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Meredith Hindley’s “Destination Casablanca” succeeds on so many levels that I had trouble deciding to where to begin this review. With so much attentiMeredith Hindley’s “Destination Casablanca” succeeds on so many levels that I had trouble deciding to where to begin this review. With so much attention having been paid in recent years to WW II action in mainland Europe and the Pacific, especially through feature films and TV mini-series that reach huge audiences (Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, Dunkirk, Pearl Harbor, The Pacific) it’s gratifying to see the spotlight turned on a lesser-known theater of operations.
Casablanca, a port city on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, in the northwest corner of Africa, became an important place in the world in the aftermath of the fall of France, when the French military and government capitulated to Nazi Germany, compromising with their conquerors by establishing a collaborationist Fascist government in the south of France in exchange for giving up Paris and the north. Refugees from France, and indeed all parts of Europe that had fallen under the Nazi jackboot, gravitated to Casablanca as a waypoint on the road, hopefully, to better situations, only to find themselves subject to a mini-version of Nazi Germany under the Fascist Vichy government. One of my favorite things about reading this book was learning more about the dynamics of the internal political struggle between Vichy and the Free French. The extent to which Vichy France, and Vichy-controlled French North Africa, emulated the fascist Nazi regime which conquered France in a matter of weeks in the summer of 1940 was eye-opening, as was learning about the plight of the refugees who just wanted to get out of Casablanca, only to find themselves interned – along with Moroccan residents who were deemed undesirable by the Vichy government – and often forced into labor camps. The complexities of the political situation with regard to the opposing forces with the French government and military form a fascinating part of the narrative, and one which Ms Hindley does a very thorough job of laying out. Questions of left-wing and right-wing politics, not to mention national honor (often thrown up as a mask to hide personal ambition) complicated the situation. The French wanted to retain their North African colonies, and the local Fascists saw emulation of their Nazi conquerors as a path to appease Germany and forestall any question of an Axis invasion. The British, and especially Churchill, were sympathetic to France’s wish to retain their empire holdings, but impatient with their appeasement of and capitulation to, the Nazi regime, which was seen as cowardice. The French, especially the Vichy government, seemed to regard the British as more of an enemy than the Germans, an attitude with deep roots in the two countries’ shared history, exacerbated by the unfortunate attacks by the Royal Navy on French Navy vessels in Mediterranean ports when the French dithered and delayed over he question of moving the vessels to safe ports that were out of reach of the German Kriegsmarine. The espionage (and sabotage) exploits of Allied sympathizers and the (mostly) American diplomats/spies who worked to undermine the fascist regime and prepare to support the role North Africa would play in the Allied pursuit of the war effort against the Nazis is another fascinating area that is explored in “Destination Casablanca”. Once the decision is made to open a second front against the Nazis in North Africa, Casablanca is cast in the role of a key port and supply depot for the Mediterranean Theater, and the short but hard-fought battles that result in the region’s takeover by Allied forces is well documented in the book’s latter chapters. Some reviewers I have read found this book to be too long, noting that Ms Hindley could have pulled back to a broader view, with less detail, and still told the story adequately. I, on the other hand, finished the book wanting more – or at least prepared to read more. The smaller details and personal stories of the personalities, some major players, others minor participants who are caught up in the sweep of larger events, are important contributors to painting a complete picture of the complex narrative that makes up the story of Casablanca’s role in world events at the time. Of course, no account of the historical events centered on Casablanca would be complete without mention of the classic Bogart-Bergman film, and the author includes an entertaining and informative chapter that compares truth to fiction which I found to be a welcome addition. The subtitle of “Destination Casablanca” – “Exile, Espionage, and the Battle for North Africa in World War II” – wraps it up nicely, and the book covers those bases quite thoroughly. This book is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the Second World War; for without a thorough knowledge of Casablanca and its role in the political landscape of the early part of the war, and in the North African campaign, one cannot have a complete understanding of the political and military events of the day. ...more
Though the book turned out to be a bit different than I had projected it would be, I very much enjoyed “If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look OnThough the book turned out to be a bit different than I had projected it would be, I very much enjoyed “If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face?” As an engineer and a freelance writer, communication is very important in my work. Reading Alan Alda’s book gave me a deeper understanding of the role that empathy and connecting with your audience plays in effective communication. It was interesting to me that Mr Alda realized that the skills that he learned in improv acting workshops, which stress achieving empathy and understanding with your fellow actors, could be applied to other forms of communication.
I recommend this book for anyone who is in a profession which requires communication with customers or even co-workers, especially when technical communication....more