We Could Not Fail: The First African Americans in the Space Program – Richard Paul and Steven Moss

nasaOn January 28, 1986, Americans watched in horror as the Space Shuttle Challenger suffered a catastrophic rupture in its rocket booster shortly after liftoff. Among the seven crew members who perished was Ronald McNair (1950-1986) and African American astronaut who had joined a diverse crew of individuals who were making history. As a student, I remember being in awe of McNair and the mission he was on. Naturally, my fellow students and I also had an affinity for Christa McAuliffe (1948-1986) a schoolteacher whose hometown was watching that day as well. To millions of young black children, McNair was a remarkable sight, but he was not the first to break NASA’s color barrier. In fact, NASA had begun to integrate the space program decades before, during the administration of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), whose initiative to travel to the moon led to NASA changing itself and playing a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement.

When I first started to read the book, I was not sure what to expect but admittedly, I did not associate the cover with the movement for civil rights. However, I knew that what I was about to learn would provide me with knowledge of the men and women who have not been given credit for their journeys in life that undoubtedly had obstacles along the way. Readers may ask why the story of NASA’s role in the movement is unknown. Until I read this book, I was not aware of the agency’s importance. The authors are also cognizant of this and pull no punches in stating that:

“NASA’s role in southern desegregation remains an unwritten and almost forgotten chapter in the history of the space program.”

I believe this to be an understatement and cannot recall any of my history books mentioning this. But such is the beauty of reading; there are always new things to learn. The story focuses on the American South where Jim Crow was at the height of its power. The Kennedy Administration could not ignore the growing social unrest in America but faced challenges in Southern States and their representatives in Congress who were openly hostile to the thought of minorities having equal rights under the law. However, former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968) did not shy away from difficult tasks and when “ruthless Bobby” was needed, he delivered. Space exploration was not on the administration’s primary agenda but once it became clear that the program could be a vehicle to drive forward integration, all hands were on deck. And soon NASA found places to operate its growing program in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Texas. The goal was admirable but even NASA learned that the South was unlike any place in America.

On March 6, 1961, President Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925, which was a multi-part order that set into motion important procedures. The most crucial was the creation of the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, known by its acronym PCEEO. Upon the creation of this committee, civil rights activist and government agencies committed to dismantling segregation kicked into high gear and the space program itself became a prime target. As the story shifts its focus to the South, the complicated position of NASA and its black employees takes shape. The recruitment of blacks did commence but the South was not ready to change, which created a strange paradox across the region. NASA struggled to attract qualified candidates due to the South’s infamous reputation. Added to this unusual operation was the role of Werner Von Braun (1912-1977), the former Nazi party official and director of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The irony that a former member of Adolf Hitler’s (1889-1945) Third Reich became a key figure in the movement for civil rights and integration will not be lost on readers. The authors are even more frank in their assessment when they remark,

“The word “ironic” does not begin to capture what it meant that a man tasked with implementing a program of racial equality had once worked for Hitler. Von Braun had used the slave labor of concentration camp inmates to build the V2 rockets that fell on London and elsewhere. Yet this was the man tasked with correcting the legacy of slavery in Alabama.”

Mark Twain (1835-1910) had it right when he remarked that “truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t“. But in a time when society was changing rapidly and alliances were needed, the unlikely became reality. However, that is not to say that the introduction of Black Americans into the space program was without its setbacks. The new recruits arrived to find that NASA as an agency was responsive to federal law but changing the culture within NASA required more time and determination. That did not deter the men in this book whose names are part of history such as Julius Montgomery (1929-2020), Clyde Foster (1931-2017) and Theodis Ray (1942-2021). In Washington, the White House was watching the progress at NASA and remained committed to seeing it succeed. But as the authors show, not everyone within the administration was on the same page. The bitter rivalry between Robert Kennedy and future President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) again rears its ugly head. Following John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson continued the movement towards integration, and he was able to succeed in the senate in comparison to Kennedy, whose civil rights bill had not gained any significant traction. Johnson’s reputation as a master politician is on full display.

Outside of NASA facilities, the movement continued, and the authors also discuss what was happening on the ground as marches, sit-ins and strikes took place in the hotbed of segregation. The scenes are disheartening and readers sensitive to the subject matter may want to use discretion. The events are well-documented but revisiting them here is as unsettling today as they were then. However, the emphasize the seriousness of the change NASA was attempting to bring to the South, the authors had to show the threat of death that existed for blacks who dared to challenge the system and the deplorable living conditions of blacks trapped under Jim Crow. There were successes but also tragedies as we see in the book. And like places in which conflict has occurred, there was a talent and brain drain out of the South, which is another part of the movement that is not discussed.

Through location, NASA found itself co-existing with a growing movement that was not going to slow down. The agency did act on occasion but as we see in the book, there were also missed opportunities. The NASA effort was not perfect, but the agency did have success and it did help change the social climate in America. The story is not as popular, but it is equally as important as any in history. Moving forward I hope to see more young men and women from all backgrounds take interest in the space program. Tools of untapped talent exist everywhere, and NASA learned this surely but slowly during the 1960s. Today America is a different place, but in the future, younger generations will be required to carry the torch. As we look for those future engineers, astronauts, and important personnel, this book will remind us that they can be found in the most unexpected of places. Highly recommended.

ASIN:‎ B00VGELYTU

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 – Garrett M. Graff

graffThis past Sunday marked the twenty-first anniversary of the September 11th attacks which claimed the lives of 2,996 people. The mood in New York City was somber, with rain and dark clouds all day. However, that did not stop anyone from remembering the tragedies on September 11, 2001, a day that changed America. Friends are always surprised to learn that I have never visited the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. As a New Yorker who was in Manhattan on the day of the attacks, and watched the events unfold from an office window, I will always have my memories of that sad day. But my reluctance to visit the museum has never prevented me from reading and hearing stories from people who were at the World Trade Center and survived. Undoubtedly, there are survivors who have never told their stories, choosing not to re-live the events of that day. Thousands of others did go on the record and their words have been preserved so that the history of 9/11 can continue to be told to future generations. Author Garrett M. Graff has compiled hundreds of statements from survivors, Bush Administration officials, NYC officials, military personnel and first responders, and has turned them into this oral history of the attacks.

