Category Archives: Book Recommendations

A Book Recommendation-Hero For Our Times

Leonard Mosely book cover
Leonard Mosley book cover

by Rick Bretz

Once in a while, an entertaining surprise appears in front of you. In this case, a trip to the local library’s book fair was the catalyst where a book rested at the top of a pile and I picked it up. The book was a biography about General George C. Marshall, written and research by Leonard Mosley and published in 1982. I picked it up and bought for a few dollars, along with five others, and felt good about supporting my local library. I did not know at the time that this book would soon become one of my favorite books about military generals.

Having read books about General George S. Patton, General Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Marine General Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, Air Force General Chuck Yeager, General George Washington, General Douglas MacArthur, Napoleon, Alexander, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Roman Legion commanders and many more, I don’t know why I hadn’t read anything about Marshall until now.  This was a huge oversight, considering the man’s greatness and legacy.

After reading the book, I have become an admirer of General Marshall and how he conducted himself during his service to the country as a military officer and for his efforts serving under the Truman Administration as Secretary of State. I am late to the group of Marshall Scholars since it has been 33 years since the book’s release by Hearst Books and several more years since Marshall’s passing on October 16, 1959 at Walter Reed Hospital.

Col. George C. Marshall
Col. George C. Marshall

Mosely’s other books cover historical figures and topics ranging from Charles Lindbergh, Emperor Hirohito, and Haile Selassie to the Battle of Britain and the DuPont’s of Delaware.

Mosley’s book spans the decades of George Catlett Marshall’s birth on December 31, 1880 in Uniontown, Pa., to his final days at Walter Reed Hospital. The first few pages surprise when we learn that growing up in Uniontown Marshall was a slow learner and not the favorite of his father. His family didn’t expect much from him as the first chapter’s title suggests, “A Disgrace to the Family?” Never expecting to see the word “Disgrace” in a book about General Marshall, I was hooked.

What we learn soon after a few more pages is that something lit a fire in the young George Marshall—and that “someone” was sibling rivalry. His brother, Stuart, graduated from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) but didn’t enter the military. When his brother found out that George wanted to attend VMI, he tried to persuade his parents into preventing George from getting an education there because he thought the slow-learning George would fail.

We learn that sixteen year old George Marshall did attend VMI and excelled and succeeded well beyond everyone’s expectations while also meeting his future wife there who lived near the institution. We find out in later chapters that he was a disciple of General Black Jack Pershing and that he was more than brilliant during all of his assignments after getting his Army officer’s appointment.

The author gives us an idea of what made Marshall tick, how he dealt with people and how he honed his leadership skills. He was a no-nonsense leader and didn’t like dealing with politicians or being political. It seems from the book that George Marshall had a way with dealing with subordinates and superiors that impressed everyone. This trait brought him promotions, although slow due to the small Army budget and size before World War I and after, and important assignments. He had few enemies if any but one important one seemed to have it out for him—General Douglas MacArthur.

The book does something after the final chapter that I don’t see often in research notations at the end of books. He takes the time to compare his sources and write a couple of paragraphs about where he got his material for each chapter and why certain sources were used over others. An interesting part of the book. His material comes from more than 40 hours of tapes Marshall recorded near the end of his life and from books written by his official biographer Forrest C, Pogue, documents from the George C. Marshall Research Foundation, the Military History Institute and other resources from the author’s work on other books.

This book is certainly well worth the read. It lets us in on how he found all of those talented generals that served him so well during World War II as well as criticizing Marshall where he sent out ambiguous orders or failed to see the political and  cultural implications in China and the Far East after World War II.

Marshall had many successes too such as his World War II leadership, The Marshall Plan, The Berlin Airlift, and in many other areas that will surprise us, especially during the Great Depression years.

You just never know what literary gems you will find at your local library book fair.

