“WAR IN A TIME OF PEACE,” BY DAVID HALBERSTAM

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Simply stated, another great book from the late David Halberstam. “War In A Time Of Peace,” deals primarily with the Clinton Administration’s response to the wars in the Balkans (the old Yugoslavia) and the genocide committed by the Serb and the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic against the Muslim population in Bosnia and then the Albanian Muslim population in Kosovo.

Candidate Clinton ran his campaign against President Bush in 1992 on the premise that the President was more interested in foreign affairs than domestic, and it worked and he won the election and the phase, “It’s the economy, stupid,” was made famous.

Once President Clinton took office, he was literally obsessed with domestic policies, and his Intelligence and military advisors were lucky to get in to see him. The polls told him that the American people were interested in domestic affairs, and not fighting foreign wars. But, as many politicians and historians would tell him, eventually foreign affairs will intrude and take up sixty percent of your time.

After nearly three years into his first term, and millions of Muslims killed in Bosnia his disinterest in foreign affairs came back to haunt him, as reporters started telling the stories, with horrifying pictures and videos of the slaughter. With American military power and the advanced technological accuracy of our airforce we brought the Serbs to the bargaining table and the Dayton Accords were signed and to some extent ended the genocide in Bosnia.

But Milosevic was not finished, and after a couple of more years passed, he went after the prize he always wanted and that was Kosova, and just like that nearly a million Albanians were displaced and hundreds of thousands killed. Once again, The Clinton Administration was caught off guard and once again didn’t want to get involved in this new blood bath. After much back and forth between NATO and the US, the Americans finally put together a bombing campaign with unbelievable accuracy that brought the Serbs, once again, to their knees.

This book is so much more than just about the Balkans. It shows that nearly thirty years after Vietnam the Joint Chiefs and the president, and much of his staff, feared getting involved in this humanitarian crisis in the heart of Europe because of the fear of another Vietnam. Mr. Halberstam, as brilliant as any historian I have ever read, is able to go back and forth in such situations and analyze both the military and political side of military operations. He is truly a gem. I highly, highly recommend.

JOAN DIDION’S, “POLITICAL FICTIONS.”

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Joan Didion’s, “Political Fictions,” Is a collection of about ten essays that primarily deal with how presidential campaigns are so staged that almost everything you see a candidate say or do, right down to how many steps it takes a candidate to walk from the Oval Office to greet a group of reporters is choreographed. It more or less covers the period from 1981 to 2000, with a heavy emphasis on 1988 to 2000. There are roughly ten essays, the reason I can’t give a correct figure is because so many of the essays have what you would call separate chapters. 

Out of the ten essays, there are five that are nothing short of outstanding, insightful, and riveting… So much so that the other five are somewhat of a disappointment.

The one about President Ronald Reagan and his years in the White House is fascinating and funny. Mr. Reagan, in a sense, went from a motion picture actor and TV star, to literally playing the part of the President of the United States. In the evening he would receive a schedule of the things he had to do the next day, and as he went down the list he crossed out each one he had just finished, and when everything on the list was completed that was more or less the end of his work day. He performed the duties of the President no different than if he was following a script for a movie and what was expected of him that day… What shots he would be in, exchange of dialogue, following the directions of the camera person and director. 

In contrast to the one on Reagan, the one on the Central American debacle was nothing short of a moral and humanitarian disgrace. The Reagan administration at the time was trying to get more money from the Congress to support the army and government in El Salvador which was under attack from leftist communists. What would become known as “The Massacre of El Mazote,” where the Salvadoran army went into a Peasant village and killed between 750 and 900 innocent civilians, more than half women and children and babies, many burned to death and buried beneath a church. The optics and coverage of such a massacre would have killed any aid to the Salvadoran government. The administration, along with advisors from the American embassy, never verified
The massacre, and reporters could not get close to the scene, so it wasn’t until six years later the true story came out, not the one put out at the time, that if it did happen it was the communists dressed in army outfits that committed the murders.

It was essays like the two above, and three others that make this book of essays so worth the read. The other five are good, but not nearly as compelling and somewhat convoluted.

“THE COLDEST WINTER,” by DAVID HALBERSTAM

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There are certain professions that the risk of getting yourself killed is much greater than most other professions, such as a soldier, a covert CIA officer, FBI field agents, police officers, and firemen. Making such a statement is obvious, and when I hear of any of these courageous human beings getting killed I am saddened, but I understand that the profession they chose, or in the time of war was chosen for them, I take some comfort in the fact that possibly getting killed was something much more likely to happen, and they understood that.

