War protest sign in Berkeley CA
“The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in wartime Washington” by Jennet Conant (© 2008 by Jennet Conant Simon & Schuster New York N.Y.) is a handy book to have around if you just happen to be surrounded by peacniks in Berkeley who are outraged by the fact that the United States, the country that saved Great Britain with desperately needed supplies for use during the Battle of Britain, has been conducting monitoring of the Internets and phone calls to protect the world from terrorists.
Roald Dahl, who introduced the concept of tiny malicious creatures called Gremlins, was a wounded war hero who was reassigned to diplomatic duties in Washington to help the American President (FDR) decide to break his campaign pledge to not send American boys to fight in Europe’s war by waging an extensive public relations effort via planted stories in the American media to convince the citizens that duty and honor compelled a reversal of the popular (with Americans) policy of non intervention.
The pilot and war time casualty was also dashingly handsome and so seducing American Congressional representative Clare Booth Luce (AKA Mrs. Henry “Time magazine” Luce) was part of Dahl’s mission because issues such as cabotage in the post war world were at stake due to the small print in the Lend Lease agreement.
The Brits were also more than a little curious about what faction of the French government in exile would be favored by the Americans. Would FDR be more partial to General de Gaulle or would he favor General Henri Giraud? Could stories be planted in the American media to swing the choice in de Gaulle’s favor?
Fighting for freedom in the Battle of Britain was a highly touted motivation but when it came time to consider an end to colonialism after the war, enthusiasm waned. If the French didn’t retain ownership of French Indo China after the war would that be a bad omen for the country that owned and operated India as a colony?
Having troops in Vietnam during WWII was a great tactical advantage for Japan. Detailed explanations of how they gained the use of that bit of territory for use by their troops when they fought to take control of places like Burma is usually missing from books about the run up to the War in the Pacific.
Otto Friedrich’s 1989 book “the Grave of Alice B. Toklas” also came to our attention this summer and his 1959 article “How to be a war correspondent” was fascinating because it recounted how Friedrich “covered” the war in French Indo China from Paris. The main challenge was to add phrases such as “wade through turbulent flood-swollen streams,” “knife through sweltering jungles,” and “fighter bombers zooming low” to statistic laden French government press releases handed out in Paris to inform American readers about the progress the fight against a Communist take over in Asia was progressing.
Friedrich revealed the secret of being a war correspondent in a far away nation: “The outside world needs nothing more than a few announcements of enemy casualties and an occasional declaration that the ‘terrorists’ are on the run.” Don’t the French have a saying about how things never change?
Sunday will be Bastille Day and so this week might be a good time to finish reading our bargain used copy of “Americans in Paris: Life and Death under Nazi Occupation 1940 – 44,” by Charles Glass.
Edward Snowden is in the news this summer and is being accused of treason for revealing information that has been widely known for years. Since Hans Fallada’s “Every man dies alone” is a cautionary tale about the futility of opposing a government committed to war, we wanted to flip though it again. It is a fictional retelling of the story of a German couple who left postcards critical of Hitler all over Berlin in the early Forties. Mostly all of their work was turned over to the Gestapo and proved to be useless. The hapless war protesters were executed. Will the real life source for this novel become the patron saints for the bloggers who have been critical of the foreign policy used by both the George W. Bush and Barrack H. Obama administrations?
Book reviewers for the mainstream media have a fiduciary motivation for reading an assigned book all the way through as quickly as possible, but a columnist who is just trying to find a new column topic and simultaneously do some reading for entertainment purposes tends to use a pile of books in the same cavalier way that a couch potato uses his remote clicker.
The World’s Laziest Journalist may read a chapter in Lenny Bruce’s “How to talk dirty and influence people,” then pick up Camus’ “The Rebel” and flip through it to see if any of the underlined passages will proved a closing quote for this week’s column, and then because Hunter S. Thompson’s 75th birthday will be July 18, it might be a good idea to go back over the highlighted passages that follow the classic line: “We were somewhere around Barstow when the drugs began to take hold.”
Perhaps we should reread Hemingway’s short story “the Killers” and then do a parody for a column that would compare the Social Security program to Ole Anderson?
Berkeley and San Francisco both offer parsimonious book readers a wealth of bargain opportunities for used book buyers and since Berkeley is known for being liberal and also is home for a very respected school of Journalism, we have acquired (for a modest cost) a vast array of books that offer a very critical analysis of the Bush Administration written (mostly) by well known names from the realm of American Journalism.
When future historians look back on the wide assortment of voices warning Americans of impending disaster, they will have to wrestle with the question of why the citizens, in the face of overwhelming number of Cassandra voices, reelected George W. Bush. Perhaps some future historian will propose a full length book that attempts to see it as an entire nation contending (subconsciously?) with a death wish?
Which brings us to the nagging question of the week: “If Rupert Murdock can use hacking to get scoops, why can’t the NSA monitor e-mails and phone calls to keep the free world safe from terrorists?”
The topic of impending disaster brings us back to the large number of books dealing with the events just prior to America’s entry into WWII when Roald Dahl would have to do his spying on the USA.
Many of America’s future journalism movers and shakers toured Europe and were inspired to write dire warnings about the implications of the Spanish Civil War and the threat Hitler represented.
Low information voters were too occupied by the task of getting a job during the latter stages of the Great Depression to pay close attention to and try to critically analyze the implications of the war in Ethiopia and the Spanish Civil War.
The children from the low information households would provide the essential manpower for fighting the war that the vagabonding journalists saw on the horizon, so maybe the people who were flocking to see “Gone with the Wind” should have paid more attention to the efforts being produced by the multitude of foreign correspondents churning out content for America’s newspaper readers.
The folks in the San Francisco Bay area are being informed that the opening of the new Bay Bridge will have to be delayed while the authorities address the issue of some safety violations. Will any writer tackle a book assignment sometime in the future for elaborating the real challenge? The politicians know that the project has to be completed. What can be done to make that happen in such a way that the only people vulnerable to legal proceedings will be the mid level managers if a disaster strikes in the future? Aye, lad, there’s the rub.
The new issue of the East Bay Express contains an article by Darwin BondGraham, titled “BART’s lead negotiator has a history of illegal behavior.” It only strengthens our hunch that the true goal in this local labor dispute is to continue the policy of union busting that began by St. Ronald Reagan.
[Note from the photo editor: War protests in Berkeley go back a long way so a sign at a bus bench in the downtown that was critical of the War in Iraq wasn’t attracting many readers this week. We thought that a photo of the sign would be relevant to a column on reading matter. The sign shows a drawing of a hand holding a shoe and folks should know that throwing a shoe is an extreme demonstration of disapproval in Iraq. The only English words on the sign say: “Iraq is devastated.” For critics of the Iraq War that tells readers what the sign maker had to say.]
Lenny Bruce wrote: “My reading matter ran the gamut from a technical book on intercontinental ballistic missiles to Jean-Paul Sartre’s study of anti-Semitism but all I knew about (George Bernard) Shaw was that he wrote Pygmalion.”
Now the disk jockey will play “Summer time,” “Having a heat wave,” and “Summertime Blues.” We have to go look for our next used book treasure find. Have a “We’ll always have Paris” type week.