Beyond Hitler’s Grasp – BONUS POST

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The Bonus Book of the Week is “Beyond Hitler’s Grasp, The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews” by Michael Bar-Zohar, published in 1998.

Bulgaria lost a large amount of territory in WWI, and became a Constitutional monarchy after 1919. Its prime minister and other ministers served at the pleasure of its king, Boris III. Other sources of the nation’s power lay in its Army, the Communists and Macedonian terrorists.

In the 1930’s, roughly half of Bulgaria’s fifty thousand Jews lived in the capital of Sofia. They were productive members of society, and were treated just like people of any other religious group. There were only isolated incidents of anti-Semitism because most of the Jews were merchants, craftsmen or poor laborers, and so were not the victims of class envy.

When WWII began, Germany was able to help Bulgaria regain some of the land it had lost in the Great War. Germany was trading with and supplying weapons to Bulgaria, but the Bulgarians had more of a Soviet cultural and Soviet social mindset. So the king sought to keep his country out of the war.

Alexander Belev, an opportunist with hubris syndrome was the Bulgarian Commissar for Jewish Questions. In summer 1942, he collaborated with the Nazis in changing the definition of “Jew” based on ancestry rather than religion. This is one source of the notion that people can be “born Jewish”– have genetic traits that Jews share (For an additional source, see this blog’s post “In Search of Memory”).

Anyway, beginning in autumn 1940, laws went into effect that oppressed Bulgaria’s Jews by taking away their assets and sullying their reputations through hate-spewing and other actions of greedy, local bureaucrats who were taking orders from Hitler.

Read the book to learn how the common people, Christian churches, and circumstances determined the fates of Jews living in Macedonia, Thrace and Bulgaria (complete with romantic subplot, of course; hint: “The deep hatred for the Jews infected only the lunatic fringe of the wartime society, the Ratniks, Branniks, and Legionnaires and some sadistic police and army officers and KEV officials”), and of the mythmaking– historical revisionism of various incidents and events.

The Daughters of Kobani

The Book of the Week is “The Daughters of Kobani, The Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice” by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, published in 2021.

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“She didn’t have time to offer hourly updates to her family, who were tracking every moment of the battle for Kobani on Facebook and WhatsApp.”

No, the above referred NOT to an American political campaign, but a real-life war.

Violence in northern Syria resumed between Kurds (an oppressed minority in Iraq and Syria) and non-Kurds in March 2004 after tensions boiled over at a soccer game. At the same time, there was hostility over water-rights of the Euphrates river between Syria (a non-NATO member) and Turkey (a NATO member).

Turkey harbored anger and resentment toward Syria’s leader, and wanted him out. The Soviets backed Syria’s leader, as did the U.S. initially. In the 1990’s, a Marxist-Leninist activist named Abdullah Ocalan formed a violent (some might say terrorist) pro-Kurdish, pro-gender-equality group called PKK, that agitated for self-rule for the Kurds in Syria.

The decades-long cliche is: the latest terror group (ISIS) obtained modern war weaponry from Iraqi forces, who had received the equipment from America. As is well known, the region has been a foreign-policy conundrum for the governments of industrialized countries (with their strategic interests), for forever. The U.S. thought it needed to fight ISIS, but didn’t want to send in ground troops (and invite yet another “Vietnam” in the Middle East). But it did want to protect its physical diplomatic and military presence in northern Iraq– Kurdish territory, near the Syrian border. So it sent some in, anyway.

The author described a handful of females who volunteered to join one of PKK’s spinoff militias (YPK and YPG). From the city of Kobani in Syria, the females were resistant to their arranged marriages and limited educations decided on by their families’ patriarchs. Two of the females commanding troops engaged in guerrilla warfare that resembled “capture the flag” or paintball, but with real war weapons, real deaths and really widespread destruction of civilians’ communities.

