Piety & Power / Troublemaker

The First Book of the Week is “Piety & Power, Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House” by Tom LoBianco, published in 2019. This volume recounted the political adventures of Mike Pence, elected vice president of the United States in 2016.

By November 1990, Pence had lost two Congressional races. “He didn’t grasp that using the campaign cash to make his mortgage and car payments was a clear violation of their [his Republican colleagues’] trust.” Thereafter, the Federal Election Commission deemed that activity illegal.

Pence lets political expedience dictate his religious / ideological bent. Over the course of twenty years, beginning in the late 1970’s, he proceeded to play the roles of: evangelist, conservative Republican, mainstream Republican, Libertarian, evangelical megachurch supporter, and finally, Christian Rightist.

Pence was finally elected to Congress in 2000. In 2013, he became governor of Indiana. He gave Hoosiers a small tax cut but promoted it as a big one. He proposed funding free pre-kindergarten for poor kids (of course, knowing him, he’d push for allowing pre-kindergarten to teach religion), but actually obtained more federal Medicare funding. He also proposed a state-run news service– which of course was looked at askance, and died on the drawing board.

In March 2015, Pence signed a bill that allowed (translation: encouraged) religious ministers and businesses to refuse to provide services for gay marriage ceremonies. He failed to anticipate the public relations crisis that ensued.

Pence figured that a Donald Trump loss in 2016 would increase his own chances of getting elected president in 2020. For, Pence was instrumental in helping Trump win the Rust Belt and other swing states.

Read the book to learn of other interesting factoids about Pence.

The Second Book of the Week is “Troublemaker, Let’s Do What It Takes to Make America Great Again” by Christine O’Donnell, published in 2011.

Born in 1969 into a family that was eventually comprised of six children, O’Donnell is of Irish and Italian extraction. The family moved from Philadelphia to Moorestown, New Jersey when she was little.

When O’Donnell participated in the commencement ceremony at Fairleigh Dickinson University, she still owed $8,000 in tuition, and was six credits short of graduating. At the podium, the leather portfolio she was handed contained a bursar’s bill instead of a degree. By that time, she had decided she wanted to pursue a career in politics. Her naivete was a blessing and a curse, as it is with so many passionate young people who seek to work for a cause that is bigger than themselves.

However, the more one reads, hears or sees about politics, the more cynical one becomes; one does not even need to run for office to see what dirty a business it is. The sooner one learns this, and the lessons O’Donnell learned, the better. Apparently, a certain political climate at certain times allows particular instances of what could be considered unethical, or at best, dishonest activities to proceed.

Anyway, O’Donnell wrote candidly about her work experiences. She described what some might say were conflicts of interest that were minor, in that the goals were to spread propaganda and cover all the bases, more than make money.

Some believe that a media outlet should not be used solely as a political mouthpiece. Nevertheless, in 1994, from Washington, D.C., the Republican National Committee aired a Haley Barbour-created TV show, “Rising Tide.” The weekly show had affiliates around the nation, including Chicago. O’Donnell– whose job was to sell the show– got it on the air on a cable access channel in New York City.

In another case, in 2008, Senator Joe Biden re-ran for the U.S. Senate at the same time he ran for vice president. Biden won both elections. As is well known, he has been a gadfly ever since. Currently, some people, even those from his own party, wish he would go away.

At any rate, O’Donnell advised the reader on ways she saved money after she again lost her run for the U.S. Senate as a Republican from Delaware, of all states. In her late thirties, she had crushing debt load, but she swallowed her pride and:

  • worked cleaning houses
  • babysat
  • became a laundress
  • sold her possessions on eBay and Craigslist
  • cancelled her cable TV subscription
  • borrowed free DVDs from her local library
  • got free internet access from her local library
  • moved into a small apartment
  • shopped at thrift stores, and
  • destroyed her credit cards.

Running for office is undeniably expensive, regardless of the age of the candidate; just ask even now-famous politicians who lost elections in the past. Those who emerge as election losers but are still wealthy are those who inherit endless money. Or obtain it through unethical means at the very least, or both.

O’Donnell clearly had a stronger desire to change the world than profit. Obviously, by the third time she ran for the Senate in 2010, she knew there would be adverse financial consequences. However, she did not anticipate the extreme abuse she would suffer.

During the author’s race, the opposition (unsurprisingly), but also her own political party (!) launched vicious smear campaigns against her. And the IRS audited her for years. Notwithstanding, in summer 2010, she went on Mark Levin’s national radio show, and listeners consequently donated $12,000 to her campaign in a matter of hours. After she won the nomination in September, Rush Limbaugh endorsed her on his radio show and donations poured into her campaign.

