Sandhamn Island was a picturesque spot across the water from Stockholm. It possessed an interesting maritime history and how it evolved into a tourist spot mostly for the affluent. It was a calm location where people left their doors unlocked and people went about their lives in a considerate relation to their neighbors. During the spring and summer, it served as a retreat for visitors from city and for the most part nothing out of the ordinary occurred except for seasonal boating regattas. The islands off Stockholm serves as the backdrop for Viveca Sten’s Sandhamn murder series. The first STILL WATERS translated by Marlaine DeLargey is the first installment of eight other volumes is a cleverly conceived murder mystery.
The plot builds upon several characters led by Inspector Thomas Andreasson, a fourteen-year veteran of the Nacka municipality violent crime unit. Andreasson’s private life is a sad one in that one night he and his wife found their three-month-old daughter dead in her crib. The trauma and emotional strain would lead to a divorce and a very lonely life for the former married couple. Next, is Nora Linde, a lawyer, and a childhood friend of Andreasson whose husband is a doctor in Stockholm and refuses to consider any change to their living situation when she is offered a promotion creating a great deal of tension. Lastly is Margit Grankvist a close colleague of Anreasson and a very sharp individual who possesses a very analytical mind.
Sten’s writing is clear and engaging and it seems that each time the story begins to make sense she adds another twist, and the police have no idea concerning the murders that have taken place on the island and have no clue who might be the next victim. No one on the island would be leaving their doors unlocked in the foreseeable future. The beautiful island experiences two deaths that seem related. The first is Krister Berggren, a very lonely man, who is discovered in a fishnet and rope around his waist. He had been in contact with his cousin Kicki Berggren who also turns up dead. Is it a coincidence or is it something nefarious going on? Soon a third body turns up found by Nora Linde and it seems that the victim, Johnny Almhut had been with Kicki the last night of her life.
The police have a hard time making the connection among the three victims as Anreasson uses a methodical approach to the investigation. Step by step building upon information that he and his team come across they get closer and closer to solving the murders, then it appears out of the blue, Stern shifts the story line in another direction. She introduces the possibility that a smuggling operation from Systemet, a wine manufacturing company that had been in the Strindberg family business dating to the 19th century.
When Anreasson has difficulties making progress he turns to his childhood friend Nora Linde. Together, they attempt to unravel the riddles left behind by two mysterious outsiders—while trying to make sense of the difficult twists their own lives have taken since the shared summer days of their youth. The plot will not keep you on the edge of your seat until the last chapter or two, but as it progresses Stern has the knack to draw you in without the blood and gore of other murder mysteries.
Sten’s novels have been made into an extraordinarily successful television series that is available on Netflix which I highly recommend. After reading STILL WATERS I look forward to the next in the series CLOSED CIRCLES which continues the professional relationship of Anreasson and Linde in a manner that is not the typical Swedish “noir,” but more of a settled and less violent approach.
(Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney)
In reassessing the results of the Iraq War one thing is clear, the United States made a terrible error invading Saddam Hussein’s kingdom in 2003. If one looks objectively at the current state of the Middle East one can honestly conclude that the ultimate victor was Iran. Iraq was a state that was held together by an authoritarian regime that dealt with Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. Once the war brought “shock and awe,” or devastation the country split apart into civil war eventually allowing Iran to ally with Shiite forces and influence its government, fostered the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS), contributed to the Syrian civil war, reinforced Turkey’s goal of destroying the Kurds, and diminished the American presence and reputation in the region. One could argue that looking back after fifteen years that the mess that was created has pushed Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, particularly the United Arab Emirates closer to Israel as they have a common enemy in Iran, but that analysis does not undo a disastrous war. The war itself is the subject of an excellent new book by Robert Draper, a writer at large for the New York Times, entitled TO START A WAR: HOW THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION TOOK AMERICA INTO IRAQ.
The book is a detailed overview of how the United States wounded by the 9/11 attacks sought revenge against the Taliban in Afghanistan for harboring al-Qaeda, but not satiated despite destroying the Taliban, the Bush administration almost immediately sought further retribution against Saddam Hussein who they tried to link the attacks on the World Trade Center. The decision making process that is presented is often convoluted and mired in a fantasy world of polluted intelligence as men like Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Defense Secretary, Doug Feith, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, I. Lewis Scooter Libby, Cheney’s Chief of Staff, and ultimately President Bush pushed the United States into war against Iraq. What emerges are CIA and other intelligence analysts bending and twisting intelligence to fit their preconceived notions to create an acceptable causus belli against Iraq. There are a number of heroes in this process who tried to stop the roller coaster of bad intelligence and personal vendettas, but in the end, they failed leading to the most disastrous war in American history. A war we are still paying for.
Draper leaves no stone unturned as he pieces together almost every aspect of the decision making process that led to war. Relying on over 300 interviews of the participants in the process, newly released documentation, command of the memoirs and secondary material, and his own experience in the region, Draper has written the most complete study of the Bush administration’s drive towards war. Draper traces the ideological and emotional development of the participants, some of which longed to finish off the Gulf War of 1991 that they believed was incomplete, others who possessed a visceral hatred of Saddam Hussein, and others who saw an opportunity to foster a revolt that in the end would bring about American control of Iraqi oil.
