Month: July 2019

Ghost WarsOn the morning of February 26, 1993, Ramzi Yousef and a team of terrorist drove a bomb laden van into the basement of the World Trade Center complex in New York City.   As I watched the news from across the river in Brooklyn that morning, I felt a sense of shock and vulnerability.  America had been attacked.  When Ramzi Yousef was captured and extradited to New York to stand trial, many New Yorkers breathed a sigh of relief.  The Hon. Kevin Duffy sentenced Yousef to life with no parole plus an additional 240 years which he is currently serving at the ADX Florence Supermax facility in Fremont County, Colorado.  Eight years later on September 11, 2001, America was attacked again when terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners, crashing two into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and the final aircraft outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  The response from Washington was swift and a show of force nearly unparalleled in modern times. The mission to capture those responsible and root out terrorists, led to Afghanistan, a land-locked country in South-Central Asia.  Images of U.S. troops and the enemy Taliban flashed across news screens as reports of successes in the mission to root out terror were triumphantly proclaimed.  To many Americans, Afghanistan was another far away place across the world where people lived in ways that seemed to be from ancient times, going against “American ideals”.  Today, Afghanistan is nearly completely forgotten by the American public.  There has been no news about what America’s current role is and plans to withdraw American forces have been cast aside as yet another victim of the focus on what has become reality television politics.  The story of Afghanistan and its importance to world history is often misunderstood and in some cases not even recognized.  But there is far more that meets the eye and author Steve Coll explores this topic in this New York Times bestseller that tells the full story what did happen in Afghanistan between the Soviet Invasion and the deadly attacks on September 11, 2001.

If you asked a person on the street today why we are in Afghanistan, I firmly believe that many could not give a plausible answer.  Washington has no official position on it.   But what is striking is that for decades, U.S. foreign policy towards Afghanistan was either anti-soviet, anti-Taliban and in other cases, non-existent.   Coll revisits each and examines the subject in detail so that we can understand how and why the U.S. attitude towards Afghanistan continued to shift.   The book is primarily focused on the Soviet-Afghan war between 1979 and 1989.  The conflict drew the attention and participation of multiple countries including Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia.  The Central Intelligence Agency served as the main force to funnel information back to Washington and the United States found itself supporting the Mujadhideen rebels against the Soviet backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.   The rebels’ cause earned them support from other young radicals including a very young Osama Bin Laden (1957-2011) who reappears later in the book as an arch-nemesis of the United States.  The Soviet-Afghan war served as the last major conflict of the Cold War before the dissolution of the USSR in 1991.  Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, history took a very different course for many reason as the author shows.  And slowly Afghanistan became a pawn in a much larger chess match between more powerful and sophisticated nations.

The figures that appear in the book are numerous and keeping track of all of them is a bit tedious.  But each is critical to the story at hand including the late Senator from Texas, Charles Wilson (D) (1933-2010), Mullah Mohammed Omar (1960-2013) and former Pakistan Premier Benazir Bhutto (1957-2007).   All of the figures are central to the complicated web woven in the Middle East as Sharia Law clashed with modernity and oil pipelines became the target of several governments. Coll connects all of the dots in a writing style that makes the story very easy to follow.  The revelations in the book dis-spell many rumors and confirm others.  The volatile nature of politics in the region is on full display as each leader walks a tightrope while in office.  The rise of Sharia Law and anti-modernity beliefs began to turn the tide in the Middle East from welcomed support from the west to disdain for the western way of life.  Radicalism is born and as Coll moves through the second half the book, we see how Islamic extremism gained its footing while Washington was asleep at the wheel.

Osama Bin Laden held a spot on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most wanted list for several years until his death.   Even today, he is still considered one of the world’s deadliest terrorist although he did not carry out the acts himself.  But as we see in the book, he was charismatic, dedicated and blessed with enormous wealth as a result of his father’s high successful and respected construction firm.  He became a central figure in the new war against the west which would be waged by a new wave of committed soldiers with nothing to fear.  Incredibly, while this was taking place, the response by Washington was bewildering.  However, not everyone was oblivious to the sudden rise of Bin Laden and there were many officials who sounded the alarm as to what they saw as the next major threat to America.  That threat manifested itself horrifically in September, 2001.

Undoubtedly,  each reader will take something different away from the book.  But I do believe that every reader will be confused to say the least as to what was really happening in Washington and lack of information provided to American citizens. As I read the book, I shook my head at times in disbelief.   Today we can look back and ask what if Washington had stopped Bin Laden when it had the chance?  Why did Washington fail to acknowledge the warning signs from the intelligence community?   Some answers we may never fully know but through Steve Coll, we have plenty of explanations that will suffice for many.   For those interested in learning the true story of the Soviet-Afghan war and America’s foreign policy in relation to the region, this book is a must read.

