Category Archives: Investigative Report
Dorothy, “An Amoral and Dangerous Woman”: The Murder of E. Howard Hunt’s Wife – Watergate’s Darkest Secret
On January 23, 2007, E. Howard Hunt died in Miami, Florida at the age of 88. Hunt is best remembered for his conviction as a result of his role in the Watergate scandal that helped end the presidency of Richard M. Nixon. Hunt was also a prime suspect in the murder of John F. Kennedy. His son St. John, spoke with his father prior to his death and their discussion is referred to as his deathbed confession about what he knew about the events in Dallas, Texas. In the years following his death, truths about his role in the Central Intelligence Agency and the events in Dallas disproving his claim to be just a ‘bench warmer” in the crime. Next to Hunt throughout the Watergate crisis was his first wife Dorothy who perished when United Flight 553 crashed on December 8, 1972 as it approached Chicago Midway Airport to make its landing. The NTSB attributed the crash to pilot error but researchers have long suspected sabotage in the crash and have alluded to a long number of disturbing facts surrounding the crash. On the surface, it seems to be just a tragic accident that killed a housewife en route to visit acquaintances. But upon deeper examination of the crash and her life as revealed by her son in this book, the real story of the life of Dorothy Hunt is nearly as intriguing as that of her husband.
St. John Hunt has made himself known in JFK assassination circles. His prior book. Bond of Secrecy: My Life with CIA Spy and Watergate Conspirator E. Howard Hunt, looks into the life of his father and the effects of his profession on their family. Here, the focus is on his mother and her untimely demise. No stranger to the world of covert operations, Dorothy also has a past with intelligence work, having been station in Europe on more than one occasion. Her marriage to the blossoming operative Hunt, was a bond between two intelligence assets deeply involved the back channels of Washington and tied to a president facing a dark fate.
The early parts of their lives reads like a great novel; two young adults, meet, fall in love, start a family and move from one country to the next as their father is reassigned from one post to another. Enter Watergate and the scandal that turned their lives upside down. It is at this point in the book that the rug is pulled right out from under our feet and the dark side of Richard Nixon and Washington politics is revealed. Those old enough to remember Watergate will not be surprised in what is contained in this book. In fact, the book is not a complete source on the investigation as St. John himself points out. This is purely what he saw his parents go through as his father faced criminal prosecution and the impact his mother’s dad had on his life and those of his siblings. What is evidently clear from taped conversations at the Nixon White House and St. John’s account, is that his father’s legal defense was being paid for by Nixon and the money was also intended to keep Hunt quiet. Following her death, Hunt ended up being convicted and served thirty-three months in prison for his role in the Watergate scandal.
The lives of St. John and his siblings would never be the same again. Fallout from Watergate and the loss of their mother caused splits between siblings as each struggled to put their lives back together and come to terms with what they had been through. I do not believe they will ever get over what happened but have learned to cope with it on a daily basis. It is clear that St. John, the first son of the family had a special bond with his mother. The heartache and grief he experienced is evident in the pages of this book. And through his words, her memory continues to live on.
At the conclusion of the book, there is a section on the crash itself and the investigation by Sherman Skolnick (1930-2006), a noted conspiracy theorist and activist who challenged the NTSB’s position of pilot error. This part of the book is an added bonus and reveals a ton of incredible and troubling information about the crash. And what was once believed to be an open and shut case is revealed to be far more complicated and sinister. While it is not inconclusively proven that Dorothy Hunt died as a result of homicide, there are dozens of deeply disturbing facts about the incident that should have raised the eyebrows of anyone investigating the crime. And next to 9/11, it is the only case I can think of where the FBI preempted an investigation by the NTSB, removing key evidence from the scene while preventing emergency personnel from completing their assigned tasks. The complete story of what really happened that day may never be known but what we do know is that many strange things were occurring that had nothing to do with pilot error.
JFK Assassination researchers may be looking for a smoking gun but it will not be found here. In fact, not much about Dallas is discussed. In St. John’s defense, that was not the purpose of the book. His intention was to bring his mother’s story to light which he succeeds in doing. And although he did get some factual information wrong, the story is still a good read about a family caught up in one of the greatest crimes in American political history.
Today, the People’s Republic of China continues to feel the effects of the policies of it most popular leader, the late Mao Zedong (1893-1976). Known as Chairman Mao, his successful campaign against the Nationalist led by Chiang Kai-Shek (1887-1975) set the stage for the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949. Mao ruled the nation until his death on September 9, 1976 at the age of eighty-two. During his tenure he came a controversial figure and is credited with causing millions of deaths through the failed policies of collectivization and the infamous “Great Leap Forward.” The aura of promise and hope that surrounded the commencement of his administration subsided as millions of Chinese endured long periods of poverty and famine while Mao enjoyed unlimited perks through his role as Chairman. Propaganda is a power tool used by the darkest of dictators to enforce their will on the masses of people they wish to control. An official story of triumph supported by an unwavering commitment to the revolution by ordinary men and women, helped cast an illusion of a progressive new China, modeled on its Soviet counterpart. In reality, the story is far different and in some cases, horrific as can been seen in this study of the early years of the Chinese Revolution by Dutch historian Frank Dikötter. (1961-)
Chairman Mao is widely regarded as one of the greatest leaders in world history. His image can still be found on walls throughout mainland China and his name is still mentioned in articles about the country he ruled even today. Following the communist victory over Chiang Kai-Shek’s forces and the establishment of the new republic, the left-wing government under Mao instituted radical changes to transform the nation’s economy and enforce its rigid ideology. Behind the parades and strong rhetoric of a society that helps everyone, were bare truths far uglier and more sinister than anyone could have imagined. And as we learn in this book, the revolution was nearly a complete failure in all regards.
