Monthly Archives: April 2014

Book Review: US Marine Corps Fighter Squadrons of WWII

US Marine Corps Fighter Squadrons of World War II by Barrett Tillman

US Marine Corps Fighter Squadrons of WWII by Barrett Tillman is the history of Marine Aviation in the Pacific. Tillman a University of Oregon graduate with a BA in journalism. Much to my surprise Tillman was not in the Marines, rather a writer with a passion for military aviation. 

First, I am a former Marine so my biases are already set in stone. Tillman writes a history any Marine would be proud of…except maybe Pappy Boyington. Tillman is critical of the Black Sheep myth, and it seems justified in his research. 

There is praise for the Marines throughout the book. Charles Lindbergh (a Colonel in the Army refused active duty status by the Roosevelt Administration) trained with Marine Air Group -31 and said of them, “The more I see of the Marines the more I like them.” MacArthur’s famous “I shall return” was followed up with, “With the help of God and a few Marines MacArthur returned to the Philippines.” 

One of the two most well known fighter groups are discussed: The Black Sheep Squadron. The other is mentioned Rickenbacker’s Hat in the Ring 94th Fighter Squadron of World War I. Both Boyington and Rickenbacker may have embellished their stories, both men were very effective leaders, even if Boyington is (correctly) referred to as a functional alcoholic. Boyington however still fits well in the Marine Corps Pantheon. 

Tillman does an excellent job detailing the aircraft, the evolution of Marine aviation, and the Marine aviation’s role in the war. He covers the history of each unit in the war to include nicknames, deployments, planes, aerial combat record top fliers, and a narrative. Some of the nicknames are very Marine like the Devil Dogs, Joe’s Jokers, Wolfpack, and Whistling Devils. VMF-122 was originally designated Candystripers, but later redesignated the Werewolves. I am not sure if the original name was to give the enemy a false sense of security, or its commander was one some higher ups “list.”

Brief biographies of aces are given toward the end of the book. There are two collections of photographs in the book. The first contains pilots and the planes. The second contains the various patches for the Maine units. There is also a detailed bibliography and index. 

US Marine Fighter Squadron does the history of the Marines proud. These are the heroes that define Air Wing of the Marine Corps. Dedicated, hard charging men, who faced an enemy and fought to win. Does Boyington’s hard partying take from the image? No, it’s part of the Marine Corps… the service that was born in Tun Tavern. Although the majority of the book does not deal with The Black Sheep Squadron, they are the most recognizable. The Marine Corps has a very detailed history with plenty of brave men whose records are brought out by Tillman. Extremely well done.

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Book Review: Indigenous Poetics in Canada

Indigenous Poetics in Canada edited by Neil McLeod is an in depth look at history and practice of poetry among native Canadians. McLeod grew up Cree on the James Smith Reserve in Saskatchewan. He has written two collections of poetry: Songs to Kill a Wihtikow and Gabriel’s Beach, and is also the author of Cree Narrative Memory. McLeod teaches Indigenous Studies at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. 

To start with, this is not a collection of poetry, but rather a very scholarly study of what indigenous poetry is and the experience of native authors. Each section meticulously sited with an abundance of source material. Sections that are not sited are interviews with scholars and poets — primary source material. At least one section is an excerpt of a graduate thesis. Actual poems are, however, few. 

There are several themes that seem to run through the book. First is the oral tradition (and an explanation why oral tradition is not a valid term) or verbatim memorizations of stories and traditions. The importance of remembering the story without changing a word. Words mean things, and changing even one word affects the story. Education and the Reserves play another role in the book. There is a paradox between Cree parents wanting their children to have White-Man’s Knowledge to move beyond the reserves and being “welfare Indians” and the death of culture:

“The objective of Indian Residential Schools, paid for by the government, was to kill the Indian within the child. Languages other than English were forbidden. Hair was cut and families torn apart, We were literally silenced.”

Modern Western society marginalizes poetry in general and native poetry even more so. There have been periods where there has been a resurgence in native literature and poetry, however, much of it is not in the tradition or is written outside the experience. One professor who receives many books of native poetry and literature and despite all the praise on the back cover, he feels sorry that trees had to die to make the book. Quantity over quality…or maybe just marketing is cheapening the genre. 

Although I was hoping for more poetry, I finished this book with a much better understanding of native literature and poetry than I would have gotten from reading a collection poems. Although, that will be my next step. Indigenous Poetics in Canada is a detailed and scholarly study of the Literature of the Native Canadian peoples. It is rich with background information and source material. An essential read for anyone wanting to know the philosophy of native literature. 

