GOLDEN HANDCUFFS: THE SECRET HISTORY OF TRUMP’S WOMEN by Nina Burleigh

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(A younger Trump and Melania)

Nina Burleigh states in the Acknowledgements of her new book, GOLDEN HANDCUFFS: THE SECRET HISTORY OF TRUMP’S WOMEN that the idea for her new book derived from a Newsweek cover entitled, “The Queens of Trumplandia” shortly after Trump’s inauguration.  The book itself has several interesting tidbits about Trump’s three wives, daughter, Ivanka, his grandmother and mother, but it does not rise to the level of a complete volume, when an in-depth magazine article would have been enough.

Burleigh draws several interesting conclusions as it pertains to each of the women and the first part of the book dealing with Trump’s childhood and adolescent years provides a few important insights into the president, but again it could have been covered in a magazine article.  Perhaps one of the most insightful comments occurs early on as Burleigh quotes historian, Todd Gitlin who states, “Trump represents the other side of the ‘60s.  He’s not operating in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., God knows – he’s operating in the spirit of Hugh Hefner.  That’s his 60s: the liberated guy fucking around at will, grabbing women.  He’s living the Playboy philosophy as Heffner articulated it.”  His approach to women is clear-cut, they must surrender their power in measures of dignity in order to enhance his.  As he once said, “It really doesn’t matter what they write [about you] as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”

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(Spouse #1, Ivana Trump)

For Trump, women had to conform to his brand.  Further, for each woman, everything was for sale, especially their “look.”  By middle age Trump had become the arbiter of female beauty as he purchased several beauty pageants.  It is also interesting to note that all his women (if one excepts that southern Georgia was not conducive to overall American culture) were immigrants considering his own immigration policies as president.  In fact, Melania would not be allowed into the United States today if her husbands proposals had become law.

In imparting her narrative, Burleigh never misses an opportunity to relate something from Trump’s earlier biography to that of current obstruction, corruption, or just plain nastiness on his part.  Despite the sarcasm that abounds Burleigh does have something meaningful to impart.  Trump’s maternal grandmother Elizabeth Ann Christ who immigrated from a German village is given little credit for beginning the Trump family wealth accumulation.  Burleigh argues that the 49-year-old widow with three children was able to parlay her husbands bank account into a small, but successful real estate enterprise in Queens, NY.  Trump gives all the credit to his father, Fred who he claims was a real estate genius at 14, and grandma just wrote the checks.

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(Spouse #2, Marla Maples)

The key figure in Trump’s childhood was his father.  His mother Mary Anne MacLoad a Scottish immigrant accepted the patriarchal family where daddy was feared.  For Trump no woman could measure up to his mother which becomes a problem with women throughout his life.  The part of the book I was looking forward to the most was Trump’s childhood as I will be teaching a Psychohistory course next month and I will be analyzing the “Donald,”  but after reading the book I feel somewhat disappointed.

Trump as a child was a hellion from the time, he was a toddler.  His primal scream may have occurred when he was two years old as his mother suffered a hemorrhage, hysterectomy, and peritonitis with the birth of her fifth and last child.  Trump’s mother had cared for him very affectionately until that time and it was a blow to a boy who was in the midst of the “terrible twos.”  Mary was exhausted during her recovery and never rebonded with Donald who “became an aggressive, impulsive, and sometimes downright sadistic little boy.”  Trump would lash out at teachers, Doctors, schoolmates, etc. and grew proud of his own belligerency.  Today he would be diagnosed with ADHD highlighted by “inattentiveness, impulsivity and hypersensitivity” who refused to read which sounds like a daily occurrence at the White House!  One wonders if his son Barron has inherited some of his father’s learning issues.  Trump, undiagnosed suffered from these learning disabilities which we are all paying for.

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(Spouse #3, Melania Trump)

Donald’s development was markedly affected by his father.  Fred Trump whose treatment of women fixed his son’s attitudes towards females for life.  Burleigh argues that he was a philanderer who viewed women through two lenses – what they could do for him in private, and how they might be employed as props to advance his career and sell his properties.   Donald’s adulthood suggests a boy forever marked by a rigid, demanding, pathologically fastidious, and possibly physically abusive father – sound familiar?  The book unearths stark details of the forces that shaped Mr. Trump’s thinking about women — Mr. Trump’s father, went as far as forbidding the word “pregnant” from being uttered in a household that would grow to five children and explains Donald’s aversion to certain biological aspects of being a woman.

Perhaps his most interesting wife was Ivana who was a Czech immigrant who would become a mogul in her own right.  She became competition for the limelight that Trump could never share.  Burleigh points out that Trump loved to play Pygmalion which worked out well with Ivana for several years, but once she developed her own separate and successful brand she had to go.  In addition, as she grew older and had her facial and body alterations, she no longer fit Trump’s image of what his spouse should be.  Burleigh as he does with all the wives ply’s the myths and accepted facts pertaining to the marriages.  But what is clear that if Trump could not mold his women into what he needed, like Marla Maples, his second wife then they could no longer stay married.  As far as wife number three is concerned, Melania, is a stunning woman who could not measure up to the modeling world that was the source for Trump’s women.  She evolved into the perfect spouse as she seems to be content as she does not give any indication that she wants to bask in the limelight as her predecessors.

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(Fred Trump and Donald Trump)

Burleigh summarizes the relationship with all his wives very effectively, “Unlike Marla, who demanded Trump make an all-encompassing spiritual commitment to her, and a spiritual commitment to doing good works, and unlike Ivana, who morphed into a female version of Donald, Melania purred with contentment, was happy to stay indoors, and as she would say in many future interviews, she had no interest in changing Donald.” As one of Melania’s friends has stated “I think she needed a strong man, a father figure.”

