Hugo Black

The Book of the Week is “Hugo Black, A Biography” by Roger K. Newman, published in 1994. It is ironic that the Caucasian subject’s name was Black, as he was involved in many civil-rights controversies.

Born in 1886 in Clay County, Alabama, Black grew up in a small, poor, agricultural community. When he himself was fourteen, his father died of complications from alcoholism. He completed two years of medical school and passed his exams in becoming a doctor like his older brother, but lacked passion. He was more suited to lawyering, so he also graduated with honors in two years from the University of Alabama.

Black’s legal career started to flourish only after he moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where the culture allowed him to meet important people including a mentor, and get experience in labor law. In the single-digit 1900’s, the segregated-by-skin-color city was still an Old South aristocracy that offered hard manual work for blacks (which comprised nearly half the population) in coal, iron, railroads and steel. There were also: numerous taverns, brothels and churches, and a growing temperance movement.

Black joined as many social and civic organizations as he could because he knew they could further his careers in law (representing labor unions) and politics. In 1910, his mentor pressured him into becoming a low-level criminal-court judge for a year to give him more experience from a different perspective. By 1914, Black was elected Jefferson County solicitor (equivalent to district attorney) as a Democrat. He quit in 1917 to join the U.S. Army.

As a litigator, Black was a master of courtroom histrionics. He was not below furthering his career to take on a morally repugnant case, such as defending a friend who had committed murder. In 1923, Black joined the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan stood for unions and of course, white supremacy; spewed hatred against corporations and immigration, and committed physical violence against Catholics, Jews, blacks, etc. Into the 1930’s in the state of Alabama, the group’s political power was so dominant that one was required to be a member in order to win any election in Alabama.

When asked about his membership later by anti-New Dealers, Black rationalized and minimized and lied and said everybody joined in those days, and then changed the subject. Alabama senator Oscar Underwood’s career ended in May 1925 when he spoke out against the K.K.K. Not only that– Underwood was forced to move to Virginia. Ironically, there were poor whites who voted for Black (for Alabama senator) only because the K.K.K. paid their $1.50 poll tax in 1927.

Black was a voracious reader, attacking the Senate library, absorbing biographies and writings of ancient Greek and Roman bigwigs. He was anti-immigration and also anti-trust. In 1933, he led an investigation in the latter area involving “Destroyed records, competitive bidding shunned, questionably large salaries and profits– the picture that emerged was depressingly familiar.” By the end of the 1930’s, other anti-trust cases that grabbed newspaper headlines made the dueling ideologies of the New Deal and Wall Street, cliches.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the U.S. military ordered Japanese people on the West Coast to be confined to concentration camps. Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson considered such action to be racism, and arguably a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as it was violating the Japanese’s due-process rights, treating them as though they were already guilty of a crime. Justice Black thought that wartime made such action permissible, because no one could know who was loyal and who was disloyal to the United States.

In addition to civil-rights cases in the 1940’s, the Supreme Court handled a voting-redistricting case. The majority opinion was that it was up to state legislatures to “…apportion properly or to invoke the ample powers of Congress.” But, as with (now) countless cases, “How the people could obtain a remedy from the body that perpetuated the abuse was never explained: it is to admit there is no remedy.” Additional cases on redistricting were adjudicated in the early 1960’s. Meanwhile, as is well known, a series of hotly debated civil-rights cases came down the pike.

In 1963, Black’s take on sit-ins and protests was influenced by his childhood experiences. His father owned a store. He developed the firm belief that the store was his family’s private property, and his father could bar anyone from it, for trespassing. Entering private property was not a Constitutional right, even if people sitting at a lunch counter were perfectly willing to pay for food that the owner refused to serve them.

A sit-in in Black’s mind was an issue of private property, not free speech. He also felt that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s peaceful protests should have been prohibited because there was the potential for crowds to become violent. That was also not a matter of free speech, but of action– also not protected by the Constitution. Unsurprisingly for the times, in Birmingham in spring 1963, “Television showed police dogs attacking peaceful marchers and fire hoses thrashing at them… ” which were actions ordered by Alabama governor George C. Wallace.

Read the book to learn every last detail of how Black became a U.S. Supreme Court associate justice, plus much more about Black’s life, times and Supreme Court cases.

Samsung Rising

The Book of the Week is “Samsung Rising, The Inside Story of the South Korean Giant That Set Out to Beat Apple and Conquer Tech” by Geoffrey Cain, published in 2020.

