The Man on Mao’s Right

The Book of the Week is “The Man on Mao’s Right, From Harvard Yard to Tiananmen Square, My Life Inside China’s Foreign Ministry” by Ji Chaozhu, published in 2008.

Born in 1929 in the Chinese village of Taijun, Ji lived a charmed early childhood, as his politically connected father was a law professor and commissioner of education. In 1937, his family was forced to move in with his paternal grandfather in Fenyang when the Japanese continued their siege of China.

By the end of the 1930’s, the family had fled from their palace to the United States. They moved into a tiny tenement in the East Village in Manhattan. One aspect of their living standards that was actually higher, was the modern plumbing.

Ji had a much, much older, politically connected brother– old enough to be his father– who purported to aid the Chinese Communists, then Americans, alternating between the two throughout his life. But his loyalties truly lay with the Communists.

Ji’s father behaved similarly, translating between English and Japanese for the U.S. Office of War Information after the Pearl Harbor attack, but also starting a secret pro-Communist Chinese newspaper sold in Chinatown. In 1946, he returned to China to become president of Peking University.

Ji learned English in a progressive private school. As he got older, he too began to believe that the Americans were imperialists, as they invaded Korea. He therefore quit Harvard in his junior year to return to China.

Ji had no problem enduring mean living conditions there– more than a hundred students in his Tsinghua University dorm had to share one bathroom. They had a communal bathhouse. A food shortage meant that his diet consisted of only sorghum, corn millet, dried sweet potato flour and pickled vegetables. There were no chairs in the cafeteria– students ate standing up.

When Mao Tse Tung’s Communist party took over China in 1949, the U.S. Seventh Fleet in Taiwan protected Chiang Kai-Shek, the corrupt, exiled leader of the defeated Nationalist party.

In April 1951, Douglas MacArthur was dismissed from his military leadership position by president Harry Truman for having grand plans to wage nuclear war against the Communists. Congress member Albert Gore, Sr. echoed MacArthur’s hawkish sentiments, proposing that the United States warn people to evacuate Korea, and then showering it with nuclear waste to force a stop to the war.

Ji began to attend self-criticism meetings and worship Mao as though he were a supreme being. But Ji wasn’t automatically accepted as a member of the Communist party because his reputation was tainted with Western values. His father and much, much older brother had worked for the American government in various capacities, and his family had lived in America for a time.

Nevertheless, Ji’s fluency in English, high-level education, and understanding of Western culture were major assets that few Chinese people had. So China’s Foreign Ministry recruited him to translate and take notes at the Korean peace talks in spring 1952. He and his fellow interpreters risked their lives in traveling to the site of the negotiations in Panmunjon in North Korea. They survived shelling, strafing and bombing.

Ji then survived the pressure to perfectly, manually type up the excessive number of revisions in Korean, English and Chinese that led to an almost-final written agreement in July 1953. This, after about two million war deaths over the course of two years, with neither of the multi-national sides making any significant progress geographically.

After a short stop at home, Ji was then sent to Geneva for more abuse, but without life-threatening dangers overhead.

Back in China, the landlords and the capitalists were under physical siege by the peasants in rural farming villages. Mao egged on the violence. However, in late 1956, after the common Hungarian people staged an uprising against their Communist oppressors, Mao realized he needed to take steps to avoid that kind of situation in China. So, “… for the first time, American magazines, books, and the occasional film became available. Before that, any Western literature or movies were banned.”

In a move that was nothing new under the sun, Mao gave the Chinese people a chance to air their grievances. One professor complained that Party members and cadres were living high on the hog while the peasants were starving.

Mao then wrote articles saying that the government then knew who the infidels were. He launched his Anti-Rightist campaign. A lot of bourgeois people were fired from their jobs, and sent to reeducation camps. Many people suicided, were executed or never heard from again. Unsurprisingly, the famine in China resulted in about thirty million deaths.

Beginning in the late 1950’s, over the next decade, Ji dutifully did the jobs he was assigned. For months at a time, he alternated between going to rural areas to help with manual labor, and sitting at Zhou Enlai’s side, sometimes even at Mao’s side– interpreting at diplomatic meetings.

