Category Archives: Investigative Report

This Kind of War: The Classic Military History of the Korean War-T.R. Fehrenbach

rokIt is sometimes called the forgotten war, the conflict which remains in the background as World War I, World War II and Vietnam take center stage as the wars that defined the United States Military and U.S. foreign policy.  Unbeknownst to many Americans, the Korean war never officially ended.  An armistice was signed on July 27, 1953 bringing a halt to the firing from all sides. But the armistice did not permanently resolve the conflict and to this day the 38th parallel, instituted after World War II, remains as the dividing line between the Communist North and the Democratic South.  Recently, U.S. President Donald J. Trump attended a peace summit with the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un.   Washington claimed the summit a success but only time will tell if the Korean War will officially come to an end and peace is finally obtained.  For veterans of the conflict, feelings run deep and mixed thoughts on the summit are bound to exist.  Two years ago, a veteran of the war close to my family died after several years of declining health.  Curiously, he never spoke of the war, preferring to keep his thoughts and feelings to himself for more than 50 years.   And as he went to his grave, he took with him, knowledge of the war and memories that most people would never want to have.  But the questions still remain, what caused the conflict and why did war wage for three years? Furthermore, why did the fighting eventually cease?

Author T.R. Fehrenbach (1925-2013) served in the Korean War and was later head of the Texas Historical Commission.  In 1963, this book was published, ten years after the fighting had ceased.  His memories are crisp and the reporting second to none.  He takes us back in time as history comes alive, letting us step inside the war beginning those fateful days in June, 1950 when the North Korea People’s Army invaded its southern neighbor.  Under the direction of Kim Ill Sung (1912-1994),  North Korea initiated the opening salvo in a war that claimed over two million lives.   News of the invasion sent shock waves through Washington and President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) was faced with a decision that would change the course of history.  On June 30, 1950, he ordered ground troops into South Korea to assist the Republic of Korea Armed Forces (ROK).  At the time no one could have imagined what lay in store.

From the beginning the story pulls the reader in as Fehrenbach recounts the Japanese occupation of Korea and the long-lasting effects of Japanese rule on Korean society. In fact, to this day, influences of Japanese culture can still be found in Korea.  Following the falls of the Japanese Army in World War II, Korea found itself in a position to chart a new course.  But similar to Germany and Japan, the country became a pawn in the chess match between the United States and the Soviet Union.  Unsure of what to do with South  Korea, the nation remained in a vulnerable position until the North made its move.  And once the fighting began, the speed picked up and refused to die down.  North Korean and U.N. forces lead by the United States, engaged in deadly combat that saw casualties climb exponentially on both sides.  but what was clear from the beginning as we see in the book, is that Korea was an entirely new type of conflict for America.

Savage is the adjective that comes to mind to describe the fighting between opposing nations and ideologies.  Beyond brutal, the Korean conflict was akin to hell on earth for all of its participants.  And just when we think that the war might swing in the favor of the U.N. forces, the war takes a darker and more dramatic turn as the People’s Republic of China enters the fray changing the scope and the rules of the Korean War.  At the time China enters the story, the fighting has already claimed thousands of casualties.  But it is at this point that the battle reaches a higher and more deadly level.  Quite frankly, the world stood on the verge of the next holocaust.   Today we know that did not happen.  But why? America had the troops and the money to fund the war but what was it that held back the United States from entering into a full-scale ground assault?  The answers are here and this is the crux of the book.  Following World War II, American attitudes towards war began to change and Korea was the first testing ground for the gaining influence of politics over armed conflict.

What I liked most about the book is that aside from the statistics of casualties and the descriptions of the deaths that occur in the book and POW internment camps is that Fehrenbach explains how and why events progressed as they did and also why Washington was committed to fighting on a limited scale.  The fallout from the atomic bombs dropped on Japan was still fresh in the minds of nations across the world.  President Truman gave the order to drop the bombs and I believe no one doubted his willingness to use them again if necessary.   Whether he would have eventually given the order is unknown as his time in office came to an end and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower succeeded him.  But for the new president, the conflict still raged and opinion towards the war had become negative.  And while peace did come during his term, the body count climbed up until the very last day.

