Tag: <span>World War II</span>

20200224_014143On June 6, 1944, American, British and Canadian troops stormed the beaches at Normandy, France and commenced an ground war against Nazi Germany.  The European Theatre was marked by brutal fighting that saw high numbers of casualties on all sides of the conflict.  In the end, Nazi Germany fell to allied forces and accepted an unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945, commonly known as VE Day.  The Japanese military continued to fight and remained defiant until two atomic bombs forced it too into surrending to Allied forces.  VJ Day marked the end to World War II and the world breathed a sign of relief.  For the United States Army, the European Theatre was a hard fought campaign that no one ever wanted to see again.  Author Stephen Ambrose has composed a breathtaking account of the Army’s mission from the beaches at Normandy until the Allies seized Berlin in May, 1945.

It should be noted that this book is focused on the army in particular and not the other branches of the armed forces such as the Marines and Air Force.  While the author does discuss air warfare during the conflict, the focus never wavers from the army.  This is the grunt’s view of the war, in all of its horror and glory.   Some readers may find the subject matter tough to read.  The author pulls no punches and the descriptions of events that take place sometimes contain graphic details that bring home the horrors of war. But to accurately capture the gritty reality of the army’s mission, it is necessary.

As to be expected, the book follows the war’s timeline so that we can see the progression of the army’s efforts, their failurs and ultimate success.  The Allied command are driven by the former General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) and General George Patton (1888-1945).  Even General William Westmoreland (1914-2005) commander of U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam during the Vietnam War makes an appearance. But make no mistake this is Eisenhower and Patton’s show, with each serving as the focus of a significant portion of the book, in particular when the European Theatre reaches middle to late 1944.  The story is exciting and the pace is quick, with a significant number of names and places that will require extensive note taking.

Ambrose does an incredible job of covering not just the battles but all aspects of life as an infrantry soldier commonly known as a grunt.  Life in infantry is tough, thankless and also deadly.  Enemy soldiers, shells, mines and even freak accidents are the constant array of threats faced by the grunts.  Europe is revealed as vast landscape of different terrains, some favorable for combat and others such as the Hurtgen Forest, seeming to come out of a horror film.  And as Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) let his paranoia consume him, both sides settled in for a long and brutal fight.  But the Allies remained determined and during the Europeant Theatre, it soon becomes clear that Germany would lose the war.  The author discusses the German war effort, providing critical facts as to how and why it was no match for Allied forces in a protacted struggle.

On the American side, there are areas of confusion and even critical failure.  Further, the plague known as trench foot proved to be as damaging as casualties that occurred in battle.  Ambrose explores the trench foot issue, explaining just how much of an impact it hand on the infantry and troop supply.  It is critical to understanding just how dangerous life on the front lines was during the war.

The United States Army had committed itself to eliminating Adolf Hitler and restoring peace to the world. However, at home, the United State still had yet to face its own problem of Jim Crow and open discrimination against its minority citizens.  Ambrose does not shy away from the topic and sheds light on the racism that was nearly system wide in the military during the war. However, he also shows how black G.I.s served and proved themselves to be as good as others soldiers on the battlefield.  The time he devotes to the topic does justice to the black soldiers who served in World War II including my great-grandfather Floyd Davision (1913-1988).  I can only imagine what he saw, heard and experienced as a black soldier in a time when segregation was still the law of the land.

The number of facts provided in the book are staggering, yet it does not feel overwhelming any point in the book.  The narrative flows freely and the author writes in a style that is gripping and brings the past to life as we move across Europe with sights set on Berlin.  In what can only be described as bizarre, Hitler had decided to conduct military planning himself, rendering his generals almost useless.  It was pure insanity and Ambrose examines the mistakes made by Hitler that sealed Germany’s fate several times before the war was officially over.  Readers will find themselves scratching their heads at Hitler’s actions.  However, Eisenhower and other commanders were waiting for him to slip up and when he did, the gloves came off and the Army went to work.  It had a job to do and would not stop until Berlin fell into Allied hands.  With the Red Army closing in from the east and America from the west, Hitler knew his fate was sealed and took his own life thus evading justice at Nuremberg.  The nation he left behind was in ruins and Ambrose provides photos of the devastation.  It is said that picture sometimes speaks a thousand words.  They certainly do here in this book.