In August 1966, a group of adolescents comprised of sociopathic sadists supplied with weaponry– also known as the Red Guards– terrorized anyone accused of disloyalty to Communist ideology (i.e., ownership by the dictatorial State, rather than ownership by private parties, of the means of production; plus other conditions). Anyone could be an accuser. Mao encouraged everyone to be snitches. The victims of violence also included embassy personnel of the former Soviet Union, India and Burma. Not to mention, in August 1967, people in the British consulate.

While ugliness raged in China and was exacerbated with U.S. intervention in Vietnam, there was a similarity with the two countries’ leadership. Zhou Enlai’s role under Mao was like vice president Hubert Humphrey’s under president Lyndon Johnson’s. The second fiddles both obeyed their bosses to keep their jobs, even though their bosses’s actions caused an excessive number of needless deaths and ruined lives.

Read the book to learn much more about the history of China, and Ji’s life and times.

Underground

The Book of the Week is “Underground, My Life With SDS and the Weathermen” by Mark Rudd, published in 2009.

March 1969 saw the start of Nixon’s secret bombing campaign against Cambodia. The author wrote, “I was so sure I knew better than my parents; after all, their generation had brought the world to this state of affairs, if only by their acquiescence.”

Rudd became the poster boy for the media as a protest leader at Columbia University during its period of violent unrest in the spring of 1968. He started his degree there in the autumn of 1965. At the time, the school employed African American female maids to clean the dorm bathrooms, a service included with the boarding fee.

Rudd joined the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in March 1966. He had grown up in a suburban Jewish family. His father had fought in the Second World War, during which Hitler was perceived as “Absolute Evil.” The United States used its powers for good to defeat the latter. However, twenty years later, when Lyndon Johnson’s war crimes began to be revealed, Rudd became disillusioned with his own country.

Rudd and his contemporaries didn’t support any presidential candidate in 1968 because “Electoral politics was beneath our concern.” He and his fellow political activists were concerned, however, about the deleterious effects of a senseless war perpetrated by the federal government, along with the university’s related and other nefarious activities.

For at least the last half century, hypocritical liberals have sought to “… co-opt the energy of radical young people into working for meaningless reforms…” However, with Vietnam, some would say the protests were justified. For, the American president started a needless war that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and ruined lives– recruiting cannon fodder against their will. The stubborn, arrogant president didn’t take a lesson from the stubborn, arrogant French, who epically failed in clinging to their fast-fading colonialism in mid-1950’s Indochina.

Columbia University had secret contracts with the U.S. government– researching both war weaponry for the Pentagon and war policy for the execution of the war. In spring 1968, this accounted for 46% (!) of the nation’s budget. The university was also abusing eminent domain in planning both to construct a segregated sports complex in Morningside Park, and more dormitories on West 114th Street off of Broadway near its campus. For years, it had quashed the formation of a union of black and Latino cafeteria workers.

Rudd and his fellow activists held rallies and went on protest marches. He wrote to school publications. The protesting led to occupations of campus buildings by, eventually, thousands of activists in the last week of April 1968.

Although Rudd’s became the most recognized name and face associated with the historical event (possibly because he was a white male), there were plenty of other activist organizations of different ethnicities whose members were arrested and got beaten up by law enforcement sent in by New York City Mayor John Lindsay; those fighting for civil rights, black-power, and peace.

The New York Times propagandized that the destructive and immature hooligans provoked the police; the police were the good guys. It should have come as no surprise to the cynical that the university was in bed with the newspaper. The school’s board of trustees claimed the newspaper’s publisher as one of their own. He was also an alumnus. The Times’ employees were alumni of the Columbia School of Journalism. Nevertheless, the university actually met about half of the six-odd demands of the activists.

After he was expelled from Columbia, Rudd became a recruiter for SDS, visiting various chapters and speaking at universities around the nation. The two major issues were always Vietnam and racism. Various groups within and without SDS, including the Weathermen (a spinoff of SDS), the Maoist Progressive Labor Party, the Black Panthers and the Revolutionary Youth Movement began arguing among themselves and with each other at conferences they jointly held in the next few years.

Rudd was in the Weathermen. He believed that the way to rebel against “the man” was through armed struggle. According to his FBI dossier, he urged college kids to kill cops. But his group was anti-racist, pro-Communist and anti-reactionary.

