Category Archives: Historical Account
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.
Every 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.
I Had to Survive: How a Plane Crash in the Andes Inspired My Calling to Save Lives-Dr. Roberto Canessa with Pablo Vierci
The definition of courage is the ability to do something that frightens one. On October 13, 1972, Roberto Canessa was one of forty passengers aboard Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 bound for Santiago, Chile. The plane clipped the top of a mountain peak and crashed in a region known as the Valley of Tears. Seventy-two days passed before all of the survivors were rescued. Canessa and Nando Parrado, author of Miracle in the Andes, walked for ten days through the mountains towards Chile to find help. A peasant, Sergio Catalan, rode his horse for eight hours to notify authorities. The ordeal of the survivors was turned into a book called Alive, and a film of the same name starring Ethan Hawke and John Malkovich. In 2010, a documentary was released by the History Channel under the name of I Am Alive: Surviving the Andes Plane Crash. The films and books that have been published do an incredible job of allowing readers and viewers to step inside the nightmare than existed on that isolated mountain slope. Here, Canessa tells his story but his account differs from the others not in facts but in presentation and focus.
Parrado’s book deals mainly with the time they spend stranded in the Andes. The end of the book is focused on his life after the crash and updates on the other survivors. Canessa takes a different track and the book is not just about him but also about his family and patients. A small part of the book is dedicated to the crash. Canessa confirms statements given by Parrado both in his book and in the documentary. But I honestly believe it is what happens in his life after the event that makes the book so intriguing. As the story progresses, the reader will note that at times we are reading Roberto’s words and then another section will be the testimony of his children, father or patients. These interviews were not conducted by Canessa himself. Vierci, a childhood friend and journalist, reached out to Canessa’s patients and obtained their recollections without his involvement. I believe that this decision was critical to the book’s aura for it gives us a complete picture of not just the rugby player that survived the impossible, but also of a husband and doctor of medicine.
Dr. Canessa, as he has been known since finishing medical school in his native Uruguay, became a well-known cardiologist throughout the world. He has performed operations on scores of patients, mainly children and devoted his life to their survival. But as we read the stories and read Canessa’s words, we get the feeling that the Andes mountains always remain present in his mind and as he admits, they shape the way he has viewed life since he returned to Montevideo. He certainly could have never imagined he would face death in the autumn of 1972 but the experience is one which no person can ever fully leave behind.
As a supplement to the book, numerous color photographs are provided by Canessa and families of his many patients. The photos show the progression of age, wisdom and how far he has come in life. By his own admission, he has always been a bit rebellious and done things his way whether they were accepted or not. But it is this rebellious nature that served him well as he and Nando walked for over seventy miles to find another trace of human existence. The Chileans have a saying “the Andes don’t give back what they take”. For the players and other passengers on Uruguayan Flight 571, the mountains almost took everything. But sixteen young men held out hope, steeled their nerves and accomplished what no one thought could be done.
Dr. Canessa has lived his life applying the lessons he learned during that ordeal and his story will always amaze shock those who are discovering the story of the crash for the first time. Like Parrado’s book, I read this one sitting. His words and those are others are clear and in an easy to read format making the story flow smoothly without losing the reader’s attention. And although the crash took place more than forty years ago, the story of their survival and the approach to life by Canessa are more than enough to inspire anyone.
On October 13, 1972, Nando Parrado was a twenty-two year old rugby player with the Old Christians from Montevideo, Uruguay. The team was en route to Santiago Chile for an annual match against a rival team. As their Fairchild 227 flew north through the Andes following a navigational error by the plane’s pilots, it clipped the top of a mountain peak as the crew struggled to force the aircraft to climb over the deadly terrain. The initial crash killed several passengers and by the time the survivors were rescued in December, 1972, only sixteen remained. Their story was told by author Piers Paul Read in the 1974 book Alive and a film of the same title was released in 1993, starring Ethan Hawke and John Malkovich. In 2010, the History Channel released a documentary called I Am Alive: Surviving the Andes Plane Crash. In the documentary, Parrado is main narrator sitting in front the camera as viewers relive the nightmare. The film, book and documentary are accurate portrayals of the events that took place but are told by others who are relaying the stories of the survivors. This is Nando Parrado’s story and the will to survive that led him and co-survivor Roberto Canessa to walk for ten days in the hope of finding another human being and help for the other passengers left behind.
