The Vortex

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The Book of the Week is “The Vortex, A True Story of History’s Deadliest Storm, an Unspeakable War, and Liberation” by Scott Carney and Jason Miklian, published in 2022. This multi-faceted story involved a massive number of deaths due to (cue the dramatic music): the Great Bhola cyclone (what would be called a hurricane in the Western Hemisphere), a cholera epidemic, dictatorial political shenanigans, atrocities and genocide; plus heroic international aid workers who were horribly hindered in their disaster-relief efforts. Sorry, no romantic subplot– this wasn’t a movie; all of this actually happened within the space of about three years. But at the end, there was the founding of a new nation, called Bangladesh.

Even decades after geographic separation of various religious and ethnic groups into: A) India, and B) a sovereignty of two discrete land masses (East and West) that comprised newly formed Pakistan in 1947– hostility still reigned. In Pakistan, anger and resentment simmered between the Muslim Punjabis in West Pakistan who spoke Urdu, and the Hindu Bengalis in East Pakistan (which became Bangladesh), who spoke their own language.

In the mid-1960’s, general Ayub (“Yahya”) Khan, who became Pakistan’s leader in 1969 [For more information, see this blog’s post, “The Rape of Bangla Desh”], ordered Pakistan’s military to attack India. The United States imposed economic sanctions on both Pakistan and India for childishly fighting. Pakistan allied with China. India allied with the then-USSR.

In August 1969, American president Richard Nixon tapped Yahya to be the contact to introduce him to China’s leader Mao Tse Tung. In exchange, Yahya wanted to purchase arms for Pakistan. Nixon violated the then-arms embargo against Pakistan to sell it armored personnel carriers and B-57 bombers.

In 1970, there occurred a quantum leap in hurricane-forecasting technology what with a new satellite called ITOS 1 that gathered real-time data on the Northern Hemisphere for the National Hurricane Center. Nevertheless, because they had no clue a storm was coming (the new forecasting technology had yet to reach Central Asia), almost all local residents drowned when the Great Bhola cyclone hit the delta near Manpura island in November 1970. A month later, fifty million Pakistanis were voting for the first time in their lives.

A few months later, American weapons were killing the Bengali people. Nixon was supporting Yahya. The latter’s military leader whipped up a Nazi-level frenzy of hatred against the Hindus, massacring them with .50 caliber machine guns and destroying– via American M-24 Chaffee tanks, jeeps and F-86 jets– key communication, political, educational and law enforcement structures in the city of Dacca in East Pakistan.

Unsurprisingly, all of the above was accompanied by a boatload of radio propaganda put out by Yahya’s side. But later, radio broadcasts helped the Bengalis. Anyway, Nixon aided and abetted Yahya in various additional ways to achieve his own political aims. Refugees fled to India, and where, counterintuitively, military camps trained Bengalis (technically Pakistanis) to resist the Pakistan Army. Indians had always been sworn enemies of Pakistanis. Still, it was in India’s best interest to see the Bengalis win the war and break up Pakistan.

There have occurred countless historical tapestries such as the aforementioned in which a complex bunch of circumstances resulted in millions of deaths; one thing led to another. The authors argued that the especially severe cyclone played a major role in giving scheming politicians an excuse to abuse their power even more. They asserted that more severe storms are occurring due to the earth’s changing atmosphere, and such natural disasters in turn trigger a series of events that increase global conflicts.

BUT, arguably, global conflicts have waxed and waned throughout history, regardless of natural disasters. There are four major causes of global conflicts (that are present in different combinations):

  • fighting over limited (and /or exploited) resources;
  • tribal hatreds;
  • religious hatreds; and
  • territorial disputes.

Present-day events (!) have shown that humanity is making slow, slow, slow progress towards a total net amount of good versus evil on earth– even with all the advances in early-warning systems for disasters and the striving for more widespread humanitarian activities. Cases in point: once-Communist countries have changed for the better in certain ways in the last thirty years, and there is less colonialism in the world than there used to be.

