death was his decision to seek a fourth term in the best interest of the American people and America’s place in the world.

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(Roosevelt confidante, Daisy Suckley)

Lelyveld does an exceptional job exploring Roosevelt’s personal motivations for the decisions he made, postponed, and the people and events he manipulated.  Always known as a pragmatic political animal Roosevelt had the ability to pit advisors and others against each other in his chaotic approach to decision making.  Lelyveld does not see Roosevelt as a committed ideologue as was his political mentor Woodrow Wilson, a man who would rather accept defeat based on his perceived principles, than compromise to achieve most of his goals.  Lelyveld reviews the Wilson-Roosevelt relationship dating back to World War I and discusses their many similarities, but concentrates on their different approaches in drawing conclusions.  For Roosevelt the key for the post war world was an international organization that would maintain the peace through the influence of the “big four,” Russia, England, China, and the United States.  This could only be achieved by gaining the trust of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and making a series of compromises to win that trust.  The author will take the reader through the planning, and decisions made at the Teheran Conference in November, 1943, and Yalta in February, 1945 and the implications of the compromises reached.  Lelyveld’s Roosevelt is “the juggler” who would put off decisions, pit people against each other, always keep his options open, and apply his innate political antenna in developing his own viewpoints.  This approach is best exemplified with his treatment of Poland’s future.  In his heart Roosevelt knew there was little he could do to persuade Stalin to support the Polish government in exile, but that did not stop him from sending hopeful signals to the exiled Poles.  Roosevelt would ignore the Katyn Forest massacre of 15,000 Polish officers by the Russian NKVD in his quest to gain Stalin’s support, and in so doing he fostered a pragmatic approach to the Polish issue as Roosevelt and Churchill were not willing to go to war with the Soviet Union over Poland.

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(Yalta Conference, February, 1945)

While all of these decisions had to be made Roosevelt was being pressured to decide if he would run for reelection.  Lelyveld’s analysis stands out in arguing that the president did not have the time and space to make correct decisions.  With his health failing, which he was fully aware of, and so much going on around him, he could not contemplate his own mortality in deciding whether to run or not.  The problem in 1944 was that Roosevelt would not tell anyone what he was planning.  As he approached 1944 “his pattern of thought had grown no less elusive….and the number of subjects he could entertain at one time and his political appetite for fresh political intelligence had both undergone discernible shrinkage.”  By 1944, despite not being not being totally informed of his truth health condition by physician Admiral Ross McIntire, Roosevelt believed he was not well.  Lelyveld relies a great deal on the diaries of Daisy Suckley, a distant cousin who he felt comfortable with and spent more time with than almost anyone, to discern Roosevelt’s mindset.   Lelyveld raises the curtain on the Roosevelt-Suckley relationship and makes greater use of her diaries than previous historians.  She describes his moods as well as his health and had unprecedented access to Roosevelt.  In so doing we see a man who was both high minded and devious well into 1944 which is highlighted by his approach to the Holocaust, Palestine, and Poland.

Lelyveld spends a great deal of time exploring Roosevelt’s medical condition and the secretiveness that surrounds the president’s health was imposed by Roosevelt himself which are consistent with “his character and methods, his customary slyness, his chronic desire to keep his political options open to the last minute.”  He was enabled by Admiral McIntire in this process, but once he is forced to have a cardiologist, Dr. Howard G. Bruenn examine him the diagnosis is clear that he suffered from “acute congestive heart failure.”  Bruenn’s medical records disappeared after Roosevelt died and they would not reappear until 1970.  Roosevelt work load was reduced by half, he would spend two months in the spring of 1944 convalescing, in addition to other changes to his daily routine as Lelyveld states he would now have the hours of a “bank teller.”  Despite all of this Roosevelt, believing that only he could create a safe post war world decided to run for reelection. But, what is abundantly clear from Lelyveld’s research is that by the summer of 1944 his doctors agreed that should he win reelection there was no way he would have remained alive to fulfill his term in office.

