America’s Pursuit of Precision Bombing, 1910-1945


Title:                      America’s Pursuit of Precision Bombing, 1910-1945

Author:                  Stephen L. McFarland

McFarland, Stephen L. (1995). America’s Pursuit of Precision Bombing, 1910-1945. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institute Press

LOC:       94021955

UG703 .M376 1995

Date Posted:      May 31, 2013

“The accuracy of precision bombing came to symbolize America’s intent to win wars quickly,” by Michael D. Hull[1]

They naively called it “the war to end all wars,” and there were many people who were certain that the world would never again tolerate such a bloodbath as the First World War of 1914­1918. No fewer than 19 million people died during those four grim years. Ten million soldiers were killed and 21 million wounded, the majority of them in futile frontal assaults on the Western Front. In the hellish campaigns at Verdun and on the Somme, an entire generation of young Britons, Frenchmen and Germans had been sacrificed.

To military leaders, the immediate postwar challenge was to ensure that the next war–which then seemed inevitable to an enlightened few–would not involve the horror of trench warfare. In Germany, the answer was blitzkrieg. In the Allied camp, leaders of the fledgling air arms advocated aerial power. Men like American Brig. Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell and British Air Marshal Hugh Trenchard believed that a future war could be decided strategically through bombing raids.

War would be cleaner, more impersonal and less costly in human life–at least to those wielding air power. Aircraft would simply fly over the enemy’s army and navy and strike directly at its vulnerable industrial complexes. It was a deceptively easy premise, but one that presented prodigious difficulties to those assigned to carry it out. Building a bomber capable of hauling bombs great distances to targets was one major obstacle. The other was developing a reliable bombsight that would put the projectiles on the targets.

The Norden bombsight, invented by an eccentric Dutch professor living in Brooklyn, N.Y., became the underpinning of America’s strategic bombing doctrine. Before the age of electronics and atomic power, this was one of the highest achievements of mechanical engineering, and the bombsight’s accuracy symbolized the United States’ intent to win wars quickly and with a minimum of casualties.

Touted widely and loudly as capable of “dropping a bomb into a pickle barrel,” the Norden bombsight was responsible for most of the destruction wrought on Germany and Japan by U.S. bombers during World War II. It satisfied a deep-seated American need to take the moral high ground in war–which was later abandoned–and satisfied the nation’s hunger for mechanical excellence.

The Norden sight entered military mythology as a technological wonder, yet it was never as good as its reputation, according to Stephen McFarland, an associate professor of history at Auburn University and author of America’s Pursuit of Precision Bombing, 1910-1945. This is a scholarly and highly informative study of the notion of precision bombing as pursued by America from 1910 through 1945. Although the Norden bombsight dropped bombs on targets better than any other similar device of its time, its achievements remain the stuff of mythology, says the author.

When the Boeing B-17 groups of the Eighth Air Force started daylight precision-bombing raids over German-occupied Europe in 1942, American military leaders were scornful of the British practice of area bombing. That technique had evolved because Royal Air Force Bomber Command had found daylight raids to be too costly and switched to night bombing. Darkness naturally precluded complete accuracy. Yet a study in 1944 concluded that only 7 percent of all U.S. bombs fell within 1,000 feet of their aiming point.

An observer watching Norden bombsights in use at Monte Cassino in 1944 said: “I could see bombs bursting 10 miles behind the American lines. They were dropping them all over the landscape. Maybe it was true that they could hit a pickle barrel with that Norden bombsight, but there were no pickle barrels in the Liri Valley that day.”

McFarland–who is also co-author, with Wesley Phillips Newton, of To Command the Sky–has written an exhaustive, balanced and thoroughly absorbing history of American bombing doctrines, technologies and practices that will grip all aviation scholars and historians. His study is a highly significant contribution to the record of aerial warfare. The author examines the principles on which bombing technology was built and the resulting friction between the Army and the Navy. The Navy believed the cost of bombing in level flight was excessive and the accuracy too poor, so it abandoned the Norden sight in favor of dive-bombing. McFarland also describes the roles and rivalry of the two bombsight companies, Norden and Sperry, in the development of U.S. strategic bombing.

