INSIDE THE ARCHIVE OF AN LSD RESEARCHER WITH TIES TO THE CIA’S MKULTRA MIND CONTROL PROJECT by Tom O’Neill, Dan Piepenbring INTERCEPT, Nobvember 24, 2019

I found this article this morning.  It follows my review of yesterday, POISONER IN CHIEF by Stephen Kinzer

ON THE NIGHT of July 4, 1954, San Antonio, Texas, was shaken by the rape and murder of a 3-year-old girl. The man accused of these crimes was Jimmy Shaver, an airman at the nearby Lackland Air Force Base with no criminal record. Shaver claimed to have lost his memory of the incident.

The victim, 3-year-old Chere Jo Horton, had disappeared around midnight outside the Air Force Base, where her parents had left her in the parking lot outside a bar; she played with her brother while they had a drink inside. When they noticed her missing, they formed a search party.

Within an hour, the group came upon a car parked next to a gravel pit; Chere’s underwear was hanging from one of the car’s doors. Shaver wandered out of the darkness. He was shirtless, covered in blood and scratches. Making no attempt to escape, he let the search party walk him to the edge of the highway. Bystanders described him as “dazed” and in a “trance-like” state.

“What’s going on here?” he asked. He didn’t seem drunk, but he couldn’t say where he was, how’d he gotten there, or whose blood was all over him. Meanwhile, the search party found Horton’s body in the gravel pit. Her neck was broken, her legs had been torn open, and she’d been raped.

Deputies arrested Shaver. At 29, he was recently remarried with two children and no history of violence. He’d been at the same bar Horton had been abducted from, but he’d left with a friend, who told police that neither of them was drunk, though Shaver had seemed high on something. Before deputies could take Shaver to the county jail, a constable from another precinct arrived with orders from military police to assume custody of him.

Around four that morning, an air force marshal questioned Shaver and two doctors examined him, agreeing he wasn’t drunk. One later testified that he “probably was not normal … he was very composed outside, which I did not expect him to be under these circumstances.” He was released to the county jail and booked for rape and murder.

Investigators interrogated Shaver through the morning. When his wife came to visit, he didn’t recognize her. He gave his first statement at 10:30 a.m., adamant that another man was responsible: He could summon an image of a stranger with blond hair and tattoos. After the air force marshal returned to the jailhouse, however, Shaver signed a second statement taking full responsibility. Though he still didn’t remember anything, he reasoned, he must have done it.

Two months later, in September, Shaver’s memories still hadn’t returned. The commander of the base hospital, Col. Robert S. Bray, ordered a psychiatric evaluation, to be performed by Dr. Louis Jolyon West, the head of psychiatric services at the air base. It fell to West to decide if Shaver had been legally sane at the time of the murder.

Shaver spent the next two weeks under West’s supervision. They returned to the scene of the crime, trying to jog his memory. Later, West hypnotized Shaver and gave him an injection of sodium pentothal, or “truth serum,” to see if he could clear his amnesia.

While Shaver was under, according to testimony, he recalled the events of that night. He confessed to killing Horton. She’d brought out repressed memories of his cousin, “Beth Rainboat,” who’d sexually abused him as a child. Shaver had started drinking at home that night when he “had visions of God, who whispered into his ear to seek out and kill the evil girl Beth.”

While Shaver was under hypnosis, he confessed to killing the young girl. At trial, he maintained his innocence.

At the trial, West made only a minimal effort to exonerate Shaver. The airman was found guilty. Though an appeals court later ruled that he’d had an unfair trial, he was convicted again in the retrial. In 1958, on his 33rd birthday, he was executed by the electric chair. He maintained his innocence the whole time.

The trial, which hinged on Shaver’s testimony, might have ended differently had the jury known about West’s past. According to newly surfaced papers from West’s archives, the psychiatrist had some of the clearest, most nefarious ties of any scientist to the CIA’s Project MKUltra. West’s files — especially his correspondence with the CIA’s longtime poisons expert, Sidney Gottlieb — shed new light on one of the most infamous projects in the agency’s history. Likely comprising more than 149 subprojects and at least 185 researchers working at institutions across America and Canada, MKUltra was, as the New York Times put it, “a secret twenty-five year, twenty-five million dollar effort by the CIA to learn how to control the human mind.” Its experiments violated international laws, not to mention the agency’s charter, which forbids domestic activity.

At the trial, West maintained that Shaver had suffered a bout of temporary insanity on the night of Chere Jo Horton’s killing, but he argued that Shaver was “quite sane now.” In the courtroom, Shaver didn’t look that way. One newspaper account said he “sat through the strenuous sessions like a man in a trance,” saying nothing, never rising to stretch or smoke, though he was a known chain-smoker.

Large portions of West’s truth serum interview with Shaver were read into the court record. The doctor had used leading questions to walk the entranced Shaver through the crime. “Tell me about when you took your clothes off, Jimmy,” he’d said. The transcript of the interview, which survived among West’s papers, also showed West trying to prove that Shaver had repressed memories: “Jimmy, do you remember when something like this happened before?” Or: “After you took her clothes off, what did you do?”

“I never did take her clothes off,” Shaver said.

The interview was divided into thirds, and the middle third hadn’t been recorded. When the transcript picked up, it said: “Shaver is crying. He has been confronted with all the facts repeatedly.”

West asked, “Now you remember it all, don’t you, Jimmy?”

“Yes, sir,” Shaver replied.

Though lawyers scrutinized Shaver’s medical history, little mention was made of the base hospital where West’s archived letters indicate he had conducted his MKUltra experiments. Shaver had suffered from migraines so debilitating that he’d dunk his head in a bucket of ice water when he felt one coming on. His condition was severe enough that the Air Force had recommended him for a two-year experimental program. The doctor who’d attempted to recruit him was not named in court records or transcripts.

On the stand, West said he’d never gotten around to seeing whether Shaver had been treated in the experimental program. Lackland officials told me there was no record of him in their master index of patients. But, curiously, according to the base’s archivist, all the records for patients in 1954 had been maintained, with one exception: the file for last names beginning with “Sa” through “St” had vanished.

Dr. Louis Jolyon West in San Francisco, Calif., in 1976.

 

Photo: Lawrence Schiller/Polaris Communications/Getty Images

West’s professional fascination with LSD was practically as old as the drug itself. For several decades, he was one of an elite cadre of scientists using it in top-secret research. Lysergic acid diethylamide was synthesized in 1938 by chemists at Switzerland’s Sandoz Industries, but it was not introduced as a pharmaceutical until 1947. In the fifties, when the CIA began to experiment on humans with it, it was a new substance. Albert Hofmann, the Swiss scientist who’d discovered its hallucinogenic qualities in 1943, described it as a “sacred drug” that gestured toward “the mystical experience of a deeper, comprehensive reality.”

In the ’50s, even before hippies embraced the drug, “Very few people took LSD without having somebody being a ‘trip leader,’” Charles Fischer, a drug researcher, told me. The suggestibility from LSD was akin to that associated with hypnosis; West had studied the two in tandem. “You can tell somebody to hurt somebody, but you call it something else,” Fischer explained. “Hammer the nail into the wood, and the wood, perhaps, is a human being.”

West seems to have used chemicals liberally in his medical practice, and his tactics left an indelible mark on the psychiatrists who worked with him. One of them, Gilbert Rose, was so baffled by the Shaver case that he went on to write a play about it.

