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)

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IN EXTREMIS: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF WAR CORRESPONDENT MARIE COLVIN by Lindsey Hilsum

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(Marie Colvin in the Chechen Mountains, 1999)

“Why do I cover wars…. It is a difficult question to answer.  I did not set out to become a war correspondent.  It has always seemed to me what I write about is humanity in extremis, pushed to the unendurable, and that it is important to tell people what really happens in war—declared and undeclared.” (Marie Colvin, The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka, April 22, 2001)

 

Lindsey Hilsum’s new biography of Marie Colvin is a stark reminder of the plight of journalists in our ever-dangerous world.  According to the Washington Post at least 43 journalists were killed in 2018 with another 12 deaths whose causes are not totally clear.  The role of a journalist is to report the news as accurately as possible so citizens can make intelligent judgements about world events.  The life of Colvin presented in IN EXTREMIS: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF THE WAR CORRESPONDENT MARIE COLVIN reflects that dedication and commitment to that truth.  Hilsum, international editor for Channel 4 News in England is the perfect candidate to write about Colvin’s life as she herself covered wars and conflicts in the Middle East, the former Soviet Union, and Africa.  The recent murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi Arabian government reflects the danger journalists face.  The evidence points to the murder being ordered by the Saudi Royal Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman because of Khashoggi’s negative reporting of Saudi policies.  In this case a journalist was not killed on the battlefield, though in a sense he was.  In Colvin’s case she would give her life reporting from Homs, Syria district of Baba Amir, killed by an artillery attack in 2012 during the civil war that continues to this day.

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(Colvin in Cairo during the Arab Spring, 2011)

Colvin was raised in a comfortable middle-class Catholic family on Long Island, a lifestyle she would totally reject after studying with legendary journalist John Hersey at Yale and move on to a dangerous yet rewarding career as a war correspondent.   Hersey was one of the first individuals who impacted Colvin’s life and work.  Another, her role model, Martha Gellhorn whose work during World War II was exemplary.  Hilsum meticulously chronicles Colvin’s relationships and how they affected her love life and career.  Perhaps the most important being Sunday Times correspondent, David Blundy.  This bond was less sexual and more of a lifetime friendship as they shared the same approach to their work, humor, and the way they approached the world.  Hilsum details other important relationships pointing out their importance to Colvin’s life and work which both seemed conceived as a war zone.  Colvin was married twice to husbands who repeatedly lied to her, had her own series of affairs and one-night stands, suffered miscarriages, and would resort to alcohol to deal with her pain.

Colvin’s big break came in 1985 as a UPI reporter she was sent to Morocco with other journalists to witness the celebration of King Hassan’s twenty-five-year reign.  This morphed into an assignment in Libya as its leader, Muammar Gaddafi, the self-declared revolutionary and supporter of terrorism decided to engage the United States in a manner that could only bring President Reagan to respond with overwhelming force.  During their relationship Colvin was able to score several interviews with the Libyan strong man, and while avoiding his sexual advances enabling her to explore his rogue ideology and what he might do next.  Hilsum delves into how Colvin conducted interviews and developed her approach to revolutionaries, terrorists, or as they described themselves, freedom fighters.   For Colvin, her reporting was designed to focus on “the role and feelings of the individual in the collective violence of war.” (56)

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Hilsum’s approach reflects Colvin’s dedication to her craft and the dangers she faced on a regular basis.  Be it confronting Muammar Gaddafi, her special relationship with Yasir Arafat, or interviewing other individuals who rebelled against existing power structures.  The reader is presented with an inside look at the pitfalls and obstacles journalists like Colvin faced each day in Libya, Iraq, Israel, Kosovo, Chechnya, East Timor, Afghanistan, and finally in Syria over the last three decades.  Hilsum relies on over three hundred journals maintained by Colvin, interviews with her peers, and impeccable research to construct a fascinating picture of Colvin’s private life and career which she had difficulty keeping separate.

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Hilsum does a nice job presenting the background history of each conflict area Colvin explores.  The author tries to explain the myriad factions in Lebanon as Beirut is divided at a green line with Maronite Christians, Amal,  Palestinian groups, bourgeoning Hezbollah all backed by different powers be it Iran, Russia or Syria.  In dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Hilsum bores down deep to explain its origins, the constant explosion into violence be it the Intifadas, the wars against Hamas, and the attempts at peace.  Hilsum describes Colvin’s approach to reporting as other journalists would file from the relative safety of Paris and Cyprus when covering Middle East tension, Colvin would get up close and want to experience events before she reported.  Danger be damned, as her journalism was distinguished  by her personal experience and she would become part of the nomadic group of journalists who wandered the landscape of the Middle East.

For Colvin the Middle East held a tremendous fascination which explains many of her stories.  She was able to develop a trusting relationship with the elusive Yasir Arafat and interviewed him over twenty times.  Hilsum describes the arcane nature of Palestinian politics and the reclusive nature of the Palestinian Chairman.  Arafat is the perfect example to study as Colvin had the uncanny ability to get people to speak to her.  Colvin’s reputation was secured as she was able to sneak into Basra in 1986 during the Iran-Iraq war, Beirut during the 163-day siege of the Bourj al-Barajneh refugee camp in 1987, and her reporting helped create world pressure to get the Syrians to force their surrogates to stop the fighting.  The following year her stories describing the first Intifada against Israel reaffirmed her status as a war correspondent.  Colvin was not known for her stylistic approach to writing, but she got the facts and the human-interest component, at times leaving it to her editors in London to fit the puzzle of her reporting together in a more coherent whole.

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(Homs, Syria where Colvin was targeted and killed by Syrian intelligence in 2012

The years 1998 through 2001 found Colvin moving from what area of conflict to another with seemingly no time in between.  1998 saw her in Kosovo reporting on the devastation caused by Serbian nationalists. 1999 revolved around Indonesia as rebels in East Timor declared their independence.  Later that same year Colvin moved on to Chechnya as the new President of Russia, Vladimir Putin decided to crush Chechen rebels who had broken away from Russia during the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Finally, becoming involved in the Sri Lankan Civil War where she was shot trying to leave a Tamil rebel held area, resulting in a loss of her eye, and a deep depression as she tried to recover physically as well as emotionally.

Hilsum chronicles Colvin’s eventual psychological spiral as she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder for which she received treatment.  But her developing alcoholism was never treated.  As Hilsum vividly explains, “She could not unseen what she had seen, and he [a colleague] feared she was losing her ability to distance herself from horror.”  (Washington Post, December 21, 2018)  As Colvin describes herself in a November 12, 2010 piece it was difficult to distinguish between bravery and bravado. (294)

Colvin was a remarkable woman who had many irreconcilables demons within, but she found herself to a large extent as a war correspondent that made life, at times tolerable.  She witnessed and personally suffered a great deal of sadness and joy in her life, but her work is a testament for what journalism can accomplish, and the hope that those in power will care when reporting reaches the newspapers, websites, or television.  Hilsum has done an excellent job capturing the essence of who Colvin was and how she made her life meaningful.

