Military historian William Leckie has written a fine history of the black soldiers who served in the Army after the Civil. Dubbed buffalo soldiers byMilitary historian William Leckie has written a fine history of the black soldiers who served in the Army after the Civil. Dubbed buffalo soldiers by the Indians they fought, these tough, brave men served with distinction and honor in horrible conditions: drought, heat, cold, poor supplies, shoddy horses, and often lack of support from the Army command in Washington. And yet, by the early 1890s, their desertion rate was the lowest in the Army.
Many blacks - 180,000 - served in the Civil War on the Union side. After the war, Congress created six new regiments of black troops - four infantry and two cavalry. The cavalry regiments became the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry. Congress required that all offices were white - not so much out of racism, but because there weren't enough qualified blacks (that would quickly change, of course). And each regiment got its own chaplain, which taught the men reading, writing, and arithmetic, in addition to ministering to their spiritual needs.
On General Grant's recommendation, Generals Benjamin Grierson and Edward Hatch were appointed to lead the Tenth and Ninth Cavalries, respectively. By Leckie's account, both were honest, decent men who treated their black troops well and respected their fighting ability. The white officers they appointed were much the same.
The difficulties the black regiments faced came mainly from Washington. Grierson and Hatch had to fight, scratch, and claw for decent supplies and horses. The Ninth and Tenth often received the worst horses and leftover, substandard foodstuffs. They also faced opposition and outright hostility from white base commanders, who resented serving with black troops.
But despite the obstacles, and to their credit, the men's morale remained high, and their contribution was essential for making the American frontier safe for settlement. They fought against Comanches, Kiowas, Apaches, and other hostile tribes in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. They also confronted Mexican bandits and white horse thieves.
As fighters, there were probably no superior cavalry forces in the army. These guys were tough, often marching hundreds and thousands of miles with little food and water, fighting Indians along the way. But they did their duty and did it well. Of course, there was the occasional troublemaker, and military discipline took care of them.
Leckie has written a fine book, giving these soldiers their long overdue credit....more
That's the best way I know to describe it. Bowden pulls no punches, shows no qualms, and spares the reader nothing. All the gThis is one intense book.
That's the best way I know to describe it. Bowden pulls no punches, shows no qualms, and spares the reader nothing. All the gory, gritty, messy details of war are right here, in one book. It reads like a novel, like a Tom Clancy novel, in fact, but it's all true.
Bowden relates the battle that took place in Mogadishu, Somalia's capital city, between one hundred or so American Army Rangers and Delta Force soldiers, and thousands of enraged Somalis (or Sammies or Skinnies as our soldiers called them). The mission was simple: Secure the target building, arrest some of the Somali warlord Mohammed Aidid's top men, then ride out in a convoy of trucks and Humvees. The Delta operatives would enter and secure the building, then detain the suspects, while the Rangers secured the four corners on the target building's block, holding off any Somalis who tried to intervene. It was only supposed to take an hour or so, and the soldiers did not bring water or night vision goggles.
They had performed six previous missions in the city, and all had gone off as planned, no problems, no casualties. The Sammies they encountered showed little spirit for a fight, spraying a few harmless rounds and then retreating. There was no reason to believe this mission would be any different.
The Black Hawk helicopters flew into place, and the Rangers and Delta operators rappelled down to position. The Deltas immediately entered the building and secured it without a problem.
Outside was different. The four separate teams, or Chalks, faced unusually heavy fire from the Sammies. Out in the open with little cover, the Rangers started taking casualties, and some realized that this was very, very different from past missions.
The armed convoy of nine Humvees and three trucks left the base shortly after the Black Hawks. After taking a wrong turn, and heavy fire, they arrived at the target building and loaded up the prisoners. Three vehicles picked up a seriously wounded Ranger and left to rush back to base. The remaining vehicles came under a blizzard of bullets.
Then the Sammies shot down a Black Hawk, and that's when the mission went sour.
Several Rangers and Delta operators were chosen to get to the crash site on foot and rescue the crew and secure the site. The remaining soldiers hopped in the vehicles to head back to base.
