FILM AND GENOCIDE: READINGS

FILM AND GENOCIDE:

Armenian Genocide:

Akcam, Tanker  A SHAMEFUL ACT: THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE AND THE QUESTION
OF TURKISH RESPONSIBILITY.

Balakian, Gregoris  ARMENIAN GOLOTHA: A MEMOIR OF THE ARENIAN GENOCIDE,

1915-1918

Balakian, Peter  THE BURNING TIGRIS: THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE AND AMERICA’S
RESPONSE.

Bloxham, Donald  THE GREAT GAME OF GENOCIDE

de Bellaigue, Christopher  REBEL LAND: UNRAVELING THE RIDDLE OF HISTORY IN A
TURKISH TOWN.

Kiernan, Ben  BLOOD AND SOIL: A WORLD HISTORY OF GENOCIDE AND EXTERMINATION
FROM SPARTA TO DARFUR.

Lowy, Guenther  THE ARMENIAN MASSACRE IN THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE:  A DISPUTED
GENOCIDE.

Molson, Robert F.  REVOLUTION AND GENOCIDE: ON THE ORIGINS OF THE ARMENIAN
GEOCIDE AND THE HOLOAUST.

Power, Samantha  A PROBLEM FROM HELL: AMERICA IN THE AGE OF GENOCIDE.

The Holocaust:

Anderson, Alan, Ed. THE DIARY OF DAWID SIERAKOWIAK: FIVE NOTEBOOKS FROM THE
LODZ GHETTO.

…………………………….  LODZ GHETTO: INSIDE A COMMUNITY UNDER SIEGE.

Burleigh, Michael THE THIRD REICH: A NEW HISTORY.

Cesarean, David  FINAL SOLUTION: THE FATE OF THE JEWS 1933-1949.

Crowe, David M. OSKAR SCHINDLER

Dawidowicz, Lucy  THE WAR AGAINST THE JEWS: 1933-1945.

Dobroszycki, Lucian  THE CHRONICLE OF THE LOD GHETTO 1941-1944.

Evans, Richard  THE THIRD REICH AT WAR

Friedlander, Saul  NAZI GERMANY AND THE JEWS 1939-1945, THE YEARS OF EXTERMINATION.

Hackett, David A.  THE BUCHENWALD REPORT.

Hilberg, Raul, Ed. THE DIARY OF ADAM CERNIAKOW: PRELUDE TO DOOM.

Ihrig, Stefan  ATATURK IN THE NAZI IAGINATION.

Kath, Abraham Ed. THE WARSAW DIARY OF CHAIM A. KAPLAN.

Kielar, Westlaw  ANUS MUNDI 1500 DAYS IN AUSCHWITZ AND BIRKENAU.

Lanzmann, Claude  SHOAH: AN ORAL HISTORY OF THE HOLOCAUST.

Mark, Ben  UPRISING IN THE WARSAW GHETTO.

Rotem, Simha  MEMOIRS OF A WARSAW GHETTO FIGHTER.

Sloan, Jacob Ed.  NOTES FROM THE WARSAW GHETTO: THE JOURNAL OF EMANUEL
RINGELBLUM.

Tory, Avraham  SURVIVING THE HOLOCAUST: THE KOVNO GHETTO DIARY.

Wachsmann, Nicokolaus  KL: A HISTORY OF THE NAZI CONCENTRTION CAMPS.

Wentz, Eric D.  A CENTURY OF GENOCIDE: UTOPIAS OF RACE AND NATION.

The Killing Fields:

Brinkley, Joel  CAMBODIA’S CURSE: THE HISTORY OF A TROUBLED LAND.

Karnow, Stanley  VIETNAM: A HISTORY.

Kiernan, Ben  THE POL POT REGIME: RACE, POWER AND GENOCIDE IN CAMBODIA UNDER THE KHMER ROUGE, 1975-1979

Logevall, Fredrik  EMBERS OF WAR: THE FALL OF AN EMPIRE AND THE MAKINGS OF
AMERICA’S VIETNAM.

Ngor, Haing  SURVIVAL IN THE KILLING FIELDS.

Pran, Dith  CHILDREN OF CAMBODIA’S KILLING FIELDS.

Schanberg, Sydney H. THE DEATH AND LIFE OF DITH PRAN.

Shawcross, William  SIDESHOW: KISSINGER, NIXON, AND THE DESTRUCTION OF
CAMBODIA.

Short, Philip  POL POT: ANATOMY OF A NIGHTMARE.

Ung, Loung  FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER: A DAUGHTER OF CAMBODIA REMEMBERS.

Rwanda:

Dallaire, Romeo  SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL: THE FAILURE OF HUMANITY IN RWANDA.

Editor, Gail THE RWANDAN GENOCIDE.

Gourevitch, Philip  WE WISH TO INFORM YOU THAT TOMORROW WE WILL BE KILLED WITH OUR FAMILIES: STORIES FROM RWANDA.