The battle to defeat Nazism was long and bloody but also a display of American and Soviet military might.  In the story at hand, the U.S. Army rose to the occasion and took many bumps along the way.  From start to finish the story is written beautifully there should be no doubt that the American campaign in World War II changed the war and the course of history.  As each year passes, more veterans join the ranks of the deceased, taking with them countless memories of the war.  Their names will be forever linked to it but for some veterans, Ambrose has given them a moment of fame in a book that provides a thorough examination of experienced military planning and execution.  When its country needed them, the citizen soldiers of the U.S. Army rose to the occasion and showed the German menace the power of democracy and freedom.  Highly recommended.

ISBN-10: 068848015
ISBN-13: 978-0684848013

World War II

20200215_203354A colleague gave me this book as a gift during the holiday season, mainly due to his knowledge of my fondness for history.  I quickly made a mental note to give it a read in the near future.  When I saw the title, I was slightly puzzled at the term “The Forgotten 500”.  I have read books on World War II but none mentioned any 500 forgotten soldiers.  Upon closer inspection, I soon began to realize why I had not heard the story.  At the time the mission  occurred, it was carefully hidden by the State Department and Office of Strategic Services who did not wish to jeopardize the lives of any remaining U.S. soldiers still trapped behind enemy lines. Further, in the years that followed, the the story faded into the annals of military history regarding the second world war. Even my father, who is an ardent World War II buff, has never mentioned this story.  Our next discussion will certainly be interesting.

So who exactly were the forgotten 500?  Well, the story takes place in Yugoslavia, where American, British and French airmen have been provided refuge by the local men and women who are fiercely anti-Nazi after Adolf Hitler ordered the Germany Wehrmacht to occupy their country.  The airmen had been sent out on bombing missions to eliminate the German fuel supply lines in Ploesti, Romania.  Berlin knew the value of the supply lines and carefully mounted anti-aircraft batteries around the supply stations in anticipation of Allied attacks.  American crews were typically successful in attacking the lines but suffered heavy damage to aircraft and high number of casualties.  Those who abandoned ship upon orders of the pilot, typically landed in the Yugoslavian countryside and were quickly taken in by peasants and farmers.  This is the story of their survival behind enemy lines 0and the incredible mission to rescue them from German occupied territory.

Today, many of the soldiers who served in World War II are deceased and they took with them to their graves, many untold stories of heroism and heartbreak during the war.  Their names are only remembered by those who knew them closely and for the forgotten 500, the same story would apply if not for this book.  The role of Yugoslavia in World War II is underrepresented in the larger narrative of the conflict.  By 1992, it had broken apart in the wake of a bitter civil war that saw the loss of over two-hundred thousand lives.  Tensions between Serbians, Croatians and other ethnic groups had reached a tipping point in 1989 and could no longer be contained.  in 1995, peace was formally restored but to this day, tensions continue to simmer underneath the surface.  Several decades prior, Yugoslavia was seen a prized possession by both Germany and the Soviet Union and the invasion by German forces served as an impediment to its full independence.   As a result, the people came to the aid of downed airmen and protected them fiercely in spite of the looming German military.

The author introduces us in the beginning of the book to the airmen who have been assigned the task of attacking Ploesti.  Each mission is doomed from the start, forcing all on board to grab their parachutes and jump to whatever fate lies ahead.  Miraculously, they are each found by the locals, embraced and given shelter.   However, as more Allied planes fall victim to German weaponry, it soon becomes evident that the large number of airmen will have to find a way out of the country and back to Italy, where American bases have been established.  The only problem is that the area is surrounded by German troops who will surely notice a major extraction mission.  Washington knows it must do something but is pressed for ideas. The Office of Strategic Services enters the picture and the story changes gears completely.