The section of the book that is most disconcerting apart from Trump’s misogyny deals with first-daughter Ivanka.  Burleigh deals with the most important aspects of their relationship and perhaps the unconscious sexual dreams Trump has about his daughter.  What is clear is that she is a more refined version of her father with her own agenda.  Her disingenuous approach to issues and claims of being a supporter of liberal causes may ruffle her father’s base, but it appears it is to be part of her own political agenda in the future.  Trump raised her to be a combination of his own brand of woman, the future head of the Trump Organization, and possibly a political force for the future.

In summation if you are to be a Trump woman, be it a wife, mother, or daughter you must conform to the look – stiletto heels, have the characteristics of a model wearing the right clothing and jewelry, and have the visage of how you view and carry yourself as always showcasing the brand.

To her credit, Burleigh has sifted through decades of publicly available materials — including Mr. Trump’s own words in memoirs and interviews — to animate the central point of the book: that “Mr. Trump has long believed women, particularly if they are not able to be molded to his liking, are not to be trusted.” (New York Times, October19, 2018)  If you are interested in detail about Trump’s relationship with women this book may be for you.  However, it doesn’t really say much that has not been said before, though Burleigh corroborates a great deal of what has been in print and interviews.  If you are interested in a more sophisticated approach to the material, and I might be a bit facetious when I say material, I would pursue some of the other “Trump” books.

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EMPRESS DOWAGER CIXI: THE CONCUBINE WHO LAUNCHED MODERN CHINA by Jung Chang

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(The Dowager Empress Cixi)

Last week the Peabody Essex Museum located in Salem, MA concluded its wonderful exhibit, Empresses of China’s Forbidden City.  It was “the first major international exhibition to explore the role of empresses in China’s grand imperial era — the Qing dynasty, from 1644 to 1912. Nearly 200 works, including imperial portraits, jewelry, garments, Buddhist sculptures and decorative art objects from the Palace Museum, Beijing (known as the Forbidden City), tell the little-known stories of how these women influenced art, religion, court politics and international diplomacy.” (https://www.pem.org/blog/stories-of-opulence-and-influence)  The exhibit peaked my interest in Cixi (Tzu His), the last Empress of China who was a concubine to the Emperor Xianfeng, and produced a son in 1856.  In doing so Cixi guaranteed a place for herself at court and would pave the way for her to obtain power in the 1850s when the Emperor died . The Empress Dowager Cixi lived a remarkable life that is fully captured in Jung Chang’s 2013 biography EMPRESS DOWAGER CIXI: THE CONCUBINE WHO LAUNCHED MODERN CHINA.

 

Related imageFormally, Cixi had no power, but she succeeded in mounting a coup against the regents with Empress Zhen, the late emperor’s principal wife, before he was buried. Cixi falsely accused the regents of forging the emperor’s will, and in the first of what would be a substantial list of Cixi ordered murders, she ordered the suicide of the two most important regents. Her son was crowned Emperor Tongzhi, and Cixi’s extraordinary political career was launched. (The Guardian, 25 October 2013)

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(the author)

Chang  has done an exceptional job unearthing new Chinese sources and fills in the gap in the historiography that lacks major studies of Cixi in English. In her absorbing new book, Chang laments that Cixi has for so long been “deemed either tyrannical and vicious, or hopelessly incompetent — or both.” I agree with Chinese historian Orville Schell that “far from depicting her subject as a sinister conservative who obstructed reforms, Chang portrays Cixi as smart, patriotic and open-minded. In her view, the empress was a proto-feminist who, despite the narrow-minded, misogynistic male elite that made up the imperial bureaucracy, “brought medieval China into the modern age.” Chang concludes that Cixi was an “amazing stateswoman,” a “towering” figure to whom “the last hundred years have been most unfair.” (New York Times, October 25, 2013)

One of the strengths of Chang’s narrative is her blend of major historical events in China during Cixi’s lifetime (1835-1908), how it affected her elevation to a powerful position, and how she wielded that power.  Events such as the First and Second Opium Wars are discussed in this context resulting in the first treaty ports in 1842 with the Treaty of Nanking that effectively opened China to further English and European trade and Catholic missionaries that struck at the heart of the Middle Kingdom’s insularization.    The Taiping Rebellion that lasted from 1850 to 1864 was in effect a Chinese Civil War that in the end produced further western encroachment on China and the death of over 20 million people.  For Cixi, the events surrounding her taught her many lessons that would influence her own use of power.

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(The Taiping Rebellion, 1850-1864)

In discussing Cixi’s rise and attempts to modernize China through industrialization several watershed dates emerge.  In 1861 Emperor Xianfeng died resulting in her five-year-old son being elevated to replace him, with eight regents overseeing the decision-making process.  These eight men had proven to be a disaster with their anti-foreign, xenophobic policies that resulted in increasing western encroachment.  Cixi and the Empress Zhen became allies and were able launch a successful coup against the traditional Confucian regents and Cixi was able to become the defacto ruler of China through the cooperation of the Empress.  Chang provides intimate details how Cixi was able to maneuver against the regents, reflecting her deviousness and developing realpolitik that would serve her well in the future.  The second watershed focuses on 1875 with the death of her son, Emperor Tongzhi who had reached the throne two years earlier.  Since the Emperor left no written will, Cixi once again could manipulate the situation to her benefit as she and Empress Zhen chose the next emperor.  Under the new Emperor Tongzhi China stood still as reform and industrialization were neglected.  Once in full control, Cixi resumed her policy of modernization through copying certain aspects of western industry, calling her policies one of “self-strengthening.”  She appointed ambassadors and sent study groups abroad.  Further, she pushed for factories, road building, opening trade, a naval fleet, and introducing certain aspects of western education that would benefit China.  Railroad building was a priority, but as Chang describes in all subject matter, Chinese culture and tradition were always paramount and railroad building had to wait until the late 1880s to begin construction.

