Monthly Archives: November 2014

Book Review – 1913: The Eve of War

1913 by Paul Ham

1913: The Eve of War by Paul Ham sets the European stage for the start of WWI. Ham is the author of several books on 20th Century war, politics, and diplomacy. He has written several on the time period including the previously reviewed 1914: The Year the World Ended.

Europe was a happy place. Economic growth, new products and production contributed to an established middle class. There was stability. It has been ninety-eight years since the last continent wide war, and over forty years since any of the powers faced off in a war. Art, music, and leisure time made this a golden time.

Ham looks into the events that caused the war and tells that it is much more complex, and even a bit more absurd than what we came to believe. We all heard the blame placed on alliances and the assassination of the Arch Duke. These are simple answers that do not reflect the complexity of the situation. Alliances do not lead to war. Anyone who has lived through the Cold War recognizes that NATO and the Warsaw Pact kept the war cold. The Archduke was not liked at home or abroad. Emporer Franz Joseph is credited as thanking God for bringing order to his house after the assassination. No leaders from any of the powers attended the funeral. The Emporer, although shaken by the news of the assassination returned to the capital, but quickly resumed his vacation.

Suspicion, distrust, and prestige had more to do than anything else. There more than ample opportunities to stop the war before it started, but no one put forth the effort. Instead everyone planned for war. Railroads made mobilization quicker and also prevented a negotiation period from mobilization to the firing of shots. Once the troops boarded the trains, there was no turning back. Ham makes sense of and explains the complex events that lead to a very preventable war.

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Book Review: Vietnam Reflections

Vietnam Reflections by Steve McKenna

Vietnam Reflections by Steve McKenna is a collection of short stories about the experiences of several Vietnam Veterans. McKenna is a decorated Vietnam Vet and former middle school teacher. This is his first book.

Violence and war and are dark and malignant things. They represent the failure of human beings. It is more than just killing another man it is the wanton killing and the dehumanizing of the enemy. McKenna opens the with near poetry of the violence, death, and destruction seen in war. It is more than just telling a story, the reader is inserted into the war much like Wordsworth inserts the reader into the scene of Tintern Abbey. But unlike the happy reflective, there is a dark imprinting. There is a deep personal feeling to the violence, a horrific beauty to it. Images that scar for a life time. It is the scars that the book tells about and the healing process that changes open wounds to scars.

I received the book as a non-fiction item and was very impressed with the telling of the war and the countdown of days to the plane ride back to the states. It was when the narrator returned to The States and began life as a civilian that I began to doubt the nonfiction label. There are some extremely lucky, or improbable, events that sent up red flags in my mind. I did a little research on the book and found that it was historical fiction and not nonfiction. With that discovery I was able to enjoy the book for what it was. The improbable became accepted as a vehicle to carry the real message of the story.

The stories, one long and several short, attempt to show the effects of war on those who survived. Different people react differently, some recover, some struggle, and some lose the battle. People in combat were caught up in the war, day in and day out of constant danger changes a person. Returning home exposes these changes. The loss of the rush of constant danger is not a relief, but a withdrawal. There is guilt from actions carried out in the heat of battle. There is, in many, the need to atone for the past. For others, there is a need to stop the nightmares. For parents and loved ones, on both sides, closure is sought.

McKenna captures the intensity and the mind of Vietnam veteran. Here was a war that we lost with a death toll of almost 60,000 Americans. It was a war where we fought an enemy that won battles and overran American positions and eventually ran America out of the war. It not only carries the burden of war but the weight of defeat. That load is carried by many veterans who found themselves just as unwelcomed at home as they were in Vietnam. This is not just another ‘Nam book.

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10 November 1775

Happy 239th Birthday fellow Marines

Story of Creation
Author Unknown

In the beginning was the word, and the word was God. In the beginning was God and all else was darkness and void, and without form, so God created the heavens and the earth. He created the sun and the moon, and the stars, so that light might pierce the darkness. The Earth, God divided between the land and the sea and these He filled with many assorted creatures.