ISBN-10: 0143034669
ISBN-13: 978-0143034667

Investigative Report

 

DietrichThe Second World War remains one of the most studied and brutal conflicts in the history of man.   The rise and fall of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich have become a case studies for history buffs and students learning about a war that nearly resulted in the complete destruction of Germany and the continent of Europe. It is true that Hitler had many supporters but he also had large numbers of detractors, some of whom were serving in his own army.  The attack of personal liberties and treasured institutions, caused shock and consternation across Germany.  The persecution of the Catholic church by the National Socialists is among Hitler’s darkest deeds.  Throughout the war, Hitler would ramp up his attacks on the church and his bloodthirsty purge of religion knew no bounds.  The horror with which the clergy watched the rise of the Third Reich spurred many to action and they were determined to rid Germany and the world of the man they saw as the very incarnation of evil.  Among them was Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), the man who became a pastor, martyr, prophet and spy.

Before reading this book, I had never head of Bonhoeffer.  I did know of Hitler’s persecution of the church and his never ending attacks on anyone deemed to be against the Reich.  This excellent biography by author Eric Metaxas came as a recommendation on Amazon and encouraged me to revisit Nazi Germany.  From start to finish, the book is seductively intriguing and it caused me to wonder why Bonhoeffer’s story is not more widely known.  In history classes, his name was never discussed and in none of the specials I watched regarding the war, was he ever mentioned.  But having finished the book, I can say with certainty that his story and that of the resistance by the Catholics opposed to Hitler, is a side of the war that needs much further exploration and exposure.

History continues to examine how and why Adolf Hitler was able to seize control of Germany and plunge the world into yet another major conflict.  By nearly all accounts, he was initially viewed as a mere distraction in politics and his group of brown shirts were seen as thugs determined to interfere with important elections.   The Beer Hall Putsch nearly cost Hitler his life but even that was not enough to deter the Austrian menace.  Hitler had a sharp eye with regards to social changes and human nature.   As Paul Von Hindenburg (1847-1934) saw the end of his life near,  he made one decision that change the course of world history and for the German people, cast upon them a stain that Germany may never be able to remove.   Some Germans saw the writing on the wall and left the country before Hitler unleashed his wave of tyranny and insanity.  Others remained and for those of Jewish heritage, the genocidal Final Solution would result in a horror that one will ever be able to forget.

Hitler’s promotion to Chancellor of Germany was the moment the Austrian had been waiting for and the Nazis wasted no time in enforcing new laws based on racial ideology.  The Nuremberg Laws and others that not only stripped Jews of their rights but in the process made them second class citizenst shocked many Germans.  The persecution of the Jews eventually reached the church, which would have to make a decision regarding the growing menace from Berlin.  Bonhoeffer had come to embrace the teachings of the church and his beliefs would lead him on a course that no one thought possible for a man of the cloth.  But his story is among of the most fascinating that I have ever read.  Metaxas presents his life beautifully here and includes many of Bonhoeffer’s writings to show the mindset and the very personal side of a man who followed the path of God while at the same time joined several plots to assassinate Hitler.

The thought of a pastor assisting in an assassination plot is simply astounding.  But Bonhoeffer was not living in ordinary times and Germany was under siege and caught in the grip of a madman whose only goal was world domination.   Metaxas does an incredible job of not only capturing Bonhoeffer’s life but also revisits key moments in the advancement of Hitler’s agenda.   The two sides are on a collision course and the plotters knew they would have to act at some point in time.  Bonhoeffer is firmly entrenched in it all while at the same time, holding on to his convictions and proving to many why he was such a beloved figure by those who knew him well.

As the author told Bonhoeffer’s story, I found myself in amazement at the things that I learned.   Bonhoeffer was multi-lingual, an excellent writer, world traveler and a strong advocate for civil rights as a result of his two visits to America.  His experiences in Harlem were surely eye opening for a New York such as myself.  But what really struck me the most was his calm ability to accept the fate that he knew awaited him.   His prophetic nature is on display early in his writings and his final act is a testament to his commitment to the word of the lord.  His words are touching and uplifting.  And his observations about the world he embraced are still relevant today.   Long before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bonhoeffer saw the direction that would be needed for true change to occur in America and for Black Americans to have equal rights under the law.  How ironic it is that the horrors he saw in America were slowly being replicated and in some cases surpassed by the devious and sadistic officials of Hitler’s inner circle.

To say the book is well-written would be an understatement. If you are curious about the Third Reich and the impact it had on German religion, then this book is a good place to start. Further, the book is not only Bonhoeffer’s story but that of many others including Hitler himself.  World War II buffs will absolutely love this book.  Bonhoeffer’s story is inspiring yet tragic but one that is integral to the history of Nazi Germany.  And in this soul-reaching biography, Eric Metaxas has given Bonhoeffer his rightful place in the annals of Germany history.

ASIN: B003GY0K48

Biographies