The picture that emerges is a cabal led by Cheney and Rumsfeld who would accept nothing less than the removal of Saddam; a National Security Advisor, Condi Rice who was in over her head in dealing with bureaucratic infighting; Colin Powell, a Secretary of State who opposed the neo-cons in their push for war, but remained the loyal soldier; CIA Director George Tenet, a Clinton hold over trying to prove his loyalty though he seems to have known better, and a president who thrived on his “gut,” a version of human emotion and anger for an Iraqi attempt at assassinating his father. All of these characters are flawed but each had an agenda which they refused to take no for an answer.
What is clear from Draper’s presentation is that before 9/11, despite repeated warnings from Richard Clarke and the intelligence community the Bush administration did not take the terrorist threat seriously with people like Wolfowitz arguing that CIA analysts were giving Osama Bin-Laden too much credit. The administration ignored a combined CIA-FBI brief of August 6, 2001 warning that “Bin-Laden Determined to Strike in the U.S.” Once the attack took place the US responded with Operation Enduring Freedom on October 7, 2001 and in a short time 27 of 30 Afghani provinces were liberated from the Taliban. As the situation in Kabul was evolving, Rumsfeld was already switching the Pentagon’s focus to Iraq. Bush, now saw himself as a wartime leader with a newly found cause and for the first time in his career equated his situation with other wartime Presidents. By January 2002 American assets were already being transferred to Iraq.
As the narrative evolves it is obvious that Bush’s national security team is one on dysfunction with back biting, disagreements, and power grabs. It is clear that Rumsfeld and Cheney who pushed for war disliked and disagreed with Powell, who wanted to work through the United Nations. Powell reciprocated his feelings toward them and their cohorts, Wolfowitz, Feith, and Libby. Draper offers a number of chapters on these principle players and delves into their belief systems and their role in developing war plans to overthrow Saddam. The specific evidence that decision making relied upon was fourfold. First, a senior al-Qaeda operative, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was captured by the United States and after failing to reveal anything of value he was turned over to the Egyptians for further interrogation. After being coerced by the Egyptians Al-Libi would confess that two al-Qaeda recruits had been sent to Baghdad in 12/2001 to be trained in building and deploying chemical and biological weapons. Later this “evidence” was deemed to be a fabrication by the CIA and DIA. Second, supposedly on April 9, 2001, one of the 9/11 hijackers, Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi diplomat in Prague, however after careful vetting this too turned out to be false. Third was Rafid Ahmed al-Takari, nicknamed “curveball” by German intelligence claimed to be an Iraqi chemical engineer at a plant that designed more than 6 mobile biological labs. Fourth, Cheney believed that Saddam had agreed to purchase 500 tons of yellow cake uranium per year from the government of Niger. Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, the spouse of CIA analyst Valerie Plame was sent to investigate, and he concluded there was no substance to the charge.
The dysfunction in planning for war is obvious when Bush inquired if there was a National Intelligence Estimate for the proposed invasion. Tenet responded there was none, and he had 19 days to create one a process that normally took between four months to a year to compile. The result was a NIE that played fast and loose with intelligence and it pulled in anything that remotely was credible to make its case for war. The problem according to Draper is that Bush had decided in August 2002 to go to war, and the NIE of October 1, 2002 had to come up with a justification for Bush’s decision. The final NIE consisted of badly outdated intelligence which was often fabricated. This is not the only example of a threadbare approach to intelligence. Once Powell, because of his gravitas and reputation was chosen to address the United Nations on February 5, 2003, a speech designed to augment a coalition and the support of the international body the die was already cast. The problem was that the evidence that Powell used in his speech, i.e., curveball and other improbable theories provoked disdain from certain American allies and the Arab world in general. Powell plays an important role in Draper’s narrative as he conjectures what might have occurred if the Secretary of State had refused to go along with the push toward war. However, as many other authors have offered, Powell was a military man whose loyalty was to the chain of command, so he was coopted. In the end the neocons were hell bent on war and regime change and Powell’s reputation visa vie Cheney, Libby, Feith and Wolfowitz there was probably little else he could do.
If planning for war was disjointed, planning for post-war Iraq was a disaster. Rumsfeld argued “we don’t do windows,“ meaning nation building. The Pentagon refused to make serious plans once Saddam was overthrown. Cheney and his people argued that the Iraqi people would greet American soldiers as heroes and with a minimum of American aid could oversee their own adoption of democracy. On the other hand, Powell and his staff argued that an occupation force would be needed probably for two to three years. A number of sketchy characters from the Iraqi exile community emerges, particularly Ahmad Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress who had not been in Iraq for decades whose machinations behind the scenes finally led to Bush’s refusal to support him as Iraq’s version of “Hamid Karzai.” The lack of American planning or arrogance would foster a complete disaster once the American occupation was created.
If one wonders why Draper’s book should be read now Joshua Geltzer argues that it clear that “he exposes the key points about the relationship among the American president, the executive branch he leads and the intelligence he receives that burn as fiercely today as they did almost two decades ago.”* From the evidence that Draper offers the decision for war rested with George W. Bush. As the self-styled “decider” it was Bush as president not his cabinet and other minions who bare the ultimate responsibility for war and what occurred after the fighting ended. Obviously, the politicization of intelligence played a major role in Bush’s decision making. Draper’s account is extremely important , it is one “to study not just to understand a war whose repercussions loom large given the Americans, Iraqis and others who ‘eve perished – and given the through-line from Bush’s decision to the continuing American presence in Iraq and the persistent threat from terrorists there and in Syria in the wake of the US invasion.”*
It should come as no surprise that regime change is a dangerous undertaking. All one has to do is look at Libya and Iraq. As President Trump contemplates through his tweets about regime change in Iran, perhaps he should read Draper’s narrative before he makes a decision that would be disastrous for the American people.