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(First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt)

Since awareness of Roosevelt’s health condition could not be kept totally secret Democratic Party officials were horrified by the prospect that Roosevelt would win reelection and either die or resign his office after the war, making Henry Wallace President.  Party officials had never been comfortable with the Iowa progressive and former Republican who was seen as too left leaning and was no match for Stalin.  Roosevelt entertained similar doubts, but using his double bind messages convinced Wallace to travel to Siberia and Mongolia over fifty-one days that included the Democratic Convention.  Lelyveld explores the dynamic between Roosevelt and Wallace and how the president was able to remove his vice president from the ticket; on the one hand hinting strongly he would remain as his running mate, and at the same time exiling him to the Russian tundra!   For Roosevelt, Wallace did not measure up as someone who could guide a postwar organization through the treaty process in the Senate, further, it was uncovered in the 1940 campaign that Wallace had certain occult beliefs, he was also hampered by a number of messy interdepartmental feuds over funding and authority, and lastly, Roosevelt never reached out to him for advice during his four years as Vice-President.  The choice of Harry Truman, and the implications of that decision also receive a great deal of attention as the Missouri democrat had no idea of Roosevelt’s medical condition.  Lelyveld provides intricate details of the 1944 presidential campaign which reflects Roosevelt’s ability to rally himself when the need arose to defeat the arrogant and at times pompous Dewey.  Evidence of Roosevelt’s ability to revive his energy level and focus is also seen in his reaction to the disaster that took place at the outset of the Battle of the Bulge, and finally confronting Stalin over Poland.   In addition, the author does not shy away from difficulties with Churchill over the future of the British Empire, the Balkans and other areas of disagreement.  In Lelyveld portrayal, Roosevelt seems to be involved through the Yalta Conference until his death in April, 1945.

Lelyveld is correct in pointing out that Roosevelt’s refusal to accept his own mortality had a number of negative consequences, but he does not explain in sufficient detail how important these consequences were.  For example, keeping Vice President Truman in the dark about the atomic bomb, Roosevelt’s performance at Yalta, and a number of others that made the transition for Truman more difficult, especially in confronting the Soviet Union.  Overall, Lelyveld’s emphasis on Roosevelt’s medical history adds important information that students of Roosevelt can employ and may impact how we evaluate FDR’s role in history.

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(President Franklin Roosevelt towards the end of his life)

THE MIRROR TEST: AMERICA AT WAR IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN by J. Kael Weston

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The mood that is presented in J. Kael Weston’s powerful new book, THE MIRROR TEST: AMERICA AT WAR IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN is one of horror, empathy, skepticism, anger, and little hope that the American government has learned its lessons in dealing with cultures that are in many ways the antithesis of our own.  Weston immediately explains how he arrived at the title, THE MIRROR TEST by describing the reaction of an American Marine who is unwrapping his bandages following a horrific burn injury, and is looking at himself in a mirror for the first time.  For Weston, the American people should look at themselves in the mirror as they have supported in one way or another fifteen years of war since 9/11.  Weston was a State Department official who served over seven years in some of the most dangerous spots for a “diplomat” in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The majority of his time was spent in Fallujah in Anbar province in Iraq, the remainder in Khost and Helmand provinces in Afghanistan.  Because of the calamitous injuries suffered by US Marines the author has witnessed, he finally comes to the realization that he has seen too much.  Our country has demanded so much from so few, and it seems that we as a people have forgotten about the sacrifices these men and women have made.  In the latter part of the narrative Weston describes his journey throughout the United States as he tries to visit the families, memorials, and grave sites of the thirty one soldiers who perished in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2005 in the Anbar Desert, an operation that the author ordered.

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(The author)

Weston, who worked at the United Nations as part of the American delegation volunteered to serve in Iraq, even though he opposed the war.  He became a member of the Coalition Provisional Authority whose job was to oversee the occupation of Iraq.  From the beginning Weston believed the United States was in over its head, and thirteen years later that belief has not changed.  He describes the invasion of Iraq as “mission impossible” due to our ignorance and unrealistic expectations.  Weston believed it was important to go beyond the “Green Zone” and learn the truth about Iraq and its people.  Working with Iraqi truckers who had their unique version of “teamsters;” visiting schools, Madrassas, Iraqi religious leaders, and the homes of Iraqi citizens where he gained insights and knowledge that made him one of the most respected and knowledgeable Americans in the country.  Weston observed an “imperialistic disconnect” between the local populations and Americans that has not changed since the war’s outset.