In 2009, the author, a Korean-speaking journalist moved to South Korea to find out all he could about the then-electronics company Samsung, the most famous company in the country. In the ensuing years, Samsung’s relationships with technology-products makers became incestuous because it decided to make its own products while simultaneously supplying its competitors with parts for their products.

The author personally visited the city of Daegu, hometown of Samsung’s founder. In March 1938, Samsung started as a produce stand. The founder followed the Japanese business model of building an empire owned by family members, that involved complicated, group-focused, loyalty-oriented arrangements. Sounds somewhat familiar.

Anyway, in the 1950’s, he branched out into different industries, such as wool clothing, sugar refining, insurance, banking, retailing etc. The corporate culture involves slogan-chanting, and a drill team. But different divisions of the company harbor petty jealousies. The company’s success as a whole is treated as a zero-sum game, so one division’s success is considered to come at the expense of another’s. Sounds somewhat familiar. In autumn 2011, when Samsung’s division in America successfully marketed its new phone and stole a significant amount of market share from Apple, Samsung’s marketing division in South Korea lost face.

The founder made valuable government contacts that invited the kind of corruption that used to be frowned upon in the United States twenty years ago. Ironically, the United States has always provided significant financial aid to South Korea beginning with the Cold War and thereafter.

In 1999, Samsung and Sprint cooperated in a venture to make and export cell phones to the United States. Pursuant to South Korean culture, “After the bonding over booze and karaoke, it’s an accepted practice to roll out bags of cash and other gifts for your partners [American telephone service companies].” However, Samsung had to learn that Americans don’t do business that way (at least not explicitly).

In April 2008, Samsung’s chairman was charged with stock manipulation and tax evasion. In August 2010, and again in July 2011, Apple and Samsung launched an orgy of patent litigation against each other. In October 2011, Samsung already supplied parts for Google’s Android phone, but decided to introduce a phone of its own, the Galaxy Note series. It was a cross between a phone and a tablet, that would compete with Apple’s iPhone. Samsung sought to steal Apple’s customers. Apple had a reputation for making only one version of an overpriced product that delivered exactly what customers desired, that made them feel they were in the “in” crowd. Samsung would offer a choice of different-sized screens. It came late to the market, but improved upon existing products.

In August 2016, Samsung launched a new Galaxy Note phone. In October 2016, Samsung compounded its problems by denying that its phone burst into flames without warning. Its employees who were native South Koreans were under pressure not to express any negative sentiments about anything associated with their employer. For they risked ruining their careers, as word would get around to the few other competing employers in the country, and they would never work anywhere in their homeland again. Sounds somewhat familiar.

Read the book to learn about a wealth of additional details on the culture of South Korea (which is the same as the corporate culture of Samsung), how Samsung came to focus solely on technology parts and products, and much more.

Klondike

The Book of the Week is “Klondike, the Alaskan Oil Boom” by Daniel Jack Chasan, published in 1971.

For decades, oil has been a political football that has caused international strife. This book recounts the story that has become a cliche: what transpired when oil was discovered in Alaska in March 1968.

Through the 1800’s, Alaska’s economy was based on fur trading (exploited by the Russians whose activities left many native Alaskans dead of disease and from weapons), canneries, sawmills, gold, and whaling (exploited by the Americans, who forced many native Alaskans to migrate or else they would starve); by the mid-1900’s, it was based on salmon, lumber, gold, copper, hunting, private prop planes, and during wartime– military bases.

In January, 1970, the author visited an Eskimo village, whose residents hunted caribou for food, lived in plywood cabins, and got around in snowmobiles. They sold masks made of caribou in tourist shops in Alaskan cities to make a living. On average, they passed away in their mid-30’s.

In 1912, the Alaskan Native Brotherhood was formed to help aboriginal Alaskans assert their legal rights. Through the decades, various tribes of natives, including the Tlingits, Haidas, Tanacross, Minto, and Inupiat had their lands grabbed by the United States federal government. Finally, in 1966, they formed a group called the Alaska Federation of Natives but it became a political front that actually separated the tribes from their lands. Different tribes had beefs with other tribes, and there were divided loyalties. In the last three years of the 1960’s, Alaska’s state government had political differences with the federal Department of the Interior.

