Survival in the Killing Fields – Haing S. Ngor

ngorOn March 25, 1985, the 57th Academy Awards ceremony was held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles. During the ceremony, the category of best supporting actor was called, and the winner was Haing S. Ngor (1940-1996), a doctor born and raised in Cambodia, who had survived the Khmer Rouge dictatorship under the notorious Pol Pot (1925-1998). Ngor had starred as Cambodian journalist Dith Pran (1942-2008) in the 1984 film The Killing Fields starring Sam Waterston, John Malkovich, and Craig T. Nelson. The movie is tough to watch due to its sensitive subject matter but also an important work of art that captured a time in world history when a revolution nearly destroyed an entire nation permanently.

I was familiar with the Khmer Rouge before starting the book and I have seen the film more than once. I have also read Loung Ung’s First They Killed My Father, a gripping account of life under the Khmer Rouge. Her story was adapted for the big screen and in 2017, Netflix released the film of the same name directed by Angelina Jolie. Though there are some modifications to the story in the film, it is follows the book fairly closely and shows how Cambodian society was turned upside down during the tyranny of the Khmer Rouge. Ngor is even more blunt in how life changed for Cambodians:

“The truth was that under the communists the country was much worse off than it had ever been during my lifetime. We had no electricity. No clocks or automobiles. No modern medicines. No schools. No religious worship. Very little food. And we lived in constant fear of the soldiers.”

The book begins with Ngor remembering his early life and fragile relationship with his father. A volatile temper and determination to resist anything he felt was unfair, resulted in Ngor going through a series of inconvenient situations, including one with his father that placed their relationship under great strain. However, he eventually graduates from medical school and begins to practice medicine. Life as a doctor is good and at home, his wife Huoy performs the traditional duties of a wife in Cambodian society. On April 17, 1975, their lives were changed permanently when Pol Pot and his revolutionaries seized control of Cambodia under the guise of rebuilding society. Millions of Cambodians had no idea what would come next as the extremists dismantled society piece by piece. To give the reader an idea of how extreme their ideloogy was, Ngor explains that:

“The Khmer Rouge wanted a complete change of society, from top to bottom. Gone was everything that had governed our lives in the old times. Lon Nol was gone, airlifted to America before the fall; Sihanouk was gone, his fate a mystery. The monks were gone.” 

Following the takeover, families were uprooted and forced to move, typically to distant parts of the country to engage in heavy manual labor. Famine, inhumane treatment, and lack of crucial resources gave rise to disease, hunger, and death in work camps across the country. Ngor himself suffered illness on more than one occasion as he explains in the book. Had it not been for his medical training which he kept secret for reasons also disclosed in the book, he surely would have perished. The aid of his wife Huoy was invaluable and she served as his guardian angel on more than one occasion. But her fate and that of those around them, are among the difficult moments in the book. And when not facing death from hunger or disease, workers were reminded through vicious and bloodthirsty guards that Angkar was  watching. This system of surveillance gave men and women incentive to spy on each other and tell what they saw, even if it meant death to those accused. Ngor becomes a first-hand witness to the brutal system of torture that Angkar notoriously used to break the spirit of those needing “reformation”.

As time progressed, cracks in the surface began to show and Ngor realizes that the regime is slowly falling apart. The Khmer Rouge’s idea of transforming society was a complete failure and in its attempt to flex its muscle, it had angered the North Vietnamese Government which soon made it a goal to deal with Cambodia. In April 1979, the Vietnamese invaded and put an end to the reign of the Khmer Rouge. But for Ngor and millions of his fellow citizens, the occupation by Vietnam did not end their ordeal overnight. Cambodia had been freed of one communist government only to be replaced by another. Those who were able realized the only option was to cross the border into Thailand. The journey was not easy and bandits along the way were just as ruthless as the Khmer Rouge if not worse at times. But in Thailand, the full weight of his ordeal comes crashing down when he reflects that:

“By 1979 Cambodia was utterly destroyed. Next door in Thailand were paved roads, beautiful temples and more rice than the people could eat. As a refugee, the more I saw of Thailand, the angrier I became. It was the anger of a man who finds out he has been lied to all his life.” 

After arriving in Thailand, Ngor slowly puts his life together and through a series of chance encounters, he befriends John Crowley of the Joint Volunteer Agency who paves the way for his next journey to the United States where he is joined by his adopted niece Sophia. His entry into America was rough at first but it is clear from the start that in comparison to the Cambodia he had left behind, America was a brand new and welcomed experience. And luck was on his side again when he was scouted and picked to star in the Killing Fields. His performance and win at the Oscars transformed Ngor into a celebrity but the experiences in Cambodia remained fresh in his mind and a heavy burden to bear. Ngor never ceased to labor on behalf of those still in Cambodia who never wanted to see another Khmer Rouge takeover. IN spite of his fame and success, Ngor remained haunted by what he saw and experienced. He reminds the reader that the Khmer Rouge destroyed nearly every part of Cambodian society. And I believe that this sombering statement bythe author sums up the experiences of those held under the iron grip of the Khmer Rouge:

“The Cambodian holocaust ripped through our lives, tossing us randomly, leaving none of us the way we were. You can blame who you want, the outside powers for interfering, or our own internal flaws like corruption and kum, but when the talking is over we still do not know why it had to happen. The country is still in ruins, millions have died and those of us who survived are not done with our grieving.”  

The book closes with more reflection by Ngor of Cambodia and his life in America. By this time, Sophia had moved out and the two had not spoken. In the epilogue, we learn more of their relationship and future interactions. Also, more information is provided about Ngor’s return to Cambodia, his business dealings and difficulties in life while living in Los Angeles. After finishing Ngor’s heartbreaking account of his life, readers will need to prepare for another difficult part in the book: Ngor’s final days.

On February 25, 1996, Ngor was returning home when he drove past three Asian street gang members. The trio was high on crack cocaine and saw him as their next target to score more cash. It is believed that after asking for his money and other valuables, the thieves also wanted a chain he wore which contained a locket holding a picture of his late wife Huoy. Ngor undoubtedly would have refused, and readers will understand why after finishing his story. Prosecutors stated that shots were fired and Ngor fell to the pavement gasping for air. He died on the scene at the age of fifty-five. It should be noted that the killers did not take Ngor’s car or money, leading people to believe that the killing was related to his past in Cambodia. It is difficult to say but there is one clue provided in the epilogue related to the political climate in Cambodia at the time that might explain who would have wanted him dead. We may never know the real motive for his death, but the shooter was sentenced to life in prison and his accomplices each received a sentence of twenty-five years to life.

