Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde-Jeff Guinn

On May 23, 1934, citizens across America tuned into news broadcasts coming from Bienville Parish, Louisiana that outlaws Clyde Barrow (1909-1934) and Bonnie Parker (1910-1934) had been shot and killed by law enforcement officials after a carefully laid trap to snare the wanted fugitives.  Their deaths bring an end to crime spree that left several police officers dead and put the couple on the list of America’s most wanted.   At the time of their deaths, both were under the age of twenty-five and their story has been both romanticized and distorted in films and books.  The film taken of their car following the shooting can easily be found online.  It is a chilling piece of a postmortem recording with Bonnie’s body sitting limp inside the front passenger side seat still clutching the partially eaten sandwich she had ordered for breakfast that morning.   In death, they would become part of American lore from an era in which banks were robbed, V-8 engines ruled the road and the middle of the country was home to nearly every outlaw known to authorities.  But who were the real Bonnie and Clyde?   And how much of their story is truth and how much is fiction?

Author Jeff Guinn has investigated these questions and others as he presents to us the untold truth of the story of the couple.  The story beings and takes place mostly in Texas with West Dallas serving as home base for both of them.  But their life of crime spread out across several states, earning them the wrath of law men determined to see their demise.  Without questions, their exploits are what attracts people to them.  Like Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd (1904-1934) and George “Baby Face” Nelson (1908-1934), Bonnie and Clyde are poster figures produced in a time in which the depression was in full swing, cars were easy to still, guns plenty and an organization known as the FBI was developing under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972).  The past seems distant but it was less than one hundred years ago when these notorious figures traversed America on paths of destruction before meeting violent ends. But to understand these figures, it is necessary to understand their lives and this is where Guinn excels in revealing the truth to the story of Parker and Barrow.

The tendency we have when examining a person’s life is to seek a moment that explains their evolution to a new level of greatness or infamy.   But with Parker and Barrow, it was not so much a moment but a series of events in each of their lives that led to the development of the most dangerous couple in American history.  And what Guinn tells us might surprise readers expecting to find tragic childhoods for both.  In fact, although poverty was an issue in rural Texas, both the Parkers and Barrows found ways to make ends meet and maintained strong bonds with the couple until the time of their deaths. Barrow’s mother Cumie, is perhaps the most pitiable for throughout her life she never stops loving her son.  Bonnie’s mother Emma, is cut of the same cloth, never-ceasing to love her daughter even as she sinks deeper into a  life of crime.  And through Guinn’s words, they appear not just as violent outlaws, but as a couple deeply in love, dependent on each other and unable to keep their families’ hearts from breaking. Theirs’ is a tale of tragedy and violence that could not possibly end with redemption and a second chance.

In addition to presenting their story, Guinn clears up many erroneously reported facts, setting the record straight once and for all.  In an era before television, the internet and social media, word of mouth spread quick and with each crime, Parker and Barrow grew into larger than life characters that put fear in the hearts of anyone they crossed.   Clyde is rightfully credited as the leader of the Barrow Gang and the reason for Bonnie’s descent into a life of crime.  But to understand the dark mind of Clyde Barrow, a visit to his past, in particular his time at Eastham prison, is necessary for his transformation from small time crook to feared outlaw begins there.  That section of the book, like the shootouts with authorities, may not be an easy read for some.  The descriptions are graphic leaving no stone unearthed so that the reader can fully understand the presence of death that was formed and remained with the Barrow Gang. The full nature of their murder spree and their willingness to gun down law enforcement officials was a times shocking and at other times jaw-dropping. In fact, as I read the book, I felt as if I were transplanted back in time looking over the shoulders of the gang as they slept in cars, traveled back roads a high-speed and allowed their minds to become filled with delusions of grandeur about a life together in tranquility after their life of mayhem was over.

The book is well-researched and well-written.  Much has been written and said about the duo over the past seventy years but Guinn’s book stands as a complete and unbiased account from start to finish of the lives and deaths of Bonnie and Clyde. From the day I started it, I could not put it down as I was pulled into a masterpiece about two of America’s most dangerous and idolized historical figures.

ISBN-10: 1416557075
ISBN-13: 978-1416557074

The Best and the Brightest-David Halberstam with a New Introduction by the Author

20180619_235509I have often wondered why my uncle and many other veterans that I have met, were sent to Vietnam.   He and others never speak of the war, choosing instead to internalize their memories and feelings.  But from the few things about being Vietnam that my uncle has told me,  I cannot image what it was like to be fighting a war in a jungle 13,000 miles away from home. Today he is seventy-two years old and his memories of Vietnam are as sharp today as they were when he left the country to return home.  And there is a part of him that still remains in Vietnam, never to leave its soil.    He is one of five-hundred thousand Americans that served in a war that claimed fifty-eight thousand lives.