“In my 50 years in the profession, that was the most dramatic moment ever — when he clapped his hands to his face and remembered killing the girl,” Rose said in 2002 of Shaver and the truth serum interview. But Rose was shocked when I told him that West had hypnotized Shaver in addition to giving him sodium pentothal. Hypnotism, he said, was not part of the protocol for the interview.

He’d also never known how West had found out about the case right away.

“We were involved from the first day,” Rose recalled. “Jolly phoned me the morning of the murder. He initiated it.”

West claimed he was in the courtroom the day Shaver was sentenced to death. Around this time, he became vehemently opposed to capital punishment. Did he know his experiments might’ve led to the execution of an innocent man and the death of a child? If his correspondence with CIA head of MKUltra Gottlieb — predating the crime by just a year — had been presented at trial, would the outcome have been the same?

ALMOST AS SOON as they had access to it, government scientists saw LSD as a potential Cold War miracle drug. Full-fledged U.S. research into LSD began soon after the end of World War II, when American intelligence learned that the USSR was developing a program to influence human behavior through drugs and hypnosis. The United States believed that Soviets could extract information from people without their knowledge, program them to make false confessions, and perhaps persuade them to kill on command.

In 1949, the CIA, then in its infancy, launched Project Bluebird, a mind-control program that tested drugs on American citizens — most in federal penitentiaries or on military bases — who didn’t even know about, let alone consent to, the battery of procedures they underwent.

Their abuse found further justification in 1952, when, in Korea, captured American pilots admitted on national radio that they’d sprayed the Korean countryside with illegal biological weapons. It was a confession so beyond the pale that the CIA blamed communists: The POWs must have been “brainwashed.” The word, a literal translation of the Chinese “xi nao,” didn’t appear in English before 1950. It articulated a set of fears that had coalesced in postwar America: that a new class of chemicals could rewire and automate the human mind.

“You can tell somebody to hurt somebody, but you call it something else,” Fischer explained. “Hammer the nail into the wood, and the wood, perhaps, is a human being.”

When the American POWs returned, the Army brought in a team of scientists to “deprogram” them. Among those scientists was West. Born in Brooklyn in 1924, he had enlisted in the Air Force during World War II, eventually rising to the rank of colonel. His friends called him “Jolly,” for his middle name, impressive girth, and oversized personality. When he got out, he researched methods of controlling human behavior at Cornell University. He would later claim to have studied 83 prisoners of war, 56 of whom had been forced to make false confessions. He and his colleagues were credited with reintegrating the POWs into Western society and, maybe more important, getting them to renounce their claims about having used biological weapons.

West’s success with the POWs gained him entrance into the upper echelons of the intelligence community. Gottlieb, the poisons expert who headed the chemical division of the CIA’s Technical Services Staff, along with Richard Helms, the CIA’s chief of operations for the Directorate of Plans had convinced the agency’s then-director, Allen Dulles, that mind control ops were the future. Initially, the agency wanted only to prevent further potential brainwashing by the Soviets. But the defensive program became an offensive one. Operation Bluebird morphed into Operation Artichoke, a search for an all-purpose truth serum.

In a speech at Princeton University, Dulles warned that communist spies could turn the American mind into “a phonograph playing a disc put on its spindle by an outside genius.” Just days after those remarks, on April 13, 1953, he officially set Project MKUltra in motion.

Little is known about the program. After Watergate, Helms (who by that time was CIA director) ordered Gottlieb to destroy all MKUltra papers; in January 1973, the Technical Services staff shredded countless documents describing the use of hallucinogens.

In the mid-1970s, after the Times revealed the existence of MKUltra on its front page, the government launched three separate investigations, all of which were hobbled by the CIA’s destruction of its files:Vice President Nelson Rockefeller’s Commission on CIA Activities within the United States (1975); Senator Frank Church’s Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (1975-6); and Senators Edward Kennedy and Daniel Inouye’s joint Senate Select Committee hearings on Project MKUltra, the CIA’s Program of Research in Behavioral Modification (1977). When records were available, they were redacted; when witnesses were summoned to testify before Congress, they were forgetful.

We do know the project’s broadest goal was “to influence human behavior.” Under its umbrella were at least 149 subprojects, many involving research on unwitting participants. Gottlieb, whose aptitude and amorality earned him the nickname the “Black Sorcerer,” developed gadgetry straight out of schlocky sci-fi: high-potency stink bombs, swizzle sticks laced with drugs, exploding seashells, poisoned toothpaste. Having persuaded an Indianapolis pharmaceutical company to replicate the Swiss formula for LSD, the CIA had a limitless domestic supply of its favorite new drug. The agency hoped to produce couriers who could embed hidden messages in their brains, to implant false memories and remove true ones in people without their awareness, to convert groups to opposing ideologies, and more. The loftiest objective was the creation of hypno-programmed assassins.

The most sensitive work was conducted far from Langley — farmed out to scientists at colleges, hospitals, prisons, and military bases all over the United States and Canada. The CIA gave these scientists aliases, funneled money to them, and instructed them on how to conceal their research from prying eyes, including those of their unknowing subjects.

Their work encompassed everything from electronic brain stimulation to sensory deprivation to “induced pain” and “psychosis.” They sought ways to cause heart attacks, severe twitching, and intense cluster headaches. If drugs didn’t do the trick, they’d try to master ESP, ultrasonic vibrations, and radiation poisoning. One project tried to harness the power of magnetic fields.

MKUltra was so highly classified that when John McCone succeeded Dulles as CIA director late in 1961, he was not informed of its existence until 1963. Fewer than half a dozen agency brass were aware of it at any period during its 20-year history.

WEST HEADED THE psychiatry department at UCLA and the school’s renowned neuroscience center until his retirement in 1988. One day, among a batch of research papers on hypnosis in West’s archives there, I found letters between West and his CIA handler, “Sherman Grifford” — the cover name, according to John Marks’s “The Search for the Manchurian Candidate,” for Sidney Gottlieb. West, who had once written to a magazine editor that he had “never worked for the CIA,” had in fact worked closely with the agency’s “Black Sorcerer” himself.

The letters picked up midstream, with no prologue or preliminaries. The first was dated June 11, 1953, a mere two months after MKUltra started, when West was chief of the psychiatric service at the air base at Lackland.

Who would the guinea pigs be? West listed four groups: basic airmen, volunteers, patients, and “others, possibly including prisoners in the local stockade.”

Addressing Gottlieb as “S.G.,” West outlined the experiments he proposed to perform using a combination of psychotropic drugs and hypnosis. He began with a plan to discover “the degree to which information can be extracted from presumably unwilling subjects (through hypnosis alone or in combination with certain drugs), possibly with subsequent amnesia for the interrogation and/or alteration of the subject’s recollection of the information he formerly knew.” Another item proposed honing “techniques for implanting false information into particular subjects … or for inducing in them specific mental disorders.” He hoped to create “couriers” who would carry “a long and complex message” embedded secretly in their minds, and to study “the induction of trance-states by drugs.” His list lined up perfectly with the goals of MKUltra.

“Needless to say,” West added, the experiments “must eventually be put to test in practical trials in the field.” To this end, he asked Gottlieb for “some sort of carte blanche.”