Hatzfeld, Joseph  MACHETE SEASON: THE KILLERS IN RWANDA SPEAK.

Kinzer, Stephen  A THOUSAND HILLS: RWANDA’S REBIRTH AND THE MAN WHO DREAMED IT.

Prunier, Gerard  AFRICA’S WORLD WAR: THE CONGO, THE RWANDAN GENOCIDE AND THE MAKING OF A CONTINENTAL CATASTROPHE.

Advertisements

FILM AND GENOCIDE: SUGGESTED READINGS

FILM AND GENOCIDE: Suggested Readings

Armenian Genocide:

Akcam, Tanker  A SHAMEFUL ACT: THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE AND THE QUSTION
OF TURKISH RESPONSIBILITY.

Balakian, Gregoris  ARMENIAN GOLOTHA: A MEMOIR OF THE ARENIAN GENOCIDE,

1915-1918

Balakian, Peter  THE BURNING TIGRIS: THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE AND AMERICA’S
RESPONSE.

Bloxham, Donald  THE GREAT GAME OF GENOCIDE

de Bellaigue, Christopher  REBEL LAND: UNRAVELING THE RIDDLE OF HISTORY IN A
TURKISH TOWN.

Kiernan, Ben  BLOOD AND SOIL: A WORLD HISTORY OF GENOCIDE AND EXTERMINATION
FROM SPARTA TO DARFUR.

Lowy, Guenther  THE ARMENIAN MASSACRE IN THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE:  A DISPUTED
GENOCIDE.

Molson, Robert F.  REVOLUTION AND GENOCIDE: ON THE ORIGINS OF THE ARMENIAN
GEOCIDE AND THE HOLOAUST.

Power, Samantha  A PROBLEM FROM HELL: AMERICA IN THE AGE OF GENOCIDE.

The Holocaust:

Anderson, Alan, Ed. THE DIARY OF DAWID SIERAKOWIAK: FIVE NOTEBOOKS FROM THE
LODZ GHETTO.

…………………………….  LODZ GHETTO: INSIDE A COMMUNITY UNDER SIEGE.

Burleigh, Michael THE THIRD REICH: A NEW HISTORY.

Cesarean, David  FINAL SOLUTION: THE FATE OF THE JEWS 1933-1949.

Crowe, David M. OSKAR SCHINDLER

Dawidowicz, Lucy  THE WAR AGAINST THE JEWS: 1933-1945.

Dobroszycki, Lucian  THE CHRONICLE OF THE LOD GHETTO 1941-1944.

Evans, Richard  THE THIRD REICH AT WAR

Friedlander, Saul  NAZI GERMANY AND THE JEWS 1939-1945, THE YEARS OF EXTERMINATION.

Hackett, David A.  THE BUCHENWALD REPORT.

Hilberg, Raul, Ed. THE DIARY OF ADAM CERNIAKOW: PRELUDE TO DOOM.

Ihrig, Stefan  ATATURK IN THE NAZI IAGINATION.

Kath, Abraham Ed. THE WARSAW DIARY OF CHAIM A. KAPLAN.

Kielar, Westlaw  ANUS MUNDI 1500 DAYS IN AUSCHWITZ AND BIRKENAU.

Lanzmann, Claude  SHOAH: AN ORAL HISTORY OF THE HOLOCAUST.

Mark, Ben  UPRISING IN THE WARSAW GHETTO.

Rotem, Simha  MEMOIRS OF A WARSAW GHETTO FIGHTER.

Sloan, Jacob Ed.  NOTES FROM THE WARSAW GHETTO: THE JOURNAL OF EMANUEL
RINGELBLUM.

Tory, Avraham  SURVIVING THE HOLOCAUST: THE KOVNO GHETTO DIARY.

Wachsmann, Nicokolaus  KL: A HISTORY OF THE NAZI CONCENTRTION CAMPS.

Wentz, Eric D.  A CENTURY OF GENOCIDE: UTOPIAS OF RACE AND NATION.

The Killing Fields:

Brinkley, Joel  CAMBODIA’S CURSE: THE HISTORY OF A TROUBLED LAND.

Karnow, Stanley  VIETNAM: A HISTORY.

Kiernan, Ben  THE POL POT REGIME: RACE, POWER AND GENOCIDE IN CAMBODIA UNDER THE

KHMER ROUGE, 1975-1979

Logevall, Fredrik  EMBERS OF WAR: THE FALL OF AN EMPIRE AND THE MAKINGS OF
AMERICA’S VIETNAM.

Ngor, Haing  SURVIVAL IN THE KILLING FIELDS.

Pran, Dith  CHILDREN OF CAMBODIA’S KILLING FIELDS.

Schanberg, Sydney H. THE DEATH AND LIFE OF DITH PRAN.

Shawcross, William  SIDESHOW: KISSINGER, NIXON, AND THE DESTRUCTION OF
CAMBODIA.

Short, Philip  POL POT: ANATOMY OF A NIGHTMARE.

