Category Archives: Uncategorized

Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine-Anne Applebaum

Ukraine

When Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) died on March 5, 1953, the Soviet Union embarked on a change of course under its new leader Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971).  While the majority of government policy remained in effect, a “thawing” took place where the old ways of Stalin were slowly repealed. However, many secrets remained buried as the Politburo sought to maintain its public facade of a progression under communist ideology.   Among those secrets was the deadly famine that engulfed the Ukraine between the years of 1932-1933.   In history courses, the famine is not discussed and it remained a hidden secret to the west for decades after it ended.   The death count stands at a minimum of three million people.  The true number may never be known.   But what is certain is that the famine was no accident and the product of disastrous and delusional planning from Moscow.

Anne Applebaum, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and author, dives into the tragedy of the Ukraine famine head first with an accurate and riveting account of how and why the famine developed.   But before the reader can understand the famine, it is first necessary to understand the complicated history between Russian and the Ukraine.  It is a history of violence, distrust and the animosity was on full display in 2014 when Russian military units invaded the small nation.   Russia, has never relented in its quest to reclaim the Ukraine, once part of the U.S.S.R.  The history of Ukraine in the story at hand begins with the Russian Revolution of 1917.  The new found political spirit did not end in Russia but crossed the border into the Ukraine as Ukrainian Bolsheviks launched their own cultural revolution.   The culture, language, laws and traditions of the Ukraine were blacklisted and criminalized as the Bolsheviks sought to erase all traces of the Ukrainian way of life.  Their seizure of the country set the stage for the deadly path of destruction the Soviet government would later embark on.

What I noticed as I read through the book was how much of a premonition the famine was for later communist governments that made the same mistakes. Stalin’s policy of collectivization, embraced by both Chairman Mao and Fidel Castro, was an utter failure just as it was in the latter mentioned regimes.  Moscow’s refusal to change the policy, even in the face of reports coming back from the field, is horrific and ultimately mind-boggling.  Malnutrition, distrust, resentment and crime evolved out of the doomed policy and reduced the people of Ukraine to a mass of bodies pushed to the extreme.  Millions did not survive and for those who did, they carried the mental and emotional scars from a famine that could have been handled if not for a ruler dogged by paranoia and drunk on power.

Applebaum tells the story the way it should be told with the reasons and methods used to rid the Ukraine of those intellectuals who had the potential to lead it in a new direction.  The smear campaigns and murders approved by the OGPU, predecessor to the KGB and FSB, removed anyone who Moscow believed to be a threat to its supreme rule.  The common people, often referred to as the kulaks, suffered immensely and trust between neighbors and acquaintances became rarer than a solid meal.  Like puppets on strings, Moscow played with the lives of millions of Ukrainians, doomed by their culture and religion as antisemitism and anti-Ukraine sentiments prevailed.

Today there are many sources of information about the famine that was once firmly hidden behind strategically placed propaganda.  But not everyone was fooled. In fact, Nazi Germany was firmly aware of it as it invaded Ukrainian territory during World War II.   The German occupation is a topic for another book as Applebaum mentions but it highlights the despair and hopelessness that Ukrainians found their selves subjugated to. Following the war, things were far from improving and it would not be until the administration of Mikhail Gorbachev that the truth began to come to light.  His policy of glasnost, helped repeal the curtain of secrecy in the Soviet archives.   The door became slightly ajar but authors such as Anne Applebaum have now kicked it wide open with the full story of one of the world’s deadliest famines.  This book is key to understanding the tragedy and the tense relationship between Russia and the Ukraine.

ISBN-10: 0385538855
ISBN-13: 978-0385538855

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They Dared to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby-Paul Findley

FindlayThe title alone is enough to grab a person’s attention.  Because of the subject matter, it was bound to stir controversy for it touches a topic that remains taboo thirty-seven years after its publication.  And with the events this past week regarding the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, the contents of this book are as important now as they were then. Before you attempt to read this book, it is critical to understand the difference between Judaism and what is referred to as Zionism. There is a fundamental difference between the two that is often forgotten as charges of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias are leveled against those who dare to speak out.   However, what I have learned from this book, is critical to understanding how our world functions and why peace is seemingly an impossible objective to accomplish in the Middle East.