Who would the guinea pigs be? He listed four groups: basic airmen, volunteers, patients, and “others, possibly including prisoners in the local stockade.” Only the volunteers would be paid. The others could be unwilling, and, though it wasn’t spelled out, unwitting. It would be easier to preserve his secrecy if he were “inducing specific mental disorders” in people who already exhibited them. “Certain patients requiring hypnosis in therapy, or suffering from dissociative disorders (trances, fugues, amnesias, etc.) might lend themselves to our experiments.” Official investigations into MKUltra yielded little information about its subjects, but West’s letter suggests that the program cast a wide net.

Gottlieb’s reply came on letterhead from “Chemrophyl Associates,” a front company he used to correspond with MKUltra subcontractors. “My Good Friend,” he wrote, “I had been wondering whether your apparent rapid and comprehensive grasp of our problems could possibly be real. … you have indeed developed an admirably accurate picture of exactly what we are after. For this I am deeply grateful.”

Gottlieb saluted his new recruit: “We have gained quite an asset in the relationship we are developing with you.”

West returned the camaraderie: “It makes me very happy to realize that you consider me ‘an asset,’” he replied. “Surely there is no more vital undertaking conceivable in these times.”

IN 1954, around the same time as Chere Jo Horton’s murder, West began to split his time between Lackland and the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine, where he would lead the psychiatry department.

West had told his prospective employer that his Lackland duties were “purely clinical” and that he’d “been doing no research, classified or otherwise” — and he asked the board of directors at Oklahoma for permission to accept money from the Geschickter Fund for Medical Research, which he called “a non-profit private research foundation.” In fact, as the CIA later acknowledged, Geschickter was another of Gottlieb’s fictions, a shell organization enabling him.

In 1956, West reported back to the CIA that the experiments he’d begun in 1953 had at last come to fruition. In a 1956 paper titled “The Psychophysiological Studies of Hypnosis and Suggestibility,” he claimed to have achieved the impossible: He knew how to replace “true memories” with “false ones” in human beings without their knowledge. Without detailing specific incidents, he put it in layman’s terms: “It has been found to be feasible to take the memory of a definite event in the life of an individual and, through hypnotic suggestion, bring about the subsequent conscious recall to the effect that this event never actually took place, but that a different (fictional) event actually did occur.” He’d done it, he claimed, by administering “new drugs” effective in “speeding the induction of the hypnotic state and in deepening the trance that can be produced in given subjects.”

At the National Security Archives in D.C., I found the version of “The Psychophysiological Studies of Hypnosis and Suggestibility” that the CIA turned over to Senators Kennedy and Inouye in 1977. West’s name and affiliation were redacted, as expected. But the CIA’s version was also shorter, and watered down in comparison. West’s document was 14 pages. This one was five, including a cover page. Most glaringly, there was no mention of West’s triumphant accomplishment, the replacement of “the memory of a definite event in the life of an individual” with a “fictional event.”

One passage, not in West’s original, claims the CIA never used LSD in studies at all: “The effects of [LSD and other drugs] upon the production, maintenance, and manifestations of disassociated states has never been studied.”

West, of course, had studied those effects for years. But when it came to elaborating on his findings about implanting memories and controlling thoughts, even in the paper found in West’s own files, he offered few details. He seems to have been in a rudimentary phase of his research. Acid, he wrote, made people more difficult to hypnotize; it was better to pair hypnosis with long bouts of isolation and sleep deprivation. Using hypnotic suggestion, he claimed, “a person can be told that it is now a year later and during the course of this year many changes have taken place…so that it is now acceptable for him to discuss matters that he previously felt he should not discuss…An individual who insists he desires to do one thing will reveal that secretly he wishes just the opposite.”

Had the CIA doctored West’s original document to mislead the Senate committee? And if so, why would the agency have gone to so much trouble to hide experimental findings that weren’t ultimately all that revealing? Agency officials claimed the program had been a colossal failure, leading to mocking headlines like the “The Gang That Couldn’t Spray Straight.” Perhaps the agency wanted the world to assume that MKUltra was a bust, and to forget the whole thing.

THE CIA SEEMS to have pared MKUltra back in the mid-’60s, according to congressional testimony and surviving financial records, but Jolly West’s government-funded research continued apace. Late in the fall of 1966, West arrived in San Francisco to study hippies and LSD. Tall, broad, and crew cut, with an all-American look in keeping with his military past, he cobbled together a new wardrobe and started skipping haircuts. He secured a government grant and took a yearlong sabbatical from the University of Oklahoma, nominally to pursue a fellowship at Stanford, although that school had no record of his participation in a program there.

When he arrived in Haight-Ashbury, West was the only scientist in the world who’d predicted the emergence of potentially violent “LSD cults” such as Charles Manson’s Family. In a 1967 psychiatry textbook, West had contributed a chapter called “Hallucinogens,” warning students of a “remarkable substance” percolating through college campuses and into cities. LSD was known to leave users “unusually susceptible and emotionally labile.” It appealed to alienated kids who would crave “shared forbidden activity in a group setting to provide a sense of belonging.”

Acid, he wrote, made people more difficult to hypnotize; it was better to pair hypnosis with long bouts of isolation and sleep deprivation.

Another of his papers, 1965’s “Dangers of Hypnosis,” foresaw the rise of dangerous groups led by “crackpots” who hypnotized their followers into violent criminality. He cited two cases: a double murder in Copenhagen committed by a hypno-programmed man, and a “military offense” induced experimentally at an undisclosed U.S. Army base. (It’s not at all clear that the latter referred to Shaver’s killing of Chere Jo Horton.)

He’d also supervised a study in Oklahoma City, in which he’d hired informants to infiltrate teenage gangs and engender “a fundamental change” in “basic moral, religious or political matters.” The title of the project was “Mass Conversion,” and it had been funded by Gottlieb.

In the Haight, West arranged for the use of a crumbling Victorian house on Frederick Street, where he set up what he described as a “laboratory disguised as a hippie crash pad.” The “pad” opened in June 1967, at the dawn of the summer of love. He installed six graduate students in the “pad,” telling them to “dress like hippies” and “lure” itinerant kids into the apartment. Passersby were welcome to do as they pleased and stay as long as they liked, as long as they didn’t mind grad students taking notes on their behavior.

According to records in West’s files, his “crash pad” was funded by the Foundations Fund for Research in Psychiatry, Inc., which had bankrolled a number of his other projects, too, across decades and institutions. Dr. Gordon Deckert, West’s successor as chair at the University of Oklahoma, told me that he found papers in West’s desk that revealed that the Foundations Fund was a front for the CIA.

This wouldn’t have been the agency’s first “disguised laboratory” in San Francisco. A few years earlier, the evocatively titled Operation Midnight Climax had seen CIA operatives open at least three Bay Area safe houses disguised as upscale bordellos, kitted out with one-way mirrors and kinky photographs. A spy named George Hunter White and his colleagues hired prostitutes to entice prospective johns to the homes, where the men were served cocktails laced with acid. The goal was to see if LSD, paired with sex, could be used to coax sensitive information from the men. White later wrote to his CIA handler, “I was a very minor missionary, actually a heretic, but I toiled wholeheartedly in the vineyards because it was fun, fun, fun.”