Because the book is an oral history, there is no standard narration. The author does provide relevant information when needed but otherwise, the speakers tell us what happened as the day progressed. They range from former President George W. Bush to office workers at the World Trade Center complex. To be clear, Bush does not give an interview but what is included are snippets from the speeches he gave to the country on the evening of the attacks. Readers may feel that the approach is disjointed at first because the statements provided by the speakers are short but also long enough to give you relevant information. And the format works beautifully because it allows them to add small pieces to the bigger picture. And what emerges are unbelievable stories of luck, courage, heartbreak, and fate. You will experience a range of emotions and in the epilogue, the author discloses that even he became emotional while authoring the book. But he pressed forward, and the result is a masterpiece that belongs in the vast archive of materials about the 9/11 attacks.

Readers will notice that there are four stories in the book, one for each phase of the attacks that morning. They began in New York when the North Tower was struck at 8:46 a.m. At first, it was thought that a horrible accident had taken place but when a plane struck the South Tower, it was clear that America was under attack. Surprisingly, the response to the threats did not move at the speed at which one would hope. In fact, the confusion and chaos within America’s air defense network is clear in the book. Fighter pilots were forced to take flight in time spans they would never see under normal conditions. And what the pilots reveal about how prepared they were, and the reality of confronting Flight 93 will give you chills.

There are no smoking guns in the stories and the alleged hijackers are rarely mentioned but there is a wealth of information in the book about what took place behind the scenes within the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the hijacked airliners and Air Force One which found itself the only plane in the sky as officials shut down America’s air space. As I read the book, I noted that the sobering reality of that day is that no one imagined that type of scenario. Former New York Fire Department Commissioner Thomas Van Essen, who watched the deaths of hundreds of firefighters, first responders and civilians has stated that “nothing could have ever really prepared us for what happened—or how fast the events would unfold“.  All hell broke loose in Manhattan and the horrors of the battle to survive at the World Trade Center as told by the survivors is haunting. I felt chills reading of the last moments from trapped workers on floor about the crash location and the breakdown in communication that could have saved lives. At the helm was Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his statements also show how chaotic the day had become. 9/11 was a day that no one thought could ever happen but there were warnings that something was brewing and that an Islamic fundamentalist had America in his crosshairs.

Prior to the attacks of 9/11, the name Osama Bin Laden (1957-2011) was unknown to the public. But there were officials in Washington who knew of him and his plan to destroy America. The author does not explore whether Bin Laden was guilty and how planning was executed or any connections between the alleged suspects. He leaves that to the speakers who do state that they believed Bin Laden was behind the attacks. Aboard Air Force One, President Bush was briefed throughout the day and the former administration officials who appear in the book clarify any theories about his alleged “strange behavior” that day. The main concern was always Bush’s safety due to the belief that the president himself was a target. Action was swift and the Secret Service was taking any chances. The cabinet’s departure from Florida and decision to land at Barksdale Air Force Base are revisited in vivid detail and the suspense unfolds like Hollywood but this is what happened, and there was no script that day. People had jobs to be done and they went into action to the best of their abilities. The number of heroes in the book is staggering and chance encounters proved to be a matter of life or death.

The day after 9/11 I remember the feeling in New York City that what had transpired the day before could not have been real. It felt as if we were trapped in a horrible nightmare that would not end. We wanted to go back to Monday September 10 and keep that day going instead. But as weeks turned into months and crews continued with the cleanup of debris and identification of remains, the dark and unsettling truth that America was not immune to attack became clear. The country had changed, and the threat of terror became the number one priority. Children coming of age today will only know the attacks through multimedia but for older generations, 9/11 remains vividly clear. And we have authors such as Garrett M. Graff to thank for the books that preserve the history of the attacks that impacted the United States and the world. This oral history of that day is a treasure and a literary work that is a gift that keeps on giving.

ASIN:‎ B07P5H18W6

A Great Sacrifice: Northern Black Soldiers, Their Families, and the Experience of Civil War – James G. Mendez

MendezThe more I learn about history, the more I realize how much of it is not taught in schools. I recall learning about the Civil War but in limited discussions. And I fondly remember the 1989 film Glory featuring Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, and Denzel Washington. The story of black soldiers in the Civil War needed to be shown but of course, there is far more to the story. Here, author James G. Mendez discusses the experiences of the Civil War’s black soldiers and their families during a time when America was being pulled apart at the seams. And what he shows is that there is far more to the story of the Civil War than one might expect.

When I saw this book in my list of recommendations, it immediately caught my attention. I knew beforehand that it would not be an easy read and my suspicion was correct. And though the story is not all tragedy and heartbreak, it is rife with examples of the grueling hardships black troops faced in the Union Army during the war as they fought for their freedom and the lives of millions of Black Americans.  But before the author arrives at the point of the induction of black troops, he first provides a discussion of the social climate in America which constantly denied African Americans basic rights. Frankly, life was brutally hard for blacks and as the author shows, basic rights were a dream for them. Readers might be shocked to see that states considered to be “liberal” or “blue” today have their own dark history including New York, my home state. Mendez pulls no punches and shows that even in the North, blacks still faced enormous hurdles, and support for the war effort varied and was not unified behind the idea of eradicating slavery. In fact, the author’s work shows that attitudes towards slavery were varied and unpredictable. However, the abolitionists were determined to see its demise.

I once told a friend that black history is American history. I say this because you cannot separate the two. And as can be seen in the book, the efforts of Black Americans have been crucial in the history of this nation. In regard to combat, Mendez explains:

“Blacks fought, both as slaves and free men, in every American war, including the Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Mexican-American War. They fought bravely and received accolades from prominent American leaders such as Andrew Jackson, who acknowledged after the Battle of New Orleans (December 1814 to January 1815) that black soldiers played a major role in his victory.” 

Despite the contributions of blacks, resistance to black troops during the Civil War was strong and commonplace. Readers will be disheartened and surprised to learn of the attitude towards using black troops held by those in power in across states in the Union and in the army itself. Delaware in particular will stand out to readers in the book. As the war progressed, it became apparent that the Union Army needed manpower and eventually, the idea of using black troops became a reality due to the actions of Governor John A. Andrew (1818-1867) of Massachusetts. His vision and the developments that ensued will provide readers with a firm foundation as the story of the Northern Black troops kicks into high gear.