The American experience against Germany proved the limitations of the Norden technology and the doctrine of war based on it, according to McFarland. Precision bombing could not win wars singlehandedly, though it could hasten their end. In the war against Japan, the American experience proved that if a nation attacked population targets and killed enough civilians, then strategic bombing could end a war.

General Ira C. Eaker, the first commander of the Eighth Air Force in England, told General Carl Spaatz in 1942, “We should never allow the history of this war to convict us of throwing the strategic bomber at the man in the street.” But Eaker, a man of great ability and integrity, admitted later that he had “always believed that civilians supporting national leaderships were equally responsible with the military….The man who builds the weapons is as responsible as the man who carries it into battle.”

Thus, McFarland explains, the Strategic Bombing Survey [see Strategic Bombing in World War Two ] claimed that the switch to area bombing occurred “because of the contributions in numerous ways of the civilian population (German and Japanese) to the fighting strength of the enemy, and to speed the securing of unconditional surrender.”

The most direct reason for the switch was the simplest and most pragmatic, the author relates. From high altitudes, Twentieth Air Force bombardiers could not hit the broad side of a barn, so they aimed at what they could hit—cities. General Curtis E. LeMay’s Boeing B-29 Superfortress raids on 68 Japanese cities and towns destroyed 2,502,000 housing units and forced the Nippon government to raze 614,000 more for firebreaks, leaving 30 percent of the population homeless. In nine months, the bombing caused 806,000 civilian casualties. Night area and atomic bombing convinced the Japanese that they had lost the war, just as inaccurate daylight “precision” bombing had done in Germany, says McFarland.

The ultimate irony, he concludes, was that the B-29–the most advanced bomber of World War II–came to represent the failure of precision bombing. The seers of the 1930s looked to strategic bombing to avoid the horrors of the World War I trenches. American airmen did avoid the trenches in the war with Japan, but the devastation aerial bombing inflicted on the Japanese was horrific.

America’s Pursuit of Precision Bombing, 1910-1945 is a masterwork of historical scholarship and informed analysis.

Capitol Offense


Title:                      Capitol Offense

Author:                  Barbara Mikulski

Mikulski, Senator Barbara (1996) and Mary Louise Oates. Capitol Offense. New York: Dutton

LCCN:    96017107

PS3563.I371564 C36 1996

Subjects

Date Posted:      October 20, 2014

Mikulski, a U.S. senator from Maryland, and journalist Oates prove they’re no “Anonymous” as they launch this novel of political puffery with a mystery trailing in its wake. Eleanor “Norrie” Gorzack, newly sworn in to replace Pennsylvania’s deceased senator (he died at a polka marathon), makes the papers when a veteran trying to reach her through a crowd is murdered by insulin injection. Norrie disbelieves the murder is related to odd anonymous phone calls and to hate mail suggesting she has swiped what should be a man’s job; even so, tall, handsome and ineffectual Lt. Thomas Carver, who is investigating for the Capitol Police, advises caution.

There’s little time for any kind of reflection, however, as Norrie struggles to secure political allies and races to learn on the job, a process explored in considerable, fairly uncritical detail. As the wife of a Navy officer, MIA in Vietnam, the new senator is dedicated to her work on the select committee on MIAs. She takes it hard when the staffer researching that area is murdered—with professionalism reminiscent of the vet’s death–just as she completes her report. With Lt. Carver contributing little to this Disney-ized political tale, it’s fortunate that stump-speech Norrie (“the citizens…are the government”) has the luck and the smarts to solve the crimes and even discover the fate of some MIAs along the way.

Finished Reading October 19, 2014

This book was also a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book selection (1997, Vol. 229, #1, pp. 477-573).

The Cancer Ward


Title:                      The Cancer Ward

Author:                  Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr Isaevich (1969). The Cancer Ward. New York: Modern Library

LOC:       83042701

PG3488.O4 R313 1983

Date Posted:      May 29, 2013

The novel tells the story of a small group of cancer patients in Uzbekistan in 1955, in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union. It explores the moral responsibility — symbolized by the patients’ malignant tumors — of those implicated in the suffering of their fellow citizens during Stalin’s Great Purge, when millions were killed, sent to labor camps, or exiled.