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Book Review: Cambridge Honors The Centennial of World War I: A Selection of Excerpts from Cambridge University Press

Cambridge Honors The Centennial of World War I by Thomas Otte, Jay Winter, Br...

Cambridge Honors The Centennial of World War I: A Selection of Excerpts from Cambridge University Press by Thomas Otte, Jay Winter, Bruno Cabanes, and Santanu Das is a collection of summaries from other Cambridge books on the topic of World War I. 

Cambridge Honors looks at the war though other published works and covers it in themes that are mostly missed in other works. Thomas Otte’s excerpt is from July Crisis (a book I have for review from Cambridge University Press). Here coverage centers on Franz Ferdinand and Sophia’s trip to Sarajevo. It takes a look at The Black Hand and other groups actual intentions and plans before the assassination. It also covers the security of the event and gives a detailed account of the assassination attempts along the route the archduke traveled. 

Jay Winter presents an edited look at his collection: Cambridge History of the First World War (A three volume set I would love to add to my collection). The war is examined through the works of three generations of historians. He also brings to light aspect of the war not usually thought about. Such issues as infidelity on the home front as well as in the brothels off the front lines. There is a high percentage of married men fighting the war. One statistic states, of the Viennese men who died, 70% were married. The war produced many widows and in Germany unmarried mothers were allowed to change their title from fraulein to frau to free themselves and children of the stigma of illegitimacy. There is also an idea that men joined the war to leave family commitments — England, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand did not have conscription, but plenty of volunteers. One source of this idea is the cold letters home, but one soldier explains in a letter to his wife: 

No doubt all my letters must seem cold and formal but you will understand that every letter has to be censored by own officers [sic] and of course one cannot be too loving under the circumstances. 

other reasons could be the environment as noted by one soldier:

We are walking on top of dead bodies, parapets have been made of cadavers on which we rest; and in front of the parapets, just as in the surrounding fields, there are piles of dead bodies. 

Bruno Cabanes in The Great War and The Origins of Humanitarians, 1918 — 1924 covers one of the major consequences of the war: refugees. After World War I, countries ceased to exist, and people had fled the war and were unable to return home. Of course there is the huge numbers of people fleeing the internal conflict in the Soviet Union. One point is made the German Jews, who had successfully integrated into german society, feared that Eastern European Jews would harm their status and opposed immigration. Cabanes makes a point I never really thought of before. Prior to 1924, the world was open to everyone. There were no passports. You boarded a train or boat and could go as you please. It was not until after the war that governments tightened down on travel and keeping track of “their people.” To help with the problem of refugees The High Commission of Refugees was established as an international organization. Fridtjof Nansen created a plan to create legal papers for paperless refugees, known as the Nansen Passport. To further complicate matters the Soviet Union, in 1921, denationalized thousands of former nationals, essentially leaving them without a country. 

The final section covers The Cambridge Companion of the Poetry of The First World War edited by Santanu Das is another book worth owning. There is a wide range of poetry from the trenches, to the family at home, and the intellectuals. The war, all wars for that matter, can be summed up by Charles Hamilton Sorley:

When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you’ll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, “They are dead.” Then add thereto,
“Yet many a better one has died before.”
Then, scanning all the o’ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.

World War I changed mankind forever. Cambridge does its usual excellent job of documenting history and the details that many leave out. If you cannot justify all the books in the collectionCambridge Honors The Centennial of World War I: A Selection of Excerpts from Cambridge University Press offers an excellent summary. The introduction covers what the war did and how it became the trailhead for the 20th century. Without World War I, Lenin would have been just another disgruntled refugee spouting political theory in a Zurich coffee shop. That, in itself, is something to think about.

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Book Review: Stargazer: The Life, World, and Films of Andy Warhol

“My conflict is that I am shy and yet I like to take up a lot of personal space.” Andy Warhol

Stargazer: The Life, World, and Films of Andy Warhol by Stephen Koch is an examination of Warhol’s films. Koch has taught creative writing at Columbia and Princeton for nearly twenty years. His other works The Breaking Point: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and the Murder of José Robles and the extremely interesting sounding Double Lives: Spies and Writers in the Secret Soviet War of Ideas Against the West.