The author does a fantastic job of providing enough back story to set the stage for the eventual rescue mission.  To understand the situation in Yugoslavia, he provides a thorough discussion of the struggle for power between Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) and Washington over the the small Baltic nation.  Inside the country, German forces are opposed by the Communist Josip Tito (1892-1980) and pro-western Draza Mihailovich (1893-1946).  Tito and Mihailovich are engaged in their own power struggle but determined to defeat the Nazi menace.  However, there were other events and agendas taking place outside of Yugoslavia that dictated the course of the war and came to haunt Winston Churchill (1874-1965), who later called Yugoslavia his biggest mistake of the war.  The three-way dance that ensued and the deception that occurred are covered here and will undoubtedly surprise many.  I found myself shaking my head at the series of mis-steps by Allied forces that seemed to be unaware of Stalin’s true and barely hidden agenda.

Those familiar with World War II history will know about the role of the Office of Strategic Services, under the direction of its first director, the legendary William Donovan (1883-1959).  The agency boasted such recruits as future Central Intelligence Director Allen Dulles (1893-1969) and celebrity chef Julia Child (1912-2004).  Today it might seem surprising that even civilians were recruited by intelligence agencies but during World War II, all bets were off.  The OSS dad a job to do and as we see in the book, they were determined not to fail.  Donovan’s ability to get President Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945) to agree to the mission is one of the best anecdotes in the book and shows how urgent it became to rescue the stranded airmen.

The approval of Donovan’s request set into a motion a series of events that brought together several different departments and two governments in an effort to pull of a rescue mission that no one had ever attempted before.  The logistics are all covered in the book showing the high amount of risk that came with it.  The margin for error was virtually non-existent but the people involved rose to the call of duty and this part of the book is uplifting and also high on suspense. One mistake could result in falling into German hands and an international diplomatic nightmare.  But surprisingly not everyone was on the same page and the smaller battle between Washington and London is beyond surreal.  It is a story you do have to read to believe.

Following the mission, the airmen return to civilian life but are dismayed to see how the international game of chess continues to be played.  Tito’s rise and Mihailovich’s demise are some of the darker moments in the book. The airmen voice their disapproval with the official narrative and Freeman retraces their steps showing their never-ending commitment to honoring the legacy of their Yugoslavian hosts.  At the end of the book, he provides an update on the airmen, some of whom were alive at the time the book was published in 2008.  Now that twelve years have passed, I do not believe that they are still living but their memory is preserved eternally in this story that is simply unbelievable.  For all of you World War II buffs, this book is a must have. Highly recommended.

ISBN-10: 0451224957
ISBN-13: 978-0451224958

World War II

audieWhen this book came up as a recommendation, I thought back to the movie ‘Platoon‘ (Orion Pictures, 1986) by Oliver Stone.  There is a scene before the final battle in which Bunny (Kevin Dillon) and Junior (Reggie Johnson) have been instructed by Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger) to get back in their fox holes.  Junior is at his breaking point but Bunny is getting warmed up and says to him “don’t you worry my man, you’re hanging with Audie Murphy now“.  I had heard of Audie Murphy before mainly through my father, who was quite familiar with his story and the 1955 film of the same name. This is the story behind the film of the most decorated soldier to return from World War II.

The book opens with a foreword famed NBC journalist Tom Brokaw before moving to Murphy’s story which begins in Kingston, Texas where we quickly learn that his father has walked out on the family.  He is one of twelve children born to Emmett Berry Murphy and Josie Bell Killian. At the age sixteen, his mother dies and the young teenager is forced to grow up literally overnight.  At the age of eighteen, he reports to the Marine Corps recruiting station but is initially refused enlistment because of his weight and age. Murphy is determined to sign up and eventually succeeds in his quest.  His thirst for action is soon quenched as he finds himself on the front lines in the Mediterranean Theater off the shores of Morocco.  As the story progresses, we are quickly thrown into the mix of the action as Murphy and his platoon are actively engaged in fierce combat.  Soliders enter and exit the story quickly, some having been felled by a sharpshooter’s bullet and others having fell victim to  shells and rockets.  The scenes are graphic and death lingers over them like a storm cloud that breaks without any hint of warning.

