Category Archives: Book Recommendations

The Reason I Write-Tom Wolfe

the right stuff

by Rick Bretz

The recent passing of the legendary author Tom Wolfe caused a reflection on why I write this blog. I am a fan of many authors, one being David McCullough.  Two other writers have influenced me and given me the inspiration to keep on writing.  They are Frank DeFord, the sports writer who wrote about many topics for Sports Illustrated as well as authoring books.  The other writer is Tom Wolfe, who wrote a page turner for all time.

A friend first introduced me to Tom Wolfe’s writing style in 1981. she said that if you  want to read terrific writing pick  up the book “The Right Stuff.” The book is an insightful look at the Air Force test pilot fraternity in the late 1940s and 1950s as well as the birth of NASA’s astronaut selection and training program.  Hollywood made a movie out of the book later in the 1980s.  Before getting into those topics, Wolfe introduces the reader to a name, Chuck Yeager, the pilot that has the best “Right Stuff” of all test pilots.

The book opened my eyes to a different kind of writing style. He pioneered the style of “New Journalism”, using non-fiction narrative techniques to fill the story for the reader.  He may not have been in the room or inside someone’s mind but gave the reader a good idea of what it might have been like.  His writing style delivered dynamic prose in a descriptive style that was entertaining and informative. Here’s an example of his style:

“Well … things are beginning to stack up a little,” said Gordo. It was the same old sod-hut drawl. He sounded like the airline pilot who, having just slipped two seemingly certain mid-air collisions and finding himself in the midst of a radar fuse-out and control-tower dysarthria, says over the intercom: “Well, ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be busy up here in the cockpit making our final approach into Pittsburgh, and so we want to take this opportunity to thank you for flying American and we hope we’ll see you again real soon.” It was second-generation Yeager, now coming from earth orbit. Cooper was having a good time. He knew everybody was in a sweat down below. But this was what he and the boys had wanted all along, wasn’t it?”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff

The direct quote, “Well … things are beginning to stack up a little,”  many of us have heard a number of times on Astronaut documentaries.  But this was written before all of those documentaries hit cable television.  He took the quote and absolutely blasted it out of the park relating it to the original man on the top of the Pyramid, General Chuck Yeager.  In the book he talks about the Pyramid and his chapter on Naval Aviator pilot training is a thing of beauty.

“A persistent case of the bingos was enough to wash a man out of night carrier landings. That did not mean you were finished as a Navy pilot. It merely meant that you were finished so far as carrier ops were concerned, which meant that you were finished so far as combat was concerned, which meant you were no longer in the competition, no longer ascending the pyramid, no longer qualified for the company of those with the right stuff.”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff

I read “The Right Stuff” three times in the span of two years.  The first time to enjoy it as a great read.  The second time to analyze the writing style and the third time so I could analyze the word choices he made and how each sentence flowed into another.  His writing style demonstrated what was possible for me when writing my own articles for newspapers and magazines.  I’ve won a few writing awards through the years and the reason I still write posts for this blog is due to the craft of great authors like Tom Wolfe. I may never get as descriptive and smooth as my favorite authors but I like like trying

Tom Wolfe wrote many other books, among them being “Electric Kool-Aide Acid Test” and “The Bonfire of the Vanities” equally as well received.  He also authored several magazine articles.  But for me, “The Right Stuff” kept me writing and forced me to constantly seek the perfect sentence, paragraph and more.   I am just one of many he influenced. Tom Wolfe left us on May 14, 2018. He left leaving the literary world  his wordsmith genius and the golden treasure of his work

Notable Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Right-Stuff-Tom-Wolfe/dp/0312427565

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Right_Stuff_(book)

https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/tom-wolfe-right-stuff-author-and-new-journalism-legend-dead-at-87-w520325

https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/907221-the-right-stuff

 

The Right to Privacy, Data Protection and Social Media

globalhopping

By Rick Bretz

Joining a social media site like Facebook is opening the curtains to the big picture window to your life.  However, when you pull the draw string to open up the curtains in your home, you can close them back up just as fast anytime you want to keep your life to yourself.

“The right to be left alone”

The World Wide Web is the global communicator and what a user does on it or puts on it is forever, saved on a server somewhere for use on the Wayback Machine.  When you click on something you are part of the big industry of data mining and collection that can be parsed, sliced, organized and delivered to businesses and analysts everywhere.

Congratulations! You are part of the modern technological community.

The Right to Privacy

A book published in 1995, authored by Caroline Kennedy and Ellen Alderman, foresaw the future conflict between data protection, data collection and the right to privacy for internet commerce customers.

