The cover of this book is bound to cause many to do a double take. The crossing out of the word black is far from subtle, but anyone who is familiar with the late Richard Claxton “Dick” Gregory (1932-2017), will know that subtlety was not in his character. He was known as a star comedian for many years but he was also a civil rights activist, nutrition guru, social critic, writer and occasional actor. His death marked the passing of a icon whose sharp wit and frankness earned him the respect of his peers and people across the nation. Published after his death, this book takes a look at the official history of African Americans that Americans have been told for more than a century. Gregory makes it clear early in the book that American History and Black History are one in the same. It is a valid point and for African Americans, the United States is the only home that many have ever known. The history that has been taught in classrooms across America continues to be re-examined in the pursuit of the truth by historians and independent researchers. The gift of the internet has allowed truth-seekers to reach audiences of monumental sizes as we step back in time to learn what really did happen with regards to pivotal events that shaped the modern day United States.
Gregory starts early in the book, beginning after America becomes a newly formed nation and step by step, he provides us with an outline of the events that took place to clarify what has been written in error. Admittedly, Gregory has been viewed as a conspiracy theorist and in some parts of the book, a few statements give credence to that. Sadly, we do not have the ability to ask him to elaborate on those statements. I did find a few comments to be in need of further verification. But the overall message of the book remains strong and Gregory presents an abundance of valid points. For those who have accepted the history presented in school textbooks, Gregory might come off as out of his mind. But if we pay careful attention to his words, he does speak a lot of truth but in a way where we can analyze things on our own and do further research. In his defense, he never claims to be the end all source for historical information. However, he was a prominent fixture in the civil rights movement and friends with an endless number of historical figures who were directly involved in the movement. He provides plenty of anecdotes about many stars such as Marvin Gaye (1939-1984), Michael Jackson (1958-2000) and Malcolm X (1925-1965).
The pace of the book is fast but steady and Gregory makes sure not to spend too much time on one subject. He discusses each topic just long enough to provided the reader with a clear picture of past events. And while I do feel that it would have been great if he had gone into more detail, that would have required a much larger book. His focus here, is plant enough seeds of doubt so that we continue to do research on our own and learn the truth about history. Gregory was brilliant both as a comedian and social critic. Part of what made him such a memorable figure was his ability to shock his audience. He pulls no punches here and makes it clear that he intends to clarify the many lies that have been told for too long.
Some of us will read this book and come away with the belief that Gregory is more of a conspiracy theorist than many thought. He does make some statements that could be conspiracy theory oriented but he never strays too far off course or makes statements that are beyond outlandish. But I stress again that this book is not the final word on historical events. The book is a good start for those who have long questioned what they have been taught. Black Americans will question their own history in a country that has a dark past with racial discrimination. Black actors, athletes, musicians, activists and authors struggled with the system of Jim Crow and acceptance in mainstream American society. But as Gregory shows us, they all had tremendous courage and he uses their stories to prove his point that Black Americans are not helpless, but strong people whose history has been ignored for far too long. As a Black American, Gregory caused me to re-examined things that I learned years ago in my own search for truth. I did learn a few things I did not know before and for other things, I have more topics to research in-depth. I never had the opportunity to meet Dick Gregory but I had seen him in interviews on several occasions. He is no longer with us but his voice remains as prominent and relevant as ever. And this posthumous release is a further testament to his colorful and influence intellect that provokes thought and reflection. Good read.
Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 – Steve Coll
On the morning of February 26, 1993, Ramzi Yousef and a team of terrorist drove a bomb laden van into the basement of the World Trade Center complex in New York City. As I watched the news from across the river in Brooklyn that morning, I felt a sense of shock and vulnerability. America had been attacked. When Ramzi Yousef was captured and extradited to New York to stand trial, many New Yorkers breathed a sigh of relief. The Hon. Kevin Duffy sentenced Yousef to life with no parole plus an additional 240 years which he is currently serving at the ADX Florence Supermax facility in Fremont County, Colorado. Eight years later on September 11, 2001, America was attacked again when terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners, crashing two into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and the final aircraft outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The response from Washington was swift and a show of force nearly unparalleled in modern times. The mission to capture those responsible and root out terrorists, led to Afghanistan, a land-locked country in South-Central Asia. Images of U.S. troops and the enemy Taliban flashed across news screens as reports of successes in the mission to root out terror were triumphantly proclaimed. To many Americans, Afghanistan was another far away place across the world where people lived in ways that seemed to be from ancient times, going against “American ideals”. Today, Afghanistan is nearly completely forgotten by the American public. There has been no news about what America’s current role is and plans to withdraw American forces have been cast aside as yet another victim of the focus on what has become reality television politics. The story of Afghanistan and its importance to world history is often misunderstood and in some cases not even recognized. But there is far more that meets the eye and author Steve Coll explores this topic in this New York Times bestseller that tells the full story what did happen in Afghanistan between the Soviet Invasion and the deadly attacks on September 11, 2001.