In the future when I watch The Killing Fields again, I will now have a deeper appreciation for Ngor’s performance. I wish I had known more about him upon viewing the film for the first time. However, my lack of knowledge regarding his personal life does not detract from the viewing experience. The film is haunting as it should be to show viewers the danger of poisonous rhetoric. Voltaire had it right when he wrote that “any one who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices“. Haing S. Ngor was witness to one of history’s greatest crimes and lived to tell the tale of Cambodia’s darkest days. And even today, this book can server as reminder of the dangers that come with extremism and importance of addressing extreme ideology before it is too late.

ASIN ‏ : ‎ B019NFEM42

My Bondage and My Freedom – Frederick Douglass

Douglass The history of America is dark at times, and those moments have been omitted or neglected for many years. However, they are crucial to understanding how and why the United States developed into the nation that it is today. As an American, I am constantly seeking to understand my own country and clarify the myths that have propagated with regards to its past. I am learning uncomfortable truths, but they have not diminished the love that I have for America. In the history of this country, the name of Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) remains a reminder of the institution of slavery that degraded human beings, served as the backbone of an economic system, and led America towards a civil war. Douglass was born into the slave system and became a free man as an adult. This is his story of his time in bondage, freedom from oppression and evolution into a public speaker.

The story begins with Douglass’s early years at the home of his grandparents. He had not understood that he was born into slavery and had no concept of it. But that soon changed when he was taken to meet his siblings whom he had never met. They reside on a plantation owned by former Maryland Governor Edward Lloyd (1779-1834). And it was here that Douglass came to know the horrors of the slave system for the first time. His observation about the lack of connection to his siblings reveals a devastating effect of slavery. Douglass points out that:

“The practice of separating children from their mother, and hiring the latter out at distances too great to admit of their meeting, except at long intervals, is a marked feature of the cruelty and barbarity of the slave system. But it is in harmony with the grand aim of slavery, which, always and everywhere, is to reduce man to a level with the brute. It is a successful method of obliterating from the mind and heart of the slave, all just ideas of the sacredness of the family, as an institution.” 

The family is the backbone for our journey through life and Douglass understood the tragedy that developed from its destruction. His words are tough to read at times and the cruelty he endures did not always come at the hands of slaveowners or overseers. In fact, the actions of his Aunt Katy are equally deplorable and the two of them never established a close bond. Douglass’ mother does enter the story but briefly and for reasons the reader will find disgust in. However, her life and role are also an example of slavery’s goal in breaking down the will and spirit of those caught in its grip. There is, however, something that Douglass points out which is interesting about slavery itself. During his time in bondage, he observed the lives of blacks and whites, and this statement regarding what he saw is interesting:

“I knew of blacks who were not slaves; I knew of whites who were not slaveholders; and I knew of persons who were nearly white, who were slaves. Color, therefore, was a very unsatisfactory basis for slavery.”

Racism was undeniably a contributing factor for enslavement, but revenue was the driving factor. The system of slavery did not see individuals, but property to be used until it was no longer useful.  The effects upon human chattel were disregarded by those in power. But slaves were not content with remaining in bondage, and it was not long before rebellions erupted across slave-owning territories. The names of John Brown (1800-1859), Denmark Vesey (1767-1822) and Nathaniel “Nat” Turner (1800-1831) stand out among the scores of men and women determined to destroy the system of slavery. Their actions were not lost on Douglass who keenly observed that rebellions would increase as the enslaved sought their natural born right to be free. As Douglass ages, he becomes more aware of the changing sentiment in America and the undercurrent of emotions by those in bondage and their allies in the abolitionist movement. As Douglass states himself:

“The insurrection of Nathaniel Turner had been quelled, but the alarm and terror had not subsided. The cholera was on its way, and the thought was present, that God was angry with the white people because of their slaveholding wickedness, and, therefore, his judgments were abroad in the land.”

I warn readers that his experiences on Lloyd’s plantation are not for the faint at heart. The degradation he endures should spark the fire of anger in anyone who reads this book. I found myself becoming emotional as I read his words and I cannot imagine the humiliation inflicted upon him and others who lived on the plantation. And what is interesting is that the plantation was not located in the deep south but in the State of Maryland. And his life became even more difficult when he was given to Capt. Thomas Auld, a former Army Commander during the War of 1812. Auld quickly becomes the darkest figure in the book and his cruelty towards Douglass is abhorrent. He was determined to break Douglass down and nearly succeeded completely as readers will learn in the book. However, the relationship between Douglass and Auld’s wife Lucretia offsets the darker moments. During his time with Auld, Douglass grows into a strapping young man and becomes determined to escape slavery at all costs. He first refuses to be beaten and after learning to read, began to understand how slavery functions at its core and why illiteracy is a necessary component to keep slaves in line. Once he learns the truth, his path to freedom comes into full focus. However, Douglass never fully reveals how he escaped from Maryland, likely to protect those who had assisted him. He does discuss how he became a free man once in the North but is also careful in that regard.

Following his escape from Maryland, he arrives in New York City but for a short amount of time before moving on to New Bedford, Massachusetts. And although slavery had been abolished in Massachusetts in 1781, Douglass soon learns that prejudice is not solely a product of the South. As he explains, he had his fair share of humiliation in the North as well. However, he was now free and despite the treatment by whites, he continued to evolve and mature. And his spirit becomes unbreakable. He also learns that he has the gift of oration and soon explores that talent to its fullest extent. Today he is regarded as one of the most popular voices of his time but regrettably, none of us will ever have the pleasure of hearing him speak in person. The story takes yet another turn when he is invited to visit several countries in Europe. It is this part of the book in which Douglass learns important truths about America while away from its shores. And what he explains to the reader are supported by the statements from jazz musician Miles Davis (1926-1991), whose experiences in France had opened his eyes to the dysfunction in America. Upon his return to the United States, Douglass was seasoned and armed with a better understanding of the world and the changes needed at home. He devoted the rest of his life the abolitionist movement and in 1877, he was confirmed as United States Marshal for the District of Columbia after being selected by President Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893). In later years, he attempted a run for president and held several posts in the U.S. Government. On February 20, 1895, Douglass died at the age of seventy-seven at his home in Washington, D.C. His wife Helen Pitts Douglass (1838-1903) lived several more years until her own death at the age of sixty-five.

