Thursday, March 27, 2014

Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins

I plan to deviate from my normal monthly blog posts by focusing on poetry for the rest of March and all of April.  A couple of days ago, without any thought of doing this or that April is National Poetry Month,  I ordered severals books by Billy Collins.  A U.S. Poet Laureate from 2001 - 2003 and for NY State from 2004 - 2006, his poetry is witty, whimsical, thought-provoking and most important to me as a novice poetry reader: accessible.  Case in point - read below.

By Billy Collins
in Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry
An anthology of contemporary poems selected by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem 
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it. 

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Feb 2014 Books

The Coldest War: A Memoir of Korea by James Brady
Published: 1990
Rating: 4

Having read his fictional account of the Korean War, Marines of Autumn, I wanted to read his memoir.

Ironically, Brady joined the Marines to avoid the draft. But in June 1950, newly commissioned in the Marine Corps Reserves as a second lieutenant with plans to serve his time attending weekly meetings and summer training, the Korean War started and his reserve class was mobilized.

He served in Korea from November 1951 to the summer of 1952, first as a rifle platoon leader in Dog Company, Second Battalion, 7th Marines then as Executive Officer of Dog Company, then as the Battalion Intelligence Office.

Memorable quotes:
Because it began along an artificial frontier dividing a single nation effectively into Soviet and American zones, a deal cut in part to lure the Russians into attacking the Japanese in 1945, Korea might be thought of as the last campaign of World War II; because of the vague way it ended in 1953, as the opening battle for Vietnam (1). 
You never really mastered war, never got on top of it.  It was always too big, there was too much to it ever to finish the job (109). 
When you weren't fighting, the war was pretty good (111). 
If you have never been to war, you cannot realize that some of it - not all, of course - is such sheer, boyish fun.  You lived outdoors, you were physically active, you shared the boisterous camaraderie of other young men, you shed fat and put on sinew and muscle.  Except for those nagging, minor hurts, you were clear-eyed and generally healthy, and your body responded, instantly and instinctively, whenever called upon (114). 
The stars were far off, too.  And in a strange way, very close.  Overhead they shone, my lone companions, frosted diamonds incredibly near in the black night, incredibly far their fire.  Cold, the night was always cold, and that had frightened me too, reaching for me through the scientifically blended layers of cloth, as if the cold were already within, dangerous cold.  How could you ever get warm if the cold were inside you?  Even the snow at first was sinister, the snow I had always loved, lying in a warm bed with the blinds open so I could watch it drift slowly down through the yellow cone of the lamppost light.  The snow at home was warm, friendly.  This snow had seemed hostile and different (123).

Other books by Brady to read:
  • Winning of War: A Novel of the North China Marines (2002)
  • The Marine: A Novel of War from Guadalcanal to Korea (2003)
  • Hero of the Pacific: The Life of Marine Legend John Basilone (2009)

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Published: 2013
Rating: 4.5

After a few unsuccessful attempts, it finally took 2 hours of straight reading while noting Ursula's modes of death to clarify the novel's unique structure. 

Dog-earred and underlined with numerous quotes in my journal, I plan to write a post on Josh's blog with additional thoughts. 

A few select quotes below:

On Ursula's birth - from her point of view:
An icy rush of air, freezing slipstream on the newly exposed skin.  She is, with no warning, outside the inside and the familiar wet, tropical world has suddenly evaporated.  Exposed to the elements.  A prawn peeled, a nut shelled.
On Ursula's birth - from her mother's point of view:
Big dewdrop pearls of sweat on her skin, a horse nearing the end of a hard race.
On Ursula's vague memories of prior lives:
Her memories seemed like a cascade of echoes. 
The past was a jumble in her mind, not the straight line that it was for Pamela. 
Words and phrases echoed themselves, strangers seemed like old acquaintances.

Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives by Brian Weiss, MD
Published: 1988
Rating: 3.5
Author web site

My daughter received this book from a friend and thought I would be interested.

It is the 3rd book I've read by skeptical non-believing physician/scientists whose experiences have caused a complete and radical paradigm shift in their understanding of the physical vs. spiritual world, the afterlife and even reincarnation.

The other two are Proof of Heaven by Eban Alexander, MD and My Son and the Afterlife by Elisa Medhus, MD.   Not only have all three become ardent believers, but feel called to share with others through books, web sites, workshops and interviews.

Essentially, this is an account of Dr. Weiss's work with a young woman plagued with phobias that were severely affecting her daily life.  After conventional therapy did not relieve her symptoms, he used hypnosis to help her access childhood memories…..except she began relaying a life back in 1863 BC!  More lives followed and in subsequent sessions after re-living a death, she entered what he calls an "in-between state" or "space between lives".

