PUTIN’S INVASION

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Invention of Russia

By: Arkady Ostrovsky

Narrated by: Michael Page

Arkady Ostrovsky (Author, Russian-born, British journalist spent 15 years reporting for the Financial Times from Moscow.

Arkady Ostrovsky’s book offers a personal perspective on post-1917 Russian political history.  Of particular interest today is in how Vladimir Putin came to power and how he may become an author of his own destruction.

Some listeners may conclude Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will doom his future as Russia’s leader. Others will conclude Putin will survive this political mistake because of Russia’s political history. 

Putin’s ascension after Gorbachev/Yeltsin seems foretold by Russian history.  As noted in Mark Steinberg’s lectures on Russian governance–since the 16th century, popular leaders (whether Czars or revolutionaries) prudently balanced authority and freedom. 

Though Gorbachev and Yeltsin were quite different as Russian leaders, they led Russia with an emphasis on freedom. Both offered freedom without adequate economic support for Russian Citizens.  In contrast, Ostrovsky argues Putin emphasizes authority with a measure of economic support that improves Russian lives.

Yeltsin fails because his reforms were largely political with little improvement in economic security for most citizens. Yeltsin’s support base came from oligarch’s economic gain rather than from policies designed to improve Russian citizens’ lives.  The early years of Putin’s reign emphasize authority with the help of media to influence public perception.

Putin uses secret service personnel and media to detain and restrain public opposition to the government. 

Ostrovsky notes the Chechen uprising is brutally suppressed by Putin. Chechens opt for a level of peaceful coexistence as a part of greater Russia.

Russian government control of media coverage emphasizes Chechen brutality while lauding Russian soldiers’ success in abating Chechen independence.  Ostrovsky suggests the reality of Chechen brutality is real but Russian soldier’s success in abating brutality is exaggerated by government-controlled media. Ostrovsky reports many Russian’ innocents are murdered in the process of rescuing children and teachers from a school attacked by Chechen rebels.

In 2004–Besian school massacre in Russia.

Ostrovsky explains the first President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, personally endorses Putin as his successor.  Yeltsin is nearing the end of his life after a fifth heart attack.  He views Putin as the best hope of Russia to return to national prominence because of Putin’s relative youth and experience as a former KGB officer.  Putin has political experience as an aid to the former Mayor of Moscow.

However, Ostrovsky notes Yeltsin discounts the paranoia of Putin and how his experience as a KGB officer makes him suspicious of any activity over which he has no control. Ostrovsky suggests KGB training gives Putin the ability to hide behind a persona adopted to sooth the concerns of whomever he meets. That ability disguises Putin’s personal thoughts when dealing with controversial issues.

(The KGB is dismantled in 1991 but its apparatchiks remain in Putin’s government.)

The media during the Gorbachev/Yeltsin years grows as an independent oligarchic organization.  The two edges of power in media are telling convincing truths as easily as lies.  Yeltsin owes his electoral success to media according to Ostrovsky.  Yeltsin, before his last election as President, has a single digit approval rating from the Russian public.  With the help of a media oligarch and Yeltsin’s populist skill, he wins the election. On election day, Ostrovsky notes Yeltsin is nearly dead from a fifth heart attack.

Ostrovsky explains the growth of oligarchs begins with Gorbachev and gains momentum with Yeltsin.  The communist party leaders are losing their hold on governance, but they are well positioned to understand how things get done and can be controlled with acquired individual wealth.  Some of these former communist party leaders use their position to start personal companies with the financing of government money over which they have control.  They become behind-the-scenes movers and shakers for the Russian economy.  Their personal wealth grows, and the general economy begins to improve.

In the short term, these new barons of wealth improve the lives of many Russian citizens.  However, this unrestrained capitalist revolution begins to rot at its core.  Political power follows money.  Money supports political leaders that kowtow to oligarchic demand. An oligarch’s demand may or may not benefit the general public. 

When political leaders act in ways that support oligarchic demand, they improve their prospect for re-election.  In some cases, dynamic political leaders gain some independence based on their popular appeal.  Putin seems to have achieved some level of that power. With the help of popular appeal, public support can become a source of power to challenge oligarchic demand.  It seems Putin may have achieved both power bases, but invasion of Ukraine may change that support.

Robert Kagan finely reveals the fundamental mistake made by Putin in a May-June 2022 “Foreign Affairs” article. History reveals the mistakes of great nations like France, Great Britain, Germany and Japan in thinking they could become world hegemons by force.

Robert Kagan (A neoconservative Republican scholar and member of the Council on Foreign Relations of the Brookings Institute.)

Kagan notes America became a world force by virtue of economic growth which led to a choice by other nations to recognize American hegemony. Rather than capitalizing on the natural resources of Russia, Putin chooses to waste his country’s wealth on a war Russia will lose. It is a lesson one hopes China realizes in its pursuit of its sphere of influence. Sphere of influence is determined by economic growth, not military power.

Ostrovsky argues media is reality in Russia. World media is not the same as the Russian media that is tightly controlled by government leadership.  Further Ukraine invasion is not a Chechnian rebellion.  Chechnya is a small area within Russia–with an estimated 1.2 million people. Ukraine is an independent country of 44.3 million. 

Russian media might be controlled within Russia, but the world’s news will seep into Russian citizen’s knowledge, either by the internet or other means. 

Russia may be an invention as Ostrovsky suggests but all nation-states in the course of history are inventions.  History changes with information.  Dissemination of information is increasingly uncontrollable. 

In time of war, Nagasaki and Hiroshima show what uncontrolled fission can do in the event of a nuclear bomb. Fukushima shows what uncontrolled fission can do in time of peace.

