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(General Douglas MacArthur and President Harry Truman at the Wake Island Conference, October 15, 1950)

On June 25, 1950 North Korea unleashed an attack against its southern neighbor that set off a war that resulted in 36,914 American casualties.  Many Americans are aware of the role of General Douglas MacArthur in the conflict, in particular his brilliant, but risky landing at Inchon that beat back the North Korean attack, and later in the war pursuing a strategy that led to Chinese intervention.  MacArthur’s actions were very controversial and once the Chinese crossed the Yalu River with over 100,000 troops and the military situation deteriorated, America’s allies grew concerned when MacArthur suggested the use of atomic weapons against the Chinese.  President Harry S. Truman did his best to reign in his commander to no avail and most historians believe that MacArthur overstepped his authority and allowed his strong belief system guide his actions.  Others like the British historian Robert Harvey and the American historian Arthur Herman believe the situation was much more nuanced.  The topic has again been explored in H.W. Brands new book, THE GENERAL VS. THE PRESIDENT: MACARTHUR AND TRUMAN AT THE BRINK OF NUCLEAR WAR.  Brands position is very clear that Truman’s firing of MacArthur was a “bold stroke” that may have headed off a much wider war with the Chinese.

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(US Secretary of State, Dean Acheson)

Brands juxtaposes two personalities with totally different backgrounds and agendas.  Truman, reelected president in his own right in 1948 stood up to Stalin after World War II implementing the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and stood fast over Berlin as he pursued the policy of containment of the Soviet Union.  With the North Korean attack he was able to blunt their progress until the Chinese crossed the Yalu River in force, but he was faced with a commander who wanted to employ nuclear weapons to send a message to the communist world.  On the other hand, MacArthur, the “all knowing general” who held politicians in contempt, especially a “novice” president like Truman.  MacArthur saw himself as having saved the Pacific in World War II, rebuilt postwar Japan, and now believed he had the communists right where he wanted them, but a feckless president stood in his way.  Brands does his best to explain the issues between the two men in the context of the Cold War in which they lived.  Brands has written a general history of their relationship and its ultimate outcome, but does not really add anything new that has not been uncovered by previous works on the topic.

Brands smooth narrative style, refined through the many books he has written is present throughout.  Brands is a master story teller who is able to present his narrative and analysis in a concise fashion that the general reader should enjoy, which at times will also satisfy an academic audience.  A case in point is how MacArthur gained the support of the Japanese people as he totally reoriented their society away from the militaristic emperor worship to a nation based on liberal democracy.  In the constitution he prepared he did away with all pre-war institutions, except the emperor, that had dominated Japan and resulted in World War II.  Further evidence of this approach can be seen as Brands reviews Truman’s career that spans his election to the Senate in 1940, his assumption of the presidency in 1945, and Cold War events to the onset of the Korean War.  Brands effectively relies on Truman’s correspondence with his daughter Margaret who served as a remarkable conduit into his thoughts and concerns.

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(General Matthew Ridgeway who took over command in Korea after MacArthur was relieved)

A major strength of the book are the character studies that are presented.  Discussions of people like Secretary of State Dean Acheson, a rather arrogant individual; General Omar T. Bradley, whose insights into Truman and MacArthur’s personalities are fascinating; General Matthew Ridgeway, a hero at the Battle of the Bulge during World War II whose leadership helped turn around the military balance in Korea; and Marguerite Higgins, a wartime correspondent add to the narrative.  Other strengths of the book include Brands’ description of the plight and final breakout of US Marines at the Chosin Reservoir and their two week trek battling the elements which were more dangerous than the Chinese communists to reach Hamhung.  Brands coverage of Truman and MacArthur rationalizations when confronted by Congress and the press is eye opening in trying to gain insights into their dysfunctional relationship after the Chinese communists crossed the Yalu into North Korea.  MacArthur’s statements at this time concerning administration restraints in dealing with bombing Chinese airfields in Manchuria and other issues is very similar to his rhetoric leaked to the American press after Matthew Ridgeway’s forces saved MacArthur’s reputation in April, 1951.  Brands coverage of Truman and the Joint Chiefs of Staff finally reaching the conclusion to relieve MacArthur of his command points to the final realization that MacArthur’s insubordination and egocentrism could no longer be tolerated.  Especially enlightening was the inclusion of a great deal of the testimony of MacArthur and Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall before Congress following MacArthur’s dismissal. However, the report of the hearings would have been enhanced if excerpts of Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s testimony had also been included.   This along with the geopolitical analysis of the region and domestic politics in the United States that included the role of Chiang Kai-Shek, Republicans in Congress, and the coming 1952 presidential election are all important pieces in understanding the war and its domestic implications.

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(President elect Dwight Eisenhower visits South Korea after his election)

Despite the strengths of the book there are a number of areas that could be improved.  The bibliography is rather sparse and the endnotes could be enhanced.  In the area of analysis, Brands chooses to deal with a number of major issues in a rather superficial manner.  His exploration of Soviet motives behind the North Korean attack is weak.  His excuse that the Russians were protesting the seating of Formosa over mainland China in the UN Security Council as the reason for their absence to block an American/UN force to stop the North Korean advance does not go far enough.  Is it possible that Moscow tried to draw the United States into the conflict in the hope it would cause difficulties with the Chinese at a time when the Sino-Soviet split was emerging is a main motivation?  Brands covers all the major topics that come under the umbrella of his overall subject, but he needs to dig down further, or just state up front that he is preparing a general history of the topic, then the reader will not expect more.  For example, the Wake Island meeting between Truman and MacArthur covers the basics.   Further, he does not drill down far enough when discussing events that led up to the Chinese overrunning UN forces in November, 1950.  To his credit he does list the signs of possible Chinese actions that MacArthur missed, but he needs to explore the reaction of America’s allies further, as well as the interaction between MacArthur and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Overall, Brands has written a very readable account of the Truman-MacArthur relationship in the context of the Cold War.  I would agree with Francis P. Sempa’s view published in the New York Journal of Books* that Brands does not present a very clear legacy of the Korean War in terms of future American foreign policy.  Truman wanted to have a “police action” or “limited war,” in Korea, MacArthur sought total victory, something the United States has achieved only once since World War II in the first Gulf War in 1990-91, but failed to accomplish in Vietnam, and currently in Iraq and Afghanistan.  There are a number of lessons that could have been discussed that relate to future American foreign policy, an important area, which Brands chooses to ignore.


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(General Douglas MacArthur and President Harry Truman at the Wake Island Conference, October 15, 1950)



(Joseph and Stewart Alsop,  journalists who greatly impacted American foreign policy during the Cold War)

When one discusses the value of real estate one usually encounters the phrase “location, location, location.”  This could be the theme of Greg Herken’s THE GEORGETOWN SET: FRIENDS AND RIVALS IN COLD WAR WASHINGTON, a book centered on a Georgetown, Washington, D.C. neighborhood after World War II, whose residents included the Alsop brothers, Jack and Jaqueline Kennedy, Ben and Tony Bradlee, Allen and Clover Dulles, Dean and Alice Acheson, Philp and Katherine Graham, Averill and Marie Harriman, Frank and Polly Wisner among others.  Within the group you had a future president and Secretary of State, the head of the CIA and other operatives, two ambassadors to the Soviet Union, influential journalists, and the owner and editor of the Washington Post. The neighbors who were known as the “Georgetown Set,” were at the forefront of American policy as the Cold War began and evolved, as Dean Acheson entitled his memoirs, they were PRESENT AT CREATION, and a few of them lived to see the curtain fall on the conflict with the communist world.  These individuals were not only neighbors, for the most part, they were close friends.  They had attended the same boarding schools and universities and “believed that the United States had the power—and the moral obligation—to oppose tyranny and stand up of the world’s underdogs.”  They held a sense of duty and the belief in the “rightness of the country and its causes—which were, more often than not, their own.”

Unlike today, it was a time of consensus in foreign policy in dealing with the Soviet Union, partisanship was an afterthought.  The outset of the Cold War produced the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine, Point Four, and NATO, but the mindset of these individuals would also lead to mistakes embodied in the disastrous coups of the Eisenhower era, the Bay of Pigs, and the Vietnam War.  Greg Herken tells the story of these influential people, how their ideas dominated American policy, and what the ramifications of that influence were.  The reader is exposed to intimate details and tremendous insights as these power brokers are examined, and it makes for a fascinating read.

(Katharine Graham, owner and editor of the Washington Post)

The narrative focuses on the most important foreign policy debates of the 20th century, where the residents of Georgetown aligned themselves, and how their views affected the success or failure of presidential decision making.  Once the Nazis and the Japanese were defeated in 1945, the foreign policy debate focused on the communist threat and the motives of the Soviet Union.  The debate was symbolized by George Kennan, who at one point was head of the Policy Planning Staff in the State Department as well as stints as ambassador to the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia; and Paul Nitze, former Secretary of the Navy, and author of NSC-68 which along with Kennan’s “X Article” formed the basis of American policy toward Russia for well into the 1980s.  The debate centered on “whether it was America’s moral example or material power that kept the Russians at bay” during the Cold War.   Many other individuals draw Herken’s discerning eye during the period, the most important of which were Joseph and Stewart Alsop, the journalism brothers who advised presidents, and helped articulate positions on Vietnam and Cuba that some would argue pushed our nation’s chief executives into making unwise policy choices.

At times the book reads like a biography of the Alsop brothers as Herken develops their careers as the centerpiece of the monograph.  Of the two, Joseph Alsop dominated their relationship and developed numerous sources within the national security apparatus in presidential administrations from Truman through Nixon.  Joseph Alsop had his own agenda and his columns created enough pressure on Lyndon Johnson that many believe forced him to consider Alsop’s readership when making decisions about Vietnam, a subject that Alsop seemed obsessed with and had difficulty accepting any information that contradicted what he believed.  The Alsops hosted numerous dinner parties that were used as conduits to different presidential administrations as conversations yielded information that turned up in their newspaper columns.  Herken almost makes the reader as if they are invited guests to the Sunday night gatherings among the “Georgetown Set” and at times the reader might feel like a “fly on the wall” as you witness history being made.  In addition to the Alsops, the inner sanctum of the Washington Post is laid bare as great events are reported.  We see the newspaper under the stewardship of Philip Graham at the outset of the Cold War until his suicide, when his wife Katharine takes the reigns of the paper and turns it into a strong competitor to the New York Times. Reporting on Watergate, My Lai and other issues reflected Katharine Graham’s growth as the head of a major newspaper and her dominant role in Washington politics.