And the dark, salty, slimy creatures that inhabited the murky depths of the oceans, God called sailors. And he dressed them accordingly. The had little trousers that looked like bells at the bottom. And their shirts had cute little flaps on them, and they wore funny looking hats. He gave them long sideburns and beards, nicknamed them “squids”, and banished them to a lifetime at sea, so normal folks would not have to associate with them. To further identify these unloved creatures, He called them “petty” and “commodore” instead of titles worthy of red-blooded men.

And the flaky creatures of the land, God called soldiers. And with a twinkle in His eye, and a sense of humor only He can have, God made their trousers too short and their covers too large. He also made their pockets oversized, so that they may warm their hands. And to adorn their uniforms, God gave them badges in quantities only a dime store owner could appreciate. And he gave them emblems and crests and all sorts of shiny things that glittered, and devices that dangled. (When you are God you tend to get carried away.)

On the 6th day, God thought about creating some air creatures for which he designed a Greyhound bus driver’s uniform. He discarded this idea during the first week, and it was not until years later that some apostles resurrected this theme and established what we now know as the “wild blue yonder wonders”.

And on the 7th day, as you know, God rested. But on the 8th day, at 0530, God looked down upon Earth and was not happy. God was just not happy! So He thought about His labors, and in His divine wisdom, God created a divine creature. And this He called Marine. And the Marines, who God created in His own image, were to be of the air, and of the land, and of the sea. And these He gave many wonderful uniforms. some were green, and some were blue with red trim. And in the early days, some were even a beautiful tan. He gave them practical fighting uniforms, so they could wage war against the forces of Satan and the evil. He gave them service uniforms for their daily work and training. And He gave them evening and dress uniforms… and stylish, handsome things, so they may promenade with their ladies on Saturday night and impress everybody. He also gave them swords, so that people who were not impressed could be dealt with accordingly.
And at the end of the 8th day, God looked down upon the Earth and saw that it was good. But was God happy? No! God was still not happy. Because in the course of his labors, He had forgotten one thing. He did not have a Marine uniform for himself. But He thought about it, and thought about it, and finally satisfied Himself in, well…………………..not everybody can be a MARINE!!!

Cpl Sudduth, Cpl Hale, Cpl Jonesy, Myself, and Cpl Williams
Bonn, West Germany

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Book Review – Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America

Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy is a history and the study of a murder case in South Los Angeles. Leovy is a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times and the creator of The Homicide Report.

Ghettoside opens with the shooting death of Bryant Tennelle a young black man. Tennelle death seems random as he had no gang affiliations. He was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. In the city, especially the area south of I-10, hundreds of people are murdered in a typical year. Many are called “ambulance shootings” or “scoop and carry.” The police are notified of the shooting after the ambulance picks up the injured or dead victim. In the other case, the police are notified by the hospital after the victim has been “scooped up” by family or friends and “carried” to the hospital. CSI type crime scene investigations are not needed to show that the victim died from a bullet wound. Witnesses are not rare, but those willing to talk to police are. Much of the violence is black on black and many of the police just look at it as “another dead n*****.”

Leovy makes a strong case indirectly about community. The police that work the notorious South Central and the rest of south LA don’t live there. They live in the suburbs and commute to work. They do not patrol the neighborhoods where they actually live. There is not the sense of protecting their own. There is also racial problems of white cops in a black neighborhood. LA has been experiencing Ferguson, MO for decades. Not all the blame can be given to the officers. They are grossly under funded, under equipped, and told what to do by those not in that neighborhood. Leovy mentions some crime prevention programs prescribed for south LA. One in particularly is to have a patrol car drive around with lights and sirens on. Not responding to a call, but pretending to respond and creating a presence to deter crime.

Leovy includes the history of Los Angeles and the history of the police department and its bureaucracy. She explains the origins of the southern neighborhoods. Ghettoside follows the careers of half a dozen officers who work to make a difference. Among those officers is former Marine, Wally Tennelle. Tennelle is black, married to a Costa Rican national he met on Embassy Duty, and he lives in the neighborhood where he works. Tennelle is one of those rare people who quietly makes a stand and displays an unusual amount of integrity, duty, and humility. His qualities are tested, much like Job, with the murder of his youngest son, Bryant.

