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.
What can be the most satisfying aspect about history is its ability to right what has been wronged. The idea that time and a writer’s perseverance can fix what the present failed to do can be wholly satisfying. Let’s face it. Today we are only getting the partial truth. Sometimes it takes a journalist, author or researcher to uncover lost information and bring it forward above the layers of noise for all of us to see. It is satisfying to read how, through time and effort, someone’s reputation was repaired or another’s legacy was pulled down to into the valley from the mountain top.
There are many examples of history making it right. The case of Capt. Charles McVay, Commander of the USS Indianapolis, is one of many. McVay’s USS Indianapolis was hit by two torpedoes after delivering cargo on Guam while sailing toward Leyte Island 1945. Several hundred crew went down with the ship while several hundred more of the 1196 souls lost their lives drifting in the water for several days due to hyperthermia, starvation and shark attacks before being rescued. Capt. McVay, after being one of the 317 rescued, was convicted by court-martial of “hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag.” Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz remitted his sentence and restored him to active duty until his retirement in 1949. Nevertheless, this event haunted McVay for the rest of his life before committing suicide in 1968.
Due to painstaking research and several supporters working for him, in 2000 The United States Congress and President Bill Clinton gave him his redemption and passed a resolution with Clinton signing it. The resolution states, “he is exonerated for the loss of Indianapolis.” In July 2001, the Secretary of the Navy ordered his record cleared of any wrong doing.
It’s just one case of history correcting a wrong. Another case is President Gerald R. Ford. He pardoned former President Nixon on September 1974 for any criminal acts he may have committed while serving as President. At the time, this act was unpopular in many circles from the voting public to print and broadcast media companies and popular journalists. This decision probably was a major factor in costing Ford the 1976 election. However, history has a way of changing attitudes. In 2001, Ford received the JFK Profile in Courage award for making the controversial decision to pardon the former President. He said when receiving the award that “It was the state of the country’s health at home and around the world that worried me.” He seemed to know then what others seemed to comprehend many years later. The best medicine for the country was to move on.
President Harry S. Truman left office with his approval rating low. His Gallup Poll approval rating was hovering in the high 20s and low 30s. With the passage of time and several authors writing biographies about his life and presidential term, his ranking lately has been in the top 5 listing of the best Presidents of all time. Not that Truman would much care about where he was on the scale. He was only interested in getting the job done. That’s why he called in former President Herbert Hoover to help with feeding the population of war-torn Europe after World War II. Hoover is another President whose reputation took a hit in the 1930s. Hoover came through for Truman then and became a valuable asset and information resource for Truman and other Presidents to follow until his death in 1964.
These are just a few examples of change. History changes many things: Slavery, the Soviet Union, the Right to Vote, the creation of the State of Israel, Prohibition, the treatment of Native Americans and many others. What matters is, people do change and with that comes the correction of many wrongs, the condition of human foibles and the elimination of evil when needed.
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.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter what is real but what people think is real.
The list is long about what the majority of the population thinks is true about someone or some event that turns out to be nowhere near what the reality is. The perception doesn’t line up with reality.
Vietnam, Nixon, the Economy, the Depression, Democrats, Republicans, Tea Party, Liberals, Occupy Wall Street, Elections, Law Enforcement, and many others are subject to internet falsehoods and a long history of bad information being passed from one person to another.
For example, the reputation of Herbert Hoover as someone who didn’t care for the working man and never lifted a finger to help the struggling poor while being solely responsible for the Great Depression is way off the mark. This perception is mostly due to his policies in reaction to the great depression and the unfortunate name given to outdoor shanty towns, Hoovervilles. However, that perception couldn’t be further from the truth. As Food Administrator during World War I, he was responsible making sure enough food rations were sent over to Europe to keep the war effort rolling. After the war, Europe was left without enough food to feed its population for the winter. Hoover organized food shipments to Europe and sent food to Russia as late as 1921 so that millions of people could survive. Concerning the depression, He also warned President Calvin Coolidge in 1925 about the folly of excessive stock market speculation. He knew that practice would catch up to the health of the economy and it did in 1929. After the depression, he also took steps to try to end the depression such as moving construction projects ahead of schedule, cutting taxes, and increasing the funding for public works.
After, being treated like an outsider by his own party and the democrats for several years, one person invited in for his organizational skill and history of helping people in need. In fact, President Harry Truman invited former President Hoover to the White House to organize the war relief effort after World War II.
So, for someone who gets the majority of the blame for the great depression, it seems he was one of the first to warn us about Stock Market speculation that was a major cause of the crash. He was also more concerned with helping people in need than what is in generally perceived.