Stargazer is unique because it concentrates on the films of Warhol rather than his other art. There is a brief introduction and explanation of how he was influenced by Duchamp. The assassination attempt by Valerie Solanas and his death experience are also covered. There is also mention of the most famous photograph of Warhol, exposing his scars to photographer Richard Avedon. A chapter is dedicated to the concept of Bohemia and the different layers of it. Koch also uses Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wildside to introduce some of the personalities in Warhol’s life. Reed, to the surprise of many used real names in the song. A little piece of information that I was unaware of was that Warhol was a habitual reader of books, and bought the movie rights to a Clockwork Orange because he thought it ought to make a good movie. 

His early black and white movies are covered in detail. An interesting bit of information on the films is that they were shot at 24 frames per second and played back at 16 frames a second to give it a barely slow motion feel. Several of his movies are covered in detail including Sleep, The Thirteen Most Beautiful Women, The Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys, Sleep, Empire, Haircut, and Blow Job from his silent period. Also covered in this period was his portrait making machine that used 100 feet of film to make a portrait of a person. The subjects varied from the famous to whom Warhol thought looked interesting at the moment. 

Stargazer is an interesting look at Warhol through his films and the events that surround his vision for the time and the evolution of his vision. Although a little light as a complete biography,Stargazer is the most comprehensive book I have read on Warhol films. 

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Book Review: Agent of Orange

Agent of Orange by Michael P. Amram is the fictional story of Chauncy T. McClarren. Amram earned a BA in English from the University of Minnesota- Duluth in 1989. After having his short stories and poetry published he began to write full time.

Corporal McClarren witnessed quite a bit more than the average Vietnam veteran. He even took part in Operation Frequent Wind as part of his last tour. McClarren now runs a gym in Florida which he started with the G.I. Bill and has a beautiful girl friend, who happens to have met Jim Morrison before she went on the lam. She is wanted for her involvement in the Hibernia Bank robbery as a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army. McClarren’s wheelchair bound friend, who was also a Marine, is the former Gunnery Sergeant Harold Coffman. McClarern saved Coffman’s life earlier in the war. McClarren primary interest, however, is in finding his birth father, who was a black man working in interwar Germany.

At the start of the book, I was taken back to the 1970s. Many things I remember from the news and the culture came back to me. The book had the feel of a made for TV movie with the over hued color and “Quinn Martin production” type plot — authentic 70s. There was some name dropping, Jim Morrison and Patty Hearst, of course. The culture of the 70s seemed to jump out of the pages. Amram research, in many respects, is commendable. He mentions my former commanding general in Operation Frequent Wind. He gives plenty of background into the SLA, African Americans in Nazi Germany, and Judaism. There seems to be a good deal of research in several topics of the book.

Other topics could have used a bit more research. GPS is mentioned twice in the book twenty years before it became operational. McClarren’s girl friend rented and kept a “Ford Buick.” Other topics, such as, McClearren wearing his uniform years after discharge, still having a military ID, and earning a Purple Heart for saving someone’s life are out of place. McClearren, also, has quite some leeway with crossing international borders by his word alone. I know this is a work of fiction and that there has to be some suspension of disbelief, however, it seemed that every time I got on board with the story something would trip me up.

Agent of Orange

One the whole this is a good story of a man trying to find his birth father, treatment of veterans after the Vietnam War, and life in the 1970s. Tying in events of the period like the SLA, the Iranian Hostage Crisis, and musical references move the story along at a good pace. The history lessons built into the story are well researched and helpful to those who did not experience the times. However, for this reader the devil is in the details. Although some errors are small they seemed to jump up at me. For those without the military experience, most of these details may pass right over you, unnoticed. Agent Orange is an interesting story, and one worth reading for the lesser known events of interwar Germany and to experience the determination in one man’s search to find his roots. If I hadn’t served in the Marines and wasn’t a stickler for details, I would have a better rating for this book; it has a great deal of potential.

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Boom Review: Baron Franklyn Must Die

Baron Franklyn Must Die by Allen Scudwry is a science fiction novel of a future drug war. Set in the 24th Century, space travel, warp speed, and planetary wars are all present. Baron Franklyn is a ruthless drug dealer and operates on a scale the would make Pablo Escobar look like a street corner dealer. Susan is an agent for Interpol hoping to track down her parents’ killer. She was saved by Interpol when her family was killed by a drug dealer’s henchmen. Susan works with fellow her partner, fellow agent James Banahan, to track and bring down the Baron. Also working to bring down Baron Franklyn is a mercenary known as Weston who, despite living in the 24th century, is a master with a sword. The drug that the story centers on is the drug that brings down worlds, the highly addictive “Butterfly.”