One of the patients fears that a rehabilitated man he denounced eighteen years ago to obtain the whole apartment that they were living in together will seek revenge, while others come to realize that their passive involvement, their failure to resist, renders them as guilty as any other. “You haven’t had to do much lying, do you understand?” Shulubin tells the main character, Oleg Kostoglotov, who was in a labor camp. “At least you haven’t had to stoop so low — you should appreciate that! You people were arrested, but we were herded into meetings to ‘expose’ you. They executed people like you, but they made us stand up and applaud the verdicts … And not just applaud, they made us demand the firing squad, demand it!”

Toward the end of the novel, Kostoglotov — who, like Solzhenitsyn, was forced into exile under Article 58, which dealt with counter-revolutionaries — realizes that the damage done to him, and to Russia, was too great, and that there will be no healing, no normal life now that Stalin has gone. On the day of his release from the cancer ward, toward the end of the novel, he visits a zoo, seeing in the animals people he knew: “[E]ven supposing Oleg took their side and had the power, he would still not want to break into the cages and liberate them … [D]eprived of their home surroundings, they had lost the idea of rational freedom. It would only make things harder for them, suddenly to set them free.”

The hospital which inspired Solzhenitsyn as it stands in 2005 in Tashkent, The Republic of Uzbekistan

The novel is set in a hospital in Soviet Uzbekistan in 1955. As the title suggests, the plot focuses on a group of cancer patients as they undergo therapy. The novel deals with political theories, mortality, and hope — themes that are often explored either through descriptive passages or the conversations the characters have within the ward, which is a microcosm of the post-Stalin Russian Communist government.

Also explored is the effect life in the labor camps will have on a man’s life, as Oleg Kostoglotov, the main character, is shocked to discover the materialist world of the city outside the cancer ward. Oleg is in “Perpetual Exile” in Ush-Terek, in Kazakhstan.

Bureaucracy and the nature of power in Stalin’s state is represented by Pavel Nikolayevich Rusanov, a “personnel officer”. The corrupt power of Stalin’s regime is shown through his dual desires to be a “worker” but also achieve a “special pension”. At the end, Rusanov’s wife drops rubbish from her car window, symbolizing the carelessness with which the regime treated the country.

The novel is partly autobiographical. The character Oleg Kostoglotov was admitted to the hospital from a gulag, similar to Solzhenitsyn, and later subjected to internal exile in the same region of the USSR. Oleg is depicted as being born in Leningrad, while Solzhenitsyn was born in Kislovodsk.

Some Uzbek landmarks are mentioned in the novel, such as the trolleyline and Chorsu Bazaar. The zoo Oleg visits is now a soccer field near Mirabad Amusement Park.

Kostoglotov begins two romances in the hospital, one with Zoya, a nurse and doctor in training, though the attraction is mostly physical, and a more serious one with Vera Gangart, one of his doctors, a middle-aged woman who has never married, and whom he imagines he might ask to become his wife. Both women invite him to stay overnight in their apartment, ostensibly only as a friend, after he is discharged, because he has nowhere to sleep — his status as an exile makes finding a place to lodge difficult.

His feelings for Vera are strong, and seem to be reciprocated, though neither of them has spoken of it directly:

“    He could not think of her either with greed or with the fury of passion. His one joy would be to go and lie at her feet like a dog, like a miserable beaten cur, to lie on the floor and breathe on her feet like a cur. That would be a happiness greater than anything he could imagine.”

After wandering around the town, he decides against going to see either woman. He does find the courage to go to Vera’s once, but he has left it so late in the day that she is no longer there, and he decides not to try again. He is well aware that the hormone therapy used as part of his cancer treatment may have left him impotent, just as imprisonment and exile have taken all the life out of him. He feels he has nothing left to offer a woman, and that his past means he would always feel out of place in what he sees as normal life. Instead, he decides to accept less from life than he had hoped for, and to face it alone. He heads to the railway station to fight his way onto a train to Ush-Terek. He writes a goodbye letter to Vera from the station:

“    You may disagree, but I have a prediction to make: even before you drift into the indifference of old age, you will come to bless this day, the day you did not commit yourself to share my life … Now that I am going away … I can tell you quite frankly: even when we were having the most intellectual conversations and I honestly thought and believed everything I said, I still wanted all the time, all the time, to pick you up and kiss you on the lips.