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(The Emperor Guangxu)

Chang introduces several historical characters that Cixi relied upon to institute her policies.  Prince Gong, a reformer was a key player, as was Li Hongzhang who was respected by western nations, and was a very able and successful trade negotiator.  Viceroy Zhidong Zhang, a proponent of modernization, in the end he would stand by Cixi after the disastrous Boxer Rebellion.  Of course, there was conservative opposition who looked down upon Cixi led by Prince Chun, her brother-in-law who sought revenge against her pro-western policies.  Grand Tutor Weng despised westernization and his views rubbed off on the new Emperor whom he tutored resulting in a downward spiral for China in the 1890s.  In the end, Cixi was able to defeat Prince Chun and turn him into an ally.  Chang also describes several westerners that Cixi appointed to important positions.  W.A.P. Martin became a force in developing Chinese education.  US Minister to Beijing, Anson Burlingame was appointed China’s ambassador extraordinaire to represent the Middle Kingdom throughout Europe.  Lastly, Robert Hart would create an efficient customs service that as trade increased dramatically, import and export revenues rose to help finance many of Cixi’s projects.

Chang’s Cixi is a very pragmatic woman who employed a blend of thoughtful contemplation in evaluating the course China should take, but also used violence and threats to achieve her goals if the situation called for it.  Cixi reached the height of her power in by 1889 when her adopted son, assumed power as the Emperor Guangxu.  To that point her legacy was secure.  The American Minister to Beijing, Charles Denby praised her accomplishments from the creation of a “fine” navy, building an electric telegraph system, shipyards, railroads, steamers, factories, and a strong army.  He praised her religious tolerance and her diplomacy that resulted in treaties with France, England, Russia, and the United States.  Even her former enemy, Prince Chun, now an ally marveled at her prowess in standing up to the French and the resulting treaty in 1885 that protected Chinese borders from western encroachment.  One wonders, had Cixi’s reign ended in 1889 perhaps history would view her differently as her “Make China Strong” campaign appeared to be a success.

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(Kang Youwei)

China’s domestic political problems would emerge after Cixi’s retirement, as the new Emperor Guangxu resented Cixi, her reform ministers, and the fact she had forced him to marry someone he detested.  Educated in the Classics and Confucian texts, Guangxu turned the clock back under the influence of his arch-conservative Grand Tutor Weng whereby all forms of reform and modernization came to a halt.  This would have grave implications as at the same time Japan, following the restoration of the Meji Emperor in 1867 began a period of westernization and modernization.  It would build a large and powerful navy, while the Chinese did not continue their own program.  By 1894, Japan’s expansionist policy against China’s vassal states, Taiwan and Korea led to a war that China could not win.  The result was a disaster due in large part to Chinese incompetence and lack of preparation as the navy deteriorated once Cixi was out of power.  The Emperor was soon convinced to bring about Cixi return to the kingdom after four months of fighting, but by this time it was too late, and China’s defeat was inevitable.  The Treaty of Shimonoseki that ended the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 included the cession of Taiwan, the Pescadores, the eastern tip of the bay of the Liaodong peninsula (which would be returned) , autonomy for Korea, most favored nation trading status, opened a series of Chinese cities to Japanese trade, and an indemnity of 200 million taels (roughly $148,400,000).*

Chang has gone a long way in trying to resurrect Cixi’s historical reputation by exposing many of the myths associated with her.  An interesting example involves the supposed reformer Kang Youwei, whose nickname was the Wild Fox.  When I was in graduate school in the 1970s, I was taught that Kang was the leading force for reform in China.  According to Chang, who basis her interpretation on the discovery made by Chinese historians in the 1980s, Kang was a plotter who sought to assassinate Cixi, and eventually seize the throne.  He even co-opted the Emperor into his plot couching everything in terms of reform and spreading lies about the Empress Dowager.  Chang points out after the plot was discovered Kang escaped to Japan and continued to spread his version of events blaming Cixi for China’s defeat against Japan, and many other false claims.  Kang would continue to organize assassination attempts against Cixi from Japan after the Boxer Rebellion and sought to bring back the Emperor to replace the Dowager Empress.  Cixi would cancel trials against  Kang’s co-conspirators and have them executed because she did not want it known that her adopted son, the Emperor was involved in the assassination plot, information had it been made public would have split China in half due to Kang’s popularity, and would have created a situation for Japan and others to take advantage.

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(The Boxer Rebellion, 1900)

Cixi’s greatest mistake during her reign was how she treated events leading up to the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, and decisions she made while the fighting and slaughter unfolded.  Cixi grew tired of years of foreign encroachment and disrespect and Chang is correct as she describes how she faced down Italy’s demands for treaty ports.  The Dowager Empress developed a false confidence that she could stand up to foreigners as she had with Italy and when the western nations began to make demands after the xenophobic Boxers killed a German diplomat and numerous missionaries, Cixi decided, going against the advice of several counselors, to try and take advantage of the Boxers who were deemed to be, by like-minded princes and aristocrats as “loyal, fearless, and disciplined.”  The Boxers would be organized into military units, but their beliefs which included being impervious to bullets would not stand them in good stead against western technology resulting in extreme violence and slaughter throughout northern China, and the surrounding of the Foreign Legation in Beijing.  Cixi’s decisions were questionable as she went back and forth from withdrawing support for the Boxers to reaffirming it throughout the rebellion.  Cixi was forced to escape the Forbidden City and move westward as the western invasion proved successful.  As a result, Cixi’s leadership was demeaned, even though she maintained a degree of support.  The western powers realized that the removal of Cixi could only be brought about through military action that would evolve into a civil war.  Thus, they decided to allow her to return to Beijing to prevent fighting that would result in the loss of trade, default of loans, and the reemergence of the Boxers.  However, what is clear is that the (Qing) Manchu Dynasty under Cixi, would begin its last chapter as the western countries imposed an indemnity of over 450 million taels (roughly $333,900,000)* thus punishing the entire population of China.