In the summer of 1969 in New York City, he and his fellow revolutionaries came across as so violent, they turned people off when they spoke at a Central Park rally. The other SDS factions thought the Weathermen (or, as they had renamed themselves, the Weather Bureau) were anarchistic, chauvinistic, masochistic and Custeristic.

In Chicago, there were clashes between sadistic cops and radical protestors. “Cook County Jail was overflowing with the addition of almost three hundred Weathermen, the total number arrested over the three days. The period was named ‘Days of Rage.’ ” After that, Rudd’s group went underground and broke off from SDS.

Rudd’s group’s heroes continued to be: Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh, Vladimir Lenin, Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panthers.

By the mid-1970’s, Rudd’s group had claimed responsibility for more than twenty-four bombings, which were intended to destroy only property. There occurred three accidental deaths of its own radicals from a botched bomb-making operation in Greenwich Village in spring 1970.

Read the book to learn a wealth of other details of the tenor of the times, the mentalities of Rudd’s contemporaries, and how Rudd fared after his Chicago arrest.

Harry Belafonte / Shirley Chisholm

The First Book of the Week is “Harry Belafonte, My Song, a Memoir” with Michael Shnayerson, published in 2011.

Born in March 1927 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the singer best known for the “Banana Boat Song” actually did a lot more in his lifetime than give concerts and act. He was instrumental in helping fund and organize the civil rights movement.

Belafonte’s older relatives were interracial; they hailed from Jamaica in the Caribbean; the light-skinned ones living there were Scottish. Growing up dirt poor, he lived alternately between upper Manhattan and Jamaica for years at a time, bounced among them.

For Belafonte, it was one psychological trauma after another. He had undiagnosed dyslexia, in addition to having accidentally with sewing scissors, as a toddler, blinded himself in one eye.

Fortunately, Belafonte’s mother, an illegal immigrant, had survival skills. But she practiced spousification with him in his early years. When he was five years old, he was tasked with taking care of his baby brother while she worked. She instilled in him a love of music, taking him to see the great singers of the 1930’s and 1940’s at the Apollo Theater in upper Manhattan.

The author’s mother hired someone to give him piano lessons. However, he played hooky from them because the teacher cruelly beat his fingers, just like the nuns at his parochial school. He ended up quitting school for good in the middle of ninth grade.

Belafonte’s father, an abusive, mean drunk, was frequently out of town– either acting as head chef on a banana boat in the Caribbean, or philandering. But there were a few occasions of quality time, playing marbles.

Belafonte was able to pay for drama school with the G.I. Bill, after his Navy service during World War II. He befriended the politically-active, drama and jazz crowds, many of whom, like him, would later became world famous.

By the early 1960’s, the nation was violently divided. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded Belafonte that “… compromise was a crucial tenet of nonviolence. If compromise got you closer to your goal, then it was worth any loss of face.” As is well known, there was excessive bloodshed throughout the 1960’s– so there must have been a lot of men who couldn’t stand to swallow their pride for the good of the nation.

Anyway, read the book to learn why Belafonte, even after becoming fabulously famous and wealthy, never did lead a charmed life. He did, however, raise funds for Shirley Chisholm.

The Second Book of the Week is “Shirley Chisholm, Catalyst for Change” by Barbara Winslow, published in 2014.

Born in Brooklyn in 1924, Chisholm had a grandfather who worked on the Panama Canal, whose construction spurred the upward mobility of sugarcane slaves from Barbados. Her ancestors believed in education and home ownership.

Chisholm spent roughly three and a half years of her early childhood in Barbados; the rest, in New York City. She experienced culture shock moving from a rural, agricultural village to big, scary, crime-ridden neighborhoods– Brownsville, and then Bedford-Stuyvesant, both in Brooklyn.

Chisholm’s goal was to become an elementary school teacher but she couldn’t get hired because she was black. With her master’s degree in early childhood education, Chisholm eventually became a consultant to the day care department of New York City’s welfare agency, supervising tens of employees. She “… would always have to face men who tried to infantilize, patronize or demonize her.”

In 1964, Chisholm won an assembly seat in New York State. She worked with three other black politicians in New York: Charles Rangel, David Dinkins and Percy Sutton. She was very prolific; eight of the fifty bills she sponsored were passed.

In 1968, with the slogan, “Vote for Shirley Chisholm for Congress– unbought and unbossed” she became the first African American woman elected to Congress. When she expressed her intention to run for president in 1972, men bristled.