So try to work that out.

And now, without your permission, I kiss them.”

The novel makes many allegorical references to the state of Soviet Russia, in particular the quote from Kostoglotov: “A man dies from a tumor, so how can a country survive with growths like labor camps and exiles?”

Solzhenitsyn himself writes in an appendix to Cancer Ward that the “evil man” who threw tobacco in the macaque’s eyes at the zoo is meant to directly represent Stalin, and the monkey the innocent prisoner. The other zoo animals also have significance, the tiger reminiscent of Stalin and the squirrel running itself to death the proletariat.

Inferno


Title:                      Inferno

Author:                  Dan Brown

Brown, Dan (2013). Inferno. New York: Doubleday

ISBN:     978-0385537858

PS3552.R685434 I54 2013

Date Posted:      May 29, 2013

A review by Monica Hesse[1]

It’s been four years now since our last encounter with Robert Langdon, the be-tweeded hero who has Da Vinci’d and Demon-ed his way through three previous Dan Brown page-rippers.

Brown’s last book, The Lost Symbol, came out in 2009, smack in the vortex of a Brownado — a whirling era of “Da Vinci Code” European tour packages and Tom Hanks’s second cinematic turn as the lank-haired Harvard symbologist. “The Lost Symbol” seemed of the moment and of particularly heightened American interest, set as it was in D.C.

Tuesday marks the release of “Inferno,” Brown’s newest Langdon installment. One is still excited — one must be; Doubleday is printing a whopping 4 million copies — but the anticipation feels different. At this point, it’s already clear what Brown can do with the genre. He has perfected the breathless art of the cliffhanger chapter, the ooky villain, the historish backdrop. His novels are like high-stakes, 500-page Mad Libs; a reader doesn’t have to worry that it will be a fun ride, just that the adverbs and proper nouns will line up in a way that honors the art form.

Which brings me to the surest way readers can tell whether they have landed in a Dan Brown novel: A character is dying — a wizened character who is the sole possessor of a crucial piece of knowledge. Rather than using the last minutes of his life to scrawl, “The [IMPORTANT OBJECT] is in the [SPECIFIC LOCATION]” on a crumpled napkin, he uses them to concoct an artsy, esoteric scavenger hunt through a foreign city.

The city in “Inferno” is Florence, where a hospitalized Langdon has awoken with a head wound that leaves him unable to recall how or why he arrived in Italy. Fortunately, his fetching doctor, Sienna — a former child prodigy with an absurd IQ — is willing to sling him on the back of her moped and help him figure it out: retracing his pre-amnesia steps and learning how Dante’s “Divine Comedy” can aid them in foiling the posthumous plot of an evil genius. Discovered in Langdon’s rumpled clothes, see, is a small projector that displays a pictorial rendition of Dante’s vision of Hell.

Meanwhile, three competing entities nip at their heels: an enigmatic female punk assassin, an enigmatic researcher with the World Health Organization and an enigmatic businessman who runs an organization called The Consortium — an MI6/CIA/Blackwater hybrid that specializes in doing complicated things for rich people.

“Fact,” Brown writes in the book’s short preface: “All artwork, literature, science, and historical references in this novel are real.”

But that can’t be right, can it? Not when a simple Wikipedia search tells me that one of the important artifacts is believed to be a reproduction, not the real thing the reader is led to think it is. The Consortium is real, too, Brown writes — and it might be, but would such an organization really have its headquarters in a giant yacht floating around in the Adriatic Sea?

No matter. As with Brown’s other works, it’s more fun to read “Inferno” when you accept that every whoa-ful tidbit is true. Brown is at his best when he makes readers believe that dusty books and musty passageways are just covers for ancient global conspiracies. There is plenty of that in “Inferno” — at one point Langdon laments that he hasn’t seen Michelangelo’s “David” yet on this trip, but the reader would hardly notice. It feels like we’ve seen everything else in the city, at a brisk, engaging clip.