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(Marie Colvin on assignment)

MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS by Stefan Zweig

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(Mary Queen of Scots)

The other day I went to see the film, Mary Queen of Scots  and as I do with most historical films, I wondered how historically accurate it was.  I vaguely recalled the biography of the Scottish Queen written over forty years ago by Antonia Fraser and it seemed there was a great deal of artistic license employed.  Since the most recent biography of Mary was written by John Guy it seemed like the best choice to read, however the film was based on that monograph. I decided to read an older classic account of the Queen written by Stefan Zweig in 1935 which has withstood the test of time.

Zweig, a prolific short story writer has written several biographies of major historical and literary figures that made him one of the most popular European writers in the 1920s and 30s.  Zweig delivers  a solid biography that encompasses her life begun during the time of Henry VIII who tried to pressure Mary’s father, James V to reject Catholicism and accept Protestantism.  James V would die six days after Mary’s birth (though Zweig seems to say they died on the same day), resulting in the ascension of Mary to the Scottish throne at birth.

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(Lord Henry Darnley)

What is clear about Scottish history is that it was very difficult for any monarch to rule Scotland effectively due to the marauding and jealous clans, led by lords who had difficulty projecting fealty to any monarch.  These lords were arrogant and greedy and were part of a somewhat narcissistic nobility.  Any wealth the monarchy might posses apart from sheep herds were gifts and grants from the French king or the Pope.  Historically Scotland was a pawn in the battle between France and England, and when war would break out, the English would land at Normandy, and the French would foment problems with their Scottish allies in the rear.

Zweig writes in a pleasant literary style that most historians can not match.  He writes with a scent of sarcasm whether discussing dynastic politics or diplomacy, and his monograph reads like a novel.  A prime example are the negotiations between Henry VIII and the Scots to marry his son Edward to the six-year-old Mary.  However, even after the negotiations are successful, she is spirited away by the French King Henry II to marry his son Francis.

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(Elizabeth I)

The basic problem is that Mary had a legitimate claim to the English throne once Henry VIII died and his heirs Edward and Mary died.  The Scottish Mary was the great grand daughter of Henry VII of England, and Elizabeth, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn was deemed a bastard.  Henry II would paint the English coat of arms on Francis and Mary’s blazon in 1559 thus fostering the enmity and creating a rival for Elizabeth I.  For the remainder of her life, Mary was seen by Elizabeth as a threat to her throne and eventually it would not end well for Mary.

Zweig will lay out the history of Mary’s short marriage to the sickly Francis and describe in detail her unwanted departure from France and return to Scotland.   Zweig effectively relates Mary’s emotional state as she departs France.  Zweig integrates Mary’s state of mind throughout the book and incorporates Mary’s own writings and words into the narrative.  When Mary departs for Scotland on August 14, 1561, she is traveling to a country that is totally strange and foreign to her.  She faces several obstacles before she arrives that will dog her for her entire reign.  She is to rule over a poverty-stricken country, she must deal with a corrupt nobility that seems to make war at the slightest provocation, she must confront a clergy that is equally divided between Catholicism and Protestantism, and must deal with foreign neighbors who are waiting to benefit from the fratricidal disputes that seem to occur regularly.

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(Lord Bothwell)

Zweig lays out the barriers that Mary must face when she assumes the throne.  She is poor as her mother; Mary of Guise left no inheritance.  Further, she must deal with wars of religion where the towns support Protestantism, and the countryside Catholicism.  In addition, she must deal with fanatical priests and foreign powers, and lastly nobles who convert to Calvinism as a means of seizing Church wealth.  Mary learned fast and decided that perpetual warfare was the way to preserve her Stuart heritage.  The question that dominants is how does one rule when more than half of your kingdom believes in a different religion.

Several important figures emerge that influence the course of Mary’s reign.  Her half-brother James Stuart, the bastard son of James V was her Prime Minister, and a Protestant.  A patient practitioner of the Machiavellian arts, he would have made the perfect king of Scotland.  James was wealthy in his own right and was always willing to accept subsidies to carry out the desires of Elizabeth I.  Another major figure was John Knox, the fanatical Calvinist preacher who refused to accept Mary as the legitimate ruler of Scotland.  His merciless antagonism and demagogic speeches designed to spread his dictatorial religious beliefs was a threat to Mary her entire reign.  When they finally meet for the first time, Zweig presents a wonderful description of their debate that demeaned Mary, who stood up to Knox but realized the difficulty that he presented.

Throughout Zweig allows the reader to experience Renaissance culture through the poets and their poetry of the period.  Mary who grew up during the French Renaissance was a cultured individual who did not fit in Scotland.  Zweig shifts his narrative to the social and cultural mores and norms whenever the situation warrants, and it is a pleasant change from the constant lack of decency and back stabbing that dominates Mary’s reign.

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Any biography of Mary must concentrate on her relationship with Elizabeth I.  Zweig
does an exceptional job and his narrative is based on facts presented or debated with a scholar’s enthusiasm.  There is a psychological dimension to the relationship between the two Queens and Zweig does his best to explore it and reach his own psychohistorical conclusions.  He possesses a deep admiration for Mary and her refusal to give into a destiny that she should have been able to predict.  Reading this monograph at a time of the “me-too” movement one must not take out any sexist frustrations one might feel in regard to Zweig’s comments, i.e.; “In spite of their superlative traits these two women remained women throughout and were unable to overcome the weaknesses inherent in their sex.”  The narrative concerning the monarchial cousins centered on their differences that led to the ruin of Mary and victory for Elizabeth.

Zweig correctly points out that the Treaty of Edinburgh was at the center of their inability to reach a rapprochement despite the flowery letters between the two.  Mary would not sign the treaty recognizing Elizabeth’s reign until Elizabeth had accorded the succession to Mary – but to Elizabeth that would be signing her death warrant.  Zweig points out the strengths and weaknesses of the cousins as well as their similarities and differences.  Mary possessed a madly heroic self-confidence that led to her doom.  Elizabeth suffered from a lack of decision making, but she would still be victorious.  Mary was the champion of the old Catholic faith and was a character out of the Middle Ages believing in chivalry which was dying out.  Elizabeth was the more modern monarch who was defending the reformation.  The approach to their individual kingdoms also sets them apart.  Mary’s kingdom belonged to her on a personal level and she was interested in territorial expansion of her realm, only if it would benefit her personally.  For Elizabeth everything she did was to expand her kingdom and add to the glory of England, not her personal possessions.  The resulting engagement in wars, colonial expansion, and spreading England’s influence around the world was the result.

Perhaps Zweig’s most fascinating chapters deal with marriage diplomacy between the two Queens.  The narrative is priceless as negotiations between the two go back and forth and characters like Lord Henry Darnley and Robert Dudley become pawns between the two women.  Zweig’s presentation is almost like a comedic sketch resulting in the secret marriage of Darnley to Mary that has grave repercussions as Elizabeth and James Stuart are shunned to the side and the result is war that at first Mary is victorious, but in the end creates tensions that could only result in her defeat.

Zweig constantly offers a lens into the human condition throughout the narrative.  He delves into the psychological imperative that drives Mary and provides a wonderful soliloquy encompassing her infatuation for Lord Bothwell and the repercussions of the murder plot to kill her husband and her almost immediate marriage to her husband’s murderer.  Zweig’s analysis is deep and carefully thought out and certain historical scenes are presented as if  from a Shakespearean play as there are constant comparisons to the Bard’s characters.  The result is that Mary’s psyche has deteriorated to the point that she is unable to face what she has done and how dark were her deeds.  A major component of the book is the decline in Mary’s psychological well being as her behavior is detrimental to her political position and her own happiness resulting in her self-inflicted downfall.