The story of the Korean War is one that is rarely mentioned in textbooks and never discussed today.   But this book by Fehrenbach truly is a classic study of the war.   In a meticulous and chronological order, he tells the story from start to finish and along the way, incorporates relevant parts of American society and world history into the story.   Although not a “textbook” in the classic sense, the book very well could be for it gives a concise explanation for the causes and effects of the war and how it was eventually resolved. If you are interesting in expanding your knowledge of the Korean War, this is the perfect place to start.

ISBN-13: 978-1574883343
ISBN-10: 1574883348
ISBN-13: 978-0028811130
ISBN-10: 0028811135
ASIN: B00J3EU6IK

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

Open Veins In Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent-Eduardo Galeano with a Foreword by Isabel Allende

galeanoLatin America is home to some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.   The Iguazu Falls, Andes Mountains and Patagonia attract millions of visitors annually.  The beauty of these and other sites across Latin America stand in stark contrast to the poverty that can be found outside of major cities and sometimes within.  In between major railway stations and ports exist slums that remind us of the severely uneven distribution of wealth throughout the continent.  Speaking from personal experience, most Americans would be shocked at living conditions that still exist in Latin America to this day.   But why does a continent with a history that goes back several hundred years  and is home to beautiful people, beautiful languages, great foods and beautiful scenes of nature, continue to suffer from poverty, corruption and exploitation.

The key to understanding the current state of these and other Latin American affairs, is to revisit its history.  Eduardo Galeano (1940-2015) has done just that in this eye-opening and best-selling study of Latin American history that was first published in 1971.   The edition that is the subject of this review was re-published in 1997, and contains a foreword by Isabel Allende,  a cousin of the late Chilean President Salvador Allende (1908-1973).   On September 11, 1973, Allende died on a self-inflicted gunshot wound as opposition forces engaged in a CIA-backed overthrow of the government.  Isabel currently lives in California and is a naturalized United States Citizen.

Galeano starts by revisiting how Latin America came into existence from a continent of indigenous people to one in which Spanish is the dominant language.  The arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean marked a distinctive change in the course of world history and although he never set foot in North America,  Columbus is still considered by many to be the person that discovered what is today the United States. In recent years however, the holiday of Columbus Day has been replaced by Indigenous People’s Day or in others not acknowledged.  In Central and South America, the arrival of the Spanish explorers would have a profound impact and set the stage for plunder, murder and exploitation that engulfed the continent.   Next to Columbus are the stories of Vasco Núñez de Balboa (1475-1519) and Pedro de Valdivia (1497-1553), explorers who would spend their last days in South America.    And as Galeano re-tells their stories, the reader might want to make notes of names, dates and places as the story comes together like a puzzle.

While the tragedy of exploitation and violence played out, not all voices were content with Spanish domination and the extermination of South America’s inhabitants.  Tupac Amaru (1545-1572) and Simón Bolívar (1783-1830) also appear in the book and it would be safe to say that an author would find it impossible to discuss Latin American history without recounting their extraordinary and short lives.   However their efforts proved to be ineffective against the rush of colonization that dominated the southern hemisphere.  And it is at this point in the book that Galeano turns up the heat as we learn how natural resources became a gold mine and and the populations of the Carribean, Central American and South American nearly disappeared as a result of warfare, famine and disease.  World superpowers sank their teeth into the Latin American cash machine and have never let go.

The grip of foreign control has proven to have disastrous effects on politics, producing revolutions and widespread practice of the coup d’état.   Leaders who leaned left and sought to reclaim industries exploited by foreign corporations were quickly dealt with through American foreign policy.   Those who did play the game were rewarded and tolerated through the Good Neighbor Policy and other shady practices.  The climate of distrust and violent overthrow of the government has never left Latin America.  The current events in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Argentina are prime examples of the volatile political climate that continues to exist.  And all the while, foreign corporations continue to reap enormous profits as they move around offices and politicians like pieces on a chess board.

