Narrated by: Professors Grant L. Voth, Julius H. Bailey, Kathryn McClymond, and Robert Andre LaFleur
After beginning the “Great Mythologies of the World”, there is a temptation to move on after several hours of listening. However, 30 hours later, still listening; one marvels at the inventiveness of human beings seeking life’s meaning.
It is no surprise to find two of the four narrators are religious-studies scholars. One might conclude religion falls into the category of “Great Mythologies…”.
Depending on one’s definition of civilization, Mesopotamia is considered the oldest civilization on earth, dating back to 6500 BC. That seems somewhat plausible based on its nearness to Africa but one wonders if there is an undiscovered civilization in Africa that predates Mesopotamia. After all, Lucy’s bones (found in South Africa) are two million years old and a human jawbone in Ethiopia is 2.8 million years old; i.e. 6500 BC is not so long ago.
In any case, there are some fascinating stories about civilization myths in this “Great Courses” series. Whether sun, moon, stars. and life came from exhalation of a supernatural being, the Big Bang, God’s seven days, or evolution, it is interesting to hear stories of minds’ past.
There is no question that stories change based on tellers of tales but, according to these lectures, there are many insights to cultures from which they came. In stories of Mesopotamia, belief in an afterlife drives Pharaoh’s to create monuments and accouterments for passage to the next world.
Rome’s adoption of many of the Greek gods lays the frame-work for one of the most powerful civilizations in the ancient world.
In stories of China, principles of leadership are laid out in myths of early dynastic change. In one instance, merit supplants familial inheritance to expand a prosperous empire.
India’s rise in the world is equally filled with gods and goddesses reflected in classical Hinduism which came from the Vedic civilization. Interestingly, India’s early mythology is not as burdened by a caste system as later society. A common myth that pervades all mythologies is the importance of fire and its introduction to civilization. The God of Fire is the messenger between gods and human beings in India’s mythological history.
In Africa, the critical value of water for life and the arbitrariness of survival are couched in stories of trickster gods.
In North America, early Inuit and Indian tribes adopt obeisance to nature in ways similar to African cultures.
In Hawaii, human dependence on nature is reflected in stories of gods that rule sea, land, and sky.
The most interesting myths are of tricksters who exist in every culture. Tricksters are amoral gods that have two literal or figurative faces. Their actions result in unpredictable consequences. One face is evil; the other is good. They are usually gods with goals for tricking society–to either amuse themselves or teach a lesson to those who violate social mores. They provide the notion of life’s unpredictability.
It reminds one of science’s discovery of quantum mechanics. Life seems predictable in the nineteenth century, but becomes unpredictable in the twentieth. Quantum mechanics seems like a modern version of ancient mythology’s tricksters.
In the end, one is left with the same questions seemingly answered by ancient myths. How did the world begin? Why does evil exist? Is there an after-life? Is there a God or gods, or are we on our own? What is life’s purpose? Does every effect have a cause or is life a matter of luck and circumstance?
Arundhati Roy characterizes India’s governance in her new novel, “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”. She pictures India as culturally diverse; however, it is defined by separateness and injustice more than freedom and equality-of-opportunity.
India’s population; not its territorial size, makes it the largest democratic republic in the world. Roy exposes India’s democracy and its flaws. The flaws she identifies are reminders of America’s democratic failings.
Without having traveled to India (a trip is planned in February 2018), much of the author’s writing resonates with what is happening in America. Roy observes Indian society as she lives it. This is only her second novel in the last twenty years. With a host of fascinating characters, Roy offers an insightful vision of modern India. Her writing beautifully describes Indian society while beating democracy with an ugly-stick.
One can personally believe in the value of democracy in the world and still appreciate what Roy says about failures of democracy in India. A joke that Roy tells capsulizes a major flaw in democracy. Because of difference among followers of the Muslim religion, Roy illustrates the absurdity of volitional separateness. A comparable joke in American history might be as follows:
Picture a Union soldier at the beginning of the Civil War with the intention of jumping off Fort Sumter’s wall to his death. A Rebel soldier sticks his head out to talk the Union soldier off the ledge.
Rebel soldier: “Where are you from?”
Union soldier: “South Carolina.”
Rebel soldier: “Me too.”
Union soldier: “I’m a God-fearing Baptist.”
Rebel soldier: “Me too.”