For those who are of the Jewish faith, before reading this book, you must understand that you will learn many things that are not pleasant.  And the temptation to feel or believe that the author is an anti-Semite might rise to the surface. But I caution you that any notion of Paul Findley (1921-) being anti-Semitic is far from the truth.  In fact, Findley was U.S. Representative from Illinois from 1960-1982 and supported Israel at many times during his career. I firmly believe it is underestimated by many Americans, how much power and influence the Israeli lobby holds over the U.S. Government. Foreign policy and aid is highly scrutinized by the lobby and anything deemed to detrimental to the existence of Israel is quickly condemned and crushed, even at the expense of possible peace with its Arab neighbors.

I can only imagine how much pressure Findley had to endure to see this book all the way through.  He discloses the difficulty in finding a publisher for a subject which many were reluctant to touch out of fear of severe backlash.  In staying the course and braving the opposition, he has compiled the book that should be read by every American concerned with the past and future of the United States.  You might ask yourself, is I agree with the material in the book, does it make me anti-Semitic? No it does not.  Personally, I have Jewish friends and even dated a woman of the Jewish faith.  I was never taught hate growing up and my parents invited everyone into their home regardless of creed, ethnicity and even sexual orientation.   However my parents did teach us to examine all sides of an issue and make a decision based off of what is known and not by what is assumed.  And it is for that reason that I believe this book is a critical read.

The book is not only an account of Findley’s difficulty in taking a strong stance on the Israeli lobby, but other politicians throughout history who have taken on the machine.  Some of the names will be familiar to readers such as Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969) and William J. Fulbright (1905-1995). Other names will be known only by few but their stories are as important as the rest in understanding the costs associated with speaking the truth about U.S. foreign policy regarding Israel.  Careers were destroyed and lives ruined by those with a vested interest in maintaining a power hold over legislation and the media.  The stories are too high in number to reveal here but I can say is that you might be surprised at how many people have had their lives ruined by the Israeli lobby for even questioning U.S. foreign aid to Israel of the occupation of the Gaza strip.  Others have had their lives ruined for even meeting Arab officials from the PLO including Yassar Arafat (1929-2004) himself.

Findley has provided a staggering amount of information which is bound to confuse and in some cases anger the reader.  But it is imperative that the reader recognizes that difference between the Israeli lobby and ordinary Jews in America who do not support what Israel does but are obligated to remain in silence and show unwavering support.   As with any story, there are multiple sides and what sometimes seems to be black and white, will be revealed to have many shades of grey.  The truth is rarely pleasant and in some cases upsetting. But if that is what the reader seeks, then books such as this are a necessity.  The courage exemplified by Findley and others who have dared to speak out has give us the knowledge we need to make informed decisions before we lend our support to movements and causes.

As the book approached its end and I continued to digest everything that Findley had disclosed, I was haunted by the thought that there may never be true peace between Israel and Palestine.  But if that is the ultimate goal then the first step is re-examine U.S.  foreign policy.   And doing so does not make anyone anti-Israel or anti-Semitic but an advocate of genuine and long-lasting peace.  Furthermore, we are forced to remember that Judaism is one of the world’s oldest religions, observed by millions of great men and women and unrelated to many of things we learn through Findley’s words.

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple” – Oscar Wilde

ISBN-10: 155652482X
ISBN-13: 978-1556524820

Another Country-James Baldwin

Another CountryAmerica continues to find itself in the midst of social and political upheaval.  The era of Jim Crow and racial persecution are reminders of a not too distant past.  The young generation of today will have their own causes to fight and believe in and some of them will resemble the monumental effort behind the push for racial equality that culminated with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.  James Baldwin (1924-1987) served as an unofficial historian, transforming what he witnessed into the books he left us with that examine the ills of society and human nature.  Race and sexuality have been the focus of several of his works based in part of his own ethnic makeup and homosexuality.  In the classic Giovanni’s Room, he addressed the inner conflict faced by those who struggle with bisexuality.   In this book, he once again touches on that topic and love in general while supplementing the main topics with the complicated and tragic concept of human nature.