Carefully reconstructing the past, Dikötter takes us back in time to experience life as an ordinary citizen in the new Mao controlled China. And what we see is a regime that encourages suspicion, deceit, paranoia, fear and destitution. For decades following his death, there were many aspects of Mao’s regime that had remained puzzling. His former doctor, Liu Zhisui (1920-1995) published his memoirs entitled The Private Life of Chairman Mao which gave readers an invaluable look into Mao’s personal life, the ugly truths that formed basis of Mao’s plans for the country and the treacherous atmosphere that had engulfed his cabinet. Dikötter makes reference to the late doctor recalling his words on several occasions throughout the book. Both works help to paint the most accurate picture of what Mad had in mind as he made many decisions, some of which nearly brought about the destruction of China.
As a communist nation, China had been closely aligned with the Soviet Union, then under the leadership of the infamous Joseph Stalin (1878-1953). Mao and Stalin formed a partnership based on Marxist-Leninist beliefs and shared opponents; Chiang Kai-Shek and the United States. The animosity between the parties peaked in 1949 resulting in the defeat of the Nationalists but the war was far from over. Here, we revisit the events leading up to the Korean War, the conflict that permanently changed the relationship between China, Korea, Russia and the United States. Mao’s actions and beliefs prior to and during the war are examined providing answers to questions surrounding China’s entry into the conflict.
The true tragedy in the book however, is the fate suffered by millions of Chinese under Mao’s rule. The book ends before the implementation of the Great Leap Forward but the events that transpire serve as premonitions of the disaster that had yet to come. The policy of collectivization combined with the infusion of suspicion of “right-leaning” civilians, created a system of dysfunction that eroded the trust of the people in the government and among each other. Their life savings and property gone, once well-off Chinese were reduced to peasantry, forced to work for next to nothing on a diet rationed by government bean counters. Today it is mind-boggling to think that such a system even existed. But it did and the effects of it were nothing short of devastating and left a dark stain on Mao’s legacy. The atrocious conditions in which people were forced to live is beyond comprehension and highlights the inefficiency and lack of knowledge and planning that plagued the ruling Chinese Communist Party. Today China is a world superpower but Mao’s legacy and ghost still haunt the nation as a reminder of a not too distant past in which China came to the brink of total collapse under a ruler focused more on his political enemies than the well-being of his own people.
For those who seek to learn more about Chairman Mao and the Chinese Revolution, Dikötter’s compendium is an excellent place to start.
On August 1, 1966, the citizens of Austin, Texas woke up to yet another brutally hot summer day. The heat was typical for the summer season but that day would be remembered for more than just the temperature. At 11:35 a.m., Charles Whitman (1941-1966), a former United States Marine and student at the University of Texas, ascended to the observation deck of the UT Tower and unleashed a deadly shooting assault on suspecting civilians below. In ninety-six minutes, Whitman murdered fourteen people and wounded at least thirty-one before he was shot and killed by responding law enforcement officers Houston McCloy and Ramiro Martinez who were joined by civilian Allen Crum. The shooting left the city shocked and ushered in a new concept in American history; the mass shooting spree.
Post-mortem, it was discovered that Whitman has a pecan sized tumor in his brain but whether it played in role in his actions of that day has not been conclusively determined. However there is strong evidence to believe that it did not as summarized concisely by Gary M. Lavergne (1955-) in this chilling account of Whitman’s life and his grisly crimes. The long standing question is why did Whitman do it? The truth shall never be known and went with Whitman to his grave. What we do know is that he carefully planned every step, in particular the murders of his mother Margaret and wife Katherine. Their deaths, combined with the rampage on the afternoon on August 1, left many who knew him in a state of bewilderment. The key to understanding a criminal is to study their past. Lavergne recounts Whitman’s life as we search to familiarize ourselves with Charles J. Whitman.
The book is thoroughly researched and reaches deep inside the dark side of Whitman’s mind. His childhood is explored and the system of chaos that ensued at home takes center stage as Whitman and his father become arch enemies. The elder Whitman could easily be the antagonist in the book but at no point does Lavergne attempt to cast blame on him for any of the actions of that day. He is spectator and so are we, to a father and son relationship driven by dysfunction and destined for destruction. And in a cruel twist of fate, the elder Whitman would outlive his wife and all three of his sons. Lavergne personally interviewed C.A. Whitman and even years after the tragedy he still came off as a most peculiar figure.