Ung, Loung  FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER: A DAUGHTER OF CAMBODIA REMEMBERS.

Rwanda:

Dallaire, Romeo  SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL: THE FAILURE OF HUMANITY IN RWANDA.

Editor, Gail THE RWANDAN GENOCIDE.

Gourevitch, Philip  WE WISH TO INFORM YOU THAT TOMORROW WE WILL BE KILLED WITH OUR

FAMILIES: STORIES FROM RWANDA.

Hatzfeld, Joseph  MACHETE SEASON: THE KILLERS IN RWANDA SPEAK.

Kinzer, Stephen  A THOUSAND HILLS: RWANDA’S REBIRTH AND THE MAN WHO DREAMED IT.

Prunier, Gerard  AFRICA’S WORLD WAR: THE CONGO, THE RWANDAN GENOCIDE AND THE MAKING OF A

CONTINENTAL CATASTROPHE.

A COLUMN OF FIRE by Ken Follett

Image result for picture of queen elizabeth i

(Queen Elizabeth I of England)

At the outset I feel obligated to provide a disclaimer for the reader; Ken Follett is one of my favorite authors of historical fiction that being said his latest novel, A COLUMN OF FIRE, which follows PILLARS OF THE EARTH, and WORLD WITHOUT END in his popular Kingsbridge series is the work of a master story teller.  Set in 16th century Kingsbridge, England the novel travels through Hispaniola, Spain, France and Scotland as Follett integrates the political and religious strife of that period.  At first it seems Follett has written a love story between Ned Willard who is returning from a year abroad tending to the family business in Calais, and Margery Fitzgerald, the daughter of the mayor of Kingsbridge.  Their relationship comes to symbolize the religious divide that has overtaken England and the rest of Europe.  Margery’s father is Reginald Fitzgerald and is an ardent Catholic, while the Willards lean towards Reformation.  The conflict goes beyond religion as it carries over to a fierce commercial and political competition between the families.  Margery’s parents refuse to allow her to marry Ned, and force her into a marriage for economic and social advancement.

Image result for picture of mary queen of scots

(Mary Queen of Scots)

Follett immediately lays out the historical landscape facing England in 1558 in a conversation between Ned and his mother Alice, Reginald Fitzgerald and his son Rollo, the Earl of Swithin and Margery’s future husband Bart.  The conversation is mediated by Sir William Cecil, the future Elizabeth I’s estate manager and Secretary of State under Henry VIII.  After the death of Francis II, Cecil’s goal is to prevent violence since Mary Tudor was childless and arrange a peaceful transition for Elizabeth I.  For Catholics like Rollo and his family, Elizabeth is illegitimate and they favored Mary Queen of Scots to assume the English throne.  For the Fitzgerald family if Elizabeth I, who they strongly believed was Protestant assumed the throne she would undo all of Mary’s reforms, and they would lose a great deal of their wealth.  From this brief description it is obvious Follett has written a novel full of deception, avarice, and the will to power as conspiracies abound that seem to involve almost every character.

Follett introduces many historical characters as he seamlessly integrates them into his narrative.  Mary Stuart, Mary Queen of Scots, Catherine de Medici, Henri III, Francis II, John Calvin, Sir William Cecil, Sir Francis Drake, Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spy master;  James I who succeeded Elizabeth on the throne in 1603; King Philip II of Spain, and Guy Fawkes.  He also creates a number of interesting fictional individuals.  Aside from the Willards and Fitzgeralds, especially Rollo, Margery’s brother, Follett offers Pierre Arumande de Guise a dangerous schemer and social climber; Alison McKay, a childhood friend of Mary Stuart who becomes her aide; Sylvia Palot, a Protestant bookseller; and Barney Willard, Ned’s brother.

Image result for pictures of philip ii of spain

(King Philip II of Spain)

The novel seems to have a number of themes and stories that run parallel to each other whether they take place in England, France, Scotland, Spain, and Hispaniola.  Follett’s talent as a writer and story teller are on full display as he arranges for Ned Willard and Pierre Arumande de Guise to meet and become rivals as the French component of the story collides with that of the English.  The author has an excellent command of historical events and personalities and he effectively weaves his fictional characters in such a seamless manner that you actually believe they might be real.  Further, Follett’s misogynistic dialogue is emblematic of the time period as are other dialects that are presented.

Image result for picture of st bartholomew's day massacre

(St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, 1572)

Many significant historical events are replicated in the book particularly the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572; the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots; the English defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588; and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

Image result for picture of the spanish armada

(The defeat of the Spanish Armada, 1588)

A COLUMN OF FIRE is an educational and enjoyable read as we follow the course of English and European history over a period of fifty years.  Follett has so much material to work with and it is a joy to see the results of his voluminous research.  The current novel is part of a trilogy but can be read independently as any allusions to the pre-1588 period are easily explained.  Follett is a wonderful writer and if you choose to engage his current work it is sure to be entertaining.

