Well, as we used to say back in the day, here’s the drill. We’ll begin with a quick rundown on some writing-related stuff, then follow with some comments on recent books that the history buffs, especially, might find to be of interest, and close with some info on future blogs. Okay, I suppose that will not really be the close. To satisfy the thousands – well, quite a few people, possibly eight to ten – who have moaned about the occasional absence of a poem at the end of the blog (critics can be so cruel), there will be a final verse. It will be a ‘pome,’ as we in say in Nebraska, inspired by the U.S. women’s soccer team’s victory over the Netherlands.
Writing news: I’ve sort of gotten back into the flow of working on the book that we have mentioned in the past. It is intended as the third and final volume about military leaders who have not made the A-list in terms of public recognition although their accomplishments are substantial – often outshining their more renowned contemporaries. This one picks up after World War II with the advent of the Cold War and continues through Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War and Iraq-Afghanistan. As noted in earlier blogs, I may wind up including smaller segments on Panama and Grenada. The Cold War, Korea, and a portion of the Vietnam chapters are done in draft, although as I periodically scrub through them, it is obvious they still need lots of additional TLC. In what has been done so far, I have particularly enjoyed writing about William Tunner, an Air Force general who led the Berlin Airlift during the Cold War, and Marine Major General O.P. Smith (Korean War), who commanded the Marines at the Chosin Reservoir and saved them with the withdrawal to Hungnam after the Chinese intervened. (He described the retreat as “Attacking in the opposite direction.”) Wow, was he good. Tunner and the Airlift were fun to write about because my family has gotten to know Berlin fairly well from our trips there and we stayed for a brief time at Tempelhof, which was a major venue for airlift activities.
For several reasons, Vietnam has proven to be tough to write about, but hopefully we are somewhat back in the swing of things. I think when work is done on the major “forgotten” commanders, I will include a section on “Dissenters” – officers who disagreed with the way the war was fought and with decisions made “in country” and in Washington D.C. John Paul Vann, Edward Landsdale, LtGen Victor Krulak (USMC), and H.M. McMaster come to mind. McMaster is sort of a special case. A young officer during the war, he later rose to LtGen in the Army and for a brief time served as President Trump’s National Security Advisor. All of the ‘dissenters’ had the courage of their convictions (although they were mostly ignored, and sometimes penalized). McMaster took it a step further. Later in his career as an officer on active duty, he wrote a PhD thesis critiquing the war that, among other things, strongly criticized senior military leaders for not having spoken out against the way the war was being handled. His work was widely circulated throughout the military community and is often cited by historians.
As the book progresses, we’ll probably have to come up with a new title. The format of this book will be a bit different than the first two “In the Shadows” volumes, and, since it will be published by a different company (if indeed it ever sees the light of day), the new crew will likely want something that distinguishes it from the first two. There is also the consideration that “In the Shadows of Victory” would not be completely appropriate: Vietnam cannot be cast as a victory and Iraq-Afghanistan is still on-going. So, we’ll see. There is ample time to kick it around.
Some musings on books: Here are a few possibilities that have been taking up space on my bedside table. (Eventually, the stack may become so high that it will block the light from the table lamp. I suppose if that happens, I will have to move some books – or perhaps sleep on the other side of the bed.)
“The British Are Coming: The War For America, Lexington to Princeton 1775-1777” by Rick Atkinson. This is the first of an intended three volume set that will take readers through the War of Independence. I am almost exactly half way through it. Rick Atkinson is a good writer, researcher, and historian. As always when reading about this period, it is stunning to note how little prepared in almost every way – politically, financially, militarily -- the thirteen colonies were to take on the world’s mightiest empire. Among countless other shortfalls, at the outset there were almost no experienced military leaders. The learning curve was steep and it is interesting to see the growth as the war continued.
“Appeasement” by Tim Bouverie. I am anxious to get more into this one. It traces the years of indecision and failed diplomacy that led to World War II. Viewed from our present lens, it now seems clear that naiveté, self-interest, and poor judgement prevailed over morality and common sense. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain came back from his meeting with Hitler waving a piece of paper and proclaiming the document meant “Peace for our time.” Less than a year later, Germany invaded Poland and the war began.
“Accidental Presidents, Eight Men Who Changed America” by Jared Coker. Thus far in our history, eight vice presidents have assumed the presidency after the death of the incumbent: John Tyler (William Henry Harrison), Millard Fillmore (Zachary Taylor), Andrew Johnson (Abraham Lincoln), Chester Arthur (James Garfield), Theodore Roosevelt (William McKinley), Calvin Coolidge (Warren Harding), Harry Truman (FDR), and Lyndon Johnson (JFK). The book tells their stories: backgrounds, circumstances that led to their becoming president, their successes or failures once they had assumed the office. Some did very well; others not so much. The author notes how often they were chosen for reasons not necessarily associated with competence or experience but because of political favors or the perceived need to “balance a ticket.” This is obviously a concern of the author (and should be to all of us); he notes that through JFK’s presidency, vice presidents became presidents 23% of the time. He views the fact that only eight became president is in itself somewhat of a miracle. He cites 19 additional “close calls” which could rather easily have led to vice presidents becoming president. Eight involved severe presidential illnesses and nine were well-documented assassination attempts, in many cases with shots being fired. The remaining two were accidents and near-accidents. I enjoyed the book; the writing is good but not great, but material such as the discussion of “near misses” and potential legal and constitutional dilemmas associated with the transfer of power made it of special interest to me.
“Presidents of War” by Michael Beschloss. I mentioned this book briefly in an earlier blog. It chronicles the wartime presidencies of Madison, Lincoln, McKinley, Wilson, FDR, Truman, and Johnson and analyzes how well or poorly they performed their war-related duties. Good book; well written.
Other things/blog plans: As this is being written, we’re tracking the adventures of our daughter Laura who at the moment is in Chernobyl. She has researched the event at some length and it has been a long-term quest of hers to visit there. Interestingly, the only place her dosimeter has spiked thus far was when she was near a Ferris wheel at an abandoned amusement park. We are looking forward to the stories and pictures. She teaches Holocaust Studies so she will add to her already lengthy list of sites visited in Germany, Poland, and elsewhere with trips to venues in the Kiev, Ukraine, area. In the meantime, our other daughter Karen just got back from visiting the historic sites around Salem, Massachusetts (scene of the witch trials). So, I suppose it is quite conceivable that when all of us get together soon, some of the conversation will be on goblins and green monster mutations caused by radiation. (Yesterday in Chernobyl, Laura ate lunch at the Reactor Café!)
Unless some unforeseen news pops up on the writing front, I will hold off on publishing a blog in August. We have some reunion get-togethers coming up and soon after, all of us will join up at Karen’s house in Massachusetts and do some touristy stuff from there.
The WHO SAYS THEY DON’T WRITE GREAT POETRY ANYMORE feature was inspired by the women’s soccer team victory over Netherlands. Hope you will enjoy it.
The Unfortunate Dutch Boy
Rembrandt van Teeteedledee
lived very close
to the Zuider Zee
Rembrandt had a bad day
as I think you’ll agree
First he burned his tongue
on his breakfast tea …
Then he skated on a canal
and slid into a tree …
And when he climbed a windmill
he skinned his knee
But the only real downside
it seems to me
Was when he pulled his thumb from a dike
and was washed out to sea.
Best wishes, everyone.