(Frank Wisner II, the son of an OSS and CIA operative who developed and implemented numerous covert operations during the Cold War.  Wisner II developed his own diplomatic career and did not follow the career path of his father)

The book also centers on the evolution of the American intelligence community from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II to the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  Herken focuses most of his attention on Allen W. Dulles, who worked under Wild Bill Donavan who headed the OSS, and would later head the CIA under President Eisenhower and for a short time under John F. Kennedy; and Frank Wisner, an OSS and CIA operative who was known for his outlandish covert plans, i.e.; trying to overthrow the government of Albania, dropping propaganda leaflets and intelligence operatives behind the “iron curtain” among many of his projects.  CIA involvement in Vietnam, Iran, Cuba, and Guatemala are dissected in detail and Herken correctly points to current issues that date back to Dulles, Wisner, and numerous other individuals in the intelligence community, and how they negatively affected American foreign policy for decades.

(President John F. Kenndy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy were frequent visitors in the “salons” of Georgetown)

The books serves as an important window into the lives of people who dominated the American foreign policy establishment throughout the Cold War.  Herken seems to assess all of the major decisions that were made during the period, as well as evaluating each of the characters presented and how their lives affected the course of American history.  Many of the individuals that Herken discusses are well known, but others are brought out of the shadows.  One of the most interesting aspects of the book is when Herken muses about the lives of the children of the “Georgetown Set,” and how the generation gap that developed in response to the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s affected the next “Georgetown” generation.

Herken writes with flair and has exceptional command of his material and sources and has offered a unique approach to the causes and results of the Cold War that should satisfy academics as well as the general reader.


(English Prime Minister Winston Churchill, August 27, 1941)

If you are looking for a personal, breezy hagiography of Winston Churchill then Boris Johnson’s THE CHURCHILL FACTOR: HOW ONE MAN MADE HISTORY will be of interest.  Johnson’s effort is not a traditional biography of the former occupant of 10 Downing Street, but a manifesto imploring the reader to consider the genius and greatness of Churchill.  Johnson is concerned that as time has passed fewer and fewer of the non-World War II generation have forgotten or are not aware of Churchill’s accomplishments as he states at the outset “we are losing those who can remember the sound of his voice, and I worry that we are in danger….of forgetting the scale of what he did.”  For the author, World War II would have been lost, if not for Churchill, and he further argues that the resident of Chartwell House and Blenheim Palace saved civilization and proved that one man can change history.

Johnson’s writing is very entertaining.  His phrasing is both humorous and poignant, i.e., “the French were possessed of an origami army! They just keep folding with almost magical speed.”  In his description of Churchill, he looked “like some burley and hung over butler from the set of Downton Abbey.  However, aside from the humor presented, Johnson has a serious purpose as he seems to want to align himself with Churchill as a means of furthering his own political career.  The question is what do we make of Johnson’s THE CHURCHILL FACTOR?  Many who are familiar with Johnson’s career can foresee this Member of Parliament, mayor of London, former editor of The Spectator, and columnist for the Daily Telegraph pursuing the leadership of the Conservative Party, and at some point attaining the position of Prime Minister.  By manipulating Churchill’s legacy as a comparison to certain aspects of his own life, Johnson may have hit upon a vehicle for his own political ascendency.  Johnson suggests certain similarities with his hero, but then upon reflection he negates them, but for those who are familiar with the British political system, Johnson’s ambitions are clear.

Johnson’s thesis rests on rehabilitating the less savory aspects of Churchill’s personality and politics, at the same time presenting him as the genius who saved the world from Nazism.  Johnson strongly suggests when reviewing the political choices that existed in England as the Dunkirk rescue was ongoing in May, 1940 there was no alternative to Churchill.  Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax were both appeasers and wanted to make a separate peace with Germany.  Johnson reviews Churchill’s career as a journalist, soldier, and social reformer to reflect on his preparation for taking on Hitler, and does not find him wanting in any area.  The author tackles the opposition to Churchill within the Conservative party and why he was a lightning rod for his opponents.  Johnson explains why he was so despised by many head on.  He argues that Churchill, like his father Randolph, suffered from a lack of party loyalty and we see that both followed their own path when it came to shifting parties and then returning to the conservative fold.  In addition, Churchill helped bring on ill will by always being a self-promoter and political opportunist.  Churchill made a number of errors during World War I and later, in his career.   The following come to mind: the fiasco at Antwerp in October, 1914, and Gallipoli in September, 1915 that forced many to question his ability as a military strategist when he was First Lord of their Admiralty. Further, Churchill’s ill-fated plan to block the Bolshevik victory in Russia after World War I, as well as fighting to prevent Indian self-government where not well thought out.  Lastly, Churchill’s support for Edward VIII’s desire for a divorce and forfeiture of his throne angered many conservative back benchers.

(Churchill’s March 5, 1946 “Iron Curtain Speech” at Westminster College, Fulton, MO)

Johnson presents Churchill’s bonifedes as a military leader by spending a good amount of time reflecting on Churchill’s bravery.  He discusses Churchill’s love of planes and desire to develop an air force.  He reviews his combat experience in the Sudan, the Boer War, India and the trenches of World War I.  He concludes that Churchill’s own personal bravery allowed him to ask whether other candidates in 1940 had the experience and demeanor to lead England against the Nazis.  Johnson also tackles some of the negative charges against Churchill.  For Johnson, Churchill is a social reformer in the context of being a capitalist and a free trader.  He argues that next to his mentor, Lloyd George, Churchill had great concern for workers and the lower classes.  For Churchill, workers were the bedrock of the British Empire and without them the empire would collapse.  Johnson points to Churchill’s championing of Labour exchanges, a Trade Board Bill to enforce minimum wages for certain jobs, unemployment insurance with worker, government and employer contributions, a 20% tax on land sales in order to fund progressive programs and redistribute wealth.  Churchill was concerned that if the needs of the workers were not met, unrest could “scuttle” British power overseas.  One might argue that Churchill was somewhat of a hypocrite based on some of his racist and imperialist goals, Johnson would say that he was nothing more than being politically pragmatic.  Perhaps Churchill’s “compassionate conservatism” was years ahead of George W. Bush.

The author rests much of his argument on Churchill’s amazing work ethic and the motor of his exceptional brain.  Johnson offers a great deal of evidence to support his claim, i.e., Churchill’s prodigious writing that earned him a Nobel Peace Prize for Literature at the age of seventy-five.  Churchill’s work developing tank technology during World War I, his role in creating the boundaries for the Middle East, the partition of Ireland, and diplomacy during World War II to save England from the Nazis and rallying his own people.   Lastly, the use of his personal charm to “drag” the United States into World War II.  Once out of power Churchill sought to warn the west about Stalinist expansionism.  His “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946 made public his concerns, but Churchill had internally warned his cabinet and FDR at least a year earlier.  As in the 1930s when he warned about Nazism, as World War II came to a close he was seen as a war mongerer by many.  Despite the fact that he was correct in both cases, this did not help him politically at home or in his relationship with President Truman, as he was soon out of office.  Once he returned to power in 1951, and with the death of Stalin in 1953, Churchill worked for a summit of the great powers as he was deathly afraid of a thermonuclear war.  Though he did not achieve his goal, after he left office for good in 1955, a four power summit did take place.  For Johnson, in the end, Churchill’s ideas prevailed, from his speech in Fulton, MO in 1946 to the final collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  Churchill had called for rapprochement between France and Germany, and a united Europe all of which was eventually achieved.

(Cairo Conference, 1921, Churchill is on the left, Gertrude Bell in the center, and T.E. Lawrence on the right)

One of the major blemishes that exists in dealing with Churchill’s career lies in the sands of the Middle East.  As Colonial Secretary he had to undue the negative results of the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and the Balfour Declaration all issued during World War I making very contradictory promises that Johnson describes as “Britain sold the same camel three times.”  The story of the Cairo Conference and Churchill’s influence on the creation of Iraq, Transjordan, Syria, and Palestine has been told many times, but even Johnson must acknowledge that what Churchill had created, though it lasted for decades was bound to come a cropper.  Further Churchill’s optimism concerning Jewish-Palestinian relations was ill-conceived.  Johnson, as his want, does not blame Churchill, but the selfishness of both sides, particularly the lack of Arab leadership, a rationalization to deflect away from Churchill anything the author finds unacceptable.     Despite his errors the author proposes that Churchill, even in old age, was a man ahead of his times, and based on his amazing career who is to say that Johnson was wrong.

(Potsdam Conference, July, 1945, Churchill, Truman, and Stalin)

Perhaps the major criticism one can offer is how the author presents his material.  I for one enjoy objective biography, not subjective hero worship, particularly when there are so many instances of a lack of source material to support the author’s conclusions.  However, if one is interested in a fast read encompassing Churchill’s entire career, Johnson’s effort could prove to be intellectually challenging, and entertaining.


