Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg – a Review

This was previously published on GoodReads…

Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon PapersSecrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As many of you know from reading my reviews, I have an affinity for historical books from the Vietnam War era. This is because this was “my” war. This was the terrifying event that was happening on the evening news when I was a kid. This is because of the fear my parents had regarding my draft-age brother in 1969. It was these and many other things that make it “my” war; including the excellent music from that era. Rock & Roll had something to say. It said it LOUDLY! What it was saying was that this war SUCKED. It was WRONG. I agreed then and I still do.

As I’ve aged and gained that experience and wisdom that you usually don’t manage to get till you’re too old to use it, I’ve learned just how wrong and insanely stupid this war really was. I’ve also learned how government run amok can get a country into a wasted effort such as this and continue to maintain that country’s presence on the battlefields along with all the useless death that entails.

The man who wrote this book I’m reviewing here is nothing less than a National Hero. I hope history is kind to him and convinces everyone that what I state is true. This man decided that he had to stop this inane war even if it caused harm to his family, friends, future job prospects; even if it put him behind bars for life. He realized just how wrong this war was and how terribly wrong those in the government were for using all means legal or not to continue the useless killing of U.S. soldiers, airmen, marines, sailors, etc.; how wrong it was to continue the killing of many innocent civilians in South and North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

If you’re the least bit curious how government works behind closed doors, or the least bit curious how Donald Trump’s White House may be handling foreign affairs and even domestic ones, then you should read this book. Ellsberg was a deep insider for many years as a consultant with the Rand Corp. and as an actual government employee at times. He knows how government works; particularly how the Executive Branch of this government (the U.S.) lies, manipulates, threatens, and sucks up in order to get its agenda pushed through to fruition.

You’ll learn about how the Eisenhower administration did it. You see how the Kennedy administration continued down the same paths. You’ll see how Johnson was just a further continuation of the previous two administrations. You’ll see how an opposing president (Nixon – Republican) did everything in what he assumed was his vast kingly powers to continue down the same road the three previous Democratic administrations had trod. You’ll be amazed at all these administrations’ lack of compassion or regrets regarding all the dead, wounded, and maimed (physically and mentally) that they created by pursuing their goals in this unbelievably complex war in a small Southeast Asian country.

Ellsberg did not feel that presidents should have unlimited powers to engage a country in wars such as this without the knowledge of that country’s own elected officials (Congress) or, more importantly, it’s own citizens. Yet, this is exactly what happened during that era; through four separate administrations. The deceit and secretiveness of those pursuing these goals was criminal. And sadly, I believe this still goes on today, 50 years later.

Read this book. It’s as pertinent to current times as it was for the Vietnam War era. It will make you think. This is its purpose. It may also make you think about others who’ve tried to raise the alarm in recent years… WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden. I believe their day of vindication is coming.

The U.S. Constitution starts by saying,

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Notice first three words in bold type. It does NOT say we the Executive Branch or we the Congress or we the Justice Department. It says We the People. The insidious creeping that has robbed the People of their government and country should be reversed and forever erased. Only We the People can make this happen. Wake up!

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The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy by David E. Hoffman – a Review

This was previously published on GoodReads…

The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous LegacyThe Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy by David E. Hoffman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mankind’s eons-long pursuit of more efficient ways to kill fellow human beings never ceases to amaze and awe. However, the 20th Century seemed to reach a zenith in that endeavor. WWI with trench warfare and the use of deadly gases to kill and maim was just the beginning.

In Hoffman’s well-documented treatise, he takes you on a journey through the post-WWII era of the “Cold War“; forever known as “cold” due the fact that it did not turn HOT, and HOT would have been very, very bad for all life on this rock had it occurred. He goes on to track the insanity into current times.

This is a history book, folks. For some, that’s an immediate turn off. That’s a shame because through the study of history, one can achieve two things…

  • learn what NOT to do in the future

and

  • be completely astounded by the behaviors and beliefs of those who came before you.