Just a few of the actual consequences (which were ongoing, and were likely to get worse in the future, due to ongoing legal wrangling at the book’s writing) of oil discovery included:

  • Eskimos’, Indians’ and Aleuts’ ways of life were disrupted emotionally, financially and property-wise, due to the mere planning of the oil companies involved.
  • Many activities associated with the extraction of the oil were environmentally damaging to the land and air due to the construction of: a pipeline to be completed in 1972, and the flying in of temporary housing, vehicles and facilities for workers, etc. (Los Angeles would get the oil if it was ever extracted, thus decreasing oil prices and increasing its smog), and
  • Some of the parties involved with the whole extravaganza profited before a drop of oil was even extracted: lawyers, oil workers, Alaska Airlines, and Alaska’s state government– which collected revenues from lease payments, filing fees, drilling permits, etc.

There was always the incalculable potential for ecological disasters which could rear their ugly heads at any time: oil spills and earthquakes. Of course, “The Interior Department had no such trouble computing the possible benefits of the pipeline.”

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details of why Alaska’s natives were at many disadvantages in their fight with “city hall” (hint– one was that an Alaskan senator doubled as the chair of the Senate Interior Committee, who was friendly with president Richard Nixon’s Environmental Quality Council) and which kinds of compensation, if any, to which some of them might be entitled.

Armenian Golgotha

The Book of the Week is “Armenian Golgotha, A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide 1915-1918” by Grigoris Balakian, translated by Peter Balakian with Aris Sevag, originally published in 1922. [Armenian, not American.] This large volume recounted the author’s personal experiences during the decade he became a victim of tensions that boiled over between Turks and Armenians in Turkey during and after WWI. As is well known, hatreds between peoples ebb and flow, but it was the first time in human history that one specific ethnic group sought total extermination of another.

The author pointed out that, “… the principal causes of a country’s downfall are internal dissension, violent partisan struggle, lack of religion, political crime, and economic unraveling; all these per se bring with them unbridled excesses.”

On the eve of WWI, the author of this personal account was a reverend who had gone to Germany to study. The outbreak of war prompted him to go from Berlin to Constantinople via rail and steamship (a two-week trip) to fight on behalf of his people, the Armenians. He was street-smart, and declined to go the rural Turkish diocese of Erzinjan, despite having been named to the position of locum tenens there. Another minister went in his place, and was shot and dismembered by the Ittihad Special Organization. Such atrocities were to be repeated in spades for the next several years.

Pasha Talaat, the interior minister of Turkey, had a secret service working for him, reporting all lifestyle-information on Armenians in Constantinople. He wanted to finish the job that was started in 1909– a small-scale massacre of a few tens of thousands of Armenians. The naive victims had no clue what they were in for. They believed the pervasive government propaganda that told them everything was dandy. No one wanted to believe they were in danger.

The Ittihad government in Turkey executed its unspeakable horrors methodically. It divided the Armenian population into various segments in order to commit its now-infamous genocide. Different groups in different parts of Turkey were subjected to largely similar treatment: were sent reassuring messages, disarmed, stripped of their assets, arrested, deported purportedly for their own protection (from the Russians), and were finally hacked to death by sociopathic, sadistic common Turkish people, largely with martial-arts weapons and timber and farm implements, not with firearms. The females were put through the same process, but they were raped before their deaths, except for a small number, who were forcibly converted to Islam and sent to Turkish harems instead.

The Turkish authorities began by conscripting all Armenian males between the ages of twenty and 46, sending them to the fighting at the Russian border. Then they enslaved them in road-building in the interior of Asia Minor. Unsanitary, cruel, starvation conditions resulted in many deaths. In summer 1915,the Minister of War ordered Turkish soldiers to ruthlessly slaughter the remaining survivors. There was a small resistance movement in the mountains, but it was weak. Of course, too, there were unsung heroes– German, Swiss, Austrian and Italian civil engineers working on the railroad who secretly tried to save Armenian lives.

The author was able to pull some strings through his contacts so that he escaped conscription. However, he was eventually arrested and made to travel for months in a caravan of tens of people like himself, about half of whom survived, suffering near-death experiences over and over. A few of them had been able to bring some of their wealth with them in the form of gold coins, with which they were able to bribe local officials and law enforcement.

Read the book to learn every emotionally jarring detail of the author’s story; and: the Germans’ connection to, the historical backdrop of, and about the three Turkish leaders most responsible for, the whole sordid affair; and the fates of the major figures involved.