Mike Castle, O’Donnell’s primary opponent was a sore loser. Karl Rove and his GOP operatives cast aspersions on her, too. Toward the end of this book, she cast aspersions on Barack Obama. She blamed him for almost all the nation’s troubles.

O’Donnell didn’t understand that on the economic front, one economic period cannot be fairly compared to any other, because times and conditions are constantly changing. It is incalculable how much credit the current president deserves for the current success of certain economic sectors or indicators. Does former president Bill Clinton deserve full credit for the economic upturn that, without question, resulted from the rise of the Internet? Anyway– as is well known, Al Gore invented the Information Superhighway, so perhaps he deserves full credit.

One way to get an idea of the extent of dishonesty of idiot-box drama on a political show, or one momentarily reporting on politics– is to mute the TV and see whether the person reading the Teleprompter is blinking frequently. If they are, what they are reading is likely lies; blinking like crazy is body language that likely indicates lying.

O’Donnell gave the reader tips on how to be an activist. She wrote, “Whether liberal, conservative, Republican or Democrat, good people should be able to run for office without concern for getting trashed in the public eye or having phony claims thrown at them. Thug politics have to stop.” Good luck with that, all.

Read the book to learn of O’Donnell’s other political and personal experiences.

The Reckoning

The Book of the Week is “The Reckoning, Death and Intrigue in the Promised Land, a True Detective Story” by Patrick Bishop, published in 2014.

Born in 1907 in Poland near the Lithuanian border, Avraham Stern grew up to become an agent of the Irgun (one of the intelligence services in Palestine), coordinating the purchase of weaponry from Italian and Polish sources, to be smuggled into Palestine to help the Jews fight for an independent state, plus spreading propaganda about offensives in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa.

Ze’ev Jabotinsky was a prominent Zionist in the same underground group, who gathered intelligence and launched military offensives in pursuit of Jewish statehood.

Stern, however, was a more radically violent sort, whose spinoff group (called Betar, or Revisionists) committed acts of terrorism against Arabs, even civilians, and later, the British. His group received funding from wealthy Jews who believed in the cause of helping oppressed Jews live freely in a land of their own.

In May 1939, Great Britain issued a White Paper– a follow-up document to the 1917 Balfour Declaration– stating that since there was then a significant Jewish population (450,000) in Palestine, only an additional 75,000 would be let in in the next five years, and those arriving later than that, would require Arab consent.

A governance arrangement would have to be made in the next ten years between the Arabs and the Jews. Of course, no one could know the untoward historical events soon to occur, let alone the number of Jewish refugees who would ultimately be seeking to reside in Palestine.

By 1940, Great Britain was in trouble militarily. In August, Jabotinsky unexpectedly died of a heart attack. Stern, who took the opportunity to occupy the resulting power vacuum, argued that the Zionists should ally with Germany because although anti-Semitic, the Germans might let the Jews emigrate to Palestine.

In desperate need of money, Stern plotted a successful bank robbery in September 1940 that was executed by his henchmen. He himself was an armchair warrior, only the mastermind behind the group’s activities.

Afterwards, Stern went underground, but got friendly with the anti-British Italians through his spy network, so if the Italians were to march into Palestine, they would be benign colonialists, rather than oppressive imperialists. Early 1941 saw Stern solicit the friendship of the German diplomatic corps, too. His overtures later proved to be a waste of time.

In 1941 and 1942, Stern went all out with planning violence because he knew his days were numbered. His group committed a robbery and launched an attack that resulted in the deaths of innocent people, including British cops. He became public enemy number one. A major historical event that might either discredit or make truthfulness more likely in connection with various historical accounts is: the Wannsee Conference held in late January 1942, at which Hitler discussed his plot to create a master race and eliminate all Jews. Thereafter, parties privy to such knowledge began to change their behavior.

Stern and his cohorts hated the British government because the British knew the Jews were seeking refuge from Hitler’s death camps, but they prevented them from reaching the shores of Palestine via boats, anyway. It was inexcusable not to save their lives. Two of Israel’s future politicians, Irgun members (Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin) fought with the ideologically dogmatic Zionists, newly renamed “Lehi.”

Read the book to learn of the way the British intelligence community treated Stern’s terrorist cell as an organized-crime gang– resorting to frontier justice out of fury when law enforcement officers were killed in attacks; the ensuing propaganda war between the Brits and Jews on a specific incident involving Stern; the fate of the head of British intelligence; and the activities of the British and Zionists from 1944 onward.