At the Haight-Ashbury pad, though, West’s motives were vague. No one seemed to have a firm grasp of the project’s purpose — not even those involved in it. The grad students hired to staff West’s “crash pad” lab were assigned to keep diaries of their work. In unguarded moments, nearly all of these students admitted that something didn’t add up. They weren’t sure what they were supposed to be doing, or why West was there. And often he wasn’t there.

One of the diaries in West’s files belonged to a Stanford psychology grad student who lived at the pad that summer. The experience was aimless to the point of worthlessness, she wrote. When “crashers” showed up, “no one made much of a point of finding out about [them].” More often, hippies failed to show up at all, since many of them apparently looked on the pad with suspicion. “What the hell is Jolly doing, it is like a zoo,” the student fumed. “Is he studying us or them?”

When West made one of his rare appearances, he was dressed like a “silly hippie”; sometimes he brought friends to the house. Their general attitude, she wrote, “was that this was a good opportunity to have fun. … They spent a good deal of the time stoned.” She added, “I feel like no one is being honest and straight and the whole thing is a gigantic put on. … What is he trying to prove? He is interested in drugs, that is clear. What else?”

IN DECEMBER 1974, MKUltra finally came to light in a terrific flash of headlines and intrigue. Seymour Hersh reported it on the front page of the Times: “Huge C.I.A. Operation Reported in U.S. Against Antiwar Forces.” The three government investigations that followed — the Rockefeller Commission, Church Committee, and the Kennedy-Inouye Select Committee hearings — looked into illegal domestic activities of various federal intelligence agencies, including wiretapping, mail opening, and unwitting drug testing of U.S. citizens.

The Church Committee’s final report unveiled a 1957 internal evaluation of MKUltra by the CIA’s inspector general. “Precautions must be taken,” the document warned, “to conceal these activities from the American public in general. The knowledge that the agency is engaging in unethical and illicit activities would have serious repercussions.” A 1963 review from the inspector general put it even more gravely: “A final phase of the testing of MKUltra products places the rights and interests of U.S. citizens in jeopardy.”

The Church Committee found that MKUltra had caused the deaths of at least two American citizens. One was a psychiatric patient who’d been injected with a synthetic mescaline derivative. The other was Frank Olson, a military-contracted scientist who’d been unwittingly dosed with LSD at a small agency gathering in the backwoods of Maryland presided over by Gottlieb himself. Olson fell into an irreparable depression afterward, which led him to hurl himself out the window of a New York City hotel where agents had brought him for “treatment.” (Continued investigation by Olson’s son, Eric — dramatized by Errol Morris in the series “Wormwood” — strongly suggests that the CIA arranged for the agents to fake his suicide, throwing him out of the window because they feared he would blow the whistle on MKUltra and the military’s use of biological weapons in the Korean War.)

The news of Olson’s death shocked a nation already reeling from Watergate, and now less inclined than ever to trust its institutions. The government tried to quell the controversy by passing new regulations on human experimentation. Gottlieb’s destruction of the MKUltra files was investigated by the Justice Department in 1976, but, according to the Times, “quietly dropped.” Gottlieb had testified before the Senate in 1977 only under the condition that he received criminal immunity.

The Senate demanded the formation of a federal program to locate the victims of MKUltra experiments, and to pursue criminal charges against the perpetrators. That program never coalesced. Surviving records named 80 institutions, including 44 universities and colleges, and 185 researchers, among them Louis Jolyon West. The Times identified West as one of less than a dozen suspected scientists who’d secretly participated in MKUltra under academic cover.

Yet not one researcher was ever federally investigated, nor were any victims ever notified. Despite the outrage of congressional leaders and more than three years of headlines about the brutalities of the program, no one — not the “Black Sorcerer” Sidney Gottlieb, nor senior CIA official Richard Helms, nor Jolly West — suffered any legal consequences.

This article is an adapted excerpt from “Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties.”

America and the Holocaust: Should the United States have done more? (a mini-course)

AMERICA AND THE HOLOCAUST: SHOULD THE UNITED STATES HAVE DONE MORE?

Steven Z. Freiberger, Ph.D.

szfreiberger@gmail.com

http://www.docs-books.com

One of the most contentious debates pertaining to World War II deals with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s role in trying to mitigate the horrors of the Holocaust. Many argue that Roosevelt was a political animal who based his position on the plight of world Jewry on political calculation and did little to offset Nazi terror; others argue that FDR did as much as possible based on conditions domestically and abroad.  Some authors reach the conclusion that FDR’s views were consistent throughout the war and he was “politically and emotionally stingy when it came to the plight of the Jews-even given that he had no easy remedies for a specific Jewish tragedy in Europe.”  Many authors argue that “FDR avoided positions that might put at risk his broader goals of mobilizing anti-Nazi opposition and gaining freedom to act in foreign affairs,” for example dealing with the refugee crisis, the issue of Palestine, immigration, and organizing the defeat of Nazi Germany.  Authors often describe the fear of domestic anti-Semitism, especially in the State Department; the inability of American Jews to present a united front; the role of the War Department; and presidential politics.  Overall, this is an important issue that dominates the headlines today; what is the “appropriate response of an American president to humanitarian crises abroad and at home?”

Schedule:

September 9, 2019      Introduction and Background for American immigration policy leading up to World War II

September 16, 2019     The Rise of and Implementation of Nazism and its impact on Jews and American immigration policy

September 23, 2019     America and the Holocaust/Role of Franklin D. Roosevelt

October 7, 2019 Film: The American Experience: America and the Holocaust and discussion

Brief bibliography:

Beir, Robert L.; Josepher, Brian, ROOSEVELT AND THE HOLOCAUST

Breitman, Richard; Lichtman, Alan, FDR AND THE JEWS

Erbelding, Rebecca, RESCUE BOARD: THE UNTOLD STORY OF AMERICA’S EFFORTS TO SAVE THE JEWS OF EUROPE

Feingold, Henry, THE POLITICS OF RESCUE: THE ROOSEVELT ADMINISTRATION AND THE HOLOCAUST           1938-1945

Feingold, Henry, BEARING WITNESS: HOW AMERICA AND ITS JEWS RESPONDED TO THE HOLOCAUST

Gilbert, Martin, AUSCHWITZ AND THE ALLIES

Laqueur, Walter, THE TERRIBLE SECRET: THE SUPRESSION OF THE TRUTH ABOUT HITLER’S FINAL SOLUTION

Leff, Laurel, BURIED IN THE TIMES: THE HOLOCAUST AND AMERICA’S MOST IMPORTANT NEWSPAPER

Lipstadt, Deborah, BEYOND BELIEF: THE AMERICAN PRESS AND THE COMING OF THE HOLOCAUST 1933-1945

Morse, Arthur, WHILE SIX MILLION DIED

Neufeld, Michael; Berenbaum, Michael, Eds., THE BOMBING OF AUSCHWITZ: SHOULD THE ALLIES HAVE ATTEMPTED IT?