The phrase “perception is reality” is an expression used to convey the idea that how you look sometimes matters more than what you do. As Billy Crystal’s character said on SNL, “You look Maahvelous!” It got a laugh but with most first-rate comedy it has a ring of truth. The best dressed office worker who portrays confidence may get a first look when it comes to a promotion and a key position over someone who looks average but performs at a high level.
History is supposed to correct perceptions and publicize the greater truth. The following is a list of subjects with perceptions and realities listed. Is it better to look good than to feel good? I prefer both.
Accomplished several initiatives while POTUS, establish EPA and Dept, Natural Resources, improved relations with China and USSR. Ended Draft. Signed into law Title IX.
Ultra liberal, jaded urbanites, elite college intellectuals who consider themselves at the top of a class divided society
Although liberal candidates win a majority of the elections, places like NJ, and Massachusetts sometimes elect conservative candidates. Many northern states enjoy a vast rural areas.
Mostly rural. Uneducated, lazy populace, rejection of evolution in favor of religious dogma. A majority are bigots.
Technology Companies do business there. Many Northern professional transplants. Most accept evolution outright and a majority understand both views. There are just as many bigots, racists and segregationists in the North as in the South. Just as many opened minded progressives live in the South as in the North.
Overpaid and ineffective
A majority are effective, underpaid and forced to teach using local policies and to pass tests
Failed social and government experiment
True communism never practiced or implemented
Responsible for higher costs, cost money with little or no return
People are fine lawyers when they need one
Power Hungry government representatives out to harass populace
A majority of law enforcement professionals are subject to rules of engagement and internal investigations.
TSA Airport Security
Government reps who invade your privacy.
Security professionals assigned to do an impossible job following government protocols and rules.
Veterans and Active Military
Not intelligent enough to get a commercial job. Aggressive people who are blood thirsty. Damaged by war and can’t function in society.
More often than not, people in the military have some college education or a degree. People trained to make logical decisions in a split second. A majority of veterans have integrated within the work force.
This Blog Post
Today’s traditional broadcast and print media coverage of a particular topic is constantly challenged by the public’s use of social media. However, with PR firms, marketing representatives, and spokespeople, getting out in front of an issue or an event is just a matter of your story being told before someone else’s version. History shows that the victor gets to write its version of events. Sometimes it’s the truth and sometimes it’s just a shade of it.
Today’s writers have to admit that past investigative journalists (Woodward, Bernstein, and others) who went after President Richard Nixon after the Watergate break-in have a bit of irony to live with today. In a classic law of unintended consequences, since Gerald R. Ford’s Presidency, historians and journalists have been denied the fascination of looking back at an Administration’s legacy by listening to oval office audio tapes. The zealousness of attacking Nixon and forcing his resignation has deprived journalists and authors of pulling back the curtains to see how the White House brokers exercise power.
I write about this because of the current story in the headlines concerning President Lyndon Johnson’s latest audio tape release that shows how Johnson dealt with President Nixon’s perceived interference with the Vietnam peace talks before the 1968 Democratic Convention and Presidential Election. The tapes reveal that Johnson knew that Nixon used a proxy to approach the South Vietnam ambassador to tell him to hold off on accepting peace terms from the Johnson administration because he could get them a better deal. Johnson ultimately decided not to make this public due to security issues but did tell candidate Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who never used the information thinking that he had the election won.
It’s a fascinating bit of history in a long line of Presidential audio tapes. The history of audio tapes recording power broker meetings in the oval offices dates back to 1940. President Franklin Roosevelt got the tape rolling in a word and every President until Nixon used it since that time. The total hours for these audio tapes amounts to just under 5000, recording for history telephone conversations and meetings from both political parties. President John Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon were prolific in their use of the audio recordings. A discussion concerning what is on those tapes is for another day. Look at what the media and learning institutions could have been pouring over with a critical eye if audio recordings would have continued. Journalists and lawyers won the battle but lost the war. They proved a point that politics is a dirty business but at the same time they short-changed history. Because of what happened to Nixon, no President since has wanted to put himself in that kind of situation by having that kind of evidence used against him. And for good reason, since Nixon, gotcha journalism has ruled the headlines in addition to 24/7 television and internet media outlets. There’s an empty space everyday that media professionals have to fill.
If not for Nixon’s poor decisions and paranoia, the media and lawyers working the circumstances, today’s writers, authors and college professors would have been analyzing and listening to meetings and phone conversations detailing a number of historical events. I am not saying that Nixon was without fault, but as a historian it is regrettable that major events are not on tape for others to analyze today. Reading someone’s words is not the same as hearing a President or Chief of Staff or Cabinet member at the moment with the personality that comes with speaking the words. One only has to listen to President Johnson’s tapes to understand that.
These are just of a few events lost to history.
President Ford-The Nixon pardon, the national recovery from Nixon’s resignation, the economic recovery, the Middle East peace process, the 1976 Election.