There are a couple of things in this book that caught my attention. First, the writing and the story seemed different from your typical sci-fi novel. It reminded me of watching The Avengers as a child. Maybe it was the “Britishness” of the series or my young age but there seemed to be much more than the simple “good guy – bad guy story”. I had that same feeling with this book. There are some completely unexpected twists and some twists that I could not believe I missed. Another thing that caught my attention is that this book could be a copy of our modern world. Much like the original Star Trek carried messages that went well below the surface of the story — racism, for example. Here the drug war and unrestricted capitalism seem to occupy the undercurrents of the story. It is interesting to note that three hundred years in the future that the supply sided drug war is still less than successful. The supply is greatly in demand especially when coupled with a worldwide depression. Corporations are still more interested in making a profit than in making a product. As evil as the Baron is, one of his supporters remarks, that the Baron will probably look for a legitimate business once the economy turned. There is no right and wrong for the Baron only winning.

Baron Franklyn is a complex story with complex characters. It is also fairly easy to relate to the plot of the story. If it were not for spacecraft and advanced technology, this could be a contemporary crime novel with lessons to be be learned. Bad guys, cops, a vigilante, a drug war, are all present and in a believable format. Not everything is what it seems like either. The reader will question some the character’s motives and intentions. Everyone has a side they are playing in the story, and the reader will need to keep track and determine who is working for whom.

Baron Franklyn Must Die

Baron Franklyn Must Die is a thinking person’s science fiction novel with pockets of reality built into the story. An excellent read for fans of science fiction, crime stories, and also something for those who are looking for a parable of the modern world. I found Baron Franklyn enjoyable, intriguing and well worth the read.

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Book Review: The Backwash of War

The Backwash of War by Ellen N. La Motte

The Backwash of War: The Human Wreckage of the Battlefield as Witnessed by an American Hospital Nurse by Ellen N. La Motte is the account of an American battlefield in nurse in French hospital in Belgium. The stories of her experiences were so horrifying and bad for moral the book was banned in the United States until 1934

When he could stand it no longer, he fired a revolver up through the roof of his mouth, but he made a mess of it. The ball tore out his left eye, and then lodged somewhere under his skull, so they bundled him into an ambulance and carried him, cursing and screaming, to the nearest field hospital.

These are the opening two sentences of the first of fourteen stories. The story goes on to explain that since he failed in his attempt he was to be nursed back to health, using valuable medical supplies, and when he was well enough, put up against a wall and shot. 

What La Motte witnessed scenes like this and others that makeJohnny Got His Gun seem like a child’s book. La Motte does not seem to have an agenda like many anti-war writers, but wants to bring to light the realities of a romanticized war. Medals were handed out much like candy. It was for the benefit of the morale of the civilian population, that when they saw a soldier walking the streets of Paris missing limbs they would notice the Coss de Guerre pinned on his chest. 

Other stories tell of the stench of the hospitals where gangrene and meningitis were winning many of the battles. “A Surgical Triumph” is a very disturbing story on a wounded son of a hairdresser. Modern advances in medical science saved this soldier’s life and it is a triumph for the medical community, but is it a triumph on a personal level. 

La Motte removes all romantic notions of war as seen from the eyes of a nurse. She tells of the soldiers, medical staff, and the generals who make frequent rounds handing out medals in extremis. Despite motorized ambulances and a serious attempt to take care of the wounded, WWI was a miserable for anyone wounded as it was for anyone in the trenches. History tends to soften our views of the past. In this year, the one hundredth anniversary of World War I, the re-release of La Motte’s book will remind readers that no matter how glorious war is made out to be, there is a very dark and tragic side to every war. 

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Book Review: Training for War (1914)

Quick Training for War

This is a small book, almost a pamphlet, was written for men in Britain joining in the Great War. This is by no means a soldier’s manual, but a book for those joining up and something to ease the anxiousness of joining the military. I remember getting a similar book in the 1980s when I joined the Marines. What is really striking about the book is how wrong it could be for World War I. Baden-Powell (of Boy Scout fame) based much of the information from the Boer War. There is still talk of calvary attacks and small protected trenches– C and S trenches. Called “Common Sense” trenches they were named after the shape trenches. Little did Baden-Powell know just how extensive the trench system would become in the war and it had little to do with common sense. There is some good personal advice in the book particularly about hygiene and confidence.