Her voice becomes rich and husky and the words are profound, universal and resonate with truth and beauty.  In one such state, she told him facts of his deceased father and son and how each of them died - details she could not have known.  His response:
I saw in awed silence as my numbed mind tried to sort things out.  The room felt icy cold….She was revealing truths.  And what about my father and son?  In a sense, they were still alive; they never really died.  They were talking to me, years after their burials, and proving it by providing specific, very secret information….Beneath my chill, I felt a great love stirring, a strong feeling of oneness and connection with the heavens and the earth….My life would never be the same again.  A hand had reached down and irreversibly altered the course of my life.
Through this past-life therapy, this young woman was totally healed.

In the afterword, Weiss sums up what he has learned in the 20 years since the book was published, after successfully using past-life therapy with several thousand patients to overcome phobias, grief, pain and psychosomatic illnesses.
To paraphrase the mystic Teilhard de Chardin:  "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience.  We are spiritual beings having a human experience."  Our bodies are temporary.  We are souls.  We are immortal; we are eternal.  We never die; we merely transform to a heightened state of consciousness, no longer needing a physical body.  We are always loved.  We are never alone, and we can never be harmed, not at this level.
We have lessons to learn in this school called Earth.  We need to comprehend completely the concepts of compassion, love, non-violence, non-judgement, non-prejudice, patience, generosity and charity, and hope.  We need to recognize the deceptions and traps of ego and how to transcend them.  We must become aware of the interconnectedness of all living beings, that energy connects us all, and that there is no death, only life.
This sound very similar to the lessons from Proof of Heaven.  

So another small book that leaves much to ponder.   I've tried to process in my journal and ended up with several pages of thoughts and questions - fodder for a future post on Josh's blog.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

January 2014 Books

My attention has moved forward in time from WWII to the Korean War which began 5 years after WWII ended.  Cast of characters include familiar people: Douglas MacArthur, Chesty Puller, heroic commander of the 1st Marine Regiment, President Truman, Joseph Stalin and George C. Marshall.

And since one cannot understand the Korean War without learning about China, new characters include: Chiang Kai-Shek, Nationalists leader whom the U.S. was supporting; Mao Zedong Communist leader nominally supported by Stalin.

Korean characters: Kim Il-Sung, Soviet approved Communist leader of North Korea; and Syngman Rhee, leader of South Korea, backed by U.S and United Nations.

The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War by David Halbertstam
Published: 2007 posthumously
Rating so far: 5
Awards: 2008 Pulitzer Prize finalist (history)

David Halberstam (1934 - 2007) was a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist whose landmark book on the Korean War was published posthumously, after he died unexpectedly in a car accident.

I have been listening to this book in my car and it has been utterly fascinating, horrifying, suspenseful and riveting.  As soon as the car is on and before leaving the driveway, the reader's voice fills the air, transporting me to battles in the cold, harsh terrain of Korea.   I am emotional while listening with many of the same phrases escaping my lips such as:
  • OMG!!
  • WHAT ASININE JERKS - MacArthur, Charles A. Willoughby, Ned Almond
  • AMAZING - General Walker's troops holding the Pusan perimeter
  • CRAZY  - Gamble of Inchon landing which worked (thank God!)
  • DUMB - why military action is linked/hamstrung/tied to politics
    • MacArthur disregard of intelligence pointing to China's troop buildup at the North Korean/Manchurian border
    • splitting his army in pursuit of North Korean army up to Yalu River
    • "Troops will be home by Christmas" speech by MacArthur
    • when clear that Chinese troops was in-country, constant underestimation of troop strength and ability
    • How the hell can you make decisions without wanting the best intelligence possible?
    • How did they (infantry commanders) put up with that crap?
  • YEAH - when O.P Smith disregarded Almond's orders, saving the 1st Marine Division from annihilation at the Chosin Resevoir Battle and retreat
  • SO SAD - when listening to 8th Army's rout and retreat after the Battle of the Chongchon River
  • YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME - when MacArthur and staff took absolutely no responsibility for disgraceful rout of 8th army and retreat of X Corps back across 38th parallel
  • YAHOO - when Matt Ridgeway took over as commander in Korea
Incidentally, an ultra cold front last week drove temperatures in the midwest to 5 degrees with windchill of -15 below F.  In Korea, our troops were marching, fighting and sleeping in temperatures colder - with inadequate clothing and provisions.  Non-combant casualties due to frostbite were rampant.  Some of the solders had fought in the harsh European winter of 1944 and never thought they would experience colder, until Korea (yikes!)