The reasons for America’s involvement in Indochina have been muddled and in some cases omitted from discussions.   Secrecy became the standard method of communication in more than one administration in Washington as the United States became deeper involved in a conflict with no end goal in sight.  Daniel Ellsberg gained fame and infamy when he revealed the top-secret Pentagon Papers to the country.   The New York Times later published a review of the documents and today it is available in the form of a book titled The Pentagon Papers: The Secret History of the Vietnam War.  The book is enlightening and contains a trove of information regarding how and why decisions were being made in the White House as control of the government passed through several presidents.  Former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara (1916-2009) published his own memoir of the war, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam.  The book has its fans and critics. McNamara has often been blamed for the war and the vitriol towards him was so strong that in later years he declined to talk about the conflict.   True, he was a participant in the events leading up to the war, but many other players had a hand in the game which became deadlier as time went on.  To understand their roles and the policies enacted, it is necessary to revisit the  complete history of U.S. foreign policy in Indochina.  David Halberstam (1934-2007), author of The Unfinished Odyssey of Robert F. Kennedy, conducted his own research into the war’s origins and the result was this New York Times bestseller that is nothing short of mind-boggling.

Halberstam admits that he knew Ellsberg and in fact, he reviewed the Pentagon Papers as he wrote the book.  In addition he conducted hundreds of interviews but was careful not to reveal any of their names.  When Ellsberg was indicted and had to stand trial, Halberstam was subpoenaed to give testimony, unaware then of how Ellsberg came into possession of the documents.  But what started out as a look at the life of  former National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy (1919-1996), grew into this definitive account of the reasons for the Vietnam War.

The book follows a carefully guided timeline and the story of Vietnam begins in China before moving on to Korea and eventually Southeast Asia.  These parts are critical for they set the stage for foreign policy decisions in the years that followed and explain many of the mistakes that were made.  As President Eisenhower winds down his time in office, a new young Catholic Democrat gripped parts of the country as he declared himself the next person to occupy the White House.  By the time John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) took office, the road to Vietnam had already been paved.  It is at this point in the book where the pace picks up and never slows down.   The concept of the best and the brightest came to Halberstam as he thought of a phrase for Kennedy’s cabinet of intellectuals who were set on reshaping Washington in the image they believed was right to push the country forward.  One by one he introduces us to all of the characters that have a role in the story, tracing their origins and helping us to understand how they reached their positions in the government.  Some of them are as mysterious as the country’s then paranoia about communism taking over the world.  But as they come together, something still is not quite right and Vietnam becomes the issue that will not go away.  And for the thirty-three months Kennedy was in office, the American involvement would grow in Indochina but the nation had not yet entered a war.   The growing crisis however, had begun to cause a rift in the White House and the deception employed by those loyal to the military and war hawks is eye-raising and chilling.  I also believe that it helps explain Kennedy’s murder in November, 1963. We can only guess what would have happened if he had lived.  There are those who strongly believe we would have withdrawn from Vietnam. I believe that is what would have happened, probably sooner rather than later.  But Kennedy was gone and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, inherited the nightmare of Vietnam.

As Johnson settles in to being the new Commander-In-Chief,  Indochina becomes a thorn in his side and he becomes conflicted with the decisions he will eventually make.  This part of the book is the crux and the key to the final push by the military for a war.  Many of Kennedy’s cabinet members continued to stay and at first worked under Johnson.  But as time passed and the ugly truths about Vietnam came back from Saigon, they would fade out as Johnson led the nation down the path of escalation.  Halberstam is a masterful story-teller and the scenes he recreates from his research are spellbinding.  Nearly everyone in the book is now deceased but as I read the book I could not help but to scratch my head at their decisions and actions.   The warning signs of Vietnam loomed ominously large but tragically were ignored or discounted.   Washington suffered from a tragic twist of fate: although it had the best and the brightest in Washington, they still made mistakes that literally made little sense. And that is a central theme in the book. The war’s architects were all brilliant individuals with endless accolades yet they failed to understand what was considered to be a peasant nation far away from home. Many of them would suffer in one way or another.  For Lyndon Johnson, Vietnam eventually became the final nail in the coffin that sealed his chances at reelection.

During the reading of the book, I also noticed at how Halberstam explained the actions of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Vietcong.  In order to understand why Vietnam became a stalemate, it is not just necessary to understand the failures of Washington, but the strategy of Ho Chih Minh and the generals under him.  The small peasant nation took on a colossus and refused to give up. And the battles of  Vietnam changed warfare and showed the world what many believed to be impossible.  Arrogance and in some cases, racist beliefs laid at the base of some foreign policy decisions regarding the war.  History has a strange way of repeating itself and the repeated warnings from the French fell on deaf ears as American troops landed in a place many of them knew nothing about.  Looking back with hindsight, the critical failures are clearly evident and although Halberstam shows us how we became involved in Vietnam,  we are still baffled about why.  How could so many minds filled with so much knowledge make such rudimentary and baseless decisions?   The answers are here in this book in the form of official cables that withheld information, overzealous military advisors, an unstable South Vietnamese government, National Security Action Memos and the idea that the United States could solve any of the world’s problems.   This book is a must-read for those who are interested in the history of the Vietnam War.