As one would expect, the arrival of black troops did not always go smoothly and the harsh reality the new soldiers faced is discussed. And their opponents were not solely those wearing a uniform. In fact, I learned for the first time about the deadly race riots in Detroit and New York City that were horrifying. The shocking events and impact on the troops’ morale is a crucial point in the book for it shows the difficult place black troops found themselves in. How did they have the courage and will to fight for a country that denied them basic rights? In the face of severe hostility and violence, blacks continued to enlist in the Union Army. And to put the importance of their service into perspective, Mendez provides key statistics:

“Nearly 200,000 black soldiers served in the Civil War—178,975 in the army and the remainder in the navy. Out of the total number in the army, 32,723 were from the North.” 

On the battlefield, black troops fought and died alongside white soldiers but even in death they and their families continued to suffer indignations. Not only was the pay between whites and blacks unequal but for black families, obtaining benefits for a loved one’s death could be impossible. The sad and complicated story of the unequal pay matter is one of the darkest parts of the book, yet it makes the story of the troops even more remarkable. The military and Congress did eventually address the matter, but the timing will leave readers mystified.

In the film Glory, the battle scenes are graphic, and it is known that the savagery in which battles were fought was not for the faint at heart. However, I learned here that soldiers often died due to conditions that would not be fatal today and the leading causes of their deaths may surprise you. Of course, what the author reveals does make sense in hindsight but is still shocking. Further, those who survived returned with their scars and trauma. Survivors of the war include Charles R. Douglass (1844-1920), the son of abolitionist and social reformer Frederick Douglass (1818-1895). His story is a prime example of the extensive damage the war inflicted upon its participants.

Eventually, the war reaches its bloody climax, and the Confederacy is forced to concede defeat. But the Union mission was far from over. Black troops were needed more than ever and how they were used after the South’s defeat is, yet another example of the difficulties faced by them before, during, and after the war. But what stands out here is that the reality of black troops being gatekeepers of the South was a recipe for a disaster and doomed from the start. The intricacies of the Union’s post-war actions and failures by Washington are additional tragedies that afflicted black troops and the country, inadvertently paving the way for the rise of Jim Crow. This book is not about the Reconstruction Acts, but Mendez does mention the actions of President Andrew Johnson (1808-1875) who clashed with Radical Republicans as the latter sought to rebuild the South completely.

I wish this book had been available and required reading when I was a student years ago. There is a wealth of information contained here often neglected or possibly unknown. America has come a long way since the Civil War, but the conflict continues to haunt the nation as the issues of race and equality remain at the forefront. In comparison to the 1800s, life for Americans is vastly different. But let us not forget that between 1861 and 1865, America was at war with itself, and joining the effort were its black residents fighting for their lives and the freedom of future generations.

ASIN:‎ B07BHQ6XKM

The Gotti Wars: Taking Down America’s Most Notorious Mobster – John Gleeson

GleesonAmerica has always loved gangster stories. Tales from the lives of larger-than-life characters both feared and respected have captivated film audiences and true crime readers. In my hometown of New York City, the Italian American mafia holds a firm place in the annals of the city’s crime history. Of all the mafia bosses, none was as flamboyant and media savvy as the late Gambino Family boss John J. Gotti (1940-2002). The media nicknamed him the “Teflon Don” due to the acquittals his lawyers obtained of a multitude of charges that could have put the mafia boss in prison for life. On March 13, 1987, Gotti and his co-defendants were acquitted of federal racketeering charges and the verdict left prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York licking their wounds. Gotti and his fellow mobsters were elated the Federal Government was far from finished. However, prosecutors knew that to convict Gotti, they needed irrefutable evidence of his crimes and witnesses willing to testify. As fate would have it, in time prosecutors would obtain all that they needed through a chain of events that began with wiretaps in the home of mobster Angelo Ruggiero, Sr. (1940-1989) known as “Quack Quack”. And leading the mission for the Government was lead prosecutor John Gleeson, also a former judge in the Eastern District. This is the story of how the United States Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn secured a conviction against America’s most notorious mobster.

Gleeson provides an early recap regarding the murders of Gambino Family boss Paul Castellano (1915-1985) and his driver/underboss Thomas Bilotti (1940-1985) in front of Sparks Steak House on December 16, 1985. Castellano’s death, less than a year after former underboss Aniello Dellacroce (1914-1985) paved the way for Gotti to assume the throne and removed the threat of death to mobsters whose crimes were discussed on the wiretaps from Ruggiero’s home. However, the murder was far from the end and only part of the downward spiral that culminated with Gotti’s conviction. After a brief discussion regarding his early life and how he arrived in Brooklyn, Gleeson moves on to the 1987 trial and defense verdict. Following Gotti’s acquittal, morale in the prosecutor’s office plummeted and its relationship with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) was strained to say the least. Further, prosecutors soon learned that the mafia had its influence everywhere and dismantling that vice grip would not be a simple effort. Gleeson had his work cut out for him but that did not deter the young prosecutor and soon enough, he would prove himself as an able litigator.

Readers do not need prior knowledge of Gotti’s life to enjoy the book, however, a minimal understanding of the Gambino Crime Family will make the book more intriguing. Gleeson does include a short biography of Gotti’s life before moving on to his criminal empire. The crux of the book is undoubtedly the investigation, arrest, and conviction in the wake of the 1987 not-guilty verdict. But the most interesting part is how the case came together. As stated before, wiretaps had already been placed in Ruggiero’s home, but a second bug placed in the apartment of widow Nettie Cirelli located above the Ravenite Social Club helped doom the mafia boss. The story of how that wiretap came into existence is broken down by Gleeson who expertly narrates the developing case. As a sub-story, the current investigation also provides clues as to how the 1987 case was lost. It may feel at times as if the information being uncovered is overwhelming. The story is a roller coaster ride full of dark criminals, shady lawyers, and collateral damage. The Cirelli wiretap had captured Gotti himself on tape, but prosecutors still wanted an air-tight case. They eventually received the biggest surprise of their life when a high-ranking mobster wanted to talk.

As the story progresses, the case against Gotti begins to take shape and eventually he and several co-defendants are arrested. After early shenanigans at the hands of defense counsel, several of whom were dismissed and/or convicted of other crimes, the government begins to lay out its damning case against the mobsters with prosecutors becoming increasingly confident of a conviction. The mountain of evidence had cast a dark cloud over Gotti, but when Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano reached out to prosecutors through his wife Debbie, the case took an earth-shattering turn. Gotti had no idea the avalanche was coming towards him. Gleeson explains in detail the step-by-step secretive movements to debrief Gravano and protect his cooperation which required Gleeson to conceal his actions from his superiors as well. Gravano was a wildcard and at the time, no one knew for certain how he would affect the pending case against Gotti. But as he divulged information on the organization’s structure and crimes, prosecutors knew they had Gotti right where they wanted him. The events were dramatized for the silver screen in the 1996 HBO production ‘Gottistarring Armand Assante as the mafia boss and the 2018 film of the same name starring John Travolta as the Teflon Don.