The Marines needed killers and Murphy eagerly signed for the task.  Yet the savagery of war is not lost on him and this quote sheds light on the humanity that resides in all soldiers: “But it is not easy to shed the idea that human life is sacred . The lieutenant has not yet accepted the fact that we have been put into the field to deal out death“.  To say that  war is hell is an understatment. Murphy understood the darkness of it all but make no mistake he believed in the job he was assigned to do and he takes pride in being a leatherneck.  He is a killer but one who sees the dysfunction of war and realizes that death is everywhere at all times. Bravery is his speciality but not idiocy.  Further, he was not invincible to the dangers of infantry including malaria which catches him in its grip on more than one occasion.  His time in the infirmary where he meets the nurse known only as “Helen” is a needed relief from the constant descriptions of the last moments of fellow Marines.

The European Theater is undoubtedly where the story picks up pace and as they march across Italy, Murphy fills the book with recreation of battle scenes and hilarious anecdotes through the likes of fellow soldiers such as Novak, Swope and Kerrigan, whom Murphy calls the “Irishman”.  He and Kerrigan develop a lasting friendship built upon the time they spend facing death and dishing it out to German forces.  At the book’s closing, Murphy remarks “but I also believe in men like Brandon and Novak and Swope and Kerrigan ; and all the men who stood up against the enemy , taking their beatings without whimper and their triumphs without boasting . The men who went and would go again to hell and back to preserve what our country thinks right and decent “.  Between the soldiers is a sense of humor that some readers may find to be somewhat macabre.  But in war, the rules of reality and morality are changed in ways some of us cannot comprehend. 

The book is less than three hundred pages but it is by far one of the best memoirs of war I have read.  It is dark, humorous and enlightening at the same time.  War creates a separate world in which soldiers navigate while trying to hold onto their morals and sanity.  Both are sometimes sacrificed and no one who leaves alive,  leaves the same.  There are many books on World War II but to see the war from the grunt’s point of view is a separate experience and Murphy delivered the goods.   Highly recommended.

ASIN: B008VDJGDA

Biographies

paperclipOn April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler fatally shot his wife Eva Braun and then turned the gun on himself as it became evidently clear that allied forces were closing on the führerbunker.  The fear of falling into Russian hands and a subsequent trial for war crimes proved to be too much for the top echelon of the Third Reich that remained in Berlin.  Many top-ranking officials  had previously fled and others had left Germany after realizing that all hope for a victory in the war had been lost.  As allied forces move in and occupied the country, the true horrors of the Nazi reign became clear and soldiers were faced with the grim discoveries of concentration camps, emaciated and dead prisoners.  The Final Solution had been revealed for the entire world to see.  In the aftermath of the war, several hundred Nazi party members were executed by allied forces. Others were acquitted or had their death sentences commuted to long-term imprisonment.  Another group consisting of scientists and doctors, found their way to America with the help of the United States Government in what became known as Operation Paperclip.  Their story is the focus of this incredible book by author Annie Jacobsen.

Government files regarding the secret operation had been marked classified and would have remained hidden if not for the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which gave Americans a tool to learn the truth about many of the Government’s secrets. This tool was thoroughly employed by Jacobsen in discovering the truth of this story that was first disclosed by the New York Times.  Jacobsen explains herself that some of her FOIA requests are still pending and it is unknown if or when they will be answered.  Nevertheless, she has written the story that will shock anyone who decides to open the pages of this book.   Her focus is on selected former doctors and scientists of the Reich who had worked on the V-2 rocket program at Nordhausen and concentration camps in which medical and biological experiments had been conducted, with Auschwitz and Ravensbrück being high on the list.  I warn readers that this book is not for the faint at heart .  The atrocities that are revealed defy logic and reveal the very dark side of human nature.  And as the book progresses, the names of the former scientist and doctors will be seared into the reader’s memory as a reminder of the many secrets the Third Reich tried to hide as the military collapsed.   As horrible as the actions of the Reich were, the crux of the book is the courting and resettlement of former Nazis by the United States Government through a program that will cause consternation, shock and even anger in some readers.