ISBN-10: 0449908704
ISBN-13: 978-0449908709

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West-Dee Brown

wounded-kneeEvery summer, my parents make their annual visit to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center in Ledyard, Connecticut to continue learning about the Pequot Indian tribe who lived in what is now the State of Connecticut.  They are one of the many tribes that called North America home prior to the arrival of European settlers and the creation of the United States.  Today, they can be found largely on reservations having been forced off of the only lands they knew to make way for a country that had liberated itself from British colonization.  Far too often, their plight is ignored and history books have traditionally re-written the history of the foundation of the United States of America.  This book by the late Dorris Alexander “Dee” Brown (1908-2002) challenges everything we thought we knew about our country and the scores of people often referred to simply as “the Indians”.

Hollywood has played a large part in the historical view by many of the Native Americans, the enemies of White Cowboys as depicted in Westerns and other television programs of the past.   John Wayne is admired by many as the icon of the American West.  The Native Americans, considered to be savages, uncivilized and dangerous became the object of the wrath of bloodthirsty soldiers filled with an ideology that could classified as genocide today.  The true story was carefully and deceptively hidden from public light but it has come out in more recent times.  And as the Native Americans and Indians of the Caribbean are shown in a more positive light, more of the truth will come to the surface.  Several cities here in America have now replaced the holiday of Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day.  Columbus was only a small part of the story and he never set foot on North American soil.  But the actions of the municipalities were for the right reasons and I believe in time, more cities will follow suit.

In the wake of the American Revolution, a new nation was born with the desire to obtain as much land as possible under the guise of  “Manifest Destiny” and its actions changed the course of history and nearly exterminated the continent’s native inhabitants.  I am sure you have heard many of the names that became legends; Tecumseh (1768-1813),  Sitting Bull( 1831-1890), Geronimo (1829-1909), Crazy Horse (d. 1877) and Cochise (d.1874).  These leaders are revered in Native American history but are only small parts of a much larger and deadlier picture.  Their lives crossed paths with American soldiers whose names have become both famous and infamous such as Kit Carson (1869-1868) and General George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876) whose last stand is sometimes fodder for situations in which a positive outcome is highly unlikely.  The battles that took place across the plains of North America reveal a violent struggle as two opposing of forces sought to maintain their own ways of life.  For the Native Americans, their goal was to live as they always had and not like the invaders who annexed territory and brought disease, starvation and death.  For the American soldiers,  the Indians were savages who needed to learn the White man’s way of life and give their hearts to Christianity.  The two systems were never compatible but Washington refused to accept any deals that would preserve Native American land.  The methods used to forcibly remove the natives are some of the darkest moments in American history.

It is imperative to keep in mind while reading the book that America did not yet have 50 states. In fact, the reader has to pay close attention to the location descriptions to form a picture of the region in which these events take place.  In comparison to clearly marked state boundaries today, land then was sometimes loosely divided among tribes with recognized boundaries by each side.  I do recommend having a map of Native American tribes while reading the book to gain a more accurate image.  Brown also adds small bonuses at the beginning of each chapters as he highlights the most important events that occurred.  Readers may find that they have bookmarked random facts that have nothing to do with the story at hand but are useful information to retain.

I warn the reader that the book is not always easy to read. The graphic descriptions of the atrocities committed in battle and the fate of the Native Americans are a rude awakening to any ideas about a graceful creation of America where the settlers and Indians worked side by side and everyone was friends.  This is the unfiltered truth and to say it is ugly would be an understatement.  Those of you who are of Native-American heritage will be familiar with the tragedies that befell your ancestors.  For others, in particular Americans, this book is a chance to fully understand how violence played a crucial role in the development of what is now a superpower.  We are unable to turn back the hands of time and change the course of history but what we can do moving forward is to acknowledge the tragic story of North America’s forgotten residents.

I firmly believe that this book, which was written in 1970, should be read by students in every history class across the country.  These are the stories that you will not find in textbooks that seeks to portray the history of this nation in the most positive light possible.  Interestingly, Native Americans are present in many of us today.  Millions of American have their blood running through their veins.  That heritage has sadly been forgotten or in some cases ignored.   But it is never too late to learn about those who gave up so much so that we are able to enjoy the privileges afforded to us. Their lives have never been the same and their heritage was nearly destroyed.  I hope that one day they too find the peace of mind that they have sought for so long.  And the next time you think about wearing a Native American costume for a party, this book might make you think twice.  This is the dark and ugly history of America and the mission to eradicate the Native Americans.

ASIN: B009KY5OGC
ISBN-10: 0805086846
ISBN-13: 978-0805086843

 

 

A Little History of the United States-James West Davidson

US HistoryWhen I think back on the history classes I attended in elementary school, high school and then college, I remember that it seemed as if it took forever to go through any topic.  And that says a lot for someone like myself who has always loved the subject and still does.  For most people, history is beyond mind-numbing and often revisits events in the past to which most people do not give a second thought.  But as we are often reminded through history, we need to know our past in order to reach our future.  In comparison to the history of Europe, Asia and other parts of the world, the United States is a very young nation that has been in existence less than three hundred years. Incredibly, in that short amount of time on the world stage, some of the most memorable events in modern history have taken place in North America and had reverberating effects across the planet.  If we were to study American in its entirety, that would be a course that would last a couple of years at least.  But what happens when you cram that history into a book that is three hundred nine pages long?

