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.

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.

Hold On, Mr. President – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Hold On, Mr. President” by Sam Donaldson, published in 1987. This is the career memoir of an aggressive TV journalist who covered politics.

Donaldson was born in 1934. By his mid-thirties, he had an all-consuming career, working seven days a week for about a year at ABC-TV in Washington D.C. He covered the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, Vietnam on-location for three months in 1971, the Watergate scandal, and, glutton for punishment that he was– president Jimmy Carter in 1976. He asked hard questions of presidents, especially president Ronald Reagan, on whom he spent a lot of time reporting.

Donaldson felt that Reagan’s unwavering stance on all issues was a liability because it resulted in “thoughtless and false certainty… Deciphering Reagan-speak is a constant in the White House press room… But give Reagan a TelePromTer (sic)… and he can communicate without ambiguity and, in the process, sell you a defense budget that will reduce you to rags or a Nicaragua policy that will curl more than your hair.” Countless erroneous facts and figures emanated from Reagan’s mouth, of which Donaldson provided numerous examples.

In the late 1980’s, Reagan held political rallies whose attendees “… had to apply for tickets from local Republican organizations, and people who were not already true believers, didn’t get them.” Some things never change.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details on Donaldson and his generation of TV journalism in Washington, D.C.

The Defense Never Rests – BONUS POST

The  Bonus Book of the Week is “The Defense Never Rests” by F. Lee Bailey with Harvey Aronson, published in 1971. This is the career memoir of a criminal defense attorney best known for the Sam Sheppard and Boston Strangler cases.

Born in 1933, Bailey served in the Marines, and later started practicing law at a firm in Boston. He became a polygraph-test expert, and later argued that test results should have been admissible in all courts. When he started his career in 1961, Massachusetts law still required that in court, a murder suspect be confined to a wire cage.

Read the book to learn of various cases litigated by the author, including those of Sam Sheppard and the Boston Strangler and his own, when he found himself in trouble (not for murder, though). Perhaps that is why he provided no: Notes, Bibliography, Sources, References or Index in this book, although he did provide verbatim excerpts of court transcripts.

The Dean

The Book of the Week is “The Dean, The Best Seat in the House” by Rep. John D. Dingell, with David Bender, published in 2018.

Born in July 1926, Dingell was appointed a page (messenger boy) beginning when he was eleven, helping a Republican U.S. Congressman, thanks to his father– Rep. John Dingell, Sr. (D., MI); his boss was Republican, to avoid the appearance of partisanship.

Dingell, who had a younger brother and sister (who died of illness at a year old), was of Polish Jesuit extraction. The family lived in Detroit. In 1932, his father ran against a Congressional opponent who had ties to the KKK. In his teens, he went hunting for squirrels and turkeys at his boss’s farm in Northern Virginia.

In 1955, Dingell won a special election to fill his dead father’s seat in Congress. This, after serving in the military at the end of WWII, and graduating (via the GI Bill) from Georgetown University with a degree in chemistry.

According to the author, only in the past few decades has politics in the United States become nastier than ever. And he knew. He served 59 years in Congress.

In August 2009, he held a Town Hall meeting in Romulus, Michigan to speak about the healthcare bill (Obamacare). The hundreds of protestors and hecklers who filled the meeting hall weren’t even from Michigan. They were from other midwestern states.

They believed the propaganda that had sparked fear and outrage against Obamacare. “This was an ambush organized by that evil Dick Armey and his lunatic Tea Party crowd. The Koch brothers were funding the whole damn thing in order to stop the Affordable Care Act from passing in Congress.”

The brainwashed attendees rudely, childishly yelled slurs nonstop at the tops of their lungs the whole time. Dingell was used to such abusive treatment however, having had a cross burned on his lawn more than once, as he supported Civil Rights laws. Like his father before him, however, he didn’t put up with corruption.

It is little known that in 1943, Dingell’s father submitted the first national healthcare proposal ever in the United States. The American Medical Association railed against it because the plan would have reduced its power.