An argument could be made that if Nixon wasn’t forced to turn over the audio tapes, there never would have been a Ford Administration.
President Reagan-The Grenada Invasion, the Cold War strategy, and disarmament talks, the Berlin Wall Speech, the 1984 Election, The Libyan Bombing, The Economic Recovery, The Space Shuttle Disaster, the 1988 Election.
President Clinton-The 1992 Election, The David Koresh Waco disaster, the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, The Somalia Conflict, the Haitian support operation, Osama Bin Laden, the first terrorist attack on the twin towers, the 1996 election, the 2000 election.
President George Bush-The 2000 Election, 9/11 Terrorist Attack, the Afghanistan Invasion, The Iraqi Invasion, Osama Bin Laden strategy, the defense build-up and strategy, the 2004 Election, the Financial Crisis, the 2008 Election, Hurricane Katrina.
President Obama-The 2008 Election, the economic crisis, the Osama Bin Laden decision, the gun control issue, the 2012 Election.
Those are just a few events from each President since Nixon. There are several more topics that would have been enlightening if there would have been an audio recorder in the Oval Office. The point is, due to past events, we, the public, have missed out on many behind the scenes decisions. The curtain remains forever closed where the great and powerful work behind.
It’s President’s Day February 18th. With that, it’s worth discussing the gradual, double-edged communication sword candidates have had to integrate into their campaign to get their ideas to the voting public. Today, information technology has given candidates faster, easier ways to present their solutions and ideas to Americans. It also means the news cycle is quicker and reaches a wider audience if there is a slip up in their strategy or if a candidate misspeaks or gets some facts wrong.
George Washington never campaigned openly for the Presidency. He was ambitious but thought brazenly crusading for the office to be uncouth. He was a master at working behind the scenes, talking to the right people, while appearing to not covet the office but would accept it for the betterment of the nation. As history shows, Washington was the perfect person to be the first President because he didn’t want any royal titles and his leaving after two terms set the standard for years to come.
In 1836, William Henry Harrison first used a train to campaign across America. Later in 1840, William Henry Harrison was the first to openly campaign for the Presidency running against incumbent Martin Van Buren with the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” “Tyler Too” refers to John Tyler who would take office after President Harrison’s death due to sickness brought on by a one hour and 45 minute inauguration speech in the freezing, cold, Washington, DC, winter. Harrison served one month before Tyler assumed the office.
Despite the use of mass transportation such as trains, Candidates James Garfield in 1880 and William McKinley in 1896 won their elections by just sitting on the porch and welcoming visitors and serving drinks. While they were visiting, the candidates had the opportunity to present their ideas and give campaign speeches. McKinley was also reportedly the first to use the telephone to make campaign calls.
After the turn of the century, President Teddy Roosevelt was the first to be documented on film delivering campaign speeches. His bombastic, fist pumping style was perfectly suited for silent film.
Soon afterwards, radio broadcasts appeared on the political scene. President Calvin Coolidge used radio to deliver addresses in the early 1920s. Later, the 1924 election featured the candidates Coolidge and Democratic candidate John Davis delivering campaign speeches on the radio.
The Presidential debates and conventions in 1952 were the first to use the television medium to get their ideas to the public. Eisenhower’s campaign created the first TV ad. The catchy tune, “We Like Ike.” Later, President Lyndon Johnson used the television medium effectively for the “Daisy” campaign ad that ran only once but was effective in beating Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964’s election. Before the development of cable and 24 hour news channels, candidates planned their strategy with the realization that fewer television channels and reporters existed. However, the audiences were larger per channel. Even so, the Public Broadcasting System didn’t begin until 1970.
Today the press pool is larger and news channels and producers require a constant news cycle with pressure to fill the air space and get ratings.
Presidential Candidates have to negotiate several cable news organizations as well as local affiliate news reporters and anchors. In addition, the internet, YouTube, Twitter, blog writers, mobile media have given candidates more information streams. Candidates also use or have to make themselves available for the morning talk show circuit on radio and television. Talk radio has also entered the world of campaigning that can keep a story alive well after the initial news cycle.
The 1996 campaign was the first to use the internet to send out literature such as brochures and other media. The 2000 campaign candidates, Governor Bush and Vice President Gore, each created and maintained their websites. Since then, the internet, with ads, email, and other informational sites, has continually evolved to be a significant part of a campaign.
Despite several additional communication sources to reach the voting public, there is no substitute for face to face, personal exposure–the shaking of a potential voter’s hands. The modern age has seen the use of trains as a recurring theme for presidential candidates. Besides Harrison being the first, others that have used the rails are Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, William Clinton, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush and most famously, Harry S. Truman on his whistle-stop tour.