Events spiraled out of control. The soldiers had a very difficult time getting to the crash site, because of blistering fire from enraged Somalis. The three vehicles carrying the wounded Ranger lost a man getting back to the base, and the main convoy also suffered casualties before returning. Then another Black Hawk was shot down. A second convoy was sent to the first crash site but never made it. Another convoy never made it to the second crash site. Mike Durant, a pilot on the second chopper, was taken captive.
The soldiers sent to the first crash site finally made it, but couldn't escape. They ended up spending the night, scattered about in buildings, before being rescued by a massive convoy of American and Malaysian troops. Durant was released nearly two weeks later.
So what went wrong? Whose fault was it? General Garrison, the commander on the scene? Defense Secretary Les Aspin, who resigned two months later? President Clinton?
Bowden assigns no blame, but does present a comprehensive and evenhanded account of the blame game that took place afterward....more
If you haven’t seen an issue of Arizona Highways, you’re really missing something. It’s the premier magazine in the state, produced by the Arizona DepIf you haven’t seen an issue of Arizona Highways, you’re really missing something. It’s the premier magazine in the state, produced by the Arizona Department of Transportation. Yes, a government agency. It’s amazing that a state bureaucracy can produce such a fine magazine, but it’s the truth. If you don’t live here, and you want to see, experience and read about Arizona (which I highly recommend), subscribe. You won’t be disappointed.
Anyway, Arizona Highways also publishes books, mainly travel guides and some historical topics, including Arizona Ghost Towns and Mining Camps . Philip Varney relates the history behind famous ghost towns like Jerome and Tombstone, which are very much alive, and not-so-famous ghost towns like Ruby, Swansea and Oatman. He also offers contemporary information – existing buildings, directions to and from, etc. – for those who wish to explore these wonderful places. The best feature of the book: The photos, both of what the town looks like now, barren and crumbling, and how it appeared in its heyday, vibrant, active, and crowded.
It’s long been one of my goals in life to spend the night in a ghost town. It would be great fun, I think, but my wife doesn’t agree, so I don’t know if it will ever happen. I could go by myself, but that may be a mite too spooky, even for me. Besides, camping by yourself isn’t safe. Right?...more
The first part is the best. It begins with the actual attack told from several different points of view - passengers and crew on the doomed planes, aiThe first part is the best. It begins with the actual attack told from several different points of view - passengers and crew on the doomed planes, air traffic controllers, FAA officials, and NORAD and military personnel. It also describes how the President and other government officials were informed and how they responded. For example, Bush knew before he entered the school that a commercial airliner had crashed into one of the Twin Towers, but that's all the information he had. Like myself and many others who first heard the news, he assumed it was an accident.
After that first chapter, the report presents an exhaustive history of al Qaeda, its attacks on U.S. interests throughout the world before 9/11, and how the federal government has dealt with it. Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were considered threats by both the Clinton and Bush Administrations, but neither could find effective solutions to take them out. Clinton and his administration did make attempts, but never a serious and whole-hearted one.
The truth is, terrorism was not a high priority for either administration before 9/11, for two reasons: The U.S. homeland had not been attacked (the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was considered done because its main perpetrators had been convicted) and the American people didn't consider it a priority. Good or bad, politicians rarely lead or shape public opinion. Instead, they follow it, and they never got any serious pressure from the electorate to deal with terrorism. September 11 changed all that.
So I don't fault Clinton or Bush for the attacks or for not preventing them. The fault lies with bin Laden and all terrorist SOBs who think it's acceptable to murder innocents, and in the recent Russian case, schoolchildren.
The report also includes what the commission thinks should be done in the future, and not surprisingly for a bunch of former politicians and bureaucrats, they want yet another layer of government bureaucracy, headed by yet another bureaucrat, to coordinate and oversee anti-terrorism activities. Before 9/11, several government agencies did not communicate important information that may have uncovered some of the plot. Sometimes information was communicated but it was not complete or accurate. So this new government agency will make sure everyone gets the same information.