The book begins as the German military collapses in defeat and allied forces are scouring Berlin and other parts of Germany on intelligence missions to discover the secrets of the Reich.  Britain and Russia are also conducting their own intelligence missions and a race against time develops as the three nations each seek to obtain as much information as they can from their defeated enemy.   As the author explains, the Cold War was looming in the distance and in the name of “national security”, government officials were more than willing to recruit former Nazis out of fears they would be recruited and resettled in the Soviet Union.  The V-2 rocket and nerve agents Tabun and Sarin, became hot items as superpowers prepared for the next world war which they believed would include the use of biological weapons.  The United States spared no expense and would not let Joseph Stalin have the upper hand.  The brilliant German minds behind innovations that exceeded allied capacity were to be recruited at all costs, even at the expense of morality.  Annie Jacobsen has captured the emotion and tense battles that raged as the State Department battled the military over a program that it found to be appalling.  The American public slowly became aware of this nefarious program and mounting opposition forced the Government to act in what could described as a war against itself.

The main focus is rightly on the secret intelligence operation but the author also includes a stead stream of facts about other members of the Reich and actions that were being taken behind the scenes throughout Germany as the tide of the war changed and defeat became a stark reality.  The entire cast of characters makes an appearance in the story. Some would escape Germany, fleeing to South America and others took their own lives rather than be tried, convicted and executed in a military trial.  Before the collapse of the Reich, officials went to great lengths to hide as much information as possible from the allied forces.  Today there is a strong possibility that secret tombs exist containing secrets of the Reich are still hidden across Germany.  Time will tell if all of them will be discovered or if they will continue to fade from public consciousness.

The amount of research that was conducted in order to produce this book is staggering.  Yet, there is still much we do not know about Operation paperclip as the Government claims files were lost or destroyed.  Some are still classified with no release date on the horizon.  At some point in time, someone will find out the truth about what truly did happened in the wake of World War II as America embraced German talent.  By then, anyone who participated in World War II will be long gone, rendering any type of prosecution or accountability null.  But the public will finally know just how complicit American officials and the White House were in recruiting war criminals for the technological advancement of the United States.  Jacobsen has given us a detailed roadmap with which to start and this book will undoubtedly stand the test of times as one of the finest works on the Third Reich.  My only complaint about this book is that I wished it had never ended.  I found myself glued to the book from the beginning and was unable to put it down.  The is the true story of Operation Paperclip, one of World War II’s darkest secrets.

ASIN: B00BAXFBI

World War II

20190202_003914On September 1, 1939, the Second World War began as the German army invaded Poland as part of Adolf Hitler’s quest for world domination.  Britain had warned Germany that any military action against Poland would result in England coming to the aid of its ally.  Interestingly, Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) did not want to go to war with England, preferring to accomplish the annexation of Poland through diplomatic methods after having successfully partitioned Czechoslovakia in what is infamously referred to as the “appeasement at Munich”.  But if Hitler did not want to wage war against Britain, knowing their intention to save Poland, then why did he give approval to the invasion that plunged the world into a major conflict?  The answer to that question lies in the story of his Foreign Minister and Nuremberg defendant, Ulrich Friedrich Wilhelm Joachim von Ribbentrop (1893-1946).