In the introduction, the authors pointed to a phrase justice Louis D. Brandeis used more than 120 years ago when he called the Right to Privacy, “The right to be left alone.”  The question is if you buy something from a vendor website should you have the right to be left alone or should your personal preference data be left alone.  If you buy a widget on the internet today you will find widget advertisements pop up on the news websites you visit later on.  Is that right? Is that OK.  Is that just the way businesses run in the age of information technology?  The short answer is “Yes.”   Does it give a business the right to do whatever they want with the data?  Arguably, “No.”

The authors also correctly point out that the word “Privacy” does not appear anywhere in the United States Constitution. However. one could infer a right to privacy when reading it, especially in reference to the Bill of Rights and its amendments.  The important one that comes to mind is the fourth amendment concerning illegal search and seizure.

laptop computer table

The current issue being covered by the media involves Facebook and how they treat their data mining and collections of users.  The business of selling user data and preferences to other agencies for them to use for other purposes has made Facebook users think twice about continuing to post their thoughts and likes.

One could argue that when someone signs up for Facebook, Instagram or any other social media site you are giving up your right to be “left alone.”  What you really want is the ability to selectively let your friends and relatives know what is going on in your life.  People are upset today because Facebook is treating their data from the personal lives of users like another commodity, like selling computer hardware on the open market.

In the Kennedy and Alderman book, the authors were ahead of their time when discussing issues associated with personal rights concerning this issue. Their topics included, Privacy and Your Self, Privacy Versus the Press, Privacy and Law Enforcement and Privacy in the Workplace

The book discusses the Fourth Amendment, in particular concerning a law enforcement case.  The book explains that this amendment states “a right of the people to be secure in the persons, houses, papers and affects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”  The book further explains that the Supreme Court has interpreted the amendment as protecting an individual’s “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

The question remains, if you join a social media site, should you presume a reasonable expectation of privacy.  Today information technology, web use, and data collection and analysis generate effective business practices and customer satisfaction.  It’s the reason a consumer can order something from the internet from a vendor and be assured that product will be available to be sent to customers the same or next day.  Data mining and collection can be used to effectively manage a business or negatively effect a user as when businesses sell their data to other companies or when black hat hackers steal the data and sell it or hold it for ransom.

Most universities have an Information Technology ethics course as part of their curriculum for computer science graduates.  The “Do No Harm” philosophy can be followed or not.  As with any instrument of technology, if put in the wrong hands, the potential for damage increases.

Businesses have a legal and ethical responsibility to protect data.  Data that can personally identify someone should be protected with a special effort.  Personal Health Information (PHI) and Personal Identifiable Information (PII) like social security numbers, phone numbers and addresses are gold to black hat hackers who want to ransom the data.  Experts in the field of information security will tell you there are millions of instances everyday where hackers try to exploit vulnerabilities in commercial and government networks to get user data. The good news is most of them are thwarted by perimeter security technologies.  The bad news is it only takes one attack that defeats these measures to mess things up.   Consumers don’t need companies selling their data and spreading it elsewhere to add to the challenge of safeguarding user information. Protecting data and personal privacy should be important to an individual and to everyone who sees it.

Notable Links:

https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI0ez668Go2gIViLbACh0jtQufEAAYASAAEgL6C_D_BwE

https://www.sans.org/security-resources/ethics

https://www.eccouncil.org/code-of-ethics/

https://er.educause.edu/articles/2017/3/ethics-and-the-it-professional

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-facebook-privacy/facebook-says-data-leak-hits-87-million-users-widening-privacy-scandal-idUSKCN1HB2CM

https://www.techradar.com/news/us-uk-investigating-facebooks-role-in-cambridge-analytica-data-breach

https://www.americanbar.org/publications/blt/2014/01/03a_claypoole.html

https://www.isaca.org/Journal/archives/2012/Volume-6/Pages/Lack-of-Privacy-Awareness-in-Social-Networks.aspx

http://archive.org/web/

 

 

 

 

Book Recommendation: Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans

jackson book cover

by Rick Bretz

Before the people voted Andrew Jackson President, he was a lawyer, self-made business man and a commanding officer and general of a United States military unit.   The book “Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans” with the subtitle, “The Battle That Shaped America’s Destiny”  by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager concentrates on a short time period in  Jackson’s career but important to his future nonetheless.  The subtitle concerns the vital geographic New Orleans port and the Mississippi River in that they were both vital to westward expansion.  The outcome went a long way toward the United State’s goal of forging a strong voice in international relations.

This is the third book by the co-authors.  The others, “Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates”, and “George Washington’s Secret Six” used the same strategy as this one, zooming in from a satellite’s view of America’s history and the Jackson legacy to give the reader a pinpoint, telescoped examination of an important battle at the end of the War of 1812 with Britain.  These short, 200 or so page books will not give a reader a wide sweeping view of subject but a slice in time or an event important to the United State’s history.  The authors are putting together the history puzzle one piece at a time.