Union soldier: “I believe in State’s Rights.”
Rebel soldier: “Me too.”
Union soldier: “I’m a white American and believe in the superiority of the white race.”
Rebel soldier: “Me too.”
Union soldier: “I believe Negroes are unequal to whites.”
Rebel soldier: “Me too.”
Union soldier: “I believe a woman’s place is in the home.”
Rebel soldier: “Me too.”
Union soldier: “I believe in majority rule for States’ Rights.”
Rebel soldier: “Me too.”
Union soldier: “I believe in a federalist government that makes States stronger and guarantees life, and liberty for all.”
The Rebel soldier leans over and pushes the Union soldier off the ledge.
In contrast, Roy’s story is about two Indian Muslims that are the same on most levels. However, as each layer of similarity is revealed, a singular difference compels hostility, imprisonment, injury, or murder. That theme carries through in every character in “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”. The irony of Roy’s title resonates in each chapter of the book.
In the beginning of Roy’s story, a family has their first boy child. The child is born with both male and female parts. The mother conceals the child’s circumstance from the father until the boy begins to exhibit a desire to be a girl. The girl is rejected by her father. She seeks refuge in a house where other hermaphrodites live. She grows to adulthood but becomes isolated from Indian society. She is an extraordinary woman who establishes an outcasts’ haven in a cemetery that attracts equally shunned Indians. (One is reminded of the many minorities in America who are driven to similar non-judgmental enclaves.)
Roy’s novel reflects on relations between India, Pakistan, and China in Kashmir. She notes Muslim influence throughout India that sharply differentiates the majority Hindu population in India from the Muslim majority in Kashmir. The complexity of Kashmiri society pits Muslim against Muslim, Hindu against Muslim, Asian against Muslim, Pakistani and Chinese against Indian. The irony is that this is democracy.
The ideal of democracy is to meld different cultures into one multi-cultural and accepting society with a belief in a common good. However, human nature gets in the way. The drive for money, power, and prestige is unleashed by democracy in ways that separate cultures from humanity. The rich become richer at the expense of the poor. Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Hubris qualifies one child for Harvard; another for military service, community college, or poverty row.
Roy’s novel is about life and death. No one ever dies in her story; i.e. they just move on. Death is belief of a beloved that no one is missed because they are always with you.
Roy’s story is not written as a political manifesto. It is about human nature; not about governments or their politics. Roy’s book seems a plea for people to recognize diversity in humanity; i.e. to accept rather than reject, and not to isolate, injure, and/or murder the “other”.
Roy is an idealist who sees the world as it is. The reality is we live in a world as it is; not as it ought to be.
Roy infers the world should let Pakistanis, Afghans, Kashmiris, Iraqis, Syrians, Indians; and other nation-builders choose their own way of life. Only in the context of human nature, does one size fit all. To date, no government seems capable of achieving acceptance of diversity, but some are better than others.
This review fails to show how beautifully this story is written. One can enjoy Roy’s book just for the images she creates with words.
Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror
Written by: Michael V. Hayden
Narrated by: Michael V. Hayden
General Hayden deserves praise for his candor about the functions of the NSA (the National Security Administration) and CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). Undoubtedly, much is not said because of the nature of the subject but Hayden offers a picture of America’s secret service that is at once necessary and discomfiting.
Necessity revolves around what Hayden calls the “close game”. Discomfort comes from a misapprehension of what he calls the “deep game”. The close game is clandestine surveillance and targeted action. The deep game is winning “hearts and minds” of other nations.
Without question, Hayden is a great American patriot. He demonstrates his commitment to America with military service in the Air Force that raises him to a four-star general level. Nearing the end of his military career, Hayden is chosen to manage two of the most secretive bureaucracies in the world; e.g. the NSA and CIA. His tenure covers the most critical years of America’s war on terror, beginning with 9/11 and stretching to President Obama’s election as 45th President of the United States.
As leader of the NSA, Hayden admits that he got Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction wrong. Hayden notes that the nature of covert intelligence is that it is often built on circumstantial evidence. In the intelligence gathering business, Hayden notes there is often smoke where there is no fire.
A great deal of circumstantial information suggests Saddam Hussein had an arsenal of WMD, but when America invades Iraq, no WMD is found. NSA is hoodwinked by Hussein’s propaganda. From other author’s accounts, Hussein appears to have thought the creation of a “WMD fiction” made his rule stronger.
