EFFECT OF LIGHT

Audio-book Review
 By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies

By: Ross King

Narrated by: Joel Richards

Ross King (Canadian Author of books on Italian, French and Canadian Art and History.)

Ross King refreshes one’s interest in the history of WWI while revealing much of the mystery and appeal of Claude Monet and his art. Monet’s diminutive size contrasts with his giant impact on impressionism. As a founding father of impressionism, Monet’s passion is to show the effect of light on life and nature.

Monet lived in Giverny, France in a modest house with a well-maintained lily pond and garden that served as a subject of his art.

Having read biographies of Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio, Monet is certainly not the first to have had a passion for the effect of light on a subject. Monet produces light that moves an admirer from objective observation to subjective pleasure.

In 1874, Monet exhibited “Impression Sunrise” that received hostile reviews. That painting exemplified the beginning of Impressionism. King shows Monet insists on his vision and the era of modern art is born.

YOUNG MONET AND MATURED MONET AS PAINTED AND LATER PHOTOED.

King recounts Monet’s relationship with Clemenceau, known in France as the tiger before WWI, and the Father of Victory at its end. King explains Clemenceau is a duelist in his early years who becomes a physician, newspaper writer/publisher, and then politician.

Clemenceau at Age 24 in 1865.

Clemenceau is recognized as a great orator and leader of men by no less than Winston Churchill.

Clemenceau becomes prime minister of France during WWI.

Clemenceau cheers French resistance to the German assault of France. At defeat of Germany, Clemenceau presses for German reparations, including return of the Alsace-Lorraine region of France. He insists on full compensation for German destruction from WWI.

King offers a Eurocentric view of WWI. France is not a great fan of America’s reluctance to join the war when France is pummeled by Germany. Though Clemenceau appreciates the ideal of Wilson’s 14-point plan, he objects to the League of Nations and insists on German reparations that set the table for WWII.

Monet is also not a great admirer of America. He considers American buyers of his art as profligate and ignorant of fine art and their value. King notes both Clemenceau and Monet admire Japanese artists and collect many of their works. Many of Monet’s paintings are sold to Japanese buyers.

Clemenceau and Monet are close friends until death. Monet is the first to go but Clemenceau is ill and soon to die. Both were of a similar age. Both were hard working Frenchmen in their respective professions. Monet’s art is sold or bartered during his life to private and public museums. Many of Monet’s works are donated to the French government at his death. A government financed museum is created for an exclusive exhibit of Monet’s paintings.

Mussee Marmottan in Paris

King notes Monet loses much of his eyesight in later years, but he perseveres with the help of eye surgery that returns some vision to one eye. Clemenceau plays a large part in convincing Monet to donate his art to France. As both are approaching death, Monet’s penchant for procrastination nearly fractures their close relationship. Part of the fracturing is related to the government’s problems with creating a museum that would meet Monet’s requirements. Some of his canvases were huge and Monet wished to have them displayed in an oval shaped museum. Additionally, King notes Monet is often dissatisfied with a painting and would destroy it and start over. Monet is also noted to dawdle when nearing a paintings completion by leaving a detail that is planned but never executed. King explains Monet’s work ethic is phenomenal. He wakes at dawn and works through the night until his energy is spent.

Clemenceau is a significant character in King’s biography of Monet. In some respects, the two men are alike. They are both relentlessly energetic in their respective professions. Though Clemenceau is a doctor, his passion is in publishing and politics. He travels the world. Monet restricts his travel to France, mostly between Paris and Giverny but with a passion for work equal to Clemenceau’s. Monet’s passion is for impressionist renderings of the natural world.

As Monet’s vision deteriorates, later work reimagines impressionism based on failing vision–but more poignantly, it seems Monet’s later paintings reflect on the trials of a long life.

Water Lillies 1919 at The Met Fifth Avenue in New York.

King suggests looking at one of Monet’s water lilies paintings long enough gives one’s imagination free reign to see something more than a pond. Some see figures of women, others–spirits of the dead. A lily pond seems as much a tribute to life as to decay.

Rose Trellises in Giverny 1922

In King’s epilogue, Monet is glorified in a review and contrast of early and late impressionist paintings. King reminds listeners of Monet’s initial vilification by the art world, his resurrection, demise, and reification in modern times. What Monet could see with younger eyes, before cataracts obscured his vision, King recognizes as a new era of art. King offers tribute to two great men, Clemenceau’s political renown which revels in his time and Monet’s art celebrated for all time.

KISSINGER

Ferguson’s book is an excellent biography of an American WWII veteran, a hero, an intellectual giant, and a flawed human being. Ferguson shows Henry Kissinger certainly is the first three, but also a flawed human being-just like the rest of us.

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Kissinger: Volume I: 1923-1968: The Idealist

By: Niall Ferguson

Narrated by: Malcolm Hillgartner

Niall Ferguson (Author, Scottish American historian, former professor at Harvard University, London School of Economics, and New York University.)

It is a tribute to Kissinger’s intelligence to have chosen Ferguson as his biographer. However, in some ways Ferguson’s story reminds one of Shakespeare’s characterizations of Marc Anthony’s speech at the burial of Caesar. “I came to bury Caesar, not to praise him”.

“Kissinger: Volume I” is as objective as seems possible for the biography of an important man of history. It is written by an historian of erudition and intellect.

Niall Ferguson’s biography begins with Volume I that covers Henry Kissinger’s life from 1923 to 1968.