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(The Boxers)

According to Chang, after imposing the peace the Western powers recognized Cixi as the undisputed leader of China allowing her to embark on a massive program to change her country that can be considered the “real revolution in modern China.”  Cixi would spend her last few years pushing to make China a constitutional monarchy, and at the same time surviving numerous assassinations attempts against her, most of which were planned by Japan.

Chang has written a superb biography that encompasses her life as well as the traditions and culture of China’s ruling and peasant classes while in and out of power.  As China’s current “President for Life,” Xi Jinping deals with the problems of reform and change today, he like Cixi must achieve a balance between fostering change too slowly, and bringing about change too quickly, as each approach has its own pitfalls.  Perhaps he should study Cixi’s role in Chinese history and learn to deal with similar issues that confronted her.

*One tael is calculated at 3 English Shillings or 0.742 American dollars. ( See footnote p. 297)

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(The Empress Dowager Cixi)

CAMELOT’S END: KENNEDY VERSUS CARTER AND THE FIGHT THAT BROKE THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY by Jon Ward

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(Former President Jimmy Carter and Senator Ted Kennedy)

Today we find ourselves at the beginning of the 2020 presidential campaign even though the Iowa caucuses are eleven months away.  It seems that each day another Democrat announces their candidacy, and President Trump does what President Trump does. Talking heads on cable news programs ask each candidate why they are running and what sets them apart from the competition.  For me, it brings back memories of watching a 60 Minutes program in 1980 where Roger Mudd interviewed Ted Kennedy and asked him why he was challenging President Carter for their parties’ nomination.  Kennedy’s response went along way in destroying his candidacy as his rambling response lacked coherence, and in no way answered the question, leaving the American electorate in the dark as to why he was running.

At a time when the Democratic Party seems split between its progressive and moderate wings it would be a useful exercise to examine a similar split that played out during 1980 election campaign.  Jon Ward’s new book, CAMELOT’S END: KENNEDY VERSUS CARTER AND THE FIGHT THAT BROKE THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY successfully takes up the task and provides numerous insights into the politics of seeking the presidency considering today’s budding Democratic Party fissures.  One could also make a similar argument as the more establishment wing of the Republican Party appears to be growing tired of threats, government shut downs, “wall” politics for the base, that even President Trump might be challenged during the primary season for his parties’ nomination.

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(The Kennedy brothers…the legacy Ted Kennedy had to cope with)

Ward’s book is in large part a dual biography of President Carter and Senator Kennedy tracing their personal roots from their upbringing, their political careers, as well as their distaste for each other.  The scope of Ward’s narrative encompasses the politics of the south that Carter emerged from, in addition to the Kennedy legacy that Senator Kennedy had to cope with his entire career.  Ward raises important questions that effected the course of the Democratic Party after the 1980 election that elevated Ronald Reagan to the presidency, as well as the country at large.  Ward explores why Kennedy challenged Carter’s re-nomination, and what impact that challenge had for American political history.  Further, the author contemplates how Kennedy’s challenge impacted the two men on a personal level.

Ward argues that in part Kennedy was driven by the cost and state of health care in America in the 1970s.  A witness to one family health crisis to another; the death of two brothers and a sister, and his son Ted Jr.’s battle with cancer, apart from his own surviving a plane crash that immobilized him for six months, the Senator sincerely believed it was not fair that a rich family like the Kennedy’s could afford the medical bills from such tragedies, while most American families could not.  Secondly, Kennedy opposed Carter’s fiscal conservatism that produced budget cuts to basic social programs.  For the senator, “sometimes a party must sail against the wind.”  Further, 1979 was a terrible year for President Carter.  The Camp David Accords seemed to be unraveling, unemployment remained high, inflation was rising, gas prices were increasing, and events in Iran led to the overthrow of the Shah and the taking of American hostages.  For Kennedy and establishment types within the Democratic Party, the president with a 37% approval rating was so weak he could be defeated.  With the scandal involving his Director of Management and Budget Bert Lance, and Carter’s “Malaise Speech,” a vacuum seemed to appear that could be filled.   Finally,  Kennedy would seek the presidency that seemed to be his birthright, hoping that Chappaquiddick had receded far enough into the background of the American electorate’s collective memory.

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(Senator Kennedy confronts the press after the death of Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick)

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Carter was a very driven man.  Ward states that he appeared to be a soft-spoken individual who had evangelical glow about him,  however, inside he was very competitive and was made up a steely disposition that hated to lose or admit he was wrong.  In addition to the persona he presented Carter viewed politics through a Niebuhrian lens, combining a belief in his divine calling, juxtaposed with a competitive politician.  Peter Bourne, one of his advisors and a biographer has written, “increasingly be conceptualized politics as a vehicle for advancing God’s kingdom on earth by alleviating human suffering and despair on a scale that infinitely magnified what one individual could do alone,” that individual was Jimmy Carter.

Ward argues that the turning point in the relationship between the two men occurred in May 1974 at the Law School Day speeches at the University of Georgia where both men where scheduled to speak.  Kennedy gave a traditional democratic values speech, but Carter who had decided to run for president resented Kennedy’s presence and as Governor of Georgia treated him rather shabbily that day.  Carter believed that Kennedy was pushing him around and he would not tolerate it.  Ward goes on to describe Carter’s successful race for the presidency in 1976 in detail and accurately points out that it was clear that the seeds for his 1980 defeat were already being planted.