All of this means that candidates and incumbents have more ways, more paths, more streams to influence voters, get their ideas out, and communicate how they are better for the country than the other person. With these tools for discovery, it is entirely possible voters will elect a woman to the highest office, and soon.
The other side of the coin is that with more opportunities to reach and more hours in the day speaking on the public stage, the chances for a mistake or a misstep increase. The good news is; it is easier to correct it if you have a counter strategy. Technology is here to stay and the days of a candidate sitting at home on the front porch waiting for voters to arrive to hear him speak are long gone.
In recognition of the inauguration this week, I have listed what I consider the best presidential portrayals on film and the small screen. My criteria are simple. Did the actor capture the spirit of the President’s personality? And, was I able to watch the presentation without being aware that someone was trying too hard to play that particular president? Most of the performances on this list present a narrow window in a President’s life. The more difficult portrayals involve playing the person over a lifetime. A good example of this is Paul Giamatti’s portrayal of John Adams and Barry Bostwick’s performance in the George Washington miniseries. Below is the actor followed by the President portrayed and then the film or television title.
I was skeptical before making time to see this show that the actor could pull it off. I was wrong. Kenneth Branagh captured the force of Roosevelt’s personality and his physical and emotional fight with the crippling polio disease. He also does a great job of relating to the people who have the same disease while rehabilitating at Warm Springs. His supporting cast is terrific and he shows us why Roosevelt related to so many people.
Enough has been written about Lewis’ choice concerning how Lincoln sounds when he speaks compared to other portrayals. If you watch Henry Fonda’s “Young Mr. Lincoln”, the voice pitch comes close to what Lewis used in Lincoln. What cannot be disputed is that he does capture Lincoln’s modest confidence and his sharp political mind.
3. Paul Giamatti-John Adams-Johns Adams
Paul Giamatti captures Adams from all directions. He is spot on in his portrayal in many aspects. His love for his wife Abigail, his mercurial temper, his difficult personality, his love for his family, his ego, and most of all, his sense of duty, fairness, and love for his country. Giamatti’s choices show the president from all sides while weaving his multi-layered personality into the presentation of Adams. He also plays him as he ages from a young man to his death which is difficult to accomplish.
Langella’s acting puts a human face on Richard Nixon in this Ron Howard directed film. He sparred with David Frost through a majority of the movie and showed Nixon’s toughness, intellect, political savvy and his personality weaknesses. This performance is remarkable because it keeps the audience interested despite knowing the outcome. It explains history without getting into the minute details so the audience’s eyes don’t glaze over like sitting in 9th grade history class memorizing dates.
5. Jeff Daniels-George Washington-The Crossing
Jeff Daniels does a terrific job showing people what it must have been like serving under George Washington. Daniels gives us a performance that shows Washington cool under fire, a master at finding quality people to serve under him and how to manage them, and how to get soldiers to fight for him in the most extreme circumstances. Daniels as Washington shows the General as calm leader looking to find answers instead of assessing blame.
My favorite scene in this movie is when Adams is supposedly sleeping during a congressional session. Then the speaker asks him to comment on the previous discussion. Adams speaks up immediately repeating the last exchange and giving his own caustic opinion about the matter and the current session itself. Hopkins is a master at losing himself in roles and this is one. His other Presidential portrayal of Richard Nixon is good as well but this one is fascinating especially with the final summation in court at the end.
Randy Quaid shows Lyndon Johnson with his loud voice, over-the–top personality and his energy to accomplish his own goals and fix what needs to be fixed. This is another performance that shows the actor aging through several years from a young man to his days in congress. Quaid gives an outstanding performance showing how Johnson dealt with people and how Johnson used his force of personality to get his legislation passed when he was a leader in congress.
8. Henry Fonda-Abraham Lincoln-Young Mr. Lincoln
This movie was released in 1939 and it shows a young Henry Fonda at his best. Fonda gives us the Lincoln personality in the salad days of his lawyer career. He takes on a case early in the movie that everyone believes is a lost cause. Throughout the movie, Fonda shows the audience the Lincoln wit and his art for storytelling. He shows us why Lincoln became President while using his political savvy and intelligence. Fonda’s acting also shows us an underlying sadness to his personality and an innate understanding he might be destined for great things.
Those are my favorites. Do you agree? Leave a comment?
More great characterizations:
David Morse-George Washington-John Adams; Edward Herrmann-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Eleanor and Franklin; Barry Bostwick-George Washington- George Washington (The Mini-Series); Bill Murray-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Hyde Park on the Hudson; Gary Sinise-Harry S. Truman-Truman; James Whitmore-Harry S. Truman-Give ‘Em Hell Harry; Raymond Massey-Abraham Lincoln-Abe Lincoln in Illinois; Brian Keith-Teddy Roosevelt-The Wind and the Lion