The General

Jackson’s personality and leadership style brought results.  The book shows how Jackson, without any formal training, intuitively understood battle tactics and how to use the terrain to his maximum benefit.  He could make decisions in the middle of a battle but took advice when it was clear someone else in the command had a better idea, and that included the suggestions of a privateer or pirate, depending on one’s  assessment, Jean Lafitte.  He understood how to motivate his men and how to relate to the people of New Orleans during social functions.

BattleOfNewOrleansAreaMap

The authors do a good job of outlining the British plan of attack leading up to the Battle of New Orleans.  The British commanders made several mistakes at the beginning that helped Jackson’s cause.  However, Jackson’s ability to forecast the British Navy and Army’s avenues of attack was as much a factor in the victory as was the British commander overconfidence in taking on solders, Native Americans, Pirates and volunteers from several states in the area.  It was a mixed recipe of anyone Jackson could muster but General Jackson made the Army a personality of one, his.  That personality was tough, resourceful, with a boiling and deep hatred of the British Army from his childhood years due to events that caused the death of his family members.

The books also gives detailed descriptions of the swampy lands in the bayou that both sides of the war had to maneuver through to build defenses and a launch point for an attack.  The challenges presented by the New Orleans terrain was in contrast to the problems the diplomatic team had in Britain when negotiating a truce.  The snail’s pace communication presented difficulties in know who had the upper hand when ironing out details of a peach agreement.  They didn’t want to negotiate a peace with New Orleans in British hands. For as the book points out, the New Orleans port and control of the Mississippi River was key to America’s Westward expansion and a victory over the British invading force for a second time meant increased prestige to the World’s countries looking on a young United States.

Notable Links:

https://history.army.mil/news/2015/150100a_newOrleans.html

http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/battleofneworleans.htm

https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/presidents/andrew-jackson/

 

Book Recommendation: Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates

by Rick Bretz

The United States has always had issues with the Middle East.  For that matter, so has the rest of world.  Some of the issues are due to conquering and occupying nations and their policies but a majority can be traced back to dictator egos and their need for flaunting power. The fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I created many problems as well.

Middle_east

The United States has had problems with that region from the beginning.  Presidents George Washington,  John Adams and Thomas Jefferson dealt with pirates, hostage takers and terrorist  demands for ransom.  This reality forced them to make difficult decisions so that the nation could build itself into a stable group of unified state governments with a federal power structure to deal with foreign policy and constitutional issues.

The troubled violent Middle East history as it pertains to the United States begins with the Tripoli Pirates and continues to this day.

A list of Middle East issues is a long one:

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

http://www.economist.com/node/1922472

http://www.globalissues.org/issue/103/middle-east

Thomas Jefferson book cover

The Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger book, Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates, covers just one of the issues the United States had to solve at the start of the 19th Century.  The subtitle, The Forgotten War That Changed American History, makes a point that the Tripoli Pirate issue is largely buried or glossed over in history books but remains significant concerning the rest of world’s outlook toward the then young country of the United States of America.  The book tells the story about four Muslim countries extorting the United States by capturing ships and enslaving the crews until a ransom was paid by the United States government.  Tripoli, Algiers, Tunis, and Morocco saw the kidnapping and ransom process as their religious right to capture vessels on the Mediterranean high seas to fill their financial coffers.

George Washington and John Adams tried to use diplomacy while they were building a Navy and a nation while paying back war debt to countries supporting the colonies’ war for independence. As a secretary of state and diplomat, and Vice President during those years, Thomas Jefferson had seen how diplomacy never worked. It was this experience dealing with the pirates that compelled Jefferson to send the US Navy’s recently built warships to the Middle East for a blockade.  The Barbary Wars and the outcome sent a message to the world that the young country of the America would defend itself if needed.  This sent the country on a journey where its elected leaders had a say on the world stage, and later used to full effect by President Teddy Roosevelt.

CONCLUSIONS

The book does a good job of writing about the courage of the captured ships’ sailors held in prisons.  It also tells the story of Lieutenant Stephen Decatur’s night raid and General William Eaton’s five hundred mile march from Egypt to the Port of Derne for a surprise attack by US Marines. The result of this became a well-known line in the Marine Corps Hymn, “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli.”  All together now!  This book is worth reading because the authors describe the difficulty of beginning a new nation, building a Navy, and defending America’s prestige on the world stage while keeping government politicians contented back home.

From the early 1800 Tripoli Pirates, the United States has dealt with a number of Middle East issues including, regime changes, oil embargos, Palestinian/Israeli conflicts, The Yom Kippur War, the Iraq invasion of Kuwait, the Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan, The Iranian Revolution, government-funded terrorism, and many others.  The Middle East and each administration’s malleable foreign policy that goes with dealing with this region, as well as the United Nations attitude toward Israel compared to the surrounding countries, is a nightmare that keeps coming back when you want to get a good sleep.  In this case the nightmare has lasted more than a couple hundred years.