As we make our way to August 1 in the book, the suspense builds up and is enhanced by Whitman’s actions which are nothing sort of bizarre. Lavergne pulls no punches and all of the grisly details are relayed to the reader. And quite frankly, the remainder of the book is not for the faint at heart. The story approaches the verge of descending deeper into what could only be called hell on earth. With vivid detail and a play-by-play style of writing, Lavergne replays the events of that day in its entirety bringing the past alive. In fact, during the book, I found myself overcome with chills. Whitman’s ability to kill in cold blood and his deviously calculating mind have placed him high in the annals of American crime. However, his story would not be complete without the inclusion of the courageous officers who risked their own lives to put an end to the carnage. Lavergne has done a great service to former Austin Police Officers Houston McCoy (1940-2012) , Ramiro Martinez (1937-) and Billy Speed (1943-1966). None of them could have imagined that day would turn out as it did. And for Speed, he could not have imagined that it would be his last day on earth. In this book and the story of Whitman, their names live on.
In 1975, MGM Television aired The Deadly Tower starring Kurt Russell as Charles Whitman. Russell does a good job of portraying Whitman but regrettably, the producers of the film took several liberties that are in no way accurate to the real life story. Regardless, the film stands as the big screen adaptation of Whitman’s murder spree. Since that dreadful day in Austin more than fifty years ago, there have been other mass shootings in the United States that have cause nationwide grief and renewed the debate about the gun laws in America. The names of Columbine, Orlando and Sandy Hook have become embedded in the minds of Americans as reminders of the deadly consequences of mentally unstable and hateful individuals in the possession of weapons designed to kill. In the future, it is hoped that our response to such acts are swift and effective. The Austin police department found itself unable to accurate respond to a previously unknown threat on American soil. As we moved forward, it is imperative that history does not repeat itself. This is the story of Charles J. Whitman and one of America’s darkest days.
More than twenty years have passed since the deaths of rap stars Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. (Christopher Wallace). The two rappers were both under thirty years of age and left behind grieving friends and family members who struggled to come to terms with such a sudden and tragic loss. Officially, both murders are still open investigations. Fans of the fallen artists have expressed shock that the murders have remained unsolved for so many years. Theories have been presented surrounding their deaths but no final conclusion had been reached. Following Shakur’s death, his mother Afeni successfully sued Death Row records for control of her son’s master recordings, unpaid earnings and royalties. The parties reached a settlement in August, 2013 in the amount of 2.2 million dollars. Wallace’s mother Voletta, commenced a wrongful death suit against the City of Los Angeles for her son’s death in 2002. On April 5, 2010, the Hon. Jacqueline H. Nguyen dismissed the suit without prejudice. On May 2, 2016, Afeni Shakur died from heart failure at the age of 69 without knowing the truth about her son’s murder.
Russell Poole (1956-2015) was an Los Angeles Police Officer for eighteen years before retiring in 1999 to form his own private investigation firm. He had been assigned to Wallace’s murder but found himself confronted with departmental resistance towards solving the murder. After retiring from the force, Poole became one of the most outspoken voices on behalf of solving the murder of Christopher Wallace and Tupac Shakur. On August 20, 2015, Poole died while meeting with detectives to discuss the unsolved murder of Wallace. His death is also shrouded in mystery with the official cause of a “heart attack” falling under suspicion. Before his death, Poole had decided to collaborate with author Michael Douglas Carlin and filmmaker R.J. Bond to find the truth about Shakur and Wallace’s murders. Their efforts led to the book Tupac 187 and serve as the basis of the recently released Tupac Assassination III: The Battle For Compton. The documentary can been seen on iTunes and Amazon video and is being considered for Netflix at some point. I have seen the documentary and it does shed light on information that was previously widely unknown by many. And while definitely proof of guilt by any party is provided, the evidence trail leads in directions that the general public had never considered before. This composition, Chaos Merchants, is a collection of their notes as they formed what would serve as the basis for their book and the subsequent film. At 133 pages, it is a quick but engaging read. And even for those who believe they know all there is to know about the case, you might find something in here that you did not know before.
The biggest strength in this book is that it legitimately challenges the long-held narrative that after a fight at the MGM Hotel & Casino, Shakur was gunned down by Crips gang member Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson, who repeatedly denied shooting Shakur even making an appearance on CNN to clear his name. On May 26, 1998, nearly two years after Shakur’s death, Anderson was shot and killed during a violent confrontation at a car wash in the Compton section of Lost Angeles. Despite his repeated denials that he was the trigger man involved in Shakur’s shooting, many believed that he was in fact guilty due in part to the story put forth by former officer Greg Kading and Anderson’s uncle, Dwayne “Keefe D” Davis. But as we learn through Poole, there was more to the story than meets the eye.
The legacy of Russell Poole will live on throughout time as a result of his exhaustive efforts to find the truth and bring closures to these cases. With this book, he and Carlin have finally removed the lid on many secrets once held firmly in the grip of Death Row records and will have readers shaking their heads in disgust and disbelief. Alas, we are steps closer to the truth about the nights of September 7, 1996 and March 9, 1997.