Chisholm had a particular reason for rescinding her plan to personally campaign in Wisconsin, involving public relations. She disappointed a bunch of dedicated grass-roots volunteers. But she would have visited the state for only two or three days anyway, and not have gotten significant support over and above her loyal followers’. So by not visiting, she could brag that she got, say, 5% of the vote without even campaigning there– that’s how much people loved her.

In May 1972, after racist presidential candidate George Wallace was shot, Chisholm behaved compassionately, visiting him in the hospital.

Read the book to learn more about Chisholm’s life and times, including why she was actually bossed, but not bought.

The Incredible True Story of Blondy Baruti – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Incredible True Story of Blondy Baruti, My Unlikely Journey From the Congo to Hollywood” by Blondy Baruti with Joe Layden, published in 2018.

Baruti was born in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the late 1980’s. When he was three, his father– a banker and government official– abandoned his mother, him and his older sister.

In the late 1990’s, eight countries in Africa engaged in an extremely ugly war, ultimately leaving five million dead. The armed, sociopathic sadistic fighters drugged young males and turned them into soldiers like themselves, and young females, into victims of rape and torture. Naturally, Baruti’s family, like millions of others, fled their homes.

The death rate for everyone in the country was ridiculously high, what with rampant disease, animal or human violence, starvation, etc. To push the point, Baruti wrote, “I was sick and exhausted, and sadly accustomed to the sight and smell of death and so I barely reacted [when a bomb hit a village his family was in].”

Read the book to learn how Baruti’s goal-oriented behavior, positive attitude, unwavering faith, great skills and passion for two activities– which are highly coveted careers– led him to get invaluable assistance with changing his lifestyle radically for the better.

Where the Wind Leads/The Fox Hunt

The Books of the Week are “Where the Wind Leads, A Memoir” by Vinh Chung With Tim Downs, published in 2014; “The Fox Hunt, A Refugee’s Memoir of Coming to America” by Mohammed Al Samawi, published in 2018.

Both authors told suspenseful, extremely extreme, long, complicated refugee horror stories, in which they had great good luck on several occasions, and in which certain people took tremendous risks by providing the authors with invaluable assistance that saved their lives.

Born in South Vietnam in December 1975, the author of the former book helpfully, briefly described his homeland’s history three decades before his birth.

The author’s family was Chinese– neither enemies nor friends of the French, Viet Minh, or Khmer Rouge. However, in the 1940’s, the author’s father’s family’s house in the Mekong Delta had been burned to the ground twice, anyway. There was a higher risk of a Viet Minh invasion in the French territory farther north, where the family moved.

As is well known, in the mid-1950’s the French were militarily defeated by the Viet Minh– Communists– and kicked out of their colony Indochina in Southeast Asia. Thereafter, Vietnam was split into north and south. Different ethnic groups migrated toward the side where they numbered in the majority: Communists, north; Catholics and Buddhists, south.

The Khmer Rouge, comprised of Cambodians, continued to ally with the French for decades. By the late 1950’s, the author’s father had become a draft dodger, fleeing to Cambodia to avoid having to fight against the Viet Minh. In 1960, Ho Chi Minh’s militia, the National Liberation Front, was attempting to reunite North and South Vietnam. The Viet Minh was renamed Viet Cong by the United States.

Over decades, the author’s maternal grandmother began a rice-processing business that flourished. By the mid-1970’s, it had a couple of mills, a fleet of trucks, warehouses, etc. It actually benefited from America’s Vietnam War.

The family matriarch hired a matchmaker to marry off her son (the author’s father), born in 1937. He was still sowing his wild oats in his late twenties. Traditionally, both prospects’ families went on a date with the prospects. Then they saw a fortune teller.

The author’s mother was the daughter of a Chinese servant girl of a wealthy household. When she moved to her husband’s house, she had to shop daily for the fast-growing multi-generational household, because they didn’t have a refrigerator. But, since she was expected to become a baby-maker in addition to all of her other responsibilities– she was permitted to hire a teenage nanny with every additional child.

The author’s birth made five. Three more were quickly added, while the author’s father’s mistress had four. The two major philosophies of the family’s culture were filial piety and ancestor worship. Living in the South, their religion combined aspects of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. That changed when the Viet Cong attacked the Mekong Delta. The author’s family’s life was disrupted forever, as their business and real and personal property were stolen.