During the early 2010’s, the U.S. decided to let the Kurdish militias on the ground do the most dangerous fighting. The YPG had communications devices of radios, cell phones and walkie-talkies, and U.S.-supplied guns. ISIS had rifles, rocket launchers, artillery, car bombs, snipers, IEDs, land mines and suicide bombers. In summer 2014, the U.S. launched tens of airstrikes on ISIS in and around Kobani.

Read the book to learn: the fate of the fight’s many stakeholders that included countries, groups and individuals, how ruling authorities furthered gender-equality for Tunisians and Syrian Kurds in 2014 and 2016 respectively, and much more about the tentative progress made by various parties.

I Am A Girl From Africa

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The Book of the Week is “I Am A Girl From Africa, a memoir (sic)” by Elizabeth Nyamayaro, published in 2021.

Born in 1975, Nyamayaro grew up in Zimbabwe. Her family belonged to the Shona tribe. She spent her early years residing in a hut in a rural village, where she was treated like an only child, unwittingly through dysfunctional-family circumstances. Her grandmother taught her to do all sorts of chores: fetching water, hunting birds with a slingshot, fishing with a sharp stick, shelling maize, tending to the goats and chickens, weeding the fields, and cooking vegetables in a clay pot over a fire that she ignited.

Life-threatening conditions abounded from diseases, poor nutrition, hostile animals such as hyenas, and droughts such as those that occurred in 1983 and 1985. The author’s gratitude for the life-saving rehydration by a member of UNICEF, led her to develop a burning desire as an adult to “give back” through working for the United Nations.

In the early 1980’s, initially, Nyamayaro’s grandmother rejoiced at the news from her battery-operated radio, that the country had a new leader, the dark-skinned Robert Mugabe. The end of British colonialism ought to have meant an end to the needless killing of wildlife, theft of precious stones, and oppression of Africans. However, a new leader is just one individual who might or might not change things for the better in the long run, given his personality and the vicissitudes of his time and place in history.

The author– who appears to have bragging-rights, given the hardships she faced– made progress on various Third-World, quality-of-life causes during her career. Mitigation of the global oppression of females was one such cause. The author was pleased to report that in 2013, the nation of Rwanda, in the previous decade, had made great strides in electing women to its parliament. But there is still so much work to be done in Mongolia, India, Zimbabwe, and the United States, etc. because propagandized gender-stereotypes are still discouraging women from running for office.

The author recounted that one day in 1975 in Iceland, all the women went on strike. The country then realized how vital females were to life. Even so, it took until 2018 (!) to legislate there on the issue of gender equality in the private sector, of equal pay for equal work. Additionally, on so many other fronts, gender equality is lacking even in the nations that consider themselves the most advanced on earth!

Read the book to learn many more details on the struggles Nyamayaro faced in her life and times.

Made In China

The Book of the Week is “Made in China, A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Costs of America’s Cheap Goods” by Amelia Pang, published in 2021.

“A guard grabbed a prisoner by his hair, twisted his head, and smashed his face into a heater… They beat him with electric batons until his body convulsed, then hung him by his wrists for two weeks– with his toes barely touching the ground.”

No, the above describes not the Holocaust, not a lynching, but a forced-labor camp in China in 2008 (!)

In the last few decades, the Chinese government has committed human rights abuses against its own citizens– not only dissidents, but also against a group called the Falun Gong (a group that practices exercises, meditation, and espouses certain lifestyle choices). Such citizens are sent to slave-labor camps, where they are tortured and starved but kept alive long enough to serve their sentences by making consumer goods (for export) for no pay amid extremely squalid conditions; they are charged with crimes and punished through what would be considered a complete violation of American-style due process.

In China, as of 2013, the camps numbered an estimated one thousand, at minimum. The author wrote that in all her research, she found only one American company that was ever prosecuted for importing consumer goods from such a camp in China, in the course of twenty years. The camps are bad enough, but to add more shock value to the already unspeakable horrors, the camps are a source of black-market transplant-organs in China, estimated to be worth $1 billion. In December 2013, China said it would be converting its reeducation (brainwashing) camps to ones that imposed labor for drug rehabilitation instead. However, the lipstick on the pig didn’t change the pig.