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(The execution of Mary Queen of Scots)

This decline is readily apparent as Zweig describes the negotiations between the cousins once she leaves Scotland and is “detained” in England in 1567.  Elizabeth wanted Mary to renounce her rights to the English throne and retire quietly.  Further, she wanted Mary to be cleared of involvement in the regicidal plot involving Bothwell and the death of her husband, Lord Darnley.  Zweig reproduces a great deal of documentation of the Westminster Conference which investigated the murder.  As in several cases dealing with Mary the results were not clear, but no matter the result Mary once again let her pride stand in the way of her safety as she lamented her situation and refused to give into Elizabeth’s demands.  The situation could easily have been resolved had Elizabeth, who at times had difficulty making major decisions just had Mary found guilty and executed in 1568 and not let the situation drag on for years with the same results.

As an aside, if one compares the film, Mary Queen of Scots to Zweig’s or other historical monographs it becomes clear there are several inaccuracies.  First, Mary and Elizabeth never met face to face as takes place toward the end of the film.  Second, the brutal murder of David Rizzio, Mary’s confidante does not take place in front of the Queen as is shown in the film as he was dragged into another stateroom for the deed to transpire.  Third, it is debatable to assert that Darnley and Rizzio were lovers as is reflected in the film.  Fourth,  Mary did not have a Scottish accent as reflected in the film as she was raised in France, and lastly Lord Darnley probably raped Mary the first time they had sex.  The film overall is well done with a diverse cast, which of course did not exist in the 16th century, but the gist of historical accuracy does come across and one must remember a film is made to make money – not bring true history  to the screen.

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(Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I as portrayed in the film)

Zweig has written a somewhat entertaining and literary biography of Mary Queen of Scots.  In reading the book one must realize the time period in which it was written and Zweig’s background as a writer.  It may not meet the criteria that today’s historians might call for, i.e.; a full bibliography and endnotes, but it is a legitimate work of history and I would recommend it for those who seek clarification, those  who have seen the film, or those who are just curious about one of the most enigmatic figures in history.

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(Mary Queen of Scots as portrayed in the film)

 

A COMPLEX FATE: WILLIAM L. SHIRER AND THE AMERICAN CENTURY by Ken Cuthbertson

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(Shirer reports from Nazi Germany)

Today we are exposed to the repetitive 24 hour news cycle on cable television.  It seems that each hour the same information is reprogrammed creating a staleness for the viewer.  Further exacerbating this reporting is the concept of “fake news” and the new reality that it has created in lieu of real journalism.  This being the case it would be useful to think back seventy to eighty years to the type of reportage that existed in the 1930s and 40s.  Instead of dealing with talking heads sitting around a table supposedly providing analysis and context, the public would gather around the family radio listening to reporters from the capitols of Europe and the battlefields of World War II.  At that time a group of reporters worked for CBS news and were known as the “Murrow’s Boys,” men hired by Edward R. Murrow reporting war related events on site.  One of those reporters, William L. Shirer, along with Murrow created the prototype of broadcast news that dominated the airwaves before cable television.  It is through his biography of Shirer, A COMPLEX FATE: WILLIAM L. SHIRER AND THE AMERICAN CENTURY that Ken Cuthbertson traces the development of broadcast journalism through most of the twentieth century.  Cuthbertson, also the author of the remarkable book, THE HALIFAX EXPLOSION: CANADA’S WORST EXPLOSION has written a remarkable study that encompasses Shirer’s life by integrating the main events of the pre- and post-World War II period and the dominant currents of print and non-print journalism at that time.

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(Edward R. Murrow and Shirer)

Shirer originally made a name for himself reporting from Vienna and Berlin throughout the 1930s and through his publication of his BERLIN DIARY in 1936, perhaps providing the most informative insights into Adolf Hitler and the Nazi movement up until that time.  He would return to the United States in 1940 as a broadcast journalist for CBS until 1947 as he was fired for his supposed liberal views.  Shirer would be blacklisted from radio and television until 1960 because of the paranoia of the time period, particularly on the part of media executives.  Shirer would climb out of the poverty that his banning had caused and restore his reputation with the publication of THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH, then a bestseller, and today remains one of the most important examples of narrative history ever written.

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According to the author, Shirer was a very complex individual who lost his father and grandfather at a young age and went through life searching for a meaningful existence which always seemed to be beyond reach.  Shirer’s complexity was in part due to his own self-perceived shortcomings as he often seemed to be at loss in trying to make sense of his own life.  Shirer would grow up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and would possess a certain Midwest naiveté that would be dashed later covering unimaginable events in Europe.  Cuthbertson has written a detailed narrative that does a nice job placing Shirer’s life story in the context of the events occurring around him.  Shirer is drawn to Europe and achieves his first break by hooking up with the conservative Chicago Tribune in 1925 and through his life we experience the “lost generation” that had migrated to Paris in the 1920s meeting Hemingway, Fitzgerald, along with the likes of James Thurber.  His first major story covered Lindbergh’s crossing the Atlantic providing him with the opportunity for making a name for himself.

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For much of Shirer’s career he seems to have been in the shadow of Edwin R. Murrow who hired him in 1934 as CBS was expanding its overseas news outlets in response to events.  The two would become friends, only to suffer a disastrous falling out after World War II.  The biographer must always be careful to avoid placing their subject on a pedestal, but it seems that Cuthbertson is bent on rewriting history with Shirer emerging from Murrow’s shadow.  In his approach Cuthbertson has an engaging writing style and seems to cover all aspects of their friendship, competition, and falling out, integrating the history of radio journalism and the role of CBS, and other participants in the story.  Analysis is clear and concise as it is with other aspects of the book and very thorough.  My only question is sourcing employed.  Cuthbertson relies too much on certain secondary sources, particularly THE MURROW BOYS by Stanley Cloud and Lynne Olson.  The author does a fine job culling Shirer’s diaries and notes and should try and cite more primary materials as he makes his way through Shirer’s life story.

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Cuthbertson has not written a hagiography of his subject and his description of Shirer’s private life and thoughts are dealt with in full.  His pride which knew no bounds, his inability to know went to “hold his cards” and fight another day, the inability after self-reflection to rectify errors that he admitted he had made, his tenaciousness, his obsessiveness, and his belief in himself to a fault are all on display.  Further, the author delves into Shirer’s private life; his marriages, affairs, socializing, years of travel and the effect on his family, and living beyond his means after his income was drastically reduced to the point he could not repair the furnace in his Connecticut farmhouse are explored in full.

Cuthbertson does an excellent job providing a feel for each city in which Shirer lives, and reports.  Whether it is Paris in the 1920s, Vienna and Berlin in the 1930s, or London or New York, the reader will feel the vibe and seriousness of the events being covered.  Shirer’s views, intellectual and emotional are clear be, it his distaste for England and France as they respond to the Anschluss with Austria, the Munich Crisis, or other events.  Perhaps one of the most interesting sections of the book describes the relationships that Shirer developed with historical figures, especially Mahatmas Gandhi.  In 1931 Shirer is dispatched to India by Colonel Robert McCormack, the owner of the Chicago Tribune and soon will meet and develop a friendship with Gandhi.  The Indian revolutionary would assume the role of teacher and spiritual counselor to Shirer as they read and studied the holy books of the world’s great religions.  This relationship softened Shirer as he learned about Asian culture and the developing world, witnessing the effects of English colonization first hand.