Due to the Vietnam government’s war against the Chinese that started in February 1979, the ever-growing Chung family became “boat people” in June. Read the book to learn of the family’s ordeal, adjustment to a brand new life, and the author’s explanation for what gave rise to his own extraordinary achievements.

Born in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen in 1986, the author of the latter book helpfully, briefly described the recent history of his homeland.

In 1987, a Sunni-Muslim group named the Muslim Brotherhood formed another group, Hamas. They were supported by Saudi Arabia, southern Yemen, Iraq and another group that formed later, Al Qaeda. Their enemies were Shia Muslims, who are the majority in Iran and northern Yemen.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, the author’s Shia-Muslim family lived in a peaceful neighborhood in Sana’a in northern Yemen, where everyone got along fine. He had two older and two younger siblings. His parents were trained as medical doctors; his prominent father worked for a military hospital.

Al Samawi’s parents believed in education, but were extremely devout Muslims. So his parents were thrilled when, as an adolescent, he donated all his lunch money to the Muslim Brotherhood when the group (who were pushing pan-Arabism at the time) visited his private, well-funded grammar school.

However, the teachers preached nonstop hatred against Jews and Christians. The Quran was their authority on that. Besides, they said Hitler was a hero for killing Jews, and the Jews’ books were “dirty, amoral, sinful, impure, demonic.”

In 2000, TV propaganda in Yemen claimed that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Israel was ordering the killing of innocent Palestinians, such as a young boy (who became a poster boy to incite Yemen), for no reason. The haters ignited in most Yemenis additional hatred against the Jews and Israel’s backers, such as the United States.

Eight years later, the author thought he was falling in love at university. But his filial piety put the kibosh on that. His mother did a background check on his prospective girlfriend, and found she wasn’t good enough for her son, and given their situations, she was probably a gold digger. His father also pressured him to end the budding relationship, by offering him a car and a job if his parents could fulfill the traditional Muslim route of choosing a bride for him. He caved in to their browbeating.

However, the next chapter in the author’s life proved to be most educational. He met an inspirational British instructor at his English-language school. Surprisingly, the author’s parents were allowing their son to study English. Al Samawi and his teacher exchanged gifts (the Quran and the Bible, respectively) to try to proselytize the other one. Each dogmatically believed that his own religion was the only right one to practice, else they would go to hell upon their deaths. Then a funny thing happened.

The teacher horrified Al Samawi by telling him he’d been hoodwinked– Al Samawi had unknowingly been reading the (Jewish!) Old Testament, having started at the beginning of the book. The stories’ morals and precepts were largely similar to those in the Quran(!)

In the next several years, Al Samawi became sufficiently open-minded to try to clear up his own confusion between what he’d been taught by his parents and Yemen’s culture, and what he was learning on Facebook and from his jobs at cross-cultural peacemaking organizations and international aid organizations.

From the start of Yemen’s religious civil war in 2015, Al Samawi found himself in a life-threatening, harrowing situation for several months. In one particular instance, he wrote, “Thirty minutes later, I jumped in the back of the black sedan. I didn’t call my mom. I didn’t say goodbye. I didn’t pay the hotel.”

Read the book to learn the details of how Al Samawi’s friends in high places went to extraordinary lengths to change his fate, through thrilling plot twists and turns.

I Should Be Dead By Now

The Book of the Week is “I Should Be Dead By Now, The Wild Life and Crazy Times of the NBA’s Greatest Rebounder of Modern Times” by Dennis Rodman With Jack Isenhour, originally published in 2005. Despite its sensationalist title, this slim volume somewhat repetitively, but in detail, gave good reasons for why the subject should be dead, in the form of an expletive-laden, extended reality-show monologue.

Rodman, a former professional basketball player, told a series of anecdotes about himself– the world’s biggest attention whore– that involved his professional and personal antics, love life, and his handlers– the people who tried to keep him safe.

Starting in the 1980’s, Rodman got the media’s attention with his dyed hair (various colors), cross-dressing, tattoos, piercings, makeup, etc. By the new millennium, thanks to his high-paying: athletic career, promotional gigs and celebrity appearances (notwithstanding his expensive on-off relationships), he owned a luxury apartment in Newport Beach, California. “Meanwhile, the parties grew bigger and bigger and the neighbors got madder and madder” about the noise.