In the annals of the Third Reich, perhaps no other figure is as glanced over as Joachim von Ribbentrop.  Standing next to nefarious characters such as Hermann Goering (1893-1946), Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945) and Heinrich Himmler  (1900-1945), he is often an afterthought.   Semi-illiterate but able to speak fluent English, he was one of the few officials in the Third Reich with extensive exposure to the culture of the west. And the time he spent in London early in his life, made him the right choice by Hitler for the position of Ambassador to Great Britain.  By all accounts, no one found him to be enjoyable company but incredibly, he maintained a position close to Hitler’s ear with the Führer listening intently and in some cases implementing Ribbentrop’s suggestions.  Their unusual relationship would have dire consequences in 1939 at Hitler set his sights on Poland. It is here in this phenomenal biography that we learn another part of the story behind the Poland invasion and Ribbentrop’s critical role in the events.

At first glance, it is easy to write of Ribbentrop as “non-essential” to the story of the Third Reich.  And although he is mentioned in many books about the Nazi regime, his role is typically minor in the grand scheme of events.  But make no mistake, his advice and misconceptions about foreign nations, played pivotal roles in the rise and fall of the Third SS Reich. Bloch has capture Ribbentrop’s life beautifully in this biography that tells the story of the former Foreign Minister for all to see.  In comparison to the other figures of the Nazi regime, his personal life could be considered average.  But his entry in the Nazi party and actions thereafter, helped changed the course of history.  As I was reading the book, I could not help feeling mystified as to how a figure such as Ribbentrop maintained the confidence of Hitler as each blunder piled up.   Admittedly, Hitler did not consult him on every foreign policy matter, apparently realizing his many shortcomings.  But he did trust Ribbentrop enough on some of the most important decisions to be made, many of which changed the course of world history and produced a mark on the history of Germany which can never be erased.

Notwithstanding his restricted voice in Hitler’s government, he was an important figure in Hitler’s vision of a Anglo-German unification.  In fact, Ribbentrop’s actions towards and with the British government are the crux of the book.   Naturally, his positions as Ambassador and later Foreign Minister, resulted in his constant communication with the Ambassadors of England, Italy and Japan.  However, his close position to the Führer did not earn him the envoy of others but rather their wrath.  Hitler was known to pit subordinates against each other, using the divide and conquer technique.  Their fights and attempts to sabotage each other take center stage in the book as they compete for Hitler’s approval, the elimination of enemies and advancement in rank.   The story reveals a terrible cast of characters drunk on power and filled with venom for competitors and the Jews of Europe.  Standing center among these characters was the sad Ribbentrop, the man often the butt of jokes and contempt, who was rarely seriously.  Having finished the book, I am dumbfounded as to how Hitler’s administration functioned at all.  The decisions they reached and methods used were simply surreal and Ribbentrop plays a direct part in many of them.

On October 14, 1946, Ribbentrop was the first to be executed after Goering committed suicide in his cell the night before.  He left behind a widow and four children, all of whom are still alive today.  Decades have passed since their father’s death and in the passage of time, their lives will also reach a conclusion.  But they remain witnesses to a time in history in which the world was on the brink of complete anarchy as Adolf Hitler set out to dominate the planet.  Next to him was his fanatically dedicated Foreign Minister.  This is the definitive biography of the life and death of Joachim von Ribbentrop.

ISBN-10: 0517593106
ISBN-13: 978-0517593103

Biographies World War II

midnight in broadThe 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.

ISBN-10: 006235194X
ISBN-13: 978-0062351944

Biographies

20180603_133752On 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 inaction 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.

ASIN: B000JKO9Y4

World War II

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Alan Turing is famously remembered for developing the machine used to crack the encrypted messages of the German military during World War II.  However, in the Pacific, where fighting against the Japanese army and navy was just as brutal, coded messages sometimes meant the difference between life and death.  U.S. military officials, looking to gain the advantage  in the battles against Japan, decided to use a language unknown to the Japanese that could be used to transmit highly important messages between soldiers and commanders.  Officials decided to try a new approach and selected members of the Navajo tribes. Chester Nez (1921-2014), one of the original Navajo code talkers, presents his autobiography with the help of Judith Schiess Avila.