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(David Moyers interviewing Shirer in his later years)

The history of radio journalism permeates the narrative throughout, even as it is threatened by the new medium of television.  Numerous characters emerge, many of which were household names well into the twenty first century.  Shirer’s interaction with the likes of William Paley, Eric Sevareid, Dorothy Thompson, John Gunther, Edward R. Murrow, Frank Stanton and others are fully explored.  For Cuthbertson, in covering the history of radio journalism, Shirer stands out as a dedicated, incisive newsman who strove to relay as much of the truth as he saw it, be it coverage of the Nuremburg Trials, travels to New Delhi and Kabul, or commentary comparing life in Europe and America.  To Cuthbertson’s credit, he pulled no punches when he points out the errors in Shirer’s opinions.

Shirer was a firm believer in the strength of America and its values.  He felt the United States was strong so engagement and dialogue with America’s foes after World War II was preferable to confrontation when countering Soviet expansionism.  Shirer spoke against aid to Greece in 1947 and was critical of Chiang Kai-Shek, opinions that would eventually would bring about his termination at CBS.  Shirer’s firing led to a crisis in his relationship with Murrow and Cuthbertson interestingly conjectures that Murrow’s guilt in not supporting his friend finally pushed him to confront Senator Joseph McCarthy and help bring him down in 1954.

There is so much material and detail that in certain areas Cuthbertson could have been a little more concise, a little less repetitious, but overall his work is important because it is the only full length biography of one of the most significant journalists of the twentieth century.  Shirer, for all of his faults is a shining example of what freedom of the press means to a democracy, an example that the current occupant of the White House should consider as he rambles on with his seemingly daily diatribes about the press being the enemy of the American people.

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(Shirer gaining approval for broadcast from Nazi censor)

ARCHITECTS OF DEATH: THE FAMILY WHO ENGINEERED THE DEATH CAMPS by Karen Bartlett

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Karen Bartlett’s new Holocaust work, ARCHITECTS OF DEATH: THE FAMILY WHO ENGINEERED THE DEATH CAMPS possesses a powerful narrative as it examines the German manufacturing firm J. A. Topf and Sons and its role during World War II.  The problem for the firm is that a few of its manufacturing products centered on ovens, crematoria, and the parts necessary to build them.  These products made up only 1.85% of Topf and Sons actual products, but these items were linked to Buchenwald, Auschwitz, Dachau, and Mauthausen concentration/extermination camps.

The monograph begins with Hartmut Topf, the great grandson of the firm’s founder trying to come to grips with his family’s past.  After the war, Hartmut wanted nothing to do with the family business as his true loves were theater, puppetry, and journalism.  When he was a boy during the war his best friend Hans Laessing, was Jewish and he would disappear into the Nazi abyss.  With questions about his family and his friend, Hartmut set out to learn the truth leading him to learn things he could not believe.  Bartlett’s approach rests on interviews with former workers, American and Russian investigators, and Topf family members.  She also relies on the works of historian Annegret Schule, the author of two books that encompass her topic.  The first, BETWEEN PERSECUTION AND PARTICIPATION: BIOGRAPHY OF A BOOKEEPER AT J.A. TOPF AND SOHNE; the second, INDUSTRIE UND HOLOCAUST.

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(Ernst Wolfgang and Ludwig Topf)

What is clear is that “company directors Ernst Wolfgang and Ludwig Topf, along with their managers, engineers, oven fitters, and ventilation experts, were not ignorant paper pushers or frightened collaborators – instead they willingly engaged with the Nazis, reaping the benefits, taking advantage they could, and pushing their designs for mass murder and body disposal further and further until they could truly be described as the engineers of the Holocaust.”   By the end of the war men like Kurt Prufer, an engineer who pushed his designs and came up with plans that were so outlandish that even the SS had to turn them down.

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Bartlett provides a history of the firm, but the core of the book rests on the growth of Topf and Sons as a manufacturer of numerous products that would enhance the Nazi war effort.  There are numerous character portraits reflected the internecine conflict within the Topf family over control and which products should be made available to the Nazis.  Ludwig and Ernst Wolfgang would take over the company in July, 1933, coinciding with Hitler’s rise to power and they immediately went down the road that would result in a loss of any moral decency or humanity they might have possessed.

In addition to building the ovens the firm employed thousands of slave laborers during the war.  Roughly 40% of their labor force was made up of POWs which contributed to their deal with the devil.  Perhaps the most important person in this process was Kurt Prufer who would distinguish himself as “the true pioneer of annihilation.”  His own experiences during W.W.I. allowed him to develop a low level of concern for human life.  He would take his engineering talents to become an expert on cremation sales and fixtures.  Beginning with manufacturing crematoria for civil use in Erfurt and other towns it was feasible to change nomenclature and develop new incinerators and ventilation to fit the needs of the Final Solution.  They would go so far as changing the name from crematoria in their catalogue to “incineration chamber.” The key innovation was the development in October, 1939 was the three single muffin ovens that would be used to build permanent crematoria at Buchenwald under the sadistic SS Gruppenfuhrer Oswald Pohl as opposed to temporary ovens that were mobile.  As the war progressed after 1942 and the Russians moved west, these ovens could not accommodate the number of bodies the Nazis wanted to cremate leading to mechanical breakdowns and rancid smells surrounding the countryside where the camps were located.

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(Museum and Memorial for those who perished because of the work of J.A. Hopf and Sons)

The author provides a brief history of Buchenwald and Auschwitz, but her most important contribution is going through the documentation that the Russians and Americans uncovered as they liberated the camps and seized the Topf and Sons facilities.  Bartlett takes the reader through interrogations of workers and others, most importantly Prufer and three other important engineers.  There excuse was that they delivered the same products to the Nazis as they had to municipalities in the form of civil crematoria, and if they hadn’t sold the products, the SS had other firms that would provide them.  Ludwig Topf would commit suicide at the end of the war, but his brother Ernst Wolfgang continued to make his case and eventually was able to avoid any punishment for his actions.

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(Kurt Prufer)

The only suggestions I have for the author is that there seems to be too much replication of war crimes documentation in the text.  Perhaps they could have been placed as an appendix at the end of the book.  Secondly, there seems to be an overreliance on certain sources.  Otherwise, Bartlett has done Harmut justice in that she has produced the entire story of his family, a family that he admittedly feels ashamed of.  To his credit, Harmut has spent a great deal of his time and resources on restitution and remembrance that have culminated in the Topf and Sons Memorial in Erfurt for those who have perished.   Hopefully by educating visitors and publicizing its work the Memorial Museum will make another genocidal tragedy less likely to occur in the future.