Ferguson’s erudite assessment of Kissinger seems so comprehensive that little is left to be known for a second volume.

One’s view of Kissinger will be changed by this detailed biography. Many who lived through the 60s and the Vietnam war think of Kissinger as a primary influence in Nixon’s withdrawal from war and America’s belated welcome of communist China.

Ferguson reinforces belief in Kissinger’s influence but implies Nixon is the prime mover. Nixon directs the end of the American war in Vietnam and opens communist China to the world of diplomacy and trade.

Kissinger is revealed as a brilliant teenage boy who lives in and experiences the beginnings of WWII in Germany. Along with his immediate family, he escapes Nazi Germany before the holocaust. When he returns as a soldier in the U.S. Army, he bares the consequence of relatives lost in his home country.

HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL IN BERLIN

Ferguson shows Kissinger to be a good soldier. He is promoted to staff sergeant and awarded a medal for his work in exposing Nazi sympathizers in post-war Germany. Many believe Kissinger’s recommendations as adviser to American politicians is Machiavellian in the sense that fear is the best form of diplomatic control of adversaries. Ferguson suggests that labeling is a mischaracterization of Kissinger’s view of diplomacy.

Ferguson infers Kissinger’s experience in Germany were formative in respect to what is characterized as an idealized view of power in the politics of diplomacy. That experience is reinforced by Kissinger’s research and education at Harvard, after the war.

Ferguson explains Kissinger is an idealist. Like the founding fathers envision the structure of American government, Kissinger focuses on balance of power. Kissinger advises American leaders to adopt international policies based on balance of power among adversaries.

Ferguson’s evidence is Kissinger’s doctoral thesis on the history of Metternich and the Austro-Hungarian empire in the mid-19th century. In Kissinger’s thesis, he explains Metternich withstood Russian and Ottoman incursions by using censorship, a spy network, and armed suppression against rebellion to maintain a balance of power between opposing forces interested in dismantling the Austrian empire. When Bonapart and Russia covet the Austrian empire, Metternich influences Napoleon to marry Austrian archduchess Marie Louise rather than the sister of the Russian Tsar. Ferguson explains the approach Kissinger uses in nation-state diplomacy is Metternich’s balance of power idea, not Machiavellian fear.

Kissinger, like Metternich, looks at balancing power among vying nations to achieve stability within one’s own state.

However, Ferguson infers there is a flaw in Kissinger’s reliance on balance of power diplomacy. America’s support of Pol Pot makes some sense in respect to Kissinger’s “balance of power” argument, but its cost exceeds its value. Cambodia fell to communism whether either warring party would prevail. America’s support of Pol Pot did not stabilize or improve America’s position in Vietnam.

Some might characterize America’s support of Pol Pot is Machiavellian. However, another way of looking at it is America’s support balanced two warring factions (the Vietnamese army and the Khmer Rouge who are both opposed to American hegemonic influence) to maintain America’s national stability. If anything, it increased American instability by inflaming anti-war demonstrations in the U.S.; not to mention the horrific human consequence of Pol Pot’s directed murder of 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians. Pol Pot is never tried or executed for these crimes against humanity.

A memorial is filled with the skulls of men, women, and children murdered by Pol Pot in the Cambodian “killing fields”.

What Ferguson makes clear is Kissinger focuses on the ideal of “balance of power” when recommending actionable political policy to American leaders. Kissinger focuses on stability, not equity or fairness when recommending American political policy. Cambodian massacre of its own citizens shows the weakness of Kissinger’s idealization.

Where “balance of power” becomes even more difficult as a diplomatic tool is in a nuclear age where annihilation of a nation becomes a zero-sum game. There is no balance of power. There is only mutual destruction and end times.

Ferguson shows Kissinger believes there is a place for limited nuclear bombing in war. Ferguson infers Kissinger agrees with those who believe nuclear weapons can be used as a strategic weapon. Kissinger believes diplomacy based on “balance of power” can ameliorate Armageddon. It seems a faith-based conclusion from a diplomat who is driven by intellect, not emotion. The problem is political leadership is often driven by emotion, not intellect.

Is Putin driven by emotion or intellect? Western support of Ukraine is a test that will answer the question.

Human emotion makes the idea of “balance of power” in a nuclear age chimerical and useless.

Ferguson shows, like all great leaders in history, there is education, experience, and often a mentor that influence one’s intellect. Education and experience are clearly evident in Ferguson’s story of Kissinger’s life. Ferguson reveals two influential people, one clearly identified as a mentor: the other as a great influencer.

Kissinger’s early mentor is Fritz Kramer whom he met when serving in the U.S. Army (Kramer is pictured below in a conference with President Nixon). Ferguson explains, Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York, former V.P. of the U.S., and candidate for President becomes a great influence in Kissinger’s life. Rockefeller’s influence is personal as well as professional.

Kissinger promotes the idea of limited nuclear war as a tool for balance of power. This is an argument inferred by Putin in Ukraine’s invasion. To some Americans, and to Ferguson, that seems a slippery slope.