Inside the Five-Sided Box / With All Due Respect

The first Book of the Week is “Inside the Five-Sided Box, Lessons From A Lifetime of Leadership in the Pentagon” by Ash Carter, published in 2019.

Beginning his career as a physicist, Carter served in various capacities in presidential administrations starting with Ronald Reagan’s. He served as U.S. Secretary of Defense in 2015 and 2016. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, even if other people disagreed with him. Of course, as a scientist, he gathered data and then provided evidence to back up what he was talking about.

Such was the case when he said, “So for both technological and systemic reasons, the [‘Start Wars’– er, uh,] ‘Star Wars’ missile defense scheme was pure fantasy.” Members of Reagan’s inner circle (power-hungry political hacks angry at anyone who criticized the president’s agenda) told the media to trash Carter, and they did.

The year 1993 saw Carter supervise the disarmament of the former Soviet Union and its satellites. All the parts, equipment and materials that went into making nuclear weapons had to be secured, lest they be sold on the black market to terrorists.

Carter described president Barack Obama as an organized, concise, decisive, clear communicator who ended meetings with a call to action, unlike Susan Rice. The president didn’t say one thing and do another. Carter bragged about revamping the topsy-turvy compensation system in the Joint Strike Fighter Program, and how he implemented improvements in military equipment and logistics that reduced casualties during Barack Obama’s presidency.

Carter commented that unsurprisingly, Congress members use semantic tricks in order to dishonestly brag to their constituents that they passed a law that funds a specific initiative. In reality, the money is actually going nowhere, and nothing is ever going to get done on whatever it is. He barely scratched the surface on why American foreign policy is so inconsistent, underhanded, politically fraught: “The Saudi leaders ply U.S. politicians, journalists and think tanks with abundant cash.”

Yet, he also made a few ridiculously naive statements, including: “… Practically all these institutions are government dominated; few Chinese institutions are truly independent, as U.S. think tanks and universities are.”

Read the book to learn: the details of why, beginning in 2015, fighting ISIS was so difficult (hint– it would be like Vietnam all over again), the details of relevant planning operations in 2016, what eventually happened, and who falsely took credit for it; Carter’s take on Russian interference in America’s presidential election in 2016; various other of Carter’s career highlights, and a few of his views on now-president Donald Trump.

The second Book of the Week is “With All Due Respect, Defending America With Grit and Grace” by Nikki R. Haley, published in 2019. This volume was a combination memoir / history textbook / Obama-bashing self-bragfest. At times, the book read like a few strung-together episodes of a pundit’s TV show, what with the omission of inconvenient facts. The brief historical backgrounds on the places she visited, were too brief.

Haley served as governor of South Carolina for about six years prior to becoming the United Nations ambassador for the first two years of president Donald Trump’s administration. Working for the president, Haley had an infuriating, depressing, thankless job; nevertheless, she insisted it was fulfilling for her.

In January 2016, she was tapped to provide commentary on president Obama’s State of the Union address, for the media. Her public relations people gauged viewer reactions to her commentary via public comments on TV and Twitter. Another indicator of the tenor of the times occurred in September 2017 when president Trump tweeted, “I tweeted this morning, and it’s killing on Twitter” in reference to having called North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un “Little Rocket Man.”

Haley helped negotiate the imposing of three sets of increasingly harsh economic sanctions on North Korea with China’s help (even though it is in China’s best interests to keep Kim Jong Un in power) in order to get Kim to stop testing nuclear weapons. No matter. Brutal dictators rarely change their spots; more of their citizens suffer, rather than their weapons programs. North Korea has continued testing to this day. It is naive to think that people such as Kim Jong Un can be shamed into better behavior.

Also in connection with North Korea, Haley was tasked with securing the release of 21-year old American Otto Warmbier. He was tortured and taken hostage. It was a bad editorial decision for her to mention him at all in her book. For, she never did explain a burning question: Why was Warmbier in North Korea in the first place? The U.S. State Department presumably had a travel ban to North Korea. Haley did, however, take credit for securing his release, even though he died shortly thereafter.

In addition, Haley showed that she let her detractors psychologically control her, as she spent several paragraphs discussing smears against her. The president never appeared to be bothered by what other people thought of him; even when his provocative tweets got him in trouble.