The story begins in Harlem, New York as we are introduced to a musician named Rufus Scott.  He has just met a recent transplant to New York City from Georgia named Leona. Sparks fly between the two and Rufus invites her to an after party at the apartment of a friend. It is there that they come intimate and that encounter sets into motion a chain of events that affects nearly every single character in the book.  Rufus’ best friend in Vivaldo, a young Italian from Brooklyn.  He is involved with an older woman named Jane, who has a drinking problem but somehow manages to function and continue painting.  At first, Rufus and Leona are on the path to love but reality quickly sets in.  You see, Rufus is a Black American and Leona, a white woman from the South.   And this is before laws against interracial marriage were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Their trials and tribulations are heartbreaking and Rufus struggles with Leona and himself all the way to the end.  Incredibly, the two of them only take up a third of book, the rest is devoted to Rufus’ friends and former flame, who all converge to add unexpected twist and turns to each other’s lives.

Readers beware, this book is not for the faint at heart. The language at times is crass and the speech blunt.  But Baldwin did not write this for an afternoon special, this is an unfiltered look into the relationships between friends and lovers of both sexes.  Rufus’ younger sister Ida, eventually falls for his friend Vivaldo and in some way, they become a reincarnation of Rufus and Leona with a few notable exceptions. Ida becomes part of the inner circle of Richard and Clarissa “Cass” Silenski, Steve Ellis, and Eric Jones, the wildcard of the group who will remind readers of the character David in Giovanni’s Room.  Those familiar with Baldwin’s life will recall that he not only died in France but spent a considerable amount of time in his life there and in Istanbul, Turkey.  Paris is a part of the book and the place in which we learn more about Eric Jones, the “prodigal son” who returns to the United States even more uncertain of his understanding of what love truly is. His partner in France, Yves, is scheduled to arrive in the United States a few weeks after he arrives but before he does, Eric impacts the story in a major way which will never be forgotten by any of the characters.  Incredibly, despite all that happens in the book, the story still belongs to Rufus who none of us can forget for too long as we make it through the book.   And I do believe that at some parts of the book are based off of Baldwin’s life experiences or at the least, the characters composites of people he did know.

Where the book truly shines is in its examination of infidelity and the struggle that plagued interracial couples.  Monogamy proves to be difficult for the characters in the book but we are reminded that they are human beings and humans do fail and make mistakes.  But if we look past the shocking revelations, we can see the characters making a valiant effort to show us how and why we sometimes do the things that we do.  And for those readers who have a spouse of love interest of a different background, the story of Rufus and Leona followed by Ida and Vivaldo will touch you directly as you find yourself able to relate to some of the challenges they face.   Times have certainly changed since Baldwin finished this classic in 1961, but what is paramount, is that it takes a large amount of courage, sacrifice and understanding when one is involved in an interracial relationship.  But love can and does prevail, and Baldwin does a great job of showing us the complicated ways in which we are able to make it last.   I have always understood that it is far easier to hate someone than it is to love them.   Loving another person is truly one of the hardest things we ever have to in life.  But the reward is both fulfilling and to those who are the recipients of our affection.

Baldwin truly shines here, and the book is one of his greats.  This is New York City and the story of a group of friends, bonded by tragedy and nearly separated by love, sex and the demons that come with all parts of life.  And when you have finished this incredible story, you will have more of an appreciation for one of the greatest writers America has ever produced.

ISBN-10: 0679744711
ISBN-13: 978-0679744719

The Fire Next Time-James Baldwin

Every yeaJimmyr that I age, I have noticed that I have a growing appreciation for classic literature and the works of other authors that are no longer with us.  James Baldwin (1924-1987) is near the top of my list of authors whose books are critical to American history and the current day state of affairs in the United States.  The Harlem native who took his last breath in France, stands out as a commentator on race in America. His observations which he then put into words, were sharp, analytical and deeply profound. Baldwin lived what could only be described as an eventful but complicated life.   He was a Black American and homosexual in a time in which both were considered to be crimes of the highest nature. America had yet to see the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and homosexuality was still considered a crime against nature in many states. Baldwin was both and carried himself with an aura of confidence and intellect that has remained impressive many years after his death.  In this short but intriguing book, Baldwin comments on race in America based off of his experience and encounters with White Americans and even Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam.  He never joined the nation but his account of his meeting with Muhammad is one of the highlights of the book.   Racial discrimination is never an easy topic to discuss and many of us would prefer to discuss more pleasant issues.  But Baldwin was a master of taking a explosive topic and relaying it to the reader in a way that forces one to do deep soul-searching if they are not African-American and reevaluate their own existence if they are.