Ferguson’s book is an excellent biography of an American WWII veteran, a hero, an intellectual giant, and a flawed human being. Ferguson shows Henry Kissinger certainly is the first three, but also a flawed human being-just like the rest of us.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Yarbrough (Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Southeast Asia 2023, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam

Written by Chet Yarbrough

Over Christmas 2022 and New Year’s 2023, America’s storied history in Southeast Asia is vivified in a 20-day trip to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

THAILAND BOAT TRIP

Chaopraya River in Bankok

Visting the Thompson house in Thailand is quite a treat. The mystery of Thompson’s disappearance remains unsolved but the tour through his custom home, built from sections of different houses, is a remarkable display of architectural ingenuity. As an architect, Thompson designed a unique house with tapered doors to each room. Every room is protected from evil spirits by traditional high wood partitions at the bottom of each entry door.

The mystery surrounding Thompson has to do with his background as a former CIA agent. Some suggest CIA association might have something to do with his disappearance. Others suggest he was kidnapped for ransom. Still others suggest he just got lost and was eaten by the jungle. His real story is about the beginning of the silk trade for which he became well known. In any case, his home is a monument to East Asian art and a fitting end to a well-lived life.

Recalling America’s war in Vietnam, one becomes reacquainted with America’s carpet bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trails. The trails extend through Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Hearing of mid-20th century and Asia’s ancient history of Hinduism and Buddhism, some Southeastern Asia’ travelers will leave with a sense of guilt, shame, or sadness.

HO CHI MINH TRAIL

Feeling guilt comes from hubris in believing American Democracy is desired by all people of the world.

Shame is in the reality of continued loss of lives from America’s undetonated cluster bombs in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnamese farm fields.

Sadness comes from the many Asian believers in non-violent Hindu’ and Buddhist’ teaching that are diminished by war.

The atrocity of war in Cambodia spits in the face of humanity. The Khmer Rouge gather together to enforce Pol Pot’s demented idea of forcing farmers to join communal farms under one leader’s bureaucratic control. Such an idea was tried and shown to be a failure by Mao in China. America supports Pol Pot’s genocidal attack on citizens who resisted Pol Pot’s forced indenture and relocation. 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians were murdered.

The Nixon/Kissinger administration supports Pol Pot in part because of their belief in the domino theory of communism (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand would become communist if one became communist).

The irony of America’s support of Pol Pot is that Vietnam’s communist army, not America, liberates Cambodia from Pol Pot’s atrocity.

The Nixon/Kissinger policy of Pol Pot support is compounded by America’s decision to carpet bomb the southern route of the Ho Chi Minh trail. America’s hope is to interrupt the communist takeover of Vietnam. Of course, this is taken out of the context of a sincere belief in the domino theory of one country falling to communism leading to more countries falling to the same fate.

To some Americans, the support of Pol Pot is justified because communism did gain some level of control of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. What seems clear is the southern part of Vietnam, and all of Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand have endorsed a form of communism. However, all four countries show a level of economic competition and prosperity that suggests capitalist influence exists in every sector of the economy.

No communist party in these four countries appear in complete control. All four governments seem more like a work in progress than an inevitable probability of either communism or democracy. Corruption is alleged in all four countries we visited but that is a refrain one hears in every form of government, including America.

A level of discontent is exhibited by a young college graduate in Thailand. He explains his ambition to become less controlled by government, with freedom of speech, and a right to pursue an independent career. Student protest is rising in Thailand.

In Laos, our local guide (ironically named Lao) explains how he chose to walk 13 miles to school every day to become the first formally educated person in his family. Lao belongs to a Hmong minority in Laos.

The Hmong were recruited by the CIA during America’s Vietnam war. A few of the fighters were evacuated to American after the war, but many were left to fend for themselves. Laos is the least developed of the four countries visited on this trip. However, some small villages seem to have done well for their residents.

Our local guide suggests there is a threat to this rural life. An elevated train system has been built by China that crosses the river near this local community. China approached local residents with a proposal to relocate their village. China wishes to build a casino on their land for the entertainment of Chinese tourists.

Elevated rail from China to Cambodia

On one of several village visits in Laos, we visit local artisans plying their trade.

Later, visiting the Cambodian “killing fields” one recognizes the atrocity citizens lived through. No thoughtful Cambodian would want to return to a Pol Pot authoritarian government. Cambodia’s monument to Pol Pot’s atrocity is a reminder of his misanthropic idea of an agricultural utopia.

The first two pictures are of a vertical tower filled with the skulls of the “killing field”, victims from Pol Pot’s reign of terror.

Southeast Asia is undoubtedly influenced by communism. However, resistance to authoritarianism is apparent in every nation we toured. What is striking in all four countries is the continued investment in ancient Hindu and new Buddhist temples. An equally surprising realization is that the younger generation places much less faith in these dominant religions than seems warranted by the investment.

In a dinner in Thailand with the son of our guide, the son explains he is 50/50 on belief in Buddhism. The inference one draws is that the value of investment in Hindu’ and Buddhist’ temples is for its tourism value more than belief in religious doctrine. On the other hand, one cannot discount a fundamental belief in these religions that have a “let be” attitude about life that offers a level of social stability beyond any government influence on life.

There is a sense of uneasiness in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia in regard to Vietnam encroachment. Vietnam seems the “big dog” in the kennel. Though our local guide in Vietnam believes there is no chance of war, there seems fear of invasion or dominance by a stronger, more experienced military in Vietnam than in the other peninsula countries we visited. However, the greater concern in all four countries seems to be the potential for domination by China. Though relations appear quiescent at the moment, the authoritarian character of China’s current leadership seems worthy of some concern. In Vietnam, our local guide, who is 30 years of age, explains neither he nor the older Vietnamese generation wish any war in Southeast Asia but express guarded concern about China’s intention.