A native of New Mexico, Nez begins his odyssey when he and fellow Navajo tribe members enlist into the United States Marine Corps. They are told they will have to develop a secret code based of their native tongue.  But just how do you develop a code from a language which isn’t written in any shape or form? Navajo is a rare language in that it is taught by word of mouth and not through books.  The young code talkers start working and as we see in Chester’s memories, they develop a code that proved to be unbreakable throughout the entire war.  The code was so secret, that it wasn’t declassified until 1968.  And even today, their story is still largely unknown and many of them remain unsung heroes in the story of World War II.

In 2001, Nez received the Congressional Medal of Honor from then president, George W. Bush.  As he explains in the book, it was one of his proudest moments and he proudly served the nation he’s always called home.  His courage and patriotism are remarkable considering that in grade school at Fort Defiance, the students were prohibited from using their native Navajo language and were subjected to physical punishment as a result. But when the Marines came calling, Chester and his friends answered the call and in the process would change the course of World War II.  His story is an invaluable part of American history as today, Native Americans still struggled with the dark history of the United States which includes acts of extreme violence and prejudice to those of Native American heritage.  This book should be required reading by all students and for those who find English to be a second language, his courage and acts of heroism can serve as positive reinforcement for anyone concerned about the acceptance of their heritage among their peers.

In 2002,  John Woo directed Nicholas Cage in ‘Windtalkers’, the story of a Marine designated to protect a Navajo code talker.  As expected from Hollywood, the effects and actions sequences are visually stunning. But the focus of the film lies in the wrong place and doesn’t come close to telling the whole story of the code talkers.  To date, this is the only biography of a code talker and many of them are now deceased. In fact, Chester was the last living code talker until he died on January 4, 2014.  He life is an example of those who proudly serve their country even when their country doesn’t serve them.  The courage and never-ending efforts to protect the lives of American soldiers shown by the code talkers while risking theirs on the battlefield, make them true American heroes.

ISBN-10: 0425247856
ISBN-13: 978-0425247853

Biographies World War II

ShadowsThe Holocaust remains one of the most regretful moments in the history of mankind.  The Final Solution, engineered by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi government, resulted in the deaths of over six millions Jewish men, women and children.  The many concentration camps became factories of genocide and symbols of the Third Reich’s relentless efforts to remove all Jewish citizens from Germany and the occupied territories of the Reich.  As Hitler made his rise to power, many Jews fled Germany fearing the worst under the rule of the tyrannical dictator from neighboring Austria.  Others were forced to seek refuge in Germany and survive in any way possible.  But still there were other Jews who found help among non-Jewish Germans and were able to hide themselves right in Berlin, under the eyes and ears of the N.S.D.A.P.

This is the story of seven men and women who found refuge and protection in Berlin during the war and how they lived to tell their tales.  They’re now deceased, but before their deaths, Barbara Lovenheim conducted interviews with them, allowing them to recount their incredible stories of fear, survival and eventual happiness  after moving on with life and building lives outside of Germany.   Their stories truly exemplify what it means to hide in plain sight. Through each of them, we are able to see the resiliency of the human spirit and are reminded that even in the worst of times, there will always be those of us who refuse to give in to evil and truly understand what humanism really means.

As we are introduced to the characters, the Nazis begin to step up the effort to remove all Jews from the Fatherland.  Reaching out to friends and acquaintances, the men and women in this book, Erich Arndt, Ruth Arndt, Charlotte Lewinsky, Ellen Lewinsky and Bruno Gumpel, manage to survive the Final Solution through determination, luck and in some cases, superb methods of deception. Faced with starvation, sickness and in most cases, desperation, their will to survive is inspiring and heartbreaking.  But as we make our way through the book, we see trust is also a large factor and underscores every move that each of them make to stay alive.  Enemies appear with smiles and looks are sometimes very deceiving.  And what we learn painfully in the book is that in some cases, not even fellow Jews could be completely trusted making each word spoken and each offer accepted, a matter of life and death.