*Joshua Geltzer, “Behind the Iraq War, a Story of Influence, Intelligence and Presidential Power,” Washington Post, August 21, 2020.
(Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney)
From the outset, Larry Tye in his new biography, DEMAGOGUE: THE LIFE AND LONG SHADOW OF SENATOR JOSEPH McCARTHY states that his book is about America’s love affairs with bullies, and certainly Joseph McCarthy fits that category. At a time where the concept of a “political bully” seems to be on every pundit’ lips in covering Donald Trump it is useful to explore the life and tactics employed by the epitome of that description. Confronted by Trump’s daily “bullying tactics,” many of which passed on to the president from McCarthy through Roy Cohn, political commentators have been exploring how the American people elected Trump and how least 30-40% of electorate still supports him no matter what he does or says. People wonder how we arrived at our current state of partisanship, but if one digs into American political history, the McCarthy era seems to be an excellent place to start as the likes of Roy Cohn and others seem to dominate the political landscape. If one follows the progression from Huey Long, McCarthy, George Wallace, Newt Gingrich on to Trump and examine their characteristics today’s political landscape becomes into sharper focus.
What separates Tye’s biography from those that came before, including David Oshinsky’s superb A CONSPIRACY SO IMMENSE: THE WORLD OF JOSEPH McCARTHY and Thomas C. Reeves’ THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JOSEPH McCARTHY was his access to his subjects unscripted writings and correspondence, military records, financial files, and box after box of professional and personal documents that Marquette University made available for the first time after almost sixty years. As he has done in previous books like SATCHEL: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF AN AMERICAN LEGEND, and BOBBY KENNEDY: THE MAKING OF A LIBERAL ICON, Tye examines all aspects of his subject and delivers an unquestionable command of primary and secondary materials. To his credit Tye makes a valiant attempt at providing a balanced approach to McCarthy’s life and politics. No matter how hard he tried Tye has set himself a difficult task when like others he uncovers all the lies and bombast, but also his subject’s personal charm. He concludes that McCarthy was “more insecure than we imagined, more undone by his boozing, more embracing of his friends and vengeful towards foes and more sinister.”
(Near the end: Senator Joseph McCarthy with Roy Cohn in 1954.)
There are numerous examples in the book where Tye presents a McCarthy action and tries to give him the benefit of the doubt that previous biographers did not. For example, in addressing the facts and myths that followed McCarthy his military record stands out when one tries to be objective. “Tail Gunner Joe,” McCarthy’s chosen nickname actually volunteered for combat operations in the Pacific Theater during World War II, when he could have remained a “desk jockey” as an intelligence officer. McCarthy would serve for a year before he requested a discharge and achieved a number of medals as newly released military record reflect, but despite his bravery it did not stop him from repeatedly embellishing and lying about his service record. In addition, he engaged in political activity while in the Marines, trying to keep a political seat warm when he returned to Wisconsin which was “verboten” in the military. Another example deals with the Malmedy Massacre at the outset of the Battle of the Bulge as the German SS murdered over 350 American POWs and 100 Belgian civilians. As a new senator McCarthy needed an issue to enhance his political credentials so he defended the Germans in the Senate Sub-Committee, which he was only an observer arguing that they were only following orders and were coerced and beaten by American prosecutors, in addition to opposing “retributive justice.” McCarthy’s real motivation was the preponderance of German voters in Wisconsin and some would argue that there was a strong element of anti-Semitism on his part as part of his belief system.
Tye correctly points out that McCarthy’s antics during the Malmedy hearings was “just a warm-up act.” As McCarthy’s behavior surrounding the massacre muddied the historical record as it provided a glimpse into his senatorial future as he would employ a scorched earth strategy on any issue, he became involved in. He fell for conspiracies and always elevated charges that he was spoon fed. He would enhance his skills in dealing with the press, providing them with phrasing that they sought, and manipulate them in order to disseminate his views to his constituents. The bombast, bullying, and lies which would later become his trademark were all present during the Malmedy investigation.
One of Tye’s best chapters, entitled “An Ism is Born,” follows the pattern that McCarthy exhibited as a circuit judge, his military career, and his Senate campaign in 1946. Tye provides exceptional detail and command of all aspects of McCarthy’s motivations and the creation of his February 1950 speech in Wheeling, W. Va. When he announced that there were 205 communists serving in the State Department. Tye follows his disingenuous approach using innuendo as his primary tactic despite the advice of Congressman Richard M. Nixon to cease and desist this approach. The Lincoln Day Dinner, the occasion for the speech was a natural extension of McCarthy’s playbook that he used up until that time and would now enhance as he discovered the “Communism” issue which would dominate the remainder of his political career.