The following pictures are of the seat of power in Ho Chi Minh city (formerly Saigon) Vietnam during the American war. It is now a museum showing the government offices and a bunker in the event of an attack.

All our guides in Southeast Asia were excellent. Our primary guide, Lucky, practiced for a short time as a novice monk. As a part of the tour, we were able to ask questions of a monk that exemplifies the resilience and strength of Buddhism and its teaching. Questions were answered with grace and intelligence that reinforce one’s un-schooled understanding of Buddhism and its place in world religions.

MONUMENTS TO THE HINDU AND BUDDHIST RELIGION THROUGHOUT SOUTHEAST ASIA.

And, of course, no one can leave Cambodia without a visit to Angkor Wat the largest religious monument in the world, built in the 12th century.

Many personal conversations with Lucky, our primary guide, gave insight to the strength of Buddhism and a way of life that eschews conflict and promotes peace. Lucky believes in the traditions of his Thailand upbringing with acceptance of things as they are with the hope that the traditions of his country will continue.

In a sense, Lucky is a royalist who believes in the importance of the blood line of royalty as a moral compass for the country. The many experiences we had on this brief trip suggest Lucky’s hope for a limited monarchy is possible but with reservation. History never repeats itself in the same way.

SYRIA’S FAMILY BUSINESS

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

No Turning Back (Life, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria)

By: Rania Abouzeid

Narrated by: Susan Nezami

Rania Abouzeid (Author, Lebanese Australian journalist based in Beirut.)

“No Turning Back” is a “just the facts” reveal of the Syrian civil war that began in 2011 and still simmers in 2022.

General Hafez al-Assad, (seated to the right), the father of Bashar, created a military dictatorship which became a totalitarian police state run by the Asad family business.

Rania Abouzeid interviews many sides of the war which seems to imply the Syrian civil war is not over. The president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, remains. The Assad family business has ruled Syria since 1971.

Abouzeid’s picture of the Syrian civil war infers authoritarianism is the only way for Syria to survive as an independent nation. This sticks in the throat of democracies’ idealists. Checks and balances in America imperfectly regulate the excesses of capitalist enterprise. There seems nothing in Syria’s autocracy that even tries to moderate government leader’s self-interest.

Abouzeid shows disparate religious beliefs and ethnic diversity make Syrian democracy highly improbable. Factional leaders during the Syrian civil war demonstrate it is only “their way or the highway”. Without government checks and balances, today’s Syria is only manageable as an autocracy. Sadly, one family and a religious minority choose to victimize Syrian citizens who are not part of the “in” group. Abouzeid infers that is the proximate cause of the 2011 revolution.

The western world seems incapable of understanding that democracy is not a universal need or desire of all nations.

There are differences that cannot be resolved by votes of constituents in an environment that has few of the hard-won tools of democracy. That is particularly true in non-secular countries with strong religious beliefs. The slaughter of innocents and torture of prisoners noted by Abouzeid during Syria’s civil war is appalling.

Bashar al-Assad or some demented faction in war-torn Syria choose to use poison gas to murder Syrian men, women, and children.

Abouzeid’s stories rend one’s heart. The worst parts of human nature are unleashed to torture and mutilate many who only desire peace and fair treatment. This is an unforgivable tragedy compounded by President Obama’s empty “red line” speech that further alienated Syrian people from the ideal of democracy.

What is often missed in reports of Syrian atrocity is the leaders who led factions in Syria.

Some factions plan to erase Syria from the map and create a religious state to replace the Assad family business with their view of the Islamic religion. This is not to say suppression is not an Assad tool to benefit the Alawite sect of Shia Islam, but that outside Islamic zealots want to install their own form of authoritarianism.

The Syrian government manages to draw on foreign powers (particularly Putin’s Russia) to help strengthen the Assad family’s autocratic control. Though Abouzeid does not address Russia’s assistance, one doubts Assad would have survived.

What Abouzeid reveals with her facts is that one autocracy could have been replaced by another. The question becomes would Syrian citizens be better or worse off under a different autocracy?

Obama’s “red line” is an empty promise that may have been made in good faith but is viewed by Syrians as a betrayal. In one sense, Obama is right in not having America become directly involved in Syria’s civil war. America has made too many mistakes in recent history to warrant invasion in another country’s sovereign independence.

Abouzeid suggests Russia acts as a more reliable friend to the Syrian people than America. In view of the factional nature of Syria’s population, Abouzeid has a point. Syria, and all nation states are on their own in working out what their citizens feel is right. The inference one draws from Abouzeid’s facts is that in Syria’s stage of social development, democracy will not work. Democracy is a choice, not an inevitability. The success of a democracy depends upon the will of the general population to accept diversity as a strength, not a weakness.

The Assad family and the Alawite sect remain autocratic rulers of Syria. The best one can hope is that Assad’s autocracy will more equitably treat all Syrian citizens, whether they are a part of the family business or not. If Assad has not learned that lesson, civil war will return with greater force, and possibly a more repressive autocracy.

RISE OF TYRANTS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Tyrant

By: Stephen Greenblatt

Narrated by: Edoardo Ballerini

Stephen Jay Greenblatt (Writer, Harvard University Professor.).