Hayden explains that intelligence is difficult to gather. When he first begins at NSA, there are relatively few Arabic speaking translators working for the agency. Equally surprising, NSA’s computer data-gathering systems are found to be antiquated. In fact, they nearly collapse just before Hayden takes over.Hardware is found operationally disjointed with different operating systems using algorithms that did not communicate with each other. Hayden attacks both deficiencies by hiring more translators and using a combination of outside consultants and inside computer whizzes to revamp NSA’s data gathering and communications system. Hayden suggests much of NSA’s translator and data-gathering weakness is eliminated but infers, with the advent of cyber war, technology remains a significant challenge.
Aside from the WMD error, Hayden seems to have left NSA in better condition than when he arrived. One judges for themselves about how critical the WMD mistake may have been in leading America into Iraq.
The CIA becomes Hayden’s next big intelligence job. From Hayden’s description, little change seems to have been necessary when he took the reins. He notes that CIA employees were less regimental than NSA employees but equally committed to their professions. He notes that CIA employees have all the same family problems of any large employment organization. Taking children to school, or to their sports, or music lessons, is the same for a CIA employee as for any family. One difference is that CIA employees are often unable to bring their work home and must internalize much of the frustration of their jobs. And, of course, they have the temptation of being compromised by foreign interests wanting to have actionable intelligence for their own governments.
As one listens to Hayden’s description of NSA and the CIA, it begins to sound like any job in a big organization. However, there is a whiff of organizational self-interest that suggests self-preservation and hubris, more than mission, is an employment motivation. Hayden did not wish to change the CIA when he took command. He seems to have succumb to the mythology of an organization that began in WWII, saved America, and could do no wrong.
On his first day of work, Hayden’s principle objective seems to have been to calm troubled feelings in the organization caused by the CIA’s errors of commission and omission. The CIA is complicit in the mistaken decision about WMD in Iraq. The CIA is complicit in black terrorist detention sites, prisoner abuse, and civilian collateral damage from drone attacks. Further, the CIA fails to catch bad actors in the agency before government secrets are sold to foreign interests.
The CIA is detailed by Hayden as a human organization. Decisions are made that raise questions of morality and ethics. Hayden argues that enhanced interrogation does reveal intelligence’ secrets. Hayden attempts to find a middle way between water boarding and sleep deprivation to get intelligence information from suspected terrorists. However, he goes so far as to suggest water boarding was useful in the interrogation of one terrorist who is uncooperative. Hayden’s judgement is that prisoner resistance is broken down by enhanced interrogation. (For those who have been through basic training in the military, that judgement seems plausible.) Many remain skeptical based on experiments that show the tortured say anything to stop the torture. Hayden argues that enhanced interrogation is supplemented by an interrogator’s known intelligence to determine whether the tortured is telling the truth. Hayden clearly comes down on the side of enhanced interrogation techniques for actionable intelligence.
To this reviewer, Hayden deludes himself in believing drone killing, enhanced interrogation, and cutting the head off terrorist organizations will win wars. Hayden makes an insightful distinction between the “close game” and the “deep game”. NSA and the CIA may be able to refine their success in a “close game” but they are losing the “deep game”.
America needs to lead by example. Torturing or killing terrorists does not change the underlying cultural reality that leads other countries to bad leaders and/or totalitarian governments.
This is not to say, Osama bin Laden did not deserve to die but killing him and other Al Qaeda leaders did not stop the terrorist movement; i.e. at best, it delayed the terrorist’s “close game”. Isis is a spin-off of Al Qaeda. When al-Baghdadi is killed, unless the underlying discontent of the Middle East is addressed, a new movement will replace al-Baghdadi; with equally ruthless leaders. The NSA and CIA are necessary organizations but they do not win wars.
Intelligence is an important tool for understanding other cultures. It is cultural understanding that will lead to peace; not covert action to kill those who believe something different.
America cannot remove themselves from the terrorist fight when the terrorist movement chooses to play a “close game”. But, America must protect itself from the delusion that the American way is the only way. That delusion reduces Americans to the level of terrorists. Americans need to focus on the “deep game” by being an example and facilitator for democratic freedom and rule of law. Peace can only come through cultural understanding and acceptance.