Tye does a nice job providing examples of demagogues in American history. He highlights men like Ben Tillman, Father Coughlin, Huey Long whose footsteps McCarthy easily fit into. Tye also traces anti-communism in American history beginning with Woodrow Wilson’s administration, the Palmer Raids, all part the Red Scare following World War I. While tracing this theme Tye includes the Truman administration which instituted loyalty oaths and a crackdown on suspected communists. With the House Un-American Activities Committee chaired by Martin Dies after World War II, the climate was set for the likes of McCarthy to latch on to this issue to base a reputation. Congress would underestimate McCarthy and failed to measure the nation’s temperature. It was not only kooks who succumbed to communist conspiracies, but patriotic organizations. No matter how few facts McCarthy presented, how many lies he told, and how many old accusations he recycled, Congress did not learn the futility of taking on a man of “wit, whimsy, and mendacity” who when forced into a corner would transform himself into a pit bull or lamb, depending what the situation called for.
Tye carefully examines McCarthy’s approach to investigations. Once elected in 1946 he usurps publicity and actions from legitimate Senate committees with false accusations against “supposed communists.” It is in 1952 once Republicans gain a Senate majority and McCarthy gains the Chair of the Government Operations Committee and the Permanent Sub-Committee on Investigations that he is unleashed. He could now hold his own hearings, summon witnesses, issue subpoenas, publish findings, and bully anyone who tried to thwart him. Tye describes how McCarthy would employ closed committee sessions in order to coerce witnesses with his tactics. He would bully anyone who invoked their Fifth Amendment rights marking people as guilty even if something had occurred earlier in life, or a friend might have voice communist sympathies, etc. In his committee innocence had to be proven. His smears were designed to convict anyone who came before the committee and have them implicate others, much like a 1930s Stalinist Show Trials. It is interesting that it took until 2003 to unseal the records of McCarthy’s executive sessions.
McCarthy seemed to go after just about anyone. The Voice of America designed to confront Soviet propaganda in Eastern Europe was a major target; as was the Government Printing Office; overseas libraries and information centers; the poet Langston Hughes; and McCarthy even accused the State Department of book burnings. McCarthy could not have conducted these hearings and investigations without his pit bull, Roy Cohn. Tye delves into the role of Cohn who becomes McCarthy’s alter ego. He joined McCarthy’s committee as Chief Counsel with little legal experience. He used hearings as if they were a grand jury and presumed anyone who testified would crack under the right amount of pressure. As Tye points out, “to Cohn, the ideal witness to drag from a private to a public grilling was one who’d grovel, stonewall, or otherwise ensure front-page headlines.” Cohn later would become Donald Trump’s mentor and there is a remarkable similarity in their tactical approach to any given situation.
McCarthy and Cohn’s tactics fostered a high price. In a chapter entitled “The Body Count,” Tye delineates a number of deaths related to being persecuted by McCarthy and company. The suicides of Raymond Kaplin, an engineer at the Voice of America, former Wisconsin Senator Robert La Follette, Jr, and former Wyoming Senator Lester Hunt, Jr.; and Don Hollenbeck, a CBS reporter. Is it fair to lay these deaths at the feet of McCarthy, one cannot really say, but what one can say is that he created the climate that pushed many people over the edge, and the number of lives destroyed and/or were impacted is incalculable. The lives and careers of people like Reed Harris, professional diplomats known as the “China Hands” had their careers destroyed, as were many who were blacklisted in academia and the entertainment business.
(G. David Shine, Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy)
Perhaps the most famous or for that matter infamous case was McCarthy’s actions against the US Army. Known as the Army-McCarthy Hearings Tye recounts how even President Eisenhower, who had tolerated McCarthy for three years had enough. Tye delves into how Eisenhower would rage against McCarthy in private but enabled him in public. Eisenhower had a number of opportunities to deal with McCarthy but from 1952-1954 he did little to speak out or take concrete action. McCarthy could not have been as successful as he was without enablers like Eisenhower; Texas millionaires like Clint Murchison, H. L. Hunt, and Roy Cullen; Scott McLeod, the administrator of the State Department’s Bureau of Inspection who fed McCarthy material; FBI head, J. Edgar Hoover who did the same; politicians like John F. Kennedy, Robert Taft, Jr. and Lyndon Johnson all went along with McCarthy; the Catholic Church; and finally the American people – all facilitated McCarthy’s reign of terror. Tye’s recounting of the Army-McCarthy hearings is riveting and highlights the inequities of McCarthy’s system and how these inequities finally brought him down.
A number of characters stand out in the narrative. Tye engages each in his analytical and personal style particularly Edward R. Murrow who stood up to McCarthy publicly on his television program. Tye explores David Shine, ranging from his admiration of McCarthy and Roy Cohn to his own privileged view of himself and his responsibilities. Jean McCarthy, the senator’s wife’s role as confidant and partner in exploiting communism is carefully evaluated. Anita Lee Moss, a victim of McCarthy and her courageous stand against his committee is told in detail. These are but a few that Tye incorporates into his narrative, they along with countless others were the victims of a paranoid and insecure man.
Tye has written the definitive account of Joseph McCarthy’s personal and public life. Tye had documents availed to him that other authors did not making his account complete and enhanced by the author’s careful exploration of the important issues and personalities of the period. Tye’s biography drips with comparisons of President Trump and hopefully the American people will digest their similarities and take the appropriate action on election day.
On August 6, 2020, the world commemorated the dropping of a “10,000 pound uranium bomb” on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The weapon referred to as the atomic bomb unleashed the nuclear age and brought about the threat to human civilization. According to journalist John Hersey the use of the bomb has kept the world safe from its use again because of the memories of the devastation unleashed on Hiroshima.