I cannot overstate the importance of this work and why it is such a critical read. His story was the exception and not the normal course of action for thousands of enslaved people. He also revealed the contrast between the northern and southern parts of America, paying close attention to the prejudice against people of color across the nation. Frankly, life for Black people was short, humiliating and void of hope at times. However, Douglass and others like him, refused to live out their lives in bondage and were determined to gain their freedom even if it meant death. He is and always will be an icon for those who are oppressed and yearning for freedom.

The soul that is within me no man can degrade.” – Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

Willful Misconduct: The Tragic Story of Pan American Flight 806 – William Norris

Norris806During a recent flight from San Francisco to New York, the aircraft encountered rough air while making its descent into John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport. The flight attendant began to speak on the intercom and informed all passengers to return to their seats and fasten their seat belts. He also added “don’t worry, the pilots are trained for this”. I thought to myself that it is good because if they are not, then we have a big problem on this plane. Thinking back on it today, I have come to realize that passengers place an enormous amount of trust in the hands of pilots across the globe every day. When we board an aircraft, we are confident that the people in the cockpit are sufficiently trained to do the job required of them. Air travel in the United States is the safest it has ever been with incidents becoming rarer by the day. But the reality is that there is always a certain level of risk associated with flying. On January 30, 1974, ninety-one passengers boarded Pan American (“Pan Am”) Flight 806 at Auckland International Airport in New Zealand for the short flight to Pago Pago International Airport, American Samoa. The aircraft was staffed with ten-person flight crew who were seasoned employees in the aviation industry. As the aircraft made its final approach to Pago Pago, it crashed short of the runway. Though the passengers survived the crash landing, eighty-seven of them perished as fire and smoke engulfed the plane. The disaster remains one of the worst accidents in commercial aviation history. This is the story of that crash and its relevance to air travel today.  

Prior to reading the book I knew nothing of Flight 806. Of course, the name Pan Am is legendary in air travel. Though now defunct, it was once an airline that held a world-wide reputation for class and efficiency. My brother has two bags with its logo that he travels with today. But as author William Norris shows, the company was not above skirting rules and regulations. And when backed into a corner, profit and reputation took priority over the lives of those who died at the hands of pilots employed by the airline. After providing background information on the flight crew, the story moves forward as we learn about notable passengers on the flight. Through fate, they are destined to board Flight 806 which was routine, but the final approach turned into a nightmare and by the time emergency crews arrived on the scene, dozens of passengers met a grisly fate as they remained trapped on the aircraft. In the aftermath of the crash, litigation commenced, and the details of what transpired serve as the basis for this book that exposes the truth about a crash that should have been avoidable. The author makes a statement quite early in the story that sets the tone of the book: 

“Judge Matthew William Byrne Jr. ordered the records of Petersen, Phillips, and Gaines to be kept from the jury and put under seal, and he consigned them to room 64G. Which is where I found them.”

As someone who works in the legal field, my eyebrows became raised. Documents are placed under seal typically is exceptional circumstances. It became clear to me that the information contained in those records was highly damaging to the reputation of Pan Am and the pilots on Flight 806. I had no idea what was to come as the book progressed. Years ago, during a conversation with a former attorney regarding the death of John F. Kennedy, Jr. (1960-1999), he said to me “in the air the margin for error is very slim”. I have never forgotten those words and they certainly apply here. Lawyers for all sides inevitably become involved and I thought to myself what could Pan Am’s defense be? Barring any malfunction with the aircraft, the next conclusion typically reached is pilot error. However, Pan Am was not going to let that happen if possible and the lengths it went to during the trial are nothing short of astounding. Readers may find themselves seething with anger as the legal drama plays out. Sadly, the people who ended up suffering are those who were on the plane or lost their loved ones in the crash. 

A disturbing fact that becomes known is that dozens of passengers remained on the aircraft even though they were alive on impact. You may be thinking “planes have multiple exits in case of emergency”. That is correct but why did the emergency doors not open on this flight? That is just one of several questions that lawyers for the victims tried to find answers to. The first course of action would have been to examine the wreckage, however that proved to be an issue in the case of Flight 806. Readers will be aghast at the attitude towards evidence by Pan Am and the names Robert Benedict and United States Aviation Insurance Group will be seared into their minds by the book’s conclusion. Benedict is a pivotal character in the book but far from the only one. To the victims, the case was simple: what was Pan Am going to pay to compensate them for their injuries and losses? If the airline had its way, that number would have been zero. In its defense, it spared no amount of money as expert after expert takes the stand promoting outlandish theories that even laypeople would balk at. To be fair, the airline knew it would have to pay and did attempt to do through Benedict. Shockingly, those who professed to be “for the victims” exercise questionable discretion that readers may find mystifying and distasteful. 

Due to the nature of the incident, aircraft safety became a critical issue during the trial. The Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) is the governmental agency responsible for ensuring that you and I reach our destinations safely each time we fly. However, the FAA and its regulations are part of a larger picture. Airlines are also responsible for maintaining strict maintenance schedules and enforcing safety procedures. But as we learn from the book, Pan Am’s internal system of operation was in dire need of overhaul. A chilling example of its malfunctioning safety program is summed up in this quote by the author regarding evidence disclosed during the trial: 

“It was simple, it was direct, and it proved to be the most important single piece of evidence in the whole trial: when Pan American sent Flight 806 into Pago Pago loaded with excess fuel, to crash and burn and to take the lives of ninety-seven people, the company was flaunting its own regulations.”

These words sent a chill down my spine and highlighted the danger that accompanied air travel less than fifty years ago. Throughout the trial, a dark cloud hovered over the proceedings. And the question remained, was the flight crew negligent in its actions? The legal maneuvers executed by the lawyers are exhausting and readers may stare in disbelief while they read the accounts of the arguments put forth by attorneys for Pan Am and the United States itself. Testimony from former pilots, radar operators, engineers and those aboard the flight adds complexity to the story but, the jury had the final word. And its verdict had a profound impact on the airline industry and Pan Am.  

Today we often take for granted the improvements in safety and the advancements in technology that have made flying the safest it has ever been. However, complacency has no place in air travel and mistakes do cost lives. The passengers and crew of Flight 806 know this all too well. Norris’s account of the impact of Flight 806 is beautifully written and well-researched. I can only imagine the range of emotions he must have felt as dark truths were uncovered during his research. Those truths explain why Judge Byrne ordered the records sealed from the public. The lives of Flight 806’s eighty-seven passengers and nine crewmembers who perished are gone forever. But this book may prove to be an invaluable tool in preventing similar disasters in the years to come. This is the story of Pan Am Flight 806 and the tragic repercussions of willful misconduct. 