Invading Ukraine may lead to loss of Putin’s power and influence in Russia.  The tragic consequence of Putin’s decision is the unnecessary death of many Ukrainians and Russians. The decision to invade Ukraine may lead to Putin’s dismissal, imprisonment, or execution. It has certainly changed his reputation in the world.

SPHERES OF INFLUENCE

Audio-book Revie
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Destined for War (Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?

By: Graham Allison

Narrated by Richard Ferrone

Graham Allison (Author, American political scientist, Professor of Government at Harvard.)

Allison briefly reviews the history of war to reinforce an argument about its causes.  He suggests wars come from the rise of competing hegemonic powers. A quibble one may have with Allison’s argument is that it diminishes reasons beyond power that led to WWII. The rise of Hitler may not have occurred if reparations for WWI had not been excessive.  However, his main point is that cultural differences are seeds from which power and conflict grows.  Allison suggests, when nation-state’ cultures are different, countries competing for political and economic power incline toward war. He gives many relevant and convincing examples.

Graham Allison suggests the cause of war is defined by Thucydides (Greek Historian of the Pelopnnnesian War, Born 460-455 B.C., Died 400 B.C.) in the fifth century BC. 

The “Thucydides’s trap” is when one country achieves a competitive level of political power it challenges existing hegemonic powers, leading to conflict and probable war. 

Allison argues that war is not inevitable but that to avoid it requires acceptance of spheres of influence.  This is not a new concept.  The terms “sphere of influence” became legally significant in the 1880s when Africa was being colonized by European countries.  It was meant to explain a colonizer’s political claim for exclusive control of a particular area of the world.

Allison notes that China’s Chairman Xi is, in a singular respect, the same as America’s Ex-President, Donald Trump.  That “sameness” is Xi’s goal of making China “Great Again”.  In no other respect, does Xi seem comparable to the bombastic Trump. 

Allison explains China is culturally unique based on its history, reaching back to 1600 B.C.  Like Ancient Egypt (3400-3200 B.C.), China is as culturally different as any nation-state in the world.  Allison offers a highly intelligent and informative analysis of how different Chinese culture is from American culture.

To avoid war, Allison argues America, the current hegemon of the world, must couch its political behavior and power in ways that acknowledge cultural difference between itself and rising hegemons of the world.

Allison recalls the history of England’s dealings with America after the 1776 revolution.  England reluctantly accepted America’s eventual rise to hegemon of the world. (Some would argue, England’s decision to remove itself from the European Union accelerates that decline.)

The United Kingdom’s economic, military, and political power (its sphere of influence) diminishes as America’s flourishes.  England remains a power in the world, but its sphere of influence steadily declines.

Russia struggles with their sphere of influence because of the collapse of the U.S.S.R.  In 2021-22 Russia may invade Ukraine, just as they did Crimea in 2014, to re-expand its sphere of influence.  Russia maneuvers to politically enlist China as an ally to accomplish that end. Putin undoubtedly cultivates China’s objection to America’s attempt to expand its sphere of influence in the far east.

The issues of Ukraine and Georgia are more precarious for Russia than the rest of the world. Putin’s demand to expand Russia’s sphere of influence renews a cold war that will inevitably become hot. The only question is where the heat will lie.

Robert Kagan reveals the fundamental mistake made by Putin in a May-June 2022 “Foreign Affairs” article. History reveals mistakes of great nations like France, Great Britain, Germany and Japan in thinking they could remain or become world hegemons by force.

Kagan’s point is Great Britain adjusted to its changed role from hegemon to a nation among nations. England prospered and maintained its integrity as an independent nation, capable of improving the lives of its people without falling on the sword of its hegemonic past.

Ukraine and Georgia will become Putin’s Vietnam. It is a war that can only be resolved at the expense of many Russian’, Ukrainian’, and Georgian’ soldier’s lives. The most other countries can do is support Ukrainian and Georgian resistance while pursuing a diplomatic solution that respects sovereign independence.

The inference one draws from Allison’s book is that America must recognize the cultural difference between itself and China to avoid war.  Like the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and other hegemons of world history, America must gradually adjust its behavior as a hegemon of the world.  America, like all hegemonic powers, effectively operates within a sphere of influence. America’s sphere of influence is being challenged in the Far East by China.

Allison’s view of the world gives weight to Putin’s great concern about Ukraine’s independence and implied wish to join NATO. The fear Putin has is a reminder of even Gorbachev’s opposition to western encroachment on eastern bloc independence.

The sense one draws from Allison’s insight about culture is that no country in history has ever treated its citizens equitably.  In America, the stain of slavery and native Indian displacement remain festering wounds.  When and if those wounds heal, America’s sphere of influence will either grow or diminish.  In China, it may be the wounds of Uighur discrimination and Han superiority that wounds its future as a hegemon.  In Afghanistan, the unfair treatment of women may doom its sphere of influence.  In Russia, it will be the mistakes Putin makes in violating the sovereignty of Ukraine and Georgia.

Every nation’s sphere of influence is affected by internal cultural errors and external cultural influences.  Only a state that adjusts to the demands of its culture will survive.  Culture is not exportable, but it has weight.  Foreign cultures can only be an influencer to other countries.  A culture imposed by force will fail as both America and France proved in Vietnam.  Cultural change must come from its own citizens as it did with the U.S.S.R. in 1991. 

Spheres of influence evolve.  They are not static. 

America’s goal should be to understand other cultures.  In that understanding, there must be acceptance of a competitor’s sphere of influence. Allison is not suggesting America withdraw from the world stage, but that engagement be along the lines of a containment strategy like that proposed by the former ambassador to Russia, George Kennan, in the 1950s.  Kennan’s long memorandum is born of an intimate understanding of Russian culture.