 

Notable Links:

http://www.amazon.com/Marshall-Hero-Times-Leonard-Mosley/dp/0878513043

http://marshallfoundation.org/marshall/

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1953/marshall-bio.html

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/macarthur/peopleevents/pandeAMEX105.html

http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/gcm.htm

http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/gcm.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Marshall

A Book Recommendation-Five Came Back

 

Timeline for blog

                                                                                                 1939-1945

by Rick Bretz

If you watch the Turner Classic Movies Channel and study history, then “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War” will fascinate you.

five came back cover

 

Researched and written by Mark Harris, he is a prolific writer for many periodicals such as Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine as well as the New York Times and Washington Post. His previous work was also a best seller, “Pictures and the Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood.”

The book covers the exploits of five Hollywood heavyweights who hung up their tinsel town regalia to put on a uniform and shoot the combat footage that we see today on the History channel and other documentaries. The title refers to five powerful Hollywood people who could have stayed in their comfortable California surroundings but went to war overseas, survived the experience, and came back alive to produce more classic films.

It covers John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler and Frank Capra. These five were responsible for some of Hollywood’s classics. Movies that film historians consider the finest the industry has produced and film school students today analyze shot by shot. These are also classic stories film buffs see each day when movie channels air them at all hour into the early morning.

Here is the short list of the five’s accomplishments.

1.  “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” Starring Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur

2. “The Grapes of Wrath” Starring Henry Fonda

3. “The Maltese Falcon” Starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Peter Lorre

4.  “Young Mr. Lincoln” Starring Henry Fonda

5. “Woman of the Year” Starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn

6. “Shane” Starring Alan Ladd and Jean Arthur

7. “Mrs. Miniver” Starring Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon and Teresa Wright

8. “The Best Years of Our Lives” Starring Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy and Frederic March

The book tells the story of five movie professionals and how the war changed them. Once they joined the military, they trained their film teams, coordinated their missions and made sure the public was able to see their productions. These five went on dangerous missions in the air as well as on the ground to capture shots that would tell the story of how the allies won the war and what it cost in lives.  They were a key part in keeping morale high on the home front by telling loved ones what their service men and women were doing overseas.

The book also covers the politics involved with creating a documentary and field photo unit with civilians turned officers leading the groups. At the beginning, some government officials were in favor of commissioning these five future officers to be charged with documenting the war while others thought it wasn’t the best idea. The important people, like General George C. Marshal, were proponents of the program.

The book reads slowly at times when Harris outlines the administrative maze that the documentary group had to navigate when confronted with Washington personalities and egos.  Once you get past that, the author does a wonderful job of describing how Hollywood directors handle the military life and protocols.  The action really begins when Harris describes the harrowing and dangerous missions some of them witnessed while viewing combat through a lens.

John Ford’s unit shot footage of the Battle of the Midway while John Huston and William Wyler went on bombing runs with the Army Air Corps. William Wyler lost hearing in one ear and partially in another from the concussion flak noise while trying to get some aerial combat footage. George Stevens had the unfortunate task of shooting horrific scenes of the liberated Nazi concentration camps. He also produced a film shown as evidence of the atrocities at the Nuremberg Trials to the war criminals and witnesses in the gallery.  Stevens was the last to come back and thus through a film lens saw up close the inhumanity people are capable of to other human beings. This experience forever changed George Stevens as the book covers in detail.

“Five Came Back” is an entertaining and informative read, especially if you like history. More importantly, it points out how the Hollywood elite of that era stood up and did their part when asked by the government to contribute.

Notable Links:

http://www.npr.org/2014/02/22/280280913/hollywood-goes-to-war-in-five-came-back

https://archive.org/details/MemphisBelle

http://www.tcm.com/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0032155/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036868/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0031679/

 

 

 

 

A Book Recommendation-A Circle of Treason

Circle of Treasonby Rick Bretz

Cold War consequences remained high from the end of World War II to long after the fall of the Berlin Wall. For some, the price of being captured meant prison time, public trials, or for some, torture and execution by being shot in the back of the head.

The authors of the book,”A Circle of Treason“, Sandra Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille, started their careers in the CIA in 1967 and 1954 respectively.  The authors give a detailed account of their lives in the CIA.  Each started out as Administrative and Intelligence Assistants and advanced to the level of station and branch chiefs.