Favorite quotes:

… the sheer terror of the Chinese assault could open up and reveal what was inside a man in a way that no man should be opened up.  It was like peering inside another man's soul: all the bravado and veneer were gone, and all the things that most men like to hide from those around them were all too nakedly there for inspection. 
No one understood the odd process - perhaps the most primal on earth - that turned ordinary, peace-loving, law-abiding civilians into very good fighting men; or one of its great sub-mysteries - how quickly it could take place. 
Perhaps all wars are in some way or another the product of miscalculations.  But Korea was a place where almost every key decision on both sides turned on a miscalculation.  First, the Americans took Korea off their defensive perimeter, which in turn encouraged the varying Communist participants to act.  Then, the Soviets gave the green light to Kim Il Sung to invade the South, convinced the Americans would not come in.  When the Americans entered the war, they greatly underestimated the skills of the North Korean troops they were going to face, and vastly overestimated how well prepared the first American troops to go into battle were.  Later, the Americans decided to drive north of the thirty-eighth parallel, paying no attention to Chinese warnings.  After that, in the single greatest American miscalculation of the war, MacArthur decided to go all the way to the Yalu because he was sure the Chinese would not come in, and so made his troops infinitely more vulnerable.  Finally, Mao believed that the political purity and revolutionary spirit of his men greatly outweighed America's superior weaponry (and its corrupt capitalist soul) and so, after an initial great triumph in the far North, had pushed his troops too far south, taking horrendous losses in the process.

An excellent audiobook with the paperback added to my fledgling collection about the Korean War. I have also purchased another highly touted Halbertstam book about the Vietnam War: The Best and the Brightest.

Enter the Dragon: China's Undeclared War Against the U.S. in Korea, 1950-1951 by Russell Spurr
Published: 1988
Rating: 5

Like Halberstam, Russell Spurr was also a journalist - the Far East correspondent for the London Daily Express who reported on the Chinese Communist victory in 1949 and covered the last 14 months of the Korean War.

The book is a result of 5 years of research, 40 in-person interviews and 20 visits to China.  His aim was to write about the "Unforgotten War" from the Chinese point of view to balance the umpteen volumes written from the US/UN side.

Well chosen epigrams:
   When the enemy is at ease, be able to weary him;
when well fed, to starve him;
when at rest, to make him move.
   Appear at places to where he must hasten;
move swiftly where he does not expect you.  
         Sun Tze, The Art of War
Come like the wind, go like lightening.
Chang Yu, Sung dynasty commentator
Spurr choses to focus on a relatively short period of time (August 1950 - January 1951) covering China's military planning, entry into the war, and battles leading up to the stalemate against UN troops.

Last paragraph from the prologue is why I now believe that it should be mandatory that anyone who serves are President of the United States and thus the Commander of our Armed Forces should be an expert in military history.
The moral, if there is one, would seem to be that confrontations are never quite as irrevocable as they seem.  Given a modicum of understanding and communication, yesterday's enemies can yet become tomorrow's allies.

Dog Songs: Poems by Mary Oliver
Published: 2013
Rating: 5

LOVE IT!   Here is a sample of how brilliantly Oliver captures what we can learn from dogs:


Now through the white orchard my little dog
    romps, breaking the new snow
    with wild feet.

Running here running there, excited,
    hardly able to stop, he leaps, he spins
until the white snow is written upon
   in large, exuberant letters,
a long sentence, expressing
   the pleasures of the body in this world.

Oh, I could not have said it better
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang
Published: 1991
Rating: 5

Excellent book - I learned so much about China's tumultuous history during the 20th century via the lives of Chang (b. 1952), her mother (b. 1931) and her grandmother (b. 1909).

There is a very good chronology of major events in her family alongside what was occurring in China.

All my reading about WWII, the Korean War and now, Chinese history ties together and it is both fascinating and horrifying.