Weston integrates the history of the war that has been repeated elsewhere by numerous journalists and historians, but what separates his account is how he intersperses his personal experiences, relationships, and evaluation of events as the narrative progresses.  He has done a great deal of research in formulating his opinions and provides numerous vignettes throughout the book.  One of the most interesting was the discussion of the Jewish Academy that existed in Fallujah, the Sunni stronghold, where the Talmud was supposedly written during the Babylonian era. As the book evolves the reader acquires the “feel of war” that existed in Anbar and all the areas that Weston was posted.  For Weston, American policymakers should have followed the advice of the Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher, Sun Tzu who wrote in ART OF WAR; “In the art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy is not good.”  It has been proven that Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and the rest of Bush’s cadre of neocons never took into account the opinions of others who had greater experience in war and the Middle East region in general.

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Weston describes the malfeasance that highlights US policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, a malfeasance that US Marines had to work around and for many pay with their lives.  Weston touches on things that most writers do not, i.e., his interactions and the role of Mortuary Affairs crews; visits to the “potato factory” or mortuary building; coping methods of people who worked there; accompanying Marines on body recovery missions and dealing with booby-trapped bodies; and dealing with the burial process that would assuage Iraqi religious beliefs.  Weston includes the names and hometowns of each Marine that have been killed in Iraq that he was aware of.  What is abundantly clear in presenting these lists is that the majority of American casualties were in there early twenties and where from small town across America, the towns that bore the unequal burden of these wars.  Weston is extremely perceptive in his views and they explain why we will never be successful in Iraq and Afghanistan.  First, by keeping ourselves separate from the Iraqi people, we make more enemies.  Second, the perception we give off is that our lives are deemed more valuable than theirs.  Our way of dealing with a crisis, be it collateral damage, errors, or just plain stupidity on the part of military planners is to pay the aggrieved families money – we even had a scale of what a life was worth – at times $2,000 per life or $6,000 referred to as “martyr payments.”

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(The battle for Fallujah, circa 2007)

Weston’s approach in Iraq and Afghanistan was very hands on and taking risks that he felt would enhance America’s relationship with local people.  Whether dealing with poor villagers, Imans or Mullahs, Islamic students, Taliban leaders, regional officials, warlords, and any group or person deemed important, Weston’s approach was “out of the box” and designed to further trust and reduce tensions surrounding the US presence.  He worked hard to alter the views of the locals that the United States was out to take over the Muslim world.  For example he recommended increased funding for Madrassas students which he hoped would stem the flow of students into northwest Pakistan were they would be further radicalized.    In many cases these were dangerous missions that military officials opposed.  What drove Weston to distraction was the disconnect between regular Marines and US Special Forces who could conduct operations that detracted from what the Marines were trying to achieve, with no accountability.  Two good examples were the kidnapping of Sara al-Jumaili that led to the murder of one of Weston’s allies, Sheik Hamza, with no explanation or accountability on the part of the Special Forces; and the torturing to death of Dilqwar of Yakubi in Bagram prison.  Unlike visiting politicians who dropped in for a photo op, i.e., former Senators Jon Kyle, Arizona and Sam Brownback, Kansas, or Senator Mitch McConnell, Kentucky, who the author singles out, Weston believed in laying the groundwork of trust to establish working relationships that would be so important for any success, but the actions of others created to many road blocks..  Weston presents a number of individuals who cooperated with his work, many of whom would be killed by al-Qaeda extremists in Fallujah, and the Taliban in Helmand province.