What I cannot accept, is when a leader (be it the president or a five star general) sends soldiers to their death without any qualms but simply to satisfy his ego… Without any knowledge of the enemy or the terrain and will not listen to his advisors or intelligent agencies because he doesn’t like to be second guessed by anyone, including the President of the US, The joint Chief of Staff, and The Department of Defense… That to me is treason and that is exactly what General Douglas MacArthur was guilty of, during the Korean War.

David Halberstam’s, “The Coldest Winter,” is one of the best, if not the best book I have read about the Korean War, or as it was up to recently called, “The forgotten war.” The war where thousands of US soldiers, as young as sixteen, were killed senselessly, in bitter cold conditions, fighting a North Korean army and as many as 500,000 Chinese solders who MacArthur refused to admit were in the country until it was far too late.

MacArthur, who never spend a night in Korea during the time he was in charge, but stayed in the comfort of his Tokyo headquarters, where he routinely called the Chinese ‘Laundry soldiers,’ and refused to acknowledge how good and disciplined the Chinese performed as soldiers.

“The Coldest Winter,” is a thorough examination of the Korean war and how as a nation, we allowed our military to degenerate and the defense budget to be cut to one-fifth the size it was at the end of World War II, and how the soldiers we originally send over to stop the North Korean advance into the south were ill-prepared, poorly supplied, and lacking the right clothing and yet they managed to hold off assault after assault and never get pushed off the peninsula. This is a heart wrenching book that any real student of American history should read. Highly recommend.

JOAN DIDION’S, “RUN RIVER.”

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After living over thirty years in lovely southern California, I can say regretfully that I knew very little, if nothing, about the middle of this vast state that stretches nearly 9oo miles along the Pacific coast. That is, of course, until I began reading the works of Joan Didion, who was born in Sacramento, not far from the Nevada border and what I would call the middle of the state, give or take a 100 miles. 

A place barren, where rattlesnakes, and other reptiles live in abundance and the temperatures during the summer months reach as high as 120 degrees. It was settled by what one would call pioneers from states like Virginia, Ky., and Tennessess starting around the first half of the 1800’s and booming during the gold rush. 

Joan Didion’s, “Run River,” her first of many successful novels is the where is amazing, haunting novel takes place. It centers around the McClellan family, and the marriage between Everett McClellan and his wife, Lily. Both their families have lived in this area of California since it began being settled in the mid 1800’s. 

In one sense, it is a tragic story in which the environment, the barrenness of the area, is a major player in the actions of the characters. In another sense, it is a reflection on all us… A deep and unnerving look into the American psyche. This is a fascinating novel that I highly recommend.

JOAN DIDION’S, “DEMOCRACY.”

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In a review of another book by Joan Dodion, I said if one was willing to go back and re-read parts of the book that didn’t make much sense, or simply re-read the entire book one might truly realize how great a book it was. The same can be said for her book, “Democracy.” The first fifteen to twenty pages of this book were quite confusing, made especially so by the author switching from first person to third person narrative.

But once this reviewer went back and re-read those pages, I was surprisingly enlightened by the author’s approach. There are other difficult passages throughout the book, but I simply went back and re-read them and understood their importance. Now, this might seem a little too much for a lot of readers and I totally understand.

Yet, for me, the inconvenience was worth the reward, and in the end I loved this book and the craftsmanship and the scope of the book I found fascinating. She deftly connects the political, with the military, and the corruption, and the black market used to peddle drugs and weapons toward the end of the Vietnam war. The characters are somewhat offbeat, but that is how they are able to survive in this devious world and in the professions they have chosen. There are code names for everyone and everything and nothing appears completely transparent. A Fascinating Book

PETE HAMILL’S, “SNOW IN AUGUST.”

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An absolutely enchanting, magical, sociological, psychological, and cultural novel about a 1947 Brooklyn neighborhood in which its citizens are mostly Irish Catholic, Italian, and Jewish. The agony of World War II and its suffering and lost are still a very big part of their everyday life. They live in tenements where most apartments still rely on coal to heat their apartments, turn on the hot water, and cook on their stoves.

The main character, Michael Devlin, an eleven year alter boy who attends Catholic school, lives with his mother who escaped from the civil war going on in her native Ireland to live in America. Her husband, a member of US forces fighting in Europe is killed in the Battle of the Bulge during the end of the war. 

On a cold, winter morning when a huge snow storm has shut down most of Brooklyn, Michael still gets up early to attend a scheduled eight o’clock mass where he is scheduled to be one of two altar boys. He struggles through the snow and the nasty wind blowing in off the harbor when he suddenly hears a plead for help. After a certain amount of hesitation, he decides to see if he can help, and he arrives at the steps of a synagogue where Rabbi Judah Hirsh, a refuge from Prague, ask Michael if he can a turn on the light switch because during the Shabbos he is not permitted.