Ibn Saud

The Book of the Week is “Ibn Saud, The Desert Warrior Who Created the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” by Michael Darlow and Barbara Bray, originally published in 2010. This wordy and redundant biography described the life of a pivotal figure in the history of the Middle East in the twentieth century and his legacy in the twenty-first century.

Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud (hereinafter referred to as “Saud”) was born circa 1881. He was the oldest surviving son of his forever growing family. The culture of his Islamic, nomadic tribe involved a Robin-Hood like practice called “ghazzu.” Only at a time when a tribe was literally starving, would it rustle camels and/or livestock for itself, from a tribe that was better off, inasmuch as it needed to survive. The raid was not for the purpose of conquest.

A boy would become a man by aiding his fellow men in such a raid. Due to a forced evacuation by a militant attack by the Rashid family in the Middle Eastern desert in 1891, Saud left his family when he was about ten. He assisted with a ghazzu with the Al Murra– one of the poorer Bedouin tribes. They were Muslim, but not as fanatically religious as the Wahhabis in Riyadh, where Saud’s family lived.

Saud’s family was allowed to reside in Kuwait until his father could regain his sheikdom from the Rashid family. In the 1890’s, the whole region was being fought over by the Ottoman Empire, Germany, France, Russia and Great Britain for purposes of international commerce, rail transportation and shipping.

In 1899, Saud took a bride in his second arranged marriage, and his first son was born the following year. He was to have: more than one hundred wives, almost one hundred children, plus numerous concubines in his lifetime, but only three wives at any given time, pursuant to the Quran. At that time in Saud’s culture, divorce was cheap and fast.

Saud led men into the vendetta-laden battle between his family and the Rashid. Allying with other tribes in the area, they fought on camels with swords, rocks and fire. Saud achieved victory in January 1902.

Two months later, his messengers arrived to tell government leaders in London, India, Istanbul and Moscow. Saud’s father’s army retook the territory over the next two years, but the Ottoman empire had the resources to re-conquer the Saud family’s small military and tentative claim on land the Saud family had previously owned. So the two parties signed a treaty conditionally acknowledging the land’s owner.

Until WW I, Saud allied with the Wahhabi tribe, Ottomans and British, but would not help them during the war. To Saud, the Rashid remained an enemy, and Sharif Husayn– British diplomat and leader of a rival tribe– became a new one. All still had territorial claims to the Arabian peninsula.

In 1922, the presence of oil was suspected in the disputed territories. However, the oil drilling equipment at the time was too primitive to the find the oil.

In the mid-1920’s, Saud was allied with the Wahhabi-related Ikhwan tribe, which were fanatically religious and violent with their livestock-grabbing, looting, plundering, destroying Shia artifacts and killing enemy males of all ages– forcing them to flee the Arabia/Iraq border. Saud had to tell the Ikhwan to cool it. Even so, Saud didn’t compensate the enemy for his allies’ war crimes. He kept all the territory he got, and acquired more.

Into the early twentieth century, the Arab tribes thought of the desert as an ocean, around which they could wander because no nation had a sovereign claim on it. Since Najdis (residents of Najd) and Iraqi Bedouins (both allies of Saud) were having border skirmishes against the British, the British thought they had a right to build forts to clarify their claimed territories to corral the local nomadic tribes. Of course the British, having a more advanced military and weaponry, plus the world’s best navy, had the upper hand on the ocean too.

In 1928, one oil company each from America, Britain, Netherlands and France agreed to divvy up any oil that was discovered in the Middle East.

After various battles, finally, in September 1932, Saud named his territory the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, governed exclusively by a literal interpretation of the Quran. In other words, It was a theocratic, not a constitutional, monarchy. For the rest of Saud’s life, excessive amounts of money were spent on keeping Saudi Arabia’s citizens (Saud’s royal family and others, plus millions of charity seekers–to whom hospitality was an obligation according to the Quran) loyal to King Saud.

Read the book to learn what transpired:

  • when a significant amount of oil was finally discovered in Saudi Arabia;
  • what Saud did just before and during WWII;
  • that led the Americans to become besties with Saudi Arabia for decades– which was related to how Saud reacted to the debate over the territory of Palestine and how Saudi Arabia ran into financial trouble in the latter half of the twentieth century; and
  • when Saud died– how his successors led the country in the next half century.

A Fort of Nine Towers

The Book of the Week is “A Fort of Nine Towers, An Afghan Family Story” by Qais Akbar Omar, published in 2013.