Unfortunately, advances in technology and charitable aid still trigger profiteering and political exploitation with their attendant propaganda. Alpha males with hubris syndrome with their greed and power-hunger still rule most of the world. Bottom line: human nature doesn’t change, but globally, human beings overall, are evolving.

Anyway, read the book to learn many more story-details, involving: how Nixon (and his evil sidekick Kissinger) came extremely close to instigating a nuclear war against the USSR in the Bay of Bengal; the fates of various political and military leaders; and the hapless common people of Pakistan, and the aid workers who passionately tried to help them.

Sandstorm

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The Book of the Week is “Sandstorm, Libya in the Time of Revolution” by Lindsey Hilsum, published in 2012.

Just prior to WWI, Libya was colonized by Italy in three sections, when the Ottoman Empire was in its death throes. Pursuant to where they live in Libya, various rivalrous tribes exhibit traits of the Middle East and Europe, or Africa. The country is located on the continent of Africa, but has major trade routes that go to the Middle East. Its population is about six million, and oil and gas supports its economy. Many of its people go overseas to attend university.

Beginning in 1959, big-name Italian, British and American companies negotiated agreements that allowed them access to newly discovered fossil fuels, and military training and weapons-testing grounds in the desert in Libya. In September 1969, Muammar Gaddafi became the new leader. He continued to impose one political-party rule (in place since 1952) and instituted one religion (Muslim). He punished political dissidents more harshly than Libya’s previous autocrat, King Idriss. But he made Libyans proud to be Arab. He took a swipe at the British by banning the English language in his country.

By the early 1970’s, Gaddafi’s actions were prompting brain drain and capital flight. His nation did need water, but he could have acquired it much less expensively and with a lot less trouble than he did. “It was one of man’s extravagant dreams, come true because no one dared counter him and too many were profiting from his grandiose visions.” In 1982, Gaddafi formed a political group that was allegedly going to fight against Imperialism, Zionism, Racism, Reactionism and Fascism.

As is par for the course for men such as Gaddafi, his enemies (such as the CIA and the king of Morocco) plotted assassination attempts against him. Smuggling guns and grenades into Tripoli and Benghazi were for nought, as the 1984 plotters were discovered and were killed. Through the last few decades of the twentieth century, the United States vacillated between allying with Qaddafi, and railing against him.

The Reagan administration railed against him. Qaddafi was strongly suspected to be the mastermind of the December 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am flight 103. That turned out to be a major historical incident that had worldwide repercussions. However, the tide turned through the 1990’s. George W. Bush wooed Qaddafi.

By the single-digit 2000’s in Libya, nepotism and tribalism had become crucial to survival. Families are comprised of multi-generational networks with tens of people on every level of the family tree. Disaffected, jobless young males became jihadists in Iraq, killing Americans in suicide bombings, as the terrorists had been brainwashed into expressing extreme hatred for the West.

Nevertheless, after 9/11, various nations such as Russia, Turkey and China were drooling over the money to be made in Libya in banking, accounting, construction, hotels, shipping, and of course, oil. But the U.S. held back (Bush was very conflicted) due to its complicated relationship with Israel.

As is well known, in February 2011, ordinary Libyans jumped on the “Arab Spring” bandwagon after Tunisia and Egypt. They used the worldwide forum of social media to publicly express their displeasure with their leader. Also, protesters personally gathered in Benghazi and Tobruk, and then farther east.

Gaddafi, distrustful of his own military, hired mercenaries from Algeria, Niger, Mali, Morocco and Burkina Faso to violently disperse crowds of youths standing around shouting slogans, as Internet access became unreliable. Gaddafi’s own military, angry at his disloyalty, turned against him. In Tripoli, attorneys formed a group to publicize human rights abuses, represent political prisoners, and start an underground resistance movement. Through the four decades Gaddafi stayed in power, he knew how to exploit discontent: bribing Muslims to build mosques and go on pilgrimages to Mecca.

Read the book to learn many more details about Gaddafi’s reign, including those relating to: shenanigans of his son Seif, and Bahrain, Qatar and Iran (hint: Everyone knew the UN arms embargo that applied to fighters on both sides was a joke.); his Green Book, Stalin-style purges, oil-industry machinations, propaganda campaigns and governmental policies; his contradictory stance on his nation’s female citizens; his providing of military training and arming of certain groups; and the reaction of certain countries of the world at his downfall.