In early 2003, Rodman did a reality show called “Rodman on the Rebound” on ESPN, but he wasn’t ready to return to the NBA. The show should have been called, “Rodman on the Rehab.” One reason why occurred in the autumn of 2003 shortly before the start of basketball season, when the Denver Nuggets had agreed to hire him after every team in the National Basketball Association had been scorning him for about three years.

One late night, as he did every night, at a strip club, Rodman consumed a vast quantity of alcohol; even for his six-foot, eight-inch frame. The members of his entourage had to pick their battles with him, as his risky behavior was constant but not always extreme or predictable. On a whim, in the wee hours of the morning, Rodman decided to fly to Las Vegas.

Once there, in the parking lot of another strip club, a stranger allowed Rodman, sans helmet, to ride a new motorcycle. Rodman attempted to do a wheelie. To his credit, he did not gloze over the unpleasant consequences. At the hospital, he claimed that he refused “Novocain.” Also, he hadn’t been wearing underwear, and his torn-up legs needed 70 stitches. There went his NBA-comeback opportunity. The media had initially given him his celebrity status, and had a field day highlighting his stupidity.

Rodman claimed that “… there are many things stats just don’t measure: … how well you can get in another guy’s head, and the number of Redheaded Sluts you can drink and still get it up– all categories in which Dennis Rodman excelled.”

Read the book to learn much more about guess who?

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.

Counselor

The Book of the Week is “Counselor, Life At the Edge of History” by Ted Sorensen, published in 2008. This was the autobiography of a political consultant best known for most closely advising JFK for eleven years.

Born in May 1928 in Lincoln, Nebraska, Sorensen considered himself a Danish Russian Jewish Unitarian. His father, appointed Attorney General beginning in 1929, was the oldest of ten surviving children. He helped pass a law that created one nonpartisan legislative body in the Nebraska statehouse. That way, there were no fights, delays or blaming.

Sorensen himself was one of five children. He grew up in an agricultural community with a harsh climate in Nebraska, not unlike that of George McGovern’s South Dakota. There were: droughts, floods, hailstorms, blizzards and grasshoppers.

In summer of 1951, after graduating from a special five-year university law program, Sorensen sought a job by personally walking into law firms to speak with the hirers. He began his career at the Federal Security Administration, which has come to be known as the Department of Health and Human Services. He became depressed when he started to wise up and witness more of the culture of Washington, D.C.: “… more hypocrites than heroes, more sinners than saints.”

At the suggestion of the joint committee staff director, Sorensen lied about his age– put down 25 instead of 24 on his resume because men of 25 were viewed as better job candidates, having more experience. In 1952, he became a speechwriter, advisor and personal assistant to then-Senator John F. Kennedy, his opposite. Sorensen was a plain ol’ country boy, rather than a Northeastern elitist. He didn’t run with JFK’s crowd.

Sorensen claimed that JFK himself actually did the writing of the book “Profiles in Courage” despite rumors that others did. He and others helped with the research. Sorensen mentioned various of the book’s rumored ghostwriters but failed to mention the most commonly named one– Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

Upon becoming president, “John F. Kennedy’s speeches stood out because they revived idealism, eloquence, and progressivism, after a decade of Eisenhower’s bland, dry approach and Joe McCarthy’s evil tirades.”

Unfortunately, JFK was afraid of being criticized for being “soft on Communism”– a common fear in those days among politicians who wanted to get reelected. So JFK continued Eisenhower’s actions; by late 1963, he had sent sixteen thousand American military advisors to South Vietnam. In 1968, Sorensen became a campaign advisor to Robert F. Kennedy in his presidential bid; sadly, not for long. Then he practiced law.

Read the book to learn of Sorenson’s adventures with the famed senator and president; his views on what would have happened had JFK not been assassinated; his other endeavors; the toll taken on his health by years of severe sleep deprivation and nonstop (no downtime) international business travel; and much more.

For Jersualem

The Book of the Week is “For Jerusalem, A Life” by Teddy Kollek, with his son, Amos Kollek, published in 1978. Kollek was best known for his mayorship of Jerusalem from 1965 to 1993.