That's nice. But I would take a different approach. I would shrink government and reduce its activities so it can concentrate on the important stuff, like killing terrorists. Get the feds out of the retirement and care medical industries. Don't screw around with local education. Don't waste time on pork projects and spending programs. Get back to what you're supposed to - protect the country. Maybe you'll start doing a better job of it.
There is a lot more that the Commission recommends, but I'm not going to cover everything. Read it yourself and make up your own mind. For me, the most valuable part of this report was the blow-by-blow account of what happened that day. ...more
Paul Johnson is a great writer and incisive historian. He doesn't merely tell you what happened. He analyzes events, explains why they occurred, and ePaul Johnson is a great writer and incisive historian. He doesn't merely tell you what happened. He analyzes events, explains why they occurred, and even, at times, what may have happened otherwise.
His books do take some effort to get through. Long sentences, long paragraphs, long chapters - all with no breaks. Most books now are divided into two to three page segments, for easier and quicker reading, but this book defied that trend. But the reward is worth the struggle. Believe me, if you want to learn about most of the 20th century, this is your book.
Johnson begins this weighty tome just after World War I. He discusses the perilous political situations in Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia, all of which led to various forms of murderous, totalitarian governments, which in turn destabilized the world. He covers Hitler and Mussolini's rise to power, and goes in depth with Lenin and the bloodthirsty Bolsheviks, later called Communists.
Vladimir Lenin was a hateful, violent, evil man. He holds the dubious distinction of introducing the concept of genocide to the 20th century. Soon after he seized power, he ordered all sorts of classes of people murdered, simply because of the place they held in society. And they weren't all wealthy landowners, but peasants and workers, as well. Hitler looked to Lenin as a political model on how to wield power and demand obedience. It's a disgrace that the Russians, to this day, display Lenin's mummified corpse in public as if he were some kind of hero.
Joseph Stalin, Lenin's successor, was even worse. A paranoid monster of a man, he ordered the deaths of millions of Russians, peasants and comrades alike, to further the communist dream. He hated Jews as much as Hitler did. He betrayed friends and foes alike. A raging imperialist, he held several nations captive behind his Iron Curtain.
Unfortunately, murderous tyrants claiming power was the overall theme of the 20th century. Dictators appeared all over Asia and Africa after World War II. The trend did reverse itself a bit in the 80s and finally the 90s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but big government is still with us today.
Johnson discusses much more than this, of course, but it is far beyond the scope of this humble review. If you like to read, if you love history, you must read this. At the very least, it will help you understand the world a bit better....more
British historian Paul Johnson makes clear in the preface to A History of the American People his motivation for writing this book: “This work is a laBritish historian Paul Johnson makes clear in the preface to A History of the American People his motivation for writing this book: “This work is a labor of love.” Indeed, this love for America shines through the massive tome, and ought to put native-born Americans to shame.
Johnson presents a well-organized overview of American history, from 1580 to 1997. He covers most of the major events, although in such an undertaking some are bound to get overlooked (the most notable being the Japanese internment during World War 2). He delves into some detail, as well, providing rich and colorful anecdotes.
Take, for example, Patrick Henry, of “Give me liberty or give me death” fame. Henry, a “born ham actor” has Proposed to the burgesses that Virginia should raise a militia and be ready to do battle. What was Virginia waiting for? Massachusetts was fighting.
'Our brethren are already in the field. Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have?' Then Henry got to his knees, in the posture of a manacled slave, intoning in a low but rising voice: ‘Is life so dear, our peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God!’ He then bent to the earth with his hands still crossed, for a few seconds, and suddenly sprang to his feet, shouting, ‘Give me liberty!’ and flung wide his arms, paused, lowered his arms, clenched his right hand as if holding a dagger at his breast, and said in sepulchral tones: ‘Or give me death.’ He then beat his breast, with his hand holding the imaginary dagger.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember learning it that way in school.