Image result for picture of elizabeth i

(Queen Elizabeth I at Court)

LAST HOPE ISLAND: BRITAIN, OCCUPIED EUROPE AND THE BROTHERHOOD THAT HELPED TURN THE TIDE OF WAR by Lynne Olson

Image result for photo of queen wilhelmina during wwii

(Queen Wilhelmina of Holland broadcasting over the BBC from London to her country during WWII)

England has had a long and tortured history as she related to the European continent – always asking the question: should we become involved or not?  We can see it after World War II and the developing Common Market, and of course with the recent Brexit vote.  The dark days during the spring of 1940 when the Nazis rolled over France and the Low countries presented the problem anew, but this time after sitting back in the late 1930s allowing Hitler carte blanche it decided to support a “community of nations” as London was made available as a sanctuary for governments overrun by the Nazis.  London would become the home for the exiled governments of Poland, Norway, France, Belgium, Holland, and Czechoslovakia.  These governments would band together with England to defeat Nazism and lay the basis for European cooperation after the war.  One of Olson’s major themes rests with the exile communities.  She affirms without the exiles work as pilots, mathematicians, intelligence operators, scientists, physicists, and soldiers who knows how the war might have turned out.  Today, with the European Union under attack on the continent by certain right wing parties it is useful to explore Lynne Olson’s latest work dealing with World War II entitled, LAST HOPE ISLAND: BRITAIN, OCCUPIED EUROPE AND THE BROTHERHOOD THAT HELPED TURN THE TIDE OF WAR.

Image result for photo of Charles de Gaulle

(Charles de Gaulle, leader of Free French forces during WWII)

Olson covers a great deal of material in her book, much is new, but some of it has appeared in past books.  For example, the chapter dealing with the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz has a similar narrative that appears in  A QUESTION OF HONOR: THE KOSCIUSZKO SQUADRON: THE FORGOTTEN HEROES OF WORLD WAR II as she writes about Squadron 303 made up of Polish airmen who accomplished remarkable things at a time of England’s greatest need.  Other examples can be found in TROUBLESOME YOUNG MEN: THE REBELS WHO BROUGHT CHURCHILL TO POWER AND HELPED SAVE ENGLAND and CITIZENS OF LONDON: THE AMERICANS WHO STOOD WITH BRITAIN IN ITS DARKEST, FINEST HOUR. The integration of past research enhances her current effort particularly when she writes about the early part of the war.  To her credit she has an amazing knowledge of the leading secondary works and historians dealing with her topic which just enhances the narrative.

Olson employs a wonderful wit as part of her approach to writing.  For example she quotes the novelist and former MI6 member, John le Carre as he noted how devoted MI6 had been to “the conspiracies of self-protection, of using the skirts of official secrecy in order to protect incompetence, of gross class privilege, of amazing credulity,” then remarks that “the years immediately preceding the war MI6, as it happened, had a considerable amount of incompetence to protect.”

Image result for photo of winston churchill

(British Prime Minister Winston Churchill)

The author breaks the narrative into two separate parts. The first being the prewar period through the end of 1941 as the Germans rolled through France and the Low countries and we find a number of governments in exile stationed in London. In that section of the book Olson successfully narrates the relationship of these governments in exile first with the Chamberlain government, then that of Churchill.  She explores the important personalities that include King Haakon of Norway, Queen Wilhelmina of Holland, Charles de Gaulle of the Free French, and Edvard Benes of Czechoslovakia.  The problems of each are explained as well as how the British responded to their needs.  Olson accurately points out the humiliation and frustration experienced by Benes who was forced not to fight during the Munich conference, then was pilloried for not fighting when Hitler seized Czechoslovakia in March, 1939.  Further she explores the difficult relationship between the British and the French particularly during the evacuation from Dunkirk, as well as with de Gaulle once France fell.  For the British de Gaulle could be described as the self-appointed French leader who exhibited “extreme weakness that required extreme intransigence.”  King Haakon and Queen Wilhelmina got along much better with the British as each had merchant marine fleets that English needed, as well as natural resources.  Olson points out the complexity of the relationship with the Polish government in exile.  Of all these governments it was the Poles who fought, wanted to continue to fight, and developed the Home Army to do so.  They made tremendous contributions as pilots, intelligence sources, and creating a resistance against Nazi Germany.

Image result for photo of exiled polish fighters

(Exiled Polish pilots from Squadron 303 who assisted England during the Battle of Britain)

Olson does a commendable job explaining the incompetence of the British and French military leadership who instead of accepting responsibility for events that led to Dunkirk used Belgium as their scapegoat for their own failures and defeat.  Showering King Leopold as a “Quisling” was blasphemy for the king whose army fought as well as possible based on the resources at his command, and further, refused to surrender to the Germans.  Olson also argues that the myth that the French just gave up was unfair based on the lack of support the British provided as the Germans goose-stepped into Paris.