On September 1, 1939, Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich invaded Poland and started the Second World War. In violation of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany had rearmed itself and under the determination of Hitler, set its eyes upon conquering all of Europe. The looming threat of German domination had been lingering for quite some time before the outbreak of the war. But sadly, many of the nations that would later be opposed to Germany did not think that Hitler would be brazen enough or have the resources to initiate a world conflict. In hindsight, we know that way of thinking was short-sighted and later highly regrettable. The actions of the British government in response to Hitler’s annexation of Czechoslovakia, resulted in the condemnation of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and established Germany as a legitimate threat to world peace. The episode has been recalled in history books and documentaries and continues to provoke discussion about how Hitler could have been stopped before his army invaded neighboring Poland.
In 1940, a student at Harvard University presented to his professor with his senior thesis entitled Why England Slept. Twenty years later he became the Thirty-Fifth President of the United States of America, known affectionately as Jack. To the world, he remains John F. Kennedy (1917-1963). The thesis was eventually published into this short but well-researched and well-written book that probes the question of why England failed to respond to the growing Germany menace. Henry R. Luce (1898-1967), the creator of Time-Life magazine provides a foreword to this edition, published in 1962. Incredibly, the book sold for $.95 as printed on the cover. I believe it was severely undersold. The beauty in the book is that Kennedy does not simply lay blame for Hitler at England’s feet. Instead he examines the conditions and beliefs that lead to the slow realization that armament was necessary and that Hitler was a very real threat. It should be remembered that Kennedy spent a great deal of time in London as the son of then Ambassador to Great Britain and his father, Joseph P. Kennedy. Fully aware of the nature of British culture and politics, Kennedy wisely incorporates this into the text which helps to explain many of the actions and inactions taken.
In fairness to Britain, it was not easy to foresee the coming of the German nightmare. Hitler invoked secretive maneuvers, arouse national sentiment and provided a source of hope to a nation in despair. And as Kennedy thoroughly points out, he had the advantage of running a dictatorship against a democracy, the latter of which is always slower to respond to the threats of war. Furthermore, distance and size gave Germany advantages against the prying eyes of foreign nations. Today social media has made it far more difficult to conceal the mass production of good and machinery. But in the 1930s, secrecy was easier to effect and many countries used it to their benefit. But even so, Britain did know that Hitler was up to something and was aware that Germany had slowly been rearming itself. But the slowness to act depending on several factors that Kennedy lays out for all to see and understand. Sympathy of Germany, pacifism in Britain, a restricted budget, naiveté and political ambition combined to severely delay the rearmament of Britain prior to beginning of the deadliest war in world history. And as Kennedy explores each issue, we may find ourselves filled with shock and disbelief towards England’s actions. However it is imperative to remember that we have the benefit of history our on side and look back and see the errors of their ways. England did not have this advantage and even struggled internally with how to deal with growing danger.
More than seventy years have passed since the end of World War II. Hitler was eventually defeated and Britain was spared from annexation by the Third Reich. But this account of England’s actions prior to the war will remain a guide for us to use as we face new threats to world peace. And it is hoped that world leaders will remind us of why England slept.
There are a number of adjectives that come to mind to describe the late Eldridge Cleaver. (1935-1998) If I had to choose one in particular, my choice would be unpredictable. His voice is legendary among the most prominent of the Civil Rights Movement. He co-founded the Black Panty Party but was later expelled by Huey P. Newton due to ideological differences. In 1954, he was convicted of possession of Marijuana and sentenced to slightly over two years at Folsom Prison in Represa, California. He began to write letters in his cell and those writings form the basis of this book considered be a classic text on revolution, racism, sexuality and the future of America. The book was published in 1968 after Cleaver had served a second prison term for an attempted rape with assault conviction. Married by then to Kathleen Cleaver, the marriage eventually fell apart due to his erratic behavior and philandering ways. In later years following his split from the Panthers, he distanced himself from his Muslim faith, ran for President, created the “penis pants” and eventually joined the Mormon church. He died on May 1, 1998 in Pomona, California. The cause of death was withheld from the public. Today he is still a controversial figure and his writings and the confessions within have resulted in a split of opinion; readers either like him or hate him. However, the fact remains that he was a valued and highly intellectual voice within the movement that attempted to manifest the issues that faced Black and White America.
But what is it about the book that gets favorable reviews? Cleaver was an extreme figured and is to be expected, he is extreme at some points during the book. At two hundred ten pages, the book is shorter than others by figures such as Newton but within the pages of this book are passages that will cause even the most hardened mind to think deeply. From the beginning Cleaver pulls the reader in with his seductive writing style and deadly accurate analysis of society. Reading about racial discrimination and America’s dark past is always tense but the part of the book is Cleaver’s admission to becoming a rapist in an attempt to get revenge against white men. For all of his creative genius, expert analysis on revolution and highly perceptive mind, his biggest shortcoming by far is his admission to being a sexual predator. The trauma endured by minorities throughout America’s history is tragic and regrettable but it does not excuse the violence and sexual exploitation of women. Furthermore, the truly baffling part is that Cleaver admits that he was wrong but is then convicted in 1958 of attempted rape. Additionally, he is believed to have fathered several children out-of-wedlock. That caused me to ask myself if he truly did have remorse for his past actions. Putting that part of the book aside, the other parts are highly introspective but require an open mind to truly see the genius in his writing.