 

Notable Links

https://web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/war_peace/middleeast/hcentury.html

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

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/globalconnections/mideast/timeline/text/time2.html

http://www.worldatlas.com/webimage/countrys/asia/middleeast/metimeln_ext.htm

http://www.timemaps.com/history/middle-east-3500bc

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/target/etc/modern.html

http://www.varsitytutors.com/earlyamerica/early-america-review/volume-6/terrorism-early-america

https://www.cpj.org/

https://www.change.org/p/president-obama-support-the-righttoreport-and-protect-journalist-rights

http://gwpapers.virginia.edu/history/topics/gw-and-the-barbary-coast-pirates/

http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/287

https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/first-barbary-war

The Two O’Clock War

by Rick Bretz

I came across an interesting book with an even more captivating title.  The book, by Walter J. Boyne, and published in 2002 is titled “The Two O’Clock War.”  The first thought that enters the mind is:  Why Two O’clock?

Two O'Clock War Book Cover

The Two O’clock question is answered in the book but the subtitle made me want to read it the minute I picked it up from my father-in-law’s bookshelf, “The 1973 Yom Kippur Conflict and the Airlift That Saved Israel.”  What Airlift and by whom?

The Yom Kippur War or as some call it, The October War,  began on the holiest of Jewish Holidays on October 6th of 1973 and the Arab forces chose “Two O’clock”  for a reason.

The author, a retired Air Force Colonel, explains the Two O’clock time hack in the title is derived from a couple of factors.  One is that Israeli commanders and the government leadership never thought the Arab forces would begin a war at two o’clock in the afternoon.  President Anwar Sadat and Air Chief Marshal Hasni Mubarak elected to change strategy to achieve the element of surprise.  Also, they knew the Israeli leadership’s guard would be the most lax at that time on Yom Kippur.

Sinai_Oct6_13_1973map_sm

Israel thought the Suez Canal provided a natural defensive barrier and would give them enough time to call up their reserve forces if they tried to cross the canal for an attack on Israel.  However,  in the case of  October 6th, soon after the explosives started hitting the concrete bunkers, 600 tanks started rolling towards the Israeli front on pontoon bridges crossing the Suez Canal.  At the same time, Syrian MiG jet fighters and Sukhoi bombers attacked the Golan Heights in the North.

Arab Forces led primarily by Anwar Sadat’s bold decision making wanted some revenge for the six day war and also wanted to reclaim some prestige and the land Israel won after soundly defeating the Arab coalition in June of 1967.  This War, lasting until October 26th, almost completely redrew the map in that region.

The book describes how the Israeli military and its government became overconfident in the years leading up to the Yom Kippur War.  Due to the Six Day War outcome, the Israeli leadership never gave Arab Forces from any of the surrounding countries any credit.  That overconfidence almost resulted in disaster during the first couple of days of the Arab surge once they crossed the Suez. Arab forces caught Israel by surprise and with supplies and support from the Soviet Union, the Arab coalition almost succeeded in overrunning the Israeli Defense Force if not for the heroism and bravery of soldiers and airmen of the Israeli Defense Force who lost their lives defending their young country.

Boyne’s account of how American and Soviet leadership faced-off in a proxy war with the Soviet’s supplying the Arab Forces and the American Military airlifting supplies, weaponry and ammunition to the Israeli government is a lesson in diplomacy and decision-making.  What’s eye-opening is the fact that, 10 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, hands were ready to send nuclear warheads down range in a last, desperate act to save their country.  Henry Kissinger working with the Soviets stepped in and clearer heads prevailed.

All of the key players have a primary role in this event in history: Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Leonid Brezhnev, Golda Meir, Anwar Sadat and Ariel Sharon.  After many meetings, and diplomatic trips back and forth from one country to another, Nixon ordered the US Military and specifically the US Air Force to airlift weapons, ammunition and other logistics to Israel as they were running out of vital supplies, arriving just in time to resupply the Israeli Defense Forces. The Israeli and United States military’s coordinated efforts resulted in supplies moving from the planes just after landing on the airfield in Tel Aviv to supply trucks and then forward to the battle fronts.

The United States Air Force’s leadership saved the day because, while the politicians were talking, they were developing a plan and putting their airmen on notice to be ready for an airlift to Israel. An Airlift of Yom Kippur’s magnitude just doesn’t happen overnight and it occurred while Vietnam required air support simultaneously. Working 24 hours a day for several days straight, the Air Force contributed to saving Israel and were thanked by Golda Meir through a special visit.  This book is worth the read to get a little history that forms Middle East politics as it is today.

Notable LInks:

http://www.jewishhistory.org/the-yom-kippur-war/

http://www.historynet.com/the-arab-israeli-war-of-1973-honor-oil-and-blood.htm

https://amcmuseum.org/history/operation-nickel-grass/

 

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/