The main focus of the book was the true story of a man named Sun– a Falun Gong member who was sentenced to two and a half years to an aforementioned camp. He risked his life to hand-write a note containing a desperate plea for help, that ended up in the package of a Halloween product purchased by a woman in Oregon in the United States.

In 2016, Big Brother was growing ever more intrusive in China, as Turkic Muslims (the Uyghur tribe and Kazhaks), were targeted for “blood tests, fingerprints, voice recordings, and facial scans.” An estimated three million of twelve million of them are detained in the camps. They live in a location where China borders more than a few strategically located nations on the Silk Road– still a crucial trade route. The Chinese government doesn’t want any rebellious behavior from them. Reeducation is the goal, besides the economic benefits for China. All of them are forced to speak Mandarin, or else.

The author wrote with some alarm, that the torture chambers for victimized ethnic groups are arguably genocidal. She suggested that China’s atrocities might become comparable to the Holocaust all over again. But– this is not a Hitler situation, and is unlikely to become one. This, because Hitler had grand designs to take over the world through arming a military that committed imperialism, and creating a master race through eliminating the Jews and others he deemed genetically inferior– through genocide.

Matters will eventually come to a head when a significant proportion of the two minority populations are in the camps, and the export market is oversaturated with goods made by them, sold through big-name companies like Nike, Apple, BMW, Amazon, etc. An economic slowdown will mean a reduction in the need for the camps. (That’s NOT to say that the camps should exist, or that nothing should be done to stop the atrocities.)

International outcry will eventually reach critical mass, so that pressure will be brought to bear on China to reduce its human rights abuses, through economic punishments. Unlike most of the rest of the world, –like clockwork every two years– the United States holds elections for some powerful federal and state offices during which, a significant number of Chinese voters can influence political candidates to take a stand on this issue.

Anyway, read the book to learn additional details about Sun’s fate, and how the situation can be changed for the better.

The Rape of Bangla Desh

The Book of the Week is “The Rape of Bangla Desh” by Anthony Mascarenhas, published in 1971.

In March 1969, Pakistan got a new leader named Khan. The reason was that dissatisfaction with Khan’s predecessor had reached critical mass among various parties that were keeping him in power, including the military.

Khan made the following campaign promises: “drain the swamp” in the government, and hold elections that would establish parliamentary (representative, civilian rather than military) government, pursuant to a constitution. The sovereignty of Pakistan had not held elections since its 1947 inception via the partition of India (amid excessive bloodshed, religious hatreds and a caste system that retarded the country’s economic, cultural and social growth for decades; see this blog’s post, “Freedom At Midnight”).

In November 1969, Khan claimed he was still working on the new constitution. He made other announcements on other issues that made it pretty obvious to politically astute people that he was turning out to be yet another dictator. He declared that Sind, Punjab, Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier (in West Pakistan) would become separate states again, and changed how votes would be tabulated, territorially.

Khan set dates for steps that helped Pakistan prepare for its elections, which would allegedly be held in October 1970. But they weren’t. In early November 1970, a tidal wave and cyclone hit the coastal areas of East Bengal. Khan then had a great excuse to postpone the elections until December.

Khan wrote the new constitution, which contained “small print”– a Legal Framework Order– that basically gave Khan unlimited powers; plus murky language that would cause endless arguments over the application and jurisdiction of laws between the provinces and Pakistan’s federal government.

However, in his evil scheme to become Pakistan’s supreme ruler through “divide and conquer” Khan’s new vote-tabulation method allowed Bengalis (of East Pakistan) to obtain too much representation in the national assembly, in the elections (when they were finally held). West Pakistanis became resentful, although they had previously enjoyed the lion’s share of control of governmental affairs for decades.