At the outset, the American government was open about the use of the weapon as President Harry Truman stated it was by far the largest bomb ever used in the history of warfare. As time went on Washington began to clamp down on information circulating as to the effects of the bomb on the city’s landscape and its people. Between 100-280,000 people may have died by the end of 1945, but the actual figure and its effects on future generations will never be known. The government tried to convince its people that the atomic bomb was a conventional superbomb and ignored its radioactive aftermath. The US military limited journalist access to the area to control its message, but reporter John Hersey was able to make his way to the site leading to his 30,000 word essay printed in the New Yorker magazine which ultimately became a book that millions of people have read since its publication in 1946. The story of how Hersey gained access to Hiroshima and the impact of his writing is the back story of Lesley M.M. Blume’s provocative new book, FALLOUT: THE HIROSHIMA COVERUP AND THE REPORTER WHO REVEALED IT TO THE WORLD.
(General Leslie M. Groves)
If the reader wonders why there was so little outrage over the use of the bomb one must keep in mind the need for revenge because of Pearl Harbor. In addition, a war that produced the Holocaust, the Japanese rape of China, the eastern front, all contributed to the carnage on such an unprecedented scale that the public began to suffer from what Blume terms “atrocity exhaustion.” According to Blume, Hersey’s goal was to drive home the gruesome reality of what occurred in Hiroshima and “create a work that would help restore a shared sense of humanity,” a difficult task considering the demonization and hatred that existed among the combatants and the societies that supported them. The fallout from Hersey’s article was an embarrassment for the US government, but once the cover-up was blown, the reality of nuclear war would now be permanent.
Blume’s work is an important contribution to the literature that exists on the dropping of the bomb. Hersey’s view of the bomb changed after the second one was dropped on Nagasaki. The first he could rationalize, not the second which he saw as barbaric. Almost immediately the US government began to limit information and journalistic access as reporters were forced into what Wilfred Burchett of the Daily Express described as a “press ghetto.”
Blume focuses a great deal on the role of the New Yorker magazine under the stewardship of its founder and editor, Harold Ross and the magazine’s deputy editor William Shawn and how they supported Hersey’s desire to go to Hiroshima and report on the human element of the bombing’s aftermath. Providing important biographical information of each, Blume does an excellent job recounting their motivations, skill set, and ultimate triumph in eluding military censorship to bring the story to the public.
Blume’s research is impeccable as she quotes General Leslie Groves, the head of the Manhattan Project, particularly his commentary that dying from radiation poisoning was not a bad way to die. Comparing Hersey and Groves’ views is a useful tool that Blume employs throughout the book. Hersey’s approach to his reporting is based on a book by Thornton Wilder, THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY which detailed the lives of five people killed in Peru when a rope suspension bridge over a canyon broke. After reading the book, Hersey admired how Wilder tracked the lead-up to the accident and how these people were led to that tragic moment. Hersey’s research focused on how to connect with actual human faces; those belonging to a struggling widow and her three children, a young clerk, two doctors, a priest, and a pastor. Hersey was lucky enough to establish relationships with Father Superior Hugo Lassalle, Father Wilhelm Kleinnsorge, and Reverend Kiyoshi Taminto upon his arrival in Hiroshima who introduced him to the 25-50 survivors he interviewed during his two weeks in the city.
Blume delves into the psychological component of the survivors in detail as they were confronted with the “atomic disease” that the bomb unleashed. Hersey employed Japanese studies in addition to his own research as he avoided MacArthur’s attempts at repressing information. An excellent source to consult on this aspect of the tragedy is Robert Jay Lifton’s classic, DEATH IN LIFE:SURVIVORS OF HIROSHIMA which describes Lifton’s work in Japan after the bombing.
The narrative brings the reader inside the New Yorker editorial room as Shawn and Ross edited the article and developed a strategy as to how it should be released. Blume’s portrayal of Henry Luce of Time is priceless as the owner of the magazine could not tolerate Hersey, who at one time was his prodigal son and the New Yorker’s success.
Perhaps one of her best chapters, entitled “Aftermath” is eye opening as it portrays the military’s reaction to publication in the August 31, 1946 edition of the New Yorker and the lengths they went to counter act its influence as its cover-up was now in the open. Former Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson penned a rebuttal, and President Truman went out of his way to justify the weapon’s use as the United States now had a “Hiroshima” image problem. The US went from a global savior to a genocidal superpower in the eyes of many. Despite the government’s counter arguments, Hersey had connected atomic war with actual human faces. Once the magazine was released it sold out worldwide as did the book that was also published, fostering forever doubt as to whether the bomb should have been dropped.
Blume’s narrative is presented with an even prose that allows the reader to digest Hersey’s daring efforts and ultimate success in producing one of the most important books of the 20th century. It is a story that has remained in the background for decades, and to Blume’s credit it has now been brought to the public’s attention. FALLOUT provides powerful insights into the length’s governments will go to create a story that covers up real events and the means employed by a reporter to unearth the truth.
Reince Priebus, John Kelley, Mark Mulvaney, Mark Meadows and now Herb Nutterman, all Chiefs of Staff for President Donald Trump. All are real, except for Nutterman who is the central character of Christopher Buckley’s hilarious political satire entitled, MAKE RUSSIA GREAT AGAIN. If one follows the office of Chief of Staff during the Trump administration it appears to be a merry go round or a game of “whack a mole” as they resign, are fired, or only plain fade away. In Buckley’s rendition of the office and the official who heads it the American people are faced with a somewhat comical situation; however, it reflects a presidency that is chaotic and exists to meet the personal needs of the president which is not humorous at all.