Open Skies – BONUS POST

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The Bonus Book of the Week is “Open Skies, My Life as Afghanistan’s First Female Pilot” by Niloofar Rahmani with Adam Sikes, published in 2021.

Born in December 1991 in Afghanistan, the author deserves major bragging rights. For, she possessed the courage to serve as a liberated female role model (given her culture) by risking her own life and her family members’ lives in serving her beloved homeland. She joined the air force in December 2010. According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, or Bibliography and an index) this was at a time when the Americans and NATO were running the show.

The Taliban and other devout Muslims were less than thrilled that she was the first Afghan female ever to learn to fly a fixed-wing aircraft. Pursuant to the Koran, a female’s priorities were: submissive girlhood, wifehood, motherhood, and womanhood (and usually, the first three were forced on females simultaneously), and taking care of a household; only then, might she work outside the home if her oldest living male relative allowed her to.

The author spent her early childhood in a refugee camp in Pakistan. Anomalously, but fortunately for her, both of her parents believed in educating her and her siblings (mostly sisters), and encouraging them to pursue the career of their choice. The family eventually moved to Kabul. Unsurprisingly, the author’s career choice provoked angry reactions from the male-dominated air force and males in her country. The most fanatical ones began to smear, spy on, and threaten her and her family.

Nevertheless, the author’s parents martyred themselves in so many ways for their children’s futures. Her father continued to encourage the author to keep flying, even when her family was under siege and suffering many hardships due to her focusing on her dream job.

A barbaric incident that occurred in March 2015 was just one indicator that in Afghanistan, the tide was turning toward the dark side yet again: a huge flash-mob of outraged, radical Muslim men tortured and killed a devout Muslim woman wrongly accused of burning the Koran.

The victim was set upon because a mullah (a credible, influential religious leader) was her accuser. Just a few of the vicious untruths spread about her were that she was a prostitute, a blasphemer of Islam, and was an agitator sent by the Americans (perceived as the evil occupiers). The author herself was subjected to roughly equivalent, ugly utterances.

Read the book to learn how the author cheated death in this wordy, redundant yet suspenseful volume.

The Girls in the Wild Fig Tree / The Last Nomad

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The first Book of the Week is “The Girls in the Wild Fig Tree, How I Fought to Save Myself, My Sister, and Thousands of Girls Worldwide” by Nice Leng’ete, published in 2021.

According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, or Bibliography and an index), the following is still an all-too-common scenario in a poor village in Kenya: “… it is unlikely she will finish her education [meaning– graduating what would be equivalent to grammar school in the United States]. Her father married her [off when she was] young to get a dowry. Her husband wants her home to work and raise the children.” She is fifteen years old and already has two babies.

The author’s passion is to replace the tradition of female genital mutilation (FGM) practiced by certain Kenyan tribes, with Alternative Rites of Passage. For, the culturally entrenched FGM is one major reason females in her society have been so sheltered, limited and resigned to their fate for so long.

The author grew up in a Maasai village in Kenya, near the Tanzanian border. When she was about five years old, her mother took her to witness a FGM ceremony in her community. Maasai culture dictated that when girls showed signs of puberty, they underwent the ceremony. “The cut” (of the clitoris) was extremely painful, and the presence of complications such as infection or hemorrhage could lead to chronic medical problems or even death. There were no drugs administered.

But the cut, even in the absence of physical complications, signaled the next steps of arranged marriage, childbearing and servitude for the rest of a girl’s life, usually beginning in her early teen years. Even when a girl’s mother wanted to honor her daughter’s wish to finish school and have a different lifestyle, she had no power to persuade her husband or any other male relatives to allow that to happen. The males ruled the roost.

Read the book to learn how the author escaped her almost certain dismal fate, and how she is helping other females to do the same, without their having to endure all the traumas she did.