If you asked a person on the street today why we are in Afghanistan, I firmly believe that many could not give a plausible answer. Washington has no official position on it. But what is striking is that for decades, U.S. foreign policy towards Afghanistan was either anti-soviet, anti-Taliban and in other cases, non-existent. Coll revisits each and examines the subject in detail so that we can understand how and why the U.S. attitude towards Afghanistan continued to shift. The book is primarily focused on the Soviet-Afghan war between 1979 and 1989. The conflict drew the attention and participation of multiple countries including Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Central Intelligence Agency served as the main force to funnel information back to Washington and the United States found itself supporting the Mujadhideen rebels against the Soviet backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. The rebels’ cause earned them support from other young radicals including a very young Osama Bin Laden (1957-2011) who reappears later in the book as an arch-nemesis of the United States. The Soviet-Afghan war served as the last major conflict of the Cold War before the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, history took a very different course for many reason as the author shows. And slowly Afghanistan became a pawn in a much larger chess match between more powerful and sophisticated nations.
The figures that appear in the book are numerous and keeping track of all of them is a bit tedious. But each is critical to the story at hand including the late Senator from Texas, Charles Wilson (D) (1933-2010), Mullah Mohammed Omar (1960-2013) and former Pakistan Premier Benazir Bhutto (1957-2007). All of the figures are central to the complicated web woven in the Middle East as Sharia Law clashed with modernity and oil pipelines became the target of several governments. Coll connects all of the dots in a writing style that makes the story very easy to follow. The revelations in the book dis-spell many rumors and confirm others. The volatile nature of politics in the region is on full display as each leader walks a tightrope while in office. The rise of Sharia Law and anti-modernity beliefs began to turn the tide in the Middle East from welcomed support from the west to disdain for the western way of life. Radicalism is born and as Coll moves through the second half the book, we see how Islamic extremism gained its footing while Washington was asleep at the wheel.
Osama Bin Laden held a spot on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most wanted list for several years until his death. Even today, he is still considered one of the world’s deadliest terrorist although he did not carry out the acts himself. But as we see in the book, he was charismatic, dedicated and blessed with enormous wealth as a result of his father’s high successful and respected construction firm. He became a central figure in the new war against the west which would be waged by a new wave of committed soldiers with nothing to fear. Incredibly, while this was taking place, the response by Washington was bewildering. However, not everyone was oblivious to the sudden rise of Bin Laden and there were many officials who sounded the alarm as to what they saw as the next major threat to America. That threat manifested itself horrifically in September, 2001.
Undoubtedly, each reader will take something different away from the book. But I do believe that every reader will be confused to say the least as to what was really happening in Washington and lack of information provided to American citizens. As I read the book, I shook my head at times in disbelief. Today we can look back and ask what if Washington had stopped Bin Laden when it had the chance? Why did Washington fail to acknowledge the warning signs from the intelligence community? Some answers we may never fully know but through Steve Coll, we have plenty of explanations that will suffice for many. For those interested in learning the true story of the Soviet-Afghan war and America’s foreign policy in relation to the region, this book is a must read.
Open Veins In Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent-Eduardo Galeano with a Foreword by Isabel Allende
Latin 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.