In the film Alive, Parrado is played by Ethan Hawke and despite the lack of Uruguayan Spanish in the film, Hawke provides a convincing portrayal. However for all of the Hollywood’s special effects and production etiquette, the film still fails to fully convey the nightmare that was their ordeal. Perhaps producers did not have enough time or felt that audiences would have revolted at all of the details. What is clear from Parrado’s account is that the horror that existed on the mountain slope was more than anyone could have imagined. Brutal, tragic and even macabre, it is a story that no filmmaker could write, such events happen by circumstance, albeit tragic. The survivors of the crash would never be the same again and according to Nando, a couple of them struggled later in life. But their story continues to amaze and inspire and is a prime example of the tenacity of the human will to live.
The beauty of this book is that these are Nando’s words as told by him. And what we see is a young man who through fate, rises to the occasion through sheer determination to live or in the alternative meet his death while trying. I have been to Montevideo and Punta Del Este, two important cities both in Uruguay today and in Parrado’s story. I have also been to Argentina and what I found interesting was the rugby aspect of his account. Football is without question the national sport throughout Latin America. But as we learn from Nando, Christian missionaries who traveled to Uruguay from Ireland insisted that the students at Stella Maris learn the United Kingdom pastime of rugby. And it was this game that served as the basis for their fatal flight. As their situation unfolds, the teachings and team spirit kicks in as they lean on each other in the struggle for survival.
The accusations of cannibalism that they faced is addressed by Parrado and he explains how and why they reached the decision to consume the only food they had left; the deceased. I cannot imagine what it was like mentally for them to even consider such an act let alone execute it. But in desperate times, we often rely on desperate measures. Readers will assuredly be divided on the issue but what we can all agree on is that had we been in that situation, we honestly do not know what we would have done until we were left with no other choices.
Although this is Parrado’s story, we also learn a great deal about the other players whom he becomes closer to as the ordeal goes on. By the end of the book, it is obvious that he and Canessa have become extremely close and are still friends to this day. They are bonded by their love of rugby and their shared experience on an isolated mountain in the Andes. The other survivors all play a role in the story and Parrado does not neglect their contributions and importance. I believe it is imperative to remember that many of the players were under twenty-five years of age. In fact, Carlos Páez Rodríguez turned nineteen as they face possible death. At that age, I could have never fathomed being in such a situation and the courage, tenacity and creativity displayed by the survivors is incredible.
I enjoyed this book so much that I read it one sitting while home on a dreary Saturday afternoon. But as I looked outside my window, I reminded myself that no matter how bad the weather is, it does compare to what Parrado, Canessa and the other survivors were forced to endure. The book is called Miracle in the Andes for good reason, it truly was a miracle that anyone made it off that mountain alive. Today at the age of sixty-eight, I am sure Nando Parrado remembers everything as if it happened yesterday. And until the day they leave here, Parrado, Canessa, Páez and the others will always look back at the time they came face to face with death in the Andes mountains. Now a husband and father of two adult daughters, Parrado is still a revered figure, known as an Andes survivor. A former race car driver who raced in Europe, he is long retired from the sport but his passion for all things in life is contagious and it is easy to see why he refused to give up his fight to live. This truly is a miraculous story and a great read.
It is not often that a former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation writes a book. In fact, it is almost unprecedented. In all fairness, there have been books written by former members of the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. intelligence apparatus. When James Comey published this book, news outlets were eagerly waiting to get a copy of one of the most anticipated book releases in history. The political climate of the United States is unlike anything most of us have ever seen. There are a number of adjectives that come to mind, any of which could be rightfully applied to Washington, D.C. Time will tell what will happen in the oval office. The firing of James Comey through the media left many of us shocked, confused and even angry. For some, it was just one more act by a vindictive and childish commander-in-chief. Others believed that it was the right call as they believed the FBI was out of control. I watched broadcasts that day and found myself astonished at the day’s events and wondering if this was just the start of a regrettable trend developing in the United States government.
During the 2016 president election, James Comey became a celebrity of sorts as a result of the bureau’s investigation of improper use of e-mail by Hillary Clinton. She was never charged with a crime and given a warning about improper use of a mail server. Several weeks later, it was announced that once again, the FBI was looking into the e-mail issue. Critics of the FBI jumped on the announcement and blasted it as a smear campaign to discredit Clinton and tilt the election in favor of Donald Trump. Whether the e-mails was the deciding factor that caused Clinton to lose the election, is still up for debate. Comey was labeled all sorts of names by Clinton supporters and disliked even by some Trump supporters for not fully going after Clinton as they believed he should have. Seemingly a man caught in the middle, he did his best to wade through difficult waters. I have often wondered what really did happen and why did the FBI put out the statement about re-opening the investigation in Clinton’s emails? Well, here in this book Comey answers that question and many others that have crossed the minds of millions of Americans.