I appreciated how Gleeson explained the legal hurdles they faced during each trial. Each obstacle is explained in layman’s terms giving the book a reader-friendly narrative that does not require knowledge of civil or criminal litigation. Interestingly, the firm I work for had Gleeson as a presiding judge in the past and he was always seen as fair but stern. That code of conduct which became his trademark is on display here as he manages Gravano as a government witness and presents his case in front the jury who held Gotti’s fate in their hands. However, Gravano soon steals the show as he peels back the layers on crimes that mystified law enforcement. And what he reveals is nothing short of riveting and highlighted the cutthroat nature of life in the mafia. Honor, loyalty, and success are nothing more than smoke and mirrors in the mob with death lurking around every corner. The way in which people were murdered for reasons that were pure insanity discard any nothing of “family”. Life in the mob was far darker and less glamorous than Hollywood productions. The proof is contained here in this book that sets the record straight. Frankly, the mafia life is not one to be admired.

When Gotti was convicted, I remember the media frenzy and the shock that the “Teflon Don” was headed to jail. The mob boss had become a folk hero and a modern-day Robin Hood to those who loved him. For years, it seemed as if the mafia was untouchable. But that all changed on April 2, 1992, when the jury announced its verdict. It was clear to anyone paying attention that the once invincible mafia would soon be reduced to a lightweight crime faction far removed from the heights of its power. The government had proved without question that no one was above the law. If you like true crime, New York City history and have an interest in how the mafia met its demise, this is must-read.

ASIN:‎ B09JPK7XLW

The Strike That Changed New York: Blacks, Whites, and the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Crisis – Jerald E. Podair

NYNew York City is famously known as the “Melting Pot” due to the diversity among the residents that call it home. As a lifelong New Yorker, I can attest that the city attracts people from every part of the world. However, what is often neglected is that diversity and assimilation are two very different concepts. That is not to say that the entire city is divided. In fact, my neighbors hail from places both domestic and abroad. My father has told me stories of his childhood in Brooklyn and his neighbors who had emigrated from Eastern Europe. He has fond memories of the Italian woman who cooked breakfast for him and my uncles and the Jewish neighbor who made fresh breads and other dishes they loved. But that all changed when my grandmother moved the family to a different part of Brooklyn and the Government began to de-segregate public schools. The pushback from the middle class was swift and in May 1968, tensions came to a head at P.S. 271 in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, Brooklyn, when teachers engaged in the first of several strikes that changed New York. This is the story of those strikes and the people whose actions changed New York City politics.  

Readers should be aware that any pre-conceived notions about New York City being a liberal mecca will be challenged by this book. 1968 has long passed and may seem like ancient history to the youth of today but older readers will recall the turbulent atmosphere of the 1960s. Social unrest, war, revolution and assassinations marked the decade as one of the deadliest in history. New York City’s public school system had long attracted Jewish professionals and college graduates from white middle class backgrounds. In Ocean Hill-Brownsville, the local community had come to see this as an issue and on May 9, 1968, Community Board administrator Rhody McCoy (1923-2020) sent a letter to 19 white teachers informing them that they would no longer be allowed to teach at the school and would be reassigned. The impact was enormous and the fallout is on full display at Podair takes us through the events. 

The response by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) was predictable and swift. Union President Albert Shanker (1928-1997) saw the move by McCoy as nothing short of absurd and before long, the UFT and the local community became locked in stand-off that showed the dark side of New York City and questioned the meaning of liberalism. It is hard to put into words the scale of the tragedies contained within the book. The strikes are only one aspect of the story. Other regrettable components are the changed in racial dynamics, political affiliation and the ultimate failures by those who believed in their cause. Sure, there are winners and losers in story but the price paid by the local community was higher than anticipated. Podair simplifies the events even further by stating: 

“The Ocean Hill–Brownsville school controversy, which began in earnest with Rhody McCoy’s letter to Fred Nauman on May 9, 1968, was at its core the story of black and white New Yorkers who spoke different languages to each other, like strangers.

The question that readers will ask is how did New York City reach that point? The Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act had both been signed into law but the reality is that the problems of Black Americans were far from gone. Economic and social advancement remained out of reach for millions of blacks. And an ugly truth is that Congress cannot legislate acceptance. Consider this fact by the author that sheds light on what black students faced in the 1960s: 

“Residential segregation led in turn to educational segregation. By 1964, the average black student in New York attended a school that was over 90 percent nonwhite. While the central Board of Education did not shortchange black-majority schools in terms of funding, spending as much on them as on white schools, two crucial characteristics distinguished the two: the number of experienced teachers and class size.”

It should be pointed out that there were teachers who did want to make a difference. Fred Nauman, one of the central figures in the story believed in the ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) and found McCoy’s actions unbelievable. The sentiment was shared by others. But what they didn’t expect was the reaction from the local community which wanted their children to be taught by teachers who come from the same places that they do. And this idea serves as the issue that stoke the fires raging in the book. As the tensions mounted, sharp divisions began emerge and the racial incidents in the book are disheartening. As I read I could feel the charged atmosphere and see the long-term effects of what was being said and done. Readers should know that the story gets ugly at times with no punches being pulled. The rise of anti-Semitism made me cringe and I am sure you will have the same response. On the teacher’s side, we also see ugly displays of racism from teachers thought to be “liberal”. Quite frankly, the strike revealed more than meets the eye. Podair is even more direct: 

“The third Ocean Hill–Brownsville strike was the most bitter of all. It drew in the rest of the city. The strike divided the city in two important respects. First, by pulling blacks and Jews apart, and bringing Jews and white Catholics together, it reconfigured New York’s social landscape in sharp, defining shades of black and white. Second, it brought long-simmering class resentments to the surface, arraying poor blacks and corporate, government, media, and intellectual elites against the teachers and their allies in the city’s white middle-class population.” 