The nuclear arms race was, in some respects, quite logical in how it came about. On the other hand, though, as you study it, you begin to understand and see the absolute total insanity that was rampant in the thoughts of men during that time. We can see it as insanity while being viewed through the rear-view mirror of history, of course, but those involved intimately with these events really, in many cases, thought that they were resolving issues.

I cannot easily put myself in the shoes of post-WWII era Soviet leaders. I cannot easily understand their horrendously paranoid delusions regarding attacks from outside their realm. I don’t know if it’s the result of their insular closed societies or what. What I do know is that these delusions led them to build up the deadliest stockpile of agents of death ever seen on this planet; from multiple warhead thermonuclear devices to microscopic plague spores… and everything you can dream of (or have nightmares about) in between.

I’m not saying the U.S. or any other countries weren’t also participating in this global insanity; they definitely were. I’m just saying the the Soviets’ entire existence seemed to revolve around this steep downward slide to Armageddon. I would like to hope things are a bit different these days, but that hope is countered by a cynical view of current events and dangerous personalities on the world stage at the moment.

Carl Von Clausewitz is credited with saying, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” A better quote would be from William Tecumseh Sherman who during the American Civil War is noted for saying, “War is Hell.” This is a deep truth here. We, as a species, desperately need to modify our behaviors in how we interact with one another. We have enough problems these days. We need to stop slaughtering one another over inane disagreements caused by trivial differences in our beliefs or goals.

Read this book. It is a history of man’s descent into the abyss of Hell. It will depress you. It may also teach you a few things about humanity; things not taught in church Sunday schools or high school history classes.

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Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe by Serhii Plokhy – a Review

This review was originally posted on GoodReads…

Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear CatastropheChernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe by Serhii Plokhy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very deeply researched and well-written book regarding the events leading up to and as a result of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant near meltdown. I, of course, remember the event on the news back in ’86, but my real interest in pursuing the history behind this event occurred shortly after buying a new video game for my PC back in 2006 or so.

That game was S.T.A.L.K.E.R. – Shadow of Chernobyl. It was an FPS (first-person shooter) strategy and survival game which took place within the Exclusion Zone around the failed power plant. It was a unique mixture of truth and fantasy. Thanks to this game, I was inspired to study Chernobyl and have been quite amazed and astounded by what I learned regarding this event.

If you have an interest in this event, or nuclear accidents of any sort, I definitely recommend you read this newest of many books on Chernobyl. It’s also probably the best researched of all of them. Written by an historian, it approaches the subject from the scientific, political, historical, and human viewpoints. Well worth a read.

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The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins – a Review

This review was originally posted on Goodreads…

The God DelusionThe God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is Dawkins. Does it really need a review?

Here I am again giving a 5-star review to a book after just recently saying in reviews elsewhere here that I rarely do this. I’ve been on a roll lately in picking winners off the library shelves, I suppose.

What’s this book about? Well, it’s about truth. It’s about science. It’s about philosophy. What it really is though, is Dawkins’ one volume book on deprogramming that which has been programmed into your brain from birth – the beliefs of religion; fairy-tale beings on higher planes of existence who made you and supposedly watch over you as you live your life.

If you are a faithful believer in a god (any god) and the requisite conditions, edicts of behavior, methods of worship, etc. that entail a religion of any type, then do NOT read this book. It will be anathema to you. It will present to you facts and figures and anecdotes relating to the histories of religions and faiths. It will teach you that which you will NEVER be taught in Sunday schools. So avoid this book. Keep your faith.

On the other hand, if you’re the type of person who feels that you’ve been inculcated into a sect-like belief system by parents or teachers or preachers/priests, and if you believe yourself to be a logical thinking life form capable of comprehending the written word and contemplating its meaning, then this book should be required reading for you. It will teach you truth, not fairy-tales, not scary stories of vengeful gods, etc. It will also teach you to think.