Another surprising bit of information is that President Richard Nixon was a great advocate of environmentalism (only in the United States, of course), supporting the EPA and clean air and water legislation in 1970; this is curious, given Nixon’s track record in connection with the desecration of Vietnam.

Dingell played well with others, befriending even Republicans by going hunting with them for all kinds of animals (not the kind who showed up at his Town Hall meetings, though).

Read the book to learn more about Dingell and his views.

Front Row At the White House

The Book of the Week is “Front Row At the White House, My Life and Times” by Helen Thomas, published in 1999. The cover of this volume hints at a career memoir, but the contents are mostly about other people and topics– namely, U.S. president-related information meant to entertain as much as inform, targeted at female readers.

Born in 1920, Thomas grew up in Detroit in a family of nine children. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English, she hired on at United Press, a news wire service, assisting with radio broadcasts. When men went off to fight WWII, opportunities became available for women in journalism.

However, in the 1950’s, female journalists were forced to form their own press club; for, until 1971, they were banned from the National Press Club. Thomas was president of the women’s group for the 1959-1960 term. In 1975, she was the first woman to be admitted to the Gridiron Club. It is known mostly for having an annual dinner that roasts elective officeholders.

At the very end of 1960, the author was assigned to cover the White House. She did this for 38 years. It appears that she gathered “soft” news until around the Reagan Era, when her male bosses allowed her to do what the men had been doing. Nevertheless, she built a reputation for herself as a hard-hitting reporter (figuratively).

Initially, Thomas interviewed store owners that sold goods and services to Jackie Kennedy, and wrote about Jackie’s children. Acquiring such information was more difficult than it looked, as Jackie actively hid herself and her children from the media. The tabloid gossip during Lyndon Johnson’s administration included Thomas’ scoop on his daughter’s engagement.

Thomas wasn’t allowed to cover serious political issues until the 1980’s. Yet, ironically, here in the double-digit 2000’s, “journalism” has come full circle. The media is allowed to cover whatever they want. Yet, increasingly, in recent decades, they have continued to insult viewers’, readers’ and listeners’ intelligence. There used to be people called journalists who reported facts. And they checked them.

Now there are people on TV reading Teleprompters, on the radio reading scripts, and providing screen-based text stating their opinions on: the first lady’s clothing, the president’s diet, and all manner of comments from narcissistic attention whores on Twitter. Other outlets are commenting on the fact that their competitors are covering this stupid trivia. Ad nauseam.

Anyway, the author rambled on about press secretaries of Kennedy onward. She described the renovations done to the White House and Air Force One, and the food served in them. She also provided a detailed account of a Washington, D.C. busybody who got involved with the Watergate scandal.

Martha Mitchell (the wife of President Richard Nixon’s campaign manager and Justice Department head, John Mitchell) complained that Nixon wanted her husband to take the rap for the coverup. She also knew Nixon was evil and said– this was about a year and a half before it actually happened– the president should resign.  In August 1974, finally vindicated, she went on the talk-show circuit.

Thomas delved into the personal lives of the first ladies, and how they stood by their men. She showed how President Ronald Reagan’s best friends were plausible denial and willful ignorance.

Read the book to learn much more about trivial White House goings-on from JFK to Bill Clinton, but also– a summary of hard political and historical facts on each president’s administration. Perhaps the latter should have become a separate book– as it could be a valuable resource for a unit on American presidents for a high school social studies class.

Winging It!

The Book of the Week is “Winging It!” by Jack Jefford, published in 1981.

Born in 1910, Jefford knew he wanted to be a pilot when he was six years old. By his late teens, he was taking flying lessons with money earned doing odd jobs. During the Depression Era, he lived on the cheap in Denver’s red-light district, renting a room for $3 a week and paying tens of cents for his meals at restaurants.

In May of 1931, Jefford got his first pilot’s private license issued by the Department of Commerce. He was allowed to fly anywhere in the United States and take on passengers, but only for free. The regions where aviation evolved early on included Nebraska, eastern Colorado, eastern Wyoming and Alaska.