(William Donovan, the man who headed the Office of Strategic Services  during World War II)

At a time when people are concerned with government spying on its citizens, it is useful to examine how two world wars and the Cold War led to the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency.  Douglas Waller, a former correspondent for Time and Newsweek, and the author of WILD BILL DONOVAN: THE SPYMASTER WHO CREATED THE OSS AND MODERN AMERICAN ESPIONAGE has revisited the origins of the CIA by examining the men that William Donovan trained as intelligence operatives who went on to head America’s foremost spy agency.  In his new book, DISCIPLES: THE WORLD WAR II MISSIONS OF THE CIA DIRECTORS WHO FOUGHT FOR BILL DONOVAN, Waller follows the careers of Allen W. Dulles, William Casey, Richard Helms, and William Colby, and their interactions with Donovan as their careers  culminated in Langley, Va.  When I first picked up the book I was concerned that Waller would rehash a great deal of the same material he covered in his biography of Donovan.  To my satisfaction this is not the case.  There is some repetition, but the book can stand on its own merits as Waller has written a wonderful adventure story that weaves together the experiences of the “disciples.”  Based on archival material, the most prominent secondary sources, and pertinent memoirs the book is an excellent read for spy buffs and the general public.

Waller begins the book with short biographical sketches of each individual and the similarities in their backgrounds.  Waller points out that there was a common thread that ran through Dulles, Casey, Helms, and Colby.  Each was smart, intellectual, and “voracious readers, thoughtful, and creatures of reason….these were strong, decisive, supremely confident men of action, doers who believed they could shape history rather than let it control them.”  When one follows their careers Waller’s description appears extremely accurate.  Though their personalities differed; Dulles comes across with a much larger ego who rubbed many in power the wrong way; Casey, more of an introvert who worked behind the scenes and new how to navigate the bureaucratic morass of government; Helms and Colby, more adventurous and hands on, the result of which was they all would ascend the intelligence ladder at different rates to finally emerge as leaders in their own right.  All had important relationships with Donovan; some more testy, particularly Dulles who wanted Donovan’s job as head of the Organization of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II, but in the end they worked together and laid the foundation for America’s post war intelligence operations.

(Allen W. Dulles, headed American intelligence operations against Germany during WWII and as CIA Director under Eisenhower launched numerous covert operations)

Waller traces the career of each of the disciples and what stands out is their roles during World War II.  Donovan was charged by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to create an espionage operation during the war by choosing him as the Coordinator of Information, a position that would morph into the head of the OSS.  Waller examines the rise of Allen Dulles first, tracing his career from World War I, his experiences as a diplomat at Versailles, and his relationship with his brother, John Foster, and their law firm Sullivan and Cromwell.  Dulles emerges as a self-confident individual who sought total control of all operations. Posted to Berne, Switzerland during the war, Dulles developed important sources though he was at times over the top with his predictions.  On a number of occasions he resented Donovan, but in the end went along with his boss.  William Casey’s education as a spy began as a lawyer in the 1930s where he became an expert on the tax code dealing with War Department contracts.  This attracted Donovan interest and he would recruit Casey for the OSS in 1943.  Casey, an organizational expert was sent to London where he worked under David Bruce, and implemented a management style that would lead him to oversee intelligence assets and commando operations in France and Germany.  Richard Helms joined the navy after Pearl Harbor and worked on strategies to deal with German submarine warfare.  By 1943 he was forced into OSS Psyops and by the end of the war he was sent to London to organize operations in Germany for the post war period.  William Colby, the most liberal of the four and a supporter of FDR, studied in France in the late 1930s, witnessed the Spanish Civil War, and developed a hatred for communism.  He would become a commando during the war and showed tremendous physical courage behind enemy lines in France and Norway.

(Richard Helms after a career in intelligence dating back to WWII became CIA Director in the 1960s and was eventually fired by President Nixon)

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is how Waller introduces individuals who interacted with the OSS, and in particular the “disciples” during the war.  FBI Head, J. Edgar Hoover despised Donovan seeing him as a threat and unleashed his own agents to spy on the OSS.  We meet Julia Child, later known as “the cooking guru” for woman in the 1950s.  Along the way Arthur Goldberg emerges as a link to European labor movements, who would later serve on the Supreme Court.  British spymasters come and go throughout the book, particularly William Stephenson who at one time had an office next to Dulles in Rockefeller Center.  Fritz Kolbe, the OSS’ most important agent who allowed Dulles to penetrate the German Foreign Office in Berlin and whose work saved the lives of many allied soldiers takes a prominent role.  These and many other individuals and their own stories lend a great deal to Waller’s narrative.

(William Colby was a trained commando during World War II and parachuted into France and Norway who later became CIA Director under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford)

Waller does a nice job showing how the careers of the “disciples” intersected with Donovan during the war.  For example, Donovan’s visitations to commando training, witnessing Colby’s preparation for parachuting into France.  Dulles and Casey intersected as both were smuggling agents into France to link up with and supply the French resistance.  Casey was in charge of monitoring commando drops like Colby’s into France.  Casey also funneled Dulles’ intelligence reports to Washington, and in a number of cases felt that they were highly exaggerated. Helms finally left for London in early 1945 and was supposed to organize Dulles’ mission for Germany, but because of Hitler’s last ditch effort in France in the Ardennes, he never carried out the assignment and wound up with Casey overseeing agents in Germany.  In fact Casey and Helms shared an apartment in London at the time!   Colby and Casey would meet at General George S. Patton’s headquarters in September, 1944 as Casey became Donovan’s eyes in Europe and eventually would replace David Bruce as head of London operations, an appointment that Dulles greatly resented.  Donovan felt that Dulles was a poor administrator and lacked the leadership skills that Casey possessed.

Waller spends a great deal of time on the actions of American commandos behind German lines.  He describes Colby’s training in detail and takes the reader along with these men as they parachute into France and Germany, exhibiting courage and discipline as they try to reinforce the French resistance, and later gather intelligence in Germany to try and bring the conflict to a faster conclusion.  Waller also spends a great deal of time discussing the infighting among the “disciples” and their private lives.  By doing so the reader gains insights into each of these men and it helps explains how their post-World War II careers would evolve into directorships of the CIA.

The final section of Waller’s narrative focuses on American intelligence policies and actions during the Cold War as the OSS evolves into the CIA and focuses its attention on the communist threat.  Once President Truman forces Donovan into retirement Dulles takes over the newly created CIA and his reputation for mismanagement will result in what Blanch Wiesen Cook, in her book DECCLASSIFIED EISENHOWER, refers to as the “coup presidency.”  Dulles would launch covert operations in Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, and the disastrous U-2 Incident, all resulting in his eventual downfall.  Dulles was succeeded by Helms, who unlike his predecessor believed in tight organizational control.  His mantra was “that there should be no surprises on his watch” and he was very popular within the agency.  Helms would be fired by Richard Nixon in part because he refused to cooperate with break-ins and cover ups associated with Watergate.  Colby’s tenure as director is most remembered for his testimony before the Church Committee in 1974 as leaked CIA documents called for congressional action.  Colby was the most politically liberal of all the “disciples” and this played a role in his cooperation with Congress which he was vilified for by Helms and Casey.  But, as Waller correctly points out his testimony probably saved the CIA from a wholesale reorganization that would have ruined its effectiveness.  The last of the “disciples,” William Casey took over the agency under Ronald Reagan and he tried to create the atmosphere that existed under his hero, William Donovan, who like his mentor “kept the door open to all ideas for operations, even the wacky ones.”  Casey wanted to recreate the can do culture of the OSS from WWII for the 1980s, focusing on the communist menace instead of the Nazis.  This would result in repeated machinations in dealing with Afghanistan, Central America, and the Iran-Contra scandal in particular.

(William Casey was a successful “spy master” during World War II who became CIA Director under Ronald Reagan)

Waller has written a fascinating account of the men who followed Donovan as leaders in American intelligence, and current implications for some of the policies they pursued.   Today we are faced with the ramifications of Edward Snowden’s leaks and issues over NSA and other surveillance.  It would be interesting to speculate how these gentlemen would respond to these issues.

(Major General William J. Donovan who led America’s intelligence operations during World War II)



(Presidents George Herbert Walker Bush, George W. Bush, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush)

With the rollout of Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Jon Meacham’s new book DESTINY AND POWER: THE AMERICAN ODYSSEY OF GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH what emerged in the media was the elder Bush’s criticisms of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney’s poor service in the administration of his son.  Many pundits have questioned the senior Bush’s judgement since another son, Jeb is in the midst of his own presidential campaign.  Whatever motivated the senior Bush it has created a great deal of buzz around Meacham’s latest biography.  After successful histories of Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, and the relationship between Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Meacham’s latest effort is not quite on the level of his previous work.  In Meacham’s defense it is difficult to write a critical biography of a subject that is still alive, and as time has separated him from his presidency he has become more popular than ever.  George H.W. Bush was a lifetime Republican who served in Congress, the head of the Republican National Committee, held a number of important jobs in the Nixon and Ford administrations, and later served as Ronald Reagan’s Vice President.  Always a loyal party man he never could quite gain the confidence of the conservative wing of his party.  He was always seen as a Rockefeller eastern liberal Republican and he constantly had to prove his bonafides to conservatives.  If he were a candidate for office today, Bush would be relegated to the junior varsity on the debate stage on many issues.  To Bush’s credit as Meacham points out repeatedly in his narrative, he embraced compromise in public life and engaged his foes in the passage of important legislation as he was willing to buck his own party to do what he believed was right.

(Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney; Bush 41 referred to them as “iron asses.”

After reading Meacham’s description of Bush’s childhood in Connecticut, Kennebunkport, and South Carolina it is obvious what former Texas Governor Anne Richards meant about Bush’s presidential candidacy in 1988, when she stated at the Democratic National Convention that “for eight straight years George Bush hasn’t displayed the slightest interest in anything we care about.  And now that he’s after a job that he can’t be appointed to, he’s like Columbus discovering America.  Poor George, he can’t help it-he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” (334-35) The Bush children of the 1930s were insulated from want, but they were raised to feel a sense of obligation to others.  According to Meacham, the Bush family code was to disguise one’s ambition, and hunger to win.  For years I had difficulty accepting Bush’s authenticity and sincerity as I watched him “flip flop” on issues in order to get elected in 1980 and 1988 and avoid the charge that he was an eastern establishment Republican.  I must admit that for over half of Meacham’s narrative I became somewhat convinced that my view was harsh after reading the intimate details of Bush’s patriotism leaving his privileged education to become a naval pilot during World War II and how he reacted and handled being shot down in the Pacific with the loss of his radioman and tail gunner.  We see Bush as the supporting husband taking care of a spouse dealing with depression. Further, we are privy to Bush as a father and family man dealing with the passing of his daughter Robin at the age of three from leukemia, witnessing a distraught person who exhibits the traits we would all hope to have in a similar situation.