Unfortunately, at other times the book’s musty passageways seem to be not so much holding history up as sagging under its weight. Narration appears lifted from a Fodor’s guide, as when Langdon pauses in the middle of a life-or-death escape to remember the history of a bridge: “Today the vendors are mostly goldsmiths and jewelers, but that has not always been the case. Originally the bridge had been home to Florence’s vast, open-air market, but the butchers were banished in 1593.” It’s like trying to solve a mystery while one of those self-guided tour headsets is dangling from your ears. (Step over this prone body and press 32 to learn more about the velvet box containing Dante’s death mask in the Palazzo Vecchio.)

Ironically, one of the more compelling mysteries in “Inferno” doesn’t have to do with art history, but with science future — with very real questions about the population explosion and humanity’s responsibility for the Earth. It would have been interesting to see those questions wrestled with more, but that kind of novel would probably take place at a sterile public health conference, not in a series of cobblestoned Italian streets. It definitely wouldn’t star Robert Langdon.

And what about Robert Langdon? I’ll confess that I love Robert Langdon. In this, in “The Da Vinci Code,” in anything. He’s a windbag, he’s pretentious, he talks too much about his tailored British suits, but he maintains respectful, mostly platonic relationships with a series of brilliant, intimidating women.

Cop a Feel of Hercules’ Family Jewels

Vincenzo de’ Rossi is probably not a household name, nor perhaps is his master Baccio Bandinelli (if you’re an art historian or if you’ve been to Florence than you definitely know Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus, across from a copy of Michelangelo’s David in front of the Palazzo Vecchio). Thanks to Dan Brown the name Vincenzo de’ Rossi will be ingrained in many people’s visual memory thanks to one of his seven completed sculptures of the Labors of Hercules (1560s), originally conceived as part of a fountain celebrating Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici.
Vincenzo de’ Rossi, Hercules and Antaeus, also referred to as Hercules and Diomedes, 1560s, marble. Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Robert Langdon and Sienna are attempting to escape the bad guys in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. He mentions the statue a couple of times making especial reference to Diomedes grabbing Hercules’ penis.

Hercules seems to be wining, as he is about to throw Diomedes. Or is he? Apparently Diomedes was the son of Poseidon, god on the sea, and Gaia, the personification of the earth. He gained strength when he was firmly rooted to the earth, but as you can see Hercules lifts him into the air and eventually strangles him. It seems that de’ Rossi imagined Diomedes ‘final move as copping a wicked feel on Hercules junk. Does Diomedes acknowledge Hercules’ superior strength through this gesture?

And for those of you super-astute readers who are saying, “Wait a minute, Hercules didn’t fight Diomedes as part of his 12 Labors!” You’re right. That’s why this sculpture is alternatively called Hercules and Diomedes, the king whose horses ate human flesh. Hercules ultimately fed Diomedes to them and accomplished labor #8. In general, Hercules is shown lifting Antaeus(Diomedes )off the ground whereas he throws Diomedes to the hungry horses.

Whatever the case, Antaeus/Diomedes is definitely grabbing. Note to the wise: if you visit the Palazzo Vecchio, keep your hands off of Hercules’ manhood!


[1] Posted on the Washington Post website.

The Passage of Power


Title:                      The Passage of Power

Author:                  Robert A. Caro

Caro, Robert A. (2012).The Passage of Power. New York: Alfred A. Knopf

LOC:       2012010752

E846 .C37 2012

Date Posted:      May 23, 2013

This is one of the books picked by the readers and editors of Newsweek as their favorite books of 2012. Sometimes reality exceeds the hype. Robert Caro’s magisterial portrait of Lyndon Johnson hit new heights as this fourth volume chronicled his rise from a much disrespected vice president to a president capable of greatness and uniting the nation in the wake of tragedy.

A New York Times review by Bill Clinton of The Passage of Power[1].

The Passage of Power, the fourth installment of Robert Caro’s brilliant series on Lyndon Johnson, spans roughly five years, beginning shortly before the 1960 presidential contest, including the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis and other seminal events of the Kennedy years, and ending a few months after the awful afternoon in Dallas that elevated L.B.J. to the presidency.