ASIN:‎ B08F834WNT

A People’s History of the Civil War: Struggles for the Meaning of Freedom – David Williams

Williams

I may have stated this before, but I absolutely love history. However, I have come to realize that there is much about my own country that I still need to learn. Of all the subjects that remains often misunderstood and debated is the American Civil War.  There is the common belief that the war about ending slavery but to others it was a case of “Northern aggression”. The truth is that there were multiple reasons for the war and not solely because of one above the others. But I do believe that Major Gen. Smedley Butler (1881-1940) was correct when he said, “war is a racket”. The realization that conflict has a monetary value unsettles the mind and spirit. The truth is rarely pleasant but always required to set the record straight. Author David Williams does just that in this remarkable account of the conflict that tore America apart. It can be argued that the Civil War is still affecting American society. I agree to an extent but for us to understand how and why, a full understanding of America and the war is needed. We can start at the beginning with the issue of slavery which is labeled as the major reason for the war. The image of the Confederacy and “Deep South” was one of abundant slave owners and plantations across the region. But as a I learned here, that was not always the case. In fact, what Williams shows is that the South was nowhere near as coherent as one might think. Nor was the number of slave owner and plantations in existence as one might suspect. As I read the book, I was quite surprised to learn of the reality behind the slave owning South and how it affected morale and pride during the war. 

Slavery was a critical issue the country faced as tensions continued to rise. Abolitionist were determined to see it fall and rebellions such as the one led by John Brown (1800-1859) caused pro-slavery parties in the South to take notice. The election of Abraham Lincoln installed fear in the hearts of Southerners, some of whom were certain that he would “take their slaves away”.  Washington was aware of abolitionists efforts but what was the real role of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1965)? Apologists have long sought to absolve Lincoln for many things that do not portray him in the most positive light. What can be seen in the book is that Lincoln’s actions and beliefs did not always fall in line with the iconized version presented in history books. In fact, Frederick Douglass was more explicit in his view of the President following Lincoln’s re-election: 

Though they had succeeded in keeping McClellan out of the White House, Radicals were not enthusiastic about giving Lincoln a second term. “When there was any shadow of a hope,” wrote Frederick Douglass, “that a man of a more decided anti-slavery conviction and policy could be elected, I was not for Mr. Lincoln.”

There is far more to Lincoln’s role revealed in the book and readers may be surprised. His plan for free Blacks will certainly cause readers to pause. However, his role in the conflict can neither be overstated or understated. He was a crucial part of the Union effort that ended in victory. And his actions, regardless of true motives, did help end the system of human slavery in the United States.  

Once the war begins, the course of battle is anything but predictable. However, the author reveals interesting facts about the Confederacy and its ability to achieve victory. When President Barack Obama won his second term, there was calls for “secession” by those unable to accept his re-election. To any rational individual, it was clear that would not happen. But what did happen when Southern States left the Union after Lincoln’s re-election? And what was the final straw that pushed them over the edge? The answers to those questions can be found within and the author also discusses another motive for secession that businesspeople in the North recognized and refused to accept. It soon becomes clear in the book, that slavery is only one of many reasons for the South declaring its independence.

One of the best parts of the book is the discussion about life in the Confederacy. I strongly recommend readers look at Janet Elizabeth Croon’s “The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham 1860-1865″, which is an excellent read about life in a Southern family that supports the Confederate effort. Far from the united South we may have been led to believe, there was much taking place in the Confederacy that was far from encouraging. And as the author points out: 

By 1864, President Davis publicly lamented that two-thirds of Confederate soldiers were absent, most of them without leave

In the North, things were also not as unified, and the image of the “liberal” North is directly challenged by William’s work. Frankly, though the North was free territory, racial harmony was a myth and social conditions could be just as bad as the South. Blacks were free but still lived like slaves. Interestingly, even before Union victory, members in Congress began to think of how Blacks could be enfranchised. Their efforts and those of the Radical Republicans are highlighted to show the missed opportunities that presented themselves to a country at a crossroads and in need of change. Lincoln’s actions and those of his successor Andrew Johnson (1908-1875), left much to be desired. 

Surprisingly, what is left out of discussions about the Civil War are the true feelings of Southerners who have been painted with the broad brush of being “sympathizers” to the Confederacy’s mission. The truth is far more complicated and fare less glamorous. In fact, life for poor whites in the Confederacy was not much better and the dark reality is brought to life in the story told here. Desertion was a major problem but there were other factors at play that made the desirability of serving under Davis’ army plummet.  Further, battlefield conditions, life as a solider and death for any number of reasons made it clear that war is hell, and no one should take part. To drive home this point, I refer to this section in the book by the author who relays that” 

“In The Impending Crisis of the South, published in 1857, Helper argued vigorously that the “lords of the lash are not only absolute masters of the blacks . . . but they are also the oracles and arbiters of all non-slaveholding whites, whose freedom is merely nominal.”

As the war raged on, casualties began to rise from injuries and other conditions that brought death and destruction. Over six-hundred thousand men died in the American Civil War and the manners in which they perished were often barbaric and tragic. The author thoroughly examines the unsettling aspect of the soldier’s experience which included injuries in combat, inadequate clothing and supplies, famine, infections, viruses, and the lack of advanced medical knowledge. In short, life in the 1800s was rough and even rougher if you were an enlistee fighting in a savage conflict deemed to be a “rich man’s war”. Williams’ book should remove any notion of a valiant effort. On both sides, brutality was common, and desertion remained an issue throughout the war.  And the induction of both slaves and Native Americans into the war was not because those in power had a “change of heart”. The real reasons are far more sobering. The Native American experience has been discussed by other authors and their removal from their lands remains one of the darkest aspects of America’s creation. The experience of the Indian tribes is also discussed here in relation to the war and readers will shake their heads in disgusts and disbelief. 

After I finished the book, I had a moment of silence wherein I allowed myself to digest everything I had read. I had learned of things never presented to me before in any classroom that I can recall. American history is often difficult to accept because the image of America is designed to lift one’s spirits. And while there are aspects of life in the United States that are wonderful, our nation’s history contains dark moments. And it is imperative that we learn the truth so that they never again take place. This book is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the truth regarding the American Civil War. Highly recommended. 