Another refreshing aspect of the book was the lack of deference given to normally worshiped figures, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt ("FDR’s lies are innumerable and some of those on the record are important.") and John F. Kennedy (Kennedy biographer: "No national figure has ever so consistently and unashamedly used others to manufacture a personal reputation as a great thinker and scholar" and this gem: "the one respect in which Jack carried on his father’s traditions not merely dutifully but with genuine enthusiasm was in his pursuit, seduction and exploitation of women.").
Although Johnson covers the political history quite well, he does not neglect, as most general histories do, the cultural aspects of American history. We learn, for example, that Hollywood was a "stuck-up religious place, founded in 1887 by two Methodists, Horace and Daeida Wilcox, who hoped to turn it into a Bible-thumping district." The town actually banned liquor and movie houses when it incorporated in 1903. Hollywood ran out of water, though, and in 1910 incorporated into Los Angeles, and in 1913 the first movie, The Squaw Man, was filmed there. That same year, a group called Conscientious Citizens gathered 10,000 signature to ban movie-making in Los Angeles, claiming that the movies would bring immorality. "Were they so far wrong?" Johnson asks.
Johnson also gives religion its proper due in the country’s history, calling the Great Awakening "the proto-revolutionary event, the formative moment in American history, preceding the political drive for independence and making it possible." Fittingly, he closes the book lamenting that religion, through the banning of prayer in schools and displaying Christmas symbols in public places, is being driven from the public square. He is one of the few modern historians to recognize the salient role religion, specifically Christianity, played in the founding and development of America.
Johnson’s admiration for the American people makes this more than a dry history – it is a compelling and enjoyable narrative of, as he puts it, "the greatest of all human adventures." It is well worth the time and effort required to slog through it....more
This is an excellent book about all facets of death in the American Civil War. How the soldiers died, how the bodies were buried, recorded, and counteThis is an excellent book about all facets of death in the American Civil War. How the soldiers died, how the bodies were buried, recorded, and counted, and how those deaths affected the survivors and the dead's families.
It's well-written and engaging, even horrifying at times. Lots of fodder for fiction writers. I checked this out of the library, but will probably buy it for reference.
Also, I didn't know just how involved Walt Whitman was in the war. He wrote letters to families of dying soldiers, and then traveled thousands of miles after the war tracking down grave sites and arranging for reinternment. ...more
The first book I ever read about the Soviet gulag system. It's a great introduction to the subject, since it's well-written, informative, and not tooThe first book I ever read about the Soviet gulag system. It's a great introduction to the subject, since it's well-written, informative, and not too long. ...more
As the title makes clear, the author examines 19th-century Russia, told from the Tsar's point of view. The book begins with the tragic and comical uprAs the title makes clear, the author examines 19th-century Russia, told from the Tsar's point of view. The book begins with the tragic and comical uprising in December 1825 against Tsar Nicholas I, an ill-led and small revolt that ended with the deaths of many conspirators. A small cabal in and out of government had convinced just enough illiterate Russians that Nicholas was an illegitimate Tsar. The true Tsar was Nicholas' older brother, Constantine, who was living in Warsaw.
Like all other 19th-century revolutions, this one failed, luckily without the deaths of too many innocents. But it was an ominous portent for the Russian autocracy, which was personified in the person of the Russian Emperor, or Tsar, made up of the descendants of the Romanov family, originally from Germany.
The Russians had much to be unhappy about. The peasants, who made up most of the country, toiled under the obsolete serf system, in which they worked on land owned by wealthy landowners who virtually owned them and their work. These landowners, in turn, were shut out of any role in government because they were landowners. The Tsar was the absolute ruler, along with his stable of myrmidons and advisers.
The subsequent Tsars - Nicholas I, II, and III, and Alexander II - all varied in ability and talent, but they all believed in autocracy, which meant no constitution, no labor unions, no elected assembly, no independent judiciary, no free market system. In other words, nothing that comprises the building blocks of a free and prosperous society. What reforms were enacted during this time were usually forced on unwilling Tsars by advisers or outside pressure from terrorist groups and other revolutionaries.