  •  After WWII, Chinese Civil War picks up again between Chiang Kai-Shek's Kuomintang and Mao Zedung's Communists. 
  • Mao wins and see the Korean War as a chance to elevate China onto the world stage - he was right. 
  • The real winner of the Korean War was Mao.  In China, his political power became unlimited, now a demigod, the true emperor of China. 
  • "Great Leap Forward" - Mao's attempt to catapult China into the industrial age on the back of peasants resulting in widespread famine and the death of millions. 
  • "Cultural Revolution" - millions displaced, tortured and died.  The suffering of loyal Communist such as Chang's parents was heartbreaking.  I felt like I was reading a horrible dystopic fiction.  What was happening in China in the 60's could not have been more different than the free-spirit, hippie experience in America.  It is hard to imagine:
    • no freedom whatsoever - even of thoughts
    • no recreation
    • families torn apart
    • "denunciations"
    • beatings, torture
    • complete and total repression
    • Chang's father at 50 looked like he was 70 years old
In 1978, Chang was able to win a scholarship to study in England - the first person from the Sichuan province (90 million) to do so.  She secured her doctorate in 1982 and makes her home in London.   In 1988, her mother came to visit and poured out their family's story which was the basis of this book. 

Since then she has written two other books that I want to read:
  • Mao, The Unknown Story 
  • Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

December 2013 Books

D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II by Stephen Ambrose
Published: 1994
Rating: 4

I bought this at the humongous Strand Book Store in New York City in June of this year.  It is a chronologically detailed account of D-Day: the Allied invasion of Hitler's Fortress Europe on June 6, 1944.

What I learned:

  • Eisenhower's fateful decision to go ahead despite the horrible weather conditions.
  • The paratrooper's missions behind enemy lines were critical.  Many were dropped miles from their intended areas.
  • Role of mini-subs and minesweepers
  • Engineers who blew up beachhead obstacles were no less courageous than infantry soldiers. 
  • Unbelievably detailed planning - down to the minute.
  • The training of troops for amphibious landing.
  • The horrible seasickness onboard the landing crafts - the soldiers were eager to get off
  • Carnage on Omaha Beach.
  • Brave decisions/actions of junior officers and NCO's made the difference.  If they stopped, the invasion would have failed. 
  • Almost all senior leaders like Rommel were away.
  • Hitler was the only one who could release the Panzer tanks to the front and he was not awakened when the invasion began.
  • Operation Double-Cross was wildly successful - the Germans were convinced the real invasion would occur at the heavily fortified Calais.
  • Troops were very slow to react.  Many frontline soldiers were conscripted Russians and Poles, who surrendered easily.
  • The Atlantic Wall was the main defense - once it was breached by the Allied forces, it was only a matter of time before Germany fell. 
  • Hitler did not use his new V-1 bombs on the beaches, nor were the Allied ships attacked by U-boats.
Allied forces
  • Control over air and sea was critical for success. 
  • Came to France as liberators, fighting for freedom.
  • Troops were made up of citizen soldiers who fought as courageously and grit as the professional German army. 
I recently watched and would highly recommend the Oscar winning 1962 movie about D-day called The Longest Day.   

Soldier From the War Returning: The Greatest Generation's Troubled Homecoming from World War II by Thomas Childers
Published: 2009
Rating: 4

As opposed to Tom Brokaw's rosy accounts of returning GI's in The Greatest Generation, Childer's excellent book paints a more realistic picture.

As the only son of a WWII veteran, Childer's knows firsthand of what he says in the introduction: "wars are not clean or neat, and neither is their aftermath."

After years of research, he traveled and spoke on this topic which elicited heartfelt responses and confessions, reinforcing Childer's belief that WWII had a far greater negative impact on the veterans and their families than history has led us to believe.  His aim was to tell a truer story - I believe he succeeded.

Sample stats:

  • In 1947, unemployment of veterans was triple that of civilians.
  • Post war housing was hard to find.  In early 1946, an estimated 1.5 million veterans were living  with family or friends.  
  • Civilians grew weary of veteran's complaints and needs. 
  • Divorce boon in the two years right after the war.  
  • PTSD was not a recognized diagnosis at the time but veterans exhibited all the classic symptoms: depressions, recurring nightmares, survivor's guilt, unexplained rage, extreme anxiety.
The book underscores and emphasizes the high price of war.
There are times when war may be necessary.  With all its horrors and grotesque crimes, the Second World War is a case in point.  But if, as a last resort, we send soldier's into harm's way, we should be under no illusion about war's colossal human costs, remembering that even in the most brilliant triumphs there is heartbreak and that the suffering does not stop when the shooting does.   
One only has to read a few brutally honest memoirs of WWII veterans who fought in North Africa, Guadalcanal, Italy, Peleliu, France, or Iwo Jima to know the "Greatest Generation" could not come home unscathed.

My Son and the Afterlife: Conversations From the Other Side by Elisa Medhus, MD
Published: 2013
Rating: 4

I can't help feeling like I was led to this book - by Josh.