By February 1971, Khan had been executing various political machinations, including dissolving his civilian Cabinet. He said that he couldn’t let civilians rule Pakistan’s government just yet, as there was a national-security emergency– conflicts among East and West Pakistan, and India. The military had to handle them.

Unsurprisingly, in the first week of March 1971, there began more than three weeks’ worth of violence, rioting and looting, with Bengalis’ agitating to become an independent Bangladesh. To sum it up, “Pakistanis are intensely patriotic people and could not for one moment believe that their government was deliberately misinforming them so terribly.”

Read the book to learn the details of this “textbook example” of how actions taken by an alpha male with hubris syndrome (whose actions backfired!) led to circumstances that resulted in independence for a specific group of people in a particular territory (not without: serious sacrifices of human lives, the usual ethnic, tribal and religious warfare– including what some have defined as genocide; plus linguistic and other issues, and millions of refugees).

The Foreigner’s Gift – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Foreigner’s Gift, The Americans, the Arabs and the Iraqis in Iraq” by Fouad Ajami, published in 2006. This was a repetitive, non-chronological mishmash of the author’s observations about the history of the Middle East intertwined with goings-on in Iraq up until the book’s writing.


The author, an American citizen, grew up in a Shia family in Lebanon. He interviewed all kinds individuals– soldiers, students, government officials, academics, etc.– of different religions, different sects, during his visits to different regions of Iraq in 2003, 2004 and 2005. There were conflicting reports of whether ordinary Iraqis viewed the Americans as “occupiers” or “liberators.”

The author argued that American president George W. Bush wanted to spark a pan-Arab reform movement in the Middle East by attacking Iraq. However, clearly, the American vice president’s motive was profiteering. Yet– anyone who has read his or her history and has basic knowledge about human nature, would know that centuries-old hostilities and hatreds between the Sunnis and Shias is never going to be resolved; not even by someone like Mahatma Gandhi!

Gandhi stopped the fighting between Hindus and Muslims only momentarily. Even he had a crack public relations team who got him featured prominently in the history books, as someone who was more powerful than he actually was. Suffice to say, the American presence in Iraq in the past thirty years has been yet another instance of too many alpha males with hubris syndrome who won their propaganda war. For decades, they have refused to take lessons from seeing military conflicts ranging from: the 1950’s end of French colonialism in Indochina to the 1947 partition of India to the 1980’s civil war in Lebanon, and many others.

Of course, oil threw a wrench in the works. Now, almost twenty years later, the current American government is making a much more aggressive push to reduce its dependence on foreign oil. This, by constantly reminding its citizens that they can assist with energy-related initiatives that arguably slow the changing of planet earth’s atmospheric conditions, that adversely affect humans; changing that has allegedly been caused by humans. So the energy-related issue is a whole other ball of wax now.

But human nature doesn’t change. In America (never mind Iraq), there are still racial tensions and cancel culture. Plus, there is an incidental ideological aspect to the masking order of the COVID crisis: that of forcing Westernized, yet religious Muslim males to empathize with their female relatives. The males now know how it feels to be required to cover their faces.

Read the book to learn of the good consequences and bad consequences of removing Saddam Hussein from power, as seen through many interviewees’ eyes, and the author’s take on the situation, given his knowledge of Middle East history.

The Edge of Terror

The Book of the Week is “The Edge of Terror, The Heroic Story of American Families Trapped in the Japanese-Occupied Philippines” by Scott Walker, published in 2009.

This was a suspenseful story that focused mostly on a few lucky survivors of a war ordeal, but “American military losses in the Philippines are staggering and have never been fully realized by the American people.” For the reason of brevity, the author obviously could not cover all aspects of the historical backdrop that came together to determine which people in the story survived or died.