The importance of the BBC is given its own chapter which is important because the radio broadcasts had an important role to play.  First, it allowed exiled leaders the opportunity to broadcast their own message to their people.  Second, it provided the various resistance movements accurate information as to the course of the war. Third, they broadcasted in over forty languages.   Lastly, it gave hope to demoralized population, particularly in France as they told the truth.

Image result for photo of King Haakon of Norway

(King Haakon VII of Norway)

By December 1941 the governments in exile came to the realization that with the entrance of the United States and the Soviet Union the entire diplomatic formula was dramatically altered.  With the Americans and Russians now in the war, their early closeness with Great Britain was about to give way to power politics, and perhaps a European Union might be in the offering.  From this point on Olson’s focus begins to change.

Olson spends a great deal of time taking apart the reputations of British MI6 and their Special Operations Executive.  She delves into the lack of competence exhibited by MI6 head Stewart Menzies and his battle with SOE leadership whose task was to foment sabotage, subversion and resistance in Europe.  In chapters dealing with Holland and France, Olson points out the errors that SOE leaders engaged in including a lack of security and simplistic coding, and foolish field decisions involving their agents.  London’s poor decision making would prove disastrous for Dutch agents who were easily rounded up by the Germans as they parachuted into Holland.  Olson is meticulous as she undermines the myth of the excellence of British secret services and the negative impact on events in Holland and France.  Two men stand out in her narrative, Leo Marks and Frances Cammaerts who were “passionate, skeptical, and [possessed] fiercely independent traits unappreciated by the SOE brass.”  The problem was this weak intelligence infrastructure created issues for the French resistance that was to play a major role in D Day planning and the early stages of the invasion as many suffered horrendous death at the hands of the SS.  Further complicating things was the split between the French resistance and de Gaulle, and the British and de Gaulle.  In both cases endangering the overall invasion.

Image result for photo of Edvard Benes

(Czechoslovakia’s leader Edvard Benes)

Olson is at her best when she integrates stories about certain figures who seem to be on the periphery of the main narrative, but are involved in important actions.  For example Andree de Vongh, an independent woman who decided to ignore SOE objections and developed the “Comet Line” an escape route for British airmen and paratroopers that began in Brussels, snaked its way through France, and crossed the Pyrenees into Spain.  She organized safe houses along the route and when MI9 refused to give her funds she raised them on her own.  She personally escorted 118 servicemen to freedom out of 7000 total for all networks during the war.  If reading about de Vongh is not interesting enough, Audrey Kathleen Ruston, a thirteen year old aspiring dancer and Dutch resistance member emerges, a.k.a Audrey Hepburn.

One of the major debates that historians seem to engage in is how valuable were resistance movements in winning the war.  Though some argue not as much as one might think, Olson makes the case throughout that they were very consequential.  The Poles in particular who contributed to breaking the Enigma code and intelligence collected by their spies throughout Europe were of great importance to the Allied victory.  The Poles who seemed to have given so much received very little as the war wound to a close, and in the postwar world.  It was unfortunate that they became pawns between Stalin’s strategic view of Soviet national security in Eastern Europe, and Roosevelt’s desire not to upset the Russian dictator whose army suffered an inordinate number of casualties compared to England and the United States.  When Polish exile leaders appealed to Churchill, no matter what the English Prime Minister believed, he could do little to convince his allies to assist the Poles as the Nazis were about to destroy what remained of Warsaw in May, 1944.  As far as the French are concerned General Eisenhower argues that the resistance was “of inestimable value…without their great assistance, the liberation of France would have consumed a much longer time and meant greater losses to ourselves.”  Olson summarizes her view nicely as she quotes historian Julian Jackson, “there was indeed a Resistance myth which needed to be punctured, but that does not mean that the Resistance was a myth.”

(British General Bernard Montgomery, 1943)

When evaluating the Dutch contribution Olson correctly takes General Bernard Montgomery to task.   Montgomery had a large sense of self, arrogant and stubborn as he refused to take into account Dutch intelligence concerning the retaking of the port of Antwerp.  Rather than securing the Scheldt River estuary before moving on to Operation Market Basket, Montgomery had his eye on racing to Berlin before the Americans or Russians arrived.  As a result the Germans lay in wait, and Arnhem would become a trap leading to a fiasco which Montgomery’s over-sized ego caused..  “As a result, many more people would die, soldiers, and civilians alike.  For the Netherlands, the consequences would be dire” as the Allies controlled southern Holland, but the Nazis the northern cities and they took out their retribution on the populations of Rotterdam, Amsterdam, the Hague, Utrecht, and others.

The latter part of the book evolves into a narrative of the last year of the war.  Olson covers the salient facts and personalities as she tries to maintain to her “exile” theme.  If one were to pick which character she was most impressed with it would be Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch people.  Olson points out the errors that politicians made and how their decisions impacted the post war world particularly Czechoslovakia as Patton’s Third Army stood outside Prague and waited to allow the Soviet army march in.  This along with Poland plight reflects Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower’s desire not to allow political implications affect how they decided to deploy American soldiers.  Olson’s new book is an excellent read, a combination of straight narrative, interpretive, and empathetic history that all can enjoy.