Allison argues America should pursue a policy of minimizing conflict while promoting democracy to citizens who seek freedom and equality. 

Allison recommends engagement with rising hegemonic powers with an eye on their respective cultures.  Allison argues, only with understanding of cultural difference is there a way to avoid Thucydides’ trap.

One cannot deny the economic success of China.  At the same time, anyone who has visited China in recent years knows of dissidents who object to communist monitoring and control of citizen freedom.  Tiananmen Square remains a rallying point for mainland China resistors.  Hong Kong continues to demonstrate against Xi’s influence on the lives of local business owners. Taiwan objects to Xi’s intent to repatriate their island country. Tibetans are denied their rights as followers of Buddhist belief.

In sum, one comes away from Allison’s book with the hope of a future without war.  Hegemonic powers will rise, and fall based on the evolution of their respective cultures.  History suggests governments that rely on the “rule of one” in modern times will not last.  Adding population demographics and ecological threats, China’s “rule of one” suggests the best policy for American democracy is acceptance of spheres of influence with a policy of Kennan-like’ containment. 

Chairman Xi is mortal, and mortality is the penultimate harbinger of change. In the long run, freedom and equality will change the nature of even the oldest cultures.

AMERICAN SPIES

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War-A Tragedy in Three Acts

By: Scott Anderson

                                  Narrated by : Robertson Dean, Scott Anderson

Scott Anderson (Author)

“The Quiet Americans” is an investigative reporter’s view of the American spy service.  It is written by a veteran war correspondent and son of a former foreign aid officer.  The author, Scott Anderson, is raised in East Asia.  He reviews America’s spy network during and after WWII. 

The American independent spy agency is formed after WWII to provide intelligence on growing clandestine activities of the U.S.S.R.  The author notes there were intelligence operations during WWII, but they were not independent.  During the war, Intelligence services were defined and executed by the military.  It is only after WWII that an independent branch is formed along the lines of British intelligence.

In Anderson’s opinion, President Harry Truman is an inept manager of the nascent American intelligence service. 

 There are several surprising facts and interpretations of history compiled by Anderson.    Kennan is characterized as a great diplomatic analyst, but capable of lying to protect his reputation. 

George Kennan is viewed as an influential diplomat in the creation of what becomes known as the Central Intelligence Agency.

The Dulles brothers solidify the role of the CIA in American clandestine operations in the world.  Their modus vivendi for CIA operations prevails today.  Their intent is to have an agreement allowing conflicting parties to coexist peacefully.  However, Anderson shows their action belies their intent.

Dulles Brothers (John Foster on the right, Allen on the left.)

Parenthetically, as an example of Stalinist ideology, Anderson notes Adolph Hitler’s remains were not found in a burned bunker in which Hitler is alleged to have committed suicide.  His burned remains were secreted by Joseph Stalin and placed in an archive in the U.S.S.R.  Stalin’s motive for secrecy is unknown.

 

An independent spy agency is initially opposed by Truman, and perennially opposed by FBI Director Hoover. 

J. Edgar Hoover–Director of the FBI from 1924 to 1972. (Died in May of 1972 at the age of 77)

Anderson notes Ambassador Kennan’s prescient analysis (the long memorandum) reflects the duplicitous nature of Joseph Stalin.  Kennan recommends a surreptitious and aggressive American containment policy enacted through the practice of espionage.  Kennan plays an important role in the formation of the American Intelligence service.  The first director of this operation is a close friend of Kennan’s, a man named Frank Wisner.

“The Quiet Americans” Anderson profiles are Edmund Michael Burke, Frank Wisner, Peter Sichel, and Edward Lansdale.  In their stories, Anderson reveals the beginnings of the CIA and a history of minor espionage successes and significant failures.  In the back of a listener’s mind is the consequence of American espionage—their cost in human lives and dollars, and American truths about what measures are taken to presumably secure freedom and equality in other countries.

             

This is not a pretty picture.  American efforts to change the world for the better through covert action is shown to be, at best, questionable, and at worst horribly misguided.  As an American, it seems clear that most covert activity is meant to do good but the definition of good is distorted by human nature.

America’s role in Albania, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan raises the hopes of many but at a cost of too many lives and dollars.  Hope of many of these country’s citizens becomes despair. How many lives and dollars could have been saved and repurposed for freedom and equality, rather than destruction of cultural difference.  What Anderson makes clear is that national purpose (American or other) is distorted when it is undisclosed because human beings are seduced by self-interest, whether that interest is money, power, and/or prestige. 

Government disclosure offers visibility to the public.  Disclosure offers opportunity for public  influence on government policy.  America prides itself on being a government of, and by the people–through popularly elected representatives.  Covert government action that is undisclosed to elected representatives gives no opportunity for citizens to influence government policy. 

The idea of full disclosure discounts poor intelligence like that given about “weapons of mass destruction” that compelled America to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein.  False disclosure by American intelligence misled both citizens and elected officials about what America should do in Iraq.

Dulles Brothers (John Foster on the right, Allen on the left.)

Anderson’s exposure of John Foster Dulles’s tenure as Secretary of State and his brother Allen, as the fifth CIA Director, exemplifies the worst characteristics of covert activities without oversight by elected representatives. 

Anderson’s view is America’s opportunity to change the course of history after Stalin’s death is lost because of Dwight Eisenhower’s actions based on the Dulles brother’s political influence. 