Galeano provides a staggering amount of information in the book which is sure to shock the reader.   But this book is key to understanding why Latin America has developed so many third-world countries. It would be easy to blame those countries for their own failures.  But what we know is that after a colonizer has left the colonized, it is immensely difficult for those nations to find a permanent path of success.  This was beautifully explained by Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) in his classic The Wretched of the Earth.   The future is bleak for many Latin American nations as inflation rises and the IMF becomes more reluctant to give out loans.  Poverty continues to increase giving rise to protests, crime and strikes.  What we see today is a manifestation of what Galeano calls “five hundred years of the pillage of a continent”.

If you have never traveled through Latin America, I implore you to do so at least once.  I firmly believe that there are many great things that are unfamiliar to those who live in the northern hemisphere. I have had the privilege of visiting  Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.  Chile is next on the list.  Through my travels, I have met many people who have become a permanent part of my life and I am eternally grateful for having met them.   Galeano died on April 13, 2015 after a battle with lung cancer but he left behind important works and this masterpiece which has been translated into more than twelve languages.  This book has proven to be the companion guide every person needs in order to understand many of things that will be seen in Latin America, including the current presence of open veins.

ISBN-10: 0853459916

ISBN-13: 978-0853459910

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

God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything-Christopher Hitchens

hitchens1

The title of this book is enough to cause a range of emotions in deist, agnostics and atheist.  Next to politics, religion is a subject which unites or divides, sometimes through the use of extreme violence. Today, when we think of religious fundamentalism, images of Islamic radicals readily come to mind causing us to forget that extremism exist is nearly every religion known to man.  In the United States, most deists are followers of monotheistic faiths.  Others are followers of polytheistic faiths and the remainder could be classified as agnostic, spiritual or even atheist.   Those who are atheist remain firm in their belief that God does not exist. But for deists, God does exist and is present all around us at all times.  But what if is there is no such thing as God?  Believers will find the mere mention of such a concept preposterous. But in all fairness, no one has ever come back from the dead to tell humanity what really happens when we die.  Furthermore, non-believers point to the world’s many ills as proof that an all-loving God is nothing more than make-believe.   Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) wrote at least thirty books, some of which like this, addressed religious faith.  Here, he takes on God and puts forth his argument that religion itself is the cause of many of the world’s ills.  One look at the cover will cause some to claim blasphemy and write Hitchens off as doomed and demented soul who surely found out when he died, that God does in fact exist.  Regardless of what side of the fence you are on, the book is a good discussion on the effect religion truly has on our lives.

In the book, Hitchens does not focus on one religion solely, he addresses multiple religions as he makes his argument.  He is clearly well-read and by his own admission, grew up in a Christian childhood.   His career has taken him to all parts of the world where he was able to examine other faiths up close. And the arguments he makes in the pages of this book are thought-provoking and it would extremely difficult for even the most ardent believers to ignore the many problems with religion that Hitchens discusses.   As a believer, when you think of your faith, it is seen in a positive light.  It helps people, gathers them together, provides answers and gives a sense of purpose.   But was that always the case and is religion even necessary to have all of the things that we seek through it?

There are thousands of gods worship throughout the world.   However, the most dominant religions are mainly monotheistic.  Jesus, Yahweh and Allah have claimed billions of followers world-wide.   Hinduism also claims a large number of followers who pray daily to the many Gods that are worshiped. In parts of Iran and the Middle East, Zoroastrianism is still practiced.   Exactly when each of these religions developed is lost to history.   Science tells us that man existed for thousands of years and that the planet is at least a four billion years old.  That forces the question, did God create man or did man create the Gods?  Furthermore, are Gods even necessary to live a full and purposeful life?

Hitchens pulls no punches in this book and makes his point clear that he truly believes religion poisons everything.   However what he does not do is tell anyone to give up their faith nor does he attempt to belittle anyone who believes in the Gods that he mentions.  And although he does believe that a world without religion would be better, he is mature enough to understand that some will continue to believe in the only religion they have ever known.   Atheists are often thought to be vile and vicious beings who want to rid the world of religion.  The opposite is usually the case.  Hitchens, like Richard Dawkins and others who have made a case against religion, is very rational and in no point in the book, does he use rhetoric to incite any type of violence or force anyone to become an atheist overnight.  Clearly, the decision to no longer believer or remain in the fold is up to the individual.  But what he does do, is provide examples from history of why he believes religion plays a negative role in society.  The book is a journey from mankind’s earliest known relationship with God all the way to the present and the growing numbers of people in the United States who have no religious affiliation at all.