Too often, it is assumed that books about racial inequality are attacks against White Americans.  That is not Baldwin’s goal. In fact, Baldwin’s social circle was very diverse, consisting of White Americans, Black Americans, Europeans and Turkish individuals among others.  In fact, in the book there is a part in which he feels conflicted about his White friends and his own social situation in America.  His experience is not meant to demean or drive a wedge between friends but highlights the inner conflict that can engulf anyone. The key to appreciating Baldwin’s work is to remember that it was written in a time period that is much different from 2017.     Jim Crow, voter suppression, poverty and class based war made life deplorable for minorities and poor White Americans.    And before the courage of the Loving family, interracial marriage was illegal throughout the country.   Every great movement needs voices like Baldwin, to remind of us where we come from and what we need to do in order to move forward. It is a shame that today, his voice has been largely forgotten by a generation that has no connection of one of the greatest writers in American history.

I truly wish Baldwin had completed more books before his death.  His mind was uncanny and we are fortunate to have the works that he left behind.  This book is not just for Black or White Americans, but for anyone who wishes to examined and understand America’s unpleasant history with racial equality.   History is not always pleasant but the darkness in it, helps us  not to make the same mistakes again but to try a different path that works and exemplifies what progress truly is.  Baldwin does it again with another classic.

ISBN-10: 003055442X
ISBN-13: 978-0030554421

 

 

 

 

King of the Cats: The Life and Times of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.-Wil Haygood

20180602_234534Harlem, New York has been and still is crucial to New York City politics.  The area that was home to the majority of African-Americans has been affected by the wave of gentrification that has reached nearly every major city across the nation.  Musicians, actors, gangsters and politicians have found fame and fortune in the neighborhood with a storied past.  And of all of the colorful characters to use Harlem as their base of activity, perhaps none is as famous as the late Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (1908-1972) There is a street named in his honor in the area but sadly, the generation of today is largely unaware of his story and his contributions to American society.  He has been described as flamboyant, stubborn, cunning and of great intelligence. He earned the affection of his congregation and millions of minorities and the wrath of presidents and senators determined to put an end to his career.  Forty-five years have passed since his death on April 4, 1972.  Cancer proved to be his biggest opponent, taking his life at the age of sixty-three.  But who was the real Adam Clayton Powell, Jr? And why is he so important to the Civil Rights Movement and the African-American experience?  Wil Haygood has researched Powell’s life and compiled this definitive account of the late congressman’s life.

Powell’s life was anything but ordinary and Haygood brings the past alive as we become more acquainted with Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. as we follow him through life as he attends Colgate University, succeeds his father as pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church and takes the plunge into politics.  Legendary figures of the past make an appearance throughout the book, some of whom are still alive today. Some loved him and some hated him, but all can agree that there was no other like him.   The Powell amendment, which mandated the withholding of funds to cities that refused to follow federal law mandating desegregation was a landmark piece of legislation and remains his crowning achievement.  But for all of his highlights, there was also another side to the famed politician. And Haygood, as a biographer, does not avoid the darker parts of his life.

Several marriages, a playboy like lifestyle and a larger than life character are just some of the many dimensions that composed Powell.  The revelations in the book are not easy to accept but they reinforce the notion that in life we do have to take the negative with the positive.   And flawed as he was, he lived his life on his own terms and without compromise.   Today, many would not blink an eye to the escapades of Powell but in his era, far more conservative than today, Powell was pushing the boundaries of acceptability at every turn. And for millions of young men and women of color, he became a source of pride and inspiration. His power allowed him to move through political circles but also earned him the wrath of powerful enemies who would come together as the cast of villains in the hearings that resulted in Powell losing his congressional seat which he eventually obtained again following a successful litigation campaign.

Life for Powell was fast and full of highs and lows.   In hindsight, we can see the habits and decisions that led to his early death.  And in death, he is remembered as one of Harlem’s greats.  Powell’s is long gone but through this book, his memory to continues. The children of Harlem and across the nation today have no connection to Powell, but if he were alive, he would be fighting right now in their best interest.  And for New York City residents, we should remember his life every time we drive down Adam Clayton Powell Blvd.  This is his life, the story of a New York City legend whose legacy shall never fade.  Haygood’s book is a welcomed addition to any library.