Image result for photo of queen wilhelmina during wwii

(Holland’s Queen Wilhelmina returning to her country after WWII)

RESCUED FROM ISIS: THE GRIPING TRUE STORY OF HOW A FATHER SAVED HIS SON by Dimitri Bontnick

Image result for photos of Dimitri Bontinck

(the author)

As parents we worry about many things.  Over the last decade parents in western countries be they Muslim or Christian have a new source for concern – The Islamic State or ISIS. It seems many of their children have become vulnerable to ISIS’ slick online propaganda or the radicalization that is preached at a number of Mosques.  In Dimitri Bontnick’s new memoir the nightmare of losing a child to the “Caliphate” is real and destructive. In his book, RESCUED FROM ISIS: THE GRIPING TRUE STORY OF HOW A FATHER SAVED HIS SON he details the recruitment of his son, his physical return, and the temporary loss of his mind.  In addition, Bontnick is able to convey the stories of numerous other families who try and gain the freedom of their sons and daughters.

Image result for photos of Dimitri Bontinck

(father and son, Jejoen)

After beginning the book with his own life story and how he raised his son Jejoen or Jay,  Bontnick seems confounded by what led up to his son joining ISIS.  He was raised in a bi-racial liberal Belgium family with few restrictions.  The author points out a number of factors that he thinks contributed to Jay’s recruitment.  First, he was forced to change schools; second, the breakup with his girlfriend of three years; and third, their home was on the edge of a neighborhood that was a hotbed of jihadism.  Throughout the book Bontnick tries to wrap his head around why his son and so many others have given up their families and lives to join what they hoped to be the Caliphate.  The author takes us through his son’s recruitment as well as many others as they make the decision to travel to Turkey and cross the border into Syria.  From there we learn of their training, brain washing, and existence as part of radical Islamists.

Bontnick describes in detail how he went about trying to save his son, who ostensibly had turned his back on him.  Jay’s actions destroyed his family and resulted in his parent’s divorce.  We travel with Bontnick on numerous occasions into Syria and the minefield of Aleppo and Raqqa in search of his son, and after finally gaining Jay’s freedom, the sons of many parents pleaded to him for help.  Bontnick conveys what he was up against, first Sharia4Belgium, an organization designed to bring Belgium under Sharia law and a member of the Caliphate; then he had to deal with a series of characters in Syria, many of which were very dangerous as he was captured, beaten, and released.  During his odyssey he did come across a number of journalists, Islamists, rebel fighters, and Syrian citizens who did their best to locate Jay and allow his father to bring him home.

Image result for photos of Dimitri Bontinck

(Some of the contacts Bontnick made in Al-Hamraa, Syria that helped him locate his son)

The first question a parent asks is why did I not see this coming?  In retrospect the answer is they did, but did not want to admit that their child, as in the case of Jay was becoming a stranger.  Bontnick explores his parental errors and warns parents how not to behave if they want to protect their children.  The author points out the difficulties in navigating Syria due to the many factions, armies, and ideological groups.  Bontnick traveled to Kafr Hama, a very dangerous enclave where Belgium jihadis were located.  He did and said a number of things that he feels guilty about, but justifies his actions in trying to save his son.

As Bontnick tells his story he does briefly integrate the political and military history of the Syrian Civil War.  Once he is able to free his son he will return often to Syria to bring medical supplies and assist other distraught parents in trying to free their children.  These endeavors were rarely successful, but Bontnick should be praised for all of his efforts.  The greatest fears of the sons in returning home was being prosecuted and going to prison.  Bontnick’s attitude is based on the belief that they were brainwashed as teenagers by a predatory organization that recruited westerners in “the hope of rewriting the software in the heads of children” should be taken into account.  His argument that Belgium authorities have no programs or policies in place to deal with individuals who have given up on radicalization and want to return home is very sound.  His suggestion to use their experiences as intelligence or allow them to provide information from within the Islamic State is something authorities should consider.

Once Jay returns we learn of his trial, conviction, and suspended sentence.  But despite his freedom he informs an interviewer from New Yorker magazine that his recanting of his radicalization was a sham, breaking his father’s heart.  Later their relationship would improve and the author’s experience changed his outlook on life to that of helping others rather than chasing money and a career.  The book is a heart rendering journey of a father who is attempting to keep what remains of his family together, and a successful dismantling of a major terrorist network in Belgium.  It is also a handbook for parents who must confront the issues laid out in the narrative.  Bontnick offers a great deal of advice, some of which is naive, but overall it is a chilling tale that is part of the larger war being fought against terrorism by the west.