Anyway, in 1898, the Philippine islands became a protectorate of the United States. After WWI, Baptist medical missionaries settled in the city of Capiz on the island of Panay there. They established a nursing school and teaching-hospital, treating patients in a province comprised of approximately three hundred thousand people.

American expatriates in the Philippines fell largely into two categories: missionaries and mining-industry employees. They interacted socially– playing bridge and volleyball, attending beach parties and dances. The islands had mineral resources, and were strategically located on major trade routes.

In the first half of 1941, General Douglas MacArthur was appointed the supreme leader of American troops in the Philippines. But he wasn’t physically present for the rest of the war. That summer, some expatriate and military families sent wives and children back to the United States because they knew America would be entering WWII at some point. Up until the last week of December, others were evacuated from Manila to Bataan or Dumalag.

A week after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in early December 1941, they attacked Luzon. American and Filipino troops retreated, leaving large quantities of ammunition, supplies and food. MacArthur, already suffering from a bad case of hubris syndrome, incompetently waited a few weeks too long before deploying American troops to deter an attack on Manila Harbor; that Japanese attack came in the first week of January 1942. Many American lives were lost, and much American military hardware was destroyed. Mining engineers would no longer receive shipments of food, currency and supplies from the harbor.

By February 1942, what with all the bloodshed and disease, about 17,000 Japanese men died on Bataan alone. A couple of months later, the vast majority of 10,000 Americans commanded by 62,000 Japanese men, marched to their deaths there. In certain regions, the American military used scorched-earth tactics. They burned a hospital and sabotaged electricity and water supplies so that the Japanese couldn’t avail themselves of the benefits when they took over.

After several more aggressive attacks in the Philippines in the next several months, the Japanese demanded that the Allies surrender by June 6, 1942 so that they could occupy all of the islands, or they would kill every last person on them.

One particular group of American miners and missionaries decided to defy the Japanese order, and fled into the foothills to hide outside of Katipunan on Panay. They built a community called Hopevale. A few thousand Filipino troops also refused to surrender, and cobbled together a ragtag guerrilla army to fight the Japanese. At any time, the Japanese could have bribed a disloyal individual to tell them were the enemy was hiding. By then, the Japanese had a reputation for barbarism, and didn’t hesitate to massacre, torture, bayonet, rape or behead people, burn villages, etc.

The Japanese aimed to occupy the strategic location of Port Moresby near Australia, but the Americans bested them with air power in the Battle of the Coral Sea. In early 1942, about 3,200 people who didn’t flee for whatever reason, were interned in Manila.

By summer, that number had grown to 7,000. About three quarters of them were American. They organized themselves to fulfill their basic needs, and even educated the young. The living conditions were primitive of course: lack of food and other necessities, poor sanitation, vermin, and limited activities. However, the Japanese were sufficiently liberal to allow dancing, poker playing and touch-football.

Read the book to learn of additional ways war brings out the best in human beings– in terms of cooperating to survive; and the worst in human beings– how they have learned war-crime techniques from previous combatants; and the fates of the Hopevale expatriates, their families and others in the Philippines (Hint– even the survivors’ stories never have an entirely happy ending.)

Guatemala

The Book of the Week is “Guatemala, A Cry From the Heart” by V. David Schwantes, published in 1990.

In November 1988, the author, a businessman, traveled to Guatemala with others from the Center for Global Education. The author described a little of the political history that led to Guatemala’s sorry state of affairs in the 1980’s. For the reason of brevity, the author obviously could not cover all aspects of the historical backdrop that came together to create that decade’s spate of violence and oppression. However, he did know Geopolitics 101.

The reason Guatemala (and so many other countries in the world) have been unable to escape their vicious dictatorship cycle is that [drumroll, please!]:

Foreign interventionists and the nation’s leadership made investments in:

the tools of WARFARE (military weapons and divide-and-conquer political, cultural and social infiltrators that caused instability)

rather than

tools of modernity (education, infrastructure, healthcare and communications)!