Buckley’s plot, apart from his review of Trump’s, how shall we say idiosyncrasies that have led to an uncontrolled pandemic, racial unrest, an economy collapsing, along with his constant tweeting of “alternative facts/reality” is quite simple. It appears that the CIA has a computer that hacked the Russian reelection of Vladimir Putin producing a victory for the Communist candidate Anatoli Zitkin. The CIA computer program, entitled Operation Placid Reflux is designed to respond in kind to anyone or organization that interferes with an American election, hence the Communist victory. Trump’s intelligence community and political staff refuse to tell the president because of how he might react. A second plot develops around a Russian oligarch, Oleg Pishinsky whose business manufactures Novichok, a nerve agent designed to kill people, which Buckley affectionally describes as “oil of Oleg.” It appears Pishinsky has a thumb drive that dates back to the 2013 Miss Universe contest which Trump attended and personally “examined” each of the eighteen contestants. Later when one of the women complained it seems that “oil of Oleg” was used in her demise. When the contents of the thumb drive are leaked, Nutterman and company come clean with the president who comes up with a new slogan, “Keep America Hard.”
Buckley possesses a keen sense of humor, at times a bit understated, at times somewhat sarcastic, but always funny. Humor is a gift to all in our current Covid-19 world and perhaps Washington politicians might want to consult Buckley’s narrative as a means of breaking the political ice and make a real attempt to address the nation’s problems, rather than play the ego games that are a detriment to the American people.
(Russian President Vladimir Putin)
Herb Nutterman, who Trump refers to as his “favorite Jew” had no qualifications to be Chief of Staff, aside from twenty-seven years of hospitality work in Trump hotels. This type of work was actually useful training for the “suck up” work that is needed by those in Trump’s orbit. The president comes across as an ignorant, ill-informed individual who suffers from a lack of intellectual curiosity which are among his positive characteristics, along with having the attention span of a gerbil. But, what can you expect from a person who suggests injecting oneself with bleach to deal with Covid-19.
Buckley’s commentary concerning Trump match the descriptions offered by people no longer serving in the administration. Buckley describes Trump’s behavior during intelligence briefings or other important meetings as simply having no patience. “He liked his briefings short, crisp, and to the point, and above all, without briefing books or even short memos. Mr. Trump’s eyes had some sort of membrane that caused them to glaze over. He attributed this to his ‘lightning-fast brain,’ not to attention deficit disorder. The one exception was if someone was praising him.”
Buckley introduces numerous characters which are easily identified. Katie Borgia-O’Reilly is obviously Kelly Ann Conway; Senator Squiggly Lee Biskitt of South Carolina is Lindsay Graham; Stephen Miller is Stefan Nacht von Nebel the author of THE FINAL SOLUTION TO THE MEXICAN PROBLEM; Secretary of the Treasury Minutian is actually Steven Mnuchin; Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is President Attajurk; Vice-President Mike Pants; Beula Puckle-Peters as Sarah Sanders; Cricket Singh, former UN Ambassador and governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley; Seamus Colonnity, alias Sean Hannity; and of course Jored and Ivunka, one of which “looked like his own Madame Tussaud’s waxwork.” Others whose real names are used include Attorney-General William Barr, Vladimir Putin, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Paul Manafort.
As each character is “poked,” it should cause the reader to shake one’s head. An excellent example is the description of a state dinner for Turkish President Attajurk at the White House. Kim Kardashian, of Armenian descent is seated on his right, and First Lady Melania Trump seated on his left leans over and asks about Kim’s Armenian heritage leading to an uncomfortable situation with the Armenian Genocide as backdrop. Attajurk is repulsed and leaves, returning immediately to Ankara while Melania smiles.
At times, the book reads like a Kurt Vonnegut novel taking place in “Cloud Cuckoo Land.” Be that as it may it is worth a quick read to make one laugh, which most doctors agree is the best medicine for people who suffer from excessive stress – which we all seem to be experiencing in our current environment. The book has its absurdities, but too many of them are too close to reality, but at least Buckley has made politics funny again!
According to the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal at the conclusion of World War II he served as Hans Frank, the Governor-General of occupied Poland’s deputy, the Governor-General of Krakow, and a number of other positions in the SS and SD in Austria. He was indicted for mass murder of at least 100,000 people, if not thousands upon thousands more. Wachter is the subject of Philippe Sands latest book, THE RATLINE: LOVE, LIES, AND JUSTICE ON THE TRAIL OF A NAZI FUGITIVE, the “Ratline” was an organization that Wachter and the likes of Adolf Eichmann, Joseph Mengele, Klaus Barbie, and countless others used as an escape route out of Europe as the war ground to a close. Sands builds upon his previous book EAST WEST STREET: ON THE ORIGINS OF ‘GENOCIDE’ AND ‘CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY” were he wove together the story of his quest to uncover family secrets in the Ukrainian city of Lviv in the 1940s and the Nuremberg tribunal after World War II. The route Sands describes, known as the “Ratline” was popularized in Frederick Forsyth’s THE ODESSA FILE, and thoroughly researched by Uki Goni, an Argentinian researcher in his book, THE REAL ODESSA and other monographs exploring how Nazis were able to avoid justice, the most important of which was Gerald Steinacher’s NAZIS ON THE RUN. These works among many other titles uncover the role of the Vatican, the governments of Argentina, the United States, Switzerland among a host of countries each for its own reasons assisted former Nazis in their attempts to avoid prosecution.