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ALEXANDER HAMILTON: A LIFE by Willard Sterne Randall

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(Alexander Hamilton)

If one wonders why a biography of Alexander Hamilton did not stir Lin-Manuel Miranda to write his Broadway musical before Ron Chernow’s bestselling work all you have to do is look at Willard Sterne Randall’s ALEXANDER HAMILTON: A LIFE written a year before Chernow’s monograph.  Randall’s effort is a clear narrative written by a traditional historian that lacks many of the details, insights on a personal level, and coverage of the most important aspects of Hamilton’s extraordinary life that Chernow presents.  Randall, who has written biographies of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson before tackling his present subject seems most concerned with who was right about America, Jefferson, or Hamilton.  He concludes that Jefferson was correct for the 18th century, Hamilton, for more modern times.  Randall’s study is reliable and readable and mostly rests on primary materials.

Other than the depth of coverage that Randall provides my major criticism is how he attributes his material to sources.  His chapter endnotes are not complete and he makes it very difficult to ascertain where he gets his material.  There are too many examples of; “One family historian recently observed,” or, “As one historian put it,” or, “One historian’s description,” is annoying and not the way most historians present their sources.

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(Hercules Mulligan)

In terms of Hamilton’s private life, Randall seems certain that Hamilton and his sister-in-law, Angelica Schuyler Church were lovers.  His writing is crisp, but in terms of Hamilton family relations it is very speculative, particularly the description of Elizabeth Hamilton and her relationship with her husband.  In other areas Randall is on firmer ground.  His discussion of Hamilton’s early years where he was fueled by the writings of John Locke and accepted the ideas of “free will” as opposed to Calvinist dogma is excellent.  Randall concentrates on a number of individuals that have not been detailed by most historians.  The individual that most comes to mind is Hercules Mulligan, a merchant who initially served as Hamilton’s guardian when he arrived from the Caribbean.  Later, Mulligan would become a valuable spy against the British in New York during the American Revolution as well is becoming a peer of Hamilton, and one of his most important confidants.  Randall will also spend a great deal of time with the back and forth between Samuel Seabury’s “True Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress” v. that of Hamilton’s “A Full Vindication,” which is important because it juxtaposes the loyalist and anti-loyalist positions visa vie the British, and the formulation of Hamilton’s basic political and economic philosophy.

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(George Washington)

Important areas that Randall reviews include the Washington-Hamilton relationship, where one can see how mutually dependent each would become on the other through the revolution and leading up to Washington’s presidency.  The machinations surrounding General Horatio Gates’ attempts to replace Washington during the revolution and actions taken by the general and his supporters after the revolution also receive important coverage.  Randall will dissect the needs of the Continental Army and spares no criticism in his comments on the incompetence of a number of members of the Continental Congress.  Randall stresses the importance of Hamilton’s relationship with John Laurence and the Marquis de Lafayette, particularly as it affected his actions during the revolution, and importantly, develops the ideological abyss that consumes Hamilton’s relationship with James Madison, especially after the Constitutional Convention.

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(Angelica Schuyler Church)

As opposed to other authors Randall does not provide a great deal of detail of Hamilton private life and career after Washington becomes president.  The majority of the book deals with Hamilton’s early life, the revolution, and the period leading up to and including the writing of the constitution.  Randall analyzes issues like the assumption of debt, the National Bank, the need for public credit in detail.  Further, he explores foreign policy implications of Hamilton’s domestic economic agenda, but does not develop the ideological and personal contradictions with Thomas Jefferson fully.  The relationship with Aaron Burr also does not receive the attention that it warrants because that relationship spanned Hamilton’s entire career.

To enhance the monograph Randall should have balanced Hamilton’s career and influence on historical events more evenly and not given short shrift to the Washington presidency where he served as Secretary of the Treasury and the events that occurred following his retirement from office.  Randall has written a useful biography of Hamilton, but in no way does it approach the level of Ron Chernow’s later effort.

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(Alexander Hamilton)

INDIANAPOLIS: THE TRUE STORY OF THE WORST SEA DISASTER IN U.S. NAVAL HISTORY AND THE FIFTY-YEAR FIGHT TO EXONERATE AN INNOCENT MAN by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic

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(The USS Indianapolis)

In 1932 the USS Indianapolis was christened by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the flagship of the US Pacific Fleet.  In the summer of 1945 it was chosen to complete the most highly classified naval mission of the war by delivering two large cannisters of material that was needed to assemble the Atomic bomb that was to be dropped in Hiroshima to the Tinian Islands.  Four days after completing its mission it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sunk resulting in over 1193 men either going down with the ship or being thrown overboard with only 316 surviving.  The result was a national scandal as the government pursued its investigation and reached a conclusion that was both unfair and completely wrong.

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(Captain William McVay III of the USS Indianapolis)

Vincent and Vladic’s incremental approach in developing the story is very important as it allows the reader to understand the scope of the tragedy, the individuals involved, and the conclusions reached.  The authors delve into the background history of the ship’s actions during the war, mini-biographies of the personnel aboard the ship, and the military bureaucracy that was responsible of the ship’s manifest and orders that consume the first third of the book.

After getting to know the important characters in the drama Vincent and Vladic transition to the actual delivery of the weapon components and follows the Indianapolis as she transverses through the Philippine Sea.  Capt. McVay asked for a destroyer escort which was standard for this type of operation but was denied, in part because of availability, and in part because he was informed by Admiral Nimitz’s assistant chief of staff and operations officer James Carter that “things were very quiet…. [and] the Japs are on their last legs and there’s nothing to worry about.”  What Carter did not mention was that ULTRA intelligence came across the deployment of four Japanese submarines on offensive missions to the Philippine Sea.”  Later, Acting Commander of the Philippine Sea Front, Commodore Norman Gillette would characterize the same intelligence as a “recognized threat.”  In addition to presenting the American side of events, the authors follow Japanese preparations for the defense of the home islands, and zeroes in on Mochitsura Hashimoto, the Commander of the Japanese submarine I-58 which would sink the Indianapolis.

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(Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto of the Japanese submarine I58 that sank the Indianapolis)

The authors follow the movements of the Indianapolis and Hashimoto’s submarine the days and hours leading up to the attack.  Five minutes before midnight on July 30, six torpedoes were fired at the Indianapolis and three hit the ship. Parts of the book read as an adventure story as the authors review calculations dealing with location and speed as the possible target begins to become clearer and clearer.  After taking the reader through the attack and resulting sinking of the ship, the reader is presented with at times a quite graphic description of the plight of the sailors who died during the attack, those who jumped off the ship, and the others who abandoned ship under Capt. McVay’s orders.  This section of the monograph can be heart wrenching as the men fight for their survival.  The carnage and psychological impact of the attack is very disconcerting.  After enduring shark attacks, living with no water and little food they resorted to cannibalism, theft, murder, and suicide.  The conditions were appalling but others formed groups employing whatever could be salvaged from the ship to create islands of men linked together by netting, rafts, life jackets, or anything else that would float.  Apart from men who became delirious and suffered from hallucinations, others found their main enemies to be hunger, dehydration, and sharks who seemed to circle everywhere, and sadly, when it seemed that an individual might be saved a shark attack would take another life.