City Hall was not oblivious to the matter and several mayors had to confront the strike issue, social unrest and financial peril to varying degrees of success. Former Mayor Robert F. Wagner (1910-1991) found himself directly in the line of fire personally attempting to diffuse the situation. His actions and role are discussed thoroughly as are the roles of mayors Abraham Beame (1906-2001) and Edward Koch (1924-2013). I took note of the sub-story of New York City’s near bankruptcy and its relevance to the UFT and issues plaguing the city. Childhood memories of graffiti-riddled trains, vacant lots and burned out cars came flooding back to me as I read through the account of how close the city came to disaster. 

By the time I finished the book, I could not help to feel that those who lost the most were the students. Shanker and the UFT survived the strike but also paid a price.  A short term success was achieved in exchange for unintended long-term results. As for the local community in Brownsville, it found itself politically isolated, devoid of teachers and necessary social programs. Further, the relationship between the Jewish and Black communities deteriorated and those tensions later culminated in the Crown Heights Riots after Galvin Cato and his cousin Angela Cato were struck on the sidewalk by a car being driven by Yosef Lifsh on August 19, 1991. The next morning, Yankel Rosenbaum, a University of Melbourne Student conducting research for his doctorate was attacked and later died of his injuries. For several days after the accident, rioting occurred in what would become one of New York City’s darkest periods. 

Throughout the story, I found that I could related to the local community and their goals but questioned whether the end justified the means. In what could be described as political suicide, the strike helped formerly distant groups solidify political unity leaving black communities isolated. And not even the most liberal of mayors could rectify that. I also thought of the teachers I had as a child, all of whom I remember fondly. And most importantly, I thought of the late Sister Margaret “Peggie” Merritt (1937-2016) who served as the principal of St. John Neumann Roman Catholic School in one of New York City’s worst neighborhoods. I cannot recall the number of times she walked my brother and I home when it was late. Her actions and those of other teachers showed the devotion they had to the young kids growing up in a warzone plagued by crime, drugs and poverty.  When they left at night, they drove home to their neighborhoods far removed from East New York but I have no doubt that they took with them the realization that the streets outside the school were waiting to devour those who fall victim to their seduction. If they were biased, they sure picked an interesting place to use it. 

New York City has come a long way since 1968 but still has some distance to travel. This story can serve as an example of the divisions that can be found in cities across America even today. And if we are to prevent or rectify what is wrong, the first step is learning from mistakes of the past. If you have an interest in New York City politics and its history, this is must-read. Highly recommended. 

ASIN:‎ B0014CL72S

The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid – Pat F. Garrett

KidBilly the Kid remains one of the most mythical figures of the American Old West. There are parts of his life that remain a mystery, but “the Kid” did shoot and killed several men before his own death at the hands of Deputy U.S. Marshall Pat F. Garrett (1850-1908), on July 14, 1881. Following the Kid’s death, Garrett authored this book regarding his former acquaintance. For decades it stood as the best account of the Kid’s life but has been surpassed and challenged. Further, the book is Garrett’s account and not subject to cross-reference within. While it is true that Garrett did know the Kid, questions remain about the outlaw’s life.

Information about the Kid’s early life is scarce but the sources I found agree that he was born Henry McCarty and that the name William H. Bonney was a pseudonym he often used. It has been alleged that he was born in New York City but to the best of my knowledge there is no official birth certificate in existence nor is there a marriage certificate for his biological parents. However, there is evidence that the Kid himself once stated that he was born in New York. To date, I have not seen any evidence that clarifies who his biological father was. What is known is that after his mother Catherine’s (1829-1874) death in Silver City, New Mexico on September 16, 1874, he embarked on the path that led him to becoming a notorious icon of the American Old West. And that life is what forms the bulk of Garrett’s book.

The first thing I noticed is that the book is short in length which caused me to wonder why there is so little information about the Kid. And as reviewers online have pointed out, there are inaccuracies as well. One example is the Kid’s date of birth which is “probably” November 23, 1859, according to historians. However, without a birth certificate the exact date is unknown. Garrett does not address even this important detail which would have addressed the confusion about the Kid’s age at the time of his death. The details Garrett does provide are nothing remarkable and readers will easily find articles online that have statements from others who knew the Kid personally. In his defense, Garrett may not have intended to author a full biography of the Kid’s life. Further, as the man who killed the Kid, I doubt that he would have been received warmly by those who knew him. As a result, the book covers a brief period due in part to the Kid’s limited time on earth. But that is not to say there is nothing of value in the book.

One area where the book does excel is that Garrett shows that the Kid was not the larger-than-life figure he is often portrayed to be. Further, there were hundreds of other outlaws during the era who were just as deadly. The American West was a wild place, and the Kid pulled off daring escapades but, in the book, he emerges as another drifter who was a product of his time and his environment. But America has always had affection for rebels and the Kid fits that mold perfectly. Even Hollywood jumped into the mix with the 1988 film Young Guns starring Emilio Estevez as the Kid enhanced his legend exponentially. The truth about the Kid which can be partially seen here despite the book’s flaws, shows a young man who had lived a rough life and died violently in an era that was lawless at times. For a full biography of the Kid there are other options, but Garrett’s account should not be dismissed.

ASIN:‎ B07BDLXJWN

Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Empire – Bret Baier

BaierReaders old enough to remember the Soviet Union will recall the shock and disbelief that came with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) flag being lowered for the last time on December 25, 1991. The “Cold War” had come to an end, but a long road lay ahead between the United States and Russia in coming to terms with each other’s way of life. On May 29, 1988, United States President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) and First Lady Nancy Reagan (1921-2016) arrived in Moscow for a three-day summit with  Soviet General  Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife Raisa (1932-1999). It has been held as a triumph in American foreign policy and as an example of strong leadership. In less than three years, the Soviet Union dissolved, and Reagan was vindicated in his predictions of its demise. During the summit, Reagan spoke to the people of the Soviet Union at Moscow University and to this day it stands as a breathtaking moment in world history. But as always, there is more than meets the eye. Fox News host Bret Baier revisits the summit in this book about three days that impacted world history.