I spent ten years or so in my teens and early adulthood researching the histories of most of the major religions. I spent 11 years in Catholic schools being force-fed their versions of “reality”. My research and studies, which I was able to do because of my excellent Catholic school education (I’m grateful to them for that, anyway), ultimately led me to the truth.

I could have written this book. There were no surprises in its pages for me. However, this is Dawkins. This is a man who is a superlative thinker with peerless skills and a talent for passing along knowledge to others in a way that is both extremely educational and entertaining. If you are seeking truth in your life and your existence, read this book.

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The Doomsday Machine by Daniel Ellsberg – a Review

This review was originally posted on Goodreads…

The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War PlannerThe Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner by Daniel Ellsberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I very rarely give 5-star reviews to books. However, just in the past few weeks, I’ve done just that to two related books; this one by Ellberg, and the previous one being Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control, which is also reviewed on this blog.

This book that I’m reviewing here should be required reading for everyone, not just citizens of the U.S. It should be required in schools, for citizenship, maybe even to get a damned driver’s license. I’m not kidding here.

I’m over 50, so not much surprises me these days. I’ve had my suspicions for decades about the topics of the two above mentioned books. I’ve even read many other books in the same vein. One in particular that you should also peruse if you have the opportunity is American Ground Zero by Carole Gallagher.

The difference with Mr. Ellsberg’s book is that it is one of the few written by a true insider; a man who was there, who participated, who created plans and scenarios that are actually still in use to this day. Visit Ellsberg’s website also. There you’ll find interesting information that relates to the topics from the book.

I cannot express upon you the importance of taking a few hours away from your busy day spent posting inane drivel on Facebook or Twitter and READ THIS BOOK! It’s that importance. The general public probably has no idea of the awesome and critically important subject that this man is writing about. Your life, the lives of your children, and most everyone else on this planet depends on making changes to our current world situation.

I’ve been known to kid around a bit in my reviews. This is not one of those times. There is NOTHING humorous about what Daniel Ellsberg is trying to warn us about in this book. NOTHING!

Sadly, my over-50 cynicism will not allow me to have many hopes that this will all turn out wonderfully warm and happy. There’s a relatively decent chance that it will turn out REALLY HOT, and eventually, REALLY COLD AND DEAD. I still have a little faith and hope in the human race, though… a little.

I’ll close this review the same way Ellsberg closed out his book…

with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King:

We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world — a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter — but beautiful — struggle for a new world.

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Command and Control by Eric Schlosser – a Review

This review originally appeared on GoodReads…

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of SafetyCommand and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I ran out of stars to rate this book. It should have been a 10 star review, easily. This book should be studied in schools. It should be mandatory reading for all adults anywhere in the world.

This is a story of fallibility, human inanity, foibles of technology/machines, and the total mind-blowing insanity of the nuclear arms race and the Cold War of the post WWII era.

Eric Schlosser is an extremely talented writer. This was a page-turner, even though it wasn’t some Stephen King horror thriller. It was worse. It was a true story of horror; a horror that could have ultimately meant the total and complete end of humanity and most other species of life on this rock we call Earth. And the real scary thing… it’s still a possibility.

Schlosser did an outstanding job of researching the material for this book. When you read it, as you most definitely should, do NOT skip the Afterword, Notes, or the excellent Bibliography included in the back of the book.

Take a moment from your silly little online social networking, soccer practice, bowling with the boys life and READ THIS BOOK. What you don’t know can most definitely hurt you. I guarantee you’ll be astounded, amazed, and extremely disturbed by this book.

It has a somewhat happy ending (for now, anyway). It’s happy because I’m still here to write about it and you’re still here to read this. Tomorrow? No one really knows…

Also, you can watch the very well made documentary on American Experience (PBS) that was based on this book. Note, though… the documentary is nowhere near as detailed or complete as the book. The documentary is primarily concerned with the Damascus Accident. The book has much more to say.