Sands, a British and French lawyer, and Professor of Laws at the University College London is the author of seventeen books dealing with international law, many of which focus on the concept of genocide. In his latest effort Sands traces the life of Otto Wachter, with special emphasis on his marriage to Charlotte Wachter, as he rose through the Nazi Party ranks, first in Vienna and later in Germany landing in his positions in occupied Poland. After recounting his subjects’ Nazi career, he follows his attempts to avoid justice as he meanders his way employing the Ratline from 1945 to 1949. Sands research is noteworthy as one of his main sources was through the relationship, he established with Wachter’s fourth child, Horst. Through a series of interviews that resulted in a 2013 article for the Financial Times, Sands was able to extract a great deal of documentation dealing with the family from his mother’s diary, copiously kept from 1925, except at times when it came to the atrocities her husband was involved in. But what must be kept in mind during Sands’ quest to decipher the life of a man on the run, and his wife’s attempts to help him; can be described as some sort of a “Nazi love story!”
(Philippe Sands, author)
Horst was adamant during their many conversations that his father had done nothing wrong. Horst argued that “his father was not responsible for any crimes…Rather, he was an ‘endangered heretic’ in the National Socialist system, opposed to racial and discriminatory actions applied in the German-occupied territories of Poland and Ukraine.” His father was “an individual, a mere cog in a powerful system, part of a larger criminal group.” Horst did not deny the horrors of the Holocaust and saw the process as criminal, but he did not think his father’s actions were criminal.
Sands does a remarkable job piecing together Wachter’s personal life and SS/SD career. He takes the reader through the important events in Europe culminating with the Anschluss (union) between Austria and Germany and the role played by Horst’s god father Arthur Seyss-Inquart who served as Chancellor of Austria after it was taken over by Hitler’s forces. Following the Anschluss, Wachter’s career advanced rapidly as he starts out as a lawyer in the Criminal Division of the SD ending up as Governor of Krakow were he implemented the creation of the Jewish ghetto for the city, the execution of numerous Poles, and advanced the process of Jewish deportation to the concentration camps.
Sands interest in Wachter is deeply personal as his grandfather, Leon Bucholz who lived in Lemberg, Galicia was deported from the city to his death during the Holocaust. Between 1942 and 1944 Wachter was installed as Governor of the District of Galicia and supervised the city of Lemberg and probably signed the death warrant of Sands’ grandfather.
Horst Wächter: ‘I do not return the objects for me, but for the sake of my mother.’
The most important aspect of the book revolves around the 1945-1949 period. This period comes to light once Horst agreed to make available his mother’s archive. After the material was digitized Sands had access to “8677 pages of letters, post cards, diaries, photographs, news clippings, and official documents.” This required a painstaking act of reconstruction and interpretation that evolved over a number of years. The result was detailed information how Charlotte Wachter assisted her husband even though she believed she was under surveillance. Charlotte Wachter was the only reason Otto survived along with the vast network that supported him in the Austrian mountains in the Lower Tauerin area.
What becomes clear as the narrative unfolds is no matter how much documentation to the contrary concerning his father’s culpability in the death of thousands, Horst refuses to accept his guilt. No matter how many interviews with people who were involved, scholars etc., Horst remained adamant. As Otto Wachter came down out of the mountains and left for Rome in late April 1949, he took on the identity of Alfredo Reinhardt and would make his way to a monastery in Rome called Vigna Pia where Catherine Wachter sent money, clothes, and other survival necessities. After living in the monastery for three months, Otto Wachter would die of a liver ailment leading to Sands’ investigation of how he died. Horst was convinced that he was poisoned, probably by the Soviet Union, or perhaps by the Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, or even the Americans.
The last third of the book is spent analyzing Otto’s death. What emerges is documentation of the role of a number of individuals, two of which stand out, Bishop Alois Hudal and SS Major Karl Hass. It is clear from the evidence that Hudal was a focal figure in the escape of a number of important Nazis employing the “Ratline” and contacts within the Vatican. Hass is an example of former Nazis that were used by the United States after the war in the developing Cold War with the Soviet Union. Interestingly, he would escape and turn up working for the United States Counterintelligence Corps (CIC) on Project Los Angeles in Rome recruiting spies to be used against the Italian Communist Party. It is clear from the evidence that Otto was in contact with Hass right before he died. Horst was certain that Hass might have been the double agent who murdered his father.
As Sands investigates the last three months of Otto’s life, he pieces together his movements and who assisted him with life’s necessities and the forged documents to survive. What cannot be questioned is that Charlotte Wachter, Nazi acquaintances, and others from the Vatican were Otto’s prime enablers, many of which facilitated the “Ratline” for others like Walter Rauff, Joseph Mengele, Franz Stangl, Erich Priebke, Karl Hass, and others. In effect Otto Wachter walked in the footsteps of his “old Nazi comrades.”
Sands has composed a remarkable historical detective story, bordering on a “thriller.” Through the life of the Wachters, the Nazi “Ratline” comes into full focus, in addition to how Otto Wachter’s actions, a man who oversaw numerous atrocities during the war was not accepted by his son Horst. As a result, the book has a great deal to offer about the mindset of a Nazi murderer, but also the lengths people went to, to allow him to maintain his freedom.