James West Davidson has done just that in this book appropriately titled  A Little History of the United States.  Perhaps the word little is a misrepresentation here for there is nothing “little” about the material contained within the pages of the book.  The author straps us in and takes on a ride through time to revisit the beginning of America and the path to becoming a world superpower.  Critics might think that they already know the material in the book.  While it is true that many of the events will be known to history buffs and those that paid close attention in class, there is a wealth of information that is useful to others and might even be unknown to even those who are well-read. And as a bonus, a refresher never hurts.  None of the information in the book is ground breaking and can be found in other places but what Davidson has done is to compress all of those sources into one book that touches on all of the major events in American history.   But the genius of the book is that it is not written in textbook format but rather a story that just keeps going and getting more interesting as we move closer to the present.

Now that I think more about it, the book could be considered a cliff note for U.S. history.  There is never too much information on one topic but just enough to give the reader the basic facts and a picture of what happened and why.  Those who have interest in certain topics will surely find other material to satisfy their thirst for knowledge.  I firmly believe Davidson was aware of this when he wrote the book and might even expect that to be the case.  At one point, he mentions that he could not have included everything on one particular topic for the book would have been several volumes long.  I agree wholeheartedly.  Putting that aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and the pace at which he keeps the reader is just right to make it through the book without any trace of boredom setting in.

As an American citizen, I am amazed at how much history of my own country that I am still learning.  I think the same could be said about many of my fellow citizens.  Harry Truman once said “the only new thing in the world is the history you do not yet know”. No matter how much we do learn, I feel that there will always be something that we have no knowledge of.   But we have the aid of books like this to help us on our journey.  Every student of American history should have this as a supplement to all of their primary books.  For now, sit back, relax and treat yourself to a little history of the United States.

ISBN-10: 030022348X
ISBN-13: 978-030022348

Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy-Heather Ann Thompson

20180602_232853On September 9, 1971, inmates at the Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York, staged a revolt in protest of the treatment they received by prison officials and the living conditions employed therein.  Several days later, New York State Troopers regained control of the prison after approval from Governor Nelson Rockefeller (1908-1979).   The siege had tragic consequences and ended with the deaths of nine hostages and twenty-nine inmates.  The fallout from the retaking was swift and to this day the story of Attica is considered the worst prison uprising in American history.  The riot caused sharp division among people with some believing in the inmates’ actions and others supporting the State of New York.  In fact, among Rockefeller’s most ardent supporters was President Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994) who would himself resign in 1974 due to the Watergate scandal.   The riot and its aftermath were so powerful that even Hollywood became interested and produced the television series Attica (1980) starring Morgan Freeman and Against the Wall (1994) starring Samuel L. Jackson (1948-) and Kyle MacLachlan (1959-).  Both film productions earned award nominations and the stars in each film would go on to have successful careers in Hollywood.  However, the questions always remain, how much did the producers get right, how much did they get wrong and how much did they leave out?   Further, how much do we, the public know about one of New York State’s darkest days?

Heather Ann Thompson composed this Pulitzer Prize winning account of the Attica prison uprising and the legacy it left behind.   Contained within the pages of this book is a story that is sad, shocking and infuriating.  Today in hindsight, we will be tempted to ask ourselves how could this have happened?  For starters, the social environment in which the main characters existed is much different from today in some regards. Law and order were applied in a far more repressive context.  Make no mistake, the prison system today is plagued with brutality and prisoners routinely complain of suppression of their basic human rights by guards and officials.  The prison industrial complex has become a multi-million dollar business and each year more Americans enter the penal  system generating more revenue for investors and contractors.  This system of mass incarceration is exactly what the Attica inmates strove to fight against and today many of the lessons that were learned in the wake of the riot have been lost or neglected.  But this book is the place to learn about the Attica riot and why we can never forget it.

Thompson acknowledges that many of the participants in the story are no longer alive and any secrets regarding Attica went with them to the grave.  What remains are their public statements and official testimony.  Some of the names are cemented in history such as Governor Hugh Carey (1919-2011), Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale (1936-), attorney William Kunstler (1919-1995) and former New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner (1910-1991). But others will become known such as Frank “Big Black” Smith (1933-2004), former guard Michael Smith and prisoner L.D. Barkley whose speech was captured by television cameras as the inmates made their voices heard.   The amount of research that went into the creation of this book is nothing short of painstaking.  And as an added touch of intimacy, the author supplements the story with photos of those relevant to the narrative.