America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History
Written by: Andrew J. Bacevich
Narrated by: Rob Shapiro, Andrew J. Bacevich
To put it mildly, this is a difficult audio book to listen to. It rings with historic truth while revealing American ineptitude. Written by a military historian who retired as a Colonel, served in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf and, tragically, lost a son in Iraq in 2007. Bacevich implies that America’s wars, since WWII, have been failures. (Though he does not mention Korea, one presumes a temporary peace at the 38th parallel is included.)
Bacevich’s latest book focuses on war in the Middle East; a war of attrition and guerrilla warfare that reminds one of Vietnam. America clearly did not win in Vietnam and is facing a similar loss in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria.
To Bacevich, post WWII’ wars are the result of failures of diplomacy, military strategy, and military/civilian intelligence. Bacevich suggests America is in a “no-win” position in the Middle East because of misunderstanding of real-politic and fundamentalist beliefs that fracture nation-state comity.
Bacevich argues that failures of diplomacy come from a belief that removing a nation’s leader will change the nature of governments and the people they lead. He suggests Middle East, history shows that removing leaders only creates chaos and more resistance to American objectives. (In Vietnam, America tries to overcome the chaos of war with puppet government leaders who focused on self-aggrandizement more than public good.)
As a military strategy, America enters the Middle East by using overwhelming force to defeat the Iraq army; to apprehend or kill Saddam Hussein, and remove weapons of mass destruction.
In Afghanistan, the military strategy is to remove the Taliban and encourage the election of a government that would interrupt any terrorist organizations that would disrupt American interests.
In Libya, the military strategy is to bomb forces of Muammar Gaddafi; weaken his control, and allow opposition forces to dethrone or try Gaddafi for crimes against humanity.
In Syria, the military strategy is to bomb ISIS and arm factions opposed to Bashar al-Assad with a goal of Assad’s abdication. Bacevich suggests these strategies are a waste of American blood and treasure because there is no “end-game”.
Removing leaders changes nothing. Military actions are focused on removing leaders as opposed to addressing native cultural imperatives. A new leader will rise based on the culture of the country; not the interests of America or some other foreign combatant.
The use of drones may reduce American casualties but remote killing hardens the enemy and compromises military strategy with collateral damage that kills innocents as well as insurgents. The hardening of the enemy results in more recruits opposing American forces. For these and other reasons (psychological as well as physical), killing by drone is a strategic military and civilian mistake.
What is over-looked is the real-politic of America’s needs and the Middle East’s cultural imperatives. Middle Easterners want their country to be what they want it to be. America wants oil and that oil must come from diplomacy and negotiation, not Middle Eastern regime change. Wars founded on military strategic objectives will ultimately fail.
Great Britain could not hold the American colonies because foreign wars were too expensive. Just as in America’s actions and presumptions in the Middle East, Great Britain fails to address or appreciate colonist’s cultural concerns.
America’s civilian and military intelligence fails our government leaders. An obvious military intelligence failure is NSA’s insistence, and the CIA’s concurrence, that there were WMD in Iraq. Less obvious is America’s failure to recognize every nation in the world wishes to be sovereign; wishes to follow their own traditions, and wishes to grow into their own identity.
It may be dis-proportionally unjust for other governments to be other than democratic but who are we to judge or dictate to another sovereign country? America fought its own war to become a democratic republic. It is not perfect, but most Americans want to live in their own country. Diplomacy is Bacevich’s implied solution. One presumes Bacevich is not implying America should become isolationist. He suggests America needs diplomacy, founded on cultural understanding of other nations; not war, to get what the U.S. needs to prosper.
As countries mature, the common needs of humankind will become more evident. Like a child growing up, countries grow into adulthood. Some will die in the process; many mistakes will be made, but most will grow into maturity based on their own traditions and adopted foreign influences.
Democracy works for America. American democracy does not work for everyone. Countries need to work with each other based on maturity; not infant tantrum. As nations mature, rages will continue to occur because of internal strife. However, Bacevich infers international diplomacy is a better alternative to war for survival of the species.
Twenty days in Africa does not make you an expert. But, as noted by our insightful Zimbabwe-born team leader, every visit to Africa changes both visitor and native. Manue Joao paints a picture of three nation-states that vivify the great beauty and wealth of Africa. In twenty days, the nations of Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana were traveled by our group of 15 Americans; organized, directed, and helped by local guides and a host of excellent camp managers.