The true tragedy is that once a revolutions finally succeeded, it was at the hands of Lenin and his bloodthirsty Bolsheviks - the Russians had removed one despotic regime only to replace it with an even more despotic regime. Bad as the Tsars were, Russian life slowly had been improving. The feudal system was finally abolished in 1861. A modern railroad system was under construction, which supported the burgeoning industrialization, which hit its stride in the 1890s. A small but growing entrepreneurial class began to make its presence felt. Arts and sciences flourished to some degree, when its practitioners weren't censored or exiled or thrown into jail. An elected assembly, the Duma, was finally permitted by Nicholas III in 1905, though the Tsar dissolved it at his whim and ignored it at will.
But the first fledgling steps toward a functioning democracy were occurring. The Bolsheviks reversed all that and plunged Russians back into servitude and slavery.
Crankshaw covers all this and Russian foreign affairs in great detail, including fascinating portraits of influential government officials. Like all good historians, he explains why something happened, details the ramifications, and makes a judgment. Though slow reading, it's an enjoyable book, and helps explain why the Tsars were so unpopular, and how the atmosphere was ripe for a new leadership that promised freedom but instead delivered more tyranny....more
Everyone has heard about the Alamo. Everyone has heard about David Crockett and Jim Bowie, and perhaps William Travis. These men are forever enshrinedEveryone has heard about the Alamo. Everyone has heard about David Crockett and Jim Bowie, and perhaps William Travis. These men are forever enshrined in glory and legend, thanks to the tragic event of March 6, 1836, the day the Alamo fell to Santa Anna’s army.
While Crockett was a legend, or at least a celebrity (perhaps the first true American celebrity) before the Alamo, Bowie and Travis were not well-known. Their lives were a rough mix of fact, exaggerations, and legend. William C. Davis fixes that.
In this well-written historical narrative, Davis traces the lives of each man, from birth to the Alamo. It’s a fascinating tale.
Of the three, Crockett is by far the most likeable. Always poor, he used his extraordinary wit and good humor to win three terms in the House of Representatives. As good as he was on the stump, though, he was a lousy politician. His major goal, a land bill making it easier for poor farmers to buy land, failed, due to his incompetent management of it. He was naïve about the political situation of his times. For example, he backed Andrew Jackson, yet feuded with the Democratic members of his own Tennessee delegation.
Despite his failures in Congress, he grew very popular all over the country. Several books and plays were made with his character as the model. The Whigs even thought about running him for president against Martin Van Buren.
But Crockett’s early support of Jackson turned to opposition. He became obsessed with Jackson, railing and ranting against him from the House floor, while producing no legislation for his district. In the end, it cost him a fourth term and his chance at the Presidency.
However clumsy his political efforts, he stayed true to his convictions. Although he played up his backwoodsman image, he strived to be a gentleman, and largely succeeded.
After losing his final run for Congress, he went to Texas, mostly on a whim, to hunt for game and land. He toured several cities before ending up in San Antonio and the Alamo, at the worst possible time.
James Bowie is a fascinating figure. Brave, loyal to his friends, and a natural leader, he was a dishonest land speculator in Louisiana. He forged several Spanish land grants that showed him as the owner of several thousand acres of prime land. He hoped to then sell “his” property for huge profits, but it never worked. The government slowly got wise to his scheme, so he went to Texas to search for more land.
Travis fled to Texas to escape crushing debt. He also abandoned a failed law practice, newspaper, wife and two young children. Young, hot-blooded and impetuous, Travis tried again at practicing law and succeeded.
Of the three, Bowie was the first at the Alamo in late January 1836, sent to relieve and reinforce the garrison already there. It was a shambles, poorly equipped with little money. A survivor of some prominent battles, in which he was outnumbered, he was already a hero to Texans, and his arrival boosted morale.
Travis showed up with a small contingent of cavalry just a few days later, and Crockett shortly after that.
Shortly after Santa Anna’s two to three thousand soldiers arrived, Travis sent several urgent requests for aid. Sam Houston, who led all armed forces in Texas, thought that Travis was making everything up and trying to co-opt his command. So he did nothing.