The second Book of the Week is “The Last Nomad, Coming of Age in the Somali Desert, by Shugri Said Salh, published in 2021.

According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, or Bibliography and an index), the author’s Muslim family was somewhat anomalous, in that her father was a multi-lingual scholar who believed in education for both genders, and her grandmother was an authoritative figure. The author was born around 1974. Her culture also still practiced female genital mutilation.

The sprawling family’s tribe was nomadic– they herded camels and goats, and seasonally migrated around the desert in Somalia, looking for water. Their religion allowed polygamy among the men. The author’s father’s biological children numbered 23 among 7 wives, 5 of whom he divorced; the author’s mother gave birth to 10 children before she passed away of malaria when the the author was six years old.

In 1988, Somalia’s government and tribes devolved into civil war. “Killing, looting, destruction, and chaos was now our norm.” The people had a complicated system of relationships in which they took care of their own family and tribe, and if their brains were poisoned by war, they became hostile to all others.

The author’s sister possessed a key survival skill– thorough knowledge of her family’s lineage so that, when questioned, she knew which tribal name to utter to quell sociopathic, armed-and-dangerous child-soldiers in the streets. When the family finally fled Mogadishu in 1991, their black-market connections allowed them to obtain provisions that kept them alive– fuel for a truck, food and ammunition. However, they braved many other life-threatening dangers, including atrocities (committed by people), harm from lions, poisonous snakes and baboons, disease and dehydration; not to mention lice and scabies.

The author and several relatives were able to cross the border and stay in Kenya temporarily. Even so, law enforcement officers in Nairobi were corrupt– arresting refugees and hitting them up for bribes just before they knew the refugees were due to legally leave the country.

Read the book to learn much, much more about the author’s checkered story.

Fighting Back – BONUS POST

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The Bonus Book of the Week is “Fighting Back, a Memoir of Jewish Resistance in WWII” by Harold Werner, published in 1992. This slim volume contained a detailed, suspenseful account of one man’s survival story.

Born the oldest of six siblings in 1918 in eastern Poland, the author was a Jew typical for his generation. He spoke Yiddish and Polish. He spent his childhood in Gorzkow, a small farming village where his fellow religionists at an early age took up a trade such as tailoring, blacksmithing, shoemaking, or carpentering. They bartered with the non-Jews, who were farmers. The villagers spent their leisure time playing soccer or ping-pong, attending movies, or opera, or boating.

Poland declared independence in 1918, after the Americans and French helped them defeat the Bolsheviks. As is well known, after the death of the dictator Joseph Pildsudski in May 1935, the reigning right-wing National Democratic party, also known as Endecia or Endek, especially scapegoated and violently oppressed Poland’s Jews.

When the Germans attacked Poland in September 1939, they indiscriminately bombed residential buildings in Warsaw; in one of which was the author’s knitting machines– with which he had previously more or less, made a living, making winter sweaters. The following month, he, some of his family, and other people he knew, fled Warsaw on foot eastward to then-Russian-occupied territory.

The author thus began a years-long ordeal, suffering extreme physical hardship– alternately hiding from and, with his fellow Resistance fighters– sabotaging the war efforts of the Nazis in Poland and eastern Ukraine. He joined a group of partisans called Army Ludowa.

Even when the Polish Jews who had survived the war by evacuating or hiding thought their lives were no longer threatened, they still had nothing to live for. The author lamented, “…Jews had no homes to return to and no families to go back to … our mission was to fight, take revenge, destroy the enemy.” The ones who had stayed at the war’s beginning were killed in bombings or shootings in their expropriated homes, or in deportations to the death camp called Sobibor or killed in the Wlodawa ghetto.

All through history, Poles had always had a reputation for anti-Semitism. But the war had stirred up a frenzy of hatred that the Jews of the Polish Resistance felt against the sociopathic, sadistic Nazis and their collaborators– which included German and Polish security and law officers and tattling villagers.

Read the book to learn of how the author lived before his life was turned upside-down, the acts of kindness certain people displayed, the hatreds of others, and the numerous times he cheated death during his wartime experiences.