Among the most interesting and important episodes Caro chronicles are those involving the new president’s ability to maneuver bills out of legislative committees and onto the floor of the House and Senate for a vote. One of those bills would later become the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

You don’t have to be a policy wonk to marvel at the political skill L.B.J. wielded to resuscitate a bill that seemed doomed to never get a vote on the floor of either chamber. Southern Democrats were masters at bottling up legislation they hated, particularly bills expanding civil rights for black Americans. Their skills at obstruction were so admired that the newly sworn-in Johnson was firmly counseled by an ally against using the political capital he’d inherited as a result of the assassination on such a hopeless cause.

According to Caro, Johnson responded, “Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?”

This is the question every president must ask and answer. For Lyndon Johnson in the final weeks of 1963, the presidency was for two things: passing a civil rights bill with teeth, to replace the much weaker 1957 law he’d helped to pass as Senate majority leader, and launching the War on Poverty. That neither of these causes was in fact hopeless was clear possibly only to him, as few Americans in our history have matched Johnson’s knowledge of how to move legislation, and legislators.

It’s wonderful to watch Johnson’s confidence catch fire and spread to the shellshocked survivors of the Kennedy administration as it dawned on them that the man who was once Master of the Senate would now be a chief executive with more ability to move legislation through the House and Senate than just about any other president in history. Johnson’s fire spread outward until it touched the entire country during his first State of the Union address. The words were written by Kennedy’s speechwriter Ted Sorensen, but their impact would be felt in the magic L.B.J. worked over the next seven weeks.

Exactly how L.B.J. did it was perfectly captured later by Hubert Humphrey — the man the president chose as his vote counter for the civil rights bill and his Senate proxy to carve its passage.

Humphrey said Johnson “knew just how to get to me.”

In sparkling detail, Caro shows the new president’s genius for getting to people — friends, foes and everyone in between — and how he used it to achieve his goals. We’ve all seen the iconic photos of L.B.J. leaning into a conversation, poking his thick finger into a confidant’s chest or wrapping his long arm around a shoulder. At 6 foot 4, he towered over most men, but even seated Johnson commanded from on high. Caro relates how during a conversation about civil rights, he placed Roy Wilkins and his N.A.A.C.P. entourage on one of the couches in the Oval Office, yet still towered over them as he sat up close in his rocking chair. And he didn’t need to be in the same room — he was great at manipulating, cajoling and even bullying over the phone.

He knew just how to get to you, and he was relentless in doing it.

If you were a partisan, he’d call on your patriotism; if a traditionalist, he’d make his proposal seem to be the Establishment choice. His flattery was minutely detailed, finely tuned and perfectly modulated. So was his bombast — whatever worked. L.B.J. didn’t kiss Sam Rayburn’s ring, but his lips did press against his bald head. Harry Byrd received deference and attention. When L.B.J. became president, he finally had the power to match his political skills.

The other remarkable part of this volume covers the tribulation before the triumphs: the lost campaign and the interminable years as vice president, in which L.B.J.’s skills were stymied and his power was negligible. He had little to do, less to say, and no defense against the indignities the Kennedys’ inner circle heaped on him. The Master of the Senate may have become its president, but in title only. He might have agreed with his fellow Texan John Nance Garner, F.D.R.’s vice president, who famously described the office as “not worth a bucket of warm spit.”

Caro paints a vivid picture of L.B.J.’s misery. We can feel Johnson’s ambition ebb, and believe with him that his political life was over, as he was shut out of meetings, unwelcome on Air Force One, mistrusted and despised by Robert Kennedy. While in Congress he may not have been universally admired among the Washington elite, and was even mocked by them as a bit of a rube. But he had certainly never been pitied. In the White House, he invented reasons to come to the outskirts of the Oval Office in the mornings, where he was rarely welcome, and made sure his presence was noted by Kennedy’s staff. Even if they did not respect him, he wasn’t going to let anyone forget him.

Then tragedy changed everything. Within hours of President Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson was sworn in as president, without the pomp of an inauguration, but with all the powers of the office. At first he was careful in wielding them. He didn’t move into the Oval Office for days, running the executive branch from Room 274 in the Executive Office Building. The family didn’t move into the White House residence until Dec. 7. But soon enough, it would become clear that the power Johnson had grasped for his entire life was finally his.