On December 18th,  I was at the Dulles airport with a few minutes to spare before my plane took off.  Although I had plenty of reading material, I stopped at a book kiosk and lo and behold, this book was on a shelf that I just happened to peruse.  After reading the back jacket, I not only got the book but read it within a couple of days.
Dr. Elisa Medhus never believed in life after death.  As an accomplished physician, she placed her faith in science.  All of that changed after her son Erik took his own life and then reached out from the other side. 
Intimate, heartbreaking, and illuminating, go on an incredible journey from grief and skepticism to healing and belief.  Based on Medhus' wildly popular blog, ChannelingErik, My Son and the Afterlife provides answers to the most universal questions of being human. 
At once tragic and uplifting, Erik speaks from the other side with candor, wisdom, and depth as he describes his own experiences and provides new answers about the nature of souls, death, and the afterlife - answers that have the potential to change our lives forever.
Erik died on October 6, 2009 - almost 7 months after Josh.  Have they met?  I wonder.  Soon after, she began communicating with him via mediums and started her blog.

The book is essentially a transcript of her questions and his answers (via medium).  It is information overload: strange, surreal, and difficult to process.   The following bullet points are what I wrote in my book journal:

  • Afterlife is a reality
  • Our two-dimensional (space and time) are a very small part of the overall reality
  • Souls depart the physical body upon death but retain their essence, memories, everything that makes them unique.
  • Souls want to remain connected to their loved ones on earth and are able to give signs, play pranks, show themselves and communicate
  • Reincarnation exists
  • Unconditional love for ourselves and others is the ultimate goal of being human
  • This energy, life-force, soul, spirit exists in all living things: humans, plants, animals
Along with Dr. Eban Alexander's book, Proof of Heaven, there is much to ponder. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

October and November 2013 Books

Since Josh's death, I've felt no motivation to tackle much needed organization/clean-up of our home which included his room.  But last month, I wrote about emerging from a "grief cocoon" on Josh's blog and an unexpected result has been the energy to work on such projects.   But since there are only so many hours in a day and/or gas in the tank, only one book was read in October.   Hence this post will be a record of two months.

Code to Zero by Ken Follett
Published: 2000
Rating: 4

Very fast read; I finished in a  couple of days.  Signature Follett - pulls the reader in right from the start.   Just what I needed after several months of heavy reading of WWII and the tome, War and Peace.

This book is about the Cold War or more specifically, the space race between Russia and the US.  And spies.  I would recommend.

The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway
Published: 1989
Rating: 4

The cover also says In the tradition of My Brilliant Career - a woman's exquisitely clear-sighted memoir of growing up in Australia.  

In my book journal, I added:

  • with a crazy, over-bearing, manipulative, paranoid mother
  • in the outback or bush
  • in a male-dominated, colonial British culture where women get married and have babies
  • where as a true intellectual, she felt out of place, shut down and totally inhibited
  • where family cultures says "one does not cry" no matter who has died
  • where she decides to go the Harvard/Radcliffe to pursue a graduate degree
Her description of the bush in the first few pages is so vivid.  One of my favorite sentences:
There is the ever-present round mount of prickly weed, which begins its life a strong acid-green with hints of yellow, and then is burnt by the sun or the frost to a pale whitish yellow.  As it ages, its root system weakens so that on windy days the wind will pick it out of the earth and roll it slowly and majestically about like whirling suns on a Van Gogh painting. 

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes
Published: 2006
Rating: 5

This book came highly recommended by my sister-in-law, a fellow bibliophile.  I got the audiobook from the library and was hooked!

Click here to listen to the author discussing his first book.  The debut novel is great on so many levels:

  • In the head of many characters
  • Description of the ugly military bureaucracy and ambition/greed which led to good Marine's deaths
  • Fascination and quest for medals
  • Racism in the military, not only white vs. black but sometimes, black vs. black
  • Enlisted vs officers
  • Junior officers vs "brass"
  • Becoming a killing machine
  • Bravo company as fodder
  • Surviving in enemy jungle without food, water, supplies
  • In the end, Marines really fight for one another
I've read quite a bit of the Marine's horrific experiences in WWII.  Vietnam was no different, except in a major way - these brave young men did not have the backing and support of the home front.  Tragedy heaped upon tragedy.  

Other book by Marlantes:
What It is Like to Go To War" - click here for Q&A with Marlantes.

The Twelve (The Passage # 2) by Justin Cronin
Published: 2012
Rating: 4

I spotted this book in the library while looking for an audiobook for the car.  I read the first book of the trilogy, The Passage and liked it.  The notes in my book diary, however, were not thorough enough to help me remember the main characters and plot outline - thank goodness for Wikipedia.