 

ISBN-10: 0060842415
ASIN: B006G87YK4

The Teeth May Smile But The Heart Does Not Forget: Memory And Murder In Uganda-Andrew Rice

lakiThe death of Idi Amin Dada on August 16, 2003,  caused a stir of emotions in Uganda, the country he once ruled with an iron fist.  His name is infamous and the crimes of his regime are endless.  He ranks high among the worst dictators in world history and is a case study of the rampant abuse of power by a malevolent tyrant.  Actor Forest Whitaker brilliantly played the late dictator in the 2006 film The Last King of Scotland.  The film was fictionalized in part, but Whitaker capture the essence of Amin’s character and his performance was nothing short of phenomenal. The real Idi Amin was far worse as we know and there is a chance that the true number of the crimes committed by him and his henchmen will never be known.  The fates of hundreds of Ugandans remain a mystery with no sense of closure in sight. Nearly four decades have passed since Amin fled into exile but he is a permanent part of Ugandan history.   In this book by journalist Andrew Rice, we take a different look at the Amin regime, not through his life but through the lives of those who served him.  The lives and stories intersect around the murder of Eliphaz Laki,  the former county chief of Ibanda, Mbarara.  In 1972, he was apprehended by Amin’s enforcers, led by Yusuf Gowon, assisted and abetted by Nasur Gille and Mohamed Anyure.  His murder was covered up until his son Duncan returned to his native country in a quest to find his father’s killers.   Duncan emigrated to the United States, settling in New Jersey with his wife.  Their union produced four children and Laki supports his family as a lawyer. But the laws of the United States are different from Uganda as we see in the book.   This is his story and a step back into time as we revisit the Protectorate of Uganda under the all watchful eye of Amin.

Before you open this book, I recommend that you remove any pre-conceived notions about Uganda.  Personally, I found that after reading this book, there was much about the African nation that I did not know.  In contrast to the picture of Africa being a land of savages, the truth is that colonialism, tribalism and corruption combined to eliminate any semblance of a properly functioning society.   As Rice follows Duncan on his mission to bring his father’s killers to justice, the complex web of jealousy and suspicion ignited by Amin’s paranoia becomes evidently clear.  Tragically, what could have been a great country, seemed to regress upon finally gaining its independence. In the book, as each character is introduce, Rice retraces their history, explaining in detail why they’re relevant to the current story.   Expectedly,  former leader Milton Obote appears throughout the story as he and Amin end up on a collision course for control of the country.  The book develops into a history lesson on Ugandan politics and is a social study of the issues that continue to plague it today.  It should be pointed out that the book is not a biography of Amin. In fact, as Rice points out, Amin’s early life is highly obscure and his exact date of birth was never been attained.  The focus instead is on Duncan’s investigation with the help of a local investigator, Alfred Orijado.  Their investigation leads them to the three suspects who are arrested and interrogated before signing confessions explaining their role in Eliphaz Laki’s death.   And similar to the former Nazi officials, the Nuremberg defense once again rears its ugly head.

The trial eventually reveals the many flaws in the Uganda system while highlighting the progress that had been made administratively under the direction of former President Yoweri Museveni.  Along with Amin and Milton Obote, Museveni is a permanent fixture in Ugandan history with the distinction of having served thirty-one years as the ruler of Ugandan.  He has been called a dictator and if he should move to change the law to exempt him from retiring at the mandatory age of seventy-five, the accusations will hold more weight.   Nonetheless, he is a walking piece of history at the age of seventy-one, having witnessed Uganda’s darkest times first hand.  His prominence is slowly slipping as younger Ugandans look towards a brighter future with change in a new direction.

Westerners may find it hard to relate to the events in the book.  For those of us lucky enough to have grown up in the United States, a civil war is unknown to us personally and something we have read about in textbooks.  But for immigrants from Uganda who remember Amin’s reign, the terror remains with them every day reminding them of how tragic their lives once were.  And while the ending is not what the reader may expect, the book is invaluable is showing what life was like in Uganda during that era.  In death, Amin has joined the ranks of Hitler, Stalin, Lenin and other dictators whose dark legacies continue to haunt the nations they once ruled.  Uganda continues to heal and the story of Eliphaz and Duncan Laki, is just one of thousands to be told about the maniacal Idi Amin Dada.

ISBN-10: 0312429738
ISBN-13: 978-0312429737

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