Every summer, my parents make their annual visit to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center in Ledyard, Connecticut to continue learning about the Pequot Indian tribe who lived in what is now the State of Connecticut. They are one of the many tribes that called North America home prior to the arrival of European settlers and the creation of the United States. Today, they can be found largely on reservations having been forced off of the only lands they knew to make way for a country that had liberated itself from British colonization. Far too often, their plight is ignored and history books have traditionally re-written the history of the foundation of the United States of America. This book by the late Dorris Alexander “Dee” Brown (1908-2002) challenges everything we thought we knew about our country and the scores of people often referred to simply as “the Indians”.
Hollywood has played a large part in the historical view by many of the Native Americans, the enemies of White Cowboys as depicted in Westerns and other television programs of the past. John Wayne is admired by many as the icon of the American West. The Native Americans, considered to be savages, uncivilized and dangerous became the object of the wrath of bloodthirsty soldiers filled with an ideology that could classified as genocide today. The true story was carefully and deceptively hidden from public light but it has come out in more recent times. And as the Native Americans and Indians of the Caribbean are shown in a more positive light, more of the truth will come to the surface. Several cities here in America have now replaced the holiday of Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. Columbus was only a small part of the story and he never set foot on North American soil. But the actions of the municipalities were for the right reasons and I believe in time, more cities will follow suit.
In the wake of the American Revolution, a new nation was born with the desire to obtain as much land as possible under the guise of “Manifest Destiny” and its actions changed the course of history and nearly exterminated the continent’s native inhabitants. I am sure you have heard many of the names that became legends; Tecumseh (1768-1813), Sitting Bull( 1831-1890), Geronimo (1829-1909), Crazy Horse (d. 1877) and Cochise (d.1874). These leaders are revered in Native American history but are only small parts of a much larger and deadlier picture. Their lives crossed paths with American soldiers whose names have become both famous and infamous such as Kit Carson (1869-1868) and General George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876) whose last stand is sometimes fodder for situations in which a positive outcome is highly unlikely. The battles that took place across the plains of North America reveal a violent struggle as two opposing of forces sought to maintain their own ways of life. For the Native Americans, their goal was to live as they always had and not like the invaders who annexed territory and brought disease, starvation and death. For the American soldiers, the Indians were savages who needed to learn the White man’s way of life and give their hearts to Christianity. The two systems were never compatible but Washington refused to accept any deals that would preserve Native American land. The methods used to forcibly remove the natives are some of the darkest moments in American history.
It is imperative to keep in mind while reading the book that America did not yet have 50 states. In fact, the reader has to pay close attention to the location descriptions to form a picture of the region in which these events take place. In comparison to clearly marked state boundaries today, land then was sometimes loosely divided among tribes with recognized boundaries by each side. I do recommend having a map of Native American tribes while reading the book to gain a more accurate image. Brown also adds small bonuses at the beginning of each chapters as he highlights the most important events that occurred. Readers may find that they have bookmarked random facts that have nothing to do with the story at hand but are useful information to retain.
I warn the reader that the book is not always easy to read. The graphic descriptions of the atrocities committed in battle and the fate of the Native Americans are a rude awakening to any ideas about a graceful creation of America where the settlers and Indians worked side by side and everyone was friends. This is the unfiltered truth and to say it is ugly would be an understatement. Those of you who are of Native-American heritage will be familiar with the tragedies that befell your ancestors. For others, in particular Americans, this book is a chance to fully understand how violence played a crucial role in the development of what is now a superpower. We are unable to turn back the hands of time and change the course of history but what we can do moving forward is to acknowledge the tragic story of North America’s forgotten residents.
I firmly believe that this book, which was written in 1970, should be read by students in every history class across the country. These are the stories that you will not find in textbooks that seeks to portray the history of this nation in the most positive light possible. Interestingly, Native Americans are present in many of us today. Millions of American have their blood running through their veins. That heritage has sadly been forgotten or in some cases ignored. But it is never too late to learn about those who gave up so much so that we are able to enjoy the privileges afforded to us. Their lives have never been the same and their heritage was nearly destroyed. I hope that one day they too find the peace of mind that they have sought for so long. And the next time you think about wearing a Native American costume for a party, this book might make you think twice. This is the dark and ugly history of America and the mission to eradicate the Native Americans.
Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds-Pamela Rotner Sakamoto
The Second World War remains the most brutal conflict in history. The number of those who perished is still up for debate and there are many secrets of the war that have been lost to history forever. In the United States, foreign-born citizens with roots in any of the countries part of the Axis powers, found their selves under suspicion and in the case of the Japanese, placed into concentration camps. Although not as inhumane and deadly as the camps in Germany and Poland, they resulted in the rise of resentment among Japanese-Americans toward the United States Government and the country they called home. The dropping of the Atomic bombs further heightened the feeling of resentment and was the first and only time a nuclear weapon was used in warfare. Survivors of the bomb attacks can still be found today, advanced in their years but tragically familiar with the barbarity of modern warfare. Across the pacific, Japanese-American veterans of the war remember the tragedy that befell Japan, the nation to which their families trace their origins. But what happens when half of a family is in Japan and the other half is in the United States? Or what do you do when one son is part of the Japanese Imperial Army and the other is part of the United States Armed Forces? And when the war is over, how do you come to terms with the effects war has had on your family and yourself? This is the story of the Fukuhara family whose lives are the answer to those questions. Written by Pamela Rotner Sakamoto and containing snippets of interviews conducted with those relevant to the story, Midnight in Broad Daylight is a heart wrenching story of a family struggling to survive, having been affected by a war in more ways than one.
Following the death of the family patriarch, a widow is faced with the daunting challenge of raising several children on an almost non-existent budget. Her plight is compounded by the social climate of strong prejudice against Asian-Americans. Seeking a better quality of life, she makes the decision to relocate to her homeland of Japan where several other children reside. There, they are briefly reunited and their situation forms the nexus for the remainder of the story as we follow Kino, her children Harry, Victory, Frank and Mary as they move through life and encounter war on a scale unlike anything ever seen before. Harry (1925-2015) and Mary eventually move back to the United States leaving behind Kino, Victor and Frank. Life moves along for each until December 7, 1941, the day that lives in infamy, when the Japanese air force bombed Pearl Harbor bringing the United States into the war. From that point on, none of their lives would ever be the same again. Harry became the most popular of the siblings, earning his induction in the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame in 1988.
The East and West still have much ground to cover in completely understanding each other. Foreigners who move to the United States often face the challenge of enforcing native traditions on their American children. Generational and cultural gaps are formed making the path to understanding and compromise seem as if it is completely out of reach. But if we take the time to read the story of the Fukuhara’s, we can find solid footing allowing us to examine the fears and concerns about culture being lost. Today, it is probably impossible for any of us to begin to understand the inner conflict a person must have had if they were Japanese during World War II. The attacks at Pearl Harbor caught nearly all by surprise including Japanese-Americans. But following the attack and the United States entry into the conflict, life became harder and the prejudices against Japanese far much stronger. With hindsight we can easily find fault with government policy during that era but today we would be hard pressed to say if some of us would do otherwise. Regardless of whether you are a hawk or a dove, this story is moving and one that should be widely read. As I made my way through the book, I found myself rooting for the Fukuhara’s, hoping that they all make it through the war and reunite with a happy ending. This did not happen. The book is not easy to read in some parts, in particular with regards to the concentration camps and the bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. We should never fail to comprehend the level of devastation caused by the devices known as Fat Man and Little Boy. The effects of the blast and subsequent radiation sickness are on full display and reinforces my belief that Japan’s resurrection after the war was nothing short of miraculous.
I hope that the world never experiences a conflict on the scale of World War II. If we do, it might be the world’s final war. As the people of Japan were preparing for the Allied invasion, I am sure that they too thought that the war would be Japan’s total demise. For their relatives here in the United States, there was only waiting and uneasiness as news of the atomic bombs spread across the globe. The Fukuhara’s lives are a case study of what happens to those families caught on both sides of a conflict regardless of their personal beliefs or character. For the rest of their lives, the events of the 1940s remained with them as reminders of a dark period in world history. If you are a student of world history and/or a World War II buff, then this book a welcomed addition.