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(Hamilton Jordan, Carter’s top aide and the president)

Carter and his people believed that they were not beholden to the Democratic Party establishment and Messrs. Jordan, Powell, Lance and others knew what was best.  Further, Carter alienated the journalistic community with his “refusal to give a plain answer to a plain question,” converting every act into a political morality play.  Carter’s insular group played hard in their personal lives stretching certain boundaries which conflicted to the holier than thou attitude that Carter preached to the press.

Ward dissects the 1980 race, and the book moves smoothly, but does not neglect scholarship relying on secondary works, memoirs, and numerous interviews.  Carter and Kennedy’s complex personalities are fully explored, including what causes drove them, and what they were most passionate about.

The events of 1980 had important implications for American politics for decades to come.  First, Kennedy was able to remove “presidential” fever from his system and go on to serve in the Senate for 47 years and become one of the most prolific legislators in American history.  Second, it launched the most successful post-presidency in American history as President Carter through the work of the Carter Center and other organizations has impacted world peace, helped cure disease, and reduce poverty, programs that continue to this day.  Lastly, With Carter’s defeat, Ward correctly argues that the coalition that Democrats relied upon since the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 had splintered apart.  Reagan was able to split the combination of “union members and ethnics in the big cities, poor rural voters, racial minorities, Catholics, and the South” that had formed the Democratic Party voting blocs.  This coalition was fractured so badly that it has not and may never be put back again.  This chasm in Democratic party politics is ongoing and it will be interesting how it plays out in the coming presidential election.

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(Senator Ted Kennedy’s snub of President Jimmy Carter at Madison Square Garden, NY after Carter was renominated by the Democratic Party in August, 1980)

MAD BLOOD STIRRING by Simon Mayo

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(Dartmoor Prison)

Simon Mayo is one of England’s most well-known broadcasters who began a writing career six years ago with a bestselling children’s trilogy.  The radio disc jockey first attempt at adult fiction is his new book,  MAD BLOOD STIRRING set at the conclusion of the War of 1812, a war that lasted three years and for many historians is considered America’s second war for independence.  The book begins as the captured crew from the American ship, Eagle is marched to the notorious English prison, Dartmoor.  Once inside the prison, the sailors led by Joe Hill interrupt a boxing match were a black boxer, on the verge of winning his match is beaten with a wooden plank.  As the match ends Hill announces to the hundreds in attendance that the United States and Britain have signed a peace treaty and the war is over.  The response from a group of black prisoners named Habakkuk (Habs) Snow, Ned Penny, and Sam Snow who were taken from their ship, the Bentham, eighteen months before is one of skepticism and disbelief.

Dartmoor housed over 6000 American prisoners during the War of 1812 of which there were roughly 1000 black sailors.  Using the captured sailors as his main characters, Mayo has written a five act play that somewhat mirrors a Shakespearian tragedy.  The core of the story revolves around the life of American prisoners of war seized by the British during the fighting.  With the conflict over, the POW’S where be released, however, the American Congress needed to ratify the Treaty of Ghent as the British Parliament had.  During the interim the prisoner’s life would continue in the seven cell blocks that made up the prison as they had for the previous eighteen months.  Murder, physical attacks, nasty personal confrontation, poor food, little freedom, and of course segregation of whites from blacks was the order of the day.  Block number four housed the black prisoner population and was led by a former Maryland slave who was six feet eight and commanded great respect.  King Dick, whose real name was Richard Craftus ran a tight ship, but had a soft spot for Shakespeare and his men.

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(Richard Craftus, King Dick)

There is a high degree of historical accuracy in Mayo’s presentation.  Block four did stage Shakespearean productions, including Romeo and Juliet, the signing of the Treaty of Ghent did not produce the immediate release of the prisoners, and the hostility between rival prisoner groups did explode into violent bloodshed.  Mayo builds upon the historical backdrop to produce a novel that  that wreaks of loyalty, doomed love, and a series of dashed dreams.  The themes are numerous from British haughtiness, blatant racism, the role of theater in assisting prisoners to deal with their daily plight, the fear of smallpox, human relationships, and the daily monotony of prison life.

Mayo has created an interesting template for his novel juxtaposing a theater group of black prisoners performing Shakespeare as a major construction for the story, that can be considered its own play.  The constant references to the Bard, be it Othello and other plays and the rehearsals for Romeo and Juliet within the confines of Dartmoor is surprising and it seems to carry much weight throughout the novel.

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The most important relationship that emerges from the story is that of Joe Hill, the sixteen-year-old white sailor and that of Habs Snow, a black prisoner.  Their friendship is a testimony to their survival and its greatest test revolves around a kiss that takes place in a scene from Romeo and Juliet as Hill portrays Juliet, and Habs plays Romeo.  It is a test of the mores that exist in the prison but also in society at large.  There are other sideshows to the main plot; the affair between Dr. George Magrath, the prison physician and the wife of the prison commander Captain Thomas Shortland; the actions of Horace Cobb and Edwin Lane two members of the “Rough Allies,” a thuggish gang that despises black prisoners as much as they do the British; in addition to many others that exist throughout Dartmoor’s seven cell blocks.

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The story culminates with a nasty prison riot that upends several important relationships and leads one to believe that Mayo has written a novel that should be the basis for a film script.  The book could be enhanced with greater character development and depth of story, but it is a satisfying yarn, that should attract the reader’s interest as Mayo brings his plot to conclusion with several twists and turns.  If the book is turned into a movie script, a a good production staff can enhance the storyline and create a moving experience for a possible viewership.