As is well known, the Russians marched into Afghanistan in 1979. The resistance fighters were called the Mujahedin, the Holy Warriors. The Russians had advanced aerial bombs, while the Warriors had old hunting-guns. The Russians left in 1989, but continued to financially support the government until spring 1992; galloping inflation ensued.

The author and his growing family lived in Kabul, of which the Mujahedin then took control. Omar’s father and grandfather ran a lucrative Oriental carpet business. They lived in a multi-generational household, with large families of uncles, aunts and cousins.

At the time Omar began to experience the hardships of war, he was about eight years old. His elementary school stopped teaching the basics of evolution, and began to teach creationism instead. There was no more fear of stray bullets in the streets, but there was a food shortage. The following year, tribal infighting plagued the Mujahedin; rockets fired from above by the different tribes– all Muslim– started to kill people.

Omar’s grandfather’s resistance to change, anger at having his livelihood, property and material possessions stolen, and love of his homeland were largely responsible for his family’s precarious situation, and their traumatic experiences in the coming decades. He insisted the family stay in Afghanistan– to try to protect what they had. He was stripped of the fruits of his life’s work, anyway. Most of their community fled. Omar’s family obeyed the law of Islam by which the females and children obeyed the oldest male relatives.

As the year 1993 progressed and the violence worsened, schools closed and no one went outside for fear of getting hit by sniper bullets, or a rocket-propelled grenade or other weaponry.

In late spring, the declaration of a cease-fire prompted Omar’s father to temporarily evacuate the family from their home in a northwesterly direction over a mountainside to a more peaceful village. They were the only people in their area who had a car.

About four miles away, the closest family members who could fit in the car, were driven to and stayed at the quiet estate of the author’s father’s fabulously wealthy business partner. Until the war came to that neighborhood.

The author, as the oldest son in his immediate family, on a few occasions in the next few years, was invited to accompany his grandfather or his father in a return to their old property to see how it was doing, and perhaps to dig up the gold they had buried in the garden there before they left. Those were harrowing, emotionally and physically hurtful episodes with gruesome scenes and near-death experiences.

For, the war had turned illiterate young Muslim men into sociopathic sadists with weaponry. The hatred among different tribes knew no bounds. On the streets, ragged, begging children were used as decoys for hidden robbers who might also commit rape if passersby stopped to help.

“Panjshiris and Hazaras were supposed to stop launching the rockets at each other that had come from the Americans to be used by the Mujahedin against the Russians. But the Russians were defeated and long gone.”

In September 1996, a new tribe, the Taliban– supplied with weapons by Pakistan– was wreaking havoc in Kabul. Omar’s grandfather described them thusly: “They capture a village and torture people and club them to death, then afterwards ask the young boys to do the same to their parents. They tell the young boys that this will make a man of them.”

The Taliban held public executions of thieves, prostitutes, murderers and gays. They enforced their own draconian version of observance of Islam. After a while, though, people at least knew what to expect. The trains ran on time.

Read the book to learn how the author and his family survived in this extremely suspenseful, emotionally-charged cautionary tale whose moral is this: early evacuation of a region with a history of civil war, whose violence is flaring up again, is advisable.

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.

Freedom At Midnight

The Book of the Week is “Freedom At Midnight” by Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre, published in 1975.

In August 1946, Muslims filled the streets in Calcutta, agitating for an independent nation of their own, presumably to be named Pakistan. Six thousand people died in that one episode of unrest. Many, many more would, in the next two and a half turbulent years.

Some journalists would feature the following information more prominently than the above: “Golf was introduced in Calcutta in 1829… No golf bag was considered more elegant on those courses than one made of an elephant’s penis, provided of course, that its owner had shot the beast himself.”

Anyway, as is well known, India has had a long history of violence among Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. Through the decades, various place-names have triggered traumatic memories of copious arson, bombs, bloodshed and atrocities in regions including but far from limited to: Amritsar, the Punjab, Lahore, Peshawar, Kashmir, and New Delhi.

The British have had a long history of encouraging jealousies and hostilities among the different religious and ethnic groups in India so as to prevent them from forming a united nation.

The authors of this book provided horribly confusing totals of the different populations. They wrote that in 1947, India had three hundred million Hindus and one hundred million Muslims, and “… the contested state of four hundred million human beings…” In two other places, they wrote that the Punjab had two million Sikhs, and “The six million Sikhs to whom… they represented only two percent of India’s population…”

In another section,”He [Mohammed Ali Jinnah] had to tell India’s ninety million Muslims of the ‘momentous decision’ to create an Islamic state…” Still elsewhere, all of India allegedly held 275 million Hindus, fifty million Muslims, seven million Christians, six million Sikhs, one hundred thousand Parsis and 24,000 Jews.