Image result for photos of Dimitri Bontinck

(the author)

KINDNESS GOES UNPUNISHED by Craig Johnson

Image result for photo of rocky statue in Philadelphia

(“Rocky” statue in Philadelphia)

Craig Johnson’s third iteration of Absaroka County Sheriff Walt Longmire finds our Wyoming law enforcement hero driving cross country with his best friend since childhood, Henry Standing Bear, and Dog (yes, he named his dog, Dog!) to the city of brotherly love.  As KINDNESS GOES UNPUNISHED begins Henry arrives at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts to speak about his Mennonite photograph collection and is accompanied by Longmire who avails himself the opportunity to visit his daughter Cady who is a lawyer in Philadelphia.  In true Longmire fashion as soon as they arrive in town things begin to happen in an unexpected way.

Almost immediately Johnson’s wise cracking and sarcastic dialogue begins to dominate the developing story line as Longmire and Detective Victoria “Vic” Moretti’s mother Lena are chatting when a Philadelphia PD patrolman tracks them down and informed them that Cady has been viciously attacked near the steps of the Franklin Institute.  The situation becomes confusing when Devon Conliffe, Cady’s supposed boyfriend was rather disingenuous about their relationship and his actions at the time of the incident.  This provokes Longmire to begin his own investigation apart from the Philadelphia PD.  As Longmire begins to dig into the assault, Conliffe is thrown off a bridge and dies.  What begins to emerge is that his death may be related to the city’s drug trade.

As the story evolves it appears more and more that Cady’s accident and Conliffe’s death are related.  When Longmire receives a warning to “but out” the drama begins to escalate as Cady remains in a coma and one of the best story tellers around will have captured your interest.

One of the different aspects Johnson introduces is the entire Moretti family.  Lena, Vic’s mother, a beautiful woman who already has had an affair and seems quite taken with Longmire.  Victor, the father is Chief Inspector Field Division North of the Philadelphia PD, Vic’s brothers, two of which are policemen and involved in Cady’s investigation.  Through these characters we are exposed to a dysfunctional family dynamic that explains Vic’s view of life and how the Philadelphia PD operates.

As the drug trade is introduced as well as a corrupt District Attorney it seems that Longmire may be in over his head.  After he gains the confidence of two Philly detectives he has greater access to information to try and figure out why Cady was attacked.  What he learns is very disconcerting and forms the core of the novel.  As the story progresses it seems that Longmire is doing the work of a Philadelphia cop.  He is hindered as the closer he gets to solve the attack, that person is murdered.  But as he continues clues are left in unusual places to assist him.  Longmire has to overcome corruption, self-interest, and politics to finally achieve success.  A success that was encouraged by the concept of hope that permeates the novel.

KINDNESS GOES UNPUNISHED is an entertaining read as it reflects the value of friendship and family.  It places Longmire in a milieu he is unfamiliar with and like a “Clint Eastwood character” he navigates with a western chip on his shoulder.  The book should be a satisfying read for those who have watched the Netflix version, which differs a great deal from the novels or for those who are reading the books as a standalone.

Related image

(“Rocky” statue in Philadelphia)

THE GATEKEEPERS: HOW THE WHITE HOUSE CHIEFS OF STAFF DEFINE EVERY PRESIDENCY by Chris Whipple

Image result for photos of former White House Chiefs of Staff

(Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s first Chief of Staff)

At a time when the oval office is occupied by a man who seems to know no bounds of decency when it comes to race, hounds people who disagree with him on twitter, and vilifies individuals who he views as disloyal or refuse to do his bidding like former FBI head James Comey or Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, it is refreshing to read Chris Whipple’s new book THE GATEKEEPERS: HOW THE WHITE HOUSE CHIEFS OF STAFF DEFINE EVERY PRESIDENCY.  Recently President Trump fired his Chief of Staff, Reince Pribus, a man who had little influence over the President.  Since Trump is enamored with generals, he finally convinced John Kelley, a former Marine general to become his new Chief of Staff.  Kelly made it clear his role was not to reign in the President, but to bring order and efficiency to the West Wing.  It is clear that Kelly does not totally subscribe to the historical role of the Chief of Staff as defined by Leon Panetta, who successfully rescued Bill Clinton’s presidency who states that, “you have to be the person who says no.  You’ve got to be the son of a bitch who basically tells somebody what the president can’t tell him.”  If you had hoped that Kelly would influence or temper Trump’s tweets and actions all you have to do is evaluate the President’s reaction to events in Charlottesville, his rally in Phoenix, his reaction to the ongoing Russia investigation, and his pardon of Sheriff Joseph Arpaio of Maricopa, AZ.