Haley spoke her mind, even to the president. He behaved in a way that showed lack of leadership. Whenever high-level staff members disagreed on a specific action to take on a major issue, Haley wrote, “Once again, the president told us to resolve our differences and come back and see him.” Whoever had his ear at the right moment, got their way.

As ambassador, Haley encountered two megalomaniacs: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. They thought they alone could save the United States by being able to do what they thought best. No one should get in their way. Not even the president. They thought they were always right.

Anyway, often, Haley tried to salvage other hopeless situations, too. “It takes a lot to move the UN Security Council to action. Even after this gruesome report on all the violence that followed yet another meaningless cease-fire, some on the council still argued that a weapons embargo would hurt the ‘peace process.’ ” This describes most any Third-World nation. Haley thought her job was to get Americans to care about oppressed peoples. She visited some of them, such as those in South Sudan. She got asked a lot, why should Americans care?

The cynical answer is that South Sudan is a backup source of oil for the United States– which has invested billions of dollars in it already. The hopeful answer is that a rising tide lifts all boats and what comes around goes around — any generosity toward human beings (even downtrodden ones) anywhere in the world helps improve the world, it reduces the suckiness in the world, if only just a little. Although the problems of Third-World countries might seem overwhelming, the few individuals (who win the international aid / sympathetic journalist lottery) have limitless appreciation for appropriate assistance.

Haley sat on the UN Security Council, which was concerned with only “peace and security” of nations, not with human rights abuses. Another UN division, the Human Rights Council (HRC), handled the latter; hypocritically and corruptly, after a while. That is why she helped the United States withdraw from HRC in summer 2018. Some of its remaining member-nations were run by brutal dictators. It had become a joke– like the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize in recent decades.

Read the book to learn of Haley’s opinions on economics and immigration (which she should have covered in whole other books); mind-boggling evil she heard about from peoples she personally visited in Palestinian refugee camps, Iran, Congo, South Sudan and elsewhere, and other traumatic events in her career (for more information on brutal dictators, see the post, “Ian Fleming – BONUS POST” and scroll down to the spreadsheet; for more background on the aforementioned countries, type in their names in the search bar of this blog).

Bonus Post

SEE NOTHING AND NOBODY

DOWN BY THE SCHOOLYARD

sung to the tune of “See Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” with apologies to Paul Simon.

President Trump said reopen schools.

So did the czar of education.

When the teachers found out they began to shout,

which started the litigation.

Teachers said naw! Teachers said naw!

A lot of sick we saw.

There ought to be a law.

Florida’s gov stood his ground, said we’re not bound

to conform to the convention.

Other govs said you must open schools or we’ll legally quash your dissension.

We’ve lost our way.

Don’t know where we’re going.

We’ve lost our way.

Law takes its time. Don’t know where…

Goodbye democracy, via the scourge of Corona.

See nothing and nobody down by the schoolyard.

See nothing and nobody down by the schoolyard.

Oh oh, people are saying they’re going to take school away and have online and home education.

And when the special interest groups have total control,

we’re gonna have an airheaded nation.

We’ve lost our way.

Don’t know where we’re going.

We’ve lost our way.

Law takes its time. Don’t know where…

Goodbye democracy, via the scourge of Corona.

See nothing and nobody down by the schoolyard.

See nothing and nobody down by the schoolyard.

See nothing and nobody down by the schoolyard.

Embattled Wall

The Book of the Week is “Embattled Wall, Americans United: An Idea and a Man” by C. Stanley Lowell, published in 1966.

Separation of Church and State requires a zero-tolerance policy, lest little things open the floodgates to bigger things, one thing leads to another, and those little things eventually lead to the Spanish Inquisition, or some other theocracy as is seen in many countries in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Besides, there are other reasons for separation of Church and State:

  • Religious entities that pay no taxes have a competitive advantage if they provide goods and services the same way tax-paying capitalist entities do. This includes private education services, and
  • Citizens probably don’t want their taxes to financially assist institutions associated with a religion other than their own.

After WWII in the United States, the power of the Catholic Church was on the increase. Beginning in 1947, the Church began to aggressively request government subsidies for its parochial school system. The author wrote, “…The National Catholic Welfare Conference… [were] like professional lobbyists… actually assisting in the drafting of legislation… cajoling, promising, threatening.”