(Bush 41 must like Meacham’s bioghraphy!)

The book comes across as a conversation between the author and the reader.  At times one gets the feeling that Meacham is interviewing the former president conveying Bush’s view of his life, issues, and historical perspectives.  We are exposed to the major events in American history from 1964 on as they are intertwined with Bush’s political career.  The weakness is that part of the narrative comes across as an extensive magazine article intertwined with a degree of analysis.  Meacham for the most part is content with explaining Bush’s motivations for his decisions without delving deeply enough into their ramifications.  A case in point is Bush’s vote against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but a few pages later we learn he voted for the 1968 Fair Housing Act, as if the later vote canceled out the weakness of character reflected in the first vote.  We read a great deal about Bush’s personality and his commitment to the family ethos as represented by his father, Prescott Bush, but not enough of what can be described as the “edginess of politics” and its cut throat nature.  As I read the first few hundred pages I wondered how such a “nice person” became such a duplicitous politician who would lie about his knowledge concerning the Iran-Contra deal (apart from the Nicaraguan aspect), the use of the Willie Horton commercial in 1988 and his alliance with the likes of Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes, his reversals on abortion, taxes, and other issues to make him palatable to be Ronald Reagan’s running mate.  What I gathered from Meacham’s narrative is that Bush according to the family credo was that winning was most important, but that is covered up by a political pragmatism rather than following what the author presents as his core principles.

Meacham does a credible job discussing the major aspects of Bush’s career.  His successful run for the House of Representatives and defeat as he tries to win a Senate seat in the 1960s.  We learn of his stint as UN Ambassador under Richard Nixon, envoy to China, and CIA Head under Gerald Ford, highlighting the domestic and international machinations of each.  The reader is placed inside his campaign against Ronald Reagan in 1980 and the development of their working relationship since Ronald and Nancy Reagan did not think much of the Bushes at the outset.  Meacham constantly points to Bush’s winning personality as his key asset and we can see how effective he is in winning over the President and developing a strong personal relationship during the Reagan administrations. The reader has an insider’s view of the White House during the first Reagan administration and the role that Bush played.  Then, the second administration seems to disappear in the narrative except for a discussion of Iran-Contra and the duplicitous role played by Bush.  By 1988 Bush must earn his next governmental position, the presidency, something he seems to have sought since his entrance into politics in the 1960s, because there are no longer any appointments coming his way because of the networking that had rewarded him for decades in business and politics.

(Part of 1988 Presidential campaign ad devised by Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes)

Meacham’s focus and analysis seems to take a sharper turn as he deals with the 1988 presidential campaign as he examines the mistaken choice Bush admits to in choosing Dan Quayle as his running mate.  We follow the campaign and the errors of the Dukakis team as we see the former Massachusetts governor foolishly riding in a tank in New Jersey and is forced to deal with the prison furlough program that brought about the Willie Horton ad.  Once elected, Meacham accurately explores Bush’s successes in foreign policy and the difficulties he faced in dealing with Congress over domestic legislation during his term in office.

I am very familiar with Bush’s personal belief that he thought that he should receive the major credit for winning the Cold War, and I am certain that believers in the Reagan cult would beg to differ.  However, Bush senior must be commended for the way he handled the fall of the Berlin Wall and the personal relationship he was able to develop with Mikhail Gorbachev that fostered arms control and a lessening of tensions between the former Cold War competitors.  Meacham takes us from the night the Wall was breached through the difficult diplomacy that resulted in the reunification of Germany.  Though the definitive account of those heady days have yet to be written, Meacham’s narrative praising Bush for his calm and steady approach to events and his diplomacy, particularly with the Soviet Union and NATO members forms an excellent summary.  Bush has the reputation of overseeing a strong foreign policy that resulted in his words, “a new world order,” where the bipolar Cold War was replaced by a new unipolar world.  This characterization can be easily argued, but Meacham chooses not to in the same way as he glances over the American invasion of Panama to replace Manuel Noriega.  Perhaps if he would have delved into the background relationship between the American national security establishment and the drug trafficking Panamanian dictator the reader would be provided a clearer picture.  Further, Meacham leaves out some important details in the run up to the American invasion of Iraq after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.  The reader is provided with a detailed account of Bush’s handling of the crisis, but what is missing is an accurate description of the messages we sent to the Iraqi dictator at the end of July, 1990 right before the invasion.  To his credit, Meacham explores the meetings between Saddam and American Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie whose career took a strong hit after the invasion took place.  Perhaps if the administration would have laid out clearer instructions, Glaspie’s messages to Saddam would not have been so misinterpreted to the point where he believed that the United States would not remove his forces from Kuwait militarily.  Bush is to be credited with putting together an international coalition against Saddam, and unlike his son he realized the vacuum that would be created if American troops marched on Baghdad in March, 1991 and that once the predictable civil war between Shi’ites and Sunni would evolve, Iran would emerge as the true winner.  Another aspect that Meacham should have explored closely is the Bush family’s relationship with the Saudi royal family and what impact it had on American policy.  Craig Unger’s HOUSE OF BUSH HOUSE OF SAUD is worth consulting.

(George Herbert Walker Bush as Navy pilot during World War II)

Meacham correctly points out that Bush did have a domestic agenda as he repeatedly refers to Bush’s diaries to support the idea that the president wanted to improve the lives of everyday Americans.  His successes include a raising of educational standards and enhancements for the Head Start program, amendments to the Clean Air Act, and the Americans for Disability Act.  However, once Bush had to deal with economic policy as the American economy fell into recession he ran up against a conservative wall in Congress led by Newt Gingrich.  Once he decided to turn away from his famous “read my lips” promise when he won the Republican presidential nomination and agreed to raise federal taxes to deal with the budget crisis he just reaffirmed the belief of conservatives that he was not one of them.  Again, to Bush’s credit he put political pragmatism and his country ahead of those in his party who may have pursued the actions of the Ted Cruz’s of today.  Meacham hits the nail on the head when states that Bush “could mold an international coalition, but he could not convince his own party to back their president.” (448)

Meacham provides an in depth account of the 1992 presidential campaign and the rivalry with the egoistic Ross Perot that resulted in the election of Bill Clinton.  The author puts the reader on the debate stage as Bush stares too long at his watch and has difficulty remembering the price of hamburger.  For Bush it was very difficult for a member of the greatest generation to lose the presidency to someone who he then characterized as a “draft dodger.”  However, Meacham is correct in pointing out that the reason Bush lost the election was that he did not seem to be that committed to his own election victory.  Time and again Meacham pointed to Bush’s diaries that expressed doubts as to whether he should have run.

Once out of office, Bush could theoretically relax, reflect, and enjoy his family.  For the most part he did, but he was worried about the course of his son’s presidency and the tone set by Bush 43’s administration commentary.  Overall, Meacham received unparalleled access to Bush 41 on a personal level as well as the availability to his diaries and many of those who served his political career and administration.  Meacham has written what appears to be an authorized biography that will be well received, but could have been a bit more incisive and balanced.

(Presidents Bush 41 and 43)


(the architects of American foreign policy from 1969-1974, Richard M. Nixon and Henry Kissinger)

When one considers the foreign policy pursued by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger decisions related to Southeast Asia and relations with the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union come to mind.  In discussing Southeast Asia, the strategy pursued to end the war in Vietnam is front and center resulting in revisiting the “supposed” plan to end the war known as “Vietnamization” that emerged during the 1968 presidential campaign.  This promise to end the war was nothing more than the withdrawal of American troops and replacing them on the front lines with South Vietnamese soldiers and increasing American bombing.  As we know this policy also led to the illegal bombing of Cambodia and the “search” for North Vietnam’s headquarters in that war torn country.  The Nixon/Kissinger strategy resulted in prolonging the war in Vietnam and the facilitation of the rise of the murderous Pol Pot regime in Pnom Penh and the genocide of the Cambodian people.  Along with the foreign policy issues it resulted in domestic unrest symbolized by the deaths at Kent State, and illegal actions taken by Kissinger against his own staff to plug information leaks.  This was not the finest hour for American diplomacy, however once we turn to the 1971 opening with the People’s Republic of China and the Shanghai Communique of 1972, and the pursuit of linkage and Détente with the Soviet Union the Nixon/Kissinger realpolitik takes on a different hue.

When analyzing the Nixon/Kissinger approach to foreign affairs many seem to forget events in Southwest Asia, in particular, March 25, 1971 when the Pakistan army began its ruthless crackdown on Bengalis throughout East Pakistan in what today is called Bangladesh, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands and ten million refugees.  Some would argue that the Nixon administration were following their Cold War calculations in arming the Pakistani army as the president and his national security advisor held India, a Soviet ally at the time in great disdain.  With Pakistan’s military dictator, General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan helping to set up the opening with China the Nixon administration was not about to criticize Pakistan’s crackdown in Dacca, East Pakistan.  What resulted was an onslaught that lasted months rivaling other genocides like Rwanda and Bosnia.  While the United States was not involved directly in these two examples, in East Pakistan American culpability was high as it was supporting the murderous Pakistani regime with weapons and equipment.  Estimates range up to 500,000 deaths and reflects the moral bankruptcy of the Nixon administration.  Fortunately, Gary Bass has written THE BLOOD TELEGRAM: NIXON, KISSINGER AND A FORGOTTEN GENOCIDE to remind us of what transpired.