Before I continue, I do have to acknowledge that the book may be viewed with skepticism depending on the reader’s political beliefs. Further, it is no secret that Reagan has long been the icon for conservatives. Ironically, he was once a liberal Democrat and as Baier explains, Regan’s parents had no tolerance for ignorance or bigotry. Exactly how Reagan became a conservative is not the point of the book and a full biography of him will better suit readers searching for that information. Baier does provide a short biography of Reagan tracing his roots in Tampico, Illinois, and the path he took to become Governor of California and the Republican candidate who unseated President James “Jimmy” Carter. The story picks up in pace once Reagan is sworn into office and moves into the White House. The chill in the air between the Carters and Reagans is evident in the book but a small part of the bigger picture. To anyone paying close attention, it was evident that all was not well within the Soviet Union. In fact, Baier correctly points out that:

“By the time of the Moscow summit, that fact was evident to everyone, including the Soviets themselves. Yes, they remained a world power. Yes, their arsenal of weapons was still great. But beneath the surface, the economy was in free fall, its citizenry was restless; the architect of perestroika was breaking down the remaining barriers. Reagan’s prediction was coming true, as he, if not others, had always known it would.” 

Reagan did believe that the Soviet Union would fall but it should be noted that problems within the U.S.S.R. had been mounting for years, even before Reagan took office. Further, the fall of the Soviet empire is far more extensive and complicated than presented on the surface here. I vividly recall Reagan’s statement telling Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”. The Berlin Wall did fall, and it was a significant turning point in both German and world history. But even that goodwill gesture caused in part by weakening Soviet influence was not enough to stave off the inevitable. Gorbachev knew that trouble was brewing but also faced opposition within his own ranks. However, he had developed a strong relationship with Reagan and that is the crux of the book.

The visit by the Reagans had a profound effect on the Soviet Union and it was an extraordinary act by a U.S. President. Baier takes us deep behind the scenes as the two leaders seek to come to an understanding of key issues. As I read the book, I could see their relationship developing slowly but surely. It is a prime example of how people from diverse backgrounds can find common ground. That is not to say that all went well. In fact, in the book, we see more than one situation where the two leaders remain on opposite ends of a rope with each refusing to give ground. And the first ladies did not have a warm or jovial relationship themselves. Reagan and Gorbachev were leaders of the two most powerful governments on earth and needless to say the stakes were high. Before the book’s conclusion, Reagan leaves office and is succeeded by George H.W. Bush (1924-2018) who developed his own relationship and different relationship with Gorbachev. When Reagan leaves the White House for the last time, the sadness in Washington and in Moscow can be felt through the author’s words. Reagan emerges as a leader that is hard not to like. Of course, the Soviet story was far from over and Gorbachev had to defend himself from party members determined to see his downfall. Baier discusses how close the Soviet General Secretary came to being removed from office and the roles of Boris Yeltsin (1931-2007) and a young intelligence officer named Vladimir Putin who currently has the world watching his every move.

Undoubtedly, Reagan comes across beautifully in the book and I did notice that the darker moments of his president are discussed briefly. The Iran Contra scandal and Sandinista affair in Nicaragua are mentioned but Baier touches only the surface of those matters. The seriousness of each is not felt in the story at hand but I do implore readers to further research those topics to get a full understanding of Reagan’s presidency. To be fair, no administration is perfect, but the people of Central America will surely give you an interesting opinion of the Reagan era. His policies had a profound impact on Latin America that continues to be felt to this day. In the United States, the legacy of the jovial actor turned politician is permanently embedded in the Republican party’s core and he remains an icon of conservative values. If her were alive today, I am not sure if he would recognize what the GOP has become and I believe he would be both shocked and dismayed at world events. The world is a far different place today but the importance of this time in world history captured by Baier cannot be understated. In three days, Ronald Reagan accomplished what decades of U.S. foreign policy failed to do, he captured the attention and minds of the Soviet people. Readers with a thirst for historical information on U.S. and Russian relations will appreciate this book.

ASIN: B072LL4ZN2

The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth – Josh Levin

LevinIn 2019 the Urban Institute conducted an analysis of the welfare system in the United States. It found that at least fifty-nine million Americans were on some form of public assistance mostly obtained through six major welfare programs in the country. The people in need of assistance will vary but the image that was once presented to the public stands in stark contrast to reality. In his first run for office of the president, California Governor Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) (R-CA) used the welfare system as part of his program to appeal to conservative voters. Unbeknownst to voters, Reagan had set his focus on a woman in Chicago who would later be called the “Welfare Queen”. The truth is not as glamorous and far more bizarre but that did not deter Reagan from using the case of Linda Taylor (1926-2002) who represented all that was wrong with the system in his eyes. His first campaign for president failed but he mounted a second campaign that culminated with the defeat of sitting President James E. “Jimmy” Carter in 1980. By then Taylor was an afterthought but her life was far from over. In fact, as Josh Levin shows in this biography, her life was full of mystery, tragedy, and dark moments.

The book begins with the demise of a woman named Patricia Parks on the night of June 15, 1975. The cause of death is unfortunate but common. But what raised suspicion is the woman who was last seen with her, Linda Taylor. And through Levin’s re-telling of Taylor’s life story, this was one of multiple instances in which she had proximity to a person before their unexpected death. To be fair, Taylor was never charged with any murder. She was placed under investigation more than once, and those charges related directly to her abuse of the welfare system. The unbelievable story is told here in a book that refutes stereotypes, discusses the issue of race, and exposes the faults in the public assistance system. 

Prior to reading the book, I was not aware of Taylor’s personal life. I had placed the book on my wish list and realized recently that I had yet to explore it. It is not a standard biography in the sense that there’s a straightforward chronological history. The reason, as Levin shows, is that parts of her life are unknown with little records available to piece together her past. However, do does an incredible job of tracing her family history that takes us to the Deep South where the town of Cullman, Alabama, a placed once called “Sundown Town” for reasons explained in the story. Readers familiar with the South will know what it implies. Taylor was born Martha Louise White and from the beginning, Jim Crow and racial discrimination became daily realities. Martha’s arrival proves to be a complicated issue and as we see later in the book in court testimony, the family found itself immersed in a scandal. The facts are revealed by her uncle Hubert Mooney, whose frank talk will make readers recoil. Today such talk would never be permitted in a courtroom, but 1964 was quite a different time in America. Admittedly, keeping track of the family members and Linda’s movements as a child is challenging but through no fault of the author. The family itself is far from intact and adept at keeping secrets. The instability at home and treatment by relatives does provide insight into how Taylor later came to view herself and the world she was navigating. 