The book is largely an autobiography where we learn about Comey’s childhood, his role as a husband and father and experiences in the U.S. Department of Justice. The young kid from Yonkers, NY, probably never imagined that one day he would lead the Federal Bureau of Investigation and find himself at the center of an election controversy. What I found most interesting about the book is that Comey does not come off arrogant or self-pitying. He is a neutral as you could expect. It is clear that he truly believes in the bureau and the laws of the United States. But any beliefs about him being out to sabotage Clinton, help Trump or just make a mockery of the Department of Justice is ludicrous. In fact, his revelation about his true feelings towards the election says a lot about how he approached his job.
Many of us are unaware of the sacrifices made by those who work in top positions in the U.S. Government. Long hours and time away family is often the norm and the jobs are sometimes quite unorthodox. Comey speaks on this and the several times his family had to relocate as his career took yet another term is an example of the chaotic life that can come with service in government. But not once does Comey complain and is grateful for everything he has done. His story reads like that of an accomplished employee looking back on all that he has done. That is until we get to the current President.
To say that the story takes a dramatic turn would be an understatement. I do not believe that any of us knew exactly what would happen once Donald Trump took office. The celebrity television star and real estate figure ran a campaign that bordered on the unreal at times. But he received the electoral votes needed to become the next President of the United States. Almost immediately, the relationship between Trump and Comey is filled with uneasiness and bizarre situations. Readers might be tempted to believe that the book has turned into fiction but it does not. The recollections come from Comey’s memos and memory of the meetings, the substance of which will make most people scratch their heads in bewilderment. In addition, Comey puts to rest any notion people might hold about any relationship he has with Donald Trump. And I would like to think that his very public firing confirms what Comey says about their prior encounters. Most of the story will sound unbelievable but then again, the man in office was elected on a campaign that many thought was also unbelievable.
Regardless of party affiliation, if you believe in the laws of the United States and our democratic institutions, the book is a good read about the Department of Justice. And now we know the story of James Comey, who went from FBI Director to a man known to millions of people as the person unfairly fired by a President whose is beyond unpredictable. I do not know what the future holds for Donald Trump of James Comey but with this statement, the former FBI Director has taken a large step in clearing his name and reputation and telling his side of a most interesting story.
Betrayal in Blue: The Shocking Memoir of the Scandal That Rocked the NYPD-Burl Barer, Frank C. Girardot, Jr., Ken Eurell and Kevin Pierce
Nearly twenty-six years ago, New York City Police Officer Michael Dowd was arrested by the Suffolk County Police Department in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency for the possession and distribution on narcotics. His arrest, trial before Judge Kimba Wood of the Southern District of New York and testimony before the Mollen Commission solidified Dowd’s reputation as the dirtiest cop in NYPD history. Arrested with him were other officers, drug dealers and other participants. Ken Eurell was retired at the time of his arrest but during his active tenure, he patrolled the streets of the Seventh-Fifth precinct with Dowd and embarked on a path of corruption that is still unbelievable to this day. The duo recounted their life of crime in the 2015 documentary The Seven Five. Undoubtedly, Dowd is the main focus and his recollections are backed up by Eurell and the other former officers. This is the story from Eurell’s point of view about how and why he found himself more deeply immersed in crime with Dowd.
Eurell starts off by explaining his family history and how he joined the NYPD. Hi story is relatively straightforward and certainly non-eventful until he crosses paths with Dowd. Corruption had already existed and as Eurell points out, it was quite widespread throughout the department. Incoming officers were forced to learn on the quickly and those who made the decision to inform on dirty cops often faced a career derailed from being ostracized. Dowd is not just corrupt but takes everything to the extreme and is blessed with a mind geared for exploiting every angle possible. It does not take long for Eurell and Dowd to begin to pull off numerous capers and form a working relationship with two of the biggest drug dealers in East New York.
I lived five blocks from the 75th Precinct and remember when the story broke. Prior to Dowd’s arrest, there at had been stories of arrest at other precincts of cops that engaged in corruption of all sorts. Most of the people in the neighborhood were not surprised as most of the officers from the “75th” were considered to a bunch of cowboys. Having read this account by Eurell and that of Internal Affairs Investigator Joseph Tromboli in his book Good Cop, Bad Cop, the moniker of cowboys is a huge understatement. They were nothing short of out of control and Dowd was on a mission to self-destruct and might have succeeded in the end if not for Eurell’s decision to cooperated with authorities.