Archer Blood was the United States’ counsel general in Dacca and he and his staff witnessed one of the worst atrocities of the Cold War and documented its horrific detail by informing the higher-ups at the State Department.  Despite the on the scene reporting of events, officials led by Nixon and Kissinger chose to ignore what was occurring and did little to ameliorate the situation.  What Bass has written is a detailed account of events and Archer Blood’s attempt to raise the consciousness of an administration that in many cases had none.  In his review of Bass’ book in The Wall Street Journal on September 20, 2013, a former chairman of Dow Jones and Company, Peter R. Kann argued that the atrocities that resulted from Pakistani actions in East Pakistan were unacceptable, but necessary because the Islamabad government headed by Agha Muhammad Yahya Kahn was the conduit between the United States and Communist China that would culminate in President Nixon’s historic visit to Beijing in 1972.  For Kann and his ilk, it seemed it was acceptable to sacrifice the Bengali people in the hundreds of thousands to proffer an agreement that theoretically helped extricate the United States from Vietnam, deal a diplomatic blow to the Soviet Union, and undo twenty two years of American non-recognition of Communist China.

(Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi)

After reading Gary Bass’ excellent account of events this is an analysis that is hard to accept.  Bass lays out the lack of ethnic and religious viability that resulted from the 1947 partition of India that created East and West Pakistan and their Muslim and Hindu populations.  He explores the events that led to the West Pakistani invasion of the East in March, 1971 as elections brought the victory of the Bengali Awami League under the leadership of Sheik Mujib-ur-Rahman, who incidentally were very favorable to the United States.  Since it appeared that Mujib, a Bengali Hindu might form a government and replace Yahya, the Pakistani military could not sit back.  When the Islamabad government backed away from the election results Bengali nationalists and the Awami League began to demonstrate and it appeared that East Bengal might secede from Pakistan.  Negotiations failed and on March 25, 1971, the Pakistani military under Yahya’s orders launched an attack against the 75,000,000 Pakistani citizens in the East.  The results were horrific.  By September over five million refugees poured into India and thousands of Hindus were killed, many were targeted and tortured and it appeared the disaster that resulted from the 1947 partition was repeating itself.

Bass’ narrative is an indictment of the conduct of foreign policy pursued by Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon.  Archer Blood and his cohorts in the American consulate in Dacca reported accurate description of the mass killings by West Pakistani troops in the east, particularly Hindus, who made up only 16-17% of the population, but were 90% of the refugees.  Blood’s “selective genocide” telegram spoke of the genocide against the Hindu population and recommended that the United States pressure Yahya’s forces to disengage from the killings and atrocities and use American economic aid and weapons as a wedge to gain compliance.  Blood and Scott Butcher his junior political officer couldn’t believe the “silence” that emanated from Washington to their reports.  For Kissinger and Nixon, Blood and Butcher represented the “bleeding heart liberals” who inhabited the State Department.  Bass describes in detail, using White House tapes and other documentation to provide the reader with a window into the Kissinger/Nixon mindset.  For Kissinger, Blood was a “maniac” who would destroy his plans to open relations with China.  Nixon refused to pressure Yahya since he was relaying correspondence between Chinese Premier Zhou En-Lai that would lead to an invitation for Nixon to visit China.  Archer’s continued correspondence and support within the State Department angered Kissinger and Secretary of State William Rogers and led to Archer’s departure from Dacca and the ruining of his diplomatic career.

(Pakistani President Agha Muhammad Yahya Kahn and President Richard M. Nixon)

The crux of the issue was that the United States was supplying the weaponry that the Pakistani government was using to crush any Bengali opposition in East Pakistan.  American F86 Sabre jet fighters, M-24 Chaffee tanks and jeeps mounted with machine guns were the weapons of choice for the Islamabad dictatorship.  In fact 50-80% of Pakistani military equipment was supplied by the United States.  The American response to the carnage was a resounding “no” to pressuring Yahya.  American intelligence and State Department analysis led by Harold Saunders and others predicted that there was no way that Yahya’s forces could prevent a Bengali victory in the emerging civil war and that the country would break apart in creating the new country of Bangladesh.  This evidence fell on deaf ears at the White House.

Bass does a commendable job exploring the role of India and its Prime Minister Indira Gandhi throughout the crisis which would eventually result in war.  Gandhi tried to couch events in terms of the humanitarian needs of the Bengali people.  However, Bass assiduous exploration of Indian documents reflects Indian plans for war against Pakistan early on in the crisis.  Bass quotes the leading figures in Gandhi’s national security establishment in reaching his conclusions.  Though India was the world’s largest democracy, Kissinger and Nixon despised Gandhi and held a marked antipathy toward India that bordered on racism.  They both held a high opinion of Yahya, so any rapprochement with Gandhi was a non-starter.  Gandhi’s opinion of Nixon was in kind and there meetings where stilted at best.

Bass’ descriptions of the atrocities committed by both sides is heart rendering.  His portraits of the leading historical figures and reporters provides background information that enhance the readers understanding of events.  Bass’ discussion of the split within the State Department is fascinating as the American Ambassador to Islamabad James Farland castigated Archer, while Kenneth Keating, the American Ambassador to India supported the American consul.  Everyone stationed in Dacca supported Archer, but those in Washington were pressured to toe the Kissinger line.

As Bass correctly points out the world’s response to events was also enlightening.  India, a country with its own issues of poverty and disease was ill equipped to deal with the influx of millions of refugees.  The outbreak of cholera killed 6000 people each day and the response of the United Nations and the world community was weak at best.  One must remember that events were occurring in the midst of the Cold War where the Soviet Union was a supporter of India, Communist China and the United States stood behind Pakistan, and India and Pakistan saw each other as the devil incarnate.  One must also remember that Pakistan and India had fought a war in 1965, and China and the Soviet Union had fought a nasty border skirmish in 1969.  Any diplomatic or military moves that might have been taken must be seen in this context.  In addition, India found itself supporting the secession of what would become Bangladesh from Pakistan, at the same time it was crushing its own Kashmiri secessionist movement in Kashmir.  History makes for some interesting dilemmas!  According to Bass, as the refugee crisis deepened by September, 1971 war between India and Pakistan became inevitable.

The Kissinger-Nixon strategy of denial of what was occurring in East Pakistan is a fantasy as a September, 1971 CIA report argued that over 200,000 had been killed and that an ongoing “ethnic campaign” showed that almost 90% of the almost 10 million refugees flooding into India were Hindus.  These figures were also verified by a Pakistani general so the administrations “supposed” ignorance was a fabrication.  As the situation became dire, Indira Gandhi had already decided on war, but postponed a final decision until winter arrived which would block any intervention by China.  Bass does an exceptional job describing the diplomatic maneuvering between the Soviet Union as it signed a Treaty of Friendship with India, the Nixon administrations belated attempts to get Yahya to control his military, and to its credit Nixon did increase economic aid for the refugees to the tune of almost $250 million.

The most fascinating aspect to the crisis as war approached was the dialogue between India and the United States.  Nixon was obsessed that a war between India and Pakistan could ruin his opening to China.  In fact, Kissinger suggested that the United States ask China to move troops to the Indian border to send a strong message not to attack Pakistan.  The meetings between Gandhi and Nixon in Washington in November, 1971 reflected the disdain the two leaders felt for each other.  The Nixon tapes highlight the President’s characterization of Gandhi as that “old bitch,” and the Indian Prime Minister’s view of the Nixon was reciprocated.

Bass describes the Pakistani attack on December 3, 1971 (India had planned to attack the next day), the conduct of the war, and the resulting diplomacy and what is clear from the book and its impeccable sources is that if the Nixon administration had handled Yahya differently, the crisis that resulted in the creation of Bangladesh might have evolved differently.  War may have ultimately ensued, but did 250-500,000 people have to die, along with the creation of over 10,000,000 refugees before full scale combat ensued?

This episode in American diplomacy seems to have been forgotten, but Gary Bass’ fine book brings it to light and forces one to question the cavalier attitude Kissinger and Nixon felt for the people of southwest Asia typified by the president’s characterization of Pakistan as “they’re just a bunch of brown goddamn Moslems.” (216)  The tactics employed by Kissinger and Nixon to try and bend India’s will to US interests during the war were appalling as Nixon gave the Soviet Union deadlines, encouraged the Chinese to scare India, and dispatching the USS Enterprise task force into the Gulf of Bengal.  When Pakistani forces suffered the loss of equipment in large quantities, Nixon answered Yahya’s request for arms by gaining the support of the Shah of Iran and King Hussein of Jordan to transfer US equipment to Pakistan.  With shades of the future Iran-Contra travesty over Nicaragua, the US promised to replace the equipment once the war ended despite the fact that it was illegal.  As the war was finally brought to a conclusion, the vindictive Nixon reemerged as he wanted to punish India, liberals domestically, and anyone who had opposed his policies during the previous ten months.  Once a ceasefire was a foregone conclusion, Nixon said, “I’d like to do it in a certain way that pisses on the Indians.” (319)  Bass’ book is based on exemplary primary research and should be considered the most complete work on the events in southwest Asia in 1971, and should attract anyone interested in a largely forgotten topic that has not gotten its due.

(Nixon and Kissinger in the Oval Office)

ACT OF WAR by Jack Cheevers

(The USS Pueblo in January, 1968)

Recent events between the United States and North Korea cast a long shadow over relations between these countries.  The “supposed” computer hacking of Sony pictures by North Korea, the disagreement over North Korean attempts to develop nuclear weapons, and a host of other issues like North Korean attacks against South Korean ships makes the appearance of Jack Cheevers’ ACT OF WAR rather timely.  Cheevers, a former political reporter for the Los Angeles Times presents a comprehensive study of the North Korean seizure of the USS Pueblo, an American spy ship trolling international waters in January, 1968.  Today we worry about North Korean threats to South Korea and Japan, but in the 1960s the United States was in the midst of the Cold War and only a decade out from the end of the Korean War.  Embroiled in Vietnam, the United States continued to spy on the Soviet Union, Communist China, and North Korea throughout the period.  One might wonder why the North Koreans would seize an American ship at that time.  The answer probably rests with North Korean dictator, Kim Il-Sung’s hatred for the United States, and when presented an opportunity to give Washington a “black eye,” Kim could not resist, especially with the United States caught up in the quagmire of Vietnam.