The provisional government published Travis’ letters to attract recruits, but few volunteered. In essence, Texas abandoned the Alamo.
When the battle finally occurred, Travis died right away, defending the north wall, with a bullet in the forehead. Bowie, weak and delirious with typhoid, was bayoneted while lying on a cot. To make sure, the soldiers shot him in the head, splattering his brains against the wall (the stain would be visible for over a year). All the bodies were burned, and the ashes and bone lay scattered on the ground for another year, until finally they were gathered into a coffin and buried. However, no one marked the burial spot, and it has now been lost.
So no one knows where the heroes of the Alamo lie. ...more
If you're like me, you don't know much about the Shroud of Turin. You've probably heard of it, know it's some kind of ancient relic that supposedly beIf you're like me, you don't know much about the Shroud of Turin. You've probably heard of it, know it's some kind of ancient relic that supposedly bears the image of Christ. Perhaps you're even aware that radiocarbon dating pegged its origins in the 13th or 14th centuries, meaning that it's a fake.
No matter what your position on the Shroud (real, fake, or don't care), you'll enjoy reading about it. Wilson is a fine writer, careful and thorough. He wrote a book about the Shroud in 1978, in which he declared the cloth to be real, and the radiocarbon dating in 1988 threw him for a loop. So he started his investigation anew, and the result is this book.
Though a believer in the Shroud's legitimacy, Wilson does not proselytize. He painstakingly examines all the arguments, for and against, and offers an honest explanation. He does not call names or cast aspersions on his opponents. He is candid when the evidence is lacking. In other words, this is no heavy-handed attempt to convince readers of his viewpoint. Instead, it's a serious work of scholarship.
I don't want to give too much away about the actual arguments, but let's just say there is a lot of evidence that the Shroud is real. For example, the blood patterns on the cloth are remarkably consistent with how they should appear, adhering to the laws of gravity and medicine. A forger in the 1200s or 1300s would have lacked that same precise knowledge and yet somehow accurately reflected it.
Although the Shroud as we know it today doesn't appear in the historical record until the 1350s, there is evidence that something remarkably like it appeared much farther back in history. French crusader Robert de Clari wrote this about his sightseeing trip in Constantinople in 1203: "There was another church which was called My Lady St Mary at Blachernae, where there was the shroud in which Our Lord had been wrapped, which every Friday raised itself upright, so that one could see the figure of Our Lord on it."
But what about the radiocarbon dating? For many people, that decided the issue, although there are several outstanding questions that must be answered for that to be true. The forger lacking knowledge of gravity is just one of them. Wilson presents many more and offers good reasons why the radiocarbon test could have been wrong.
The whole issue demands more inspection, but the Vatican, who now owns the Shroud, has declared it off-limits. That's a shame. Its secrets should be revealed. ...more
This is a very serious book. It's packed with detail and analysis from previously unrevealed sources and first-hand interviews. That's both a good andThis is a very serious book. It's packed with detail and analysis from previously unrevealed sources and first-hand interviews. That's both a good and bad thing. Good because Sorley makes his case very well, bad because sometimes the detail gets a bit monotonous and tedious. But, overall, this is a fine book that is sure to challenge some commonly held beliefs about the Vietnam War.
As the subtitle makes clear, Sorley deals exclusively with the latter half of the war, namely from General Creighton Abrams' promotion to commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam in 1968 to the final U.S. pullout in 1975. Sorley concludes that this period of the war was vastly different from the first half - different tactics, different strategy, different and better results. It was, in essence, a better war.
Abrams' successor was General Westmoreland, and he preferred large divisions that searched for the enemy in the jungles. This caused high casualties, confusion among the ranks, logistical difficulties, and lowered morale, especially among the enlisted men.