Speaking of a frenzy of hatred, here’s a question for the 2024 presidential candidates. As is well known, the campaign forecast is: extremely cloudy with 100% chance of shock and outrage.

DO YOU REALLY WANT TO RULE THE WORLD?

sung to the tune of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” (the studio version) with apologies to Tears For Fears.

Welcome to some strife.
Your party’s got your back.
Even while you Tweet, morons and nut-cases track your every action, you won’t get no satisfaction.
Do you really want to rule the world?

It’s your time to shine,
but you must STAY the course,
feeding the grapeVINE.

If you CAN, preserve our freedoms and our pleasures,
without bullying or extreme measures,
we will LET you rule the world.

There’s no place where the SMEARS
won’t find you.
Dodging scandals while the media comes sniffing around.
When they do, your lawyers will be right behind you.

So sad that money rules you.
Social-media approval fools you.
Do you really want to rule the world?

We can’t stand this national division.
Charisma will gain you White House admission.
Do you really want to rule the world?

ACTUALLY dispense with the lies and the greed, please.
We’re fed up with the hypocrisy and sleaze.
Do you really want to rule the world?

We need freedoms and our pleasures,
without bullying or extreme measures.
Do you really want to rule the world?

Those We Throw Away Are Diamonds

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The Book of the Week is “Those We Throw Away Are Diamonds, A Refugee’s Search for Home” by Mondiant Dogon with Jenna Krajeski, published in 2021.

Born in February 1992, the author began his childhood on a cattle ranch in Bikenke, a village in Rwanda. His family was of the Bagogwe tribe, a subcategory of Tutsi. His ancestors had migrated between Rwanda and Zaire (aka Congo; the author was unclear as to which current country– “Democratic Republic of Congo” or “Republic of the Congo”– he and his family lived in and when; so the area will hereinafter be referred to as Congo.).

In the mid-1990’s, the genocide in Rwanda forced the family to flee their Congo home mostly on foot with little more than the clothes on their backs. They had previously lived harmoniously side-by-side with their Hutu neighbors in the Congo. But contagious hatred reared its ugly head. The family hid in a cave, at a school, in the woods and other places prior to trying to stay alive at less dangerous places (i.e., refugee camps).

By spring 1996, the family had finally made its way to a refugee camp in Rwanda, where the Red Cross provided humanitarian assistance. The author and others lived in a tent city on grounds formed by the eruption of the volcano, Nyiragongo. A refugee was shot by a sniper, so the UN moved them to another camp, guarded by the Rwandan Patriotic Army. That did not end well either, as child-soldiers in the terrorist group called Interahamwe killed hundreds of Tutsis with machetes.

In the next several years, the refugees were moved from one camp to another, as life-threatening dangers (mostly from human violence) presented themselves around every corner. They nearly starved to death many, many times, and suffered from malnutrition all the time.

Nevertheless, the author, at eight years old, was finally able to start first grade at school. According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, or Bibliography and an index), there were no: chalkboard, desks, pens and books. He passionately took to learning, anyway. At recess time, he and his friends also played soccer with a makeshift ball– made with whatever material was at hand. The refugees continued to eat only tiny portions of beans and corn every two or three days.

In 2001, Kabila, the new dictator of the Democratic Republic of Congo, wanted to give the (false) impression that peace had been restored in his country, so he had officials from Kivu go to the region’s refugee camps, including those in Rwanda, and propagandize that refugees could come home and live as they had prior to the unrest.

However, unaware of the full extent of Congo’s then-civil war, the author, his brother and father endured a stressful, multi-day journey via on foot and bus to see whether conditions were sufficiently safe for their family to return to their pre-war property. They were unable to reach their home, but in a village many miles away, the father found work from a Hutu employer who showed no tribal hatreds. For a change. The author resumed attending school and achieved fluency in Swahili, giving him a survival skill when he was confronted by haters. Bullets flew around outside the school from all different rebel groups in Kivu.

Read the book to learn: of the numerous times the author cheated death; the many hardships he suffered; and how he parlayed his passion for school into various positive developments, including receiving recognition from a philanthropist who helped him rise above discrimination against his refugee status.