Shakespeare’s plays expose the perfidy of tyrants that reminds one of Vladmir Putin’s actions in 2022.  Greenblatt notes Shakespeare explains tyrants rise when governments show weakness at their center. One can conclude the economic collapse of the U.S.S.R. is the proximate cause of Putin’s ascension.

Stephen Greenblatt offers a clever summary of tyrants in Shakespeare’s plays. Greenblatt’s book is published in 2018.  

Shakespeare’s tyrants are destined to fail in a variety of ways. One must remember that Shakespeare’s plays are not history but have elements of history in their story. Dramatic affect and a livable wage are what motivate Shakespeare to write for the theatre.

Prescient insight to the nature of human beings is what makes Shakespeare a seer whose prose and plays survive centuries of analysis and earned adulation.

King Richard III is a martinet who barks orders for little reason other than to exercise power. He acts with the arrogance of a narcissist. He murders brothers, nephews, and subordinates who get in his way or refuse to obey his orders. He expects loyalty first, with any opposition viewed as disloyalty.

King Richard cares nothing for rules or human life. His followers are sycophants at best and enablers at least. King Richard III murders brothers and confidents to secure the throne.

He marries for lust and control, murders King Henry VI, marries the assassinated King’s widow, and dies in an ignominious battle. Having killed everyone near him, he grows paranoid of those around him. That paranoia cripples his effectiveness as a sovereign. He may have lost his crown in battle, but his murder of followers and managerial incompetence destine him for failure.

Russian Kleptocrats

Greenblatt recounts the many tyrants exposed in Shakespeare’s plays but none, other than Richard III, seem comparable to Putin. Putin gathered support of kleptocratic sycophants that are beginning to recognize their wealth and success is threatened by Putin’s foolish attempt to re-annex Ukraine.

Like Shakespeare’s Richard III, Putin is alienating followers and murdering or imprisoning competitors who challenge his leadership.

Greenblatt summarizes events of Shakespeare’s plays to show how tyrants are editors of their own defeat. One hopes there is enough Russian resistance to forestall a nuclear war caused by a tyrant who cares nothing for human life, other than his own.

WARS SURVIVORS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

At Night All Blood Is Black

By: David Diop, translated by Anna Moschovakis

   Narrated by: Dion Graham

David Diop (Novelist, born in Paris to a French mother and Senegalese father, Graduate of the Sorbonne in Paris, winner of the International Booker Prize.)

“At Night All Blood Is Black” is a powerful anti-war story. Though it is about WWI, it is a reminder of the long- and short-term consequence of the horror of killing. In the beginning, the sonorous voice of the narrator, Dion Graham, seems wrong for the story. One may be tempted to put it aside. By the end of the story, a listener understands why Graham’s telling is perfect for the piece.

“At Night All Blood Is Black” is particularly relevant to today’s war in Ukraine.

Though the setting of “At Night All Blood Is Black” is in Senegal, a former colony of France, it has universal application. In one sense it is a condemnation of colonization but in a more universal sense it is about war’s survivors. Its immediate relevance is in the Russia/Ukraine war and the atrocities revealed in the news.

Of course, western media shows the murder and mutilation of Ukrainians because Vladimir Putin is the unquestioned instigator of the war. However, one can be sure there are atrocities on both sides, as Americans know from the Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam.

Diop’s story is about one man’s role in the war. He is a Senegalese recruit that speaks no French. He enlists and is ordered by a French commander to kill Germans. This recruit develops a blood lust that revels in hand-to-hand combat. He loses his best friend early in his combat experience.

Ukrainian Atrocity

His childhood friend is eviscerated by a machete or a shot from a gun. He is alive but his guts are strewn on the ground. As he tries to return his guts to his abdomen, he begs the recruit to kill him because he knows he cannot survive. The recruit cannot do it. His friend finally dies, and the recruit blames himself for not having the courage to end his friend’s misery. This event triggers bloodlust in the recruit.

The Violence of Hand-to-Hand Combat in Ukraine

The recruit is already notorious for cutting off the hand of a German he has killed and bringing it back to the camp. After his friend’s death, he begins to collect more hands from Germans he kills. His commanding officer becomes aware of the recruit’s behavior. The men in the troop become fearful of the recruit. The recruit is ordered to leave the field of battle and to turn over the six hands of German soldiers that he has collected.

The recruit says he has lost the hands when in fact he has preserved them in a salt mixture and hidden them in his personal gear. The recruit reasons that the commander will court martial him if he finds the hands. That may or may not be true, but the preserved hands have some undisclosed psychological meaning to the recruit.

War’s emotional abuse.

The recruit is sent to a psychiatric hospital. He is treated for stress and his aberrant behavior by a French psychiatrist. The recruit cannot speak French, but the psychiatrist asks him to draw pictures for him to gain some insight to the recruit’s state of mind. The drawings seem to help the recruit recover. He secretly buries the six hands he has been carrying around with him. However, it is implied that the buried hand expedition is seen and noted by the psychiatrist. In the process of his hospitalization, a backstory is given of the recruit’s life before the war.

War changes people in different ways. Those in direct, particularly hand-to-hand combat, may never return to social normality. The recruit is characterized as a handsome, muscular young man who attracts beautiful women. One of the women is the daughter of his psychiatrist. The meaning of the story lies in the fate of the daughter.

The brutality of war never leaves its participants. It likely never leaves war’s survivors, but Diop’s story suggests participants in brutality carry an even bigger burden. One wonders what consequence there will be for soldiers and survivors of the Russia/Ukrainian war.

