Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Coldest Winter - David Halberstam

This was not a geezer selection. George Elsey was giving away a few of his books and this was one I have wanted to read for some time. It's about MY war. The forgotten war in Korea. I sort of adopted it because officially I am a Korean War Veteran (I hasten to add that I've never been anywhere near Korea), and because it was being fought (on the other side of the planet) I became a Korean War Vet - on paper only.  It was to become very important to me - a long time ago. Permit me to quickly say again that I had absolutely nothing to do with the Korean War. Nothing at all. I happened to be in the military from 1954 to 1958. I attended a few specialized schools in the USA and then was shipped to Sembach AFB in Germany. That became my home base for the duration.

But because of the timing, I was eligible for the KOREAN GI BILL. Without it's considerable financial help I would never have been able to go to college. I was so lucky as to have served during the time the Korean War was still on the books. Actually it was over but our leaders seem not to have known just how to formally end it. Finally, no one was declared the winner, and the Korean War just stopped at the 38th parallel . . . . and the two sides, North and South, agreed to quit fighting right there.  

Back to the book. The Coldest Winter is one of the few serious books about the Korean "Police Action", and it is surely the best. As I proceeded to read it I found the characterizations of the dominant individuals involved, to be fascinating. To be sure, Douglas MacArthur is first praised for a victory at Inchon that (in advance) had all of the earmarks of a catastrophe.  He got lucky. After that victory Mr. Halberstam takes Doug-out Doug apart, piece by piece. In the end, following a distinguished career, MacArthur is painted with a brush of tar. He deservedly became a worthless, dangerous, egocentric failure as a military commander. His fall happened during the Korean War.

If I were to recommend this book to anyone, I would give it an A++


Reversible Errors - Scott Turow

The club selected this novel as a relatively lightweight and easily digested alternative to our regular text book tomes. It was a pretty good choice. The author is a lawyer and the book describes many of the legal factors from the commission of a crime to the final court verdict. The story moves right along.  The legal maneuvering delivers a question at every twist and turn - and there are many. The way the book is assembled and the police and lawyer stuff is explained, reminded me of the many British Police procedural I've read.

If I was to recommend this book to someone, I would give it a "B" grade.


I wrote the above a month ago. Since then the Geezers have met and discussed the book at length. By the time we finished the entire legal system had been investigated and several opinions aired. We decided that  the American legal system from stem to stern is broken. Using the book, "Reversible Errors" as a guide, the club members shined a light on it's history and current status.
  • Capital Punishment,  yes or no?
  • A deterrent to others?  
  • Does incarceration benefit society or not?
  • Is it possible to rehabilitate chronic criminals?
  • Should jails inflict hard time as a deterrent?
  • Or soft time dedicated to rehabilitation?
  • Should the "3 strike" rule be applied to every criminal?
  • Or should it be subject to common sense variations?
  • Since the science of DNA testing has become a determining factor in crimes involving people, society has discovered many innocent men held in prisons, how is an inmate chosen to reinvestigate?
  • By whom?
  • Because it is possible to collect DNA evidence from very old (theoretically thousands of years) materials, should there be a time limit to using DNA as evidence?
  • The jury system is flawed.   
                 1. Most of the people serving do not want to be there.
                 2. A jury of 12 is usually not  a cross section of peers.
                 3. Most juries are biased by the retired and elderly.
                 4. Most jurors have no experience judging other people.

All of these questions were triggered by the book "Reversible Errors" and clearly insist that our legal system of determining guilt needs to be studied and improvements made. Also, that the harshness of incarceration and the punishment for crimes should be guided by newly developed standards.