The book is exactly what the subtitle states, “A CIA account of the traitor Aldrich Ames and the men he betrayed.”  The authors produced a book that details the inside story of how the agency caught one of its own spies, Aldrich Ames.   What can’t be denied after looking at the evidence  is Ames’ dishonesty, lack of integrity, avarice and betrayal to the people he swore to protect.

Aldrich Ames, according to the authors, caused the deaths of many CIA assets who were vital to the security of the United States at a time when both countries had nuclear weapons and not that much command and control over them. The task force investigated Ames the detailed information on bank accounts and meeting they found led to his arrest in 1994.  So why take this long to write the book.    The authors let the readers know up front that their work was vetted and scrubbed by the CIA’s Publications Review Board so nothing in the book compromises security.  The CIA review process took three years. Between that and the insistence that the book be accurate gave the book a published date of 2013.

The book covers the history of the team, the authors’ careers and how each arrived at the table of five principal investigators with the mission of trying to find out why their CIA assets were being systematically identified, called back to Moscow, tortured for information and executed.  The years long investigation was tedious and frustrating but the Grimes and Vertefeuille continued their dogged pursuit eliminating a group of people to get to the only one they determined could be the mole that gave up their people.

The book makes clear that it is not enough to accuse someone of spying and being a mole for America’s adversaries but an agency has to have proof.  Proof that can hold up in court.  This means having dates, times, documents, video and audio if possible so that when an officer or agent arrest the person that person pleads guilty or there is a conviction.  The book covers that and includes instances where Ames was given his own office so that the agency could hide a camera to get more information for their case.

What is particularly chilling is how Ames sells out his people for money and nothing else.  The authors give their Soviet assets a human form by covering their backgrounds, their families and revealing why they might have chosen to spy for the United States and rather than be loyal to the communist regime.

The internal political issues and personality clashes hindered the process as it moved along.  As an understatement, these problems are systematic of the Washington, DC, area government offices in general.  It is a testament to the group that they stuck with their mission of identifying the traitor.

The book is highly recommended for getting the inside story from two people who actually were there and understood the process and why it took a while to capture on of their own.  In the aftermath, many people didn’t get proper recognition for sticking with the investigation.  This book outlines who the primary heroes in this case and who in the bureaucracy set out to place blame and take credit where credit wasn’t due.

These two highly skilled professionals and authors fall into the heroes category but they are professionals and getting the man who betrayed so many people was enough.  This book opens the building cipher lock doors, walks by the badge checker to the rooms where daily CIA operators work so the reader can find out how they caught their mole.  It doesn’t tell you everything but it is as close as the public will get.

Notable Links:

http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/history/famous-cases/aldrich-hazen-ames

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandra_Grimes

http://www.spymuseum.org/calendar/detail/meet-a-spy–sandy-grimes/2014-05-02/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeanne_Vertefeuille

https://www.cia.gov/mobile/pr-statements/2013/message-from-the-acting-director-jeanne-vertefeuille.html

A Book Recommendation-The Wild Blue

B-24_Liberator

By Rick Bretz

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit this book is my first authored by Stephen E. Ambrose. After finishing it in less time than it took veterans travelling from the United States to Italy by boat in 1944, I will read more written by Ambrose, who also wrote “Band of Brothers”, “Undaunted Courage”, “Eisenhower: Soldier and President”, and many others.

The Wild Blue, with the subtitle, “The Men and Boys Who Flew The B-24s Over Germany”, is well researched and an entertaining read. It is not a thorough examination of air power used in World War II. It, however, depicts the stages several individuals passed through to get ready, travel to a foreign country, and fly combat missions and hopefully arrive safely back home. The book zeroes in on one particular B-24 unit, the pilots and crews of the 741st Squadron, 455th Bomb Group, and one crew in particular that flew missions from Italy into Central Europe at the end of the war.