Having traveled with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) before, we expected a cultural adventure. OAT did not disappoint. Along with spectacular scenic opportunities, events were scheduled to give travelers a more intimate and personal understanding of the host countries visited.
OAT’s team leader, Manue offers a history lesson on Africa as we travel on planes, boats, buses, and Land Rovers, through the African Savannah.
Today, the three major industries in Africa are mining, agriculture, and tourism. Each of these industries have troubles. Mining for coal is a big industry in crises with falling prices, and environmental concern. African laborers are offered decent salaries but Manue notes that one coal mine had not paid their laborers for over four years. He goes on to explain—the laborers keep working because there is no alternative employment. The mine workers are ecstatic when, earlier this year, the mine owners offer 7% of their back wages to continue working.
In visiting a small village, we find that agriculture is constantly faced with the terrors of nature; i.e. poor rainfall, soil depletion, and animal destruction.
Tourism is troubled by ivory poaching, Rhino killing for horn harvesting profits, and elephant overpopulation in restricted habitat reserves.
Putting aside these troubles in the big three industries, there seems a leadership deficit in a country with so much untapped potential.
Many Africans seem trapped in poverty when the wealth of the country is laid waste by an interstate transportation system that strangles economic growth. Trucks are lined up for hours, days, weeks, and sometimes months for transport across borders. Vast tracks of land are only accessible by dirt roads. Water, sewer, and infrastructure investment seems un-systematically utilized. Government leaders are often corrupted by the power they wield over government employment, contracts, policies, and finances.
The history of Africa seems to set a table for an economic feast that is consumed by everyone except the vast majority of Africans.
Because of the European scramble for wealth and power (between the 15th and early 20th century), the continent of Africa was colonized by foreign rulers. Great Britain, Portugal, France, and Belgium carved Africa into nation-states in the Berlin Conference of 1884-85. Without regard to native societies a multi-state continent was formed based on the greed and hubris of occupying foreign governments. The irony of Africa’s artificial nation-state creations was that these arbitrary borders become a source of conflict in the African’s drive for independence.
The economic difficulties of Africa remind one of the early days of America. Every state of the original 13 colonies was a kingdom unto itself until the First Continental Congress in 1774. Though the 13 colonies are largely populated by white English, Germans, and French, with a growing population of Black slaves, each colony became a melting pot for white immigrants arriving from different nations of the world. In America, native American Indians were slaughtered or displaced by the advance of “civilization” with the increasing influx of foreign, largely white, immigrants.
To a degree, something similar has occurred in Africa. In the early colonization of Africa, each nation-state was composed of native tribes who established societies controlled by early Europeans. (The most obvious parallel to America’s slaughter and displacement of native Americans, is the slave trade that killed or displaced tens of millions of native Africans.) As white European controllers are thrown out of Africa, the mixture of remaining native African cultures boiled over like an over-heated melting pot.
Either because of religion, ethnicity, or differing societal norms, one factional group stepped on another’s freedom. Conflict rose; in some cases, with violent and deadly results. In America, “boiling over” is evident in the civil rights movement, anti-war rallies, women’s rights marches, and elections of incompetent Presidents. In Africa, it is evident in the taking of private property without compensation, inter-state commerce inefficiency, equal rights movements for women, and rule by notorious leaders like Idi Amin, and Joseph Kony.
Africa is incredibly beautiful.
In sunrises and sunsets; in exposure to the largest and most beautiful animals in the world;
in spectacular views of Victoria Falls, and with many Africans’ heart-felt acceptance of tourists. A traveler sees and feels the radiance of nature and the kindness of all human beings. But, the economic hardship of the general population in the face of such great potential wealth is disheartening.
The heart of the failure of African nation-states is said to lie at the feet of poor leadership and corruption. Though there is undoubted truth in that observation, it seems an excuse for failure. Every scheduled presentation by indigenous Africans notes how important education is to their and their family’s success. It may be that the people we met are an exception but every culture has its exceptions. It is these exceptions that modernize the world.
Sacrifice for education and family values are obvious characteristics of the people we met. Stories were told of the sacrifice that a Principal makes to teach children English; a story of a prostitute who sells herself with the intent of saving enough to finish school and start her own business; a story of an un-wed mother who is first in her class in high school and goes on to college—all are native Africans emphasizing the importance of family and education.