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The Greatest Show on Earth – R. Dawkins

Just a little quickie review copied from GoodReads…

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for EvolutionThe Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was my first experience reading anything by Dawkins. I should not have waited so long. This book was an excellent read. Anyone interested in Evolution, Darwin, etc. should take this one up and sit yourself down in a nice quiet place for a good long read. It’ll be worth your time. Dawkins is a superb science writer.

I likes this one so much that I have The God Delusion on order from my local library. 🙂

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In Sunlight and in Shadow – a GoodReads Review

In Sunlight and in ShadowIn Sunlight and in Shadow by Mark Helprin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve said this before, but I must say it again…

Mark Helprin is a Master Wordsmith and story teller.

In Sunlight and in Shadow is a beautiful thing. Helprin tells his story by constructing sentences as though he were delicately placing brush strokes in oil on a canvas. He brings the characters to life so intensely that you become their friends as you read the words. They live initially in this book, later in your heart.

I cannot even tell you here what this book is about. I’m so awed by Helprin’s talents that my words here by comparison couldn’t even begin to explain to you how this story and its characters live and struggle and find love, joy, sorrow, and strength in their journeys. It’s something only Helprin can tell you about.

I’ve been reading since I was about four years old. My mother instilled in me her love of books. I’m forever grateful. And it’s true that I’ve read thousands of books in my life, from cheesy science fiction to the Classics. However, I can probably count on one hand the number of authors as adept as Helprin at telling a story and making you be part of it as you read it.

I’ve never been to New York City. I’m a Florida boy born and raised. Yet, I can see the sights, smell the smells, watch the mass of humanity as it walks down the street or rides the subway. I can hear the clanking of the street cars, smell the scent of the ocean, and feel the cool fall breeze on my face while I read Helprin’s words printed in black on the off-white pages of this book.

This is the kind of book that sucks me in and won’t let go. Helprin’s masterful writing tugs directly on my heart. I’m suspended in time and seem to be sitting in the chair at the same table where the characters are enjoying a lunch together. I can smell the food, hear the low hum of the conversations around us and the squawking laughter of the woman at the far end of the dining room. I hear the tinkle of silverware and crystal.

All this happens when I read a Helprin book. It lasts beyond the folding down of that back cover, as it should with any truly good book. Unfortunately, books are very subjective things. This particular one may not be as wonderful for you as it was for me. That’s the nature of reading. I would suggest you give it a try just to see.

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July, July by Tim O’Brien – A GoodReads Review

July, JulyJuly, July by Tim O’Brien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book of stories… sad, very sad stories of some fifty-somethings at a thirtieth (one year late) college reunion in the summer of 2000. These are children of the late 60s. They are all FUBB, each and every one. However, they’re all wonderfully human in their FUBBness.

O’Brien is a masterful character creator. He manages in three-hundred or so pages to make you feel as though you were at this reunion and knew all these folks back in the day. I was more a child of the early 70s than the late 60s, but I have an older brother, so I was exposed to that turbulent Nam era. I could relate in many ways to these folks at this reunion. Many of us who came from that era would.

O’Brien’s book had a taste of Stephen King to it. The only difference is that O’Brien is writing about real human horror here; the kind we all experience and pile up in our wake as we go through life. I’ve officially added Tim O’Brien to my list of authors I would love to have dinner with and spend the evening talking. If they all showed up for the same dinner, Tim would find himself in fine company.

Read this book. It’ll remind you of something in your own life… or you’ve been living under a rock for fifty years.

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Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam – a Goodreads review

Huế 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in VietnamHuế 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam by Mark Bowden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is another of those “must read” books that should not be passed by. If you have any interest in the era or this war, you should read Bowden’s book. It’s long. It’s heavy (in hardcover), but it’ll be worth the effort.

A true understanding of events during this era (or any era, for that matter) in history requires effort on the part of the reader. There are many excellent to mediocre to downright bull-feces books out there on the topic of the Vietnam War that have been written since the 60s. This particular book falls into the excellent category.

While no book, movie, or memoir will ever put you in the shoes (boots) of those who were there, you will learn from their experiences and empathize with their plight during those tumultuous times.

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