Regardless, from the 1920’s through the 1940’s, a man named Gandhi acquired sufficient psychological power over his followers– fervent believers in their respective religions– to momentarily stop killing each other and work toward the common goal of convincing the British government that it was time to give up its colony of India.

Gandhi was able to work his magic because his incredible self-control showed him to be no hypocrite (according to his crack public relations team). He took the action of a true activist— risking his life in fasting (and seriously endangering his health) practicing what he preached (according to his crack public relations team).

Nevertheless, even Gandhi could not come up with a less acrimonious plan– to allow India to evolve as a nation via dividing the peoples who couldn’t live together– than partition. Arguably, he merely postponed the deaths, rather than saved the lives of the different tribes hellbent on eliminating their enemies. India’s caste system’s abusive hierarchy meant that, other than willful violence, the causes of hundreds of thousands of deaths included starvation, disease and severe weather.

However, giving Muslims their own state would mean allocating land in India to Pakistan (with a partition), that would need to be vacated by millions of Sikhs and Hindus, while land in the new India would need to be vacated by Muslims. Those who found themselves in hostile territory– out of fear, were compelled to migrate to where they would number among the majority in their communities.

The division of India into two sovereign states was like the vivisection of Siamese twins– vital organs would be mutilated in the process. Rice, jute, cotton, wheat, barley, corn and sugar cane were grown in one prospective country, but the means of growing, processing or transporting them for export, in the form of irrigation, railroads and highways was contained in the other prospective country.

Louis Mountbatten was the British government official appointed to oversee the process of converting India from a colony of Great Britain to two independent nations. He had a thankless, impossible job.

For, in addition to the complex religious, economic and political considerations involved, there were royal families ruled by maharajahs (of all different religions) to contend with; 565 administrations of them, to be exact. They lived high on the hog, and weren’t keen to relinquish their precious stones, elephants, private railway cars, Rolls Royces, etc. Some even had their own armies– yet another wrench in the works.

Mountbatten thought the least painful plan was to keep India and Pakistan as holdings of the United Kingdom. He decided that midnight of August 15, 1947 was to be the witching hour– when the partition would take effect. Astrologers, who were all the rage in India then, were quite shaken by that decision because by their calculations, that day was bad luck and another day should have been chosen.

On another topic, the new India and Pakistan had to have separate armies. The current Indian army was comprised of the cream of the crop of Sandhurst graduates, whose costs were low, pay was high, and who engaged in leisure pursuits of the wealthy– polo, cricket, pigsticking, shooting, hockey, hunting with hounds, and fishing. However, if a soldier who chose the Indian Army, happened to live in the future Pakistan, he was forced to either join the Pakistani army, or abandon his property and move away from his family.

The way Pakistan’s geographical borders were established was accomplished via an unbiased redistricting process, of sorts. Mountbatten appointed an attorney who knew nothing about India’s ethnic and religious groups, whose job was to pore over scads of population data and maps of the region, and indiscriminately divide it up.

Unjust division of families and real estate was bound to happen, but it was inadvertent. Curiously, “All of Punjab’s jails wound up in Pakistan. So too did its unique insane asylum.”

Read the book to learn how the major leaders warded off anarchy during the independence processes; how Gandhi quelled hostilities at least temporarily in Calcutta on Pakistan’s birthday; what transpired in connection with the Hindu (!) terrorist group who had it in for Gandhi (who was Hindu); and the details of the transposition of the “wretched refugees” (hint– 800,000 refugees in the Punjab [alone(!)] constituted “… a caravan almost mind-numbing in dimension… as though all of Boston, every man, woman and child [that’s not including animals– bullocks, buffaloes, camels, horses, ponies, sheep, etc.] in the city in 1947, had been forced by some prodigious tragedy to flee on foot to New York.”).

No Room For Small Dreams / Rabin / My Country, My Life (Very Long Post)

The First Book of the Week is “No Room for Small Dreams–Courage, Imagination, and the Making of Modern Israel” by Shimon Peres, published in 2017. This is the autobiography of the late prime minister (in the mid-1980’s) of Israel.