When Weston leaves Fallujah after three years and moves on to Khost and Helmand in Afghanistan he is suffering from a crisis of confidence.  When people approach him and ask “did you kill anyone?”  He knows he did not do so physically, but he is fully cognizant that a number of his policy decisions led to the deaths of many Iraqis and Americans.  Weston learned that “the wrong words could be more dangerous to human life than rounds fired from rifles.”  Perhaps the war would have gone differently had Washington policymakers asked the same question, did you kill anyone?”  Weston worked to get ex-Taliban leaders to support the Kabul government, and reintegrate former Taliban fighters back into Afghan society.  This was almost impossible with the attitude and corruption that existed in Kabul.  From Weston’s perspective, President Obama’s “surge” policy in 2010 was another example of wasting America’s resources as it was bound to fail.  For Weston the name of Thomas Ricks’ book FIASCO is the best way to sum up what occurred and is still reoccurring in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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(Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan)

Weston tells many heart rendering stories.  His chapter dealing with “dignified transfers” describing how American bodies were gathered, prepared, and shipped back to the United States is eye opening.   His recounting of stories concerning the reuniting of wounded veterans with their service dogs is touching.  Presenting amputee veterans skiing in the Sierras provides hope.  Operation Mend, a private program to assist disfigured Marines needs further support.   His meetings with families as he travels across the United States is a form of personal therapy once he returns from the region for good.  Weston writes with a degree of sincerity that is missing in many other accounts of the war.  His approach allows the reader to get to know his subjects, at times intimately, as he shares their life stories in a warm and positive manner, particularly during his travels visiting the families of those who have fallen overseas, and those families whose offspring have had difficulty readapting to civilian life after returning home.

Despite the gravity of Weston’s topic, he maintains a sense of humorous sarcasm throughout the book.  My favorite is his summary of his visit to the George W. Bush Presidential Library where his narration of the exhibits that discuss the war in Iraq are seen through the lens of his five and half years in Baghdad and Fallujah (the other year and a half were spent in Khost and Helmand).   These are just a few of the many topics that Weston explores that should make this book required reading for anyone who has studied US foreign policy during the last fifteen years and who will make policy in the future.

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A SHORT LIST OF READING MATERIAL FOR WESTERN NATIONAL PARKS AND ALASKA

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(Yellowstone National Park)

General Titles:

Ambrose, Stephen. UNDAUNTED COURAGE: MERRIWETHER LEWIS, THOMAS JEFFERSON, AND THE OPENING OF THE AMERICAN WEST. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.

Buck, Rinker. THE OREGON TRAIL: A NEW AMERICAN JOURNEY. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2016.

Davis, Tim. NATIONAL PARK ROADS: A LEGACY IN THE AMERICAN LANDSCAPE. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016.

Harris, Burton. JOHN COLTER: HIS YEARS IN THE ROCKIES. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

Spence, Mark David. DISPOSSESSING THE WILDERNESS: INDIAN REMOVAL AND THE MAKING OF NATIONAL PARKS. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Williams, Terry Tempest. THE HOUR OF LAND: A PERSONAL TOPOGRAPHY OF AMERICA’S NATIONAL PARKS. New York: Farrar Strauss and Giroux, 2016.

Alaska and Denali National Park

Bernard, C. B. CHASING ALASKA: A PORTRAIT OF THE LAST FRONTIER THEN AND NOW. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2013.

Blum, Howard. THE FLOOR OF HEAVEN: A TRUE TALE OF THE LAST FRONTIER AND THE YUKON GOLD RUSH. New York: Broadway Paperbacks, 2011.

Berton, Pierre. THE KLONDIKE FEVER: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF THE LAST GREAT GOLD RUSH. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1958.

Borneman, Walter. ALASKA: SAGA OF A BOLD LAND. New York: Harper Collins, 2003.

Brown, William E. DENALI: SYMBOL OF THE ALASKAN WILD. Virginia Beach, VA: The Donning Co., 1993.

DENALI: A WILDERNESS COMPANION. Alaska Geographic.org.

DELAI NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE. Alaska Geographic.org.

Heacox, Kim. RHYTHM OF THE WILD: A LIFE INSPIRED BY ALASKA’S DENALI NATIONAL PARK. Guilford, CT: Rowman and Littlefield, 2013.