He touches on several topics and dissects them thoroughly. The youth of today may have extreme difficulty in understanding Cleaver’s points. America has changed in many ways since the 1960s. Vietnam is a relic in the past for the millennial generation with names such as Johnson, Nixon and Mao only discussed history textbooks. But at the time of the publication of this book, they were all very real and Cleaver, like millions of other African-Americas watched the struggles around the world develop as they continued to face their battles at home.
The book has many highlights and Cleaver is a shining star and an example of what could have been if creative and intellectual minds had continued in the right direction. Religion is a central theme early in the book in particular during his time at Folsom. He is a Muslim but attends classes in the prison. He describes his daily life behind bars and the challenges faced by inmates to retain their sanity and optimism that they will one day see freedom. Moving on he touches on the death of Malcolm X, who at first earns the wrath of the Nation of Islam by disavowing the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. But after returning from Mecca, changing his ideology and creating the Organization for Afro-American Unity, Malcolm gained old and new followers, Cleaver included. His death at the Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965 was a heavy blow to the Civil Rights Movement and the hearts of the men and women who considered him their black shining prince. Vietnam is not spared nor is the administration of Lyndon Baines Johnson. The personal conflict within the hearts and minds of black soldiers returning from combat to a country that refuses to grant them their rights is truly one of the saddest moments in American history and in the book.
It would have been nearly impossible for Cleaver to analyze social conditions without examining the issue from an opposing view. He writes about white heroes and their extinction due to the changing mindset of the young white youths of America whom he says have rejected the ways of their elders and embraced the culture of their fellow Black Americans. Never straying too far from his Muslim faith at the time, Cleaver gives an interesting portrayal of Muhammad Ali and his importance to the struggle for equality. In fact, Cleaver refers to him at point as the “Fidel Castro of Boxing.” The unfortunate scapegoat in this case is Floyd Patterson who is not able to defend himself. He also gives attention to James Baldwin and his opinions of the late author could be considered controversial. Those who believe Baldwin to be beyond reproach will have a hard time accepting Cleaver’s criticism. And while I do not agree with everything he said about Baldwin, I respect his opinion for Baldwin also attacked Richard Wright and according to many, in a highly unfair manner. Sadly, both Baldwin and Cleaver are deceased but I would love to see them sit down today and have a discussion about the current state of America.
Cleaver in his ideology and writings was aligned with Marxists and his name is mentioned along those such as Guevara, Lenin, Mao and Castro. He does avoid the topic of imperialism and its devastating effects around the world. Particularly close attention is paid to the hypocritical policies of a government that publicly declares support for freedom of foreign nations but struggled to give equality to its own citizens. This chapter in the book is among the strongest and highlights an argument made repeatedly by those committed to an end to colonialism. America has many dark secrets but no shortage of those wishing to expose them. In exposing them, we can see where policy goes wrong and what it is truly needed to correct it.
Towards the end of the book, Cleaver touches on two topics which are sure to cause a range of emotions. It is imperative to remember that these are his beliefs and can be rejected or accepted. In his analysis of male and female relations he has composed four characteristic traits; the Ultrafeminine, the Amazon, the Omnipotent Administrator and the Supermasculine Menial. There is some truth to what he says but there always exceptions to the rule. Nonetheless it is an interesting take on the relationships between men and women. This relationship is carried over into his exploration of the connection between white women and black men. Setting the stage, Cleaver explains that he is with two acquaintances he calls Eunuchs. They are joined by the Infidel who they believe to be a fraud and not aligned with the movement. The dialogue quickly turns to the topic of interracial couples and apparent dysfunctional relationship that the infidel says exists due to the system of slavery. Incredibly, it was not until 1963 that laws against interracial marriage were ruled unconstitutional paving the way for the rescinding of miscegenation laws by states in the union that had not done so. While I do not deny that there are many stereotypes affixed to couples of mixed background, the youth of today are unable to relate to the times in which Cleaver lived. Furthermore, as someone who has dated women that are from many parts of this world, Cleaver through the voice of the Infidel would be off base today. But this was the 1960s and a completely different time in America. And I would be foolish to deny that there are in fact some of us who are exactly what that section of the book discusses. If there is one thing I have learned about love, it is that it strikes us when we least expect it and we never know to whom it will be directed. But when it does happen, all that we can do is go with it and see where it takes us.
It is undeniable that Cleaver was a polarizing and truly mystifying figure. Is this book outdated? Maybe. But it is still a guide that many youths lived by during those turbulent times. And if America seeks to move forward and improve itself, then we will need to revisit the past on occasion so that we do not make the same mistakes again. Eldridge will be with us as one of those voices to reminds of the failure that awaits those who do not study the past.
On July 1, 1962 a referendum was held that paved the way for Algerian independence from the government of France. The complete cessation of armed conflict marked the end of war that lasted seventeen years. The Algeria movement for freedom stands out as a success story similar to the legendary revolutionary campaigns in the Caribbean and Latin America. It is also a case study for those seeking to go down the path of revolution as a method to enforce social reform. No revolution is complete without a defining text and in this case, the struggle was analyzed and transcribed the famed revolutionary, writer, philosopher and psychiatrist, Frantz Fanon. (1925-1961) The book was finished shortly before his death and published not long after. Originally written in French, it has been translated by Richard Philcox for English readers.