According to Cheevers, American loses while spying in the region were not uncommon before the Pueblo was seized.  Between 1950 and 1956, seven American reconnaissance aircraft were shot down over the Sea of Japan or near Siberia, resulting in the loss of forty-six US airmen, with another sixteen lost to a typhoon. (2)  The Pueblo was part of a top secret Navy program to pack refurbished US freighters with advanced electronics to keep tabs on the Soviet Union’s expanding Pacific and Mediterranean fleets.  The program called for seventy ships, but only three were built, one of which was the Pueblo.  The loss of the ship with its sophisticated surveillance gear, code machines, and documents was one of the worst intelligence debacles in American history.  Subsequent congressional and naval investigations revealed “appalling complacency and short sightedness in the planning and execution of the Pueblo mission.” (3)  The goal was to determine how much of a threat existed for South Korea, since North Korea’s Stalinist leaders were committed to unifying the peninsula, an area were 55,000 American troops stood in the way of a possible invasion.  This book is important as we continue to unleash covert operations worldwide, as it shows what can happen when things do not proceed as planned.

(Capt. Loyd Bucher and his crew seized by North Korea in January, 1968)

Cheevers offers a detailed description of the planning of the mission and what emerges is that Captain Lloyd Bucher was given command of a ship that was not in the best condition and was overloaded with top secret documents, many of which were not needed for the mission.  A full description of the seizure of the ship, the incarceration of the crew, their torture and interrogation, their final release, and the Naval and Congressional investigations that’s followed are presented.  The ship was supposedly conducting “oceanic research,” and many of the crew were not fully cognizant of the Pueblo’s spy mission.  What separates Cheevers’ work from previous books on the subject is his access to new documentation, particularly those of the Soviet Union, and American naval archives.  Further, he was able to interview a large number of the Pueblo’s original crew.  This leads to a narrative that at times reads like a transcript or movie script of many important scenes, particularly the North Korean seizure of the ship, the interactions of the crew during their imprisonment, and the Navy Court of Inquiry which was formed to determine if Capt. Bucher and his crew had conducted themselves appropriately.

The first surprising aspect of the book is the lack of training the crew experienced, and how they should respond if attacked.  Bucher was told by naval officials not to worry because he would always remain in international waters beyond the twelve mile limit the North Koreans claimed.  Further, Bucher was not given the appropriate equipment to destroy sensitive documents and equipment, even though he requested it.  In addition, the two linguists assigned to the mission hadn’t spoken Korean in a few years and confessed that they needed dictionaries to translate radio intercepts or documents, and in addition, the overall crew was very inexperienced.  The bottom line is that there was no real contingency plan to assist the Pueblo should North Korea become a problem.  It was clear no naval assistance would be forthcoming in the event of an attack, and Bucher would be on his own.  Once the attack occurred it appears Bucher did his best, knowing the United States would not entertain a rescue operation.

(The Pueblo crew in captivity)

The seizure of the ship compounded problems for the Johnson administration.  The Tet offensive was a few weeks away, the Marine fire base at Ke Sanh was isolated, the anti-war movement in the United States was growing, and the South Korean President, Park Chung Hee wanted to use the situation to launch an attack on North Korea.  Cheevers reviews the mindset of the American government as well as the public’s reaction to the seizure and accurately describes President Johnson’s reluctance to take military action.  The United States did deploy battle groups to the Sea of Japan as a show of force, but with no plan to use it, it was a hollow gesture.  A far bigger problem was reigning in President Park, whose palace was almost breached by North Korean commandos shortly before the Pueblo was seized.  Cheevers’ dialogue between Cyrus Vance, Johnson’s emissary and Park is eye opening as was the meeting between Johnson and Park later in the crisis.  If Park could not gain American acquiescence for a military response, he requested hundreds of millions of dollars of military hardware instead.  There were 30,000 South Korean troops fighting in Vietnam, and Park had promised another 11,000, and Johnson wanted to make sure that Park did not renege on his commitment.  Cheevers does a commendable job always placing the Pueblo crisis in the context of the war raging in Southeast Asia.

Cheevers’ absorbing description of how the Americans were treated in captivity is largely based on interviews of the crew.  The brutality of their treatment and the psychological games their captures subjected Bucher and his crew was unconscionable.  The beatings, outright torture, lack of hygiene and malnutrition the crew suffered through are catalogued in detail.  The pressure on the Johnson administration domestically increased throughout the incarceration until a deal was finally reached.  The issue revolved around the North Korean demand of an apology which was finally papered over by a convoluted strategy that produced a US admission of spying at the same time they offered a strong denial.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is Cheevers’ coverage of the hero’s welcome Bucher and his crew received and how the Navy investigated who was to blame for the ship’s seizure.  The fact that Bucher surrendered his ship without a fight to save his crew did not sit well with naval history purists.  For the Navy, the men were expendable, but the intelligence equipment and documents were not.  The details of the Naval Court of Inquiry headed by five career admirals, three of which had commanded destroyers during World War II and the Korean War concluded that Bucher should be court-martialed, but were overruled because of public opinion.  The questions and answers from the trial reflect how difficult a task it was to investigate the seizure and find a scapegoat for the Navy.  Throughout, Bucher never lost the respect of his crew and his leadership allowed his men to bond, which in large part is responsible for their survival.

Cheevers should be commended for his approach to the crisis, the important questions he raises, and the reconstruction of testimony both Naval and Congressional.  ACT OF WAR seems to me the definitive account of the seizure of the Pueblo and its ramifications for the Navy, the intelligence community, and politicians.  It is an excellent historical narrative that reads like a novel in sections of the book.  It is a great read and a superb work of investigative reporting.

BLUE-EYED BOY: A MEMOIR by Robert Timberg

(Author Robert Timberg during a book presentation)

As most are aware the Vietnam War has left many scars on those who fought the war and the American people in general.  With 58,000 men dead and roughly 270,000 wounded, many like the author, Robert Timberg suffered life changing injuries that affect them psychologically and physically to this day.  Mr. Timberg, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, and a Marine Corps officer suffered second and third degree burns to his face and parts of his body on January 18, 1967 when his armored vehicle went over a North Vietnamese land mine in the vicinity of Da Dang, just thirteen days before he was to be cycled out of the war theater as his thirteen month tour was drawing to a close.  Mr. Timberg has written a long delayed memoir dealing with his experiences in Vietnam, his recovery, and his career which was a major component in trying to recapture some sort of normality.

(Timberg writing a letter home from Vietnam)

The book, BLUE-EYED BOY: A MEMOIR is written on multiple levels.  It is an emotionally captivating story by an individual who wages a courageous battle to regain some semblance of what he lost on that fateful day when delivering a payroll to another unit his vehicle hit a land mine.  The book is also a personal journey that takes him through numerous hospitals and thirty five operations with the support of two wonderful women, his first wife, Janie, who Timberg credits for his level of recovery and the family and career he is most proud of.  He readily admits that he was responsible for the end of their marriage and how poorly he treated her.  The other woman, his second wife, Kelly, allowed him to continue his recovery and develop a successful journalism career.  Unfortunately for Timberg, they too could not keep their marriage together.  The last major thread is how Timberg repeatedly lashes out against those individuals that did not go to Vietnam and as he states found, “legal and illegal ways” to avoid doing their duties as Americans.  Despite repeated denials that he is past those negative feelings and no matter how much he pushes his bitterness below the surface employing the correct verbiage of an excellent writer, his ill feelings towards a good part of his generation repeatedly bubbles to the surface.

(Timberg being evacuated from Da Nang area after his vehicle hit a land mine, January 18, 1967)

This memoir is very timely in light of the type of injuries that American soldiers have sustained in Iraq and Afghanistan for the last twelve years.  It brings a message of hope for the future based on Timberg’s remarkable recovery and the success he has enjoyed as a reporter and a writer.  Our wounded veterans face a long road to recovery and Timberg’s story could be a wonderful model that they can try to emulate.  The first two-thirds of the book for me were the most interesting.  Timberg lays his life out for all to see.  His emotions which seemed to rise and fall with each sunrise and sunset are heart rendering.  His descriptions of his treatment with multiple skin grafts and surgeries are a testament to his perseverance.  His tenacity and ability to overcome most of the obstacles that were placed in front of him are truly amazing.  We learn a great deal about the Naval Academy and the United States Marine Corps and what they stand for.  Timberg takes the reader through many stages of recovery by interspersing his relationships with those who are most responsible for his making him whole, his first wife, Janie, and Dr. Lynn Ketchum, the surgeon who like a sculptor put Timberg’s facial features back together as best he could.  Despite his recovery, throughout this period his loss of identity constantly tugged at him, even as he earned the satisfaction of a successful career, but the loss of identity seemed to always be under the surface.  Once Timberg reaches the end of his period of recovery, he must leave “the cocoon of the hospital to home cycle” of constantly undergoing surgery and recovery.  For Timberg it was very difficult, but finally with Janie’s assistance he is able to overcome his fears and earn a Master’s Degree in Journalism at Stanford University and begin his career as a reporter in Annapolis.  That career would lead to a Nieman Fellowship, positions at the Baltimore Evening Standard, and the Baltimore Sun.  Timberg became a leading White House correspondent, and the author of three very important books.

The one area of the book I have difficulty accepting is the sections that deal with the germination of the ideas for the book THE NIGHTENGALE’S SONG, and how the book was finally conceived and reached fruition.  It was fascinating how Timberg pulled together such disparate personalities as John McCain, James Webb, John Poindexter, Robert McFarlane, and Oliver North to create narrative dynamic that made sense.  What sparked this dynamic was the Iran-Contra scandal that rocked President Reagan’s second term in office.  Timberg was able to parlay the scandal and the personalities just mentioned into a coherent and interesting monograph.  I remember when the book was published and after reading it I wondered if Timberg had an agenda that called for damning those who were able to avoid serving in Vietnam, and blaming the prosecution of the Iran-Contra scandal on the media and members of Congress who figured out ways to remain out of the military during the war.