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The most chilling part of the narrative is the description of rescue operations that began on August 2nd.  At 11:18 am Lt. Wilbur Gwinn flying a routine patrol in a PBM Mariner noticed a huge oil slick below, and after careful observation noticed a 25-mile oil slick.  The spotting of the men below sends chills down the spine of readers as the authors details of the rescue as word spread that there were hundreds of men over an 80-mile area.  Sadly, many men would die even as rescue operations commenced as they had little reserve after four days in the water.  The question must be asked, when the Indianapolis went missing from July 30 onward no one was tracking the ship carefully to report that she had not arrived at her destination?  The navy would investigate and reach a conclusion that the authors would totally discredit.

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The last third of the book is devoted to the legal battle that surrounded who was responsible for the sinking of the Indianapolis and once the decision was reached the authors spend their time describing how a wrongful conviction was finally overturned.  The authors follow the investigation and different hearings and the final court martial and analyze the testimony, conclusions, and final reports that were issued.  They point out the inconsistencies and outright lies offered by certain naval officers as they tried to rest all the blame on Capt. McVay to cover their own “asses.”  In describing the conclusions reached by the navy Vincent and Vladic point out “what was not discussed was the string of intelligence and communication failures that led to something being amiss in the first place—failures of Carter, Gillette, and Naquin, as well as Vice Admiral Murray, a member of the court, were well aware.” (317)

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The authors dissect the report that called for McVay to be court martialed, especially the information that was left out.  For the navy brass that had two ships sunk in the waning moments of the war resulting in over 1000 casualties, someone had to be found responsible.  The materials presented reflect where the real blame should have fallen.  At Guam, failure to provide an escort for the Indianapolis.  Further, Guam took no action when Fleet Radio Unit Pacific intelligence indicated a Japanese submarine had sunk a vessel in the area that the Indianapolis was known to be present.  At Leyte, the Philippine Sea Frontier Organization failed to keep track of the Indianapolis and take action when the vessel failed to appear at its scheduled time when a Japanese submarine was located near its line of course.

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(70th reunion of USS Indianapolis survivors)

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the weak defense put up by Navy Captain John Parmelee Cady who by this time had little interest in being a lawyer and was given little time to prepare a defense.  Cady’s approach is highlighted by the testimony submarine combat expert Captain Glynn Robert Donaho whose statement should have helped exonerate McVay, but did not.  The entire transcript of witness testimony is interesting particularly that of the man whose ship sank the Indianapolis, Mochitsura Hashimoto.  Other fascinating components of the book are some of the heroes involved in publicizing and working behind the scenes to bring about justice for the McVay family and those of the survivors and men lost at sea.  Chief among them was Commander William Toti who stood at the helm of the namesake submarine the Indianapolis.  Another is Hunter Scott, an eleven year old boy who worked assiduously on the history of the disaster and in the end testified before a Senate Committee.  Without their efforts and numerous others, one wonders if the degree of closure that was finally achieved would have come about.

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(Captain William Toti)

As one reads the narrative, you grow angrier and angrier at the US Navy for its malfeasance and outright culpability in ruining a man’s life and providing false information for the families of the victims of the disaster.  As the authors press on with their account the redemption that is finally earned it does not reduce the uncalled for actions of so many in the Navy and the US government. The authors do a nice job ferreting out those responsible, but that does not detract from the fact that the lies were seen as truth for decades.

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(The USS Indianapolis)

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: AMERICA’S GRAND STRATEGIST by Justin Vaisse

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(Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Advisor)

When one thinks about the most influential people in the conduct of American foreign policy since World War II, the term the “Wise Men” comes to mind.  Historical figures like Dean Acheson, John J. McCloy, Charles Bohlen, Robert Lovett, George Kennan, and Averill Harriman helped direct US policy during the Cold War but by the 1960s a new foreign policy elite began to replace the establishment.  The opinions of the wise men were still consulted but a new generation of individuals emerged.  Contemplating the new elite, the name Henry Kissinger seems to be front and center as the dominating force under Presidents Nixon and Ford, but a person with a similar background story hovered in the wings, Zbigniew Brzezinski.  There are numerous biographies written about Kissinger, but up until today none of Brzezinski.  Justin Vaisse, who directs the policy planning staff in France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with a workmanlike translation by Catherine Porter has filled the void with the new biography, ZBIEGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: AMERICA’S GRAND STRATEGIST.

Vaisse’s book is more than a biography of his subject. It does review and assess Brzezinski’s private life as a traditional life story might do, but places its greatest emphasis an intellectual survey of President Carter’s National Security head’s ideas and how they affected his policies and America’s interests around the world.  The book is sure to be considered an important contribution to the literature that tries to explain and assess America’s strategy and impact in the foreign policy sphere during the Cold War, and is certain to be the most important book that encapsulates Brzezinski life’s work to date.

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(Brzezinski playing chess with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at Camp David)

The author follows the trajectory of Brzezinski’s career from a rising academic at Harvard University to a distinguished professorship at Columbia, a career move that was in the end a disappointment at not gaining tenure in Cambridge, but more importantly it brought him into the New York foreign policy community nexus that led to his association with the Council of Foreign Relations and its publication arm, Foreign Affairs.  The late 1950s saw Brzezinski evaluating US policy through numerous articles and trying to gain access to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson offering ideas and policy recommendations which included some domestic insights.  By this time he realized that he did not want to rely on an academic career for his life’s work, but sought to have a major impact on actual policy and events. During the Johnson administration he became a member of the Policy Planning Staff and his views coincided with Johnson and McNamara’s on Vietnam.  He offered views on the Third World, East-West relations, and the importance of China which he grew interested in to broaden his reputation and not being pigeon holed as only a Sovietologist.  By 1968 the foreign policy establishment underwent change and Brzezinski was at the forefront as the new elite began to emerge.

Kissinger and Brzezinski were the masterminds of the new elite.  They knew how to build on the capital they had accumulated in academia, the media, society and politics, resulting in public visibility, networking, and political status as advisors to both Republicans and Democrats.  As Vaisse traces Kissinger’s career one can see early on, i.e., the 1968 presidential campaign, what a duplicitous egoist Kissinger had become.  As David Habersham described him. He was “a rootless operator in the modern superstate.”

 

Brzezinski’s ego was quite developed, but nowhere near his former colleague.  Brzezinski’s greatest asset was his intellectual brilliance.  By 1968 he had joined the Humphrey for president campaign as the main foreign policy strategist and advisor.  This association allowed him to be perceived as a universal expert as he helped form, along with David Rockefeller, the Trilateral Commission, taking residency in Japan for a year to enhance his portfolio, and warning Democratic Party leaders to be careful of the leftwing movement of the party that would result in the McGovern debacle.  By this time Brzezinski was an excellent tactician and part of his strength was his ability to build on his academic research to implement policy recommendations.

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(President Carter, Brzezinski, and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance)

The author dissects Brzezinski’s intellectual impact through his writing.  I remember reading the SOVIET BLOC:  UNITY AND CONFLICT years ago in graduate school, which he had revised to add a section on the developing Sino-Soviet conflict and its impact on US strategy.  In addition, his BETWEEN TWO AGES: AMERICA’S ROLE IN THE TECHNOCRATIC ERA argued that the Soviet Union was in gradual decline as it was missing the train of the technetronic change, where the US was coming aboard fully, which would allow Washington to meet the needs of the Third World.  Many have argued that Brzezinski’s views on the Soviet Union stemmed from his Polish heritage and Catholic faith.  But when one examines his views, it cannot be denied that his family history influenced his intellectual development, but his ideas and recommendations were too nuanced to be hemmed in by any obsession with Moscow.  His goal was to be objective and allow any perceived prejudices as an advisor to cloud and diminish his credibility.  Vaisee argues for the most part he was able to accomplish this despite being labeled by many as an anti-Soviet hawk.  A case in point is his view of Détente, negotiated by the Nixon administration in 1972, but by the time Brzezinski became President Carter’s National Security Advisor it was clear that Moscow was pushing the envelope in the Horn of Africa, Angola, and Cuba and he advised Carter to take a more adversarial position.  This brought him in conflict with Secretary of State Cyrus Vance who rejected this hard line approach, particularly when Brzezinski wanted to manipulate the “China Card” in dealing with the Soviet Union.