Cronin's dystopia world pulled me in from the start and did not let go - the plot builds suspense to where I had to find out what happened next even though I felt ambivalent to the main characters.

The story reminds me of Stephen King's The Stand, one of my all-time favorite books except that in his masterpiece, King focused on a few memorable characters (Stu Redmond, Larry Underwood, Randall Flagg, Mother Abigail, Fran Goldsmith, Nadine Cross).

So my new equations:

Fast and good read - suspenseful plot a must; characters can be secondary
Awesome book - suspenseful plot and interesting, round characters

Flyboys: A True Story of Courage by James Bradley
Published: 2003
Rating: 5

Absolutely horrifying account of 8 American airmen shot down and captured off the island of Chichi Jima, a critical Japanese radio base.  For 50 years, howe these men died was kept classified by the US Government.  With the exception of one mother who was still alive when the book was published, all the other parents died without knowing the truth, despite numerous attempts to find out……WOW.

Many, many OMG written in the margins of the book.

In order to fully understand the Japanese mindset and their subsequent treatment of the 8 flyboys, Bradley provides a concise but comprehensive backstory of Japanese history leading up to WWII.  What I learned:

  • For almost 250 years (1614 - 1853), Japan was completely isolated.
  • After seeing Western imperialism in Asia, (Dutch ruled Indonesia; French had Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia; the mighty British Empire governed Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaya, Burma and India), Japan began turning itself into a military nation.
  • In 1862, Japan began its conquest but taking Chichi Jima from American businessmen who had settled this island as a critical coal stop for freighters from US to China.
  • In 1894, Japan attacked China and emerged victorious.  
  • in 1904, Japan started the Russo-Japanese War, resulting in a 1905 treaty mediated by Theodore Roosevelt, in which Japan received territory conceded by Russia and complete control over Korea.
  • The US was far from innocent it her own quest for land against the Native Americans, Mexicans and Filipinos. 
  • Japan continues its course as a military state, where Emperor Hirohito was god and service unto death for the Emperor was expected of every Japanese man, woman and child.  To surrender to the enemy was shameful and forbidden, hence the suicidal policy permeating Japanese military and utter contempt for surrendering Allied soldiers in WWII.   
  • The training of soldiers was brutal and dehumanizing.  The rules of war did not apply. 
  • In 1931, Japan invades and conquers Chinese Manchuria renaming it Manchukuo.  
  • In 1937, Japan shows their brutal hand with the infamous Rape of Nanking.  Atrocities committed against 300,000 civilian Chinese reverberated throughout the world.
  • Summer of 1941, the US and UK ended trade with Japan and cut off precious oil, without which Japan's military would be paralyzed. 
  • Japan faced two options: concede to the West or strike boldly and gain enough territory to exact a treaty with the US. 
  • December 6, 1941 - bombing at Pearl Harbor
Next book to read by Bradley:
  • The Imperial Cause: A Secret History of Empire and War

True North: A Memoir by Jill Ker Conway
Published: 1994
Rating: 3

Picks up where The Road From Coorain leaves off:

  • graduate work at Harvard/Radcliffe
  • marries Harvard professor and moves with him back to his native country, Canada where she moves from Professor to Vice President of Internal Affairs at the University of Toronto
  • becomes President of Smith College
Reading her memoir makes me appreciate how much women had to fight for equal rights and how far we have come however, my interest waned in the many pages describing the inner politics of university life.

The Marines of Autumn: A Novel of the Korean War by James Brady
Published: 2000
Rating: 5

Wow - I loved it.  Like Marlantes' Matterhorn, this is another superb example of how the use of fiction by an ex-Marine can place the reader in war.

Brady was a Marine officer in The Korean War, sandwiched between WWII and the Vietnam War and often called the "Forgotten War" - a sad fact for the brave 52,000+ Americans who fought and died in the three years of conflict from 1950 - 1953.

In this novel, Brady chose to write about a campaign that occurred a year before he arrived in Korea, when the Chinese entered the war on behalf of the retreating North Koreans and nearly destroyed MacArthur's army in the frigidly cold autumn of 1950.  The battleground was the Chosin Reservoir.

It is clear that my prior reading has built a pyramid of knowledge that enhances each subsequent book.   I understood the references to Marine's battles on small Pacific islands, their intense dislike and distrust of General MacArthur, of Marine commander Chesty Puller's reputation, and why the US could not allow Korea to fall to the communists.