To Anderson, the course of the U.S.S.R. and American relationship may have been entirely different if the Dulles’s had not run Eisenhower down the wrong diplomatic road.  It is impossible to judge what may have happened if a different course had been taken, but Anderson infers the Dulles’ Road led to years of lost opportunity.  On the other hand, hindsight is always more perfect than foresight.

Though Burke, Wisner, Sichel, and Lansdale are great patriots, Anderson implies their patriotism and actions often failed to serve American ideals.

Burke’s extraordinary life led him to Italy, Albania, and Germany. He served his country by trying to save Albania from communism, and Germany from further encroachment by the U.S.S.R. At best, his success is limited to non-existent. Albania remained in the fold of communism and success in Germany is the split of Berlin from the eastern block at the expense of food deliveries by air and an agreed upon East and West Berlin.

Wisner kept the light on for covert operations of what became the CIA but failed to get the top job or temper the excesses of secret operations.

Sichel survives them all but appears to compromise a principle of not using bad actors who participated in the holocaust that murdered over 6,000,000 Jews and Nazi resistors.

And finally Wisner, who manages to gain the trust of Philippine and Vietnamese leaders, many of which America abandons by leaving them to fend for themselves.

Trapped, as all humans are, by the times in which they live, they were the instruments of many wasted lives.  How many people must die because of undisclosed covert Intelligence operations? 

Listening to “The Quiet Americans” makes one understand how important freedom of the press is to America.  

Americans must lead by example, not by covert action. More recent episodes in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan show America continues to ignore history’s lessons.

DRUG ADDICTION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Cherry

By: Nico Walker

                                                    Narrated by : Jeremy Bobb

“Cherry” is classified by critics as a semi-autobiographical novel.  It is written by an Army veteran of the Iraq war. 

The author, Nico Walker, judiciously introduces his novel as a work of fiction.  However, his life history parallels much of what he writes.  He is a veteran of the Iraq war and is now serving 11 years in prison for bank robbery. 

“Cherry’s” main character is a veteran of Iraq.  He robs banks to feed a heroin addiction.  Nico Walker’s real life seems a version of these  experiences.  As some critics suggest, write what you know, but only if “what you know” is interesting.  Walker’s novel is certainly interesting.

He marries and divorces a beautiful woman who is also an addict. 

It is difficult for many Americans, particularly those of us who have lived long, to understand how a handsome young man can waste his life.  That seems the underlying story of Walker’s main character.

Walker’s main character experiments with drugs early in his life. 

Some Americans choose the military because they are making a life transition.  The transition may be to escape parental supervision.  Or enlistment may be related to mistakes in one’s life and a court order tells them to join the service or go to jail.  Some young men and women just can’t figure out how to make a living on their own.  Any one of these reasons might apply to Walker’s main character.

Walker’s character joins the Army because he doesn’t know what else to do.  His reasons are not clearly identified. 

Cherry is slang for a green soldier newly arrived in a combat zone.  

Like all new recruits, Walker’s main character takes a military aptitude test which steers him toward assignment as an Army medic.  After basic, he is sent to Iraq.  He gets a front row seat to the carnage of war.  On the one hand, it appears war carnage may have driven Walker’s main character to drug addiction.  On the other, this fictional character has experience with drugs before Iraq. 

The troubling part of “Cherry” is that it conflates atrocities of combat with drug addiction.  The main character in “Cherry” uses drugs before he goes to war.  One doubts a veteran who did not use drugs before war is either more or less likely to become an addict after war. 

The story of addiction is bigger than war. 

Putting atrocity of war aside, Walker offers a profile of a person hooked on drugs.  Anyone who reads or listens to Walker’s vision of human addiction will be appalled by the downward spiral of an addict’s life.  Life revolves around an addict’s next fix.  It makes no difference if one is good or evil if one is an addict. The only thing that matters to the addicted is the next euphoric high.

Wars are a broadly shared political atrocity; drug addiction is a singular personal tragedy that infects society.  Both may lead to the end of humanity.

APPALLING SIMILARITY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Vietnam (An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975)

By: Max Hastings

                          Narrated by : Max Hastings, Peter Noble

Max Hastings (British author, journalist, editor, military historian.)

The parallel tragedies of Vietnam and Afghanistan are appallingly similar. 

There is no perfect government, whether authoritarian or democratic. Anyone who has traveled outside the United States understands how great it is to be American. Though American wealth and freedom cannot be taken for granted, it is not an exportable commodity. Failures in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan do not suggest America should become an isolationist country.  However, America must let independent nation-states manage themselves. 

Thomas Jefferson’s slaves.

America’s human rights are far from perfect. More importantly, they are not an exportable commodity.  Only through a country’s cultural acceptance can human rights be achieved by indigenous populations.

There is a difference between America’s role in WWI, WWII, the first Gulf War, and modern 20th and 21st century American military interventions. 

Military intervention is folly when it is for any other purpose than preserving nation-state borders. Vietnam is a pre-historic nation and Afghanistan has been a nation since 1880. Their cultures have been formed over hundreds of years of experience.

All nation-state cultures are flawed.  They are flawed in their own ways.  Enforcement of human rights is determined by the culture in which they exist.  Every country in the world violates human rights but human rights only change within existing cultures.  

Enforcement of human rights stops at geographic borders.  Political and financial influence are the only tools interventionists should use to influence a foreign nations’ adoption of human rights.

Despite Russia’s long history with Ukraine–military intervention in sovereign countries only leads to injury, death, destruction, and anarchy. Evidence for both Americans and Russians is in Vietnam and Afghanistan.

Those who argue that a foreign country harbors terrorist leaders is true but irrelevant. That the Taliban in Afghanistan harbored Al Qaeda is true but military invasion of a sovereign country does not make America or the world any safer.  Al Qaeda operated in many countries, not just Afghanistan.  Historians have shown Osama bin Laden proselytized for revolution and terrorism in African nations, Pakistan, and other middle eastern countries. 