There are many aspects of the book that are fascinating.  These areas include a comparison of Kissinger and Brzezinski’s rise to prominence; Brzezinski’s excellent relationship with President Carter; whether Brzezinski can be considered a neo-conservative; and an analysis of Brzezinski’s predictions of a period of twenty years-discussing those that turned out to be accurate and those that did not.  What is clear is that Brzezinski’s view of the Cold War remained fairly consistent for decades.  He always favored the preservation of a strong military.  Second, the role of nationalisms and divisions within the communist bloc which led him to endorse policies that would exacerbate those issues, and finally, the role of ideology, which led him to support the actions of American radio broadcasts aimed across the Iron Curtain.

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Vaisse argues forcefully that Brzezinski worked hard to restore America’s leadership in the Third World, especially trying to reach an accommodation in the Middle East, normalize relations with Latin America, and push for a rearrangement in Southern Africa.  The Camp David Accords, the Panama Canal Treaty, the opening with China, and emphasis on human rights went a long way to achieve these goals.  Many point to the uneven policy with Iran that resulted in the overthrow of the Shah and the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini, the Soviet Brigade in Cuba, and the Russian invasion of Afghanistan as Carter’s legacy.  But one must remember that American policy toward Iran was dysfunctional and based on a false premise dating back to the overthrow of Mohammad Mossedegh in 1953 which the Carter administration continued.  Further, many accused Brzezinski of creating a trap that lured the Russians into the quagmire of Afghanistan which in the end helped bring down the Soviet Union. Whatever the historical record, the collective memory that deals with the Carter administration’s foreign policy is the humiliation at the hands of Iran during the hostage crisis, and one of projected weakness overseas.

For those who argue that Brzezinski was responsible for starting the new Cold War after Détente failed, Vaisse points out that the Russian archives dealing with the period reflect that the Soviet leadership had “become sclerotic, and a prisoner almost of the institutional dynamics of their own system.”  In fact the disastrous decision to invade Afghanistan was made by a small group in the Politburo which ignored the opposition of the military, Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, and those in the embassy in Kabul.  As far as disagreements and controversy surrounding the Vance-Brzezinski relationship, the author provides details and analysis of their policy differences and its effect on overall American strategy.  The key for Vaisse is how President Carter managed their conflict and at times he could not make overall strategic judgements which led to confusion inside the administration and how our allies and adversaries perceived us.

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(Henry Kissinger)

The strength of Vaisse’s effort lies in his assiduous research and careful analysis of Brzezinski’s books and journal articles, be they purely academic or writings that targeted a more general audience.  The author examines all of his major books and opinions in journals and his conclusions and insights are based on this approach.  Vaisse does not get bogged down in family issues, but concentrates on career developments and why certain life decisions were made.  No matter what you think about the life and work of Brzezinski, one must agree that his impact on US foreign policy was just as, or almost as important as that of Kissinger, the difference being that Brzezinski stayed in the background more, though he was not shy about seeking the bright light of publicity at times.  For Vaisse the key to understanding Bzrezinski’s staying power was an enduring legacy of strategic vision and political independence which is evident throughout the book.  Apart from a somewhat trenchant style the book should be considered the preeminent work on Brzezinski and will be sought out by those interested in his life for years to come.

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TIGER WOODS by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian

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(Tiger Woods)

Undertaking a biography of Tiger Woods is a daunting task.  First, there is the coterie of secrecy surrounding one of the greatest, if not greatest golfer in history.  Second, Woods himself.  Having been burned by interviews early in his career for years refused to interact with the fourth estate and maintained an aura of separateness from everyone but his inner circle.  However, there is enough information about Woods that includes books by Earle Woods, Tiger’s father, former coaches, documents, professional medical opinions, in addition to numerous articles by respectable journalists to produce a superb in depth study of Woods.  This being the case Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian’s effort in their new book, TIGER WOODS is to be praised as they have relied on information plied by others, but have introduced new material by culling newspapers, interviews, and other sources to create a book of surprising quality.

Tiger Woods was on top of the world having dominated the sport after becoming the youngest player to win the Masters in 1996.  For the next two decades golf revolved around his success and he became his own mega corporation as wealth and victories were seen as everyday occurrences.  This would all come to an abrupt end on November 27, 2009 when Woods crashed his car into a neighbor’s tree.  How did this come to pass and why did Woods’ life spiral out of control because of the accident?  In addition, how did Woods, after divorce, injury, scandal etc. seemingly turn his life around?  These questions and Tiger’s life story leading up to that fateful day form the core of Benedict and Keteyian’s new monograph.

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(Tiger Woods’ parents)

In trying to understand how Woods evolved as a person and an athlete all you have to do is examine his early childhood from birth onward as he was surrounded by an attention grabbing father and an authentic “tiger mom.”  The authors describe a childhood that was different from other children as instead of toys his prized possession from a very young age was a sawed down golf club.  Woods would not interact with other children, and his father, Earl made it clear that golf was paramount, not making friends.  The key to Woods’ career is his father.  He became his confidante and role model and Woods’ behavior up until later in adult life can be explained by how Earl trained Tiger in a rigorous military fashion, instilled in him how unique he was, and created expectations that were outrageous to say the least.  Woods’ mother, Kultida, known as Tida reinforced her husband’s approach to child rearing and even after her divorce from Earl would dominate her son and instill in him that he was always right and he did not have to give in to anyone.  What separates the authors approach is that they integrate the opinions of medical professionals throughout the book applying psychological principles to help explain Woods’ behaviors and outlook on life.  For Woods, as a gifted child he would be more attuned to his parents’ expectations and would do whatever it took to meet them, even if it meant ignoring his own feelings and needs.

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(Tiger Woods and his ex-wife Elin Nordegren)

The authors take the reader through Woods’ career in minute detail ranging from how his amateur career was funded, how he put out the fires of his father’s incendiary remarks and heavy handedness when it came to his career, and finally becoming a professional golfer.  Throughout we witness a Tiger who lacks any sentimentality and personal connections with others which can be traced directly from his mother who stated, “I am a loner, and so is Tiger.”  Tida reinforced the concept of “killing” the opposition on the golf course, and taking the opponents “heart.”  Woods’ evolution as a golfer and a person should be seen in this parental context as the authors describe throughout the book his extraordinary focus, commitment to winning, his inability to trust others, resulting in a very insular person who has repressed his true emotions and feelings.  Woods’ became a person who did not take responsibility for his actions and let his “inner circle” fix any errors.  “From the time he was old enough to walk, Tiger was told by his parents he was different, special, chosen, a genius—and he had been treated accordingly.”  His lack of praise for others, ignoring handshakes on the golf course, blowing off special events that meant a great deal to others were all part of his persona.