Okrent, Daniel, THE GUARDED GATE: BIGOTRY, EUGENICS, AND THE LAW THAT KEPT TWO GENERATIONS OF JEWS, ITALIANS AND OTHER EUROPEAN IMMIGRANTS OUT OF AMERICA

Rolde, Neil, BRECKENRIDGE LONG, AMERICAN EICHMANN??? AN ENQUIRY INTO THE CHARACTER OF THE MAN WHO DENIED VISAS TO THE JEWS

Rosen, Robert N., SAVING THE JEWS: FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT AND THE HOLOCAUST

Rubinstein, William D. THE MYTH OF RESCUE: WHY THE DEMOCRACIES COULD NOT HAVE SAVED MORE JEWS FROM THE NAZIS

Shogan, Robert, PRELUDE TO Catastrophe: FDR’S JEWS AND THE MENACE OF NAZISM

Steinhouse, Carl, THE SHAMEFUL REFUSAL OF FDR’S STATE DEPARTMENT TO SAVE TENS OF THOUSANDS OF EUROPEAN JEWS FROM EXTERMINATION

Wallace, Gregory J. AMERICA’S SOUL IN THE BALANCE

Wasserstein, Bernard, BRITAIN AND THE JEWS OF EUROPE, 1949-1945

Wyman, David, THE ADANDONMENT OF THE JEWS: AMERICA AND THE HOLOCAUST 1941-1945

Wyman, David, PAPER WALLS: AMERICA AND THE REFUGEE CRISIS 1938-1941

GRAND IMPROVISATION: AMERICA CONFRONTS THE BRITISH SUPER POWER, 1945-1957 by Derek Leebaert

Image result for map of british empire 1945

“Americans don’t do grand strategy.”

(Oliver Franks, British Ambassador to the United States, 1953)

From the outset of his new work, GRAND IMPROVISATION: AMERICA CONFRONTS THE BRITISH SUPER POWER, 1945-1957 Derek Leebaert puts forth the premise that the idea that the British were about to liquidate their empire because of financial and military weakness after World War II was fallacious.  Further, that the United States was fully prepared to assume the leadership of the west and would do so while creating an American led international order that we’ve lived with ever since was equally false.  Leebaert’s conclusions are boldly stated as he reevaluates the historical community that for the most part has disagreed with his assumptions over the years.  The author rests his case on assiduous research (just check the endnotes) and uncovering documents that have not been available or used previously.  Leebaert argues his case very carefully that American foreign policy in the post war era was very improvisational as it tried to develop a consistent policy to confront what it perceived be a world-wide communist surge.  Leebaert argues that it took at least until 1957 at the conclusion of the Suez Crisis for London to finally let go of their position as a first-rate power with a dominant empire, allowing the United States to fill the vacuum that it created.  No matter how strong Leebaert believes his argument to be I would point out that events in India, Pakistan, Palestine, the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine, the creation of NATO, and the American loan of $3.75 billion all of which occurred before 1948 should raise a few questions concerning his conclusions.

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(British Prime Minister Winston Churchill)

Despite the assuredness with which Leebaert presents his case there are merits to his argument and the standard interpretation that has long been gospel deserves a rethinking.  His thesis rests on a series of documents that he has uncovered.  The most important of which is National Security Document 75 that was presented to President Truman on July 15, 1950.  Leebaert contends that this 40-page analysis has never been seen by historians and its conclusions are extremely important.  NSC 75’s purpose was to conduct an audit of the far-flung British Empire concentrating on its ability to meet its military commitments and determine how strong the United Kingdom really was, as men including John J. McCloy, Paul Nitze, David K. Bruce, and Lewis Douglas feared what would happen if the British Empire collapsed.   All important agencies in the American government took part in this analysis; the CIA, the Pentagon, the Treasury and State Departments and reached some very interesting judgments.  The document concluded that “the British Empire and Commonwealth” still had the capacity to meet its military obligations with an army of close to a million men.  Leebaert argues that “there had been no retreat that anyone could categorize, in contrast to adjustment, and no need was expected for replacement.  Nor could American energy and goodwill substitute for the British Empire’s experienced global presence.  As for the need to vastly expand US forces overseas, that wasn’t necessary.  Instead the United States should support its formidable ally, which included backing its reserve currency.” (234)  For Leebaert this document alone changes years of Cold War historiography.

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(President Harry S. Truman and Secretary of State George C. Marshall)

Harold Evans points out in his October 18, New York Times review that Leebaert offers other persuasive points that mitigate any American take over from the British due to their perceived weakness.  First, British military and related industries produced higher proportions of wartime output than the United States well into the 1950s.  Second, Britain was ahead in life sciences, civil nuclear energy, and jet aviation than America.  Third, England maintained the largest military presence on the Rhine once the United States withdrew its forces at the end of the war.  Fourth, British intelligence outshone “American amateurs.”  This being the case Leebaert’s thesis has considerable merit, but there are areas that his thesis does not hold water, particularly that of the condition of the English economy, dollar reserves, and how British trade was affected by the weakness of the pound sterling.

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(British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin)

Leebaert’s revisionist approach centers on a few historical figures; some he tries to resurrect their reputations, others to bring them to the fore having been seemingly ignored previously.  The author’s portrayal of British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin is a key to his presentation.  As the leader of the Labour Party, Bevin held leftist anti-colonial beliefs, but once in power the realities of empire, economics, and politics brought about a marked change particularly as it involved the Middle East, London’s role in any attempt at a European federation, the devaluation of the pound sterling, the need to create an Anglo-American bond, and numerous other areas.  Leebaert goes out of his way to defend Bevin in several areas, especially charges that he was anti-Semitic in dealing with the situation in Palestine.  Other individuals discussed include John Wesley Snyder who had strong relationships with President Truman and Secretary of State Marshall, who as Secretary of the Treasury oversaw the transition of the US economy to peacetime and was the driving force behind the Marshall Plan.  The American Ambassador to Great Britain, Lewis Douglas also fits this category as does Commissioner General Malcom MacDonald, who oversaw British policy in the Pacific from his position in Singapore, the hub of British Pacific power.

Leebaert’s narrative includes the history of the major Cold War events of the 1945-1950.  His discussion of the situation in Greece and Turkey including Bevin and US Admiral Leahy’s bluffs in negotiations that resulted in the Truman Doctrine and $400 million in aid to Greece and Turkey.  The Berlin Crisis, the Soviet murder of Jan Masaryk, Mao’s victory in China and what it meant for Hong Kong and Taiwan, and the Korean War are all presented in detail.

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(George of Kennan, Ambassador to Russia; Head of the State Department Policy Planning Staff)

Perhaps Leebaert’s favorite character in supporting his thesis is Walter Lippmann, the American journalist who had difficulty deciding whether the British were using the United States as a foil against the Soviet Union, or as a vehicle to fill any vacuums that might avail themselves should England retrench.  But eventually Lippmann concluded that Washington believed that the British Empire would contain the Soviet Union all by itself, not the actions of an empire that was about to fold and pass the torch to the United States.

Leebaert is not shy about putting certain historical figures on the carpet and shattering their reputations.  Chief among these people is George F. Kennan, who was Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Head of the State Department Policy Planning staff among his many diplomatic positions.  For Leebaert the idea that Kennan was a “giant of diplomacy” as he was described by Henry Kissinger is a misnomer to say the least.  He finds Kennan to be emotional, careless, impulsive, and “frequently amateurish.”  Further, he believes Kennan was often ignorant about certain areas, particularly the Middle East and Japan, and lacked a rudimentary knowledge of economics.  But for Leebaert this did not stop Kennan from offering his opinions and interfering in areas that he lacked any type of expertise.