McGinniss, Joe. GOING TO EXTREMES. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980.

Walker, Tom. MCKINLEY STATION: THE PEOPLE OF THE PIONEER PARK THAT BECAME DENALI. Missoula, MT: Pictoral History Publishing Co., 2009.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Dewall, Robb. CARVING A DREAM: A PHOTO HISTORY OF THE CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL. Helena, MT: Korczak Heritage, Inc. 1992.

McGaa, Ed. CRAZY HORSE AND CHIEF RED CLOUD. Rapid City, SD: Four Directions Publishing, 2004.

Powers, Thomas. THE KILLING OF CRAZY HORSE. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.

Glacier National Park

Gildart, R.C. GLACIER COUNTY: MONTANA’S GLACIER NATIONAL PARK. Helena, MT: Far Country Press, 2002.

Guthrie, C.W. GLACIER NATIONAL PARK: THE FIRST 100 YEARS. Helena, MT: Far Country, 2008.

Grand Tetons National Park

Holdsworth: Pflughoft. THE GRAND TETONS: IMPRESSIONS. Helena, MT: Far Country Press, 2002.

Smithsonian: Buffalo Bill Museum, Cody, WY

Hassrick, Peter; Besaw, Mindy N. PAINTED JOURNEYS: THE ART OF JOHN MIX STANLEY. Norman: OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2015.

Russell, Don. THE LIVES AND LEGENDS OF BUFFALO BILL. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1960.

Warren, Louis S. BUFFALO BILL’S AMERICA: WILLIAM CODY AND THE WILD WEST SHOW. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.

Mount Rushmore

Smith, Rex Alan. THE CARVING OF MT. RUSHMORE. New York: Abbeville Press, 1985.

Taliaferro, John. GREAT WHITE FATHERS: THE STORY OF THE OBSESSIVE QUEST TO CREATE MT. RUSHMORE. New York, Public Affairs, 2002.

Yellowstone National Park

Black, George. EMPIRE OF SHADOWS: THE EPIC STORY PF YELLOWSTONE. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012.

Pflughoft, Fred. YELLOWSTONE: IMPRESSIONS. HELENA, MT. Far Country Press, 2002.

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(Denali National Park)

(There are numerous other publications, this is just a partial list that we are familiar with)

Maybe Trump and Clinton, and whoever else may affect our lives should read this

The Art of War (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

“In the art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and in tact; to shatter and destroy is not good.”  Sun Tzu, THE ART OF WAR

I guess Donald Rumsfeld and the rest of the neo-conservatives didn’t read much during their corporate careers.  Therefore it is not surprising that Iraq remains a quagmire.  Even Robert McNamara apologized for his mistakes in Vietnam.  Rumsfeld and former Vice President Cheney continue to maintain they were correct….UGH!

In this political season when a candidate praises Vladimir Putin, a man who probably is well aware of Sun Tzu’s teaching, it might be important for certain people to become a bit more educated when it comes to our national security.

P.S.  “When one receives a confidential national security briefing, the operative word is confidential.” Could be attributed to Thomas Paine, COMMON SENSE!!!!!

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GHOST STORIES: THE FORGOTTEN EPIC STORY OF WORLD WAR II’S MOST DRAMATIC MISSION by Hampton Sides

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After reading Hampton Sides’ GHOST STORIES: THE FORGOTTEN EPIC STORY OF WORLD WAR II’S MOST DRAMATIC MISSION that deals with the treatment of American POWs by the Japanese during World War II it fosters the bizarre wonderment about people’s inhumanity toward people.  Hampton Sides, the author of numerous books that include IN THE KINGDOM OF ICE and HELLHOUND ON HIS TRAIL, concentrates on the January, 1945 rescue of 513 American and British POWs from the hellish Japanese POW camp at Cabanatuan in the Philippines.  Sides has done a significant amount of research interviewing survivors, those that rescued them, and mined the memoirs and secondary material dealing with this amazing operation.  Sides immediately sets the tone of his narrative by describing through Private First Class Eugene Nielson’s eyes the mass burning of POWs on Palawan Island by the Japanese.  The goal was to burn alive 150 POWs, of which, after a number escaped, eleven survived.