As I read the book, I did feel compassion for her and cannot imagine the humiliation she had to endure. However, I could not ignore her dark side that drew the inquiry of state investigators and law enforcement. Further, her exploitation of the welfare system which allowed her a life of luxury, and her relentless attempts at taking advantage of others’ misfortune, showed that Taylor had learned to master deceit as she used fake names, addresses and misled state agencies. The story within is simply spellbinding and it seemed as if no one could completely unravel the mystery of Linda Taylor. The sad stories of her former husbands and children she claimed are examples of the emotional and mental damage she caused as she continued her life of deception. The story of one son, Paul, will surely catch the attention of readers. And when the situation came, Taylor also used those closest to her to become conspirators in her plans. As Levin shows, Taylor once went this far in her scheme: 

“Taylor had used the alias Sandra Brownlee—her daughter’s name—to steal public aid money. A month after Judge Mark Jones gave the older woman three to seven years, Sandra herself would plead guilty to receiving illegal welfare payments from the State of Illinois.” 

Investigators eventually do catch up with her but like a thief in the night, Taylor skipped out of town more than once, becoming a fugitive. And while on the run, more victims turned up as Linda continued to find ways to exploit unsuspecting people who took in the newcomer with kindness. The story of James and Mildred Markham left me speechless. And I had to remind myself that this is not fiction. Taylor had no remorse and resorted to extreme measures to continue her lifestyle. However, time was running out and in 1994, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida finally put an end to her reign of terror. Though she did not serve prison time, she had become a shell of her former self, and the rest of the book follows her decline. We can only guess as to how disabled Taylor truly was but those who took care of her in her final years confirmed that she was indeed declining rapidly. Levin explored the concept she was faking her disability and went as far as questioning staff members at the mental hospital who were willing to speak. The end came for Taylor on April 18, 2002, at the age of seventy-six. By the time Taylor had passed, she was forgotten and the concept of welfare queen a talking point of the bygone Reagan era. But as Levin shows, her life story is one that serves as a textbook case of the importance of a stable home, guidance from those with our best interests at heart, and a legal system that enforces checks and balances. There is more to Taylor’s life that we will never learn of, but Josh Levin has captured her life for an eternity in this book that is full of suspense from start to finish. Highly recommended. 

If you like this book, Levin also authored an article for Slate Magazine titled “The Welfare Queen“, which was published on December 19, 2013. It is full of information and photos match names with faces, and even includes a statement from Reagan in October 1976. It is the perfect complement to this solid account of Taylor’s life and exploits. 

ASIN:‎ B07H2BJYBH

Our Team: The Epic Story of Four Men and the World Series That Changed Baseball – Luke Epplin

epplinIn 2012 Warner Bros. Pictures released the film ’42’ which tells the story of how Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson (1919-1972) broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball (“MLB”). The late film star Chadwick Boseman (1976-2020) starred as Robinson in the biopic and delivered a phenomenal performance. Robinson did break the color barrier, but he was not the only player to do so at that time. In Cleveland, Ohio, Indians owner William Louis “Bill” Veeck (1914-1986) was determined on further integrating baseball and set his eyes on the Negro Leagues as a pool for untapped talent. Soon enough, he had purchased the rights to Lawrence Eugene “Larry” Doby (1923-2003). The Indians subsequently signed Negro League pitcher Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige (1906-1982) who joined the ranks and became another teammate of the team’s ace, Robert William Andrew “Bob” Feller (1918-2010).

The integration of America’s past-time was a ground-breaking event but not without its difficulty. Racial discrimination affected every aspect of life in America. Like Robinson, Doby and Paige were forced to endure unrelenting racial abuse and indignations. In the years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Jim Crow legislation and unwritten segregation rules permeated throughout America and as we see in this story, fame and success did not offer any recourse to routine humiliation. Further, the on-field triumphs and adulation from fans, stood in contrast to life outside of the stadium. Across the ocean in Europe, America had fought a war against the Axis Powers in the name of democracy and freedom. But for Doby, Paige and millions of Black Americans, those concepts were nowhere to be found back in the United States.

Anyone who believes in human rights, liberty, and the laws of this nation, will be enraged at times while reading this book. I personally found myself incensed at what they players had to endure simply to exist. However, the book does have brighter moments and it is a moving account of how change was made and an inside look into the lives of those who made it happen. The beauty of Epplin’s work is that the reader does not need to possess prior knowledge of MLB history. In fact, it is written in such a way that the reader can quickly learn about the players who will change history. I did know of Doby, Paige, and of course Robinson, but was not as aware of Bob Feller’s role in the story. Feller was not in a management position but was a prodigy himself at times in competition with Saige. There did exist a mutual respect between the two and the battles in proving who’s the better pitcher give the story the suspense that helps make it an enjoyable read. The most interesting figure in the book is undoubtedly Veeck, whose personal life also suffered through this period as readers will learn as the book progresses. Integration was his primary goal, and he knew it would not be pretty. Epplin captures his determination perfectly here:

“Undoubtedly there would be blowback, but Veeck was prepared to weather it. “The only thing blocking [integration] was no law, it was just a gentlemen’s agreement,” he later said. “And I was no gentleman.”

Adjusting to life in the big league was not an easy feat and the athletes still had to combat racism even within their own team. The author touches that subject too, showing the difficulties for owners who realized the talent to be found among other ethnic groups. Despite the backlash, Veeck was successful, and the Indians were aided by their new acquisitions who began to develop a fan base. In the film ’42’, there is a scene where Robinson is talking to Wesley Branch Rickey (1881-1965) and ready to quit. Rickey refuses to let him walk and explains that outside the stadium there are white children mimicking Robinson’s routine before stepping to the plate. Doby and Paige soon became fan favorites. It is true that America still had a long way to go in dismantling the racial codes in effect, but as star athletes, these brave souls were doing their part to help make that reality.

Doby is quoted throughout the book but as Epplin explains he had a reserved and humble personality. In comparison, Paige had no issue making his opinions known and reveled in being able to catch people off-guard. Interestingly, the two stars were not as close as one might expect, and Doby makes a statement that reveals the differences in opinions towards the realities they were facing. I cannot say which man was right but do recognize that the enormous pressure they were under, combined with hostile environments, required coping mechanisms. Thankfully, there is no substance abuse in the book, but I cannot imagine that they did not have moments in which they questioned why they were on that team and not back in the Negro Leagues where they had acceptance. Younger readers will learn a great deal about the difficulties faced by Black Americans when traveling across the United States. Lack of accommodations, quality meals and the threat of violence never abated. A road trip could have easily become a matter of life and death.