History is the sum total of things that could have been avoided” -Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967) 

ASIN: ‎B007OWQN7Q

Last Boat Out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Fled Mao’s Revolution – Helen Zia

ShanghaiThroughout history, war and destruction have been constant reminders of the fragility of peace. On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany’s army invaded its neighbor country Poland and ignited the Second World War, the conflict that changed the world in ways one could have imagined. Adolf Hitler’s (1889-1945) quest for world domination inspired other nations to launch their own offensives. National Fascist Party leader Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) plunged Italy into the conflict and in Japan, Hirohito (Emperor Shōwa)(1901-1989) initiated the Japanese campaign to completely control all of Asia. Prior to the conflict, China found itself the target of Japanese invasion and amid internal civil war between the Chinese Communist Party led by Mao Zedong (1893-1976) and Kuomintang under the control of Chiang Kai-Shek (1887-1975). While Hitler’s army was marching across Europe, death and destruction accelerated across Asia and in China, the horror escalated to unthinkable heights. Chinese who were able to leave, fled their homes in search of a new life. This book is the story of that exodus and four individuals who risked it all for freedom. The lives of Benny Pan, Ho Chow, Bing Woo, and Annuo Liu come into focus as examples of the struggle Chinese faced as they sought to escape China before Mao’s army seized control over the entire country. 

As I read the book, I noticed how the four stories are told in an alternating pattern. The book moves chronologically but the author switches between each story over time. Some readers may find this to be challenging as opposed to one section telling the story from start to finish of one person. However, the format here works because the author does not solely tell their stories but the history of Japanese occupation and the dark reality of life in Shanghai during the war. The story of Shanghai is often neglected but in 1937, the Japanese made it the eye of their rage and when Japan’s army did invade, the misery under which Chinese lived increased exponentially. The atrocities conducted by Japanese units is documented and the story of Nanjing remains one of its darkest parts. However, the Japanese had accomplices and the actions by Chinese doing the bidding of Tokyo will cause readers to shake their heads is disgust or disbelief. For young Benny Pan, the reality of aiding the Japanese hits home when he learns more about his own father. I am sure that what he learned became a heavy burden to carry for years to come.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Chinese remained loyal to their homeland but had no desire for communist rule and had hope that Chiang Kai-Shek would defeat the communists. Mao proved to be a bigger foe and more popular figure than expected. Annuo Liu is still a young girl when her father answers the call to aid the Nationalists in the fight against the communists. Her mother becomes the backbone of the family, and their story of survival highlights the role thousands of women found themselves in as their husbands were called to fight and defend China from enemies within and abroad. Annuo’s story is nothing short of miraculous. Her father makes appearances throughout the book, but his experiences changed him permanently and his daughter who ages on her own begins to resist his rule as a new life with personal independence becomes possible. The dark reality of Communist rule settles in and for Annuo, the writing is on the wall and America becomes destination number one. While I read her account, I could not help to think how I would have felt to see my father walk out the door to parts unknown while my mother struggles to provide with little to no resources. The human spirit is one of the strongest things I have ever witnessed, and this book is proof.

Chinese who did escape Shanghai faced uncertain futures abroad such as Ho Chow who arrives in America as a student and Bing who is matched with a suitor that facilitates her arrival in America. Each took a different path to the United States, and both faced exile back to their country of birth. However, America is the land of opportunity and through fortune, determination, and sacrifice, they establish permanent homes in the land of the free. Ho Chow’s story became my favorite and his unwavering focus on studies and survival are nothing short inspirational. Of course, there is a dark side to their move to America and that is the prejudice awaiting Chinese immigrants in America. Today it may be hard to imagine but at one time, immigration from China severely restricted or prohibited as shown in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. America was certainly an improvement from Shanghai but far from paradise and the Chinese that did move to the United States faced new battles such as learning English, navigating the immigration system, and combating anti-Asian feelings due to the events of Pearl Harbor and allied efforts to defeat the Japanese military. But they persevered and made America their home. For Benny Pan, leaving China for good came after significant hardship and personal sacrifice after Mao’s Communist Party took over the nation. His struggle exemplifies the fear and paranoia that arrived with the communist regime. The Chinese Communist Party made it clear that opposition was permitted and during Mao’s reign, millions perished through his failed “Great Leap Forward” and “Cultural Revolution”. The invasion of Japanese military units and later oppression by communists, resulted in the separation of families, friends and colleagues, many of whom never saw each other again.

Chiang Kai-Shek fled after suffering defeat and went on to form the nation of Formosa known as Taiwan today. The autonomy of this smaller island nation draws the ire of Beijing which remains determined to force it into submission. And in the process, it reinforces why so many of its people left China more than sixty years ago. But the Generalissimo was not above reproach himself and the author reveals several secrets about the Nationalists that caught my attention. Some Nationalists were not as “patriotic” as they appeared. Dark alliances were formed under the guise of resisting “communist influence”. China became a hotbed of discontent on all sides, and no one was safe. Life became cheap and death a daily reality. Even the suspicion of being a “leftist”, “nationalist” or “Japanese puppet” was enough to induce violence and incarceration. Helen Zia beautifully brings the past alive and shows the panic people faced as everyone worried about making the last boat out of Shanghai. Highly recommended.

“A professor in China told me that, in modern China, everyone’s story is a tragedy. Unfortunately, the same may be said about those from many other regions of the world. My deepest appreciation goes to all who struggle to overcome the scars of exodus; their lives are cautionary tales that show why such tragedies of history must not be repeated.”

ASIN: ‎ B07CR2CMGR

Why The Vietnam War?: Nuclear Bombs and Nation Building in Southeast Asia, 1945-1961 – Michael Swanson

swansonFifteen days from now, the fifty-eight anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s (1917-1963) murder will be upon us. His death continues to remind America of a lost opportunity and leader taken before his time. His presidency inspires debate to this day with some believing that he brought the country dangerously close to nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Others feel that he had yet to reach his full potential as a leader. The truth is far more complicated and both sides often omit the difficulties Kennedy faced behind the scenes from those within his own administration. After the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion which led to Kennedy firing top officials of the Central Intelligence Agency,  he then found himself under pressure to intervene in the nation of Laos. Again, Kennedy resisted, drawing the ire of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Cold-War hawks in Washington. But the hawks were determined and saw Vietnam as the next battlefield to confront “Soviet influence”.  But the question that has always haunted this nation is why did we get involved in Vietnam? What threat did North Vietnam pose to the United States even though it is more than thirteen thousand miles away from American soil? My uncle who served in Vietnam has only spoken of his experiences a handful of times. He keeps the war suppressed in his memory and does his best to stay secluded during July 4th celebrations as the fireworks remind him of being in combat. I often wondered if he has asked himself why he was deployed thousands of miles away from home to a country some Americans did not know existed prior to the conflict. Michael Swanson asked himself about Vietnam and has explored the war  paying close attention to its origins and this book is the first of what will be a multi volume set about America’s involvement in Southeast Asia.