From the moment I opened this book, I literally could not put it down.   At times I found myself sitting in disbelief and how and why the situation unfolded as it did.  And incredibly, an inner conflict arose because as I waded through the book, I came to support the inmate struggle as they fought racism, class based discrimination and the monster that is mass incarceration while at the same time I found myself empathetic to the guards taken hostage, some of whom would also perish.  And it dawned on me that they were all human beings who had different roles to play during those four days.  Decisions and actions made many resulted in a tragedy that claimed victims both dead and alive. And that is one of the main points of the book.  But perhaps one of the most shocking is the disregard by the State of the well-being of its own employees.  What Thompson has truly shown us is that lives on all side were ruined that day and there truly were no winners.  Everyone directed involved in the Attica riot carries with them scars to this day, some mental, some physical or possibly both.  Thompson has done all of them a great service by re-telling the Attica story in a book that should be read by every American that wishes to understand the frustrations of those convicted of a crime and the direction of the American penal system.  This is a definitive account of what truly happened at the Attica Correctional Facility between September 9 and September 13, 1971.

ISBN-10: 0375423222
ISBN-13: 978-0375423222

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner-Daniel Ellsberg

Doomsday machineBetween August 5 and August 9, 1945, the United States Air Force changed the course of history when the B-29 pilots dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Today, more than seventy years later, the debate regarding whether President Harry Truman (1884-1972) was right to give the final order to drop the bombs rages on.   The images taken in Japan following the bombings are still shocking even today and upsetting for many viewers.  And for many others, the concern remains that the world could once again see a nuclear weapon used in warfare.  It is commonly believed that August, 1945, was the only time atomic weapons had been used in combat.  But what actually constitutes “use”?  That is a question Daniel Ellsberg addresses in this chilling and eye-opening account his time as a nuclear war planner.  Some readers may be familiar with Ellsberg’s name due to his surrender, trial and the dismissal of all charges related to the Pentagon Papers which revealed the mistakes and poor judgment that allowed the United States to go to war against North Vietnam.  In fact, Ellsberg’s papers were the target of the crew of burglars that would go on to be discovered at the Watergate Complex. Their arrest and the cover-up by Washington helped lead to the resignation of Richard Nixon.  Incredibly, Ellsberg has outlived many of the major figures from that era and what he has accomplished, learned and ultimately disclosed are facts that should concern and be known to every American.

You might be wondering, what on earth is the doomsday machine?  It is quite frankly, the system of devices that are interconnected allowing for a nuclear attack or counterattack that would result in nearly this entire planet being obliterated in minutes.  Knowing what we do today about war, we could rightly say that the next world war could very well be the last world war mankind engages in.   The nuclear weapons of today are more power and in more abundance than what was used to force the Japanese to surrender.  And should there be an attack today, the fallout could be unlike anything we have ever imagined. But how did we get here?  To answer that question, we must go back in time with Ellsberg retrace the history of the development of atomic weapons.

The story of J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) and the project at Los Alamos is one that has been told more than once and it well-known to students of history and aficionados of World War II.  But what may not be known is the instigation of the Cold War from the west and the role that nuclear weapons played in the decisions and actions in Washington.  As Ellsberg reveals, the key to understanding the severity of nuclear warfare is the Cold war and the Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan (JSCP).  This very document served as the crux of the U.S. policy towards the Soviet Union and any nation found to be its ally.  What Ellsberg reveals about that plan and the approval it received from the White House will send chills down the spine of even the most hardened readers.  As an employee of the Rand Corporation and a member of high clearance personnel at the Pentagon, Ellsberg found himself in an intimate position to access even the most secretive of documents that were deemed too important to national security to be revealed publicly.  Among these documents was annex c to the JSCP, the Single Integrated Operational Plan(SIOP).  Just as frightening as the JSCP, this plan was another document that Ellsberg introduces to us so that we can digest its meaning and how dangerously close the Unites States came to nuclear war with the Soviet Union.  And as the late Robert McNamara (1916-2009) said in the 2003 Errol Morris documentary The Fog of War “Cold war? Hell it was a hot war.”

There is far more information included in this book than I could ever review here.  But there are a few questions the reader can ask before starting the book for the answers are contained inside: Was Hitler really building a bomb?  How many nuclear weapons did the Soviet Union have following World War II?  Is the president really the only person to authorize an attack?   Was it truly necessary to drop the atomic bombs on Japan? Just how many presidents threatened to use nuclear weapons to end subsequent conflicts?   What are the chances of a false flag due to a random error?   And what can we do to reduce the risk of nuclear warfare?

I vividly recall my father telling me about the Cuban Missile Crisis and how he was required to participate in air raid drills in October, 1962 as a student in grade school.  He very frankly said those thirteen days were the scariest he can recall and everyone was filled with the fear that nuclear war would erupt with the Soviet Union at any moment.  The conflict was eventually resolved but sadly Kennedy was assassinated the following year and Khrushchev was removed from power in 1964.  Their determination to avoid conflict removed the world from the brink of a nuclear war that might have had very few survivors if any.   And that threat still exist.  Error in judgment, egos and thirst for power could combine to form a deadly nexus producing another missile crisis.  If we are to prevent a nuclear holocaust, it is our duty to study the past, heed these words by Ellsberg and actively work towards dismantling the doomsday machine.