There are no episodes of violence directly towards the players in the book and each of them lived well beyond 1947. But despite their roles in a history making year, MLB continued to drag its feet in diversifying the league. As Epplin points out:

“The Yankees fielded all-white lineups until 1955, the Detroit Tigers until 1958. The Red Sox held out until the bitter end, refusing to promote a Black player until 1959, Doby’s last year in the league.”

Eventually the players retired but they left their legacies intact. 1947 might seem like ancient history today but we must remember that it was less than eighty years ago but since that time, America has changed significantly and today MLB is home to players of all backgrounds. Athletes now earn unbelievable salaries and enjoy fame on levels once unheard of. This would not be possible without the sacrifices made by Doby, Paige and other minority athletes who risked their lives by breaking the color lines. If you are fan of MLB history or even American history, there is a wealth of information in this book. Should you read it, be prepared to have feelings of anger, suspense, and pride. This book is not just the story of baseball but that of the United States. Highly recommended.

ASIN: B07WCJL4HB

The Plot to Seize the White House: The Shocking True Story of the Conspiracy to Overthrow F.D.R. – Jules Archer & Anne Cipriano Venzon

White houseThe first time I read Charles W. Bailey, II (1929-2012) and Fletcher Knebel’s (1911-1993) ‘Seven Days in May‘, I understood why it was so important and why it was one of President John F. Kennedy’s (1917-1963) favorite books. The plot of the story is simple: a conspiracy is hatched to overthrow the sitting president of the United States. In 1964, Paramount Pictures released the film of the same name starring Burt Lancaster (1913-1994) and Kirk Douglas (1916-2020) with director John Frankenheimer (1930-2002) at the helm. The book and film were works of fiction but thirty years prior to the film’s release, there was a plot to remove the sitting president of seize control of the government. Jules Archer and Anne Cipriano Venzon researched the unbelievable and chilling story in this book that sheds light on a little-known part of American history. And at the center of the story is legendary United States Marine Corps General Smedley D. Butler (1881-1940).

In 1933, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) tightened his grip over Germany and began to plot its course for world domination. Across the Atlantic few believed that he would ignite a war that remains the deadliest conflict in the history of mankind. As the Third Reich made its presence felt, it soon became clear that the Nazi menace was nothing to ignore. Despite the outbreak of war, the United States held firm on its isolationist stance and the Neutrality Acts passed by Congress limited the president’s ability to send aid to European allies. For President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945), the Great Depression and European war proved to be the biggest challenges to his time in office. And failing health provided the ammunition needed by his detractors who believed that Roosevelt would not live to finish his time in government. Sadly, they were proven right on April 12, 1945.

The first question I had for myself when I started reading the book was why Butler? I knew he had become anti-war in later years and had even published a book called ‘War is a Racket‘ in which he exposes the monetary interests behind armed conflict. As the book progresses, it becomes clear why Butler was their choice and the biography included by the authors provides a fair amount of information about his life and rise in the military ranks. Further, the respect he earned from current and former soldiers made him the ideal choice. And to understand why Butler was so respected, one only needs to read of his accomplishments which are discussed here. I found myself both in awe and speechless learning of his commitment to the Marines and belief in morale. To be clear, Butler harbored no ill-will towards Roosevelt and was a pacifist by nature. That, however, did not stop him from suiting up when the Marines were needed.

Following his retirement from the Marines, Butler became a sought-after speaker across the country and beloved by the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization. In the story, we soon learn the names of Gerald C. McGuire and Bob Doyle of the American Legion, who approached Butler with incentives to join their plot in taking over the government, but the seasoned marine was suspicious from the start. Having worked for a time in the Department of Public Safety in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Butler was no stranger to criminal activity. Still, without evidence he knew he could not go public with allegations of a plot to attack to the United States Government. Further he knew the people who approached him had powerful backers and could not be trusted. But after a meeting with Philadelphia Record writer Paul Comly French (1890-1956), Butler decided that the plot needed to be exposed and went before the Special Committee on Un-American Activities to tell what he knew. Portions of his testimony (both public and sealed) are included here and reveal how serious the threat was to the democracy of the United States. And though no one was ever prosecuted because of what the committee learned, it did raise awareness of the importance of preserving our democratic institutions.

The list of conspirators revealed as part of the plot is surreal and may have been a case of sensationalism by McGuire. However, the amount of money behind the plot, as Butler learns, could only have come from wealthy figures. Readers will be surprised to learn of the connection between former New York State Governor Alfred E. “Al” Smith (1873-1944), and ring-wing figures, who were opposed to Roosevelt and his New Deal policies. In time America would see the rise of other organizations such as the John Birch Society and the Minutemen, and the contributors to these various ring-wing parties revealed dark truths about power in America. Regarding one group, the authors explain:

“Heavy contributors to the American Liberty League included the Pitcairn family (Pittsburgh Plate Glass), Andrew W. Mellon Associates, Rockefeller Associates, E. F. Hutton Associates, William S. Knudsen (General Motors), and the Pew family (Sun Oil Associates). J. Howard Pew, longtime friend and supporter of Robert Welch, who later founded the John Birch Society, was a generous patron, along with other members of the Pew family, of extremist right-wing causes. Other directors of the league included Al Smith and John J. Raskob.” 

Butler’s refusal to go along with the plot surely led to its demise but had they approached another figure, things may have turned out differently. At the 1930s moved forward, the signs that war would break out became vividly clear and on September 1, 1939, all doubts were removed with the Nazi invasion of Poland. Butler held firm on non-intervention and at the time of his death, the United States had no legal grounds to enter the war. That all changed on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor. Butler did not live to see that attack but if he had, I have no doubt that he would have supported America defending itself from Japanese aggression. His years of service and experiences in combat had left him with dark memories of the horrible injuries sustained by soldiers on the battlefield. He had become anti-war but was never anti-American, and any threat to the democracy of the United States was an attack on the principles he believed in. His courage in exposing what could have been an earth-shattering event, should not be lost to history. In closing out the book, the authors have this to say about Butler:

“If we remember Major General Smedley Darlington Butler for nothing else, we owe him an eternal debt of gratitude for spurning the chance to become dictator of the United States—and for making damned sure no one else did either.”

History is full of untold stories and that is one reason I enjoy it as much as I do. This story may not be well-known nor remembered but it should never be forgotten. Highly recommended.

ASIN:‎ B00VKI49X0