As Ambrose’s story unfolds chapter after chapter, the reader understands the commitment and courage bomber crews exhibited during the last days of World War II. Ambrose died in 2002 and with this book, published in 2001, he left us with the story about another significant American, 1972 Democratic Presidential Candidate and Senator from South Dakota, George McGovern, who died in 2012, and the his fellow servicemen.

Before George McGovern worked as an author, history professor, US Representative, Senator from South Dakota and Presidential Candidate, he was a trained pilot. By all accounts from the book, he was an excellent, composed pilot, respected and admired by his crew. Ambrose’s description of McGovern’s training and the dangers involved just to make it through the training is riveting.   His account of how his fellow crew members came to sign up for the Army Air Forces and how they worked their way through training to graduation is enlightening. Some potential pilots washed out while some didn’t make it back. The book takes you through McGovern’s and his crew’s missions during World War II while describing his leadership style. The account of how he earned his Distinguished Flying Cross is particularly captivating.

The book is thorough but short enough to satisfy the reader who wants to know about the B-24 Liberator bombers and the story of George McGovern’s experience during the war.

I’m giving away my age here, but I was 12 years old when the 1972 Presidential Election was decided by the voting majority. I didn’t know much about either candidate back then.  Today, I know more about former President Richard Nixon. I understand that McGovern was against the Vietnam War as early as 1962. As a World War II bomber pilot, McGovern understood the cost of war and in reading this you develop more insight into his thinking during those turbulent days in the 1960s.

 

Notable Links:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Wild-Blue-Germany-1944-45/dp/0743223098

http://history1900s.about.com/od/people/a/stephenambrose.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_McGovern

http://acepilots.com/planes/b24.html

http://www.aafha.org/aaf_or_aircorps.html

 

 

 

 

Book Recommendation-Command and Control

by Rick Bretz

Sometimes what you don’t know can hurt you or, after a second look at atomic and hydrogen weapons, can obliterate you. Command and Control

This is what you learn after reading the book “Command and Control” by Eric Schlosser. The subtitle gives away the theme, “Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety.”

The book moves through the early stages of the Cold War landscape where the country’s leaders addressed many thorny issues such as fixing weapons program technical malfunctions and, even tougher, how to eliminate human errors.

In the Cold War business doing things right 99 percent of the time only gets you criticized for the other one percent when things go wrong. The men and women who keep the country safe and secure while working inside missile control centers and bombers remain examples of intelligent and reliable military professionals. The military forged new territory after World War II when they had to invent procedures and checklists for managing and controlling intercontinental ballistic missiles and warheads designed to wipe cities and countries off the map.

Despite the best planning and “What If” matrices by government and defense professionals in the military, accidents will happen and did happen. Through sheer good fortune the nuclear weapons program didn’t accidentally kill innocent civilians like the 1961 “Broken Arrow” incident near Goldsboro, NC., when bombs went through all but one of the fail safe steps that prevented a detonation after a B-52 bomber crash. Prior to that, the government even authorized military studies such as the Army’s Office of Special Weapons Development report in 1955 titled, “Acceptable Military Risks from Accidental Detonation of Atomic Weapons.”  These chapters make you sit up and read with a little more attention so you won’t miss any other revealing “that was a close one” information.

This book scrutinizes and outlines the thought processes and policy battles within the civilian and military government leadership for control of the country’s use and design of the nuclear defense program. He portrays key figures at the early stages of weapons technology like Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay and Presidents Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy, who had to deal with the weapons command and control issues in the beginning. A concern raised by leaders at the start was the communication time-lapse from a Soviet Union launch to the moment the President receives word  that missiles were on the way. This time period was vital for having enough time to make the correct decision to launch weapons or realize it was a false indicator.  If recognition and communications were slow, the President may not have had enough time to give the OK to send missiles down range in retaliation, especially if the target was the nation’s capital.