Protestants felt that money was earned through work, not subsidies, so initially, they were against public funding for their schools. Thus, when over-achieving attorney Glenn Archer founded the group, Americans United— which litigated for separation of Church and State– Protestants assisted him.

The actual full name of the organization was “Protestants and Other Americans United For Separation of Church and State” (hereinafter referred to as “AU”). Other groups that supported them included Seventh Day Adventists and Christian Scientists. Jews mostly avoided the fray, but they were offended that the group had the word “church” in its name.

The Catholics launched a smear campaign against Archer and AU. Catholic publications trotted out the usual righteously indignant accusations, “bigot, religious prejudice, Ku Klux Klan, Communist, racist,” etc. The language in Jesuit propaganda was open to multiple interpretations (among many other examples):

“Freedom of choice in education”

which, in AU’s words, translated to:

Canon Law 1374 denies freedom of choice in education to Catholic parents, ordering them to send their children to Catholic schools.” In other words, the Catholic Church strongly believes that its worshippers should follow religious law before civil law whenever there is a clash between them.

Jesuits: “Justice for children”

AU: “Subsidies for Catholic schools”

The author also described a Catholic rabble rouser: “His posture of outraged purity impressed the majority who had no understanding of the real issues in the case.”

When American president Harry Truman proposed the appointing of an ambassador to the Vatican, AU protested that this was a violation of separation of Church and State, as the leader of the Vatican (the Pope) was a worldwide religious leader. AU and a sufficient number of individual complainants helped put the kibosh on that appointment.

The State Department was peeved because it could have used the Catholic Church (which had many houses of worship around the world) to assist with espionage– er, uh, fostering friendly relationships with nations that had Catholic citizens.

In 1958, the world got a new Pope, thanks in part to votes cast by Catholic cardinals in America. AU cited 8 U.S. Code 1481 of the Immigration and Nationality Act as a reason to revoke the citizenship of those cardinals. For, any American citizen who votes in a foreign country could be stripped of his citizenship.

The Church weakly counter-argued that the Pope is primarily a religious leader, and secondarily a national leader. However, AU produced support for its own arguments in the form of a few previous legal cases of citizenship revocations, plus American government documentation that showed the Vatican to be a political entity.

During the 1960 presidential election between Richard Nixon and the Catholic John F. Kennedy, AU asked questions to determine JFK’s positions on separation of Church and State. The U.S. Supreme Court, AU and JFK were all in agreement.

A few different laws were passed through the years, that granted subsidies pursuant to state laws, in addition to ongoing student loan programs:

  • 1948, the Taft Bill
  • 1958, Defense Education Act
  • 1963, Higher Education Facilities Act (which allowed a university– even that run by a religious institution– to acquire property at a fire-sale price from the government, and then to get permission to construct campus buildings with public funds), and
  • 1965, Elementary and Secondary Education Act

During those years, in effect, federal taxpayers were financially aiding Catholic education more than that of any other religion, as 95% of religious schools were Catholic.

In the late 1950’s, Franklin County in Missouri won a great legal victory against the Catholic Church. The court ruled that, “…schools were not in fact free public schools and were not entitled to be supported by public school money or public funds.”

In a Burlington, Vermont lawsuit, AU cited the First and Fourteenth Amendments because the vague language of the Vermont Constitution regarding separation of Church and State allowed for loopholes.

Read the book to learn about the practice of “captive schools” and a wealth of additional information on the tenor of the times in connection with legal fights over public funding for religious education.

Paris 1919

The Book of the Week is “Paris 1919, Six Months That Changed the World” by Margaret MacMillan, originally published in 2001. In penning this large volume, the author gained access to “horse’s-mouth” documentation, largely thanks to meticulous recording of the peace conference’s participants’ every verbal exchange in more than two hundred meetings for three months, beginning in late April 1919.

After the usual needless deaths and ruined lives brought on by a war among a large number of diverse peoples (of different histories, religions, languages and cultures)– in the whole first half of 1919, the hegemony-possessing countries of the world engaged in complex, emotionally heated negotiations meant to achieve world peace. Alas, human nature intervened.

By the end of the extravaganza, there were nearly sixty commissions and committees that tried to put their two cents into the Versailles Treaty– that primarily tried to make Germany pay for its WWI aggression.

