Saturday, March 20, 2010

Live From The Battlefield - Peter Arnett

Part 1 of the book is about the author growing up in New Zealand and how he found his way to a career in jounalism. It covers (1934 to 1962), and while it's quite interesting . . . the more absorbing part of the book starts with part 2.  

Part 2 (1962 to 1975) is titled 'SAIGON'. From this point I couldn't put the book down. It is a riveting account of America's modern military machine, people and weapons in Viet Nam, and it is told with an undercurrent of political and military mis-management, mis-direction and enormous frustration.  In a step by step manner, Mr. Arnett describes our tragic descent into Conrad's "HEART OF DARKNESS", and how America's overwhelming military might was found to be so ineffective against an irregular enemy.

As he reports the story of Viet Nam he also makes a good case for eliminating indiscriminate bombing, defoliation, and napalm bombs in modern warfare.  He is obviously appalled by the bloody and indiscriminate killing of helpless civilians. Mr. Arnett's  tries, successfully I think, to avoid political correctness and the influences of the military command structure. The result makes his book something special.

Mr. Arnett skillfully describes a long and  regrettable time in Viet Nam's history. He blends into it the catastrophic effects of American politicians who tried to run the war and spares no one. The reader's attention is carefully drawn to the many elementary and stupid decisions and exactly who was responsible.  When the author feels justified,  he doesn't hesitate to poke a stick in Uncle Sam's eye.

Part 3 (1974-1990),  covers the time after Viet Nam. For our intrepid journalist it is a story of non-stop travel to exotic and dangerous locations around the world. Place names like Panama, Beruit, Nambia, Angola, Zaire, Russia, Ethiopia, and Israel for example, just breeze by with a whoosh. This part of the book is almost a pause as Mr. Arnett gets ready for Iraq.

Part 4 (1990-1991). The section on Bagdad is one of the most realistic wartime reporting ever done. The reader is given a ring-side seat in the middle of the war zone. I thought it reminiscent of Ernie Pyle and Andy Rooney's WWII reporting.  Several times I pictured Willie and Joe having a smoke behind some rubble.

Mr. Arnett was holed up in war time Bagdad when it was under the constant barrage of American military might. For some [never quite explained] reason CNN was able to maintain one reporter (the author) and complete broadcast equipment in the midst of the war zone? Arnett was holed up at the el Rashid Hotel where he  broadcast a running report on the war.  The first Iraq war was a retaliation for their take-over of Kuwait. Bush, Sr. and his administration figured Iraq was a threat to it's neighbors, particularly Israel, and needed to be stopped in their tracks.  The war resulted in the  destruction of most of Iraq's war machine. . . . but left Saddam Hussein in power. That seemed to be the right desicion at the time. 

We mis-judged Saddam Hussein as badly as he mis-judged us.

To be continued . . .       
On a grade scale ...... I give this book an A+ 

Monday, March 8, 2010

An Unplanned Life - George Elsey

The author is an active member of my book club. George McKee Elsey is an interesting person with an exceptional background. Now 92 years old and sharp as a tack, his comments in the book on the history from World War II to the present are made with the authority of someone who was there. His memoir describes in humble detail his carreer in various  assignments in our Federal Government. It's scope is astonishing, it is very well written, and makes for a wonderful read.

Fresh out of Harvard with his phi beta Kappa key and a Master's Degree, he joined the navy, became an Ensign, and was given a position that ultimately led to "the map room" of the FDR White House. He served both FDR and later Harry Truman as the war time director of the map room, and during the same period he was an advisor and speech writer for them both. His position papers (one of which he signed a copy and gave me for my collection) were outstanding.

His associations with the prominent people of the time are fascinating. May I drop a few names here as an example: Harry Hopkins, FDR, Stalin, Churchill, Chaig Kai Shek, George Marshal, Harry Truman, Clark Clifford, Indira Ghandi, Dean Acheson, Omar Bradley, James Byrnes, John Foster Dulles, Anthony Eden, Eisenhower, James Forrestal, Averell Harriman, Hirohito, Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson, Wm. D. Leahy, Molotov, Nixon, Drew Pearson, James Reston, Eleanor Roosevelt, Dean Rusk, and Henry Wallace. Each of these people, and many more, are the people George worked with in the White House during his long carreer. 

Following the war George became President of the industrial conclomerate Pullman Incorporated, and within a few years became connected with the American Red Cross,  first as Vice President and later President. He served in that position for several years before retirement.  

To be completed asap . . .