Image result for photos of former White House Chiefs of Staff

(Reince Pribus and John Kelly, President Trump’s Chiefs of Staff)

Whipple does the American people a service by describing and evaluating the men who have served as Chiefs of Staff dating back to the presidency of Richard Nixon.  In each case we see individuals battle to keep the Chief Executive on message, fully briefed on issues, and to project themselves as presidential unlike the dysfunctional situation that currently plagues the White House.  The key for the Chief of Staff is to instill discipline and focus on the West Wing as Leon Panetta was able to do to get Clinton reelected in 1996.  The most important task for the Chief of Staff is to always tell the President what he may not want to hear.  Whipple is correct that the role of the Chief of Staff is to translate the president’s agenda into reality.  “When the government works, it is usually because the chief understands the fabric of power, threading the needle where policy and politics converge.”  For example, without James Baker who stood between the press, Congress, and internal factions, Reagan’s presidency would have been a failure.  Further, without Leon Panetta to bring discipline and order to the White House Clinton would have been a one term president; without Robert Kennedy, John F. Kennedy had to deal with the Bay of Pigs; Lyndon Johnson did not have a strong Chief of Staff and he was swallowed by Vietnam.  As President Eisenhower told Richard Nixon, “every president has to have its own son of a bitch.”

Image result for photos of former White House Chiefs of Staff

(President George H.W. Bush and John Sununu his Chief of Staff)

One of the most surprising points that Whipple makes is that the most advanced model of organizational structure at the White House was developed by H.R. Haldeman – the problem is that he did not follow his own ideas resulting in Watergate.  For later Chiefs of Staff eventually they would fall back to Haldeman’s structure.  Other surprising points include the career of Dick Cheney who was a sensational organizer during his tenure as Chief of Staff under President Ford, and almost got Ford reelected in 1976, but when he became Vice President under George W. Bush his entire world view had changed as he morphed into the defacto chief.  Many have conjectured why, and point to 9/11’s impact as being responsible.

The chief that one should not model was Hamilton Jordan who served under Jimmy Carter.  Jordan was not interested in the nitty gritty of policy and found basic White House protocol incomprehensible.  Jordan exacerbated his situation by his continual offending of Congressional leadership.  What made matters worse for Jordan was when Carter was elected the new president believed he was “the smartest person in the room” and acted as his own chief and the net result was the seeming failure of the Carter presidency despite his energy policy, the Camp David Accords, arms control, and the Panama Canal Treaty.  The opposite of Carter was Ronald Reagan who didn’t think he was the smartest person in the room, and knew how to delegate and have a strong Chief of Staff.  Apart from Iran-Contra, Reagan’s presidency is seen as a success as Baker made Reagan understand the political process of the presidency would be closely linked to his acceptance in Washington, something Carter never bought into, and navigating between the ideologues and pragmatists that served the president.

Image result for photos of former White House Chiefs of Staff

(James and Howard Baker, two of Ronald Reagan’s Chiefs of Staff)

The strength of Whipple’s book is how he reviews the highs and lows of each administration by focusing on the actions of the diverse Chiefs of Staff who organized the West Wing and made it run efficiently.  By doing so Whipple explains the strategies and actions taken and judges whether their approach to governance was effective or not.  In the process the history of each administration is dealt with, and at times Whipple uncovers “nuggets” that have not been covered effectively by other authors.  A case in point is the reputation of Leon Panetta and by turning the Clinton administration around he proved you didn’t have to be “a bully or an attack dog to be an effective Chief of Staff.  You just have to be very smart.  You have to know when to be tough, and also when to let the reigns be a little looser.”  The Clinton administration also produced Erskine Bowles and John Podesta who demanded that Clinton treat them as peers despite their friendships and were able to be honest and upfront with him which led to a balanced budget, the States Children’s health Insurance Plan and the survival of the Lewinsky Affair.

Andrew Card who would have the longest tenure as a chief saw James Baker as a role model, but 9/11 would produce a new “Dick Cheney.”  Whipple explores why this occurred conjecturing with CBS’ Bob Schieffer that it could have been his heart condition that was responsible.  Whipple reviews the debate and actions that led to the ill-fated invasion of Iraq.  He does not really add anything new to the discussion, but what emerges is a marginalized Card who could not navigate between Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, and the Vice President.  One of the most controversial chiefs was Rahm Emanuel who served under President Obama.  Whipple does an excellent job explaining the different factions within the Obama administration and Emanuel’s role particularly guiding legislation through Congress as he was able to overcome the scars left over from the Clinton administration in gaining the passage of the Affordable Care Act.  Once Emanuel is replaced, Whipple is dead on in explaining why Emanuel’s replacement William Daley was a failure in his short stint at the White House, and how Dennis McDonough was able to counter Obama’s “Chicago crowd” as like Emanuel he was a strong communicator, something that Daley was not.

Image result for photos of former White House Chiefs of Staff

(Andrew Card informing President George W. Bush about 9/11)

In a sense by reviewing each Chief of Staff’s tenure Whipple has created a handbook for President Trump’s Chief of Staff.  He does so by presenting a theoretical approach to the position, but also the realities that each man faced.  The political pragmatism that is needed to be successful emerges under the auspices of Baker, Emanuel, Panetta, and others, a characteristic that seems to be missing in the current White House.  Whipple writes with the journalistic flair one would expect from a multiple Peabody and Emmy award winner and in the current environment there are many people in power who should consult it.  If the Trump presidency eventually is unsuccessful in reaching its goals, Whipple has already explained why.

Image result for pictures of rahm emanuel

(Rahm Emanuel)