EMPIRES

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Vanquished

By: Robert Gerwarth

Narrated by: Michael Page

Robert Gerwarth (German Author, historian, specializing in European history, graduate of University of Oxford.)

At times, a reader/listener becomes jaded by books written about war. However, Robert Gerwarth’s “…Vanquished” is a timely review of the origin of war, particularly with Vladmir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Vladmir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Gerwarth implies all wars come from unravelling empires. He argues post 20th century wars are a result of the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, Japanese, French, Romanov (Russian), and British empires demise. Gerwath explains future generations of fighters from these former empires live on. Many continue to bare grudges for their lost existence as part of an empire. This reminds one of Vladimir Putin’s life as a KGB agent in the former U.S.S.R.

Gerwarth implies all wars come from unravelling of empires.

Gerwarth explains in detail the wandering fighters of dismantled empires who do not accept their defeat. They raid, rape, and pillage countries (often as mercenaries) that were part of their former empire. Of course, there are other circumstances that motivate these fighters, but loss of empire demeans and unmoors identity which energizes anger, motivates reprisal, and initiates atrocity.

Few historians disagree about the unfair reparations demanded from Germany after WWI. That unreasonableness weakens the post war German government which is soon overrun by Nazis; ironically, not led by a German citizen, but by an Austro-Hungarian citizen named Adolph Hitler. Hitler is a former fighter for the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Hitler’s extraordinary ability to martial rage with his rabid antisemitism rallies German extremists to believe Germany can establish a new European empire.

Hitler’s success is largely made possible by a weak German government and Germany’s war-ravaged poverty, exacerbated by worldwide depression.

Vladimier Putin is not Hitler. However, Putin’s view of the world is that of a former KGB agent of the U.S.S.R.

Putin is a fighter for an empire that lives in his heart and mind but not in reality. One might conclude from Gerwarth’s view of history that Putin will fail in his effort to make Ukraine a part of Russia.

British Empire–Empires are passe in the 21st century. Colonization is the history of the past.

None of the 20th century empires have been resurrected, and like Thomas Wolfe’s novel, “You Can’t Go Home Again”, only force of arms can hold empires together. Empires are too big and culturally diverse to remain one entity.

Though Gerwarth does not address China, it seems China’s effort to gain control of outlying China interests is limited to government will and martial suppression.

Uighur Re-education camp in China.

The suppression of Uighurs is a first step to concentration camps.

It seems cultural difference and interests between Xi’s followers, and Uighurs, Tibetans, Hong Kong residents, and Taiwanese will require suppression to make them part of the supersized Chinese nation-state. It is likely that future generations of fighters will resist China’s enforcement if it pursues its present course.

Map of the United States of America with state names.

Gerwarth offers an interesting historical perspective; supported by a lot of detail. It would seem the only hope for peaceful empires is through federalism. There needs to be an acknowledgement of cultural difference, with access to equality of treatment and opportunity for all citizens, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. Of course, that is what America has tried, and only partly achieved, among States. It would seem a greater task for empire, or within large multi-ethnic nation-states like China.

RAVENSBRüCK RABBITS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Lilac Girls

By: Martha Hall Kelly

Narrated by: Cassandra Campbell, Kathleen Gati, Kathrin Kana, Martha Hall Kelly

Author

“Lilac Girls” is a long historical novel. Some may be tempted to quit but may be drawn back by its message to the future. It is a reminder of WWII. It is a warning to our present and future. Martha Hall Kelly’s extensive research on the Ravensbrück concentration camp offers relevance to Uighur re-education camps, Taliban repression, Russian/Ukraine atrocities, and the consequence of human isolation and incarceration.

Kelly’s book is about Ravensbrück rabbits, young women experimented on by Germany’s Nazi leaders.

The Ravensbrück concentration camp evolves into a chamber of horrors. It is managed by Nazi physicians and followers who purposely create damaged human bodies to test drugs and medical treatment for war wounds. A number of healthy young women have their bodies mutilated to test the efficacy of drugs and surgery to repair damaged limbs. They become known as the Ravensbrück rabbits

Ravensbrück is in northern Germany. The concentration camp was created exclusively for women. At its peak it housed 132,000 women, of which an estimated 48,500 were Poles, 28,000 Russians, 24,000 Germans, 8,000 French and a few other nationalities. Their incarceration is for reasons ranging from resistance to Nazi governance to disbelief in the false notion of race purity.

Kelly contrasts New York’ socialite living in the 1930s through the 1950s with European and war veteran survival. The author begins her story with the rise of Hitler, and Germany’s invasion of Poland, France, and Russia. As the German invasion of Russia portends defeat of Germany, Kelly unravels the atrocity of the Ravensbrück concentration camp, the ignominious defeat of France, the unjust western and Russian split of Poland after the war, the subjugation of Poland to Russia, and the rise of the U.S.S.R.

The unjust western and Russian split of Poland after the war.

It is the intimacies of living that give Kelly’s book weight. For the romantic, there is some romance. For the historian, there are the revelations of Ravensbrück, for the futurist, there is the warning of the risks of human isolation and confinement based on race, religion, or ethnicity.

Uighur re-education camp in China.

Many countries, including the United States, have made the mistake of isolating and confining human beings based on race, religion, or ethnicity. This is the first step that may lead to Ravensbrück’ atrocity.