After General Douglas MacArthur had landed on the island of Leyte he dispatched General Walter Krueger, the Commander of the US Sixth Army toward Manila.  As his forces neared the city of Cabanatuan he came across Major Robert Lapham who led a band of Filipino insurgents against the Japanese.  Krueger learned there were roughly 500 POWs, many survivors of the Bataan Death March and Corregidor, remaining in the Cabanatuan camp.  Lapham also learned there were 8-9,000 Japanese soldiers around the city.  Army intelligence understood Japanese contempt for POWs in general and feared that the remainder of these men who would suffer a horrible death at the hands of the Japanese if nothing was done.  With 27% of all POWs killed by the Japanese, Krueger needed little convincing to attempt a rescue mission, an action that forms the basis of Sides intimate and at times horrific narrative.

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(After the successful US Army Ranger liberation of POWs from the Cabanatuan camp)

Sides introduces all the major characters involved in the mission from Lt. Colonel Henry Mucci, the Commander of the Ranger Battalion that would carry out the rescue, Captain Robert Prince, the assault commander and the man who implemented the strategy needed, to Dr. Ralph Emerson Hibbs who did his best to keep the POWs alive.  American soldiers had no concept of the Japanese cultural view of surrender.  They had never been trained in the concept or how to behave as a POW.  Since the Japanese culture saw surrender as cowardice and dishonorable their treatment of those who did surrender was appalling.

Sides structures the narrative by alternating chapters between the plight of the POWs from their capture, the Bataan Death March, their treatment at Camp O’Donnell, to their incarceration at Cabanatuan; with the training and implementation of the Army Ranger assault on the camp, and the resulting freeing of the POWs.  The Japanese Commander, Lt-General Masaharu Homma actually believed that 25,000 POWs could be taken to Cabanatuan.  He believed that they could march to the camp, however he had little knowledge of their health and strength, and that the prisoner figure was closer to 100,000 resulting in a murderous calamity.

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(US Army Ranger, Capt. Robert Prince)

Sides does a superb job describing the recruitment and training of the Army Rangers.  He provides a number of character profiles of the men and allows the reader to feel as if they know them.  They would move out on January 28, 1945 along with their Filipino allies, without whom the mission would have been doomed.  These Filipinos led by Captains Eduardo Joson and Juan Pajota knew the topography of the region as well as having important insights into Japanese strategy.  Side’s offers intimate details of the inhuman conditions that existed at Cabanatuan.  The POWs lacked food leading to malnutrition and starvation, suffered beheadings, bayoneting, and torture and human cruelty that was unimaginable.  Sides takes us back to 1942 and describes the three years of captivity.  Food became an obsession to the point where POWs actually traded recipes, and perhaps their happiest moment occurred on Christmas day, 1942 when Red Cross packages arrived.  For the POWs, who had learned to rely on themselves during the Great Depression “self-reliance” became their mantra as “stealing, hoarding and scheming” dominated their behavior.  The key for the Rangers was to complete the rescue before the Japanese killed all of their prisoners.  The Rangers were “flying blind” because no amount of training could have prepared them for what they were about to attempt.

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(Lt. Colonel Henry Mucci)

As the narrative progresses Sides introduces many important individuals.  One of the most interesting was Clara Fuentes, a.k.a. “High Pockets,” a.k.a. Madame Isubaki, a.k.a. Claire Phillips, an American spy who ran a night club that was a clearing house for information and used the proceeds of her business to supply medicine, clothing and whatever supplies could be smuggled into the camps.  Her story was one of the many amazing ones that Sides offers.

