Tag Archives: China

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.


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Vermont’s Covered Bridges the Past





by Rick Bretz

A trip to Vermont can provide an opportunity to remove oneself from all that prevents peace and relaxation. While travelling the highways, back roads, and by ways of the state, you can witness the vivid green mountain ranges as well as see up close the covered bridges that connect roads over valleys and waterways. Using a thoroughly modern piece of machinery, the automobile, to find architectural skill that benefited the  horse and buggy rider sometimes requires compromise.   For almost all bridges, there is room for only one car to cross at a time so diplomacy is required. “You go first, then it’s my turn.”


The covered bridge lives in many states across America but it also can be found in many countries such as Germany, China, Switzerland and Turkey.  Covered bridges have an architecture all their own and can vary is types. color and size.


Construction workers and engineers built the first covered bridge in Pennsylvania over the Schuylkill River in 1800. Pennsylvania has its share of covered bridges, more than 200 spreading out across the state. However, Vermont has its share and the count comes in at just over a 100. The state has the highest number of covered bridges per square mile than any other state.


The covered bridge was engineered for a couple of reasons. The primary requirement was to protect the bridge from the weather by enclosing it on its sides and with a roof. Experts in the field of Covered Bridge-worthiness say that an authentic covered bridge is built with trusses. Vermont law now protects covered bridges and none can be torn down without approval from the governor and the Board of Historic Sites. A covered bridge can extend the life of bridge well past the 10 or 15 years a wooden bridge can last without the cover and enclosure walls.


Many states can boast covered bridges but they will have a tough time matching the high concentration of bridges per square mile combined with the scenery you will enjoy while looking for them.  Besides the skiing, Vermont’s bridge scenery remains in place for travelers to see the past.



one of the many streams and rivers where covered bridges can be found.
one of the many streams and rivers where covered bridges can be found.


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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.

Top Eight Demonstrations, Protests, Riots, Marches, Sit-ins

by Rick Bretz

If you see a malcontent, discontent, dissident or an activist fighting for a cause on the world stage, you’ll likely see someone or some power base trying to stop it, quell it or ignore it.

Turkish protestors are news today with more clashes with the government. The demonstrations are seen as protests against the conservative President Recep Tayyip Erdogan against secular Turks. Erdogan is being accused of forcing his Islamic views on a segment of the Turkish population. Islamic conservatives and secular politicians have long battled for government control and the best way to run a country with an overwhelming Islamic population. Situated at the edge of the European land mass and the Middle Eastern Territory, the Turkish people have fought for their religious identity while trying to be part of the European Union and culture.

Demonstrations, protests, marches, and riots usually begin with peaceful sit-ins and marches but soon escalate to violence and mayhem. Some of these achieve results while others are just the beginning of a longer struggle. Depending on where you sit at the table, one person’s terrorist, radical, guerilla, and rebel is another’s freedom fighter and force for change. After all, the United States revolution began with a peaceful protest.

Here are the top eight that we noticed.

1. Hungarian Uprising of 1956-The Soviet Union tanks rolled into Budapest after the Hungarian leadership informed Moscow that they were leaving the Warsaw Pact. This act fueled Soviet leaders to send in the tanks. Thousands were killed during the crackdown and its aftermath.

2. UK Miner’s Strike and early US Union Strikes -Worker’s unions in the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere fought corporate abuse to increase wages, improve working conditions and work schedules. The passing of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) significantly aided unions to recruit and negotiate with corporate management.

John L. LeFlore and Freedom Riders
John L. LeFlore and Freedom Riders (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. Freedom Riders-1961-The Freedom Riders climbed in the bus, drove through the South, and more importantly, had the courage to get off the bus when the welcome party was unfriendly.

4. Antiwar Protests-From Vietnam to the Iraq War, when talk fails another tool of diplomacy takes form. An instrument in a country’s diplomatic tool bag is the strength of its military– Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force. Whether it be two people or two countries fighting, someone is likely against the idea no matter how noble the cause.

Tiananmen Square Protest (tian_med)
Tiananmen Square Protest (tian_med) (Photo credit: mandiberg)

5. Tiananmen Square-1989-Who can forget the lone protestor standing in front of the tank line, moving left to right as the tank moved. Later, the brutal crackdown at the square displayed government power for all the world to see on news channels across the globe. The final chapter for this hasn’t been written yet.

6. 1968 Democratic Convention-The news networks aired the violence for the world to see. Riots in the Chicago streets served Republican nominee Richard Nixon well. The media savvy Chicago Seven knew cameras would be rolling and the networks broadcasting while the city police forced people into paddy wagons. The whole affair alarmed Middle America and put an exclamation point on the terrible year of 1968 when Senator Robert Kennedy and Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., were assassinated.

7. Polish Solidarity Movement-1980s-The Solidarity movement forced the communist government to the table to negotiate with the country’s labor force. Another brick was removed from the Berlin Wall.

8. Wounded Knee-1973-The American Indian Movement clashed with the Federal Government and lives were lost.  The past repeats.

Whether the many or the few, failure to compromise with the opposing view will result in the beaten down using the power of numbers and the force of the media.