ISBN-10: 1608196704
ISBN-13: 978-1608196708

Assault On The Liberty: The True Story Of The Israeli Attack On An American Intelligence Ship- James M. Ennes, Jr.

 

20180603_003443On June 8, 1967, the USS Liberty was on a reconnaissance mission in the Mediterranean Sea near Sinai, Egypt.  The morning started off normally until members of the ship’s crew noticed Israeli fighter jets circling above. The process was repeated several times more before a full-scale attacked was launched upon the unsuspecting ship.   Thirty-four men perished in the attacks.  Nearly all of the survivors were severely wounded with injuries that could only be described as horrific.  The attack caused international outrage as the American and Israeli governments acted to contain the fallout from the nefarious attack.  The official statement was that the attack was a grave error committed by Israeli forces upon a ship that allegedly had no clear markings identifying it as a United States Naval vessel.  Members of the crew disputed this and some have made their voices heard in an attempt to tell what they know about that day tragic day in June, 1967.  James M. Ennes, Jr., was a member of the crew and survived the attacked with a severely broken leg and other mental and physical injuries. He was one of the lucky ones and never wavered in his conviction to tell the truth about what he remembers from that day.  Here he tells us the story from his recollections on record for the reader to digest and form an informed opinion.

The book was published in 1979, roughly about twelve years following the attack.   Mysteries of that day still remain but it is here that we have a more accurate picture of what really did happen and a possible explanation as for why it happened.   Ennes states that there are some aspects of the incident that will probably remain unknown for a long time.  But what he does reveal about the incident is shocking and confusing. Perhaps the biggest question is why would Israeli fighter planes attack a U.S. vessel clearly marked and not on a combat mission?

The story begins before the Liberty arrives near the coast of Egypt.  Orders were dispatched for the Liberty to change its position but were never received by the ship due to poor communication channels.   If the orders had been received, then maybe this book would not exist.  Ennes’ memories are very candid and show some what life is like for men on the seas, far away from home and surrounded by water on all side. The anecdotes  at the beginning of the book are entertaining and slowly we are introduced to the characters in the story.   Their mission appears to be moving along slowly until June 8, when all hell broke loose.  It is at this point in the book, where we reach Defcon 1 and the fallout is horrifying.  Readers with sensitive stomachs may find the latter part of the book highly uncomfortable to read.  The descriptions of the injuries sustained by survivors and the deaths of other crew members are told in detail giving a graphic picture of the carnage that ensued.   And what is even more appalling is the lack of support from Washington and the conflicting orders given to military personnel that sought to provide assistance to the critically injured ship and its crew.

As we make our way through the book and the attack is over, the period of recuperation and investigation comes into focus.  This is the point in the book where shock turns into anger.   Nearly all of the major political figures involved are deceased and unable to answer questions we may have.  But what did happen as Ennes shows us, is that a cover-up was initiated at the highest levels of government for reasons which eluded the crew.   Citations for bravery and reparations by the Israeli government followed but the manner in which they occurred will stun even the most hardened readers.  The lives of the surviving crew members were changed forever and few have been able to fully tell their stories without repercussions from military brass and the White House.  Even today, fifty years later, secrets remain about the motives behind the attack.   We may never know all of the details of the attack but we do have a place to start here. Ennes deserves an additional acknowledgment for being able to distinguish between the actions of the Israeli government and people of the Jewish faith.   Having survived an attack of such nature, it would have been fairly easy for him to cast all Jews as perpetrators of an unthinkable crime. But Ennes avoids the pitfall and makes it clear that the attack was carried about by Jewish people but by individuals with motives of their own.

Towards the end of the book, Ennes touches on the possible motive behind the attack.  And while there is no conclusive evidence that his belief is correct, it is a highly plausible explanation.  In time his words may prove to be true but for now, we are still saddled with a number of unanswered questions surrounding the attack.  But with this story of tragedy and perseverance, we are closer to fully understanding the events of that day.

ISBN-10: 0394505123
ISBN-13: 978-0394505121

The Plot to Hack America: How Putin’s Cyberspies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election-Malcolm Nance

NanceThe 2016 presidential election remains an event that bordered on the surreal and shocked not just American citizens but people around the globe. Donald J. Trump, the political outsider and least likely candidate to win, secured the Republican nomination and the electoral votes needed to become the 45th President of the United States of America.  As we begin 2018 we can look back on his first year and office and reach various conclusions depending on our political outlook and beliefs about the state of the nation.   What is certain, is that from the start, his administration has been plagued with allegations of collusion with nefarious figures hailing from Russia.  Prior to his election, he often showed admiration for Vladimir Putin and since taking office, has taken a passive stance on the country that is believed by intelligence experts to have interfered in the elections of several nations.  Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been appointed Special Counsel to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia and as of today, the investigation is still ongoing. And while there is no fire yet, there is a lot of smoke.

