Something About A Soldier

The Book of the Week is “Something About a Soldier, A young man’s life and loves in the peacetime army– in the Philippines and California– on the eve of World War II (sic – lack of capitalization)” by Charles Willeford, published in 1986. Some of the author’s experiences in the military were clearly of a bygone era.

The author, an aimless American high school dropout who had been in the National Guard, was looking for adventure in 1935. By chance, he got a tip about how to join the Air Corps. He did so by lying about his age and status, and got away with it. After a year in California, he had his request granted to go to the Philippines. He never did learn to fly.

Nevertheless, he drove a fire truck for a few hours each day. Military planes used to be fabric-covered and so might catch fire. But they never did catch fire. Since the work was light for most of the men in his outfit, they spent a lot of their leisure time in town at bars or with prostitutes.

Twice a year, the men heard the Articles of War read by an officer. A court-martial would result if a man directed expletives at a Senator or Congressman but it was permissible for him to fight a duel with another soldier.

The author foolishly volunteered to assemble a singing group to perform on the boat returning from the Philippines, when his two-year enlistment stint was up. The performers got a free carton of Red Cross cigarettes. However, his group simply embarrassed themselves because they had no talent, and sang “A Tisket, A Tasket.”

On the island of Guam, the hunting of grizzly bears with an Army rifle, and sale of the skins were permitted. Army soldiers stationed at Fort Drum (on an island near Corregidor), enjoyed a “Beer Call”– meaning, they could drink beer. In the morning.

Read the book to learn of many other interesting cultural and social practices of Air Corps men in the mid- to late 1930’s.

34 Days – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “34 Days, Israel, Hezbollah, and the War in Lebanon” by Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, published in 2008. This book described the summer 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, during which about a thousand people died.

In 1982, Israel launched a war with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to drive it out of Lebanon. Hezbollah started to arrive there after the PLO left. President Ronald Reagan of the United States– which for years had been an intermediary truce-negotiating party to Middle Eastern unrest– put discussions about foreign troop withdrawal (Syrian, American, Israeli) from Lebanon on the back burner after that first war ended.

Hezbollah, comprised of Shiites, a sect of Islam, originally formed in Iran. It acquired power in the Lebanese government by electing Parliamentarians beginning in 1992. The group was allowed to keep its weaponry through the years, even though it was allegedly provoking border skirmishes by abducting soldiers.

The second war started in mid-July 2006, when Israel reacted with exaggerated hostility to the abduction of two soldiers by Hezbollah terrorists at the Lebanese border. The Israeli military wanted to entirely wipe out the terrorist group.

Ehud Olmert– Israeli president since 2000, and the “defense” minister he appointed, Amir Peretz, went hog-wild. They agreed with hawkish military leaders to not only take out Hezbollah’s Syrian-supplied Katyusha rockets on the ground before they could be deployed, but to blast transportation, media and energy hubs in Lebanon with sophisticated weaponry, knowing this action would kill many civilians.

Arab states nearby (but not Syria)– Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf Emirates– were silently cheering for Israel to take out Hezbollah, a move related to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The West chastised Israel for its aggression, although it itself was at that moment continuing to violate the Geneva Convention in Iraq, etc.

Read the book to learn details of the unnecessary parting shot at the war’s end taken by Israel, which handled the war incompetently at best and evilly at worst, that caused many needless deaths (especially civilian), with, unsurprisingly, “… both sides racing to ensure their victory and to perpetuate their own narrative of the war” to the media and the public.

The Way Around

The Book of the Week is “The Way Around, Finding My Mother and Myself Among the Yanomami” by David Good, with Daniel Paisner, published in 2015.

The Yanomami is an indigenous, Amazon-rain-forest dwelling tribe in southern Venezuela near Brazil, who developed a reputation for hostility. The author dispelled that myth, while describing his unique experience, as a genetic member of the tribe.

Good’s father, an American from New Jersey, did anthropological fieldwork as a graduate student for about a decade, starting in 1975. Due to the loosely defined concept of marriage in the Yanomami culture, he had to decide whether or not to completely adopt the tribe’s lifestyle in order to continue to study them. He took the plunge. He ended up having three children, including the author, with his Yanomami wife.

However, the tribe’s ways are in an alternate universe, when compared with Americans’. Their lack of clothing alone would be considered primitive, never mind their low-tech, spare existence. The author wrote, “The women were all topless. Their faces were variously decorated with tribal markings; their noses, pierced with hii-hi sticks. The child was completely naked.”

The author’s father thought he would be able to move his immediate family away from his wife’s family in Venezuela in the late 1980’s, as he had a stronger desire to live in the United States. This created a cultural clash that led to a rather extreme consequence and psychological damage for all involved.