To cite Afghanistan as the country that harbors terrorist cells is a red herring to justify interventionist beliefs.   Any number of countries are potential havens for terrorist cells.  Some would argue military intervention only increases terrorist potential in the world.

Max Hastings’ history records intimate personal stories of participants in America’s failure in Vietnam.  America’s fundamental mistake is the same mistake made in Iran, Iraq, and now Afghanistan.  Military intervention by a foreign power does not give indigenous citizens true experience of the interventionist’s culture.  Without cultural understanding on both sides of a military intervention, there is no prospect for peace. Further, it is unrealistic to believe a combatant will truly understand or care about another nation’s culture.

Heart rending accounts of America’s military intervention in Vietnam make one wonder how forgiveness could be given by either Vietnamese or Americans that served in the war. 

Hastings explains Vietnamese and Afghanis have no choice to join or resist a culture they do not know. Neither could they become citizens of America. They did not have the interventionist’s cultural experience, or a foreign country’s willingness to allow unregulated immigration. Interventionist countries are always outsiders to the indigenous.

Hastings notes invaded countries’ citizens know the culture in which they live, and that culture is something they understand and can choose to join or resist. 

Hastings recounts the tragic mistakes made by France in Vietnam and then shows similar mistakes made by America.  Hastings shows how France and America have different cultures and motivations for military intervention, but they are equal failures.  Like France’s and America’s failures in Vietnam, America repeats Russia’s failure in Afghanistan. 

Hastings explains how North Vietnam soldiers were more committed to winning the war than South Vietnamese soldiers. 

The North clearly understood what they were fighting for, the South knew only the idealism of America, a concept clouded by Vietnamese culture.  Vietnamese could resist or join a North Vietnam culture because they were part of that culture. In contrast, they could not join American culture because it was not a part of their experience. They had no choice while North Vietnamese had communist indoctrination and an ideal that fit within their cultural inheritance. Those Vietnamese who fought communism had little understanding of American culture and were not likely to be offered citizenship.

Tragically, what is happening in Afghanistan threatens women’s human rights.

It is a threat that may be better understood with America’s intervention, but Afghan women’s alternative is only to resist or join the culture they know and understand.  They can either resist or join the Taliban way of life.  They cannot join the American way of life because it is not a part of Afghanistan, and they do not have America’s cultural experience. 

Misogyny is a python that swallows its prey whole, crushes it, and smothers it to death. 

This is a cruel irony. Misogyny exists in America but not in the same way as Afghanistan.  The Taliban have won but it is a pyrrhic victory because human rights are universal, and resistance will grow.  It is a resistance that an interventionist outsider cannot join for the same reason the resister is unable to join the outsider.

As Mark Twain said, if history does not repeat, it certainly rhymes.  Change can only come from within.  Military intervention only works when nation-state sovereignty is at stake.

George H. Bush, in the first Iraq war knew what is possible and correctly chose to stop America’s intervention in Iraq when Kuwaiti borders were secured.  His son ignored his father’s example and America failed in Iraq. 

Francis Fukuyama notes every society grows via its own cultural norms which suggests sovereignty should be inviolable. Only Iraqis, Iranians, and Afghanis can decide who they want to be.  America can only lead by example and offer political and financial support to resisters of tyranny in other nation-states. Hastings marks the limits of outsiders’ military intervention.  America can only lead by example and offer political and financial support to resisters of tyranny in other nation-states.  The sole exception is when nation-state borders are violated by foreign nations. Even then, other nations must come to agreement on the inviolability of borders for a military intervention to be justified.

Pay Any Price

James Risen (Author, American Journalist,).

An act of government that presumes it knows what is good for everyone mocks omniscience.

The GAO (Government Accountability Office) finds President Trump broke the law by delaying Ukrainian military aid.

Today, it is terrorism; yesterday, it was communism, day before yesterday, it was Japanese internment camps.

James Risen’s “Pay Any Price” exposes government hubris that tortures suspected terrorists and invades personal privacy to feed human greed and desire for power; all under the guise of protecting America.

Japanese internment during WWII.

Guantanamo tramples human rights; the red-scare of the 1950s breeds mistrust of elected officials, and Japanese internment camps during WWII stain the American’ conscience.

Greed and power are two of the three motivations for endless war.

The third is presumed status which leads to a false sense of omniscience and hubris.

Sadly, 9/11 is not the first or last terrorist event in America’s future but without a measure of human freedom, America loses more than it gains by suspecting everyone is a terrorist.

Government should protect Americans from the greed and power of the few over the many, rather than concoct wasteful government programs that only feed the worst parts of human nature.

President Trump believes he knows best and fails to seek the advice or counsel of those who are in a position to offer a more balanced perspective.

Few, if any, would suggest Qassem Soleimani was not a murderer of Americans. But what price has been paid by the world for Trump’s unilateral decision to have Soleimani assassinated?

There is no question–institutional discrimination exists in the United States, and it victimizes American minorities.

Demonstrations that destroy public property and federal government intervention are equally reprehensible events. Neither serves the goal of achieving equal opportunity for all Americans.

Violence is a consequence of a willingness to “Pay Any Price”.

MILITARY INTERVENTION

Audio-book Review

By Chet Yarbrough

chetyarbrough.blog

A Concise History of the Middle East, Ninth Edition

By Arthur Goldschmidt and Lawrence Davidson

Narrated by Tom Weiner

Messieurs Goldschmidt and Davidson have created an insightful overview of the origins and impacts of an area of the world not well known or understood by much of the American public. 