I believe that is fairly obvious that in order to read this book an open mind is needed.  And I also believe that those who do purchase the book are either unwavering believers curious to see what Hitchens says and others who no longer believe or are on the path to living religion free. We all have to find our own path in life but if we need an honest and critical examination of the role of religion in society, this is a good place to start.

ISBN-10: 9780446697965
ISBN-13: 978-044669796

Best Evidence: Disguise and Deception in the Assassination of John F. Kennedy-David S. Lifton

LiftonThe murder of John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) continues to maintain its place among the greatest crimes in American history.  The official story as published by the Warren Commission is that former Marine Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963)  fired three shots in six seconds from the sixty floor of the Texas School Book Depository, fatally wounding Kennedy and severely wounding Texas Governor John Connally (1917-1993).  To many, including the author of this book, David Lifton, the government version seemed to be the best and final explanation.  But over time Lifton came to doubt the official story and after obtaining a set of the twenty-six volumes that composed the Commission’s investigation, his doubt turned into disbelief and lead him down the path that culminated with this national bestseller.

At the time his odyssey began, Lifton was a law student at UCLA.  Working on campus was a law professor by the name of Wesley J. Liebeler who served as a Warren Commission attorney.  Disillusioned by the official report, he decided to confront Liebeler about the many discrepancies he found in the final report.  Over the next several years, the two men would become more closely acquainted as Lifton dived deeper into the murder and Liebeler sought to preserve the Commission’s report.  Ironically Liebeler is the person that suggested to Lifton that he should one day write a book.  He eventually did and this is book is a must read for anyone with unanswered questions about the murder of John F. Kennedy.

Having read multiple books on the assassination, I would like to point out that Lifton focuses on the medical evidence surrounding Kennedy’s murder.  He does not go into great detail about Oswald’s life, murder or the life and murder of J.D. Tippit.  This is strictly about the postmortem events from the time Kennedy was declared dead at Parkland Hospital until the official autopsy report was published by the physicians who were on call at Bethesda Naval Hospital when Kennedy’s body was brought in. I warn readers that the subject matter graphic as it pertains to the autopsy and a large number of anomalies with Kennedy’s body that by all appearances, occurred before the official autopsy even began.  Almost like a horror movie, the body tells signs of makeshift surgical procedures, unexplained bruising and conflicting testimony between doctors in Dallas and Maryland.  But as Lifton explains, the body is the evidence.  Skeptics might be tempted to ask how on earth could such changes have been made to Kennedy’s body before it arrived at Bethesda?  Well Lifton asked himself the same question and many others that have been answered through exhaustive research and due diligence in the most plausible manner to date.  But what is even more sound about Lifton’s work is that he supports his conclusion based off of evidence that is publicly available and in some cases, was hiding in plain sight.  His case is further supported by statements he obtained from numerous individuals who were at either Parkland Hospital, Bethesda or part of Kennedy’s entourage that escorted the body all the way back to Washington.

There are those of us who will refuse to believe that the Government could engage in such nefarious activity.  On the surface it simply seems absurd.  But we soon learn that there is far more than meets the eye.   As Lifton is continue to develop his case for a frontal shot a key event takes place changing his life forever.  On a FBI report filed by Agents Francis O’Neill and James Siebert is a section  in which they state that surgery had been performed on the president’s head prior to the autopsy.  I confess that as I read that section of the book I nearly jumped out of my seat.   This statement served as the catalyst for Lifton to change gears and become one of the most respected researchers to date.  As I continued through the book I noticed that at times chills ran down my spine.  As the story progresses, the macabre becomes a reality and it dawns on the reader that there was more to that day that had nothing to do with Lee Harvey Oswald.  This is a story that the Government did not want its citizens to hear.  But like Oswald’s murder, it refuses to be put to rest and leaves many unanswered questions.