Timberg’s judgment is deeply flawed in attacking, what seems to be everyone who did not fight in Vietnam for pursuing the Iran-Contra scandal.  I understand that he suffered unbelievable horrors as a result of his military service and significant emotional issues remain.  However, his inner drive to become the person he was before he was seriously wounded has clouded his judgment to the point where he deeply hurt, Janie, his first wife, the woman who was mostly responsible for making himself whole as he recovered.  His comments dealing with the need to find another woman to have sex with aside from his wife to see if he could find another person who was attracted to him is deeply troublesome.  It was thoughts like this and leaving her alone with three children for a great deal of time reflects poorly on Timberg no matter how courageous he was.  As Timberg researches and writes THE NIGHTENGALE’S SONG, his obsession with those who did not fight in Vietnam comes to the fore completely.  Though there are repeated denials in the book his understandable prejudice against “draft dodgers,” etc. is readily apparent, i.e., his convoluted logic of going after people who believe that Iran-Contra was a major crime and resulted in violation of the constitutional and legislative prerogatives of Congress, aside from the cover-up and outright lying the of the Reagan administration with a vengeance.  By explaining away the scandal by raising the question; “was Iran-Contra the bill for Vietnam finally coming due?” for me, is a bit much and cannot explain away the illegal acts that North, Poindexter, and McFarlane committed no matter how hard Timberg tries.  For the author it seems like everyone who did not go to Vietnam used money and connections to avoid serving.  Further, those who did not serve, “much of the rest of that generation came up with novel ways to leave the fighting and dying to others.”(213)  Timberg quotes from Lawrence M. Baskir and William A. Srauss’ excellent analysis of the draft, CHANCE AND CIRCUMSTANCE to buttress his arguments, however if he revisits objectively the Pentagon statistics that the authors quote he will find that not all who did not serve in Vietnam committed acts that Timberg finds reprehensible  There are millions who were involved in defense related jobs, duty in the United State Army Reserves and the National Guard, had legitimate medical deferments, or were conscientious objectors.  I agree a significant numbers did avoid service and Baskir and Strauss put the number of draft offenders at about 570,000, accused draft offenders at 209, 517, with about 3250 actually imprisoned.  We must also keep in mind that of the 26,800,000 men of the Vietnam generation, 6,465,000 served but never went to Southeast Asia, and of the 15,980,000 who never served in the military 15,410,000 were deferred, exempted or disqualified -all cannot be painted with the broad brush of being draft dodgers as Timberg seems to strongly intimate.*

Overall, Timberg is correct, Vietnam is still a raw nerve for a generation that witnessed men rallying to the flag, and men who felt the war was wrong.  As history has borne out the American people were lied to by the Johnson administration and the government in general.  I respect Mr. Timberg’s service, the wonderful career he used as a vehicle to become whole again, and I find that he is an exceptional author, who at times goes a bit overboard in his attempt to rationalize why people avoided service in the war.  The book is a superb read, deeply emotional and for my generation dredges up a great deal and provokes deep thought concerning how the experience of the Vietnam War still affects American foreign policy and the conduct of combat to this day.

*See Lawrence M. Baskir & William A. Strauss CHANCE AND CIRCUMSTANCE. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 5 for an excellent chart that is reflected in the figures presented.


After reading Eric Schlosser’s COMMAND AND CONTROL: NUCLEAR WEAPONS, THE DAMASCUS INCIDENT, AND THE ILLUSION OF SAFETY, I felt a sense of wonderment that mankind has survived the Cold War and the nuclear age in general.  Schlosser, who earned a Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for his work, has written a forceful indictment of American nuclear policy and a realistic assessment of what has gone wrong with the American nuclear program; including strategy, safety, and the lack of transparency and honesty that a democratic system of government is entitled.  The book presents a general history of the development of nuclear weapons dating back to World War II through the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.  In reviewing the history of the nuclear age Schlosser narrates and analyzes the different approaches of each administration from Harry Truman through the first President Bush.  In telling his story Schlosser intersperses alternate chapters dealing with the Damascus incident, an accident that took place on September 18, 1980 at a nuclear missile complex in Damascus, Arkansas that contained a Titan II missile armed with a nuclear warhead.  The book reads like a fast moving suspense thriller as Schlosser takes the reader inside the Titan II complex and step by step leads you on various missions designed to defuse the crisis that resulted from a technician dropping a socket from a wrench inside the missile silo that pierced the Titan II rocket resulting in a fuel leak.  The book is a sobering and yet fascinating narrative of the danger posed by the numerous examples of the mishandling American nuclear weapons.

The Titan II missile contained a warhead with a “yield of 9 megatons-about three times the explosive force of all the bombs dropped during the Second World War, including both atomic bombs.” (3)  Though Schlosser concentrates a significant part of his thrilling narrative on the Damascus incident, another accident had taken place outside Searcy, Arkansas on August 9, 1965 involving a Titan II launch complex that resulted in the death of 53 men, and what is equally disturbing is that the same missile that had been in the silo near Searcy was involved in the accident in Damascus fifteen years later.  After introducing these accidents, and providing the backgrounds of the individuals involved, Schlosser turns his attention from the discovery of the Titan II problem to July, 1945 and the assembly of the atomic bomb.  A mini-history of the Manhattan Project and the scientists involved is provided as Schlosser blends the political and military history relating to nuclear research and strategy following World War II.  The author reviews the contentious arguments between the military and civilian branches of government as to who should have ultimate decision making power over nuclear weapons.  This is a theme that will be carried out well into the 1980s and the Reagan administration, even though the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 which the military sought to undermine, placed the weapons under civilian control.  Schlosser offers the standard account of the causes of the Cold War and the development of the containment policy.  There are no major breakthroughs offered, but the narrative is concise and thoughtfully dealt with.   The inter-service competition among the military branches, particularly the Navy and Air Force over control and implementation of nuclear strategy are detailed, with particular emphasis on the role of General Curtis LeMay, who headed the Strategic Air Command following the Berlin Air Lift.  Schlosser moves on to discuss the major issues of each administration turning to  Eisenhower’s New Look, that relied less on conventional weaponry and more on the nuclear option as he trimmed the defense budget, as the administration called for “more bang for the buck.”  Following the discussion of Eisenhower, under the leadership of John F. Kennedy we see a shift in nuclear strategy as the president was faced with two crises, one in Berlin and one in Cuba that almost resulted in a nuclear confrontation. Under Lyndon Johnson the war in Vietnam dominated and with the Nixon presidency the Soviets were confronted with Kissinger’s ideas of limited nuclear war with tactical nuclear weapons, and the use of the “madman concept,” based on the unpredictable nature of the president.  In all cases the idea of “mutual assured destruction” (MAD) dominated our approach in that the Soviets would not launch an attack as it was fully aware of the consequences.

The concept that bothered me most about the book was the practice of employing mathematical probabilities to our nuclear strategies.  What were then odds that an accident would take place under a certain scenario?  What would be an acceptable amount of destruction and death if a certain sequence was introduced into our nuclear preparation, was 1 in 100,000 acceptable, or should the odds be better.  Schlosser takes the reader through countless discussions in dealing with this zero sum game and as I read it I became very unsettled as I kept thinking about the B-52 bombers loaded with nuclear warheads that experienced numerous accidents since the plane was first put into service in the 1950s.  Government officials put their dilemmas very clearly as they wrestled with two interconnected questions: “What was the ‘acceptable’ probability of an accidental nuclear explosion?  And what were the technical means to keep the odds as low as possible?” (171)  The countless accidents that Schlosser describes, makes it a wonder that a nuclear catastrophe has never occurred. As General George Lee Butler, who became head of the Strategic Air Command in 1991 has stated, “I came to fully appreciate the truth…we escaped the Cold War without a nuclear holocaust by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.” (457)

The most wrenching aspect of the book is Schlosser’s detailed description of the events that led up to the Titan II accident at Damascus in September, 1980, and the way the event was treated by the military following the explosion that took place.  Schlosser’s approach is worthy of the best suspense novelists.  His narrative is very telling and puts the reader on the edge of their seat, i.e.,   “Kennedy reached the top of the stairs and stepped into the night air.  It felt good to be out there.  The cloud of fuel vapor was insane; he’d never seen anything like it.  Kennedy was tired.  He decided to sit for a moment on the concrete curb outside the access portal.  It had been a hell of a night.  Livingston switched the fan on and came back upstairs.  He was a foot or two behind Kennedy when the Titan II exploded.” (392)  Following the explosion, chaos resulted, in part because of human nature, but also because of the lack of planning and communication due to bureaucratic incompetence.  The Air Force refused to publicly admit what had occurred and the danger involved.  Schlosser grows incredulous at the obstinacy and carelessness of the military as they confront the crisis and to cover themselves, Kennedy and Livingston, two “Explosive Ordinance Disposal” technicians are blamed for the explosion.

Schlosser’s descriptions are based on impeccable research through interviewing the participants and familiarizing himself with the pertinent secondary and primary source material.  His command of the events narrated allow him to take the reader inside the stair wells, behind the blast doors, into the command center as people are met with deadly fumes.  The narrative points to an inability to integrate the necessary safety conditions by employing available techniques to make our nuclear assets safer.  Even in the 1980s, when it was realized that the Titan II needed an overhaul, attitudes existed to not institute safety changes in the Titan II rationalizing that since they were much older than the newer weapons the money to make them safer was not a priority.  Positions such as this make the reader boil and it is with a measure of hope that one can point to the retirement of the Titan II during the Reagan administration.  However, one must not feel too secure as Reagan spent $1.5 trillion on new weaponry during his administration, but at least $18 billion went to rectify some of the safety issues and address the concerns dealing with who was in charge and who would make decisions concerning nuclear weapons, better known as command and control.  Schlosser’s book is extremely unsettling in the post Cold War world where countries like Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran either have nuclear weapons or are very close to developing them, but despite the discomfort of learning the story Schlosser tells, he is to be commended for telling it.