One is drawn to the conclusion that corruption and poor leadership are a stage of early development that will be ameliorated (not eliminated) over time. There is no quick solution but a first step would be to re-value the indigenous culture of each part of Africa. Simply changing borders is not the answer. But, like early America, sections of Africa should consider their own Continental Congresses to provide government services that a single state is unable to provide; i.e. services like interstate commerce, military preparedness, and a common currency. Every power not given to this centralized government would remain in the hands of respective nation-states. This would allow each nation to retain its identity within a union of states of similar tribes and cultures that would wield power that is not reserved by independent nation-states.
Today, the economic strength of Africa is being strangled by border crossing regulations that delay interstate commerce. Undoubtedly, corruption is exacerbated by bribes to get consumer goods across borders.
Respective state leaders are reluctant to give up control of borders because they get a piece of the interstate border crossing fees. The greed of leaders can be co-opted by making them understand they will make more money with the opening of their borders by using some of the nation’s wealth to create paved roads into growth corridors of their states.
When foreign companies see they can get to their mine, or have water for agricultural development, they will invest. Government leaders can negotiate deals with foreign businesses that demand training of native populations in the management work of new businesses. When more Africans are employed, a source for government taxation is created which can add to the wealth of a nation-state or the corruption of a leader. Each President of a respective nation-state remains in control of his country in a federalist system.
The emphasis on education must be reinforced with adequate funding from respective nation-states. In time, that education will remove overtly corrupt leaders. It will not eliminate corruption but it will improve the condition of the local population.
There is a cost inherent in this push for modernization. Manue tells of a family structure that exists in the three countries visited. Close family relationship will be diminished by modernization.
Every village has a Chief who has a Head man who supervises the village. These positions are inherited; not earned by performance. This familial arrangement will be compromised by modernization because performance will become a more important criterion for Chief or Head man designations. Money and power, rather than family relationship, will become prevalent as nation-states modernize.
Love for Africa is clearly evident in the people we met. One suspects our visit is a sanitized view of the real life of most Africans. However, our view is through the eyes of a rich, modern nation. A young African boy or girl born into a family of loving parents knows what he/she knows and cares little about what a government does or a foreigner thinks. Family is everything to a child.
Twenty days in Africa is a trip of a life time; especially with a guide like Manue Joao.
“So different and so alike” is what comes to mind in listening to John Farrell’s biography of Richard Nixon.
President Nixon is characterized as thin skinned, vindictive, and dissembling; a description echoed by today’s President.
Nixon and Trump appear both misogynistic, and anti-intellectual. Both viscerally react to perceived slights. Both have morally corrupt views of society. Both make comments reflecting ethnic racism with reprehensible private comments. Both attack news publishers; particularly the Washington Post and New York Times.
However, Farrell shows Nixon to be clearly unlike Trump. Nixon understands political and public reality while Trump clings to a skewed business and personal reality.
Nixon avoids unfavorable publicity while Trump manufactures it. Nixon exemplifies international, geo-political, and professional foreign policy while Trump follows an amateurish parochial isolationist foreign policy. Nixon is surreptitiously thuggish, while Trump is outwardly thuggish. Nixon operates from a perspective of power-hungry self-interest, while Trump operates from “monied” self-interest.
Farrell recounts Nixon’s early years of overt and benign support of McCarthyism. Nixon justifies his penchant for exposing communist sympathizers with his successful prosecution of Alger Hiss. (Ironically, Hiss is convicted for a cover-up rather than espionage; just as Nixon is impeached for a cover-up rather than a burglary.) It remains to be seen but, like Nixon, Trump may be impeached for a cover-up of Russian interference in the American electoral process.
Nixon’s campaign for President is grounded on an anti-communist platform while pursuing positive relations with the most populated communist country in the world, China. Trump’s campaign for President is based on the big lie; i.e., the overt support of the poor and middle class while acting to promote the wealthy.