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(British Commissioner General Malcom MacDonald)

The situation in Southeast Asia was crucial for the British as seen through the eyes of Malcom MacDonald.  He firmly believed that if Indochina fell Thailand would follow as would the British stronghold of Malaya.  British trade and investment would be cut and wouldn’t be able to strengthen their recovering European allies, thus ending any American hope of a self-reliant North-Atlantic partnership. According to Leebaert, it was imperative to get Washington to support Bao Dai as leader of Vietnam and MacDonald made the case to the Americans better than the French.  If nothing was done the entire area would be lost to the communists.  Leebaert interestingly points out that in the 1930s when it appeared, he might become Prime Minister some day he backed Neville Chamberlain at Munich, now in the early 1950s he did not want to be seen as an appeaser once again.

At the same time disaster was unfolding on the Korean peninsula and Washington kept calling for British troops to assist MacArthur’s forces at Pusan.  The Atlee government did not respond quickly, and with British recognition of Mao’s regime and continued trade with Beijing, along with its attitude toward Taiwan, resulting in fissures between the British and the United States.  With Bevin ill, Kenneth Younger, the Minister of State argued that London could not be spread too thin because they could not leave Iran, Suez, Malaya, or Hong Kong unguarded.  Interestingly, Leebaert points out at the time the only real Soviet military plan was geared against Tito’s Yugoslavia.  The difference between Washington and London was clear – the British had global concerns, the Americans were obsessed with Korea.  Finally, by the end of August 1950 London dispatched 1500 soldiers, a year later 20,000 Commonwealth soldiers would be involved in combat operations.

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(President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles)

Leebaert’s premise that the British would not forgo empire until the results of the Suez Crisis was a few years off.  By 1951 strong signals emerged that the empire was about to experience further decline with events in Iran and Egypt taking precedence.  If Islamists focused on anti-communism in these areas the British were safe, but when they began to turn their focus to nationalism London would be in trouble.  Domestically, Britain was also in difficulty as financial news was very dispiriting. Due to the Korean War and the US demand for industrial goods the total cost for imports shot up markedly.  This caused a balance of payments problem and the pound sterling plummeted once again.  The cold winter exacerbated the economy even further as another coal shortage took place.  It seemed that the British people had to deal with the rationing of certain items, but the defeated Germany did not.  Further, by 1952 Mau Mau uprisings in Kenya began to take their toll causing London to face another external challenge.

The British strategy toward the United States was to stress the anti-communism fear in dealing with Egypt and Iran.  In Egypt, King Farouk was a disaster and the British feared for the Suez Canal.  In Iran, the English fear centered around the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company which had been ripping off Teheran for decades.  An attempt to ameliorate the situation came to naught as the company was nationalized and eventually in 1953 the British and American staged a coup that overthrew the elected Prime Minister, Mohamed Mossadegh.  In Egypt nationalism would also become a major force that London could not contain resulting in the 1952 Free Officers Movement that brought to power Gamel Abdul Nasser.  In each instance Washington took on an even more important role, and some have argued that the CIA was complicit in fostering a change in the Egyptian government.  In addition, Dwight Eisenhower became president and John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State.  Despite newly elected Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s hope that the World War II relationship could be rekindled, Eisenhower saw the British as colonialists who were hindering US foreign policy, in addition the relationship between Dulles and British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden was at rock bottom.  It became increasingly clear that the Eisenhower administration wanted to avoid being perceived as acting in concert with Britain in dealing with colonial issues, except in the case of Iran which the United States is still paying for because of its actions.

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(British Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden)

Regarding Indochina, the United States and England could not reach any demarche as regards the plight of the French visa vie the Vietminh, particularly as the battle of Dienbienphu played out.  Leebaert does an excellent job recounting the play by play between Dulles and Eden, Eisenhower and Churchill as the US and England saw their relations splintering as negotiations and the resulting recriminations proved fruitless. This inability to come together over Southeast Asia would have grave implications in other areas.

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(British Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden and Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill)

In another region, the Eisenhower administration would embark on a strategy to create some sort of Middle East Defense Organization to hinder Soviet penetration.  This strategy, whether called a “Northern Tier” or the “Baghdad Pact” of Turkey, Pakistan, and Iran or other nomenclatures created difficulties with Britain who sought to use such an alliance as a vehicle to maintain their influence in the region, particularly in Jordan and Iraq.  British machinations would irritate Washington as Eden and company resented American pressure to withdraw from the Suez Canal Base and other issues.  The result would be an alliance between England, France, and Israel to topple Nasser in Egypt.  The alliance was misconceived and would evolve into a break between the United States and its Atlantic allies even to the effect of the Eisenhower administration working behind the scenes to topple the Eden government and bring about the Eisenhower Doctrine signaling that the British had lost its leadership position and was no longer considered a “major power.”

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(Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser)

I must point out that I have written my own monograph that deals with major aspects of Leebaert’s thesis, DAWN OVER SUEZ: THE RISE OF AMERICAN POWER IN THE MIDDLE EAST 1953-1957.  My own research concludes that the United States actively worked to replace Britain as the dominant force in the Middle East as early as May 1953 when John F. Dulles visited the region and came back appalled by British colonialism.  Leebaert leaves out a great deal in discussing the period; the role of the US in forcing Churchill into agreeing to the Heads of Agreement to withdraw from the Suez Canal Base; the failure of secret project Alpha and the Anderson Mission to bring about a rapprochement between Israel and Egypt and its implications for US policy; the disdain that the Americans viewed Eden, the extent of American ire at the British for undercutting their attempts at a Middle East Defense Organization by their actions in Iraq and Jordan; the role of US anger over the Suez invasion because it ruined  a coup set to take place in Syria; and the Eisenhower administrations machinations behind the scenes to remove Eden as Prime Minister to be replaced by Harold Macmillan.  In addition, the author makes a series of statements that are not supported by any citations; i.e.; Eisenhower’s support for finding a way to fund the Aswan Dam after Nasser had nationalized the Suez Canal; attempts to poison Nasser etc.

Overall however, Leebaert has written a monograph that should raise many eyebrows for those who have accepted the Cold War narrative of the last six decades.  There are many instances where he raises questions, provides answers that force the reader to conclude that these issues should be reexamined considering his work.  At a time when the United States is struggling to implement a consistent worldview in the realm of foreign policy it is important for policy makers to consider the plight of the British Empire following World War II and how Washington’s inability  to confront world issues in a reasoned and measured way and develop a long term strategy fostered a pattern that has created many difficulties that continue to dog us today.

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TRUMP SUCCUMBS TO THE DIRECTORATE OF DICTATORSHIP (as opposed to the “Axis of Evil!)

 

I have been studying the balance of power in the Middle East since 1967. That being said, I believe I have some perspective as to what is in play in the region and how it affects American national security. Trump’s decision by tweet yesterday can only be seen as based on total ignorance(he probably thinks Lebanon is the city in Pennsylvania) and one has to wonder how the Directorate of Dictatorship, Putin, Assad, and Erdogan factor into the move. To say Trump is Putin’s “poodle” goes without saying, but to abandon our Kurdish allies who have fought and died to defeat ISIS is sad and extremely consequential. Historically, we have “screwed/abandoned” the Kurds before be it in dealing with Saddam Hussein or other parties, but because the Turks hate the PKK we have to kowtow to our supposed NATO ally. If any evidence is needed to see how Trump feels about his Turkish bro just look at how General Flynn tried to gain the extradition of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Erdogan blames for the coup against him, to Ankara.