There are many books about JFK’s murder, each taking a slightly different approach.  To get an idea of the overall picture of what happened that day, I always recommend to new readers Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy by the late Jim Marrs (1943-2017).  For others that have passed beyond that point, Lifton’s work is a critical addition to every researcher’s library.   The narrative is chilling: unexplained changes to the president’s head indicating prior dissection, two ambulances, two caskets, a helicopter and other mind-boggling postmortem incidents reveal a darker and more sinister plan in effect that most could not begin to fathom.   However, there are still many interviews that were classified and thousands of pages of others that remained classified. When they finally are released we can only guess or shudder as to what they might reveal. Until then, we have authors such as David Lifton that force us to take a close look at what is considered to be best evidence.

ISBN-10: 0881844381
ISBN-13: 978-0881844382

The Pentagon Papers: The Secret History of the Vietnam War- Neil Sheehan, Hedrick Smith, E. W. Kenworthy, Fox Butterfield and James L. Greenfield

s-l300The names of the 58,000 Americans who died in the Vietnam War that are found on the memorial in Washington, D.C., are a reminder of a conflict deemed by many to be the worst the United States has ever been involved in.  The withdrawal of U.S. forces in March, 1973, brought a sigh of relief to the American public which had long grown tired of a war with no end in sight.  The dark truth which we now know is that we did not by any means accomplish the mission.  And the mighty American war machine failed to secure a victory. I have met many veterans of the war and have an uncle who served.  What I recall most about all of them is that they do not speak of their experiences while in combat.  I know the memories are there and for some of them, they were unable to leave parts of the war behind.  Today we call it PTSD, but back then you simply found a way to move forward in life.   But why were they in Vietnam to being with?  Was the domino effect really a threat to the United States?

On May 11, 1973, Daniel Ellsberg found himself the talk of the town as charges pending against him for espionage were dismissed by U.S. District Judge William Byrne. He had been indicted for leaking what became known as The Pentagon Papers, the subject of this book and the topic of the movie The Post starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep.  The New York Times, after several battles in court, was finally allowed to move forward with its plan to publish The Pentagon Papers and contained in the pages of this book are the documents that the U.S. Government tried in earnest to hide from the American public under the guise of “national security”.   Ironically, the facts that are revealed in this book have absolutely nothing to do with national security but rather several presidential administrations that failed to find a workable solution to Indochina.

The late Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara (1916-2009) has been called the architect of the war and was loathed by many because of it. However, the title is misleading and in some ways unfair. The war had many architects either by wishful thinking, uncontrolled ego or naiveté.  What is truly ironic is that as the war waged on, McNamara became a strong voice of dissent.  And in spite of what we have been led to believe, our existence in Indochina began many years before 1965.  The story of U.S. involvement in Vietnam is a long tale, filled with hard truths, false truths, deception and ultimately failure.  But this is how it happened and why.

The papers are divided into several sections which correspond to a different aspect of the conflict.  The administrations of Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson are examined to understand what each cabinet did and did not do as it grappled with the growing headache.   Step-by-step Southeast Asia opens up as black hole as more advisors are committed, instability rages in South Vietnam and war hawks finally get their wish as the United States jumped nearly feet first into a jungle conflict that proved to be nothing short of disastrous.  Rolling Thunder, troop deployments and South Vietnamese politics are just some of the issues that antagonized Washington for nearly a decade.

If you served in Vietnam, I forewarn you that the book might anger you in many ways. For others, this is a critical source of information in order to understand the war from a behind the scenes view.   We are often told that the military fights to protect the country and our freedoms that we take for granted.  But did a nation over 13,000 miles from U.S. soil really pose a threat to the most powerful nation on earth at the time? And what would we have accomplished if we had in fact won the conflict?   Perhaps Vietnam would have become a second Korea, partitioned between a communist controlled North-Vietnam and a U.S. controlled South-Vietnam.   Following the U.S. withdrawal, Saigon fell and the North achieved its goal of reunification.  Today the war is a distant memory for young Vietnamese but for the older generation, many painful memories remain.  The figures in the book are long gone but their actions will stay with us and the Vietnam war will always be a regrettable example of U.S. foreign policy gone wrong.

ISBN-10: 1631582925
ISBN-13: 978-1631582929

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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