The book is shocking at times but I do think Eurell and the authors were right about what East New York was like during the 1980s and 1990s. Having lived there at the time, I can say with all honesty that the neighborhood looked like a war zone. Poverty was rampant, murders common and the police struggled with containing the constantly increasing criminal elements. But what happens when the cops are part of the element? Through participation with Adam Diaz and Baron Perez, Dowd and Eurell had crossed a line from which there was no safe return. East New York, described by officers herein as the “Land of F*ck”, was hell on earth and the problems that plagued the neighborhood extended far beyond the reach of the NYPD and led directly to City Hall. Today, those days are long gone and the landscape bears no resemblance to what it used to look like. Vacant lots have disappeared, crack-cocaine is no longer the drug of the street and the faces of the NYPD are now more diverse. But the 75th is still there at 1000 Sutter Avenue and for older residents, the place that was once the source of the dirtiest cops in all of New York City.
Today, Ken Eurell no longer lives in New York, having relocated to Florida as he attempted to put his life back together again following the fallout after Dowd’s final downfall. As he tells his story he is candid about what he did, how he was seduced by the lifestyle and the pain he inflicted upon his own family. He does not ask for sympathy, freely admits where he went wrong and never portrays himself as a victim or hero. This is simply his part of the story and I think a good supplement to Tromboli’s book and the documentary. I would go as far as to say that if you have watched the film and read Tromboli’s book, then his is another piece of the puzzle. Some of the information is revealed in other places but I do think Tromboli’s book contains a bit more because it is told from the side of Internal Affairs so he is able to convey what was known about Dowd and when NYPD brass knew it. Some readers might be tempted to ask how did they get away with it for so long? The answers are in the book and they just might surprise or even shock you. But this was New York City in the 1980s and 1990s, when it was one of the most dangerous cities in America before gentrification arrived.
I often think about my childhood and early adult life in East New York. Many of my friends have long left the neighborhood and I no longer live there myself. But we all carry many memories and they will remain with us for the rest of our days as I am sure they will for Dowd and Eurell. The East New York they knew is different today and if the City is successful, it will be unrecognizable to them in just a few years. But no matter how much transformation occurs, the dark history of corruption within the Seven-Five will remain in its history.
Between 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.
The name Idi Amin remains among the most infamous our world has ever known. Following the overthrow that removed Milton Obote (1925-2005) from power, the late despot ruled Uganda with relentless brutality as he enriched himself at the peril of hundreds of thousands of Ugandans. In January, 1979, the Ugandan National Liberation Army forced him into exile with the help of the Tanzania People’s Defense Force and former Libyan dictator Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi (1942-2011). Amin spent the last years of his life in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he died on August 16, 2003. Today, nearly fifteen years after his death, he is still reviled by those who remember a dark period in the history of Uganda.
Henry Kyemba (1939-) served under Amin in several high positions including Minister of Health. On a trip to Europe, he defected from Ugandan and was reunited with both of his wives and his children thereafter. He first wrote this book in 1977, shortly after he made his life changing escape from Amin’s domain. Twenty years later, the book was republished with a foreword by Godfrey Lule (Godfrey Binaisa, 1929-2010). This is Kyemba’s account his time serving under Amin and the nightmare that ensued. And what is contained in the pages of this book is a story that is not for the faint at heart and a critical inside look into the reign of the man who dubbed himself “The Last King of Scotland”. And for those familiar with Amin, the story is still fascinating and at times just mind numbing as Kyemba reveals the insanity that engulfed a doomed regime.
Kyemba begins this story by teaching us about Uganda’s history and the division of tribes that remains in place today. The names and places come together like a puzzle giving us a large image of the country. At first it may be challenging to follow along but as the story moves along, the reader will be able to remember the most important. He continues by introducing us to his life and his role under the administration under Milton Obote who is removed from power early in the story. From that point on, it is all Amin and the madness that came with him. Kyemba’s escape is the “happy ending” that can serve to uplift the spirit, but in reality, his heart and the hearts of others who escape Uganda bleed for the thousands who were brutally murdered.
The book is at times, tough to read and Kyemba does not sugar coat anything. Violence, racism and incompetence combined to for a cesspool from which many would never recover. Kyemba also discusses the major events that highlighted Amin’s rule including the death of his wife Kay, whose gruesome demise was documented in the film The Last King of Scotland starring Forest Whitaker, the death of Dora Bloch following the hijacking of Air France Flight 139 from Tel Aviv and the expulsion of Indians and Asians from Ugandan soil. In each case, Amin’s delusions and failure to grasp the situation, marked yet another tragic point in an already bizarre story. In one of the most touching moments in the book, Kyemba remarks on Bloch’s death and how it has stayed with him.