I usually do not read crime books, but since Ghettoside is nonfiction I gave it a try. The writing is powerful, moving, and true. The reader will experience realities of living in a world where violence is the norm and the police are seem to be little more than scorekeepers keep track of murders, and solving very few of them. The core of the book is the murder of Bryant Tennelle and the effort to solve his murder. Ghettoside made me think, almost from the start, if Bryant Tennelle was not the son of a police officer would his case have received the attention it got? Wally Tennelle, by all accounts is a very good man, and deserved justice, but don’t the parents and families of the victims deserve justice? With well over half the murders never being solved and paperwork tricks supporting a percentage that high, it is clear that something different needs to be done.

Ghettoside is interesting, and shows the flaws in our system and the general acceptance of those flaws. Many people in South Central LA accept that things will not get better. The system refuses to invest time, money, and manpower into a losing battle and would rather put the effort into keeping nice areas nice. I have one problem with Ghettoside as a work of nonfiction. It falls into the category of narrative nonfiction. It reads like a novel, which is fine, but there is no detailed bibliography or cites of any conversation, action, or police policy. I am pretty sure Leovy did not witness all the events in the book first hand. I have no doubt that she completed some painstaking research in the writing of Ghettoside. Coming from an academic background of political science and history, I was taught to document everything. It is your proof of work and fact. There is no reasonably feasible way to check the facts presented by Leovy. I have no reason to doubt her, but as Ronald Reagan once said, “Trust, but verify.”

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Book Review – SOS: Poems 1961-2013

SOS: Poems 1961-2013 by Amiri Baraka is a collection of poetry spanning the author’s lifetime and reflecting his views particularly on racism. Baraka was a novelist, playwright, and a revolutionary African American poet. He served as Poet Laureate of New Jersey surrounded by controversy. Baraka refused to step down, and, with no way to remove him from the position, the position was abolished by the state legislature and governor.

I grew up in a very segregated city of Cleveland, Ohio in the 1960s and 1970s. It was not just a black and white segregation, but like most big northern cities even whites segregated themselves into neighborhoods by European heritage. I saw SOS as a way to try and learn what I was sheltered from growing up from a first hand source. I know there are histories written by both black and white authors, but I was hoping that the poetry would speak more to the personal feel than a socially acceptable history. Race in America is charged subject and perhaps a poet can capture it in a way we all can understand.

How amazed the crazed negro looked informed that Animal
Rights had a bigger budget
than the naacp!

~ The Heir of the Dog

SOS opens with a detailed introduction by Paul Vangelisti which is extremely helpful and informative. This is a difficult collection. I found myself struggling for the first half of the collection until the poetry moved into the late 1960s and early 1970s. My personal recollection of the time period helped me gain some traction. There is a reference to Rimbaud early on, but little else for me to relate to. Then suddenly there is Nixon, Kissinger, and Ford and a connection is made. Baraka is angry.

Dude asked Monk if he was interested
in digging
The Mother Land

Monk say,
“I was in the

Mother Land before
& some mother fucka
brought me over here

to play the
mother fuckin

You dig?
~Four Cats on Repatriationology

Baraka criticizes politics,economics,and the arts. He speaks with a frank and direct language.

The whimpering pigment of a decadent economy, slashed into
as Yeats’ mad girl plummeting over the nut house wall, her
broken knee caps rattling in the weather, reminding us of lands
our antennae do not reach.

~ The Politics of Rich Painters

He is equally critical and displays anger at all races in a reverse racism of Black Art. Black Art contains a violence of its own and a violence of poetry:

We want “poems that kill.”
Assassin poems, Poems that shoot
guns. Poems that wrestle cops into alleys
and take their weapons leaving them dead
with tongues pulled out and sent to Ireland. Knockoff poems for
dope selling wops or slick halfwhite politicians.