What I learned in this book:

  • General MacArthur - decent job getting Japan on her feet after WWII, caught sleeping when North Koreans invaded the South, brilliant move at Inchon, clueless about Chinese invasion, uncontrollable by Washington, thought he would be the next President. 
  • MacArthur vs the Marine generals under him.
  • Army vs Marines 
  • Marine officers vs. senior non-commissioned officer (NCO) vs enlisted.
  • Military hierarchy - if you wanted to move up in the ladder, you did not disagree.
  • Poor decisions by commanders cost lives.
  • Fighting in freezing cold - "God never meant honest soldiers to fight winter wars."
  • Orderly retreat of army vs panic.
  • How the Chinese could have destroyed MacArthur's army but did not, similar to Meade's chance to annihilate Lee's army at Gettysburg. 
  • Criticalness of strategic airstrips and ports during war. 

Other books by Brady to read:

  • The Coldest War: A Memoir of Korea (1990)
  • Warning of War: A Novel of the North China Marines (2002)
  • The Marine: A Novel of War from Guadalcanal to Korea (2003)
  • The Scariest Place In the World: A Marine Returns to North Korea (2005)
  • Why Marines Fight (2007)

Monday, October 14, 2013

September 2013 Books

This month, my reading of WWII has focused on individuals and their contribution to what will hopefully be known as the last World War.  In addition, I have given myself a huge pat on the back for finishing Tolstoy's epic War and Peace.

Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies by Ben Macintyre
Published: 2012
Rating: 4

My brother has a condo on Stratton Mountain, VT and whenever I visit, a trip to my favorite bookstore (Northshire) is an absolute must.  I am never disappointed.

Take this book, for example.  I've perused the WWII section of numerous bookstores and have never come across this gem.  But being prominently displayed at Northshire, it caught my attention.  I was hooked after the first couple of pages and finished it within a few days.  It reads like fiction, similar to Truman Capote's nonfiction fiction: In Cold Blood.  I would highly recommend.

In fact, two novelists who have written about WWII had this to say:

"How on earth, in 1944, did we dupe Berlin that we would attack the coast of France in completely the wrong place?  It was a deception that saved tens of thousands of Allied lives. In Double Cross, Ben Macintyre ingeniously explains exactly how it was done."    Frederick Forsyth

"Never before revealed facts about the workings of the Intelligence Service in the build-up to D-Day in the Second World War.  Ben Macintyre's remarkable book is a gripping revelation."  Jack Higgins

Two epigraphs:
Tangle within tangle, plot and counter-plot, ruse and treachery, cross and double-cross, true agent, false agent, double agent, gold and steel, the bomb, the dagger and the firing party, were interwoven in many a texture so intricate as to be incredible and yet true.
Winston Churchill 
The enemy must not know where I intend to give battle.  For if he does not know where I intend to give battle he must prepare in a great many places.  And when he prepares in a great many places, those I have to fight in any one place will be few.  And when he prepares everywhere he will be weak everywhere.
Sun Tzu
Other WWII espionage books by Macintyre:
  • Agent Zigzag
  • Operation Mincemeat

Audiobook - Hell in the Pacific: A Marine Rifleman's Journey from Guadalcanal to Peleliu by Jim McEnery with Bill Sloan
Published: 2012
Rating: 4

I found this audiobook at my local library and would highly recommend.

An honest, simply written memoir about an enlisted Marine's journey to hell and back.  Mac was in K/3/5 (K Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division) and fought at Guadalcanal and Cape Gloucester (like Robert Leckie of Helmut for My Pillow) and at Peleliu, where he met E.B. Sledge, author of With the Old Breed.  

Published in 2012, this may be the last memoir published by a surviving WWII veteran - see video.   

What the young Marines endured in the Pacific campaign is beyond belief: horrible conditions, little food and water, malaria, jungle rot, constant fear, lack of sleep, seeing best friends die, close combat with K-bar (knife) and bayonets, knowing that you either "kill or be killed."  Mac eventually grew numb to the killing by considering it "his job".  It is what he had to do; it is what he was ordered to do.

His disdain for Army General, Douglas MacArthur or "Dougout Doug" (his infamous nickname after escaping to Australia), is palatable.  It is MacArthur that ordered the invasion of Peleliu, to cover his flank during the Allied invasion of the Philippines, resulting in thousands of Marine casualties.  In retrospect, the securing of the island was unnecessary.