Swanson quickly establishes that the Vietnam War started sixteen years earlier than 1961. In fact, the war has its origins in the ascension of North Vietnam to power in the wake of World War II. The evacuation of Japanese military personnel created a power vacuum that allowed the North Vietnamese to take control and establish its headquarters in Hanoi. Washington was paying close attention to the developments and the rise of Ho Chih Minh (1890-1969).  He was known as Uncle Ho and proved to be a charismatic figure as well as an icon for millions of Vietnamese who strongly favored an independent Vietnam, free of French colonial rule. And this is what policy makers in Washington failed to realize. However, there were those on the ground who saw Ho Chih Minh’s potential and the futility of French attempts to reclaim Indochina. In the book, we learn the name of former Lieutenant Colonel Archimedes Patti (1913-1998), a former Office of Strategic Services officer who emerges as the voice of reason no one wanted to hear. Patti warned officials back in Washington of what he saw firsthand but sadly, his reports were shelved. And when reflecting back on the war, Patti stated:

“Ho Chi Minh was on a silver platter in 1945,” remembered Archimedes Patti, “we had him. He was willing to, to be a democratic republic, if nothing else. Socialist yes, but a democratic republican.

I recall a Vietnam veteran years ago telling me that he couldn’t understand why America got involved after seeing the French evacuate. He was drafted at 19 and has always maintained that Vietnam was one of the scariest experiences in his life. His question was valid. Why did we take the place of the French and why did we help them in the first place? The author pieces together the story to show Washington’s early involvement in French affairs and I could only shake my head at what he reveals. But there is always more than meets the eye. Swanson knows this and proceeds to explain what was taking place back in Washington that paved the way for such disastrous foreign policy. In fact, he bluntly states that after World War II:

“The United States, however, sought to control societies in order to improve them, in order to incorporate them into the modern capitalist world order through nation building. But becoming an empire changed the United States forever, and led it to fight a disastrous war in Vietnam.” 

When John F. Kennedy took office, he had to have known the difficulties he faced from what his predecessor Dwight E. Eisenhower (1890-1969) called the military industrial complex. However, what Kennedy may not have known is that America’s involvement in Vietnam did not start with Eisenhower but with another president, Harry S. Truman (1884-1972). This part of the story came as a surprise because the focus on Truman’s actions in office are often related to World War II and the National Security Act of 1947. But it does make sense that his role is revisited as Vietnam began to draw Washington’s attention not long after the Japanese surrender. I could not help when reading the story that had Truman decided not to get involved in Vietnam, world history might have taken a different course. As the story moves forward, Eisenhower’s administration passes with Vietnam remaining a French issue. It remains dormant until, when the intelligence community and military found itself irate over the president’s refusal to support military intervention across the globe. And it is here that the Vietnam story heats up and Swanson takes us deep inside Kennedy’s administration to explain the true reasons for military engagement in Southeast Asia.

Kennedy had sought to prevent Americans from getting engulfed in a ground war in Vietnam. Swanson captures the essence of the story here and I strongly recommend John Newman’s JFK & Vietnam: Deception, Intrigue and the Struggle for Power which discusses JFK’s battles with his own cabinet and the Joint Chiefs over escalation. Newman leaves no doubt that Kennedy knew Vietnam was a deathtrap for American forces. But war hawks were not ready to admit it and as Swanson shows, a power struggle did in fact take place with a majority of people pushing Kennedy to approve troops and the president pushing back against them. Readers will express surprise at the actions of  those working “for” the president.  Kennedy was struggling to maintain control over his own administration.  Readers with an interest in his assassination will find this aspect of the story highly relevant.

Vietnam veterans known dark truths about the war that many would prefer not to know. Swanson’s job here was not to pacify anyone but to explain why Vietnam happened. And in order to understand the war, it is crucial to understand the importance to Washington of South Vietnam and its former leader Ngo Dinh Diem (1901-1963). Admittedly, there is much about his life I am still learning of, but I now have a better understanding of the truth in regard to South Vietnam and why personnel stationed in the country were sounding the alarm bells to those in power in Washington. And what I read resulted in anger at those who knew the issues in South Vietnam and the low chance of success. Frankly, Washington knew it could not win in Vietnam without a massive commitment of troops and the use of nuclear weapons. But the public backlash at those two concepts would have been political suicide so America had to operate in a limited capacity. But the pressure to invade never let up and as the story moves forward, the stage is set for a showdown between Kennedy and the military industrial complex. However, the book ends before the tragic fates of Diem and Kennedy play out. As Swanson explains, that will be the focus of the next part in the series. But he does summarize the story contained within with this statement that sent chills down my spine:

“The more hawkish members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff viewed Southeast Asia as simply part of a conflict with China over who would control the entire region. When they advocated intervention in Laos in 1961 their plans were for a regional conflict that carried with it a ladder of escalation, the final step of which was an atomic attack on China if they retaliated, one in which they thought they could break the back of Red China.” 

Kennedy himself said it best when he observed: “These brass hats have one great advantage, if we … do what they want us to do, none of us will be alive later to tell them that they were wrong.” We can only speculate as to what would have transpired had he lived.  I personally believe that the Vietnam War would have never happened. Kennedy was determined to resist the military and dismantle the Central Intelligence Agency but the events in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, changed that permanently. His successor Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) had different plans for Vietnam, and they included the flexing of American military muscle that claimed the lives of  fifty-eight thousand Americans and over one million Vietnamese. It remains the war that America did not win.  And there thousands of veterans alive today still carrying the scars from that war. If you want to know why the Vietnam War happened, this is a good place to start.

ASIN ‏ : ‎ B08FHBS17K

John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster: The True Story of the Lawyer Who Defended One of the Most Evil Serial Killers in History – Sam L. Amirante and Danny Broderick

gacy On May 19, 1994, American serial killer John Wayne Gacy (1942-1994) was executed by lethal injection at Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, Ill, after being convicted of multiple murder charges. It is  believed by some people that there were more victims of Gacy that have never been identified. The truth went to the grave with Gacy but what is on the record are the thirty-three homicides attributed to Gacy during his reign of terror. His attorney, Sam Amirante, had just started his own private defense practice when Gacy sought him out for legal representation. Amirante could not have known that his first client would catapult him into the public spotlight in ways none one could have imagined. This is the story of how it happened and how Amirante’s life changed while he defended one of America’s deadliest serial killers.