Maybe I am reading too much into this. Perhaps it is Trump being Trump as he tries to remove the Russia probe, the disbanding of his foundation by the state of New York, and the parade of his former associates before the legal system and flipping from the headlines. By pulling troops out of Syria he somewhat removes his domestic legal problems from newspaper bylines as Pentagon officials, foreign policy experts, and even Republicans speak out against his inability to comprehend the needs of US national security. Trump can send two thousand troops to the southern border to meet the non-existent caravans of “drug runners and rapists” (by the way we don’t hear much about this since the midterm elections except when a seven year old girl dies), but we cannot maintain our presence in Syria to prevent a resurgence of ISIS. Trump has declared victory, I seem to remember another American president did the same thing on an air craft carrier a number of years ago.

Who is the winner here – very simple; The Directorate of Dictatorship, and by the way I believe the Iranians are having a chuckle. Who are the losers? American allies, the Kurdish people, and in the long run the American people.

Putin backs Trump’s move to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, says Islamic State dealt ‘serious blows’


Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual news conference in Moscow on December 20, 2018. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)

December 20 at 7:45 AM

 Russian President Vladimir Putin praised President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, describing the American presence there as illegitimate and the Islamic State as largely defeated on the ground.

Putin told journalists at his annual year-end news conference that the Islamic State has suffered “serious blows” in Syria.

“On this, Donald is right. I agree with him,” Putin said.

Trump said Wednesday that the Islamic State has been defeated in Syria, although analysts say the militant group remains a deadly force. Russia — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s most powerful ally — turned the tide in the civil war in Assad’s favor and has maintained its military presence there.

Moments after Putin’s statement, Trump tweeted about his decision to withdraw troops. He noted the presence of Russian, Iranian and Syrian forces, also enemies of the Islamic State, and said the United States was doing their work for them.

“Time for others to finally fight,” he said in a follow up tweet.

Days before Trump announces victory over ISIS, officials were preparing for a long engagement

The Trump administration is planning to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria immediately. The president tweeted Dec. 19 that the U.S. had defeated ISIS in Syria. 

 

Putin said the U.S. troop deployment to Syria, by contrast, was illegitimate because neither Assad’s government nor the United Nations had approved the U.S. mission.

“If the United States decided to withdraw its force, then this would be proper,” Putin said.

Russia has been negotiating a political settlement to the civil war in Syria with Assad, neighboring Turkey and Russia’s ally Iran. The presence of U.S. troops was not helpful for achieving such a settlement, Putin said.

He cautioned, however, that Russia was not yet seeing signs of a U.S. troop withdrawal.

“The United States has been in Afghanistan already for 17 years, and almost every year they say they’re withdrawing their troops,” Putin said.

INF Treaty walked U.S., Russia back from a Cold War nuclear showdown

The United States’ plan to scrap this Cold War treaty raises fears of another nuclear arms buildup. 

Putin also — again — took Trump’s side in defending his 2016 election victory, which critics say was tainted by Russian interference (which Russia denies). He drew a parallel to Britain, where politicians are in a bitter fight over how to implement the referendum vote in 2016 to exit the European Union.

The result, Putin suggested, was a crisis of democracy across the West. Western officials say that fomenting such a crisis is in fact the goal of Russian propaganda and influence efforts in Europe and the United States.

“People don’t want to acknowledge this victory — isn’t that disrespect for the voters?” Putin said of Trump’s success in the 2016 election. “Or in Britain, Brexit passed and no one wants to implement it. They’re not accepting the results of elections. Democratic procedures are being weakened, they’re being destroyed.”

Putin was tougher on Trump on the issue of arms control. He said there are currently no negotiations with the United States on extending a soon-to-expire nuclear arms control treaty, raising the risk of a situation that would be “very bad for humanity.”

The New START treaty limits the numbers of nuclear warheads deployed by Russia and the United States, and it is set to expire in 2021.

“There are no negotiations on extending it,” Putin said at the wide-ranging news conference. “It’s not interesting or not needed — fine then.”

Putin has long sought to bring the United States to the table on nuclear arms control talks. Analysts say that is in part because it is one of the only international issues on which Moscow and Washington can face each other as equals.

But Trump and his national security adviser, John Bolton, have expressed skepticism of the existing arms control architecture. Trump has already announced plans to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which bans the United States and Russia from having missiles with a range between 300 and 3,500 miles.

With the likely demise of the INF Treaty, New START would be the last major agreement limiting the world’s two biggest nuclear arsenals. If New START expires, “we will ensure our security,” Putin said. “We know how to do it. But this is very bad for humanity because it leads us to a very dangerous line.”

Opinion An Antidote to Idiocy in ‘Churchill’ In this season of giving, get (and give) Andrew Roberts’s brilliant new biography.

As a former educator and historian, though I do not think the term “former” should ever apply in this context, I have become more and more amazed at our lack of historical knowledge and how it impacts us on a daily basis. All we have to do is examine the first eighteen years of the 21st century to realize that the errors our leaders committed, could have been prevented had we explored history, and in particular cultures of areas we became involved in. What is even more disconcerting is to read Bret Stephens opinion in the NYT as he points to a 2008 survey in Britain that states that 20% of teenagers thought Winston Churchill was a fictional character, and that 58% believed that Sherlock Holmes was a historical figure. Further, I understand that the same survey produced results that authenticated Eleanor Rigby as real! This is scary. Perhaps we should all choose a history book, sit back and read and try and create a barrier that prevents the ignorance that our society seems to suffer from. Computers, technology, and the internet are wondefull, but I would ask educational administrators to think about the role of teaching history and the contribution it might make to “make America great (not again, because we are great)!”

Opinion

An Antidote to Idiocy in ‘Churchill’

In this season of giving, get (and give) Andrew Roberts’s brilliant new biography.

By Bret Stephens

Opinion Columnist /  New York Times

This year, the retired astronaut Scott Kelly posted a harmless tweet quoting Winston Churchill’s famous line, “In victory, magnanimity.” Left-wing Twitter went berserk, and Kelly felt obliged to grovel.

“Did not mean to offend by quoting Churchill,” he wrote. “My apologies. I will go and educate myself further on his atrocities, racist views which I do not support.”

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. Think of Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain and the hard-core Brexiteers. Or of what used to be called the Republican establishment and Donald Trump.

We also live in an era in which the counterexamples are few and far between. “In defeat, defiance” is another great Churchillian maxim, and it’s hard to name a single political figure today who embodies it — as opposed to, say, “in defeat, early retirement to avoid a difficult primary.”

So maybe it’s time to acquaint (or reacquaint) ourselves with the original, and there’s no better way of doing it than to read the historian Andrew Roberts’s “Churchill: Walking With Destiny.” A review last month in The Times called it “the best single-volume biography of Churchill yet written,” but it’s more than that. It’s an antidote to the reigning conceits, self-deceptions, half-truths and clichés of our day.

For instance: Being born into “privilege” is ipso facto a privilege.

For Churchill — who suffered as a child under the remote glare of a contemptuous father and a self-indulgent mother; fought valiantly in four wars by the time he was 25; and earned his own living through prodigious literary efforts that ultimately earned him a Nobel Prize — the main privilege was the opportunity to bear up under the immense weight of inner expectation that came with being born to a historic name.

Or: To be a member of the establishment is to be a creature of it.