Tragically, Fanon died on December 6, 1961 from the effects of leukemia and did not live to see the success of what became a masterpiece. And in a cruel twist of fate, his deteriorating condition forced him to seek treatment in the one country that became the poster child for imperialism, the United States. Following his death, he was buried in Algeria, the nation he wrote so passionately about. The Wretched Of The Earth dissects the Algerian campaign and the complicated, dysfunctional and deadly relationship between colonial governments and their colonized territories. Fanon minces no words, he is frank and his rhetoric sharp. His mission is writing this text was to explain to the reader the ingredients necessary for armed revolution and in inevitability of the inclusion of violence. The benefit of having a first hand witness to the bloody struggle for liberation put him in a unique perspective to become the movement’s biographer.
Fanon proves himself to be a complex and deeply intellectual figure. Tapping into this seeming endless intellect, he does not stop at examining the oppression of the colonized. He dives further discussing the mental and physical state of both opponents before moving on to the rebuilding of the nation that has newfound freedom. If we fully digest what Fanon tells us we can see the long-lasting effects of colonialism even to this day. Across the world, revolutions are taking place and others are being formulated as the oppressed masses reached their breaking point. Along the way, Fanon will be there to guide them with his insight and words. His critics have said that he incites violence. I do not believe the criticism is warranted entirely. As Fanon points out, violence is a part of revolution and is a logical result of systematic oppression over a period of time. A system that subjects its citizens to daily discrimination and deplorable living conditions will eventually engineer its own downfall. And this is the point that Fanon emphatically drives home. Decolonization is never pleasant but it must be strategically developed and carried out by those who truly wish to break the back of their colonial rulers.
Throughout the year, his work has been studied and employed by countless revolutionaries figures including Huey P. Newton and the Black Panther Party for self-defense. Next to Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, Fanon stands out as one of the loudest voices against American and European imperialism. And like Guevara, he died before reaching forty years of age and had yet to reach his full literary and revolutionary potential. But through his works his legacy continues and he finds new fame as young minds embrace the works of the past as seek to understand the brutal system of colonization which takes of many different forms but possesses the same agenda to extract as much as possible from the nations and people under its control. Fanon was survived by his widow Josie who died on July 13, 1989 in Algiers after tragically taking her own life. After Frantz’s death she never remarried and carried his name for the rest of her life. Her devotion to him is reminiscent of the devotion given by those who have read and studied him and believe him to be a voice for their own struggles. And for many more years, The Wretched Of The Earth will be one of the most important books ever written about decolonization.
“When we revolt it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe” -Frantz Fanon
Wagner Moura became one of Netflix’s most memorable faces when he assumed the role of infamous drug czar Pablo Escobar in the hit series Narcos. The series, while based off of true events, is also a fictional account of the late kingpin’s life as a cocaine trafficker and public enemy number one in Colombia. The received rave reviews and I enjoyed it immensely. I was aware of Escobar’s story before watching the show and knew that the producers would tweak some parts of the story to enhance its seduction. The created a hit that will remain one of the best products of the digital behemoth. But some of us may be asking ourselves, how much did Netflix get right? And what did they change as they filmed the show? Shaun Attwood goes behind the camera and revisits the real story of Pablo’s rise and downfall that lead to his death on December 2, 1993 in the city of Medellín.
Attwood gives a brief recap of Escobar’s early life before returning the story at hand, his time as a narco. And it is here that the story quickly picks up speed. Netflix changed some of the names of the major players in the story most likely for either legal or creative reasons. For some readers, they may need to quickly catch clips of the show to match the characters. The deaths are also different but follow the same narration as the show. Pablo once again takes center stage with a supporting cast of deadly enforcers. Combined with the animosity of rival cartels, law enforcement, revels and a president determined to see Escobar fall, the war on Escobar and drug trafficking nearly turned Colombia into a bloodbath. The violence and increase in American consumption in cocaine, earned Escobar the wrath of Washington, then under control of President George H.W. Bush. Attwood probes in the battle between the two and Washington’s many actions to bring the drug lord down. Some are familiar but other information might be surprising for some readers who were unaware of the extent of Washington’s involvement in Escobar’s apprehension.
In spite of changes by the producers of Narcos, the show did an excellent job of telling the story. The actors in the show all did an incredible job of bringing the past alive again in stunningly vivid detail. The cinematography was beyond amazing and Colombia became enchanting real, a beautify country caught in an unfortunate situation. As I read the book, I involuntarily pictured the actors from the show as I read the conversations that are put on display in the book. And although their faces and names are changed, their roles in the story are not. To be fair to Attwood, the book is not a biography of Escobar, so readers in search of that will be disappointment. But for those who want to know what was changed during the filming of Narcos and what really happened, Attwood does a great job of putting it together in a narrative easy to follow and thoroughly engaging.