Arthur Goldschmidt Jr. (Author, historian)

Lawrence Davidson (Author, History professor)

History is made up of facts but never the whole truth. Events are reported out of the context of their historical era, a time which can never be fully explained; even by the most knowledgeable historian. 

So, why is understanding the Middle East important? 

In the Middle East, more than a million human lives have been lost from war since 2001.

Since 2001, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syrian conflicts have killed over 6,700 Americans, nearly 3,000 NATO coalition soldiers, an unpublished number of Russian and Turkish soldiers, 182,000 Iraqis, 111,000 Afghans, and 400,000 to 570,000 Syrians. 

MORE REASONS ABOUND

OIL

From an economic perspective, there is the importance of oil imports from the Middle East.

IRAQ INVASION’S COST

There is the cost of military intervention in foreign countries. The cost is in both lives and international relations.

America’s reputation in the Middle East has fallen dramatically because of our invasion of Iraq. In 2o22 the center of Middle East attention has moved from the slim possibility of democracy to reification of authoritarianism.

The perception of militant interest groups has exacerbated Middle East conflict, largely because of religious difference and economic disparity. Two powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran have replaced America’s pre-Iraq influence in the Middle East. Syria is run by a brutal dictator supported by Russia. The plight of the Middle East is for many to live in poverty under authoritarian leaders interested in power and eternal control, more than their citizen’s general welfare.

RELIGION

From a religious and cultural perspective, the Muslim religion is the second most common in the world. Iran is principally Shite, while Saudi Arabia and Syria are Sunni.

SYRIAN REFUGEES IN TURKEY (Turkey spends $30 billion on Syrian refugees.)

Countries like Turkey are overwhelmed by the cost of housing and feeding refugees from the Syrian war.

From a humanitarian perspective, hundreds of thousands of refugees have been created. Where do they go? How will they live. There are many consequential reasons for a better understanding of the Middle East. 

This audio book provides some history and, more importantly, perspective on religious belief, ethnicities, and secularism in the Middle East; i.e., it explains some of the differences within and among Middle Eastern countries. 

Goldschmidt and Davidson help one understand the difference between a Muslim Sunni and a Muslim Shiite.  Their history gives the listener a better appreciation of the importance of an Imam to a Shiite and what happens in Shiite dominated Iran versus what might occur in a majority Sunni country like Saudi Arabia or Kuwait. Syria is somewhat of an outlier because the Alawite, a minority in the Sunni religion, is in control of the government.

Goldschmidt and Davidson point out that Shiite’ beliefs are evolving because they are Imam’ interpretations of the Koran while Sunni’s beliefs are more static and grounded in literal readings of the Koran. 

The authors reflect on religious conflicts among believers in Islam, the creation and growth of the state of Israel, the secular leanings of Turkey, the Kurdish conflicts between Turkey and Iraq, the history of Iraq and its makeup of Kurds, Shiite, Sunni, and Christian factions.  They report on the Hezbollah and Palestinian movements surrounding Israel which are supported by Iran.  They touch on our 2001 New York tragedy and the hostility of al-Qaeda and its influence on American perception of the Middle East. 

“A Concise History of the Middle East” is an eye opening journey through centuries of border conflicts, colonialism, nation building, and evolving nationalism.

There is little doubt, considering what has happened in Iran (and is presently happening in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and Syria), that there is a growing discontent in the Middle East, a burgeoning desire for freedom; a freedom that is forged by a variety of belief systems, tempered by the will of its indigenous people. 

Goldschmidt and Davidson help one understand that, like America, there are many conflicting beliefs in the Middle East that have led to misconceptions, tragic mistakes, civil wars, and violent actions perpetrated and perpetuated by committed believers and brutal authoritarian leaders. Both believers and authoritarians are either vilified or commended by the passing of time and the distance of recorded history.

ANCIENT MIDDLE EASTERN MAP

The Middle East is shown as the world power it once was; its devolution into a variety of colonial and/or monarchical nation states; and  its re-growth as an oil producing behemoth.

The Middle East is working its way into the 21st century as a new world power.   One is drawn to the conclusion that this new world power is in a state of creation from a variety of competing Middle Eastern nation states that may or may not survive the 21st century. 

What Goldschmidt and Davidson remind one of is the folly of outside military intervention in countries of which one has little understanding.

Goldschmidt and Davidson’s writing is a gift that makes reports of the Middle East more accessible to the general public.

WOMEN IN WAR

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Unwomanly Face of War–An Oral History of Women in World War II

By: Svetlana Alexievich, Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

Narrated by Julia Emelin, Yelena Shmulenson

Svetlana Alexievich (Author, Belorussian Investigative Journalist, 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature–for her polyphonic writings.)

The author of “The Unwomanly Face of War”, Svetlana Alexievich, suggests women’s deployment in war dates to the Greco-Roman wars.  However, some say Russia is the first nation to deploy women as combat troops.  History shows Russia enlisted women as a fighting force in WWI. 

“The Unwomanly Face of War” notes nearly 1,000,000 women joined the Russian military to defeat the German armies in WWII. 

Alexievich interviews former WWII Russian women as pilots, snipers, mine clearing commanders, and military tank leaders. Some were as young as 13; others in their late teens or early 20’s when they joined. At the time of the interviews, all were in their 50’s or older.   By any definition, these Russian women were combat troops.

This is a particularly timely release of a translation of “The Unwomanly Face of War”.  In western nations, as early as the 1940 s, the role of women in the military has been in transition. 

Most countries recognize the immense contribution “women in war” have made since WWI. However, the WWII veterans in Russia’s battles were not fully recognized until the 1950s.