Others: WWI Veteran Pension Riots, the Suffrage Marches, Russian Revolution, Watts Riots, Prague Spring, Soweto Uprising

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Empress Dowager Cixi and Catherine the Great

The two powerful women featured in this comparison are significant because they knew how to assess their situation, develop influential followers, and then create a plan of action. In fact, few men in history have been so effective at gaining power and then keeping it for as long a period as these two women.  Readers may note that one difference between the two seems to be that Catherine the Great had a more positive influence on her country than the Empress.  However, the Empress Dowager Cixi had to use her power behind the curtains, influencing decisions within the Emperor or Regent’s power structure.


Empress Dowager Cixi

Catherine the Great

Ruled Manchu Qing Dynasty and expanded her   power Ruled Russia and expanded its boundaries
Outmaneuvered Existing Power Elite Outmaneuvered Palace Power Elite
Instituted Social Reforms Instituted Social Reforms
Wielded Power within Family Wielded Power within Family
Held Power for Long Time Held Power for Long Time
Suppressed Rebellions Suppressed Rebellions
Live long life for her day Lived long life for her day
The oil painting of the Chinese Empress Dowage...
The oil painting of the Chinese Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) by Catherine Karl in late 1890s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tz’u Hsi or Empress Dowager Cixi (November, 29 1835 – November, 15 1908)

Tz’u Hsi is a testament to not underestimating someone who is small in stature and comes from a modest background.  She held power as a regent or as a

defacto ruler of China for 47 years until 1908, when she died.  Born in 1835, she began her rise to power as the Emperor Hsein-Feng’s concubine. Since she produced the only heir to the Emperor, her power increased exponentially until she achieved Imperial Concubine status and then Noble Consort, second in influence only to that of the Empress. She gave birth to their son a couple of years before the emperor died.  Her son became Emperor Tung-Chih.  Since he was too young, at five years, to make decisions, Tz’u Hsi was given the power with two other partners.  She soon became a force in this triumvirate.  The Empress gained power when she talked military leaders and ministers into supporting her after the 8 regents selected to run the government alienated them.   She was persuasive and influential.  According to many scholars, despite pushing through reforms such as instituting foreign languages in schools and creating the Chinese Foreign Service Office, she also had a reputation for corruption and amassing a huge fortune and accumulating wealth. She used the country’s revenue funding for her own pleasure.  She retired from office in 1889.  Nevertheless, all decision-making ran through her for approval until her death.  The new emperor wanted to clean out corruption in China’s government but Hsi didn’t want this to happen so she took the power of the regency again and confined him to the palace.  In 1900, the Boxer Rebellion forced her to flee Peking and accept the peace agreement.   Toward the end of her life, she changed her mind and worked to eliminate corruption in government the best she could at her advanced age. The Empress Dowager Cixi died in Peking on November 15, 1908, a day after the real emperor, Guangxu.  The Empress Dowager is known for political maneuvering, accumulating wealth, and instituting reforms.  She is also remembered as the most successful concubine in history.  After she evaluated her circumstances and assessed her friends and enemies, she acted without hesitation. It seems her years as a concubine weren’t wasted. She understood the personalities working around the family dynasty and the Forbidden City so that when she moved, she knew who to rely on and who were her enemies. In that time, one false step would have meant death.

Catherine the Great or Catherine II (Born Sophia Augusta Fredericka) May 2, 1729-November 17, 1796

 Since history is written by the living or the victors, the fact that Catherine II became known as

Portrait of Catherine II the Legislatress in t...
Portrait of Catherine II the Legislatress in the Temple Devoted to the Godess of Justice, by Dmitry Levitsky. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Catherine the “Great” is a testament to her leadership and reforms during her reign as Russia’s Empress Consort of all Russians.  History’s timeline does not record many people with “Great” after their names.  So she must have been doing something right while serving as ruler of “all” Russians.  She gained power through her understanding of the personalities around her in the royal palace.She came to the Russian Palace from Prussia as a political union to strengthen the Russian-Prussian alliance.  Her wedding to Peter III and her conversion to Russian Orthodoxy  as well as her ability learn the Russian language endeared her to citizens and won her favor in the royal family.  After her  spouse Peter III’s succession to the throne, the new King made several poor decisions that alienated the his advisors and military leaders.  These decisions were siding with Prussia’s King Frederick the II and wearing the colors of Austria for his uniforms.  His eccentrities alienated the same groups that Catherine had cultivated, showing political savvy beyond her years.   Six months after assuming the throne, Peter III left Catherine in St. Petersburg and that’s when her supporters decided to remove Peter III from power, arrest him and put Catherine in the position as leader of Russia.  Eight days later, Peter III was murdered in prison by Alexei Orlov, the brother of Gregory Orlov, a supporter of Catherine.

Catherine the Great’s ability to cultivate supporters within the nobility, military and government leaders served her well early by consolidating her power until time developed her own reputation.  Catherine, like Peter the Great, believed in Western influence and culture as a way to further Russia’s stance in the world.  She believed in education and opened schools for russian girls to further their studies.  In addition, Catherine expanded the Russian Empire after victories against the Ottoman Empire so that the country had access to the Black Sea.  She was also a champion of arts and culture as well as finance reform.  Catherine the Great died from complications from a stroke on November 17, 1796.

One thing can be stated about the Empress Dowager Cixi and Catherine the Great, they knew how to move within houses of power.  Once they were in a position to gain power, they used their political savvy, intelligence, positions in the royal hierarchy, and their supporters’ willingness to help them, to achieve goals.  If any of those aspects had not been present, historians or the victors might have written a different story.

What do you think?  Write a comment or suggest any other people to compare.