The Plot to Hack America: How Putin’s Cyberspies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election-Malcolm Nance
The 2016 presidential election remains an event that bordered on the surreal and shocked not just American citizens but people around the globe. Donald J. Trump, the political outsider and least likely candidate to win, secured the Republican nomination and the electoral votes needed to become the 45th President of the United States of America. As we begin 2018 we can look back on his first year and office and reach various conclusions depending on our political outlook and beliefs about the state of the nation. What is certain, is that from the start, his administration has been plagued with allegations of collusion with nefarious figures hailing from Russia. Prior to his election, he often showed admiration for Vladimir Putin and since taking office, has taken a passive stance on the country that is believed by intelligence experts to have interfered in the elections of several nations. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been appointed Special Counsel to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia and as of today, the investigation is still ongoing. And while there is no fire yet, there is a lot of smoke.
Malcolm Nance, a former U.S. Navy senior chief petty officer in Naval Cryptology with over thirty years in intelligence and counter-intelligence decided to put together a short book that puts the known pieces of the Russia hacking scandal together giving us a clear and concise picture of what did happen and when. The book is not a smoking gun linking Trump directly to any Russian hackers and Nance does not imply such. However, there is a lot of potentially incriminating evidence and we know today that at least four people of Trump’s inner circle have pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and money laundering. The recent news of the publication of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury in which he interviews former Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon has added more fuel to the fire and has mad the future grim for the 45th Commander-In-Chief. But what exactly did happen prior to November 8, 2016? And what did authorities know for certain? Further, Nance reveals a lot of interesting information, but how much more is there that is still unknown?
Nance takes us back to the beginning when officials realized that the servers of the Democratic National Convention had been hacked. Unlike Watergate, there were no intruders with flashlights who would later stand trial and attempt to extort the White House. This was all done through cyber warfare and the fallout would be staggering. Some may even say there is still more to come. As an IT Administrator (IT), I have experienced cyber threats on several fronts and can say with certainty that if the average person knew just how many cyber threats there are in existence, they would be scared nearly to death. To read the book, you do not need a background in Information Technology, Nance presents each topic in an easy to read format for the layman to follow. If you do have experience in IT, then you will nod your head at many of the things that he discusses. Regardless of your technical aptitude, what is revealed in this book should open the eyes of every American that cares about our electoral process.
Supporters of President Trump may be quick to dismiss the book as fake news or left-wing smear tactics. However, Nance does not take any sides politically and makes no direct accusations against Trump. What he does declare is that without a doubt, Russian hackers interfered with the 2016 presidential election and there is strong evidence that the orders came from Putin himself. At first it sounds like a very bold statement but Nance supports his conclusions with sound evidence that is thoroughly explained. And throughout the book, he reminds us that more investigations are needed to see if there was in fact direct collusion and/or espionage between Trump’s team and Russia operatives. According to Bannon, the answer is yes. But before we accept the proclamations of an individual that is as cunning as they come, it is imperative that a full investigation is conducted. We may not like what we find and the truth is rarely pleasant. No matter which party you belong to or how you voted in the election, what transpired prior to November 8, 2016, should be of grave concern to you for if it happened once, there is the fear that it could happen again. Nance gives us a dire warning imploring us not to make the same mistake again and to proactively fight cyber attacks in the future. But with a Commander-In-Chief who doesn’t believe in cyber attacks or seek to understand them, how safe will we be?
The title of the book sounds like it could be a television special or motion picture. But I assure you it is not fiction, this is a real as it gets. The United States and its democratic institutions were attacked and the depth of the crime is something that many people still do not fully understand. But with books such as this one by Nance, a clear picture emerges that can be used as a reference guide in understanding what really was the plot to hack America.
When I first saw the title of this book, I felt my body slightly recoil. In fact, the book was recommended to me by my boss who is a White-American. Previously, Amazon had placed the book on the list of recommended titles for my purchase but I had yet to take the plunge. This time around, I gave in and decided to see what was contained in the pages of this book. Having finished, I can say without a doubt that Nancy Isenberg has produced an eye-opening account of what truly is the untold 400- year history about class and race in America. At first glance, it may seem as if the book is a racist attack on people perceived to be of a lower social class. But in fact, the opposite is true. Isenberg brings light to the suffering and exploitation of a social class that is still disdained and mocked even today. The 2016 Presidential election brought the subject back into the public light provoking fierce debates about the success of the Republican Party and the election of Donald J. Trump. But the question truly remains, what does it mean to be called white trash?