Malcolm Nance, a former U.S. Navy senior chief petty officer in Naval Cryptology with over thirty years in intelligence and counter-intelligence decided to put together a short book that puts the known pieces of the Russia hacking scandal together giving us a clear and concise picture of what did happen and when.   The book is not a smoking gun linking Trump directly to any Russian hackers and Nance does not imply such.    However, there is a lot of potentially incriminating evidence and we know today that at least four people of Trump’s inner circle have pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and money laundering.  The recent news of the publication of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury in which he interviews former Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon has added more fuel to the fire and has mad the future grim for the 45th Commander-In-Chief.  But what exactly did happen prior to November 8, 2016?  And what did authorities know for certain? Further, Nance reveals a lot of interesting information, but how much more is there that is still unknown?

Nance takes us back to the beginning when officials realized that the servers of the Democratic National Convention had been hacked.  Unlike Watergate, there were no intruders with flashlights who would later stand trial and attempt to extort the White House.  This was all done through cyber warfare and the fallout would be staggering. Some may even say there is still more to come.  As an IT Administrator (IT), I have experienced cyber threats on several fronts and can say with certainty that if the average person knew just how many cyber threats there are in existence, they would be scared nearly to death.   To read the book, you do not need a background in Information Technology, Nance presents each topic in an easy to read format for the layman to follow.  If you do have experience in IT, then you will nod your head at many of the things that he discusses.  Regardless of your technical aptitude, what is revealed in this book should open the eyes of every American that cares about our electoral process.

Supporters of President Trump may be quick to dismiss the book as fake news or left-wing smear tactics.  However, Nance does not take any sides politically and makes no direct accusations against Trump. What he does declare is that without a doubt, Russian hackers interfered with the 2016 presidential election and there is strong evidence that the orders came from Putin himself.  At first it sounds like a very bold statement but Nance supports his conclusions with sound evidence that is thoroughly explained.  And throughout the book, he reminds us that more investigations are needed to see if there was in fact direct collusion and/or espionage between Trump’s team and Russia operatives.  According to Bannon, the answer is yes. But before we accept the proclamations of an individual that is as cunning as they come, it is imperative that a full investigation is conducted.  We may not like what we find and the truth is rarely pleasant.   No matter which party you belong to or how you voted in the election, what transpired prior to November 8, 2016, should be of grave concern to you for if it happened once, there is the fear that it could happen again.  Nance gives us a dire warning imploring us not to make the same mistake again and to proactively fight cyber attacks in the future.  But with a Commander-In-Chief who doesn’t believe in cyber attacks or seek to understand them, how safe will we be?

The title of the book sounds like it could be a television special or motion picture. But I assure you it is not fiction, this is a real as it gets.  The United States and its democratic institutions were attacked and the depth of the crime is something that many people still do not fully understand.   But with books such as this one by Nance, a clear picture emerges that can be used as a reference guide in understanding what really was the plot to hack America.

ISBN-10: 1510723323
ISBN-13: 978-1510723320

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America- Nancy Isenberg

 

white trashWhen I first saw the title of this book,  I felt my body slightly recoil. In fact, the book was recommended to me by my boss who is a White-American.  Previously, Amazon had placed the book on the list of recommended titles for my purchase but I had yet to take the plunge.  This time around, I gave in and decided to see what was contained in the pages of this book.  Having finished, I can say without a doubt that Nancy Isenberg has produced an eye-opening account of what truly is the untold 400- year history about class and race in America.  At first glance,  it may seem as if the book is a racist attack on people perceived to be of a lower social class.  But in fact, the opposite is true.  Isenberg brings light to the suffering and exploitation of a social class that is still disdained and mocked even today.  The 2016 Presidential election brought the subject back into the public light provoking fierce debates about the success of the Republican Party and the election of Donald J. Trump.  But the question truly remains, what does it mean to be called white trash?

History books typically portray the American Revolution as a movement bursting at the seams with a new-found patriotism as former colonies sought independence from Great Britain.   It is a graceful and inspiring story but the reality is that the truth is often uglier and stranger than fiction. The story at hand begins as America is in its infant stages and   Jamestown is established as the first settlement with immigrants formerly of England having made their way to North America.  But what is often forgotten or in some cases ignored, are the many levels of class distinctions that existed then and still exist now.  Slavery overshadows other dark parts of American history but as we see here, there was another class of people who were viewed just as poorly or in some cases, even worse than enslaved Africans.  These issues and several others pushed the United States to the breaking point resulting in the Civil War that split the country in half and gave rise to the South, the region that became home to Jim Crow legislation and some of the worst cases of racial violence ever witnesses by American citizens. Isenberg brings even more clarity to the issue taking us back in time to relive the past with figures such as Presidents Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson,  Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and the infamous Andrew Johnson.  Other historical figures such as Davie Crockett, Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton and the Bakkers  (Jim and Tammy Faye) also make an appearance.