Born in 1923, Peres spent the first decade of his life in a shtetl on the Russia/Poland border. In 1934, his (Jewish) family moved to Palestine seeking religious freedom. At fifteen years old, he put his natural leadership skills to good use at the kibbutz Ben-Shemen. The institution was like boarding school, but it emphasized the teaching of skills for agriculture and use of weaponry more than academic subjects.

In 1941, Peres moved to Kibbutz Alumot, where he herded sheep amid olive and date groves. The youths there lived in tents lacking electricity and indoor plumbing.

After WWII, when the Jews were pushing for statehood, Peres became a disciple of David Ben Gurion. He favored a partition between Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land. In 1947, Ben Gurion recruited him for the Haganah, one of the intelligence services of Palestine. However, his lack of fluency in the English language was a handicap. This was remedied in June 1949, when he began to attend the New School for Social Research in New York City. Three years later, he and his family moved back to Israel, where he took a position in the Defense Ministry, and assisted with the founding of El Al Airlines.

In the early 1950’s, neither Great Britain nor the United States was in the mood to sell arms to Israel. Peres found an unexpected supplier in France. In addition, in the summer of 1957, France allegedly mentored Israel in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. In connection therewith, Peres claimed that he planned and organized the construction of a top-secret corporate village in the Negev desert near Beersheba to give the world the impression that Israel was a superpower.

In 1959, the author was elected to the Knesset and also kept a position in the Defense Ministry. In the 1973 Yom Kippur war, Egypt and Syria limited the spoils of their victory to territory they lost in the 1967 Six-Day war. According to the author, in the 1973 war, Egypt’s leader, Anwar Sadat refrained from attacking Israel’s central cities for fear it would retaliate with weapons of mass destruction. Apparently, threat of retaliation was not a deterrent to small-time terrorist groups, such as the PLO, who intermittently killed the Jewish state’s citizens, a few at a time, for decades.

Nevertheless, read the book to learn of Peres’ brilliant political career (according to him) as an economic genius and peacemaker with Jordan and the PLO. Yet, Peres admits he played the former role thanks to Israel’s cozy relationship with the United States. Yassir Arafat could not really guarantee and did not take responsibility for, violence perpetrated by the organization he headed; foolish Peres failed to take heed of the following cliche: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

The Second Book of the Week is “Rabin, Our Life, His Legacy” by Leah Rabin, published in 1997.

Born in April 1928 in Prussia, Leah Rabin met her husband Yitzhak in Palestine’s co-ed military intelligence service– the Palmach– in the 1940’s. The group was actually a secret society because it was deemed illegal by the British authorities.

In Palestine, the author and her beloved lived in a kibbutz or a tent and did farming, herding, hiking and jogging. And firearms training, not to mention military-attack drills. In the summer of 1946, due to Leah’s sixth sense about imminent danger, she avoided getting arrested by the British, but Yitzhak was caught. However, the weaponry hidden in the women’s body cavities went undiscovered because frisking of females by the authorities was chivalrous in those days.

In 1948, after spending more than four months in jail, Yitzhak became a commander in the Harel Brigade, one of three newly formed Palmach divisions. The group became part of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF)– the Israeli military– in 1949. Ten years later, Yitzhak was chief of operations of the IDF.

David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel (which achieved its independence in spring 1948), belonged to the Mapai (Labor) party.  Yitzhak didn’t, and therefore Ben-Gurion favored other men over him when he staffed his government and formulated military policy.

In November 1963, the Rabins made a diplomatic visit to the United States. Just after they returned to Israel, they learned that President John F. Kennedy was dead. “Yitzhak… had just completed an intensive study of state-of-the-art defense and security practices from the most powerful nation in the world, and suddenly we learned that this country’s chief executive was slain by a lone gunman.”

Shortly thereafter, Yitzhak took a break from military matters to become a social butterfly– an ambassador to the U.S., from Israel. Such a lifestyle involves having cocktails, attending parties, making small talk and gossip mongering. In 1973, Yitzhak tried his hand at elective office. He won a seat in the Knesset in the Labor party, and an appointment as Minister of Labor.

In April 1974, Golda Meir felt obligated to resign as Israel’s fifth Prime Minister due to the mishandling of the Yom Kippur war, which had occurred about six months prior. Yitzhak was voted in as her replacement. He was battered about by political contentiousness and decided after three years to resign his Prime Minister post. He remained a member of the Knesset, though. Political comebacks are not uncommon in Israel. Yitzhak staged his in the autumn of 1984. He became the Minister of Defense.

That was when the Mapai and Likud (Conservative) parties merged in order to form a major voting bloc. The new entity was called the National Unity Party. In 1985, Yitzhak helped supervise the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Jordan. He became Prime Minister again in 1992.