An extraordinary amount of courage was required to write a book of this nature. For Kyemba, Uganda will always be home and his memories will be with him for the rest of his days. For those of us who did not live under Amin, books like this give us an idea of what life was like under a regime that stood on the verge of spiraling out of control nearly every day. Amin escaped justice dying in his older years in Saudi Arabia. For thousands of Ugandans, his ability to avoid punishment and answer for his crimes is one of the true tragedies in the nation’s history. Dictators live in a world removed from reality with their power having blinded them to the reality of their situation. Amin was no different and in fact stood out for his relentless brutality and lack of comprehension of even the most basic government concepts. Kyemba’s story is similar to other survivors of murderous regimes but I assure even the most hardened readers will be moved. If you are curious about the notorious Idi Amin and his regime, this book will show you a side that needs to be shown.
October 10, 1967 – Argentine newspaper Clarin announces that Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967) has died in Bolivia on October 9 after being capture with a group of guerrilla fighters attempting to spread revolutionary ideology throughout Latin America. In Buenos Aires, his family receives the news of his death and is completely devastated. Juan Martin, his younger brother, races to his father’s apartment where his mother and siblings have gathered as they attempt to piece together the last moments of Ernesto’s life. Che was secretly buried in an unmarked grave and his remains remained hidden for thirty years before author Jon Lee Anderson convinced a retired Bolivian general to reveal the grave’s location. His remains were returned to Havana on July 13, 1997 where he was buried with full military honors on October 17, 1997. In death, Che’s legacy grew exponentially and even today in 2017, he is the icon of revolution around the world. But after his death, what happened to his family and where did their lives take them? Juan Martin, at seventy-two years old, has decided to tell his story and reveal to us many facts about the Guevara family that have sometimes been overlooked by history.
Before reading this book, I was already familiar with Che’s story, having read Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, Remembering Che: My Life with Che Guevara and several others relating to the campaigns in Cuba, the Congo and Bolivia. But I was always curious to know how Guevara’s fame affected the lives of his family. A couple of months ago, I watched an interview with Juan Martin from Buenos Aires that appeared on the news station France24. And it was then that I learned of his book in which he reminisces about his famous older brother. And what I found in the pages of this book is a story that should be read by those who admire Che and even those who loathe him. I would like to point out that the book is not a glorification of his brother. Without question, they shared a special bond and he remembers him with fondness but admittedly, he was fifteen when Che died and did not have the decades long relationship with him that his parents and older siblings did. Nevertheless, he shares many great details about their lives, shattering long-held myths about the Guevara and Lynch names.
In death, famous people sometimes become larger than life and their stories are retold but often misinterpreted and sometimes outright distorted. It is well-known that Che was very close to his mother, but as Juan Martin shows, Ernesto even tested her patience at times and his relationship with his father was not as great as some have been led to believe. They had many battles and never completely saw eye to eye on various issues but it in the end the elder Guevara supported his son and benefited from his legacy.
To understand Che’s life, it is necessary to trace the family’s origins several generations back. Juan Martin provides a short biography to clear the record about the family name. What I found interesting is that their family life was far from upper class and was highly nomadic. Money was usually and issues and several moves between Rosario, Misiones, Alta Gracia and Buenos Aires proved to be a challenge for the family of seven. But incredibly, they maintained strong family bonds that were desperately needed following Che’s death. The events in Cuba would change the family’s life forever in more ways than one. What is often misunderstood is that while Che had enormous success in Cuba, his accomplishments received little to no acknowledgement in Argentina. And having been there myself, I can attest to the fact that you will not find monuments or murals to him rampant throughout Buenos Aires. And following his death, the family would have to fear for their lives as a brutal dictatorship under Juan Peron locked the country in a vice grip and leftist organizations were persecuted beyond belief. And it is this part of the story where Juan Martin’s life takes on a life of its own.
