Under Fire: An American Story-Oliver North and William Novak
I vividly recall watching Oliver North give testimony about his role in the explosive Iran-Contra scandal that came to light during the administration of President Ronald Regan. North looked stoic in his military uniform and remained defiant through grueling testimony. Today he occasionally makes appearances and for those who remember the story, they either despise or respect him. Prior to the scandal and outside of military circles, North was largely unknown by the American public. Literally overnight, his face was flashed across television screens throughout the nation and in the process he became a household name. President Regan absolved himself of any wrongdoing or foreknowledge of North’s assignment. At first it seemed as if the decorated Soldier had possibly become an enemy of the country he served. But we know in hindsight that he was not an enemy of the state and his actions were approved by his superiors with full knowledge of the details. At the end of the scandal, he was given 1200 hours of community service and fined by the government. Subsequently, he has tried to live as normal of a life as reasonably possible. Under Fire is his story, part autobiography and part political memoir. From the beginning, the book engages the reader and is hard to put down. North is candid with his words and comes across very direct. Perhaps it is his military background that is the reason but it gives the book a sharp edge to it that complements the story that is being told.
I had picked up the book based on Amazon’s suggestion and the reviews I read from others who enjoyed the book. Having read it, I can say that I do not regret buying it and only wish I purchased it sooner. North has a great story to tell only if the reader is willing to indulge. But just who is Oliver North? Is he simply a general that became corrupt and found himself embroiled in a political scandal? Or he is truly an American patriot that was resigned to do unpopular things in service of the country that he loves? Well what we do learn in the book is his life story which includes marriage, fatherhood, the Marines, Vietnam and intelligence work on behalf of the U.S. Government. And at each stage of his life, he has plenty of lessons to give to the reader that he has learned through trial and error. His background is that of a typical American kid who believes in the USA and as adolescent, answers the call of the U.S. Marines. Southeast Asia proved to be a testing ground and provided him with the mental and physical scars he carriers with him to this day. As a father and husband dedicated to the Marines, his personal life took on a turmoil of its own and North is brutally honest about his shortcomings and the roller coaster ride he and his family endured because of his career and actions relating to the scandal.
North is blessed with a razor sharp memory and shows no signs of inability to remember key names and dates. In fact, he is spot on with regards to his recollections. He does admit that some things could have possibly have been done differently. But in no way did he ever see himself as a traitor to the country he loved then and still does. One of the key parts of his story is that if forces us to ask ourselves what the true meaning of a patriot is. North is seen by some as a patriot of the highest calling who is willing to do what is needed to protect America and its citizens. Others believe he is a criminal who acted illegal and should have been imprisoned along with Reagan and others in the administration. President Regan is now deceased and unable to give any more insight into what really did happen. His statements are on the record for history and will remain so permanently. Incredibly, North does not bear any ill will towards the late president. In fact, he’s very open-minded regarding the actions and statements of President Reagan. And although they did meet, they really did not have direct regular contact thus ensuring a buffer between the two and plausible deniability.
Before reading the book I did not know what to make of North. I had faint recollections of his statements and heard in name in passing in conversation on sparse occasions. After reading his story, I can no say that I do know who he is and why his story is so important to American history. His legacy will be questioned long after he is gone but the fact remains that he is one of the most important figures from the 1980s and the 20th century.