Kelly shows there is no redemption, either for victims or perpetrators. At the end of her novel, what happened to the primary victims of Ravensbrück stays with those who survived. The primary victim loses her mother in the camp. Her life after the war leaves her crippled emotionally and physically because she was one of the Ravensbrück rabbits.

TO GO WITH AFP STORY – Photographs of prisoners murdered at the Ravensbrueck concentration camp for women line a wall in the “Place of Names” memorial at the camp in Fuerstenberg February 24, 2009. The “Sex Slavery in Nazi Concentration Camps” exhibition which opened at the Ravensbrueck concentration camp memorial, sheds light on the fate of women prisoners, many of which came from the Ravensbrueck camp, forced to provide sex to inmates in other concentration camps. AFP PHOTO JOHN MACDOUGALL (Photo credit should read JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP via Getty Images)

Herta Oberheuser (1911-1978, died at age 66, physician at Ravensbruck concentration camp.)

As Germany nears defeat, the doctor who manages surgery tries to murder the women who were mutilated because they are witnesses to Ravensbrück atrocities.

She is convicted at Nuremberg. She serves 5 years of a 20-year sentence. Her ambition seduced her into atrocity at Ravensbrück. Her wish to be a surgeon, when there are few women surgeons in Germany, outweighed the guilt of her actions. After serving her sentence in prison, she starts a medical practice. She is tracked down by a primary victim of her surgical mutilation. Kelly writes about the rise and fall of Herta Oberheuser. With her exposure by a victim of Oberheuser’s surgical work at Ravensbrück, her medical license is revoked. Ms. Oberheuser dies in obscurity.

There is no redemption for atrocity. All human beings in the Russia/Ukrainian war, as well as the rest of the world, need to remember the lessons of WWII.

BEING BRILLIANT

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A personal History of Our Times

By: Howard Zinn

Narrated by: David Strathairn

Howard Zinn (1922-2010, died at age 87, Author, Historian, Pacifist.)

Howard Zinn’s personal biography suggests being brilliant does not mean being good. Zinn is a controversial historian who grew up during the depression. He became a famous anti-war activist during Vietnam and wrote a controversial book about American history.

Zinn characterizes his family as poor with a father and mother who were factory workers with little formal education. He tells of his early life and how it influenced his political and social beliefs. He joins the Army Air Force during WWII and becomes a bombardier. That experience reifies Zinn’s early anti-war beliefs that become a consuming passion during Vietnam.

In some ways, Zinn’s enlistment in the Air Force seems a contradiction but the fascist nature of Nazi Germany, subsequent realization of the holocaust, and his Jewish heritage undoubtedly influence his decision to join the military.

Zinn’s role in bombing civilians creates an ambivalence about WWII; particularly when the atom bomb is dropped on Japan.

“You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train” is a codification of Zinn’s ambivalence. Zinn suggests there is no “Good War” (as WWII is sometimes characterized) because bombing of civilians, even in a war against fascism, is a step too far.

One wonders what Zinn would write about the Russia-Ukrainian war?

Howard Zinn’s fundamental objection to WWII is American bombing of innocent citizens of Germany and Japan. Now, it is the indiscriminate bombing of innocent citizens by Russia in Ukraine.

America did not militarily enter WWII when Poland was invaded. Similarly. America has not militarily entered the Russia-Ukraine war. However, in both circumstances America financially invested in a western alliance against war. Eventually that financial investment turned into American military participation. One wonders how Zinn would view America’s financial investment in the Russian-Ukrainian war. Is our investment a prelude to military intervention?

Returning to the biography, the nuclear attack on Japan is considered barbaric and unjustified by Zinn.

Some, like President Truman reason the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings avoided loss of thousands of Americans and Japanese that would have been killed in an invasion of Japan.

A question is whether those thousands are different than the thousands killed immediately and later from radioactive fallout? To some Americans, the answer is yes because none of the added deaths would have been American. Presumably, Zinn would say using an atomic bomb is a step too far.

Zinn survives WWII and uses the GI Bill to get a college education. He becomes a professor at Spelman College, a Black women’s college in Atlanta, Georgia.

Roslyn Zinn (1922-2008, Artist, Activist, Social Worker, Teacher)

Howard Zinn and his wife live in a low-income, largely Black neighborhood.

The Zinn’s become political activists for equal rights. In the 50s and early 60s, the Zinn’s become acquainted with SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and civil rights activism in the South.

Later, Zinn tells the story of his life as a professor at Boston University. He becomes a tenured professor, having written some novels and a controversial academic book about American history.

In his life at the University, Zinn continues political activism against the war in Vietnam. This is in the 70s. Nixon is bombing North Vietnam and Cambodia in an effort to get Ho Chi Minh to the table for a negotiated peace. Daniel Ellsberg becomes one of Zinn’s acquaintances. Zinn also becomes friends with Reverend Daniel Berrigan and his brother who become jailed activists because of the Vietnam war.

Daniel Ellsberg (analyst who became famous for Pentagon Papers disclosure about American government lies about Vietnam. Shown here at age 91.)

Daniel Joseph Berrigan SJ (May 9, 1921 – April 30, 2016) on the left–an American Jesuit priest, opposed the Vietnam war, (1923-1979 his brother Phillip equally opposed the war.)