Jefford worked for the Goodall Electric Manufacturing Company. His boss attempted to execute a new concept:  audio advertising from an airplane, via “…a microphone, two powerful amplifiers energized by a wind-driven AC generator, and large horn-shaped airborne speakers.” However, it worked too well, and proved to be not only a nuisance to people below, but a safety hazard. So urban areas outlawed that sort of thing.

Anyhow, autumn 1938 saw Alaskan planes get (Morse-code) radios installed. “Prior to the use of radio, no one knew you were in trouble unless you’d been missing for four or five days.” As various industries progressed thanks to aviation, the author helped collect data for weather forecasters in Oklahoma and helped deliver mail in Arkansas. He even saved some lives by rescuing people with medical emergencies.

It wasn’t always smooth soaring, though. In June 1939, Jefford flew an all-wood Lockheed aircraft from Nome to Seattle into a thunderstorm with noise, turbulence, lightning and hail. His boss– owner of Mirow Air Service, an Alaskan air carrier– died in an air crash that was searching for a downed plane.  The charter service employed an operations manager, a mechanic, a radio operator and pilots. The planes in Alaska had skis on the bottom to land in snow. Otherwise, the planes might roll over, sustaining damage to their three propellers, or their cowlings.

Read the book to learn how the author handled an emergency in dense ice-fog on a C-123 plane that had lost use of its elevators, jet power and one of its two engines; plus, learn about many more of his piloting adventures from the 1930’s through the 1970’s.

Turmoil and Triumph

The Book of the Week is “Turmoil and Triumph, My Years as Secretary of State” by George P. Shultz, published in 1993. This tome described the author’s every conversation, meeting and diplomatic action, complete with historical backdrop– the behind-the scenes issue-wrangling that occurred among top U.S. officials and world leaders during the author’s tenure as secretary of state under president Ronald Reagan.

Shultz came to office in the summer of 1982, after Alexander Haig’s resignation. Shultz was very careful to minimize conflicts of interest– resigning as president of Bechtel and from teaching at Stanford University. He put his assets in a truly blind trust– not managed by family members.

The policy of the administration with regard to most matters of international diplomacy seemed to be “Might makes right.” Cold War hysteria was still in full force, and the United States continually stockpiled weaponry and sent its troops to foreign shores on various continents to deter the Soviets from taking over more territory. Starting at the tail end of the 1970’s through the 1980’s, hostage-taking was all the rage. Terrorist groups sponsored by evil regimes were using people as bargaining chips to achieve their political goals at every turn. The U.S. therefore used the threat of its weaponry and armed forces at every turn.

When Shultz took office, controversy was raging over the Israelis’ attack on the PLO in Lebanon. Various countries– Israel, Jordan, Syria, Iran, NATO countries, and the United States were jockeying for position in the complicated situation. Shultz, of course, tried to represent the interests of the United States– oil accessibility and continued goodwill with Israel.

Unfortunately, Israel had been and continued to be unnecessarily militarily hostile in various ways. Reagan simply decided to have the United States troops leave Lebanon altogether rather than risk additional deaths of Americans– which wasn’t necessarily a cowardly act. That would avoid a quagmire like Vietnam. But a year later, in the autumn of 1983, the American military was back in Lebanon. And in Grenada.

According to Shultz, “The report was sharp and clear:  some Western democracies were again ready to use the military strength they had harbored and built up over the years in defense of their principles and interest.”

Eighteen American troops died in Grenada during the “rescue” operation of one thousand American medical students (who weren’t in immediate danger, according to some people who were physically present, contrary to Shultz’s account) at the school there. The CIA had convinced Shultz that Grenada was a weapons-transporting-Cuban-aircraft refueling stop between Cuba and Angola or Ethiopia.

In summer 1983, there was a power struggle between the National Security Council and Shultz over America’s policy in Central America, when he learned that both he and Congress weren’t informed of the agency’s activities. In summer 1984, the Council authorized U.S. peace-keeping forces to engage in a secret mission in Honduras.