Abrams arrived with a different strategy. Rather than search-and-destroy with large divisions, he preferred secure-and-hold with smaller units. He believed that the war would be won at the village level. The villages must remain safe from North Vietnam Army (NVA) attacks and Viet Cong infiltrations. Once that happened, the larger cities like Saigon could go on the offensive and secure themselves from enemy shelling. With the cities and villages secure, the South Vietnamese could organize their own forces, units that included village, city, and regional troops. Once that was done, the U.S. Army could slowly leave the ground fighting to the South Vietnamese while supplying air cover, supplies, and advice.
According to Sorley, by 1972 this strategy had succeeded, so well that the war could have been considered won. The villages were safe and secure, the VC was no longer a factor, and the NVA was nowhere in South Vietnam. Massive U.S. air strikes had slowed the flow of NVA troops and war equipment to the South along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
So if all this is true, then what happened? Why did the communists win the war? Several reasons, according to Sorley:
Lack of support from the politicians at home. Congress and the Nixon Administration were more concerned with pulling out and less concerned with victory. By 1972, Abrams had fewer than 50,000 troops at his disposal, which makes his achievements even more impressive. Unflagging support for the North from China and the Soviet Union. When the Paris agreement was ratified, and the North immediately violated it by flooding the South with troops and tanks, the U.S. failed in its promise to punish the North with air support. The Communists proved better allies than the U.S., because they kept the North well-stocked, while the South steadily ran out of supplies. North Vietnamese officials kept in constant contact with the anti-war movement in America, using it to spread communist propaganda and lies. This undermined public support for the war, which at one time was high. This is the essence of Sorley's book. It's a powerful case. What I found sad was America's total abandonment of South Vietnam. We had fought for years to keep the country from communist domination and then threw it all away when victory was so close.
This entertaining and well-written book makes an interesting claim: it made sense for folks to believe in haunted apples and flying witches and deviliThis entertaining and well-written book makes an interesting claim: it made sense for folks to believe in haunted apples and flying witches and devilish sabbats. After all, that's what their political officials and religous officials told them. There was even documented evidence.
In fact, if we sophisticated, modern, and technologically savvy folks happened to live in that time, we'd probably believe all that too.
The author makes a good case for his thesis, but for me, the strength of the book is the detailed legends and myths he describes. It makes for fascinating reading, and is a treasure trove of story ideas. A fun, informative, and educational book. Hard to beat that!...more
An informative and engaging look at the Continental Army's time in Valley Forge. It also devotes some attention on the political situation at the timeAn informative and engaging look at the Continental Army's time in Valley Forge. It also devotes some attention on the political situation at the time, which mainly consisted of Washington fending off threats to his authority and command from various politicians and other generals. That's the main focus of the book, but not the most interesting. The author also explodes some myths about Valley Forge (cold wasn't the main problem, it was lack of food, and only in the first couple months). Fleming also describes the British occupation of Philadelphia, which included a prison for rebel POW's who were essentially left to freeze and starve to death.
Fleming paces the book well and details the characters just enough to get to know them, but not so much that is bogs down the narrative. Some of his conclusions may be controversial (he thinks Washington may have indeed prayed while at Valley Forge, in a similar pose as shown in the famous portrait that many think is fictional), but that's part of the fun....more
Wednesday, March 5, 2003 was the fiftieth anniversary of Joseph Stalin's death. As historian and poet Robert Conquest makes clear in this epic book, oWednesday, March 5, 2003 was the fiftieth anniversary of Joseph Stalin's death. As historian and poet Robert Conquest makes clear in this epic book, old Uncle Joe couldn't have died soon enough. The man was an unspeakable monster.
I don't say this casually. But there's no other way to put it and remain honest. He wasn't merely a bad man, or mistaken, or misguided. He was pure evil, and, fittingly enough, the perfect ruler to reign over the other evil that was communism. Communism and Stalin deserved each other - without the other, neither could reach its full potential for plunging its citizenry into squalor and despair.
Not much is known about Stalin's character or personal beliefs or even political philosophies. Smart enough but no intellectual, politically cunning and manipulative, extremely paranoid to the point of delusion, his sole overriding purpose in life seems to be power. He had to succeed in whatever it was he was doing, and it didn't matter who he had to kill, torture, or maim to accomplish his goals.