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(Dartmoor Prison)

A COVERT ACTION: REAGAN, THE CIA, AND THE COLD WAR STRUGGLE IN POLAND by Seth G. Jones

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Today the Polish government is ruled by the Law and Justice Party (abbreviated to PiS).  It is a national-conservative, and Christian democratic party, currently the largest in the Polish parliament.  In the last two years the party which is extremely nationalistic, has created controversies on several fronts.  It is a country where hateful language is pervasive leading to the murder of the mayor of Gdansk, Pawel Adamowicz on January 13 of this year.   Last February the government passed a new amendment to the Law of Remembrance making it a crime to refer to Nazi concentration camps as “Polish,” further it threatens legal punishment for anyone who publicly implies Poles’ involvement in Nazi crimes against the Jews.  Further, a few days ago on January 27th, Polish far right nationalists gathered at the Auschwitz concentration camp to protest, at the same time as officials and survivors marking the 74th anniversary of the camp’s liberation in an annual ceremony.  Lastly, Poland’s “New Populism” has led the PiS to be more critical of the European Union as the country has become more nationalist and Euro skeptical.  Andrzej Duda, the PiS supported Polish president, recently referred to it as an imaginary community.  Today’s current version of Polish democracy and economic growth began in the 1990s as the Soviet Union collapsed, rests on the success of the Solidarity movement of the 1980s.   However, one must return to early 1980s for one of the key reasons for Poland’s transformation from a Soviet satellite to a free country.  The events of the period is the subject of Seth G. Jones’ new book A COVERT ACTION: REAGAN, THE CIA, AND THE COLD WAR STRUGGLE IN POLAND which describes the little-known story of the CIA’s operations in Poland  which resulted in a major victory for western democracy which raises questions in the minds of many as to where the Polish government is taking its people domestically and the world stage and do the principles that so many believed in and fought for at the time still persist.

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(Solidarity leader, Lech Walesa)

Jones’ account of the events of the 1970s and 80s that spawned Solidarity, Poland’s flowering democratic movement, is concisely written, analytical, and reflects a great deal of research.  The narrative, in part, reads like a novel as events and movements  travel quickly and build upon each other.  Jones reviews the Cold War decisions that created Poland after World War II, from Yalta to the crackdowns against democracy in Poland in 1970, the strikes and demonstrations against Soviet domination, culminating in the Solidarity movements birth in Gdansk to the declaration of martial law by the Polish government in December 1981.  The usual historical characters from Joseph Stalin, Wladyslaw Gomulka, Edward Gierek, Jozef Klemp, appear to set the stage for the 1980s crisis.

Jones’ theme is clear-cut – his story is the CIA’s effort to strike at the heart of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe.  President Reagan wanted a clear break of Soviet control  and with his support the CIA built a program that took the Cold War to the Soviet’s backyard.  The program, code named, QRHELPFUL, was one of the “most successful American covert action programs ever developed, yet also one of its least well known and appreciated.  The CIA would provide money and resources to organize demonstrations, print opposition material, and conduct radio and video transmissions that boosted opposition support and morale while simultaneously eroded Soviet authority.”  In addition, it was also very cost effective as the total bill was about $20 million.

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(Polish Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski)

Jones develops chapters on the leading figures in one of the most important movements of the Cold War.  Chapters include those encompassing Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, a worker in the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, Polish Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski, Pope John II, President Ronald Reagan, CIA head William Casey, Richard Malzahn in charge of CIA covert operations against the Soviet Union, are all presented in detail and help explain the actions of each of these individuals. Lesser figures that include the United States’ most important spy, Lt. Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski of the Polish General Staff who fed Washington important documents pertaining to the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact; assorted smugglers who were part of the ratline that smuggled printing equipment, money, and other sorts of aid that kept Solidarity alive are also discussed in detail.

Previously, historians have argued that Ronald Reagan imposed economic sanctions to thwart the repression of Solidarity and confront Soviet pressure on Warsaw.  Jones has dug deeper to find the full scope of America’s role in the crisis, particularly that of the CIA.  The author affords Reagan a great deal of credit because of his obsessive focus of defeating the Soviet Union, and along with-it communism.  Jones discussion of the evolution of American national security policy toward the Soviet Union through the prism of events in Poland are well thought out.  Jones presents the changes in National Security Decision Directives as the crisis in Poland evolved culminating in NSDD-75 written in 1983 reflecting American objectives of “reversing Soviet expansionism by competing on a sustained basis in all international arenas, promote change in the Soviet Union toward a more pluralistic political and economic system, and engage in negotiations with the Soviet Union which protect and enhance US interests.”  The US would apply a broad panoply of military, economic, and other instruments, including psychological ones with emphasis of Eastern Europe as the essential battleground.

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(President Ronald Reagan)

American policies including economic sanctions, blocking Poland’s needs from the International Monetary Fund, and other restrictions had a tremendous impact on a reeling Polish economy, but Washington’s most important role was conducted by the CIA.  William Casey was the catalyst for confronting the Soviet Union with “active measures” and covert operations which they argued had fallen by the wayside under the Carter administration.  For Casey and other members of the Reagan administration the Polish crisis presented the perfect opportunity to employ these methods.  After martial law was imposed the CIA developed sources in Sweden, West Germany, France, and Turkey to funnel needed equipment into Poland so Solidarity could continue to get its message out and keep the hopes of its members (over 10 million) alive.  Jones’ stories of people like Stanislaw Broda (code name, QRGUIDE) who was an important asset in press, books, papers, magazine distribution and trainer of printers, in addition to another fascinating character, Jerzy Giedroye, one of many Polish emigres in Paris who worked on dissident publications and their dissemination.