A theme of Zinn’s anti-war story is reflected in his experience at Boston University in conflicts with the President of the University. Zinn’s reputation with students is characterized as a highly popular. That popularity and his political activity put him in direct conflict with the President of the University.

John Silber is the seventh President of Boston University. He is from Texas but earned a PhD in philosophy from Yale University. Though Zinn does not mention this, Boston University is having financial problems at the time of Silber’s hiring. Zinn’s story is that Silber is overpaid for his work and disliked by several professors and their staffs.

Zinn characterizes Silber as a misogynist who denies tenure to women professors. A female professor takes Silber to court over denial of tenure. She wins her case, and the Judge requires Silber to give her tenure. The judge fines the University and orders a $200,000 settlement for Silber’s unfair treatment. (Despite Zinn’s proof of Silber’s misogyny, a brief review of Silber’s Boston University’ history suggests the faculty and financial picture of the school substantially improved under Silber’s management.)

The fundamental point made by Zinn is that history is filled with brilliant political, military, and academic leaders but they, like all of us, are flawed human beings.

Misogyny, inequality, and war are unforgivable human tragedies to Zinn and most rational human beings. It seems the smart ones are the greatest perpetrators of these tragedies.

Brilliance takes many forms. No leader of any country is dim witted. Each has their own kind of brilliance, or they would not be leaders.

PUTIN’S IRRESPONSIBILITY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Hiroshima

By: John Hersey

Narrated by: George Guidall

John Hersey (1914-1993, Author and journalist, won a Pulitzer for–“A Bell for Adano”.)

John Hersey is the son of American Protestant missionaries who was born in China.

Hersey is considered one of the first journalists to use a “storytelling” style for news reports. His most well-known news story is published in a 1946 “New Yorker” article, later published and expanded as “Hiroshima“, a book about the consequence of the first nuclear bomb blast of WWII.

“Hiroshima” is printed by Alfred A. Knopf and has never been out of print. Hersey reports an estimated 100,000 were killed by the bomb. His book tells the story of the long-term impact of nuclear fall-out on six Japanese survivors of the June 6, 1945’ blast. (Today, the estimate of those who died from the bomb’s long-term impact is 140,000 to 350,000.)

One hopes 9/11/22 #rumors of former Russian supporters of Putin’s Ukraine/Russian War are asking him to resign. Putin’s decision to reinstitute the draft may be a turning point in the Ukrainian war based on his Czarist behavior.

In looking back at Russia’s 1917 revolution, it is discontent of the military and resistance to participation in WWI that aided Lenin’s overthrow of Czar Nicholas. Putin may be repeating that history. Many kleptocratic leaders of his administration are in the same spot as wealthy landowners of the Czarist era.

It seems appropriate to review “Hiroshima” today because of the Russian/Ukrainian war, and Vladmir Putin’s un-wise threat to use a nuclear bomb as a strategic weapon of war.

At least three of the six survivors in Hersey’s story are searching for solace by turning to belief in a Christian God. One presumes, these survivors were chosen by Hersey because of his life as a son of missionaries. As you listen to the six personal stories of Hersey’s choice, one wonders how non-believers cope with the aftermath of the bomb.

Hersey’s report of six survivors tells of broken bones, burned flesh, scarring, chronic fatigue, social isolation, and concomitant unemployment because of symptoms of these six survivors.

THESE ARE THE SIX SUBJECTS CHOSEN BY JOHN HERSEY FOR HIS STORY.

Left to Right–Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto (3,500 yards from explosion, Methodist), Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura (1,350 yards from explosion, Widow of a tailor with 3 children), Dr. Masakazu Fujioio (1,550 yards from explosion center, a live in the moment hedonist), Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge aka Makoto Takakura (1,400 yards from explosion, a German priest of the Society of Jesus), Dr. Terufumi Sasaki (1,650 yards from explosion, young surgeon at Red Cross Hosp.) and Miss Toshiko Sasaki (1,600 yards from explosion.)

Hersey notes some women who are pregnant when the bomb bursts have children who suffer from the consequence, even though not yet born. He tells of a formally successful physician who must start over again to establish his practice. He has little money and no credit but needs to have a place to treat patients for income. He must work from his home which is only rented because he cannot afford to buy.

Regardless of one’s religious belief, Hersey shows how six victims cope with the debilitating effects of a nuclear blast.

Hersey writes of a woman who is too fatigued to work at a regular job and decides to use her sewing machine to work at a pace her health will allow. She finds she cannot make enough money to house and feed herself. She sells the sewing machine and finds part time work collecting subscription payments for a newspaper that pays her fifty cents per day.

Hersey writes of recurring scars that occur from the flash and burn of the nuclear bomb explosion. The disfigurement requires plastic surgery.

Without money needed for cosmetic surgery, the young are reliant on financial gifts from others. Some Americans rise to the occasion.

In one instance, the TV program, “This is Your Life” generates contributions for a few victims’ who need plastic surgery. 

Incongruously, on “This is Your Life”, the co-pilot of the Enola Gay meets with a survivor of the Hiroshima nuclear blast. Some consider this among the most awkward TV appearances of all time.

The fundamental point of Hersey’s stories is a nuclear weapon in war goes beyond immediate physical destruction and mental injury. Radiation from a nuclear bomb stays with victims for their entire, often shortened, and always compromised lives. It is more than the death of thousands, it is the remaining lives of every human being, whether born or yet to be born, who is exposed to the flash and burn of nuclear detonation.