Joseph Stalin took over the Communist Party and Politburo, and hence the Soviet Union, after Lenin's also long-overdue death. Stalin immediately moved to consolidate his power by cynically switching allegiances and taking competition from both the left and right. He gathered henchmen like Molotov who were just as cruel and ruthless - these men unquestionably carried out Stalin's orders. He also launched a government-orchestrated famine in the Ukraine, killing millions of peasants, to subject the labor movement to the Party and himself (this is covered in Conquest's The Harvest of Sorrow).
Other Party members moved against him but he held them all off and then urged their execution for their "treason" against the Soviet Union. Many Central Committee members, while they had no problem going along with state-sponsored famines and suppression, opposed capital punishment for the ambitious comrades. This put them on Stalin's hit list.
But before he could begin his purges, he had to further solidify his position. He hired stooges in the NKVD to arrest and harass Party members and their families. He used the NKVD to murder a prominent oppositionist, Kirov, framed innocent men, and killed lower level allies who had been involved in his plot. He then staged a mock trial for the wrongly accused and had them convicted (there was no independent judiciary in the Soviet Union - the judges who tried these innocent men were Stalin lackeys). This was the first great trial of the purges, and though he promised to spare the innocent men's lives if they pleaded guilty, he had them shot anyway.
Stalin and his henchmen were the original McCarthyites. Anyone with any real or imagined connection to Trotsky, his associates, his beliefs, his writings, anything, was imprisoned and put to death. The question "Are you now, or have you ever been, a Trotskyite?" was a serious question in Stalin's Soviet Union and one of the bases of the purges.
In April 1935, the Soviet Union decreed that all legal penalties, including death, applied to children as young as twelve. This allowed Stalin to threaten the families of prisoners, which he often did. Many wives and kids were tortured and put to death for the imaginary crimes of husbands and fathers. Additionally, the Soviets reduced the population of homeless and parentless children - orphans - by indiscriminately shooting them.
Some claimed that the purges and terror affected only Party officials, and not the population at large. That's not true. Anyone was a potential victim. Millions were jailed and sent to labor camps - artists, musicians, actors, peasants, laborers. No one was immune. Jails were packed, with often dozens and hundreds jammed into cells meant to hold far fewer people. Some cells were so packed that the prisoners could not lie or sit down. The labor camps were really death camps, where prisoners were forced to work on tiny rations until they died.
Stalin did his best to ruin the Soviet Army by purging virtually all of its experienced, successful, and high-ranking officers. He even collaborated with Hitler to frame a decorated Soviet general, while at the same time he was trying Party officials for collaborating with Hitler! The defendants were innocent, of course. This stupid action made it much easier for the Germans to invade Russia in World War II, despite the huge advantage the Red Army had over the Germans in men and materiel.
The fact is that Stalin ground his country's people and morale under his boot. I've just scratched the surface of his depravity. I haven't mentioned the torture sessions, the starvation camps, the informants, the betrayals. On and on it goes. ...more
I picked up this little gem at a used book sale a couple years ago. It cost two bucks. I love used books!
Published in 1950, this 248-page volume is joI picked up this little gem at a used book sale a couple years ago. It cost two bucks. I love used books!
Published in 1950, this 248-page volume is journalist Craig Thompson's description of life in Soviet Russia. Thompson spent two years there as a bureau chief in Moscow. He had to smuggle his notes out of the country, lest the censor find and confiscate them. Those notes turned into this book.
Thompson covers the history of the Bolshevik revolution, then begins his essays on Stalin's Russia. He describes the makeup of the Communist Party, the fraud that was "democracy" as practiced by the Communists, the inefficiencies and injustices of the Soviet economy (the standard of living was just woeful), the status of women, particularly in the workforce, and the goal and practice of Soviet education.
As with most Soviet-related topics, it makes for grim but fascinating reading. This is the first contemporary account of Soviet Russia I’ve read, and hope I can find more that are either still in print or waiting discovery at a used book sale. This work is long out of print. It wasn’t even in the Goodreads database!...more