Born in a small village near Budapest in May 1911, Kollek was an athletic bibliophile as a child. When he was eleven, he began joining Zionist youth movements and for the next decade, traveled to Czechoslovakia, Romania and Germany. His grades in high school were poor; he graduated only at the behest of his parents. His father had been an Austrian army officer during WWI, then became an operations manager for the Rothschilds. Most of the Jewish bourgeoisie voted for the Social Democratic party in Austria.

As a true Zionist, Kollek wanted to move to Palestine. He put his name on the waiting list of the Zionist Organization, and was finally granted permission to go the promised land in spring 1935. Once he got there in 1936, he almost had “buyer’s remorse” after suffering a series of illnesses– typhus, malaria, sandfly fever and typhoid, almost dying in a British hospital.

Nonetheless, Kollek was granted Palestine citizenship. Shortly thereafter, he bestowed the same on his Austrian girlfriend by marrying her. He served as village headman in the kibbutz of Ein Gev in the Jordan Valley for a little more than a year. Playing well with the British, he would ride a horse around the mountains all day. Nearby tribes included the Bedouins and Cherkessians. The new Zionist settlers lived in shacks and had a communal shower.

In autumn 1938, Kollek supervised a different youth group in England. He also acted as an intermediary between the German and British authorities to let a few thousand Zionist teenagers become farm workers in England, as there was a shortage of them. He did the same for Austria and the British, negotiating with Adolf Eichmann.

Due to the Anschluss in March 1938, Kollek’s parents and brother moved to Palestine. At the start of WWII, Kollek assured the safe transport of contraband arms and people from Syria to Palestine. For the rest of the war, Kollek worked in British intelligence, and then coordinated smuggling operations for the Jewish Agency.

In 1941, David Ben-Gurion thought that Jews in the United States, rather than those in Great Britain, would provide the major impetus ideologically and financially to spur the creation of a Jewish state. He turned out to be correct.

The date May 14, 1948 saw legalization of transport of arms and people to Israel, as it officially achieved sovereignty. Prior to that, there was honor among thieves, according to the author. “In those days, everybody lived frugally and was so utterly devoted, without thinking of himself that we had complete confidence in one another.”

Even so, in the early 1950’s, the new nation had to rob Peter to pay Paul to fund itself, selling bonds and obtaining loans from American banks. And the FBI tailed all of the Jewish freedom fighters, even after independence.

Thanks to a business loan secured with Kollek’s assistance, the Israeli government was able to own and operate a retail chain store, Maskit, which sold handicrafts made by Israelis, co-founded by Moshe Dayan’s wife.

In summer 1952, Kollek was appointed to a position with a lofty title, to serve as a coordinator among government ministries in Prime Minister Ben-Gurion’s administration. In the mid-1950’s, the country obtained financing from gentiles for agricultural research and social and educational projects.

A decade later, Kollek was elected mayor of Jerusalem. His Labor party displaced the Mapai party, which had been the dominant one for years. The mindset of the older generation of (federal) Cabinet members could not shaken– even by Kollek– that they were the caretakers of agricultural collectives, rather than a nation that had become more than three quarters urbanized.

About once a month, Mayor Kollek wanted to resign. Nevertheless, he claimed to have made Jerusalem a better place in numerous ways. The previous mayor had failed to stop Orthodox Jews from throwing rocks at the Mandelbaum Gate because Jordanian Christians in buses en route to religious journeys were disrupting their Sabbath. Kollek’s solution was to bar traffic around Jewish houses of worship on Saturdays.

Perhaps Kollek accomplished so much and was reelected so many times because he lacked the politician’s mentality of expecting the kind of reciprocity that leads to patronage. He truly cared about improving the lives of his fellow Jerusalemites, rather than horse-trading only insofar as to acquire more power or funding.

In sum, Kollek wrote, “Being mayor is the most varied, absorbing, sometimes aggravating (sic), but still the most satisfying job in the world, and while I’m at it, I’ll work as hard as I can, eat as much as I want, and shout at whomever I please.”

Read the book to learn the role radio played in the 1950’s in the lives of Egyptians and Israelis; what Kollek did: for Israel’s tenth anniversary celebration, in the founding of the Israel Museum, during the Six Day and Yom Kippur Wars, with regard to the Western Wall, and much more.