I previously reviewed the book by former prosecutor Terry Sullivan titled Killer Clown: The John Wayne Gacy Murders that focused on the efforts by law enforcement and the district attorney to build a case against Gacy. It is an interesting look into how the murder investigation developed and the impact it had on police and the people of Illinois. Amirante’s book is equally as effective but views the case from the other side. Essentially, how do you defend a monster who has just told you about murders that he has committed? After getting himself drunk, Gacy arrived at Amirante’s office for a pre-arranged visit and confessed to his lawyers that he had committed multiple murders, leaving Amirante and his partner speechless. It soon becomes clear that insanity is the only defense. But how do you defend a man who does not think there is anything mentally wrong with himself? There was no “blueprint” in dealing with a client like John Wayne Gacy and Amirante had been given an impossible task. But to his credit, he mounted a defense in the face of enormous evidence that proved Gacy’s guilt, in particular the human remains found in the crawl space underneath his house. Readers may wonder how Amirante was able to do his job knowing that thirty-three men lost their lives at the hands of Gacy. The answer is quite simple and Amirante delivers the explanation showing his belief in the legal system he swore an oath to uphold:

“It’s much easier to hate the bad guy than it is to support the hard reality that if we are to continue to enjoy our freedoms, if our Constitution is to survive, it has to be supported in all circumstances, even when to do so seems hard.” 

Whether he believed Gacy would be found innocent by reason of insanity is not entirely clear. In fact, Amirante explains on multiple occasions throughout the book how the evidence helped seal Gacy’s fate. And in a twist of fate, it was a small photo receipt belonging to Nissan Pharmacy Kim Byers was found in Gacy’s house that unraveled the murder mysteries. And though the receipt belonged to someone who was still alive, it established that Robert Jerome Piest (1963-1978) had been in Gacy’s house. The fallout from that discovery eventually led to Gacy’s arrest and showed America the dark side of human nature.  According to people who knew him, Gacy was well-liked, successful and viewed as a family-oriented person. Neighbors could not believe that the man they said hello to, had been murdering young men and burying them underneath his home and dumping other remains in nearby rivers. But the evidence did not lie and with Gacy’s statements, jurors found it fairly easy to convict him. But to his credit, Amirante was a shrewd lawyer and wins small victories through the trial. Law students and those interested in legal practice will appreciate his explanations of the criminal defense system and the strategies used to save Gacy’s life, if possible.

Amirante does not attempt to exonerate Gacy for his behavior. But he did believe that Gacy suffered from some level issue of mental disability. But his client’s ability to compartmentalize various aspects of his life made defending John Wayne Gacy an insurmountable task. And even when he was convicted of the murders, Gacy was mentally somewhere else. A sentence of capital punishment was handed out, but Gacy appeared to be indifferent to his own fate. As Amirante explains:

“Only one person in the room was dry-eyed, only one. John Wayne Gacy stood at the defense table, bewildered and lost.”

There are mysteries of Gacy’s life that are lost to history.  He is no longer here to explain his past actions in further detail. That may be a good thing as his past deeds are some of the most macabre in American history. Despite his atrocious crimes, he was entitled to due process, a component guaranteed under the laws of this nation. Amirante knew his client was a monster, but he had a job to do as a defense lawyer.  And in this book, he does it admirably, even at great personal sacrifice. His family went through quite an ordeal as detailed in the book and it should not be overlooked by readers, how difficult it must have been for him to defend his client.  To Amirante’s disappointment, Gacy was convicted by a jury of his peers, and I believe rightfully so. Serial killers will always be with us but that should never deter us from understanding how they are created in the hopes that future killers can be prevented. John Wayne Gacy will remain a case study in homicidal rage and a killer that continues to haunt America.  We may not like the legal system at times and might prefer the court of public opinion, but if we believe in the constitution, then even the worst of us are innocent until proven guilty.  This book is a prime example of an attorney who deeply believes in the American legal system and performed a task that many would have avoided. Good read.

“There are two reasons that will cause good men to abandon their long-standing, dearly held morals, values, and principles and revert to more primitive, barbaric practices to resolve conflict. That is when their hearts are filled with anger or when their hearts are filled with fear.” 

ASIN ‏ : ‎ B005HJ9MOE

Nothing Left to Prove: A Law Enforcement Memoir – Danny R. Smith

SmithA friend whom I have known since elementary school recently finished twenty years with the New York City Police Department. Though eligible for retirement, he continues to serve the city where he was born. I and other friends have never failed to remind him to be careful on the dangerous streets of New York. Long hours, dangerous criminals and bureaucratic obstacles can sometimes make being a police officer a difficult and thankless job. And when I watch the hit show The First 48, I am  always amazed at the skills of homicide detectives as they solve crimes in cities across America. Danny R. Smith served as a homicide detective in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for seven out of the twenty-years he reported for duty. This is his story as part of law enforcement in the City of Angels. 

The book begins with Smith revisiting the day when he knew that the time had come for him to make his exit from the force. The scene he arrives upon is macabre, but we learn towards the end of the book when he explains the full details surrounding the discovery, that the reason for the find is far simpler and less sinister. However, Smith had reached his breaking point but in order for us to understand why, we have to go back in time to the beginning of the wild ride he took during two decades of service. Expectedly, he explains how he joined the Sheriff’s Department and the path he took to homicide. And it is at that part of the book that the story heats up. As we follow him from one case to the next, the dark side of Southern California comes into vivid focus. But the book is far more than just a former officer’s tales of war on the streets. In the mix of murders, burglaries and other crimes, Smith shows us his personal life and the struggles he endures due to injuries on the job and the mental challenges that come with daily exposure to the deadly side of humanity. It will be hard for any reader not to appreciate the enormous sacrifices made by the people in law enforcement. 

As expected, there are dark moments in the book, but Smith also adds the right amount of humor at times to take the edge off. And what he shows is that the life of a homicide detective is anything but orthodox.  His journeys took him across the United States in pursuit of fugitives who could not escape justice. And the stories he tells of transporting prisoners back across the country are both humorous and interesting. The lengths to which detectives go to capture a suspect are eye opening. But not all suspects are apprehended and crimes do remain unsolved as we see in the book. But it is not for lack of effort.  Smith was a first-class detective who was thoroughly committed to his job and the people of Los Angeles. 