Churchill championed free trade to the consternation of Tory protectionists. He supported super-taxes on the rich and pensions for the old to the infuriation of his aristocratic peers. He called for rearmament before both world wars against the hopes and convictions of the pacifists and appeasers in power. His great, unfulfilled political ambition was to create a party of the sensible center. Being at the center of the establishment is what allowed him to be indifferent to — and better than — it.

Or: To be a champion of empire is to be a bigot.

In 1899, Churchill envisioned a future South Africa in which “Black is to be proclaimed the same as white … to be constituted his legal equal, to be armed with political rights.” He denounced the 1919 British massacre of Indian demonstrators at Amritsar as “a monstrous event.” He promoted social reform at home so that Britain could be a worthy leader of its dominions abroad. Churchill was a patriot, a paternalist, a product of his time — and, by those standards, a progressive.

Or: The moral judgments of the present are superior to those of the past.

One of the alleged crimes for which Churchill is now blamed is the perpetration of a “genocide” in India after a cyclone-caused famine in 1943. Evidence for this is that he used racially insensitive humor during the crisis. Except that Churchill did send whatever food he could spare, Japan was threatening India from Burma, the rest of world was at war, and difficult choices had to be made.

It is because Churchill made the judgments he did that his latter-day detractors live in a world free to make judgments about him.

Or: In politics, what counts are actions, not words.

“After those speeches, we wanted the Germans to come,” Roberts quotes one R.A.F. squadron leader as saying of Churchill’s speech of June 1940, following the deliverance at Dunkirk. “He makes them feel they are living their history,” a Canadian diplomat said of the effect of his words on the public. “It’s precisely the resolute and definite character of the British Government’s stance which has done so much to help the masses overcome their initial fright,” was the Russian ambassador’s conclusion.

“He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle,” John F. Kennedy said (stealing a line from Edward Murrow) in awarding Churchill honorary United States citizenship in 1963. Of which leader now in office could that be said today — in any language?

Finally: Churchill, notes Roberts, was able to rouse Britain “because the battles and struggles of the Elizabethan and Napoleonic wars were then taught in schools, so the stories of Drake and Nelson were well known to his listeners.” That also cannot be said of us today. In Britain, a 2008 survey found that 20 percent of teenagers thought Churchill was a fictional character but 58 percent thought Sherlock Holmes was real.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We reconcile ourselves to the decadence of the present only if we choose to remain ignorant of the achievements of the past.

has been an Opinion columnist with The Times since April 2017. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at The Wall Street Journal in 2013 and was previously editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post. @BretStephensNYT • Facebook

 

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

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

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

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(Ernst Wolfgang and Ludwig Topf)

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

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

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

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

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

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(Kurt Prufer)

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

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

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(The USS Indianapolis)

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

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(Captain William McVay III of the USS Indianapolis)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(70th reunion of USS Indianapolis survivors)

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

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(Captain William Toti)

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

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(The USS Indianapolis)

KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON: THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI by David Grann

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(oil rigs in Osage County, OK)

From 1921 to 1926 a series of murders took place in Osage County, Oklahoma.  As the number of victims turned up more and more residents of the county became suspicious.  The history of these murders is recounted and analyzed in David Grann’s new book, KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON: THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI.  Though the book appears to be a work of non-fiction, in reality it reads like a serial murder mystery, as it leads the reader through the different layers of the crimes that were committed.

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Grann begins his narrative by introducing a number of important people, then goes on to describe the background history of the Osage tribe that was stripped of their land between the Arkansas and Missouri Rivers, and forced on to a reservation in Kansas.  When white squatters stole many of their plots in the 1870s the government moved them again, this time to Oklahoma.  By 1877 there were no buffalo remaining and government policy shifted from containment of Native-Americans to assimilation.  The forced acculturation made the Osage adapt the white man’s clothing, names, and way of life.  The government instituted an allotment plan that was designed to destroy the communal way of life to make Native-Americans farmers on given plots of land.  The Osage were the last to accept this system when they negotiated an increase in acreage per family.  They were wise to include in the 1906 treaty a caveat that stated “that the oil, gas, and other minerals covered by the lands…are hereby reserved to the Osage Tribe.”  Lo and behold the land would contain the largest oil deposits in the United States, creating numerous “Red millionaires” as described by newspaper accounts  The problem was that in the early 1920s a series of murders of tribal residents began to occur.

Since the victims were “only Indians” the white power structure did not go full bore in their investigation of the developing “reign of terror.”  With a lack of forensics and other techniques the investigation really went nowhere prompting the tribe itself to fund further investigative work.  The number of people that were killed is open to question.  Grann puts the figure as around 24, but other historians believe it is significantly higher.  Many Native-American lived an ostentatious life style that only created further animosity against them.  The government instituted a “guardian system” to protect these incompetent individuals.  These guardians would become perpetrators of “theft, graft, and mercenary marriage” against the Osage.

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(Tom White and J. Edgar Hoover)

Grann’s story is a deep dive into who the victims were and why they were murdered.  Grann presents a series of important characters that are the key to events.  The Burkhardt family, including Ernest and Mollie emerge as extremely important when other family members are killed.  William Hale, who presents himself as a benefactor to the tribe, but in truth is rather duplicitous with his own agenda.  Tom White is appointed by J. Edgar Hoover, the newly appointed head of the Bureau of Investigation (the precursor to the FBI) to take over the investigation when the killings continue.  Of course there is J. Edgar Hoover and numerous other characters from criminals, prosecutors, lawyers, snitches and on and on.

Grann’s approach is based on meticulous research as he has combed the available primary materials.  Interviews, investigative documents, and newspaper accounts are all employed.  What emerges are crimes that had infected the state and local government of Oklahoma, particularly Osage County.  Be it the courts, the governor’s office, or county officials there were layers of crimes being committed in the name of a cover-up for the goal of fleecing Native-Americans of their oil money.  Grann heavily focuses on Tom White, offering his background in law enforcement and his approach to solving the murders.  He must navigate the closed society that exists that seems to want to cover-up any evidence and when potential witnesses began to disappear the case goes cold.  White also must deal with Hoover who sees the case as a means of increasing the reputation of his new agency.  Hoover wanted things done in a certain way and have his agents follow his approach to “scientific law enforcement.”  Those who worked outside his parameters soon found themselves unemployed.

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(Mollie, Lizzie, and Anna Burkhardt)

The core of the book involves tracing numerous murders of the Osage.  A few would be solved, but many, perhaps a few hundred were not.  Grann will use the last section of the book to describe his own investigation into some of these murders.  He will interview descendants of the victims and the conclusion is very clear that an unknown number of the Osage community were killed over the oil wealth to the point where it is described as “the blood cries out from the ground,” or the Osage seeking justice a generation or two later.  Grann delivers what appears to be a detective novel just as he did in his previous book, THE LOST CITY OF Z and he has produced a wonderful work of non-fiction as a follow up.  As David Eggers points out in New York Times review of the book,  by interviewing contemporary Osage tribe members Grann presents “a far deeper” and sickening conspiracy against the tribe throughout its history.  As Eggers states, “history is a merciless judge.”*

 

  • Dave Eggers, “Solving a Reign of Terror against Native Americans,” New York Times, April 28, 2017.

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(a typical farm with an oil rig in Osage County, OK)

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

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(the author)

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

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(father and son, Jejoen)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(the author)