At the conclusion of her new book, OPERATION PAPERCLIP: THE SECRET INTELLIGENCE PROGRAM THAT NAZI SCIENTISTS BROUGHT TO AMERICA, Annie Jacobsen discusses her battles with American military and intelligence authorities in trying to obtain documents relating to the employ of Nazi scientists by the United States Army and other government agencies following World War II.  In her discussion a common theme reaches fruition in 2012 as the Department of Defense finally declassified a 1945 list of Nazi doctors who were sought for “mercy killings and medical murder cases.”  On that list were seven Nazi doctors who were employed by the U.S. government even though “U.S. Army intelligence knew all along that these doctors were implicated in murder yet chose to classify the list and hire the doctors.” (437)  These doctors were hired as part of Operation Paperclip a postwar program designed to use the technological and medical knowledge of Nazi scientists for the benefit of American policy as the Cold War was burgeoning.  This raises a number of moral questions, the most important of which is when does a government draw the line in working with individuals who are guilty of directly or indirectly causing the death of tens of thousands of concentration camp victims, slave laborers, or innocent civilians.  In the case of the United States following World War II that line was invisible no matter what evidence existed that the individuals that the government was interested in had either engaged directly or indirectly in genocide.  For American officials following the war it was easy to dismiss evidence because in their eyes American national security interests trumped any documents that might interfere with their goal of using Nazi technological and medical advances to further the American agenda against the Soviet Union.

Anne Jacobsen has written a detailed and deeply researched study that raises numerous moral and philosophical questions as she explores the origin, implementation, and eventual downfall of Operation Paperclip.  She leaves no stone unturned as she ferrets out the stories and experiences relating to Wernher von Braun, the director of the German Army’s V2 rocket program and headed the Mittelbau-Dora Planning Office that oversaw experiments that resulted in the death of 30,000 out of 60,000 slave laborers he “hired” from the SS.  Other subjects include, Dr. Walter Schreiber, the Surgeon General of the Third Reich who carried out medical experiments on concentration camp victims for gas and bacterial warfare; Georg Rickhey, the General manager of the Mittlewerk slave labor facility; Otto Ambros, chemist and co discoverer of sarin gas and manager of IG Farben’s slave labor factory at Auschwitz; Dr. Kurt Blome, Deputy Surgeon General of the Reich; Major General Walter Dornberger who was in charge of V-weapons development and the technical officer in the Nordhausen slave labor tunnels; and Dr. Hubertus Strughold the wartime director for aviation research for the Reich.  These are just a few of the individuals that Jacobsen’s narrative exposes.  All are war criminals, and all participated in Operation Paperclip and developed important programs that the US military came to rely on during the Cold War, for example, Kurt Debus, an ardent Nazi and V-weapons flight test director who later became the first director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Jacobsen follows Operation Paperclip from its inception in 1945 as American authorities had to decide what to do with Hitler’s former scientists and engineers.  Proponents of Operation Paperclip decided to use Nazi scientists to assist in the war against Japan.  However, once the Japanese threat ended in August, 1945 and relations with the Soviet Union began to deteriorate the race to acquire as many scientists and technological experts before the Soviet Union could capture them gained momentum.  Jacobsen does an excellent job describing certain Nazi scientists and why their particular specialty was so important to the United States.  US policy for hiring German scientists was supposed to be based on the condition that “provided they were not known or alleged war criminals,” however this caveat was easily overlooked.  I found the mini-biographies that Jacobsen provides to be fascinating.  The author discusses many individuals that people with knowledge of World War II will easily recognize, i.e.; Hermann Goering, Albert Speer, and Heinrich Himmler, but the character studies of those not easily recognizable are the most fascinating.  Dr. Leopold Alexander, a Boston psychiatrist and German Jew left Germany in 1933 for a fellowship in China and never returned to his homeland.  He ended up working in a mental hospital outside Boston in 1934 and returned to Germany after the war to try and determine which of his former colleagues and students were guilty.  Alexander was shocked by the deviance of Nazi science and noted they did not practice science, but a “really depraved pseudoscientific criminality.”  Dr. Alexander also investigated crimes committed in the name of neuropsychiatry and neuropathology and in this capacity he came face to face with the odious Nazi belief of “untermenschen” that was the core of Hitler’s ideological framework and those individuals who implemented the murder thousands under the Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring carried out by Dr. Karl Kleist, a former neurology professor of Alexander.  We also meet Americans such as John J. McCloy who was in charge of setting up war crimes programs, but also coordinated policy regarding the transfer of Nazi scientists to the United States which he supported at the end of the war and later when he became High Commissioner for the American occupation zone replacing General Lucius Clay in 1949.  Not all Americans that Jacobsen integrates into the narrative were guilty of facilitating Operation Paperclip.  There were people like John Dolibois, a G2 Army intelligence officer who was sent to Dachau after its liberation to interrogate Nazi suspects and to investigate whether any important Nazis were hiding among the general prison population.  Dolibois was shocked by the reaction of the men he interrogated as they could not believe they were being prosecuted and they used the excuse that they “were only following orders.”  To their credit many State Department functionaries argued repeatedly to keep Nazi scientists who were proven criminals out of the United States, but the military establishment was difficult to defeat.

Jacobsen’s discussion of IG Farben and their development of sarin and tabun gases are eye opening especially when the same scientists are the ones who helped develop it for the United States.  Farben’s research reflects the depravity of the Nazi scientists, the same men whose expertise the US would use, rather than having these men face the prosecution and punishment they deserved.  It was not just chemists the US was interested in.  When the Washington Post uncovered “freezing experiments” conducted at Dachau were by men would be tortured, then frozen for a period of time, then Nazi doctors would try and revive them.   The fact that the Nazi biologists involved were already working for the US was kept from the public.  Throughout Operation Paperclip officials had to work just as hard recruiting scientists as they did keeping information away from Congress and the American public.  This led to covert programs to smuggle scientists into the United States or the American zone in what became West Germany on many occasions.

Perhaps the most interesting and disturbing chapter was entitled, “Science at Any Price,” which explained how the military was able to maneuver the State Department out of the business of approving visa for the Nazi scientists that they opposed admitting to the United States.  From that point on the Joint Intelligence Objective Agency (JIOA) that had been created by the War Department was in charge of Operation Paperclip and the policy became; any scientist the Russians were interested in would be of interest to the US.  By October, 1946 there were 233 German scientists in US military custody.  At the same time the New York Times made the public aware of Operation Paperclip, the army had to go on a charm offensive by bringing out the most “wholesome looking German scientists they had working for them.” (250)

Jacobsen artfully describes army cover-up tactics when one of their “new” employees had their Nazi past catch up to them, i.e., Georg Rickhey who oversaw production and the hanging of prisoners at Nordhausen, a rocket factory housed in a salt mine.  When Rickhey was arrested he was acquitted in the Dora-Nordhausen trial as the judges were military and the future of the American missile program took precedence.  Jacobsen weaves her narrative nicely with the use of trial transcripts and documents to support her thesis and reflects American angst that the Soviet Union was ahead in the “chemical warfare race.”  In fact Karl Krauck, IG Farben’s head chemist and Goering’s main advisor on chemicals was being recruited by the US at the same time he was on trial.  America’s rational was simple, “when working with ardent Nazis American handlers appear to have developed the ability to look the other way.  Others…..looked straight at the man and saw only the scientist, not the Nazi.” (300)

The Berlin Crisis that began on June 24, 1948 gave Operation Paperclip further momentum as the newly created CIA joined forces with the JIOA and led to the employ of Major General Reinhard Gehlen, the former head of  Nazi intelligence operations against the Soviet Union.  The US made a deal with the devil and put Gehlen’s organization at the forefront of the Cold War and made the Major General head of the entire American anti-communist intelligence operation.  Jacobsen also zeroes in on the cases of Otto Ambros, Dr. Walter Schreiber, and Dr. Kurt Blome exploring their Nazi past, their involvement in war crimes, and how they came to work for the United States.  Jacobsen follows that discussion with that of John J. McCloy’s commutation of Ambros’ and others sentences when he became High Commissioner, in part because of pressure from West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, and the outbreak of the Korean War.  A new shift in US policy evolved as it was now more important to be anti-communist as opposed to anti-Nazi.

The saga of Dr. Walter Schreiber as described by Jacobsen is emblematic of the American governments experience with former Nazi scientists after the war.  Schreiber was involved with medical experiments at Ravensbruck among his other crimes, but yet he was never prosecuted at Nuremberg.  In fact he became a Russian witness against his former colleagues at the trial.  His journey to the United States and his final eviction in 1952 is a twisted voyage that brings to the surface the role of the Air Force, CIA and other agencies that did everything they could bureaucratically to allow him to remain in the United States so that we could employ his knowledge of Nazi and Soviet chemical experiments.  In 1952 when his presence in Texas reached the Boston press and went national, the fear of scandal that could reach the highest levels of the Truman administration finally saw the government force him to emigrate to Argentina with his family.  What is evident is that being an anti-communist trumped being a Nazi war criminal.   If you could assist in the Cold War battle any past crimes could be glossed over and explained away in the name of national security.

Jacobsen completes her study by discussing the case of Arthur Rudolph, a man who oversaw slave labor at the Dora-Nordhausen complex where he was involved in working prisoners to death and a number of public hangings.  Rudolph had worked for the US military and NASA for thirty-eight years when he was finally expelled, but even as his role in the Third Reich became known in 1983 there were elements in NASA who claimed the Justice Department was engaged in a witch hunt.   Jacobsen’s magnificent study concludes by asking “What does last?  The desire to seek the truth? Or, in the words of Jean Michel, the ability to take a stand against the monstrous distortion of history when it gives birth to false, foul and suspect myths?”  This for me is the epitaph of Operation Paperclip, one of the most disturbing policies that the United States government has ever pursued.