History books typically portray the American Revolution as a movement bursting at the seams with a new-found patriotism as former colonies sought independence from Great Britain. It is a graceful and inspiring story but the reality is that the truth is often uglier and stranger than fiction. The story at hand begins as America is in its infant stages and Jamestown is established as the first settlement with immigrants formerly of England having made their way to North America. But what is often forgotten or in some cases ignored, are the many levels of class distinctions that existed then and still exist now. Slavery overshadows other dark parts of American history but as we see here, there was another class of people who were viewed just as poorly or in some cases, even worse than enslaved Africans. These issues and several others pushed the United States to the breaking point resulting in the Civil War that split the country in half and gave rise to the South, the region that became home to Jim Crow legislation and some of the worst cases of racial violence ever witnesses by American citizens. Isenberg brings even more clarity to the issue taking us back in time to relive the past with figures such as Presidents Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and the infamous Andrew Johnson. Other historical figures such as Davie Crockett, Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton and the Bakkers (Jim and Tammy Faye) also make an appearance.
The book is presented in an easy flowing chronological format allowing us to follow the development of the United States and continued deplorable existence of the lowest class of White Americans. As a Black-American, I am all too familiar with exploitation and discrimination. It is part of the history of this nation and something that we still struggle to fully confront. At times we have heard the term white trash, always used with a negative connotation. But what we should seek to understand is how the term originated and why. Further, it behooves us to understand how politicians, corporations and others with vested interests have manipulated, stoked fear and paranoia and ultimately exploited one of America’s most unwanted. Eugenics, greed and pseudo-science became the tools of the trade as one class pulled out all the stops to eradicate another.
From start to finish I literally could not put the book down. It pulls you and refuses to let go as the pages reveal a side of America you may be unfamiliar with. Breaking the facade of all White Americans being well-off, Isenberg brings the reality home that class is as important as race and is fully intertwined. This is a book I wish I had read in history classes in school. For an unfiltered and brutally honest look at the social structure of the United States, this is a good place to start. You will not only learn more about America but about yourself as well and what prejudice and exploitation really mean to those who employ it and those who suffer from it.
The 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
A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East-David Fromkin
Ideology is sometimes as powerful of a tool as violence and in some cases has been the direct cause of violence. In the Middle East, ideology has maintain a stronghold as it finds itself on a crash course with modernity. Those who live outside the Middle East are at times confused and mystified by the traditions and events that occur throughout the Arab nations. In fact, many of us here in the United States do not know how the modern-day Middle East came into existence. To them, I say that the key to understanding the Middle East is to retrace its history to see why and how it developed into what we know it to be today. David Fromkin lends us a helping hand in this incredible historical investigative account of the fall of the legendary Ottoman Empire and the creation of a region that would never truly know peace.
I find it a bit ironic that the title is called A Peace to End All Peace because when the reader has finished the book, he or she will see that is far from what happened. But the question is why not? To find that answer, we revisit Constantinople, headquarters of the empire, prior to the outbreak of World War I. Iraq and Jordan (formerly Transjordan) had yet to be created. Iraq was then known as Mesopotamia and Jordan was still part of Palestine. The Zionist cause was still in its early stages and it would be several years before the signing of the Balfour Declaration. Regardless, these nations were caught in the middle of a bitter conflict as Britain and Russia took on the German Republic for control of the Ottoman Empire. But as casualties mounted and victories were won, what was really transpiring behind the scenes? And who were the major players? As we step back into time with Fromkin, we are re-introduced to long-lost figures such as the famous Winston Churchill (1874-1965), former Prime Minister Lloyd George (1864-1945), U.S. President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) and Thomas Edward Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia)(1888-1935). Lawrence has been transformed throughout the years into a larger than life character but Fromkin provides a good biographical sketch of him and investigates his true role in the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the British goal of conquering the Middle East. However, as Fromkin shows us, the heart of the entire stories lies in the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the secret pledge between Britain, France and Russia to partition the Ottoman Empire after the defeat of Germany in World War I. The agreement shaped relations between the nations for decades to come.