For the baby boomer generation, this book is a trip down mutual destruction memory lane. The author liberally uses the acronyms some of us have come to know and love like MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), DEFCON (Defense Readiness Condition), ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) and even some new ones like PAL (Permissive Action Link), a term used to describe a coded device installed within a nuclear warhead or bomb, like a lock to prevent unauthorized use of the weapon that might accidentally facilitate MAD.

Several of the acronyms are downright ingenious like MANIAC (Mathematical Analyzer, Numerical Integrator, and Computer), an early electronic, digital computer used at Los Alamos to design the first hydrogen bombs.

The author Schlosser, who also wrote “Fast Food Nation”, begins with an event that occurred on September 18, 1980, in a Titan II missile silo near Damascus, Arkansas. It describes the command and control center and how, through a series of mistakes, a missile came close to contaminating a large part of the state. It’s a story thread that is woven throughout the book. The author walks you through the launch complex while giving the reader a vivid picture of what a missile looks like and the difficult job “Missileers” had keeping our country safe from communist aggression. The job was much more dangerous than conventional thinking would have you believe.

The Air Force officers and airmen mentioned in the book, working at missile silos and control centers across the United States and overseas, trained diligently for a task they were given during a tense time on the Cold War timeline. They were putting into action the Cold War Theory of deterrence.  In between the face-offs and stare downs, misinformation and disinformation flowed as part of campaigns to unsettle each other’s government leadership. All the while, agency and department chiefs fought for control, budgets increased, military services developed their own weapons initiatives, and strategies shifted from deterrence and MAD to the strategy of conflict escalation during the arms race.

For some people this book will get tedious in the middle when the author outlines policy arguments and protocols. The read gets interesting when he describes the many personalities that have worked in the program. Some parts take on a solemn tone at times when he writes about young people who have given their lives while flying missions or trying to prevent a missile silo from contaminating an area.

I recommend this book if you want to read about the history of America’s arms race with the Soviet Union and how the two countries played a high stakes game of poker with millions of lives on the table.  At times, America bluffed and other times the Soviet Union had the bad hand but played as if they had a straight flush.

Notable Links:

http://www.amazon.com/Command-Control-Damascus-Accident-Illusion/dp/1594202273

http://www.thegoldsborobrokenarrow.com/

http://www.afmissileers.org/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missile_combat_crew

 

 

 

 

 

The Presidents Club-A Book Recommendation

The Presidents Club

by Rick Bretz

Sometimes, a book appears in stores or online that catches my eye. I know just by reading the book title that it will be a page turner or for some people a “finger swiper” on our digital readers.

I have been reading the “The Presidents Club, Inside The World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity” for a few weeks now. With a length of more than 650 pages, I have been taking my time reading it. The book is well researched and written by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy and published by Simon and Schuster. Nancy Gibbs is a graduate of Yale University and the University of Oxford. She is Managing Editor of Time Magazine. Michael Duffy is a graduate of Oberlin College. He is Washington Bureau Chief and Executive Editor for Time Magazine.

Right from the first Chapter, they caught my attention and kept it all the way through. I actually read some chapters twice just to retain some of the information they revealed in the book. They discuss the history leading to the formation of the President’s Club but it begins to get interesting when they write about President Harry Truman asking for help from former President Herbert Hoover. The top Democrat asking for help from a Republican most democrats didn’t want to be associated with in any way. But President Truman was different. He knew how to use resources and Herbert Hoover was just the right guy to prevent starvation in Europe after World War II. There are many stories like this throughout the book.

It travels through history covering all of the Presidents to the current sitting President Barack Obama and how they viewed the “Club” and, more importantly, how they used the members of the exclusive fraternity.

I would recommend this book to any history scholar or presidential historian looking for a different perspective on the use of power. It might change your view on several Presidents and how they operated. After reading this book, I changed my opinion on a few Presidents. One President I gained even more respect for during the my reading, Harry Truman. One President the authors elevated his stature in my mind, Herbert Hoover. I knew that former President Richard Nixon was a diplomatic and foreign policy guru and the authors prove it in the book. The book also reveals how certain former Presidents can be difficult at the least.

After reading the book, you can entertain your own conclusions.