It was like a George Carlin joke. Two previous Guatemalan presidents (Arevalo and Arbenz) had successful land-reform programs that spurred JFK to develop the Alliance for Progress. But prior to the Kennedy administration, those programs devolved into ugly political goings-on, thanks to two previous American presidents.

Beginning with the Nixon administration (on the recommendations of Nelson Rockefeller): “Stability was to be our first priority in foreign relations… Thus in 1972, when the average Guatemalan peasant earned just over $80 per year, the U.S. sent almost $7 million in weapons to that country… The U.S. had sent a billion dollars to Guatemala so far this decade, but I saw few signs that the money was making much difference.” Plus, in the late 1980’s, it sold the Guatemalans M-16 rifles. Then again, the Reagan administration cut back on providing financial aid when Guatemala was found to have one of the worst human-rights-abuse records in the world.

To push the above point about stability (or accidentally-on-purpose elimination of), the State Department encouraged fundamentalist Christian and Catholic missionaries to evangelize to the peasants to make them more accepting of their fate (starving). The peasants were led to believe their fate was in the hands of a supreme being. Other ideas pushed on them were: “turn the other cheek” and “money-changing is evil” and “sharing is a virtue” to get them to collectivize (and be smeared as Communists– more on this in a little while).

The author visited the government district of Guatemala City. “In front of the palace were dozens of heavily armed, crisp, polished soldiers. In front of the cathedral were beggars.”

The author spoke with a Catholic minister, various of whose politically active family members had been murdered in previous years. He was an activist pushing for redistribution of land. Roughly 70% of Guatemala’s land was owned by 1% of the people. The peasants had a religious, cultural, emotional attachment to the land, especially with regard to corn, their staple food. However, they were unskilled, uneducated, and scattered.

In 1986, the minister managed to help peasants (who had previously worked individually) to acquire a little land and work collectively, but in 1987, an arsonist burned it. The one percenters launched a smear campaign against the minister, calling him a Communist. In reality, he was pushing the economic system of socialism, as the peasants owned the means of production (the land). If the government had owned the land, that would have been the political system of Communism.

By the early 1980’s, the elites were acquiring farms in volume. And corn could be imported less expensively than it could be grown. Peasants had to borrow money to purchase fertilizer and pesticides, which made them indebted forever. They were less likely to starve if they grew sugar, coffee, sorghum or soybeans.

The author interviewed a worker at a healthcare clinic funded by UNICEF and humanitarian groups in the Netherlands and Canada. A U.S. embassy representative told the author that 40% of Guatemalan children died before the age of 5. The author had heard higher figures from other sources.

The clinic worker– as had the others who had risked their lives to talk with the author– played music during their conversation, just in case spies were present. His residence consisted of eleven family members in two huts, with no plumbing or electricity. They had a wood-burning stove whose smoke gave the women tuberculosis. He was proud that his mother was still alive at 54 years old (a ripe old age in Guatemala). Further, he considered himself wealthy compared to other peasants, as he had access to coffee trees, chickens, ducks, avocados and bananas.

The government began to crack down on males who expressed displeasure with the government. The males were abducted, conscripted, or recruited for hard manual labor, burned, arrested, tortured, or killed if they had Marxist / Leninist books in their homes, or said or wrote anything unpatriotic. Snitches were paid a small sum to spy on peasants and report back to the hierarchy of military leaders of which the government was comprised, up to the federal level.

In 1984, victims of Guatemala’s “dirty little war” formed a political group to help others similarly situated. The group gave bus fare and medical care to women searching for their missing male relatives. They risked their own lives by participating in demonstrations, and searching for their husbands, brothers and sons at detention centers, morgues, and cemeteries. Guatemalan culture dictated that males were the sole breadwinners for their families. But starving women were forced to make and sell tortillas in order to feed their families.

Read the book to learn the wealth of additional details on Guatemalan history and culture that the author learned from personal experience, interviews and documents.