(Doolittle and his crew were the first off the deck of the Hornet. L to R: Lt. Henry A. Potter, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, SSgt. Fred A. Braemer, Lt. Richard Cole, SSgt. Paul J. Leonard.)
The shock of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the morning of December 7, 1941 left Americans calling for revenge for the 2,403 Americans who were killed, and over 1000 wounded. Eighteen ships were sunk or run aground, including five battleships. All of the Americans killed or wounded during the attack were legally non-combatants, given that there was no state of war when the attack occurred. The American response came in the form of the Doolittle Raid on April 18, 1942 as sixteen B-25 “Billy Mitchell Army bombers” were launched without fighter escort from the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carrier USS Hornet deep in the Western Pacific Ocean, each with a crew of five men. The plan called for them to bomb military targets in Japan and to continue westward to land in China, at sites prepared by Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek’s forces in China. The bombing raid killed about 50 people, including civilians, and injured 400. Fifteen aircraft reached China, but all crashed, while the 16th landed at Vladivostok in the Soviet Union. The attack provided the American people, the military, and the Roosevelt administration with a measure of satisfaction and a victory for US morale. Of the eight men who survived and imprisoned by the Japanese, three were executed and five had their sentences reduced to life in prison by Emperor Hirohito.
The story of the Doolittle Raid and the plight of the survivors is effectively portrayed in Michel Paradis’ new book, THE LAST MISSION TO TOKYO: THE EXTRAORDINARY STORY OF THE DOOLITTLE RAIDERS AND THEIR FINAL FIGHT FOR JUSTICE. Paradis himself was a Pentagon lawyer who defended detainees held by the American military at Guantanamo Bay provides intimate details of the men who conducted the raid, their training and planning, and ultimately narrates the trial of the Japanese perpetrators of
(Chase Jay Neilson)
the execution of William Farrow, Dean Hallmark, and Harold Spatz along with the death of Lt. Robert J. Meder and the torture of George Barr, Chase Neilson, Robert Hite, and Jacob De Shazer. Paradis’ research is impeccable as he mines the transcripts of the war crimes trial in Shanghai of the Japanese accused of responsibility for the executions and torture. He prepares the reader with the background of the raid and delves into how Major Robert Dwyer and Lt. Colonel John Hendren, Jr., two JAG lawyers under the leadership of Colonel Edward “Ham” Young prosecuted the case against the Japanese perpetrators defended by Lt. Colonel Edmund Bodine who was not trained as a lawyer, and Captain Charles Fellows, a corporate lawyer from Tulsa, OK.
The trial in Shanghai was significant because it was seen as a dry run for the more important trials in Tokyo that included the prosecution of Hedeki Tojo, Japan’s Prime Minister and Minister of War, among others. As far as Dwyer was concerned what transpired in the Shanghai trial would set precedents for what would take place in Tokyo. After observing the trial of General Tomoyuki Yamashita in Manila Dwyer would develop the concept of command responsibility – making commanders responsible for war crimes committed by their subordinates. As Commander of the Japanese 13th Army Lt. General Shigeru Sawada would be held responsible of the actions of those who conducted the trial and execution of the three Doolittle Raiders. Dwyer would also prosecute the three Japanese judges who oversaw the 20 minutes to a half hour trial of the American flyers.
(General Douglas MacArthur coming ashore at Leyte in 1944)
Paradis follows the twists and turns of the prosecution and defense strategies during the Shanghai trial introducing new legal theories dealing with war crimes and its ultimate outcome. Paradis also explores the lives of the men on both sides. The Japanese officers who were culpable, the Doolittle Raiders, and the judges involved. The author delves into Japanese culture and how it related to their actions. For the Japanese, their argument was simple, the Doolittle Raiders had attacked civilians and were conducting a guerilla war from the air which made it a matter of honor and a war crime against the Japanese people thus justifying the executions. The legal battle between Dwyer and Bodine is on full display with Paradis capturing the emotions exhibited by both sides.
Paradis brings out many salient points, perhaps most important were the bureaucratic roadblocks placed in front of Dwyer as General MacArthur seemed more concerned with “the occupation” and recreating Japan in his own image rather than the Shanghai trial. MacArthur saw many Japanese officers who would be put on trial as possible allies, not war criminals in his effort to “Americanize” the new Japanese system of government.
(Author, Michel Paradis)
Paradis’ approach to his subject differs from Ted Lawson’s THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO and James Scott’s TARGET TOKYO as he focuses a great deal on the procedural aspects of a war crimes trial, and as Gary Bass states in his New York Times review, “Trying the Japanese for War Crimes,” he “offers a more troubling history than some triumphalist American chronicles of the Doolittle Raid,” as the defense lawyers presented a much stronger case than expected casting doubt on witness statements and suggesting that the American pilots may have committed a war crime. Paradis’ strength is that he has a “keen sense of the injustices, vagaries, and ironies of war crimes trials.” Bass “notes that Doolittle instructed his airmen to avoid nonmilitary targets. Yet his book makes it uncomfortably clear that they may well have killed Japanese civilians. To this day, Japanese commemorate the strafing of an elementary school in eastern Tokyo during the Doolittle raid, where a 13-year-old boy was killed.”
Paradis has written an exceptional narrative that delves into a number of controversial issues. Further, he deserves credit for uncovering details and analysis that are sound and had not seen the light of day previously. If you are interested in the topic it is a worthwhile read.