Their stories are the main objective of the book, but a sub-story also exist in the form of the many non-Jewish Germans who risked their lives and well-being to save their Jewish friends and others threatened with death at a concentration camp.   Oskar Schindler’s story is well-known and he was immortalized by Liam Neeson in the classic ‘Schindler’s List’.  But throughout the war and even in Berlin as we see here, many ordinary German citizens took great strides to protect Jews from extermination at the hands of the Gestapo.  And following the war, the formerly persecuted Jews made it clear to Allied forces that their saviors were to be protected and left alone.  Others we know turned a blind eye to the crimes of the Third Reich and some even turned in Jews to the authorities.  But the efforts of the upstanding citizens serves as an example of the good that humans can do even in the face of overwhelming death, destruction and despair.

There are many stories about the Holocaust from writers such as the late Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel and Rena Kornreich Gelissen.  The stories of these seven survivors stands among the greats as a historical record of a horrific time in world history.  And although more than 70 years have passed since the Allied victory over the Axis powers, the horror and pain of the survivors of the Final Solution stay fresh in our minds as a reminder of why it’s important to never forget our history.

ISBN-13: 9781504039987

World War II

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On June 4, 1942, Reinhard Heydrich died from injuries he sustained several days earlier in an assassination attempt carried out by Czech exiles trained by the British Operations Executive.  He is only thirty-eight years of age.  The former SS-Gruppenführer left behind a widow and four young children. His death sends shock waves through the Nazi regime and causes Hitler to erupt in a monumental rage.  Shortly thereafter, the small village of Lidice is seized by the Germany army and razed to the ground as retribution of Heydrich’s murder.  And as Hitler proclaimed, it was erased from the earth permanently.  Lidice is mentioned in documentaries and books about the Third Reich and serves as an example of the unrestrained barbarity used by the regime to crush any opposition to the expansion of German rule.  In death, Heydrich is turned into a martyr and is held in high regard as the poster boy for the Reich’s belief in racial superiority. Several years would pass before the Third Reich collapsed and Germany was forced to surrender to the Allied forces. The loss of the war and the exposure of the criminality of the leaders of the Reich, cast devastating blows to the supremacists rhetoric employed by the fanatical Hitler and his subordinates.  Heydrich had remained a martyr in the eyes of many Germans throughout the war but the reality is that his story is much darker and far more sinister than meets the eyes.

Robert Gerwath has composed this outstanding biography of the officer Hitler called the man with the iron heart.  Following the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, the Reich began to annex smaller neighboring countries typically by coercion but in some cases, through armed invasion. In the process, military commanders were appointed as as rulers in the newly acquired territory.  Heydrich, whose final post was as the Acting Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, served as the agent of death and is said to have been even more ruthless than his mentor, the infamous SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler.  He ruled with an iron fist and set an unwavering goal to expand Germany domination across Europe beginning with Czechoslovakia which he intended to make completely Judenrein (Jew free). His vindictiveness and insatiable thirst for blood lead propelled his ascension to the top of the Reich and earned him a position as an architect of the dreaded Final Solution.

I forewarn the readers that his story is not pleasant at times and there are many disturbing aspects of his life which are shown in the book.  The horrors of the Holocaust and the extreme ideology embraced by Heydrich are just one example of the campaign of death the Nazis unleashed across Europe.  But for those who are able to tolerate the facts as they are revealed, you will find that the book is a great examination of his life and career. He died several years before the war’s end and was not able to join his co-conspirators in the defendant’s section. Had he survived the war, I believe he would have been led to the gallows like other high-ranking officials.   More than 70 years have now passed since the world’s deadliest conflict raged but we can still look back at those who played critical roles in its development and execution.  And as we look back, we have stories such as this that show us what evil truly looks like.

ISBN-10: 0300187726
ISBN-13: 978-0300187724

Biographies