Twenty-three years have passed since his death but Escobar continues to live in pop culture, documentaries and on the internet. To be fair, a large number of traffickers existed at the time Escobar made his name. Some of them are still alive today while others are incarcerated or deceased. Regardless of their present status, none have come close to matching the man who could arguably be called narco number one. In future years, he will continue to fascinate and mystify and his story is re-told and readopted for the silver screen. In death he has become martyr, icon and glimpse into Colombia’s dangerous past. Narcos has yet to be discovered, but more viewers will tune into the show and have many questions about the true story. With books such as these, they will find the answers that they seek.
On April 6, 2017, The Global Confederation of Labor (CGT) conducted a one-day general strike in protest of the policies of the administration of President Mauricio Macri. (1959-) Inflation, high taxes, low wages and job cuts have constrained the people of Argentina into an economic vice grip as the president attempts to steer the country away from a looming economic crisis. The strike is just one in many that have taken place during the last one hundred years in one of South America’s most popular countries. In July, 2017, I had the privilege to visit Buenos Aires, the city that has been called the Paris of South America. In July of this year I will return to the nation that is home to world-famous steaks, milanesa, wine, asado and dozens of culinary delights that make the heart flutter and the mouth water. I do not know what the political climate will be like when I visit but I can be sure that the people of Buenos Aires will show me the same hospitality that they did in the past and in the process help to create memories that will remain with me for the rest of my life. My favorite Argentine presented this book to me as a gift, a gift that keeps on giving. This book is a history of the Argentine Republic during the twentieth century. And what is contained in the pages of this book is essential in understanding modern-day Argentina. James P. Brennan has translated the work of Luis Alberto Romero (1944-), who became a Professor of History at the University of Buenos Aires in 1967. The book is written as only a professor could but presents the reader with a wealth of critical knowledge that is invaluable.
The story begins towards the end of the 1800s as Argentina sees an influx of foreign immigrants, a trend that continued forming the blend of culture that became a signature to this day. Politically, the nation is still in early stages at attempts to embrace democracy. In 1916, the course of the nation changed forever with the election of Hipólito Yrigoyen (1852-1933), the “father of the poor” and co-founder of the Unión Cívica Radical. He is seen as a reformist and one of the nation’s best leaders. He was succeeded by Marcelo Torcuato de Alvear before being elected for a second time in 1928. On September 6, 1930, he was deposed in a coup by the military, a trend that would continue for decades to come and cast a dark light on the future of Argentine politics. Several military officials followed and assumed the office of the presidency. But in 1943, Argentina’s history was forever changed once again with the assumption of power by the late Juan Perón. His reign over the nation, subsequent political activity up until the time of his death and the party that bears his name, became permanently fixed in Argentine politics making it extremely hard for opponents of the party to exist as they attempt to transform society.
While the story of Argentina is complex and volatile as shown intricately in the book, there were other players involved in the development of the country. The United States and Great Britain played critical roles in Argentine society in more ways than most Americans or Brits may be aware of. Personally I learned a few things about my own government’s actions in Latin American and in particular Argentina that help explain how and why the nation still struggles with its economy. When President Barack Obama visited Argentina in February, 2016, it was crucial step in repairing relations to two nations that were once more closely aligned. Moving forward, it is hoped that both countries continue the effort and solidify a growing bond that will benefit both parties. But in order to do so, it is necessary to revisit and reconcile the past not only with America but with England as well. The conflict over the Malvinas Islands, instigated by then president Leopoldo Galtieri and the rise and fall of the export of beef, are dark moments in Argentina’s history that are examined in detail in the book.
The role of the military is not overlooked and throughout the book, its presence is continuously felt as one president after another is deposed and replaced by the next general in line. And during the rule of Galtieri, the plague of the “disappeared” during the Dirty War that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Argentines with the final number possibly as high at thirty-thousand people. The nefarious actions of the government would result in the formation of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, the organization of Argentine mothers who demanded answers into the final destinations of their children and loved ones. The group is supported by the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. The true number may never be known but what is certain is that many lost their lives as the government enforced a crackdown on all forms of opposition. Their efforts proved to be futile as opposition parties continued to flourish as legitimate threats to the crown of the highest office. The elections of Carlos Menem and Fernando de la Rúa marked a stark change as neither candidate was a military official at the times of his election. However, each left office in controversy with the latter being forced to leave quite unceremoniously. He was succeeded by Adolfo Rodríguez Saá (1947-), Eduardo Duhalde (1941-), Néstor Kirchner (1950-2010) and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (1953-) before Macri’s successful campaign as the candidate of the Republican Proposal (PRO) party. Macri’s future is unknown at the moment but he finds himself in the position of former presidents who have struggled to maintain control of the country while attempting to balance the budget, promote economic growth and curtail the rising rate of inflation that has plagued Argentine society for several decades.
The highlight of Romero’s work is the attention paid to the economic policies that nearly crippled the economy and threatened to cause the country to self-destruct. Seemingly, the ministers of finance were replaced as often as the deposed presidents. Martinez de Hoz (1925-2013) and Domingo Cavallo (1946-) stand out in the book as pioneering reformists and also contributors to the woes of Argentines. They are two among dozens that have tried without long-lasting success to complete fix the nation’s problems. Romero’s investigation into their policies and their effects serve as a lesson in economics that can be revisited in the future by other ministers of finance.