As Caro shows in this and his preceding volumes, power ultimately reveals character. For L.B.J., becoming president freed him to embrace parts of his past that, for political or other reasons, had remained under wraps. Suddenly there was no longer a reason to dissociate himself from the poverty and failure of his childhood. Power released the source of Johnson’s humanity.

Last year I was privileged to speak at the funeral of Sargent Shriver — a man who served L.B.J. but who in many ways was his temperamental opposite. I said then that too many of us spend too much time worrying about advancement or personal gain at the expense of effort. We might fail, but we need to get caught trying. That was Shriver’s great virtue. With Johnson’s election he actually had the chance to try and to win.

Even as Barry Goldwater was midwifing the antigovernment movement that would grow to such dominance decades later, L.B.J., Shriver and other giants of the civil rights and anti­poverty movements seemed to rise all around me as I was beginning my political involvement. They believed government had an essential part to play in expanding civil rights and reducing poverty and inequality. It soon became clear that hearts needed to be changed, along with laws. Not just Congress, but the American people themselves needed to be got to.

It was hard to do, absent a crisis like the losses of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. By the late 1960s, America’s increasing involvement and frustration in Vietnam, the rise of more militant civil rights leaders and riots in many cities, and the end of broad-based economic growth that had indeed “lifted all boats” in the early ’60s, made it harder and harder to win more converts to the civil rights and anti­poverty causes.

But for a few brief years, Lyndon Johnson, once a fairly conventional Southern Democrat, constrained by his constituents and his overriding hunger for power, rose above his political past and personal limitations, to embrace and promote his boyhood dreams of opportunity and equality for all Americans. After all the years of striving for power, once he had it, he said to the American people, “I’ll let you in on a secret — I mean to use it.” And use it he did to pass the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the open housing law, the antipoverty legislation, Medicare and Medicaid, Head Start and much more.

He knew what the presidency was for: to get to people — to members of Congress, often with tricks up his sleeve; to the American people, by wearing his heart on his sleeve.

Even when we parted company over the Vietnam War, I never hated L.B.J. the way many young people of my generation came to. I couldn’t. What he did to advance civil rights and equal opportunity was too important. I remain grateful to him. L.B.J. got to me, and after all these years, he still does. With this fascinating and meticulous account of how and why he did it, Robert Caro has once again done America a great service.


[1] See “Seat of Power” by Bill Clinton in the New York Times (May 2, 2012). Bill Clinton was the 42nd president of the United States.

Bear Island


Title:                      Bear Island

Author:                  Alistair MacLean

MacLean, Alistair (1971). Bear Island. Garden City, NY: Doubleday

LOC:       77163654

PZ4.M1626 Be

Date Posted:      May 22, 2013

A review by Rich Rogers from Independent Book Reviews

When Alistair MacLean was on his game, no one could touch him. (Like all writers, even he had a few dogs in the mix.) A tour of the publisher’s Web site shows that they only have a few of his novels available – his first, H.M.S. Ulysses, is among those available, however. But even these few are cause to rejoice. It’s been ages since he passed away, 1987, and half an age since his books have been available in print, and they do have some of his best-known titles.

When I discovered a whole shelf of MacLean novels staring at me in Barnes and Noble a month ago, I almost shrieked for joy – “almost” being the key word. But I did do a quick jump for joy. A very small one. Almost no one noticed.

It starts on a converted trawler, the Morning Rose, making its way through the rough waters of the Arctic Ocean north of Norway to the titular Bear Island [a real place], carrying actors and a film crew and the members of the production company. And then someone dies. And then a few more deaths. So the question is: Are the deaths a case of food poisoning or murder?

Other shadowy things begin happening, which leave the ship’s doctor, Christopher Marlowe, certain it’s murder. And the deaths continue on the barren Bear Island.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been away from MacLean for such a long time, but it took me a while to get into the flow of the story. It’s definitely a different style than what many readers are used to these days. MacLean takes his time setting up the players on the chess board, giving each character’s back story so you have more than enough information to wonder which one it is. (Often, Marlowe’s asides drag the story.) And as is typical in an Alistair MacLean story, all is not as it seems.

In the end, this was a wonderful read, and I thoroughly enjoyed returning to a writer who helped me develop my love of reading.