Jones is very perceptive, but at times overly sensitive to the position that Jaruzelski found himself.  The Polish Prime Minister was constantly caught in the middle by the repressive demands of the Soviet Union, especially Lenoid Brezhnev and his Kremlin cohorts, the economic sanctions of the United States, the demands put forth by Solidarity, and the desires of the Catholic Church.  Moscow repeatedly became frustrated with Jaruzelski as he refused to crack down on Solidarity further, though it must be said that with the imposition of martial law they carried out arrests, torture, disbandment, imprisonment, surveillance, and harassment of the independent trade union that was the beginning of an organized political opposition that spread throughout Poland and had support within the Catholic Church.  Jaruzelski realized if too much pressure was applied a full-scale civil war could ensue and he did want a Warsaw Pact invasion of Poland backed by the Soviet Union.  By 1983 when he concluded the Soviets would not resort to military invasion, he was relieved, but with the Papal visit to Poland in July 1983 and a Papal meeting with Walesa he was caught in a vise.

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(CIA Director William Casey)

In 1984 the situation grew worse as Father Jerzy Popieluszko, the chaplain for many Polish steel workers, a friend of Pope John II, and an outspoken critic of the Polish government whose commentary was received throughout Eastern Europe by Radio Free Europe was assassinated by the Polish SB (Secrete Police).  The result it provided the CIA the opportunity to perpetuate outrage against the Polish government and the Soviet Union allowing it to continue its global ideological propaganda war in support of Solidarity.

One of the most interest points of conjecture was the relationship between the Reagan administration and the Vatican.  Jones points out that some journalists have argued that there was a “Holy Alliance” between the two, but the author effectively refutes this line of thought that this was not the case as their views did not always correspond.  There were profound disagreements between the two sides over the maintenance of American sanctions against Poland, and the American goal of achieving some sort of regime change in Moscow in the long run.  When opportunities presented themselves to act in concert, i.e., smuggling goods and equipment into Poland, and support for a clandestine group of priests to assist Solidarity members.

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(1980, Lech Walesa addresses workers as they try to register Solidarity as a Trade Union with the Polish government)

The United States had to walk a fine line in its covert operations over Poland.  If the Soviet Union publicized proof over CIA actions it could have domestic implications only ten years after the Church Committee, in addition to how it would play in the international sphere.  The CIA was very clear in promoting “plausible deniability,” and Moscow, had strong suspicions as to what was occurring, but they could not nail down CIA actions.  The CIA was careful to avoid allocating any type of weapons for Solidarity, and stuck to propaganda equipment, money, and other necessary commodities.  By creating layer upon layer to obfuscate what they were doing they kept the KGB sufficiently in the dark.

Following Reagan’s reelection in 1984 the CIA with the complete support of the president embarked on a new strategy to assist Solidarity – the use of technology. In the 1980s television sets and VCRs proliferated in Poland despite the weakness in the economy.  The CIA provided technological training and equipment to take advantage to disseminate the message, i.e., clandestine programing, overriding government messaging.  The CIA leveraged the evolution in communications technology to infiltrate videocassettes, computers, floppy discs, and communication equipment using many of its traditional ratlines.  It must be kept in mind that throughout the struggle to assist Solidarity the CIA was not the only one offering aid and support.  Many subsidies were offered by the AFL-CIO and other organizations as well as several US government agencies apart from the intelligence community.

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(Pope John II visits Czestochowa, Poland in 1992)

Events outside Poland would soon have an impact on the issue of repression as Mikhail Gorbachev assumed power in the Soviet Union who would shortly realize the true state of the Soviet economy, and soon after the disaster that was Afghanistan.  In the United States, the Reagan administration was confronted by the Iran-Contra scandal, which eventually Reagan was able to put past him.  It was soon becoming obvious that the Soviet Union was in decline, and with a second Papal visit to Poland in June 1987 and an open-air mass in Gdansk where for the first time the Pope completely identified himself with Solidarity openly challenging the Jaruzelski regime, fostering the labor movements return.  When the Jaruzelski government raised prices in February 1988, the resulting strikes and demonstrations his government teetered on the edge.  Jones takes the reader through the final negotiations that brought democratic elections to Poland and the accession of Walesa to the presidency in 1990.

The key to Jones’ successful narrative was his command of primary material especially his melding of interviews with CIA principles and now unclassified documents into a fascinating account of the how-to of a covert action.  In conclusion, though Jones describes an amazing description of the fortitude of the Polish people against Soviet oppression, and the gains made since the collapse of the Russian regime, recent events lead one to question where the Polish government and society are evolving.  Is it a type of populism that discredits their past and reinvigorates the type of racism that plagued Poland for centuries, or is it something less sinister, but against the principles that Solidarity fought for?

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LAST BOAT OUT OF SHANGHAI: THE EPIC STORY OF THE CHINESE WHO FLED MAO’S REVOLUTION by Helen Zia

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From 1931 onward, the Chinese people were confronted with continuous Japanese aggression, humiliation, occupation, and inhumanity.  In Helen Zia’s new book, LAST BOAT OUT OF SHANGHAI: THE EPIC STORY OF THE CHINESE WHO FLED MAO’S REVOLUTION the author seems to begin here story in 1937 when the Japanese launched their invasion of China, however as she develops her story it is important to realize that the Japanese had their eyes on China as far back as the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-5, the Twenty-One Demands of 1915 during World War I, and their incursions into Manchuria in 1931.  By 1937 the situation had grown worse as Japan launched a large-scale invasion.  Japanese brutality has been well documented by the “Rape of Nanking,” and numerous other atrocities, including a policy of torturing and killing civilians.  After eight years of fighting the Japanese were finally defeated in August 1945 and what followed was the no longer dormant civil war between the Communist Chinese led by Mao Zedong and the Nationalists, led by Chiang Kai-Shek that resulted in the Maoist victory in late 1949.