Nixon and Trump have little respect for experts. Nixon demeans Henry Kissinger, a Harvard educated intellectual, who became Nixon’s Secretary of State and a principal in the negotiation for the first SALT agreement with Russia and the opening of Communist China. Trump demeans the scientific community by denying global warming and removing America from the Paris Climate Accord. Trump bullys the President of Montenegro who, despite Russian objection, becomes a part of the NATO alliance. Nixon fires a special prosecutor investigating the Watergate burglary while Trump allegedly contemplates the same action regarding Robert Mueller, the special investigator hired to explore Russian influence in American elections.
On balance, Nixon is shown by Farrell to be much more presidential than Trump but the perspective of history weighs heavily on that assessment. Nixon, like all human beings, is flawed. He is not the first President to lie. He is not the first President to kill innocents.
Ending Vietnam at the expense of South Vietnamese is a mixed blessing but Nixon stopped the carnage. Opening China to the world is a great American accomplishment which history fairly attributes to Nixon and Kissinger. Only time will tell if Trump is more than what he seems.
Lynne Kutsukake offers a defeated nation’s perspective on the aftermath of WWII in “The Translation of Love”. Kutsukake is a third generation Canadian. Not old enough to have experienced Japan’s defeat, but wise enough to reflect on WWII’s human tragedy. As noted many times in former reviews, there are no winners in war. There are only survivors.
Kutsukake creates a story of a 12-year-old Japanese Canadian girl at the end of WWII. Her name is Aya Shimamura.
In Canada, her mother and father experience discrimination of being a minority in a largely homogeneous nation. Aya’s mother commits suicide by drowning.
To add to the tragedy of the suicide, Aya and her father are deported to Japan soon after the end of the war.
Listener/readers follow the experience of Aya’s dislocation. She is introduced at a local Japanese school as an American because she can speak English. She is seen by the school administrator as a token of the Great Leader of Democracy, General MacArthur. In truth, she is only a little girl trying to fit in, and make new friends. At the same time, she is trying to understand why her mother killed herself; why her mother left her, and if she loved her.
Kutsukake re-creates the 1945, god-like adoration of MacArthur by the Japanese. Though there is obvious respect for MacArthur’s power and position in Japan, there is underlying resentment by many Japanese of America’s occupation and cultural influence. The devastation and poverty of the countryside is contrasted with the behavior of American soldiers assigned to Japan.
Indigenous Japanese are devastated by the war. They have no money. They struggle to survive. A black market develops to offer many of the necessities of life to Japanese civilians, but earning money for payment is difficult.
Some Japanese, including Aya’s father, resort to theft. The thievery is not for the money as much as getting back at society for his family’s mistreatment.
Aya’s father works as a janitor. He cleans American military offices because working for Americans pays the best for what is available in the legal job market. Her father keeps the nature of his employment quiet because of the menial nature of the work. Aya, at the age of 12, is on her own when not in school.
Kutsukake heightens the cognitive dissonance of the conquered by introducing Japanese American soldiers who translate letters that are sent to MacArthur. These Japanese American soldiers bridge a divide by appearing to be Japanese while culturally American. Presumably, the letters are translated to monitor local opinion of Japan’s occupation by the American military. MacArthur never receives the translations but they are reviewed and filed into history.
Aya makes friends with a young Japanese student in her class. The friend has a sister who chooses to become a dance partner with American soldiers to help support her family. The older sister is offered a salary by a Japanese entrepreneur that takes advantage of young women that need a job. He reminds one of a pimp that enslaves unwary women by offering clothing and shelter while creating debt beyond reasonable payoff by the women working for him. Naturally, their mother and father resent the older sister’s decision because they view it as unseemly and culturally unacceptable.
Kutsukake notes that many young Japanese women become consorts of Americans to escape poverty. There is hope that their American partners will fall in love with them and marry, or at least, support them for some period. However, most American soldiers are looking for a good time; without any thought of marriage or commitment.
Aya’s friend is trying to find her older sister. She enlists Aya to help her write a letter to MacArthur to help find her sister. It eventually gets into the hands of one of the Japanese American interpreters who makes a half-hearted effort to find the older sister on his own. He fails.
However, like a Dicken’s novel, the older sister is found; Aya finds her mother did love her dearly in spite of her suicide, and life returns to a kind of normalcy.
Kutsukake shows the heartache of loss, the importance of culture, friendship, and respect. More significantly, her novel vivifies the negative consequence of war. It tears families apart. It reinforces discrimination. It diminishes society. “The Translation of Love” is a well told story of life’s return to normality after war.