This was ostensibly to protect the Contras, a Nicaraguan fighting force (generously rewarded by the United States because they were anti-Communist) that had infiltrated Honduras. According to what Shultz was told at the time, Saudi Arabia was sending financial aid of one million dollars a month to the Contras. Shultz wrote that he wanted that allowance to end by the end of 1984.

The CIA told Shultz that the Soviets were sending the Sandinistas (the Contras’ enemy) Czech-made weaponry. In addition, the spy agency ordered the American military to line Nicaragua’s harbors with land mines. An international court said that was a crime.

In 1985, Shultz agreed with the policy conveyed by America to foreign officials– that it was against sending arms to Iraq and Iran, in order to discourage them from continuing their war.

At that time, Shultz said he himself, at least one member of the State Department, and a counter-terrorist official weren’t informed that National Security Council adviser Bud McFarlane and non-government individuals were arranging arms sales from Israel to Iran. This, in order for strings to be pulled to release American hostages held by terrorist groups in Lebanon. Others in on the deal included John Kelly, Middle East ambassador from the United States– located in Beirut, the CIA, and some people in the White House.

By November 1986, it was revealed that McFarlane and four others flew to Tehran using phony Irish passports to make the secret deal. Shultz did admit to encouraging talks for the release of hostages, but absent arms sales. He felt that selling arms to a rogue state would be an invitation for them to keep taking hostages one by one to acquire more arms.

White House spokesman Larry Speakes claimed that Shultz knew about the deal during its execution. Treasury Secretary and later Chief of Staff Don Regan claimed the same– at least since a November 1985 meeting. Shultz said no, he didn’t know. Incidentally, Congress didn’t know. Reagan claimed he didn’t. Then he did. Then he didn’t. No one will ever know. Admiral John Poindexter contended that he just found out in November 1986.

[Insert scandal here.]

Poindexter changed his story after it was revealed that some Iranian-weapons-sales-proceeds had been sent to the Contras in Nicaragua. It was just by chance that the CIA head William Casey was debilitated by a brain tumor when he was. Otherwise, the scheming co-conspirators would have continued their clandestine activities.

Shultz egotistically wrote, “… we have lied to the American people and misused our friends abroad. We are revealed to have been dealing with some of the sleaziest international characters around… There is a Watergate-like atmosphere around here as the White House staff has become secretive, self-deluding, and vindictive… But almost every aspect of our foreign policy agenda will suffer unless the  president makes the decision now to halt this operation and let me clean up the mess.”

Shultz was aggrieved that in the Reagan Era, foreign policy and intelligence analysis were commingled at the CIA. Shultz– at the State Department, was left out of the loop. Separating those functions previously minimized possible abuses because the State Department used to handle policy; the CIA, analysis.

Further, having people who weren’t currently U.S. government employees, represent the United States abroad in diplomacy was risky. Shultz pointed out that people such as Jimmy Carter and Jesse Jackson weren’t accountable to the American government. A secretary of state, prior to taking office– like Shultz– was subjected to a rigorous vetting process. Shultz was outraged that during Iran-Contra, clowns off the street who had friends in high places were allowed to be hostage negotiators, unbeknownst to him.

Anyhow, most of the book described the arms-reduction talks between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. There was a tug-of-war over the interpretation of the ABM Treaty. Reagan had agreed to allow the military to begin a research project into the “Strategic Defense Initiative” — a weapons system that was decades away from actual implementation and broke the bank, but was intended to scare the Soviets into agreeing to do away with more of its offensive weapons than otherwise.

There were indications that Reagan was going senile, but Shultz tried to gloze over them and cover for him when he became loopy in public. “Once a certain arrangement of facts was in his head, I could hardly ever get them out.”

Read the book to learn of the untold taxpayer dollars that were wasted making dictatorial shenanigans go away (amid a flurry of propaganda) in Haiti, Panama, the Philippines, Libya, Chile, Angola, Namibia and South Africa; the three skills a secretary of state should have; of every last interaction between the Reagan administration and the Soviets; and how Shultz (according to Shultz) saved Reagan’s presidency.