What Alexievich offers is a peek into what Russian women in combat experienced during WWII.  She identifies similarities and differences military men and women experience in war.  To listeners of Alexievich’s interviews, similarities appear much greater than the differences.

The preeminent common characteristic among combat troops is nationalism.  Whether man or woman, the belief in the sovereignty of one’s country supersedes gender.  The disgust for an invading country and its military is equally reviled. 

Alexievich suggests women feel the atrocity of war more than men because women bare and raise children. She argues women are more nurturing and emotion driven than men. 

However, her interviews recount two events that would equally engage and enrage men as women.    

Two interviews reveal a mother’s decision to sacrifice her children.  One circumstance is for a mother to quiet a crying child by infanticide because of an approaching German troop.  The second is a mother who has her child carry a bomb into a military mess hall to kill the enemy as well as the sacrificed child. How does maternal instinct differ from the worst actions taken by men?

The human response to war seems as brutally evident in women as men.  The trauma of war seems to be absorbed in similar ways.  War experience is something never forgotten, and often repressed.  There seems little difference among the sexes based on Alexievich’s interviews of WWII women veterans.

Another example that seems more of a provisioning than sex difference is the reality of menstruation and how it is to be dealt with in combat circumstances.  With proper provisioning the difference between the sexes seems miniscule.

Another circumstance alluded to is the physical strength differences between the sexes.  The circumstance recalled is a woman tank commander who cannot physically rescue an injured tank soldier because she is unable to lift him out of the tank. 

Pulling dead weight is a limit for men as well as women. Though the average strength differences might be true between all men and all women, brute strength is an extraordinary need in war; not a common requirement. If one person is not enough to move a wounded soldier, he/she gets help.

“The Unwomanly Face of War” addresses the reality of conjugal sex in war.  War is little different than life in the civilized world when it comes to the battle of the sexes.  Alexievich recounts affections that rise between men and women in the field of war.  One can appreciate exaggerated interdependence when one’s life is at stake.  Maybe there is a difference, but the difference seems more of imagination than reality.  Peace has its own way of corrupting the relationship between men and women.  One must question how different the battle between the sexes is in war than in peace. 

Common purpose brings the sexes together in both war and peace. When common purpose is absent, the sexes battle for their personal interests.  What distorts the battle is power.

History suggests power more often lies with men than women whether in civilian or military life.  Until there is equalization in power, the potential for fairness among the sexes is unlikely. 

Whether in war or peace, sexual orientation is subject to inequality.  The only remedy is a set of rules and regulations judiciously enforced.

One will draw their own conclusion about the role of women in war after listening to “The Unwomanly Face of War”.  Whether in a time of war or peace, what is incontestable is unequal treatment of women

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Embracing Defeat
By John W. Dower

Narrated by Edward Lewis

JOHN W. DOWER (AMERICAN AUTHOR, HISTORIAN)

Victory is sweet; defeat is bitter.  Victory engenders responsibility for the defeated; defeat demands fealty to a victor. Fealty is not the goal of a victorious leader who seeks lasting peace.

Peace among nations has a price. John Dower’s reflection on WWII and Japan holds lessons for today’s American leadership.

John Dower, in “Embracing Defeat”, endeavors to picture Japan’s condition; i.e. the state of its economy and its people, after surrender in WWII. 

History’s complexity is difficult to capture in words.  Dower makes an effort to explain the context of post war Japan by showing Japanese attitude in media reports and literature of the time.  The irony of Dower’s effort is that media reports and literature are censored by Allied forces, particularly the United States.

MICHINOMIYA HIROHITO (124TH EMPEROR OF JAPAN 1901-1989)
Dower covers the history of an American white wash of Hirohito’s war complicity and responsibility.  The American government uses Hirohito to make occupation and influence in Japan more acceptable to its population.  It became politically expedient to hide Hirohito’s true involvement in Japan’s war plans. 

Dower reports on post-war trials of Japanese military and government leaders; i.e. Dower writes about trial testimony of Japan’s WWII’ atrocities but his history shows that victor’ justice is not necessarily victim’ justice.

Hideki Tojo as hero and/or goat–tried and convicted; sentenced to a prison in which he dies. Tojo refuses to implicate the Emperor in his actions during the war.

In spite of (partly because of) American military occupation of Japan, financial aid is misdirected and food goods and material are stolen, a black market develops, gangs are formed, and corruption thrives. (Sounds like Iraq after America’s invasion.).  Prostitution became a way of making a living, and immoral behavior became semi-acceptable because of rising poverty.

NICOLAS MADURO (PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA SINCE 2013)
A case in point today is the President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro. Are his actions a “crime against humanity” or is he fighting for his country’s independence?


Economic sanctions are as likely to punish the innocent as the guilty in countries that fight for their own identity. One’s interest is peaked by Japan’s experience after WWII because of the current Middle East muddle. 

Syria, Iraq, and Iran are challenged by domestic unrest and punitive actions by non-indigenous forces.  These three countries are particularly impacted by military and/or economic pressures from outsiders.  What is going to happen in those countries?  Are there any clues in the great change that occurred in Japan after WWII?

General MacArthur assumed the role of “Dear Leader”, treating the Japanese like 12-year-olds that were to be taught the ways of Democracy with a capital “D”.  This role by MacArthur in post war Japan is accepted by many Japanese because of centuries of Imperial control, exemplified by Emperor Hirohito.

BONNER FELLERS (U.S. ARMY OFFICER, SERVED AS A MILTARY ATTACHE IN WWII)
Dower also suggests that a large part of General MacArthur’s success is due to Major Bonner Fellers, a Japanese scholar that predicted Japan’s war several years before the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Major Fellers’ respect and understanding of Japanese culture and his influence contributes much to the success of American policy in post war Japan. 