In the first half of the 1990’s, Yitzhak Rabin sat down at the negotiating table with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat. Many people thought Arafat was a terrorist who led a terrorist group and would never be trustworthy, and Yitzhak was being way too nice.

Further, U.S. president Bill Clinton, the mediator of the peace talks, had a credibility problem. So– it was kind of like a diplomatic charade because sincerity wasn’t a strong suit of at least two of the three parties there. Further, regardless of the ulterior motives of the three parties involved– history had already shown grave doubts as to whether durable agreements could be reached between the two centuries-long rivals.

Israel had previously had a policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists such as Arafat and had refused to meet with them under any circumstances. However, Rabin believed in appeasement of the Egyptians and Jordanians as well. He was willing to hear them out and sign documents that were supposed to foster peace in the Middle East. In this way, he garnered a lot of political enemies. Ironically, he was shot at a peace rally.

Read the book to learn the details of what transpired, the aftermath (especially the aftermath– through Leah’s eyes) and many more details of Israeli history and Rabin’s role in it.

The Third Book of the Week is “My Country, My Life– Fighting for Israel, Searching for Peace” by Ehud Barak, published in 2018.

Born in 1942 in one of the early kibbutzim– Mishmar Hasharon– the small village north of Tel Aviv, Barak pursued a military career from the 1960’s into the 1980’s, alternating it with his education. He led special forces on secret missions. He eventually earned a degree in physics from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and a master’s degree in operations management from Stanford University.

Barak seemed a bit resentful about Israel’s dependence on the United States for its very existence; for, when describing the Yom Kippur War, he omitted the inconvenient fact that the United States sent weapons to Israel when the nation’s ability to defend itself was in serious doubt.

Barak began his political career in summer 1995 when he joined Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s cabinet. At his first vote, he abstained, holding onto his belief that Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories pursuant to the Oslo agreements was the wrong thing to do.

However, during peace talks with Syria, Barak thought the major question was whether, if Israel were to withdraw from the Golan Heights, it could still have a secure border. As a former (military) chief of staff, he argued in the affirmative.

In late winter and spring 1996 during election season, the terrorist group Hamas tried to reduce Shimon Peres’ chances of an election victory by killing tens of Israelis in terrorist attacks. It and Islamic Jihad viewed him as a traitor for conducting negotiations with Yasser Arafat. Peres was forced to retire at 73 years old.

In June 1996, Barak was elected leader of Israel’s Labor Party. It seemed Barak changed his tune and wanted to comply with the Oslo accords in the next couple of years. He got angry at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for delaying Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories. Netanyahu was desperate for power, and withdrawal was politically unpopular.

In summer 1999, Barak was elected prime minister. In May 2000, he ordered the departure of Israeli troops from Lebanon, despite the shenanigans of the PLO in its territorial / recognition / non-belligerence discussions with the Israelis. He rambled on for page after page, detailing the summer 2000 back-and-forth with Arafat, still moderated by U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Arafat turned out to be a tease for two weeks (before Barak realized he’d been played for a fool)– not budging an inch, not counter-offering any concessions while Barak bent over backwards to offer the Palestinians sovereignty over East Jerusalem, a large portion of the occupied territories and the holy sites.

Barak lost his reelection bid in 2001, so he retired. Read the book to learn more about Barak’s life, his views on various political issues, the current situation regarding the Israelis and Palestinians, and Netanyahu’s leadership.

ENDNOTE: A distracting grammatical error that is becoming more and more widespread was made repeatedly throughout the book (the word before the gerund should be possessive):

“Though I wasn’t sure about legal provisions for officers leaving the army…” [It should be officers’ leaving the army]

“What were the prospects of Arafat reining in Hamas and Islamic Jihad?” [It should be Arafat’s reining in …]

34 Days – BONUS POST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bitter Scent – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Bitter Scent, The Case of L’Oreal, Nazis and the Arab Boycott” by Michael Bar-Zohar, published in 1996.

The complicated history that led up to the situation which monster-sized international health-and-beauty-aids company L’Oreal faced in 1989 was most ironic. It dated back to the start of WWII, when two future executives of L’Oreal and Francois Mitterand (future president of France) became good friends, Nazi collaborators– pro-Vichy propagandists and sabotage-plotters, and then, when the tide of the war changed in 1943, allies of the Allies.