Sides places the reader next to the Army Rangers as they crawl a good part of the thirty miles to reach their target.  We witness the thought processes of Captain Prince and his Filipino allies as they approach the camp and begin the assault. The stories that Sides conveys as he takes us through the assault are heartwarming as they reflect the suffering that these men endured.  At first when the Rangers entered the camp, prisoners were confused, fearful, suspicious, and in shock to the point where the Rangers had to forcefully remove a number of them.  The rescuers were appalled at what they saw, in particular the condition of the POWs as many were emaciated and sickly.  What is interesting is that once the escape takes place and the men have to march miles and miles to freedom they take on a different persona as their pride is somewhat restored and they dig deep down and find strength and emotions that they thought that the Japanese had beaten out of them.

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(Many of the American soldiers rescued from the Cabanatuan POW Camp in 2/1945)

Sides follows the narrative with an epilogue that touches the heart as he describes the voyage on the USS Anderson through enemy waters to return to the United States and a hero’s welcome.  Sides then summarizes how a number of the US Army Rangers and the men they freed lived the remainder of their lives.   GHOST WARS is a triumph of the human spirit that I recommend to all.

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(American POWS liberated from the Cabanatuan camp in the Philippines in 2/1945)

THE BOOKSELLER by Mark Pryor

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(Bookstalls along the Seine River in Paris)

I have always been attracted to any mystery that has “books” in their title, or involved a plot centered on some aspect of dealing with books.  When I learned of Mark Pryor’s novel, THE BOOKSELLER I was extremely curious.  With a former FBI profiler named Hugo Marston working as the head of security at the American embassy in Paris, Pryor has created a strong character and a wonderful story line in his first novel.  From the outset, when a Parisian bookseller, named Max Koche is abducted from his kiosk on the Seine River after selling two rare books to Marston, I was hooked.  The plot is very suspenseful and mystery addicts will be extremely satisfied with Pryor’s effort as a French detective is summoned to investigate the bookseller’s disappearance and seems quite uninterested in pursuing the case.

What drives Marston to distraction was the police’s refusal to investigate Max’s kidnapping which occurred right in front of him, claiming that Max went with his captors willingly.  Marston researches the French criminal data base and learns that Jean Chabot, who claims that Max’s kiosk belonged to him, had a long criminal record.  Marston will turn to a former FBI colleague and now a part time CIA operative, Tom Green for assistance.  The banter between the two is humorous and entertaining as the two try to figure out what really happened.  They learn that Max was really Maximillian Ivan Koche who spent part of World War II in a French internment camp in the southern part of the country controlled by the Vichy government.  His family had been sent to Dachau in July, 1944 and were liberated in 1945.  After the war Max would work with Nazi hunter, Serge Klarsfeld and assisted in the seizure of former Gestapo Chief Kurt Lischka in 1971.  Further, he was involved in the capture of Klaus Barbie, the “butcher of Lyon,” and Jean Leguay, a high Vichy government official.  For the remainder of his career Max focused on “outing” former Vichy collaborators.  Once Marston learns Max’s background his approach to his investigation changes and the novel gathers momentum.

Pryor introduces a number of interesting characters.  Claudia Roux, a French journalist and police reporter for Le Monde.  Count Gerard de Roussillon, Claudia’s father, a member of the French aristocracy with many secrets.  Bruno Gravois, who was in charge of the kiosks along the Seine River for the Chambre and Office of Tourisme, a shady character who secretly tries to gain control of all the Kiosks along the Seine.  The police provide a number of important characters, particularly Capitaine Garcia, who finally agrees that something untoward has happened as a number of kiosk sellers turn up dead floating in the Seine.  Pryor builds his plot around the idea that during World War II, the French Resistance passed messages by code hidden in certain books.  For Max locating those books, which contained the names of French collaborators was an obsession as he focused on making those names public to bring shame and justice for their treason during the war.  Pryor then introduces the possibility that events center on a Romanian organized drug ring, but how is that related to booksellers?

curiosity builds as Marston and Green grow more frustrated.  If you are looking for a quick and engrossing mystery with a tour of Paris and a surprising ending then THE BOOKSELLER is for you.  Pryor has written five other novels, the most recent of which is THE PARIS LIBRARIAN, all of which have sparked my interest.

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