Despite everything, it is clear that he is proud of being a Marine and especially proud of their stand on Guadalcanal, the first US offensive after Pearl Harbor, thereby being the first real test of green Marines.  The Japanese thought the "soft" Americans would turn and run.  Little did they know what courage, stamina, bravery and heroism lay in the soul of those extraordinary "greatest generation" citizen soldiers.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
First Published: 1869
Oxford University Press/Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude/Intro and notes by Henry Gifford
Rating: 5

Pending - to contemplate writing a blurb about this epic work is a bit overwhelming.  

Wings of Morning: The Story of the Last American Bomber Shot Down Over Germany in World War II by Thomas Childers
Published: 1996
Rating: 5

Childers is a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania and delivers one of my favorite audio courses produced by The Teaching Company: World War II: A Military and Social History.  

I LOVED this book and plan to read his other two WWII books: In the Shadows of War: An American Pilot's Odyssey Through Occupied France and the Camps of Nazi Germany (2003) and Soldier From the War Returning (2009)

Two epigraphs:
If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, surely the darkness shall cover me, even the night shall be light about me.
Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee, but the night shineth as the day....
Psalm 139
And in the end, of course, a true war story is never about war.....
It's about love and memory. It's about sorrow
Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried
The subject of this book, the bomber Black Cat and her crew, shot down days before the war's end is very personal to Childers as the radio operator was his uncle, Howard Goodner.

While going through his deceased grandmother's possessions, Childers discovered a pack of letters and photographs, postmarked 1943 - 1945.  One picture was of the Black Cat crew; 11 young men in the prime of life, dressed to fly, smiling in front of their plane.  It graces the book's cover (not sure why is does not show up here).   This discovery began a three year journey, taking the author to multiple states as well as a deserted English air base and small town's field in Germany.

The writing is immediate; the reader is right there, experiencing the long training of a bomber crew, the GI experience as part of the 8th Air Force stationed in England, flying the cumbersome Liberator B-24's, the milk runs, the harrowing runs, the frigid winter of 1944, the physical, emotional and mental challenge of flying bombing missions, the added pressure as the lead crew, the fateful last run and the author's quest to discover the truth.  Here are some of my favorite quotes:

About the never-ending British rain:
And, most mystifying and maddening of all, it came in the form so fine they could never feel anything as distinct as a drop, so invisible it failed to stir even the placid surface of a puddle, and yet after walking ten yards their faces, their jackets, their caps would be drenched as if they had somehow generated the moisture from some elusive internal source.
Preparing fore the Black Cat's first official run:
...the atmosphere was subdued, somber, as if each man in the crowded room had deserted the present and crawled into a small, secret space just behind his eyes.
.....these final few minutes before takeoff crawled by, caught in the undertow of time.
 While on leave, walking alone in London, after being with his crew 24/7 for months:
It was a dreamy, luxuriant feeling, this fleeting sensation of solitude, of privacy, a sensation that belonged to another lifetime, like the simple, sensual steam of a shower.

Goodbye Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War by William Manchester
Published: 1979
Rating: 4

William Raymond Manchester is a renowned biographer, most known for American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964 and The Last Lion trilogy on Winston Churchill.

But as a young 23-year old Marine sergeant, he fought in one of the bloodiest engagements of the Pacific Theatre: Okinawa.

Three epigraphs:
Your old men shall dream dreams,
your young men shall see visions.
Joel 2:28 
War, which was cruel and glorious,
Has become cruel and sordid.
Winston Churchill 
But we....shall be remembered:
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother, be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition.
Henry V, Act IV, Scene iii
This is an interesting and intensely personal memoir.  In fact, it is a memoir of the quest to access the horrors of war which he had tried in vain to write about for years.  The memories were too deep for conscious recollection but manifested themselves in troubling dreams of a split persona - "the scrawny, Atabrine-yellow, cocky young Sergeant of Marines who had borne my name in 1945.  The other was the portly, balding, Brooks-Brothered man who bears it today."

The solution was self-evident - he would have to travel back to the Pacific.  So thirty-three years after the end of the war, Manchester embarks on an island-hopping journey to visit the sites of all the major engagements, beginning at Pearl Harbor to Corregidor, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Guam, Peleliu, Leyte, Manila, Iwo Jima and finally, Okinawa.  As a Marine, he served at two places: Guadalcanal (after the island was secured) and Okinawa.

So it is an unusual memoir with intermingled parts: 1) the sequential account of the war, 2) description of the impact three decades had on these "killing fields", 3) vivid accounts of Manchester's personal experience in Okinawa and 4) reconciliation of his split persona.

 To gain a better understanding of the somewhat complicated structure of this unique memoir, I will need to take pen to paper and write an outline and/or a chapter-by-chapter synopsis.