From this first encounter, a growing and educational friendship develops with the Rabbi helping teach Michael Yiddish and Jewish culture, and Michael teaches him better English and about baseball and the excitement of the first black ballplayer, Jackie Robinson, joining the Dodgers.

It is against this fruitful and loving friendship, that the prejudices of the day against blacks, and Jews, want to be teenage gangsters, and corrupt police takes place. This takes place, like I said in 1947, and sadly throughout all I could think about is how little has changed since then.

This is an exceptionally moving story, with a magical ending, beautifully written with unbelievable characters. I highly recommend.

JOAN DIDION’S, “PLAY IT AS IT LAYS.”

“What makes Iago evil? Some people ask. I never ask,” That is the first line in this amazing book by Joan Didion. Iago is the Shakespeare character in “Othello,” who is obsessed with power and control.

The line is spoken by, Maria, the main character in the book, and she is one of the best female characters, in my opinion, that I have ever read in any book. Many scholars and readers will vehemently disagree, which is their right. Some will find her empty, pathetic, and mentally unstable, I on the other hand find her the embodiment of what we consider feminism. She is totally in tune with her body and during a back alley abortion, the book takes place in the sixties and was published in 1970, you feel the pain, both emotionally and physically, that such a procedure has on her and after a number of days after the abortion the bleeding gets worse and then on a pad she is wearing she notices, when she takes it off, that there appears to be a substance that looks like flesh. When it is examined by a doctor it turns out to be the placenta that was not removed during the abortion. In her dreams, and during waking hours, she sees a bloody baby being flushed down the toilet.

She is obsessed with her menstrual period every month and she sleeps on a bed with totally white sheets and no protected pads, and dresses in light clothes, hoping to notice blood and relieving her fear of being pregnant. She is married to a Hollywood director, and she herself is a fairly famous actress. She lets herself go, losing so much weight that she barely clocks in at eighty pounds, her veins show, and her girlfriends become concerned about her as they complain about their hairdresser being out of town and gossip about this actress being a lesbian and this other one getting so old.428._SY475_ (1)

Her husband Carter can’t understand her and gets tired of the way she acts and at times how she doesn’t communicate, yet he tells her that “he loves her,” even after they get a divorce and he is having affairs all over town and with his best friend’s wife.

She, in turn, sleeps with whoever she pleases, not in retaliation, but because she simply wants to in seedy hotels and wherever she pleases, and participates in some very kinky sex.

Her answers to most questions concerning herself and others is simply, “Nothing.” But unlike Iago, she is not obsessed with power and control, but in her silence, she sees the people and the society around her obsessed exactly with power and control, which they show in their egotism, sexual prowess, and luxury homes.

She is a character fully realized in a way few characters ever are. She represents a female in a way that is more true to the actual biological and emotional feelings that women face, that are alien to most men. She in an even larger sense is a spectator and witness to the society of the 60’s that actually existed and few acknowledged.

READING PROGRESS

February 6, 2021 – Started Reading
February 6, 2021 – Shelved
February 8, 2021 – Finished Reading

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“THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST,” BY DAVID HALBERSTAM

Hands down, The best book I have ever read about the policies that got us deeper and deeper involved in Vietnam! Throughout, it brought me to tears when I thought of the ignorance, lies, incompetence, dismissal of facts, and egos in the American government and military that cost the lives of fifty-six thousand American soldiers and quite possibly a million or more lives of civilians living in Vietnam.

In 1961 the new administration of President Kennedy was supposed to represent a new and glorious period in America. The handsome and young president, the Harvard and Yale educated eastern elite that made up his staff and who surrounded him. All brilliant, the best and brightest, who in reality knew very little about running a government as big as the US government and controlling the military. In fact, instead of shedding and putting to rest the ugly period of McCarthyism and his hunt for Communists, they embraced it. They were dead set on eradicating Communism in any country where such ugly principles were taking hold. 

First, there was Cuba and the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and eventually the sending of thirty-five hundred advisors to Vietnam to help the faltering government of South Vietnam against the communist insurgents in their own country, and the North Vietnamese sponsors of the insurgence and the crossing of their troops into the south. The Kennedy administration didn’t learn anything from the Korean War, and the ugly lessons of the French in trying to hold on to Vietnam for over eight years. By the time President Kennedy had second doubts about Vietnam, he was assassinated. In one word, the author of this amazing book, sums up President Kennedy and his administration as “timid.” They did not want to be seen as soft on Communist, how very sad.