Baraka leaves no stone unturned in his rage politics, class, and religion :

We’ll worship Jesus
When jesus do
When jesus blow up
the white house
or blast nixon down
when jesus turnout congress or bust general motors to
yard bird motors
jesus need to be busted
we ain’t gonna worship nobody
but niggers gettin up off
the ground.

Not all is anger. Baraka like his music AM/TRAK speaks of Trane in a sharp play on trains and Coltrane. There is also a play on an angry Sisyphus who hates rock and roll because the gods who punished him created a band called The Rolling Stones, just to rub it in. If Elvis Presley was the king, then who is James Brown, God? The Beatles are not seen quite as favorably in Baraka eyes.

Baraka has sharp words and makes no attempt to hide his personal feelings. This is a rough collection of poems that resides outside polite society. It is for people, not just black, who see the construct of American culture and politics and realize it is not the clean and sanitary image that we are trained to see. The change we think we see is not always there:

Revolutionary War gamed

The Tories still in control
of the culture

~There was Something I Wanted to Tell You


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“Getting Down” by Amiri Baraka

“Getting Down”

Sisyphus explained why he can’t  stand Rock & Roll,
“The Judge sentence me to the same thing
Then call these freaks The Rolling Stones
To rub it in.”

S.O.S. Poems
Amiri Baraka

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Book Review & Author News

Adam Henig

The Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert A. Caro

86524As we embark on the eve of Election Day, it’s an opportunity to reconsider one of the most powerful twentieth century American political figures, President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Of all the authors that have written about the controversial thirty-sixth president, no one has come close to doing a more exhaustive job than two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Caro in his epic series, The Years of Lyndon Johnson.

Caro’s first volume, The Path to Power, focuses on LBJ’s roots and his meteoric rise in Texas politics. A standard book review for this tome would normally be about 2,500 words and rest assured it has been done many times over. I have no desire to rehash what has already been said.

But I wanted to point out a particularly interesting episode, about how a piece of advice from…

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Book Review — Zero Point

Zero Point by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed

Zero Point by Nafeez Ahmed is an action adventure “spy” novel in a modern format. Ahmed is an investigative journalist and an international security scholar. He writes for The Guardian on geopolitics in his “Earth Insight” column. He also taught international politics, contemporary history, empire, and globalization at the University of Sussex. He holds a PhD in International Relations and an MA in Contemporary War and Peace Studies.

Zero Point was a book I knew I would like from the start. I share the same educational background with the author and the book appears to be a modern twist on the books I used to read back in the Marines. Back then it was the US or Great Britain against the Soviets. Usually, there was a spy, diplomat, or military service man thrown into an international disaster in the making. The situation was not only bigger than anything he trained for but bigger than anything he could imagine. The demise of the Soviet Union and a lacking a credible enemy this type of novel disappeared. It tried making a few comebacks, but never caught on, at least until now.

Ahmed creates a credible enemy in the near future Great Britain. What makes this unique is that the players remain basically the same as they are at the present. There is no unified Jihad movement or unstable Middle East Leader, although there have been four Gulf wars. The Mid East is still a hot spot because of the United State’s thirst for oil and the realization that once you remove the old power structure of a closed society and open it to democracy, in one fell swoop, it is going to fail.

Zero Point creates a convincing near future world scenario. The reader can be pulled into a believable setting. David Ariel, a veteran of the fourth Gulf War, left the military for reasons of conscience and finds himself working a protection detail for the Prime Minister as a civilian cop in Specialist Protection, SO1. In route to a meeting with the Iranian ambassador, Prime Minister Carson’s Motorcade is attacked and destroyed. Ariel survives, only to find out that it looks like he will be blamed for the disaster–Not for dereliction of duty, but as a plotter. He escapes custody and tries not only to clear his name but find those responsible.

This is where the novel requires the suspension of disbelief. Alliances are made. technology is discovered. Covert groups rise. This after all is an action/spy novel and the key to making the unbelievable believable is in the way the story is told. Ahmed introduces new information in a way that exposes it in a methodical process. The reader finds himself in the frog pot where the water is being warmed a degree at a time and by the time the reader realizes that something is amiss, the water is boiling.