For those wishing to understand the political history of modern-day Argentina, this is the place to start. So take a seat and follow Romero has he steps back in time revisiting the pivotal moments in the Republic’s history that has and continues to confound its citizens and those abroad.
“Argentina is amazing” – Arjun Kapoor
The crisis that exists between Israel and the area that was once the nation of Palestine has evolved into one of the most tragic the world has seen. Anger on both sides and the failure of mediation on more than one occasion has resulted in the continuation of the long feud. Each side has its supporters and detractors refusing to abandon their beliefs and stance of the matter. My interest in the conflict propelled me to acquire this high recommended book on the issue written by Israel historian and social activist, Ilan Pappe (1954-). Pappe was born in Haifa and continues to educate millions about the true origins of the raging battle. This phenomenal account of the history of Palestine and its current day status is a must read by anyone seeking to understand the origins of the matter. To be fair, Pappe is not anti-Israel, but he does however, confront many facts about the history of Palestine that are often very uncomfortable. But any good researcher should do just that and it is in this area that Pappe shines through.
The book begins in the early 1800s in Palestine before the appearance of large numbers of Europe’s Jews. This is a history that is often neglected and unknown by many. The Palestine we see is far different from the one that exist today. As a part of the Ottoman Empire, Palestine is protected by the ruling authorities in Istanbul intent on maintaining the empire’s domain at any costs. Incredibly, even then, there existed smaller religious minorities freely allowed to practice their faiths. But sadly at the 1900s approached, the future of Palestine took a dark turn, one that is fully explored by Pappe and is sure to leave the reader speechless. But his research and conclusions are critical to understanding the cause of the Palestinian people and the effects of Zionism on foreign territory and domestic policy.
The term Zionism and Judaism are sometimes believed to be the same thing. But as we learn throughout the book, they are in fact two different things and not necessarily operating in the same spectrum. In the book, we are introduced to the founder of the Zionist cause, Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) and his successors that carried the Zionist cause setting their sights on a Jewish homeland. Palestine became their choice and their mission created a conflict that continues to this day. Pappe does a meticulous job of exploring all of these polarizing figures and their role in the affair. But what is often left out of the conflict is the role of the British government, heavily complicit in the developments in the area and subsequently in the deadly aftermath. The relationship between the British Government, Palestinian rulers and the new Zionist immigrants proved to be a power keg determined to detonate at any minute. Two world wars and three agreements later paved the way for the creation of Israel in 1948 and the loss of land by the native Palestinians. It was the beginning of a war that has claimed thousands of lives and brought shame to those involved and resulted in the meddling by several foreign nations allied to the Israeli or Palestinian cause.
On December 23, 2016, the UN passed a resolution ordering Israel to stop building settlement east of Jerusalem in Palestinian territory. The order has been ignored by Israel which continues to build settlements. The abstinence of the United States in voting on the resolution strained the relationship between Israel and its American ally. The decision by the White House to abstain is in direct contrast to the policy of the US for several decades which actively supported the Israel government. America’s complicity in the conflict, as well as that of Great Britain, France and other Arab nations seeking to exploit the situation, created a power vacuum which has no clear ending in sight and helped plunged the Middle East into a cycle of revolution, mayhem and death. Today it remains to be seen if a two-state solution will ever truly work between the two battle nations.
Throughout the book, many figures make an appearance and their roles in the conflict are explored in-depth. Forgotten name such as Menachem Begin (1913-1992), David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973), Yitzhak Rabin (1922-1995), Gamal Abdel-Nasser (1918-1970), Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952), Yasser Arafat (1929-2004) and Fayṣal al-Awwal ibn al-Ḥusayn ibn (1883-1933)(Faisal I of Iraq) will jump out at some readers triggering an avalanche of dormant facts and others unknown. But their names, actions and stories are beyond critical in understanding the evolution of the tragedy. And like a jigsaw puzzle, the back door political deals, covert operations, overt discrimination, greed and betrayal help set the stage for the region as we know it today. Right-wing and left-wing groups proliferate on each side of the conflict rendering a peaceful solution seemingly unattainable. But regardless, the United States continues to condemn the Israeli occupation and has added allies from dozens of countries and even domestic groups in Israel in opposition to the government’s expansionist policies. Pappe refers to it as the post-Zionist era in which literature and film seeks to tell the real story of the Zionist cause and its devastating effects on the people of Palestine. For them, their struggle continues but they too deal with domestic right-wing groups, the most famous of which are the PLO and Hamas. Their objectives and those of the Likud, lead by Binyamin Netanyahu, serve as fuel to a towering inferno.
Perhaps in the next decade or two we will finally see peace between Israel and Palestine. I certainly hope it occurs before more death and destruction of the land they both call home occurs. Attempts to form a settlement have ultimately fell short time and time again but I and many in the world remain optimistic. For those who are unsure of what really needs to be done or are unaware of the origins of the dispute, this book by Pappe, is the place to start.