Read the book to learn how the author was affected by this adverse turn of events, and how he got through it.

I Love Capitalism – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “I Love Capitalism, An American Story” by Ken Langone, Cofounder of the Home Depot, published in 2018. This is the bragfest of a Wall Streeter, who appears to have bragging rights.

Born in September 1935 in Roslyn Heights, in New York State (on Long Island), Langone caught the entrepreneurial bug early in life. By college, he was selling stationery and neckties.

In the single-digit 2000’s, Langone helped recruit a CEO for Home Depot. In the short term, the CEO greatly improved the numbers that serve as indicators of a company’s financial success. However, the dollar value of the company actually decreased after a few years. His philosophy damaged the corporate culture by violating the company’s philosophical values.

For, the CEO failed to understand that in a customer service business like Home Depot, corporate culture drives the numbers. Employee satisfaction gets the same score as customer service. His replacement “… dressed like a plumber, and he looked like a nerd… [but] he became a rock star to the employees…”

Langone admitted up front that he had mentors and helpers left and right throughout his life. “Some guys who get to be wealthy like to brag about being self-made men. I can’t imagine they’re not leaving somebody out of that equation.” [likely, their daddy.]

Read the book to learn about who assisted Langone in his adventures in capitalism.

Bess Truman

The Book of the Week is “Bess Truman” by Margaret Truman, published in 1986. The author described as much about the life of her father Harry Truman as about her mother Bess Wallace Truman.

Born in February 1885, in Independence, Missouri, Bess was athletic in her youth. She ice skated, went horseback riding, and played tennis, and sandlot baseball with her three younger brothers. After high school, she attended a finishing school where she was on the basketball and track teams.

Bess’ mother’s wealthy family owned a grain-milling company. However, her low-level-political-operative alcoholic father was continuously made to feel inadequate by his spendthrift wife, so in 1903, when he fell on hard times, he shot himself.

Bess met Harry in Sunday school but they drifted apart until reuniting at 25 and 26 years old respectively. He had had awful luck trying to save sufficient money for married life, as a farmer, and mining and oil investor. They finally wed in June 1919 after Harry came home from France, having fought in WWI. His haberdasher store, after its initial wild popularity, also failed with the postwar economic malaise of 1920-1921.

In 1922, Harry was elected as a judge for a term of two years in Jackson County, Missouri, even though he lacked a law degree. His daughter Margaret was born in February 1923. He then turned road-building consultant, salesman, then judge again.

Harry passed a bond issue of $6.5 million for road building in his county. He was such a highly respected politician that when the Great Depression hit, he raised almost $8 million for the building of new courthouses. Throughout his life, whenever he became overly stressed by the pressures of the political machine, instead of taking to drink, he went on a retreat.

Harry was coerced into giving patronage jobs to Bess’s brothers Fred and George. The former had trouble with alcohol throughout his life, adding additional drama to Harry’s already harrowing job. In 1934, Harry was pushed into running for the U.S. Senate. The opposing candidate engaged in evil mudslinging. Nevertheless, Harry won. In those days, though, the federal government was frugal. “It was the depths of the Depression and few people were getting paid enough to own a car. Everybody rode the trolleys and buses, even such personages as U.S. senators.”

During Harry’s freshman years as a senator, an ugly bribery scandal wrecked the reputations of various of his fellow Democratic party members in Missouri, including the power broker in his clique. Most of them went to prison.

In 1940, glutton for punishment that he was– but honest and revered among his supporters– Harry ran for reelection. He could boast that he conducted the investigations that revealed extensive corruption in the railroad industry. He “… won without the support of a single major newspaper or political organization.”

During his second term, Harry led additional investigations of other industries, so that he attracted a lot of haters. During his run for the vice-presidency via Roosevelt’s fourth term, Harry’s family name was again dragged through the mud. His opponents could have been neither meaner nor nastier. The saving grace was that he won the election.

Bess hadn’t wanted him to run, but the role of wife in her generation was to be her husband’s supporter– catering to his career and life goals, which were superior to her own. Nonetheless, they both agreed that the president’s actions were good for America, although they hated the manipulative way he used his subordinates to implement his policies.

Little did Harry and Bess have any idea of what they were getting into. A minor annoyance Bess encountered in the White House was “… the complete absence of closets which meant you could keep only a few dresses within reach…” She had that remedied by the time they left.

In spring 1945, FDR was tight-lipped with Harry, and even with the Senate about what he signed at Yalta. So upon his passing away, Harry suddenly and unexpectedly had a long learning curve ahead of him.

Read the book to learn the details of how Harry and Bess handled their high-pressure roles, and their adventures thereafter.