Throughout, the negotiators experienced the five stages of psychological loss theorized by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Desire for: revenge, and financial and territorial compensation were the order of the day. Of course, those were the reasons for going to war, too. This was not unlike the political situation in 2020 in the United States between its two major political parties which have been fiercely fighting a roughly forty-year war; amid an epidemic, and a work-in-progress-national-healthcare-system.

One power-exercising technique used by certain local American politicians is to allow their citizens the option of wearing a mask (allegedly a preventive measure in spreading the current epidemic; a humiliation ritual that lacks significant scientific evidence for its existence)– giving the appearance of restoring a freedom the citizens lost.

The politicians can then see the proportion of people who are still fearful of contracting or spreading the disease. They can then further their abuse of power accordingly by imposing or reimposing such a tool of oppression on a whim!

Another example of the mentality of power-hungry nations of the last hundred years comes in the form of a ditty– a parody of “This Land” –Woody Guthrie’s song about the United States:

This land is my land, and only my land.

If you don’t get off,

I’ll shoot your head off.

I’ve got a shotgun, and you don’t got one.

This land was made for only me. Not you.

Anyway, each participant in 1919 Paris had largely similar arguments for their demands (unsurprisingly, the colonizers presented fanciful statistics as facts as part and parcel of their propaganda):

  • millions of their people made the ultimate sacrifice in the war.
  • the war-winners thought they were entitled to take back territories they had previously colonized (euphemistically calling the authority to recover them “mandates”) because peoples living in those territories weren’t sufficiently sophisticated to govern themselves (i.e., they were inferior, uncivilized), and
  • Statistically or ethnologically, there were significant populations of the conquering peoples in the sought-after cities or regions; likewise, the land had historically been theirs, or else it had been on a trade route important for their economic survival.

Except for a short break in March, American president Woodrow Wilson was physically present in Paris the whole time. He pushed for his idealistic agenda of “Fourteen Points” and a League of Nations.

The latter was supposed to be a group of countries that agreed to militarily protect each other in the event they were attacked. Pacifists felt that members should agree to get rid of their weapons and refrain from fighting in the first place.

Postwar, France favored the League. Feeling vulnerable, she was seeking to make nice with nations that had the resources she needed to feel secure: Russia for manpower, and Great Britain for naval and industrial strength. In general, the English-speaking peoples of the world wanted to believe in the rule of law– that wronged peoples could obtain recourse through international agreements and tribunals.

By April 1919, South African leader Jan Smuts had drafted a proposal for the League. The plans included neither a military force, nor a tribunal. Not much would get done anyway, because a unanimous vote would be required to make decisions.

Early on at the conference, Italy was beginning to exhibit the Fascism it would become known for. Poet, playwright and WWI hero Gabriele D’Annunzio oozed charisma, but his jingoistic bragging about Italy was based on nothing but energy and ego: “Victorious Italy– the most victorious of all the nations– victorious over herself and over the enemy– will have on the Alps and over her sea the Pax Romana, the sole peace that is fitting.” He passionately demanded that his country should get, among other territories, the town of Fiume, strategically located on the Adriatic.

By March, the peace talks had been narrowed down to four countries whose representatives (arrogant drama queens, all) would hammer out the documents that described the terms and conditions, benefits and limitations that would, it was fervently hoped, keep peace in the future. However, they snuck in vague language to invite loopholes.

Those four consisted of France, United States, Italy and Great Britain; in the form of statesmen Georges Clemenceau, Wilson, Vittorio Orlando and Lloyd George, respectively. The leaders were obligated to consult dozens of other treaties and agreements, usually between pairs of countries, that were signed on an ongoing basis during and after the war. A large number of agreements had been signed in secret.

Just a few wrenches in the works of the good-faith talks included:

  • In 1917, the Bolsheviks in Russia had begun creating a new society in which people would live happily ever after. But they were committing atrocities to do it.
  • The Balkans weren’t particularly interested in forming one big, happily family called Yugoslavia; they were comprised of Serbs, Croats, Albanians, Bulgarians and Macedonians; arguably Greeks and Romanians, and a slew of minorities; a few pairs of which hated each other, and
  • The Ottoman Empire was breaking up; in late 1918, hapless Hungary was militarily invaded by Bolsheviks, and in summer 1919 by Romania, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.

Read the book to learn who swayed whom and why and how; the fates of: Shantung, Turkey, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Smyrna, Kurdistan, Armenia, Germany; of the personalities involved; and of numerous other political footballs.