There are a number of surprising aspects to the narrative that provide further insight into Woods.  The authors detail his many victories, training regimen, the fear he struck in opponents because of his demeanor, and his sense of entitlement.  Perhaps more insightful is his interest and participation in the military, from video games to actual training with Navy Seals.  Woods could relate to these elite soldiers because he viewed himself as elite.  Woods’ own training agenda was so strict that later in his career he paid for them with numerous injuries and surgeries, but he felt comfortable with the Seals and how they went about their business because in his own mind he did it the same way.

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The standard stories of Woods’ private life are recounted from the many mistresses, his insularity, and how he was treated as a celebrity.  Further, the authors examine how Woods became his own “corporation,” how he was managed by IMG, and how the different personalities or handlers dealt with him on many levels.  But more importantly the authors analyze the results of this private Tiger and his life style supported by his corporate handlers, as opposed to the rectitude he presented to the public, and the image that his corporate sponsors like Nike portrayed.

The authors take the reader through Woods’ entire golf career.  From major, celebrity, and PGA tour tournaments pointing out the importance of each, his achievements, and the implications for his overall career.  Along with the career highlights the reader is exposed to the seamier aspects of his behavior; his sense of entitlement, and utter lack of taking the feelings of others into consideration when he acted.  The authors and others constantly blame his boorish behavior on his childhood which is true, but that does not take away from the fact that he was a despicable character.

Woods’ career was phenomenal and the few friends he made are recounted as are the lives of the many golfers on tour with him.  His lack of insight into others is discussed reflecting his lack of interest in anyone, but himself.  This would all come crashing down the day before Thanksgiving, 2009 when he crashed his car into a tree in his neighbor’s yard.  This would result in divorce from his wife Elin, an unmitigated scandal that fed the National Enquirer type press, the loss of his inner circle, and a public apology for his sexual addiction and other errors that he had made.  In the end he would overcome dependencies on pain killers, participation in treatment centers, and would emerge with a clearer understanding of what he had become, and what he wanted to become.

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(Woods after being arrested for DUI May 29, 2017)

The key to the success of the book is that the authors do an excellent job transitioning from one period of Woods’ life to the next, highlighting each with the events, relationships, and hazards that exist in each.  Overall, we witness the consummate narcissist exceling at his given profession, and finding it difficult to have empathy for anyone.  After the scandals, injuries, personal loss he seems to have evolved into a much more caring person, in touch with his feelings, and a dedication to his two children-a caring component of his personality that had been buried.

Benedict and Keteyian should be commended for producing an excellent study of an important life that greatly influenced American culture.  It is more than an examination of a professional golfer but an in depth study of a conflicted individual who was placed inside a psychological prison resulting in personal loss and humiliation that allowed him to break free.

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ROBIN by Dave Itzkoff

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(From the film “Good Morning Vietnam”)

For years I showed the Robin Williams’ film “Good Morning Vietnam” to my history classes.  The movie reflected Williams’ genius, empathy, and commentary pertaining to a conflict that tore America apart.  I introduced the film because I wanted students to get a feel for a different aspect of the war which the character of Adrian Cronauer apply portrayed. Williams’ is also known for many other ground breaking and important films that include, “Dead Poets’ Society,” “Good Will Hunting,” “The Fisher King,” and the cartoon voiceover of “Áladdin,” along with a number that did not achieve recognition, but reflected Williams’ many talents.  Williams was a multifaceted individual whose onstage comedic insanity expressed a certain poignancy when one got passed the mask that the comedian presented to his audiences.  When he died in 2014 a cultural void was created which may never again be filled.  Williams was an insecure individual who found solace from rejection in childhood and other personal issues by developing voices, characters, and other coping strategies as he meandered through his early years.  Williams lived an unsettled life that would end in tragedy.   When he could no longer cope with medical issues that resulted from Lewy body dementia disorder he took his own life. The full scope of his career, personal life, and demons are fully explored in Dave Itzkoff’s wonderful new biography, ROBIN.

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(From the film “Dead Poet Society”)

Itzkoff points out the key to Williams’ comedic genius was in an attic in the family home in the wealthy Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills.  The Williams’ family moved around a great deal as his father advanced his career as an auto executive.  Rob, his dad was a hard man to get close to until much later in his son’s life.  From his mother Williams’ learned that connections could be made with other people if one entertained them.  As a result Williams’ would spend hours developing his own world where toy soldiers dominated and he could develop scenarios, conversations, and different voices that would appear later in his career.  His childhood loneliness would fuel an amazing imagination, as he repeatedly moved and had to attend new schools and develop new acquaintances.

The narrative is peppered with Williams’ wit, sarcasm, and social commentary.  Whether Itzkoff is describing Williams’ participation in an improvisational acting class in college, his time at Julliard, quips and riffs with others on movie sets, or even remarks as his career declined and realized his body was abandoning him, we witness a man who moved at such a fast pace that the neurons in his brain were firing so fast that it was difficult to keep up with him.  The result was a new type of improvisational humor built on role models such as Jonathan Winters and Richard Pryor.  According to Itzkoff, Williams’ true gift was not his spontaneity, but the appearance of spontaneity.

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(Williams, live at the Met)

There are a number of important components to the book, one of which were the reactions of other comedians to Williams’ work and the relationships that developed.  Williams’ friendship with Billy Crystal was perhaps the most meaningful to the point where they seemed as if they were brothers by another mother.  Larry Brezner, a talent agency executive describes him best as “like Holden Caulfield, a guy walking around with all of his nerve endings completely exposed.”  Perhaps the most moving aspect of Itzkoff’s work is his chronological development of Williams’ family life from his relationship and marriage to Valerie Velardi, his second marriage to Marsha Garce, to his final wife Susan Schneider, as well as his children, particularly his son Zak, and daughter Zelda.  Williams’ was addicted to comedy and it was his aphrodisiac, but like all addictive personalities, drugs and alcohol are temptations that seem to capture people.  Williams was no exception and ultimately he went into rehab, which cost him his second marriage, and later in life he would lapse again.  The poignant way Itzkoff presents this aspect of Williams’ life is more important and incisive than the movement from one film to another that encapsulates the comedian’s career.

Perhaps the most moving section of the book deals with Christopher Reeves, Williams’ friend since their time at Julliard who would suffer a devastating accident resulting in paralysis.  Williams’ cared for his friend for years on a face to face level as well as financially when medical costs seemed to spiral out of control.  The softness of Williams’ personality and gift is seen in the number of USO tours and shows between 9/11 and 2010 as he traveled to Afghanistan numerous times to engage the troops, people who he believed he owed a heartfelt debt towards for their bravery and sacrifice.

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(Williams performing for the troops in Afghanistan)

Williams’ insecurity was always present no matter the heights that his career reached.  Be it an Academy, Grammy, Emmy, or other awards he was always worried that his career was coming to an end.  When he died it was a loss for all, because no one could present his brand of humor and acting talent as he.  Itzkoff has captured Williams’ with his successes as well as his warts, and has written a wonderful portrait for all of us to enjoy.

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(From the film “Good Morning Vietnam”)