Fellers recognizes Japan’s people, with new found freedom, are inwardly driven toward a capitalist philosophy inherent in democracy.  The Japanese did not abandon their ideas of production, the ideas of small business cooperation to achieve common goals.  Those ideas made them a military behemoth in the 1920s.  They redirected that belief system toward domestically driven capitalism. Japan became a dominant 20th century economic power. Japan’s experience suggests that freedom will not be denied but how it exhibits is a mystery wrapped in nation’s histories, beliefs, and practices.

Are there equivalents of “Major Bonner Fellers” to guide America’s policy toward other countries like Venezuela and the Middle East?

America can help or hinder a peoples’ drive for freedom but where it leads in Venezuela, Iraq, or Iran must be their peoples’ decision.

Nature abhors a vacuum (Spinoza).  The centralized governments and economies of Venezuela, Syria, Iraq, and Iran will be occupied democratically, autocratically, or some combination thereof, when domestic tumult subsides. 

Outside countries cannot mandate lasting peace within other countries; let alone their own country. Sovereignty should be recognized as an inalienable right. It is not America’s job to pick winners and losers.

A MORE PERFECT UNION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

A People’s History of the United States

Written by: Howard Zinn

Narrated by:  Jeff Zinn

Howard Zinn (American Historian, Author) November 19, 2009. Photo By: Rob Kim/Everett Collection

The pitfall of history is subjectivity.  Howard Zinn offers a coda for history’s myopia.  Harry Truman is alleged to have said “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know”.  Zinn shows how little Americans know about America’s failure to create a “…more perfect union” (a name given to a speech delivered by Senator Barack Obama on March 18, 2008).

No American institution is untarnished by Zinn’s rumination.  Zinn challenges every aspect of American culture.  The malpractice of American businesses, politicians, and society are exposed by Zinn.  Neither Republicans, Democrats, or other party affiliates, escape responsibility for America’s abhorrent actions. 

Unadorned historical facts show Indians indiscriminately isolated and murdered, Blacks treated as property and hung, immigrants vilified for being different, wars being waged on the innocent, women being treated unequally, and greed being praised as virtue–all in the face of professed American freedom and equality.

Zinn implies all Presidents; including Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, the Bushes, and Obama buy into an economic principle that the business of America is business.  (He certainly could have included President Trump.) 

With few exceptions, Zinn argues every President tacitly or overtly supports corporate America.  The only Presidential exception Zinn notes is Eisenhower’s expressed concern about the military/industrial complex and its penchant for distorting American values.

Zinn recounts Andrew Jackson’s isolation and murder of Indians, Lincoln’s willingness to preserve the union at the cost of slavery, Andrew Johnson’s southern sympathies, Roosevelt’s incarceration of American Japanese, Harry Truman’s decision to nuke Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Carter’s support for Iran’s military dictatorship, Reagan’s expansion of the military/industrial complex, Clinton’s cuts in taxes and welfare, the Bushes’ wars, and Obama’s rescue of the banking industry. 

Zinn argues—both Republican and Democratic presidents endorse corporate control of America at the expense of citizen values written into the Constitution. 

From discrimination against minorities to unequal pay for women, America has failed to follow the ideals of the Constitution of the United States.

Zinn implies there is never a justification for war; presumably even in the case of WWII. 

Some Americans would agree that Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan wars were and are a waste of human lives. 

This is a hard argument to dispute when seen in the context of a burgeoning gap between rich and poor, and man’s inhumanity to man.  One might argue as some historians do, sovereignty of a country is an inalienable right, even when it is ignored or used as an excuse for war.

Zinn argues there is no moral or ethical justification for political repression, murder, slavery, sexual or racial discrimination.  (That begs the question of a war’s justification in light of Nazi Germany’s intent to exterminate all Jews.)

But, Zinn argues the right of sovereign nations to choose their own government.  Genocide is a potential consequence of such a hard rule when a minority only has a right to resist and/or revolt. That is in the news today in regard to Myanmar and the Rohingya.

Suu Kyi Defends Myanmar from the accusation of genocide.

What nation (based on its own cultural belief) has the right to invade another country that chooses to victimize its own citizens.

Zinn is not suggesting countries should become isolationists. He argues that to the extent that humanitarian relief may be offered by an outside country, it should be offered.  Relief would not include transfer of weapons of war, but aid in goods and services meant to sustain life.  Outside military intervention in a sovereign country seems destined only to lead to more loss of innocent life.

Taking Zinn’s observations to heart suggests there is no justification for war or violence against our fellow man.  However, human nature is what it is.  Humans choose what they choose; often out of the instinctual desire for money, power, and prestige, rather than any common good.  Individual cultures are based on memes of the country in which they were born. 

Invasion of a sovereign country is a slippery slope that only leads to more death and destruction.  However, Zinn’s review of history seems to deny all reasons for war. There seem two modern exceptions to Zinn’s argument.

Nazi Concentration Camp WWII

WWII and the way H. W. Bush handled the invasion of Kuwait.  These two exceptions are clearly related to one country’s violation of another’s sovereignty. In both cases, America’s Presidents enlisted cooperation from other countries, before taking any military action.

It is a dangerous world, but the danger is in human beings and their quest for personal gain; i.e. their greed for money, power, and prestige.  America needs to look at itself and its reliance on corporate excess.  The gap between rich and poor must be addressed in all nations; not the least of which, the United States.  Zinn reminds America of how flawed we are in “A People’s History of the United States”.