As a historical document, Quick Training for War demonstrates how ill-prepared in scope and scale the nations of Europe were for the war that developed. Wars never go as planned, but World War I proved to be a war that no one’s plans were executed as expected, and that, in itself, created a huge tragedy.

No star rating because it is a historical document.

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Book Review: The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan

I must say to you that the state of our Union is not good — President Gerald Ford

The Invisible Bridge by Rick Perlstein

The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan by Rick Perlstein is a political history of the United States from the late 1960s to the Republican Convention in 1976.  Perlstein holds a BA in history for the University of Chicago and did graduate work at the University of Michigan in American Studies.  His previous books include Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus and  Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America.


This is a book that covered most of my childhood and brought back a flood of memories.  It not only covered the politics but the culture too.  Vietnam, Patty Hearst, POWs, Legionnaires disease, horse meat, Dirty tricks, Berkeley student protests, changing sexual ideas, ERA, bicentennial, The Exorcist, Henry Aaron, The Freedom Train, streaking, Evel Knievel, textbook wars, WIN, Born Again, Weather Underground, and Saturday Night Live are all included in this troubled period.  From Nixon’s disgrace, to Ford’s healing America, to a Georgia peanut farmer all give rise to a man from California, Ronald Reagan.  “People wanted to believe.  Ronald Reagan was able to make them believe.” Perlstein captures not only the history but also the spirit of the times.  


Perlstein gives detailed biographies of Reagan and Betty Ford.  Betty Ford was quite progressive for her time and made quite a stir with her opinions.  That was part of the history I did not remember.  President Ford, I remembered mostly for his pardoning of Nixon and Chevy Chase’s impersonations on Saturday Night Live.  Ford, not Carter, was the “nice guy” president.  Ford wanted to heal the nation and return the nation to prosperity.  His efforts at times almost seem comical, WIN -Whip Inflation Now was one of the better known programs.  My take is, that more than anything, Ford was the bridge that allowed the healing.


In the background are the other players.  Kissinger maintains a large role and smaller roles by still familiar names like Pat Buchanan, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld.  Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson start the beginnings of the Moral Majority and the Christian Right.   With Jimmy Carter, Billy Carter is also brought forward and rival Scoop Jackson.  


Another revelation for me  just how contested the the Republican primary of 1976 turned out to be.  Ford nearly became the first sitting president not to win his party’s nomination since Cester A. Arthur. The Republican party was deeply divided between Ford and Reagan.  It took the floor vote to nominate Ford before the result was known for sure.  Ford came very close to losing and may have loss if it wasn’t for Reagans choice of running mate — Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania.  

What makes The Invisible Bridge a great book is the writing.  I knew the history before reading the book.  History records that it was Ford and Dole in 1976 and not Reagan and Schweiker, but reading the book creates a sense of suspense.  There are several situations where history may have been very different, and I just never realized how close things came to being very different.  Perlstein writes a history book that wants to be read and keeps the reader’s interest through to the end.  An outstanding modern history.  

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Book Review: Australian Notebooks

Australian Notebooks by Betty Churcher

Australian Notebooks by Betty Churcher is a collection of the author’s notes on paintings from several Australian art museums. Churcher was the director of the National Gallery of Australia from 1990 to 1997. 

Australian Notebooks is an interesting book especially for the American reader. Although there are several internationally well known artist’s covered, there are plenty of Australian artists covered too. I am by no means an art expert but can tell Van Gogh from Monet and Dali form Rivera. This book brings in a wide selection of different artists, many I have not heard of. With each painting is a sketch by the author with her notes and a brief history the artist. I was surprised by some of the Australian works, not because they were good, but because I have never seen them before. Frederick McCubbin’s “Down on His Luck” captures the emotion of a man with his bag of possessions sitting at a small camp fire. The dread lingers throughout the entire painting. Emmanuel Phillips Fox’s “The Ferry” use of color creates almost motion in the painting. Not all painting are by Australian’s, but paintings held in Australia. Perhaps my favorite is the modern landscape by the German, Anselm Kiefer –Twilight of the West (Abendland)

Churcher covers works in the Queensland Art Gallery, Art Gallery of New South Wales, The National Gallery of Australia, The National Gallery of Victoria, The Art Gallery of South Australia, and The Art Gallery of Western Australia. This represents a wide spread of the country’s best held art. 

Churcher’s sketches with notes will give the reader a personal insight to the covered works. The text provides an excellent background into the artist and art. Australian Notebooks offers a great introduction to art for those who may appreciate art, but not know its history and for those a little intimidated by art. A very good read for all.

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