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Everyone was not enthralled with the arrival of communist troops closing in on Shanghai.  During the World War II Shanghai was divided into a Chinese section and an international one with a French concession where Chinese, Europeans, English and others were safe from the Japanese for a good part of the war.  Rich foreigners and native Chinese members of the middle class who had cooperated with the west, Christian missionaries, and those educated during at that time feared for their lives.  The city of Shanghai was the symbol of Chinese westernization and the focal point of escaping the mainland from oncoming Communist soldiers.  According to Zia , a child of two refugees, there is nothing written in English on the plight of those who attempted to flee in 1949.  Her new book is designed to fill that vacuum.

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Zia’s narrative traces the lives of four people, beginning with Benny Pan, the privileged nine-year-old son of an accountant and an officer in the police auxiliary who will become Police Commissioner in Shanghai; Ho Chow, the thirteen year old son of a land owning gentry family; Bing Woo, an eight year old girl who has been given away two times by her blood family and the first family that accepted her; and Annuo Liu, the two year old daughter of a rising Nationalist leader.  Zia will follow the lives of these characters and members of her family well into the present. In all instances in dealing with these characters deference was paid to Chinese traditions as a dominant theme.  Whether issues dealing with family relationships, key decision-making, or dealing with outside threats the opinion of women gave way to those of men despite the danger it might create for family members.  Another constant in the lives of these four characters was the fear of the Japanese to the point that several individuals discussed had to take on new identities to survive, especially those who had to travel back and forth into the interior of China to be with fathers, or escape arrest.

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(Mao ZeDong)

Zia does a masterful job explaining the origin of western control of the international section of Shanghai where people sought refuge and escape from the oncoming Japanese.  In doing so, Zia integrates the history of western imperialism in China dating back to the First Opium War, 1839-1842 that produced the first unequal treaties that gave first England, then other countries extraterritorial rights in China.  Outside of Shanghai, Chinese peasants lived a life of poverty, and the dichotomy emerged of “abject misery coexisting with unabashed opulence.”  The author employs the family histories of her main characters to describe the racist and ethnocentric attitudes and actions taken by foreigners in China.

As Zia presents her narrative many important historical events and occurrences are discussed.  Among the most interesting is the fact despite the danger and violence of Japanese occupation, roughly 20,000 Ashkenazi Jews were accepted in Shanghai and escaped the Holocaust.  By early 1943 over 7600 allied nationals, mostly American, British and Dutch were sent to internment camps which Zia points out were not as accommodating as those created in the United States for over 120,000 Japanese-Americans.  After the Japanese surrendered the issue of collaborationists raised its ugly head affecting family members who were arrested for their work with the Japanese.  Interestingly, as soon as the Pacific war ended, the Japanese continued to fight the Communist Chinese in the northeast under orders from the Americans and the Nationalists.  This angered the residences of Shanghai, but the burgeoning civil war between the followers of Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek took precedence over everything.

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(Chiang Kai-Shek)

The difficulties of displacement and reorientation following the Japanese defeat is on full display through Zia’s protagonists.  Issues of legitimacy in all aspects of society emerged, i.e.; students who had left for the interior during the war v. students who remained in Shanghai and were educated at universities.  Demonstrations, some rioting were all part of the landscape of Shanghai between the end of the war and the arrival first of the Nationalists and then the Communists.

Zia spends a great deal of time discussing the Nationalist seizure of Taiwan after the Maoist victory and the harsh dictatorship that was imposed by Chiang Kai-Shek and his forces.  She follows American domestic politics and its impact on Bing and Ho as they tried to renew their lives in the United States and deal with immigration authorities as the Cold War evolved.  The McCarthyite period, the outbreak of the Korean War, and other events impacted all of Zia’s subjects greatly.

As the narrative unfolds, Zia introduces several interesting characters that have important roles to play in the lives of Benny, Bing, Ho, and Annou.  Chief among them are Betty Woo, Bing’s adopted sister who seems to be able to support her family through her charm and savvy as she arranges marriages, money, and whatever needs that must be met.  Annou’s father is a disaster as he “hates” his youngest daughter, and Benny’s father, a Nationalist insider who is eventually captured and imprisoned by the Communists.  His father’s background became a source of his own suffering as Zia describes his treatment by the Maoist government through numerous campaigns including the Cultural Revolution.

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(People fleeing Shanghai, circa, 1949)

At certain points in the narrative the book devolves into a description of a series of human waves to escape oncoming tragedy.  First, the Japanese in 1937, then the Communist Chinese in 1949.  In each case massive numbers of refugees are created in Shanghai and later Taiwan, Hong Kong, and parts of Southeast Asia.  The mass exodus of 1949 produced an estimate of 1.5 million of Shanghai’s 6 million residents scattering anywhere governments would accept them.  Zia’s protagonists and their families are part of that exodus and she follows their stories to the present day.  What is clear is that the suffering of refugees during that period in history was a catastrophe for those people as are the refugee issues faced by survivors of the current Syrian Civil War, events in the Sudan, Yemen, Darfur, as well as migrants currently seeking entrance into the United States.

Zia’s work is to be commended as she presents a history of western imperialism, Shanghai, the diaspora of many Chinese as they disperse to Taiwan, Hong Kong, the United States and elsewhere after 1949.  She narrates Chinese history through the eyes of her subjects and provides the reader excellent insights into events on the mainland, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.  Zia writes well and is sensitive to the experiences of her subjects and how they were impacted by historical events.  It is interesting that New York will become an area that all four of Zia’s subjects find common experience and lastly, she should be commended for her  presentation of the Shanghai diaspora.

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