The story is an incredible from start to finish and after you have completed the book, you will better understand why the Middle East is the way it is today. You will further understand how the Zionist cause for a homeland grew in strength due in part to the actions of the British Government. The story of Palestine is especially important for the effects of the actions then are still being felt today. Fromkin has done an excellent job of researching the topic and it is evident in his writing. The book reads like a historical novel full of intrigue, mystery and ultimately tragedy. Further, the relationship between Russia and the nations of the U.S.S.R. are examined highlighting the cultural diversity that once encompassed the Soviet Union. The Bolshevik revolution is discussed but not at great length. Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) and Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) make appearances but their story is only discussed regarding its relevance to the current topic. And throughout the book, developments in other nations are mentioned but the author never strays off topic. Like a master professor, he keeps us on course throughout a critical time in the history of the world that was complicated to say the least.
The book ends before the rise of Adolf Hitler and the start of World War II. And it would not be until 1948 that the nation of Israel was formally created. Readers may be surprised to reach the end of the book only to find that the story does not continue in the next decade. But the reality is that was never the intention and is irrelevant to the story at hand. True, the events in this book would affect the future in many different ways but that is a topic for another discussion. For those who wish to understand how an Empire came crashing down, the development of the modern-day Middle East and how several nations underestimated the power of the Islamic faith, this is a great place to start. And for others who have an active interest in the Middle East, this book is a much welcomed addition to any library.
“To the victor belongs the spoils” – New York Senator William L. Marcy
America’s Deadliest Export-Democracy: The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else-William Blum
The recent terror attack in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood highlighted the concern many Americans have about fellow citizens of the Islamic faith that have originated in or spent considerable time in the Middle East. The oft-asked question is usually “why do they hate us?”. Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, are only a few out of many nations in which the United States has involved itself in the nation’s politics. To many Americans, the dislike and/or intense hatred of America displayed from the region boggles the mind and is utterly incomprehensible. But if we take a closer look at things from another point of view, we come to see there is more than meets the eye as author William Blum points out in this book that is guaranteed to make you question everything you thought you knew about American foreign policy.
From the start, this book will be hard for many Americans to accept. Blum pulls no punches but instead goes full steam ahead, methodically showing how U.S. foreign policy has destabilized nations resulting in the removal of dozens of foreign leaders and political turmoil which continues to haunt many of those nations to this day. David Talbot, author of ‘The Devil’s Chessboard‘, revealed the dark rise of the CIA and its actions which influenced American foreign policy following World War II. Similar to Talbot, Blum brings to light many dark secrets that the average American would rather not know. Almost all of us born in America were raised to believe that the United States is the leader when it comes to democracy, justice, liberty and freedom for all. Throughout the years, we have enforced our system of government around the world, or as Blum puts it, exporting democracy. But a critical question arises. In the nations to which we exported democracy, was it needed or asked for? As Blum shows us, U.S. foreign policy dictated that it was. But in many countries nations, it wasn’t needed and as a result, millions of people around the world have suffered at the hands of U.S. foreign policy. Air raids, propaganda and economic penalties are just some of the methods used against those nations which do not comply with the agenda of the U.S. From Mossadegh in Iran in 1954 to the current war on terror, many important facts have been hidden from the American public, allowing us to believe that all actions carried out in the name of freedom have been in the best interests of the people of the United States. On a regular basis, the media shows us a purported new “threat” from a number of foreign nations. But as Blum asks us, “who is really going to attack the US?”.
Some will read this book and believe that Blum is unpatriotic, cynical and even treasonous. But I believe that thoughts of that nature are severely misguided. Contrary to what many may think, it is possible to be patriotic but still question and even expose the wrongdoings by our own government. And as Jesse “The Body’ Ventura recently said in a video regarding Colin Kaepernick, the government has to earn patriotism. In the eyes of many around the world, we are seen as the big brother that exerts his influence wherever he goes. But our most tragic mistake is to believe that everyone desires to live as we do. No government is perfect and every country has its regrettable moments. But is the duty of every American to acknowledge when our country is wrong and/or misguided and see things from the eyes of those who we persecute either intentionally or inadvertently. I’ve always felt that people who are the most critical of this nation are also some of the most patriotic. It is their belief in the good of the nation that forces them to confront its shortcomings. People such as William Blum are doing their part to show other Americans what has been occurring right under our noses. You don’t have to agree with everything he says, but if you open your mind and digest what he’s written, you may find that you have a new understanding of the pitfalls of a misguided foreign policy and why it brings shame on the United States of America.