Zero Point is an action packed novel filled with twists and turns and technology that will hold any Cold War spy novel fan’s interest. Ahmed pulls together every spy novel “cliche” and molds it into the post Cold War world; he even creates some new ones. The escalation of events in the novel prevents me from disclosing much more information than I already have. Events and items build upon each in Zero Point. Zero Point is a fast and furious novel that will bring back many readers who missed the good old days of the Cold War.

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Book Review — Time Bomb: Canada and the First Nations: Disarming Conflict

Time Bomb by Douglas L. Bland

Time Bomb: Canada and the First Nations: Disarming Conflict by Douglas L. Bland is a current account and examination of the relationship between the First Nations and the Canadian government. Douglas L. Bland served for 30 years as a senior officer in the Canadian Armed Forces and held the chair of defence studies at Queen’s University for 15 years. He is the author of six books and numerous published contributions on Canadian and international security affairs. His political novel, Uprising, was published in 2009.

I remember from my grade school studies that white settlers bought Manhattan for a handful of glass beads. Squanto saved the pilgrims in their first winter in the new world. Ministers worked to save the souls of the savage peoples. The United States protected the Indians on reservations. The United States government was a benevolent force… the same government that counted another race of people as 2/3s a person. We learn more as we get older and my grade school years were spent in that US bicentennial period, where US history heavily candy coated. All this came on the heels of the American Indian Movement seventy-one day armed standoff with federal forces at Wounded Knee and before that John Trudell and the United Indians of All Tribes takeover of Alcatraz. But, to balance, Hollywood gave us Billy Jack.

I was a bit surprised to read that this is a continuing problem in Canada. I understood that many who stayed on reserves, like those on reservations, have a hard life and the government promises of the past are mostly forgotten. Treaties are either unfulfilled or simply ignored. Assimilation, forced or voluntary, has not worked as well in Canada as in the United States. Canada seems to be following the failed US system of “separate, but equal.” Existing treaties are bad and both sides know that, but the lack of trust prevents any forward movement.

Canada’s indigenous peoples are far from unified politically and geographically. There is no large political force like AIM in America. This disorganization allows the government to delay or ignore the problem. Bland points out that there need not be a major confrontation to be effective. Canada relies on its transportation system (rail, pipeline, and road) and its raw materials and agriculture for a large part of its economy. This creates a problem. If the minerals or crops are on native claimed land, there is much the native people can do to prevent access physically or legally. There is no possible way for the government to protect all the miles of road and rail in Canada. Small groups could easily cripple the rail system in many different places. That may sound insignificant, but a 2012 Teamsters strike against the Canadian Pacific Railroad shut down the national economy. The government was forced to intervene after only five days. The estimated cost of the shutdown was $540 million per day. An attack on the rail system would keep it closed for far longer. The Canadian rail system seems to be more one dimensional than the US system and has several choke points.

Bland educates the reader with points many never really consider. Sovereignty and nation mean different things. Nation usually, in the international sense, means an autonomous state. An Indian Nation, however is not autonomous and does not meet the international definition of a nation. The Iroquois or Chippewa may not apply for membership in the UN. Sovereignty to the organization being the supreme power in its borders. Indian nations are required to abide by the constitution of Canada. A sovereign Indian nation has much different meaning than the sovereign nation of Ecuador.

Time Bomb perhaps is an accurate term for the book. There is a problem and if left unchecked could explode causing great damage. But, being a time bomb, there is time to disarm it. Bland’s examination of the problem, the players, the obstacles, and the stakes make Time Bomb an important read for all Canadians and also an educational read for others. It is an issue that demands attention on not only the human rights level, but also on a level that governments understand, economics. A very informative read.


I have used the term Indian in this review. Although historically inaccurate, it is an accepted term of use in treaties and organizations such as AIM (American Indian Movement), the United Indians of All Tribes, and several current organizations. In 1995 US Census Bureau reported, 50% of people who identified as indigenous preferred the term American Indian, 37% preferred Native American, and the remainder preferred other terms or had no preference

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