In comes President Johnson, and the complete takeover by the military in Vietnam, under the guidance of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, whose chief fame up to this point was his connection to the Kennedys and one week as President of the Ford Motor Company. He was a numbers man, and knew nothing about running a war, nor did he bother to understand the culture of the Vietnamese people and the ineptitude of the South Vietnamese government. Along with him and a presidential staff that was afraid to tell President Johnson any news about the war that would upset him, like the countless reports and studies by the intelligence departments and the CIA about the war in Vietnam being a lost cause, and that we should not bomb or send any ground troops.

Instead, they showed the President the military assessments of fighting a war in Vietnam and how we could easily push back the communists. Johnson, unwilling to go down as a President who lost a war, simply went along with all the suggestions of General Westmoreland and the military brass and in a few years we had over 560 thousand troops in Vietnam, and bombed the country and the Communists into so called oblivion, but like the Phoenix in Greek mythology they always seem to rise back up and continue to fight.

The Johnson administration was quite adept at lying, rewriting reports by the intelligence departments that told a different story, and blaming the negative reports about the war on false reporting by the press. The Pentagon papers would reveal the level of corruption, misinformation, and the lack of understanding on the part of the military about the people of Vietnam and their culture.

President Johnson, his staff and advisors, were knowingly complicit in the deaths of countless people, more concerned about their egos and reputation than about the country and citizens they swore to protect… Disregarding the morality that supposedly made America so great. If there is a hell, they all deserve a special place next to Lucifer.

And finally, there is President Nixon and Kissinger and, need I say more. Mr. Halberstam only deals with their immorality and evilness in the last few pages of the book that was published in 1972. The author deals mainly with the sixties and the administrations of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

Like I said earlier, by far the best book on the policies involving Vietnam that I have ever read. It is a very long and detailed analysis of the war, and it it pulls at the strings of one’s heart when you think of the tragic consequences of a war we should never have been involved in.

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JOAN DIDION’S, “THE WHITE ALBUM.’

An absolutely wonderful collection of essays from the great Joan Didion. Many of the essays are simply brilliant and have a long lasting effect on you, such as the essay on Georgia O’Keeffe where she describes a visit to a museum with her daughter that is showing a display of Ms. O’Keeffe’s work which many of the visitors seem disappointed, expecting modern, 1970’s paintings, but instead exhibit a misunderstanding of true art, from the fashion of the day.

Or “Quiet Days in Malibu,” where she visits a greenhouse managed by a Mexican immigrant, Amando Vasquez, where he takes care of his orchids and flowers like newborn babies, creating different species of plants by placing seedlings into fertile plants at the optimal time where the fertilization is most likely to take place.

Or ‘In the Islands,’ where she visits a cemetery in Honolulu, where the remains of soldiers from Viet Nam are buried and how a couple comes back to the cemetery a few hours later after the ceremony to make sure their son has been buried properly as the military promised.

Ms. Didion, throughout all her works, takes us to places that 99 percent of people wouldn’t even think of going, such as to ‘Caltrans’ headquarters, where traffic on the L.A. Freeways are monitored and how their decisions affect millions of commuters every day of their lives.

She is a real treasure, and she has a style all her own.

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“SUMMER OF ’49,” BY DAVID HALBERSTAM

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What a wonderful book, beautifully written, detailed, and informative novel about an era in America where the game of baseball was America’s National Pastime. The book centers around the 1949 baseball season that eventually lead to a one game playoff between the NY Yankees and the Boston Red Sox for the American League Pennant. The rivalry between both teams was legendary for way over eighty years.

Mr. Halberstam takes us through the entire season, with background from previous seasons and commentary on the future of the game after the 49 season. He gives us insights into many of the most famous baseball icons of all time: Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Allie Reynolds, Tommy Henrich, Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, and Bobby Doerr.

He gives us an unbiased look at the management and owners of each team, how television changed the fans’ perspectives, and how the switch from traveling by train to airplanes changed the comradeship between players that existed on the long train rides compared to the one hour flight from one destination to another. He talks about the abrupt transformations that announcers had to go through to adapt from the medium of radio to TV.

In one telling and sad story, he tells how both the Yankees and Red Sox had been scouting this amazing, young talented black player by the name of Willie Mays. And even though, they had no doubt that one day he would be great they both passed on him because he was black and they didn’t think their fans were ready to accept a black player.

Both the Yankees and Red Sox were among the last teams to recruit black players, and many other American league teams weren’t that willing either. This would lead to the disparity between the National League and the American League in the 60’s and 70’s and nearly two decades of National League dominance. Mays, Jackie Robinson, Gibson, Hank Aaron to name just a few.

I highly recommend this book, especially for baseball fans and readers interested in how one sport was for the longest time a reflection of American society.