Maclean’s books degenerated from his first till his death. I read most of them, including this one. He never claimed to be a novelist, per se, but a story teller. In spite of his almost formula writing, I did enjoy reading every book.

The Bear and the Dragon


Title:                  The Bear and the Dragon

Author:                 Tom Clancy

Clancy, Tom (2000). The Bear and the Dragon. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons

LCCN:    00056499

PS3553.L245 B42 2000b

Subjects

Date Updated:  April 10, 2015

This is a BookReporter review.[1]

When all is said and done, at the end of the day, when the dog has been let out and the kids have been put to bed and the cats have been force-fed their fur balls back at ‘em, I get just a bit tired of the mental midgets who knock Tom Clancy. Yes, his books are long. There is a reason for this. He uses a pinpoint brush on a broad, expansive canvas. It’s all in the details. That takes words, words take pages. And the author needs talent to keep readers interested through (in the case of The Bear And The Dragon) 1100-plus pages.

Clancy has tons of details, as many pages as he wants, talent out the kazoo, and interested readers by the country load. And it’s the readers, as Clancy recently informed a rudely stupid pundit on nationwide television a couple of weeks ago (hint: the talking head’s name sounds like “Brat Liar”), that Clancy cares about.

Clancy’s novels succeed on several levels. Jack Ryan—that’s President Jack Ryan—is worthy of his title. Here is a guy who doesn’t wonder what the definition of “is” is, knows how to handle reporters, and has enough sense of who he is and what his priorities should be and what his responsibilities are that he wouldn’t, say, keep a head of state waiting while he was satisfying his curiosity about whether the carpet matched the curtains with a fetching intern. He’s a real President. And a real hero. What a concept.

Then there is Clancy’s penchant for details. I know, I know, I unfortunately have reached the stage in my life where if there are more than a half-dozen principals in a novel I am flipping back and forth to figure out who is what. But you can’t write a book that spans three continents and umpteen different levels of government in each one and have three characters controlling the action. And where you have people, you have things happening, and you have details.

Clancy forgets nothing and accounts for everything. And when you leave one of his books, you feel like you know the characters you’ve just met. You also feel as if you have read an account of actual events, rather than a work of fiction. Then there’s the action. There is drama and nobility and pathos and suspense and everything that you would want in an action/adventure novel, and in a Tom Clancy novel.

The Bear And The Dragon demonstrates the true, unplumbed depth of Clancy’s talent. It never lags and never disappoints. Things start out with a bang when persons unknown try to take out the head of the former KGB, now SVR, with a rocket-propelled grenade. And there is no lack of suspects for the deed. Jack Ryan, settling in somewhat uneasily after an American electorate throws off the yoke of complacency and elects him President (this is, after all, a work of fiction), lends FBI support to the Russians for their investigation. Surprise: the Red Chinese are behind it.

The Chinese, the “Dragon” to the Russian “Bear” in The Bear And The Dragon, have their chestnuts in the fire. Their economy is a shambles and dissent rears its head from within. Worst of all, the Red Chinese have to deal with a U. S. President who won’t unilaterally give away the farm (again, this is a work of fiction). Desperate times call for desperate measures. The Red Chinese accordingly launch a two-pronged plan: destabilize the Russian government and prepare to invade Siberia—where gold, of both the solid yellow type and the black viscous stuff known as oil, have recently been discovered.

Nothing goes as planned, however. A Chinese woman, seeking to avoid the government-sanctioned murder of her unborn child, appeals to a missionary for assistance. As it happens, the missionary is accompanied by the Papal Nuncio at the time. When the religious leaders are accidentally shot while trying to protect the child, chaos erupts. President Ryan acts of principle, calls off the trade talks, and announces financial embargoes in the face of saber-rattling from Red China and criticism from the American press. Ryan, showing a level of testosterone undreamed of in a US leader since the 1980s, refuses to back down. At the same time, he begins receiving intelligence information about China’s move against Russia. Ryan confers with his counterpart in Russia, and then the fun really begins!

The Bear And The Dragon is 100 per cent pure Clancy. It has everything, including the kitchen sink and all of the utensils. And it will last you until the next Clancy novel. It is a gem of a book from an author who has become one of our national treasures.


[1] Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011 at the BookReporter site.