In March 1989, Jean Frydman (Israeli and French citizen, Jew, and former member of the WWII French Resistance,) was vice president of Paravision, his film distribution company. Unbeknownst to him, he resigned from the board of directors of Paravision in a fait-accompli by L’Oreal executives. He was ousted in absentia because he had business dealings in Israel.

Various business entities had significant financial interests in others, among them, Paravision, L’Oreal (based in a Paris suburb) and its international subsidiaries, Columbia Pictures, Nestle and Coca-Cola. L’Oreal executives felt the need to comply with a troublesome policy called the “Arab boycott” — considered ethically repugnant by non-Arab industrialized nations. L’Oreal executives were willing to go through a tremendous amount of trouble (most of which they didn’t anticipate) to comply with the boycott to enhance their business interests, but also arguably, because they were anti-Semitic.

The boycott imposed by the Arab League began in 1948 to financially strangle Israel by banning companies that did business with Israel, from doing business with any Arab countries. L’Oreal needed to get Frydman out of the way so it could say it did no business with Israel. But besides, there was a big-name cosmetics company called Helena Rubinstein located in Israel, with which L’Oreal was affiliated. The Arabs were pressuring L’Oreal to dispose of that asset as well, before it allowed lucrative trade with their side.

When Frydman was gobsmacked by his fellow executives and learned that top people at L’Oreal (including its founder) had been Nazi collaborators, hilarity did not ensue. Instead, an orgy of litigation, fishing expeditions, political machinations, palace intrigue, and of course, a propaganda war did.

Read the book to learn the details of this suspenseful, sordid story.

Menachem Begin

The Book of the Week is “Menachem Begin, The Battle for Israel’s Soul” by Daniel Gordis, published in 2014. This career biography described how Begin advanced from Zionist pioneer to Israeli prime minister. It was redundant in spots- as though the author thought the reader might have memory loss or distractions while reading, or perhaps it was just sloppy editing.

Anyway, Begin was born in 1913 in Brest-Litovsk– then a region in Poland. In the 1920’s, he joined a youth group called Betar, a Zionist group led by Vladimir Jabotinsky. While there, Begin developed his speaking and writing skills. In 1939, Jabotinsky appointed him Commander of the group’s seventy thousand members in Poland.

For his anti-Communist political activities, in 1940, Begin was arrested by the Soviet secret service and sentenced to eight years of hard labor. He had just gotten married, too. There, but for the grace of WWII, by September 1941, Begin was out of prison and starting the next chapter of his life. He joined the Free Polish Army (a military group from Poland, not no-cost cleaning fluid).

Just before Begin turned thirty, he was already making his way to Palestine. In the first half of the twentieth century, scholarliness on Jewish statehood was all the rage. Three major documents outlined three different possibilities for what to do with Palestine in the future. They were:  the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the 1937 Peel Commission’s paper, and the 1939 MacDonald White Paper. Zionists were conflicted. The British were their enemy in Palestine but would be their ally fighting against the Nazis.

Begin decided the British were foes because they opposed allowing Jewish refugees– which included his own parents– to flee to Palestine, or settle there after WWII. Toward the end of the war, he led an armed rebel group (the Etzel, aka Irgun) who rivaled David Ben Gurion’s (the Haganah). The latter thought that the Jews would be unable to achieve statehood without help from the British.

Begin planned a bomb attack on a British-intelligence-documents storage area (namely, the King David Hotel) in Jerusalem in July 1946. The two other major underground resistance groups called off the operation. Due to a cluster screw-up, the explosion occurred, anyway. Civilians of various ethnic groups died, including tens of Englishmen, Arabs and Jews; 92 civilians in all.

Ben-Gurion caused a days-long international incident, when he ordered his henchmen to intercept a Palestine-bound, refugee-and-arms smuggling ship that had sailed from France. Begin knew about the ship but there was miscommunication over where the ship was, when. Ben-Gurion launched a vicious propaganda attack on Begin for atrocities his own men committed while trying to comply with the law against Palestine’s accepting arms and refugees. Jews killed Jews (!) Begin told his men not to be vengeful– to cede to Haganah’s demands.

Ben-Gurion used draconian means to consolidate the several military outfits into one Israeli military, and successfully slurred Begin’s name in the process. This hampered Begin’s ability to raise funds for his new political party, Herut (Freedom).

Read the book to learn of major issues on which Begin and Ben-Gurion disagreed; how Begin’s political career progressed; his views on Israel’s people and lands; his aggressive action with regard to Lebanon, and Iraq’s nuclear program; and the consequences of his always dogmatically “playing the Jewish card” to keep Israel in existence.