The riots in Los Angeles after the acquittal of police officers charged with beating motorist Rodney King (1965-2012) remain fresh in the minds of all who remember them. I remember watching the aftermath play out on television as Los Angeles went up in flames.  Smith was on the ground and discusses the riots highlighting how dangerous the situation was. But during his career, he experienced the loss of fellow officers.  Each death hits home for Smith and he remembers his fallen officers with grace and how it affected those who continued to do the job. And the harsh reality that the show must go on is apparent as more calls come in for Los Angeles’ finest. The hours are long and the work is dangerous, and I can only imagine the number of stories that did not make it into the book.  Smith’s eyes have seen things that can haunt a person for a long time or make them smile on occasion. 

Smith was as seasoned as detectives come but even he could not avoid fate.  The physical and mental toll of being a police officer comes into focus as the job wears him down over time.  And as the book moves closer to the conclusion, the writing is on the wall. Smith was reaching his end, but I personally did not want the book to finish.  His memories had me glued to the screen and I hated to put the Kindle down.  I can now see why the book has a five-star rating on Amazon. This incredible memoir is perfect for anyone who is interested in the life of a police officer/homicide detective. Smith is now retired but he will forever be a part of Los Angeles history. 

“For those who haven’t been there, know that the great majority of cops are kind and caring souls, driven to the profession with the desire to help others, to protect the weak from bullies and predators, and to stand up for those who are unable to stand up for themselves. We sacrifice holidays and special occasions and sometimes much, much more, to make a difference in our communities. To make a difference in your communities.”

Danny R. Smith 

ASIN ‏ : ‎ B09FGWT2WV

Manson in His Own Words – Charles Manson with Nuel Emmons

 

Emmons The name Charles Milles Manson (1934-2017) is among the most notorious in American history.  During August 8-10, 1969, followers of Manson committed a series of gruesome murders that shocked the country and revealed the dark side of human nature.  Though Manson never committed any of the murders himself, he helped coordinate their efforts and provided the encouragement needed for the heinous deeds to be carried out.  Among the victims was Folger’s coffee heir Abigail Folger (1943-1969) and actress Sharon Marie Tate Polanski (1943-1969). Initially, law enforcement was mystified by the crimes, but a break came in the case through the boasting and subsequent confession of Susan Atkins (1948-2009) who was being held on murder charges in the death of Gary Hinman (1934-1969).  Her statements and evidence gathered by investigators lead directly to Manson and others involved.  Manson received a death sentence for his role in the crimes, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison after the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972. He remained in prison until his death on November 19, 2017.  The general consensus is that Manson was the epitome of evil but who was he behind the scenes?  And how did he have such a hold over so many people?  Was Manson and evil genius or a fraud one would expect to find in the fictional Oz?  Nuel Emmons asked himself similar questions and decided to find out for himself by visiting Manson in prison.  And the result is this book which gives Manson a platform to speak for himself.  

Books of this nature are always subject to controversy because the debate will arise as to how much is the speaker’s own words and what percentage of the book was revised or added by editors.  Emmons explains that he knew Manson from prison where he had served time for a variety of crimes.  By the time he interviewed Manson he had put his own criminal life behind him.  What is clear is that Emmons did visit Manson and had served time with him so there is no reason for me to doubt that he spent considerable time with him.  I am certain that some parts of the manuscript were cleaned up by Emmons and the publishers, but I also believe that Manson did provide a significant amount of the information found in the book. And what I read stands in stark contrast to the image of Manson found in pop-culture. 

Manson begins with his childhood which has been discussed countless times.  An absent father and dysfunctional mother-son relationship set him down the wrong path from an early age and his experiences at the Indiana School for Boys shattered the remaining innocence found in children and young adults.  I warn readers that this part of the book is not easy to read.  We will probably never know the whole truth about Manson’s experiences there, but they did change his outlook in life.  Marriage and fatherhood enter the story and I learned a few things about Manson that I was unaware of before.  But as I read through the book, I began to see how he was failed by those closest to him and those in positions of power who could have changed his life.  He evolves as a creation and reflection of our society.

It is not long in the story before Manson begins to pick up fellow drifters and build a following.  After obtaining a van from a pastor whose daughter he had eyes on, his journey across America kicks into high gear.  And one by one, newcomers enter his circle and begin to follow “Charlie” anywhere he decides.  The word cult might be too strong to describe the situation, but Manson could have easily accumulated the number of followers that believed in figures such as David Koresh (1959-1993) and James Warren “Jim” Jones (1931-1978).  But the question still remains, why did they follow Manson?  From what is found in the book, it is apparent that Manson is no genius and in fact, he points out his failures more than once.  Of course, there are times where Manson makes himself out to be a good Samaritan but even that is up for debate.  His selfishness and lack of direction in life set the stage for his followers to do his bidding even at the expense of their own freedom and the tragic loss of life that came later.   His flock began to see him as almost godlike but the dysfunction brewing under the surface soon rises to the top. The use of narcotics combined with black market money-making schemes soon places Manson in tough positions and the actions of followers Charles “Tex” Watson and Susan Atkins initiated the downward spiral that culminated with the Tate-Labianca murders.  

Manson tries to absolve him of guilt in the Gary Hinman debacle but personally I was not convinced.  But he does admit that he could have prevented the Tate-Labianca murders but chose to do nothing.  And his rational for his followers’ actions is just mind boggling but does reaffirm that widespread belief that Manson was out of his mind.  But perhaps the darkest part of the book is his reaction to all of the murders.  This should remove all doubt that there was a “softer” side to Charles Manson.  This part of the book falls in line with the man we know from the media.  Emmons largely stays behind the scenes as Manson is talking but he does make this statement towards the end which I believe accurately sums up the myth of Charles Manson: 

“The “God” he perhaps was to his followers was turned into a monster for the rest of us. Yet Manson has no superhuman powers, neither divine nor demonic. The image of “the most dangerous man alive” bears little resemblance to the man I have been visiting these past seven years. Perhaps the myth of Charles Manson satisfied our hunger for sensationalism, but certainly it also absolved us of the darker side of the humanity we share with him.”

Charles Manson is gone forever but his ghost and past deeds will remain with us for an eternity.  This is an interesting look at figure who was once believed to be the most dangerous man in America.  Whether that was true or not is up to you. 

ASIN ‏ : ‎ B004I6DD56