Juan Martin Guevara spent eight years in incarceration for suspected leftist activity. His wife Viviana was incarcerated for an equal amount of time. In fact, most of Che’s immediately family were forced to leave Argentina as the government initiated a crackdown on anyone suspected of being communist. And during that time, the Guevara name was suspect to immediate suspicion. He along with millions of other Argentines lived through the tragedy of the “disappeared” in which an estimated 30,000 Argentines are believed to have been seized and murdered by nefarious elements within the government. The Falklands War followed in 1982 and the country reached its breaking point under the government of Carlos Menem (1930-) when the convertibility system imploded and the Corralito was imposed on Argentine citizens limiting the amount of money people were allowed to withdraw from their bank accounts. Today he is still going strong, having lived through appendicitis, hepatitis and even a heart attack while in prison. Sadly, his older sister Celia, who he describes as being just like Che in many ways, has steadfastly refused to discuss her famous older brother, never recovering from his death and according Juan Marin, completely unaware he had written this book. His children grew up in Cuba and now live in Europe and other parts of the world. Four of Che’s five children still reside in Cuba where his daughter Aleida and son Camilo carry on their father’s legacy. And Fidel, who died on November 25, 2016 makes his presence felt in the book providing many gestures of good will for the Guevara family as they made a new life in Cuba.
Che will also be a controversial figure but with this book, Juan Martin has in fact shown more of the private side of Che and relayed the truth about what their family life was really like as they grew in Argentina. There are many parts of the book which are said and also shocking but necessary to understand the political climate that existed then and continues to plague Latin America. In the end, this is a fitting tribute from a younger brother to an older sibling, whom he misses dearly and idolized.
The resignation of Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994) as President of the United States on August 9, 1974, remains one of America’s darkest political moments. The revelation of the break-ins at the Democratic National Committee office in the Watergate complex and the subsequent attempted cover up, riveted American citizens and resulted in the downfall of a political icon. Through the years, myths and disinformation about the Watergate scandal have been propagated causing an aura of mystique over a crime of monumental proportions. I picked up this investigative account by Fred Emery to learn what really happened on June 17, 1972 and the process behind the scenes that led to Nixon’s resignation. And what I found is a book that dives deep into the Watergate scandal to show the reader what really happened from start to finish.
The story about Watergate, as we learn in the book, begins far in advance of the actual break-in and was rooted in retribution, paranoia, arrogance and greed. It shook the foundation of American politics and caused many to question their own Commander-in-Chief. Throughout the book, we are introduced to a steady stream of characters whose names became permanently etched in history due to their involvement in the Watergate affair. Many of them will be familiar to most readers but others forgotten over time. In the story at hand, they are resurrected with their deeds and mis-deeds on full display. The plot, crime and cover-up formed a complex nexus of covert activity that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Emery does a masterful job of putting the pieces together in a narrative that is easy to follow but deeply engaging. And throughout the book, there were times where I could not believe what I was reading.
It is well-known that Nixon recorded nearly all of his conversations in the oval office. The very tapes which he created would later be used to force his resignation and result in the indictments and convictions of several co-conspirators, several of whom will be known to those familiar with the secrets of the CIA and the administration of John F. Kennedy, who by this time had been deceased for nine years. Nixon’s obsession with Kennedy is deeply disturbing and raises more questions than answers. And as to why Nixon would record himself discussing the cover up of a crime is a secret he took with him to his grave. The tapes become the crux of the book as the battle between the White House and John Sirica evolves into clash of the titans. Incredibly, for all of the hours that are on the tapes that were released, there are thousands of minutes that have been hidden from the public. And perhaps it will never be known what they contain.
As the walls around Nixon began to collapse, attention shifted to John Dean (1938- ), who served as Nixon’s White House Counsel. He plays a prominent role in the story and the unavoidable fallout was largely the result of his decisions to cooperated with investigators. But as we see in the book, Dean was not the only person who realized what was at stake and decided to change their tune. Inadvertent comments, disgruntled operatives and eagle-eyed investigators combined to slowly peel the lid of the scandal turning Nixon’s fears into nightmares. And while Dean was in fact, largely responsible for the downfall of Nixon, there are many parts of the story that are either forgotten or ignored. In fact, the importance of Alexander Butterfield (1926-) cannot be overstated. He and Dean were just two members of a group of individuals who would eventually provide investigators with the facts that they needed to open Pandora’s box. And what they found changed the course of American political history. Nixon was eventually pardoned by his successor Gerald Ford, on September 8, 1974 but the damage had been done and he would live with the cloud of Watergate over his head until his death. His action and decisions remain somewhat mystifying and there are still many unanswered questions that will probably never be answered. And among all of them, the one that continues to stand out is what did the President know and when did he know it?
For anyone wishing to learn about the Watergate scandal and the sad ending of a President’s time in office, this is a great place to start. Highly recommended.