The book is presented in an easy flowing chronological format allowing us to follow the development of the United States and continued deplorable existence of the lowest class of White Americans.  As a Black-American, I am all too familiar with exploitation and discrimination.  It is part of the history of this nation and something that we still struggle to fully confront.   At times we have heard the term white trash, always used with a negative connotation.  But what we should seek to understand is how the term originated and why.   Further, it behooves us to understand how politicians, corporations and others with vested interests have manipulated, stoked fear and paranoia and ultimately exploited one of America’s most unwanted.  Eugenics, greed and pseudo-science became the tools of the trade as one class pulled out all the stops to eradicate another.

From start to finish I literally could not put the book down.  It pulls you and refuses to let go as the pages reveal a side of America you may be unfamiliar with.   Breaking the facade of all White Americans being well-off,  Isenberg brings the reality home that class is as important as race and is fully intertwined. This is a book I wish I had read in history classes in school.  For an unfiltered and brutally honest look at the social structure of the United States, this is a good place to start.  You will not only learn more about America but about yourself as well and what prejudice and exploitation really mean to those who employ it and those who suffer from it.

ISBN-10: 0143129678
ISBN-13: 978-0143129677

Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy-David O. Stewart

ImpeachedThe American Civil War remains a key turning point in United States history.  The nation nearly tore itself apart as the Union and Confederacy engaged in deadly conflict over several issues including States’ rights, secession, and the system of slavery.  Prior to its conclusion, President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) met his tragic end on April 15, 1965, falling victim to assassin John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.  Andrew Johnson, then Vice-President and Democrat, succeeded Lincoln as the 17th President of the Unite States of America.  He would only serve in office through 1869 when Lincoln’s term would have ended, but in that short period, his administration would be the center of one of the most critical trials in United States history.

David O. Stewart takes a look back in this well-researched and well-presented investigative account of the trial of Andrew Johnson, who faced impeachment by the Radical Republicans led by U.S. House of Representative Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868).  From start to finish the book is spellbinding and Stewart writes in a style that never bores the reader while presenting the material in an easy to read and streamlined format.  And as a result of his work, we now have one of the finest books on the attempted impeachment of a President who nearly pushed the nation into a second Civil War.

The book begins after Lincoln has passed and Johnson has become the next Commander-In-Chief.  And nearly instantly, the dark side of Johnson is put on full display as he commits the first of several acts that will turn the Radical Republicans against him and dictate the course of history for the deep south for decades to come.  It is not enough to say that Johnson was unfit for office.  Stewart realizes this and details the nefarious policies which Johnson advocated.   In time they would come to be viewed as the end of the legacy of Lincoln and an insult to those who truly believe that all men are created equal.   Further,  we come to learn about the personal side of Johnson or lack of it.  Generally viewed as cold and rarely in good spirits,  Johnson comes off as vindictive and in some cases delusional and out of his mind.  Actions such as circumventing Congress to deal directly with southern states, vetoing the Reconstruction Acts and Civil rights bill of Lyman Trumbull (1813-1896), are just several of many that earned Johnson the wrath of many Americans.  But his attempted removal of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (1814-1869) was the straw that broke the camel’s back and resulted in the Radical Republicans commencing impeachment proceedings against the despised President.

The impeachment trial is one of the best parts of the book.   Johnson came extremely close to impeachment from office, saved only by one vote.   Stewart revisits the trial and the events leading up to the trial as each Senator mulls over which way he will vote in deciding Johnson’s fate.   For some of them, we see why they voted in the way that they did and for others, the question remains, did they really feel that way or were the allegations of bribery true?  It may seem shocking to some to even think that bribery occurred.  And while Stewart does not convict anyone with his words, he examines the evidence available reaching a quite startling conclusion.

Today it would be fair to say that the Civil War still haunts America.  In the south, it is sometimes referred to as the war of “Northern aggression”.  The tearing down of Confederate monuments and the tragedy in Charlottesville remind us of the struggle we continue to deal with in confronting the war that divided our nation.  Reconstruction can been seen as a missed opportunity in American history. Millions of freed slaves and White Americans had their lives changed permanently by the Emancipation Proclamation and the Confederacy’s defeat. Congress realizing the opportunity before it,  attempted to seize the opportunity but was confronted by a President deeply prejudiced and intent on maintaining the social structure of the south.   His efforts would eventually come to pass in the system of Jim Crow that took decades and a Civil Rights Movement to finally defeat.   We can only guess what would have happened if Johnson had not only complied but encouraged Congress to pass more legislation to move the nation forward after a brutal conflict and protected the lives of newly freed and disenfranchised Americans.

America now finds itself at a crossroad as we grapple with a political climate that borders on surreal at times.  But regardless of what happens, America will survive as it always has.   But while we continue to maintain the nation that we have, it is imperative that we do not forget the dark legacy of Andrew Johnson and remember why it is imperative to have a President that is able to unify us all and serve each and every citizen of the United States of America.  Stewart’s book is an excellent place to start in understanding the rise and fall of Andrew Johnson.

ISBN-10: 1416547509
ISBN-13: 978-1416547501