Friday, July 10, 2020

GI Joe Vol III By Larry Hama

GI Joe Vol III
By Larry Hama

“Don't complain about our manners while I'm complaining about the food!” Roadblock

Another year and another volume of GI Joe, although I admit I sometimes feel the urge towards a month of Joe or three due to my enjoyment of the series (<Sniffs in Slavoj Žižek >). Volume III covers issues 21 to 30 all of which were published in 1984. Which means we're gonna get a big dose of the 80s, so brace yourselves (It’s so 80s, you’re all gonna become Snowflame.). Now I've covered Larry Hama in the review of Vol I, although I'd like to focus on Mr. Hama's life long practice of martial arts; mostly the arts from Japan, the homeland of his parents from what I can find. Mr. Hama himself was born in the United States so his homeland is America, I shouldn't have to say that for a man who not only served his nation in war but also enriched its culture but the news says otherwise (Because of Racism. I refuse to be in any way subtle about this, being actively and aggressively anti-racist.). Anyways, the reason I bring up Hama's practice of the martial arts is the impact that it had on his creations and writing; also because this is the volume where the ninjas really start showing up in GI Joe. Now Snake Eyes was here from the start in Issue 1, but this volume starts to dig into his backstory. It also introduces Storm Shadow, whose relationship to Snake Eyes ranges from sworn nemesis to blood brother. The martial arts and ninja clan drama that would, over time, become a big part of the GI Joe series, even at times threatening to overwhelm everything else and turn the series into the life and times of Ninjas and their soldier buddies (who fight crime/terrorism) but I'm jumping ahead of myself.

Storm Shadow, who like Mr. Hama is a Japanese-American, is introduced in issue 21, the first story in volume III. In these early days, Storm Shadow serves as a commander to the red ninjas, a secretive band of ninjas in service to Cobra and Cobra Commanders bodyguard (Ugh, they can do so much better.{Better than Storm Shadow?}). Cobra Commander views him as the most trustworthy of his commanders. Of course with Cobra being a pit of betrayal and conflicting agendas who knows how long that will last? This issue is as legendary as the silent interlude, the issue of GI Joe that told a complete story without a single word of dialogue. It's rightfully considered a classic, has been used as an argument that comics are both art and individual medium of storytelling with its own rules and was the very first issue of GI Joe that I ever read as a young boy of about eight (awwwwww), years after it was first released of course. I'm not entirely sure if this is the first comic book I ever read but it's the first one I remember and I'm pretty glad to say that it stands up to the memories. Even if you're not into comics or martial arts I would urge you to pick up a digital copy of issue 21 just to see what can be done with only sequential art. The rest of volume III made up of issues 22 through 30 are not as experimental and have spoken dialogue which is likely for the best, as I'm not sure you could run a comic series without a single word of dialogue, although I would love it if someone tried.

Now, Storm Shadow isn't the only character introduced in this volume, in fact, several fan favorites make their first appearance here. On the Cobra side, we see Firefly, the minor characters of Wild Weasel and Zartan, and his dim-witted gang of minions, the Dreadnoughts. I have to admit I really enjoy the Dreadnoughts, a bunch of Australian Bikers turned to evil, likely because they were to stupid to resist the temptation (Sounds about right for Australian donor-cyclists. Don’t @ me!). It is glorious watching them bumble through the story and through their wildly destructive antics causing as much damage to their “friends'' as they do to their foes. It honestly helps to lighten the mood without causing too much of a tonal shift in the storytelling, so you don't get exhausted or suffer whiplash. On the Joes' side, we see the introduction of Flint and Roadblock. I'll admit I like Roadblock better, who unlike the cartoon doesn't speak in rhymes but like a normal human being. Roadblock is also strong enough to carry around a 50 caliber M2 Browning machine gun and fire it standing. This thing is meant to be fired from a tripod and weighs 83 pounds by the way, and Roadblock swings it around like it's a standard M16 rifle. He is also a superb chef and really picky about what he eats, which means considering he's serving in the time of the C rat he is in fact living a special brand of hell (The poor benighted soul. If you want to know what a C rat is, head on over to the youtube channel MREinfo. It’s a surprisingly cute dude who taste tests and reviews antique military rations he digs up from various places.). We also met Cutter from the coast guard (So he’s a...Coast Guard Cutter? Eh? Eh!?) proving that GI Joe doesn't just recruit from the normal military services; and Deep Six, a diver who might honestly be autistic given his super focus on his job, lack of emotional cues, and inability to socialize with the people around him (Yay!). I'm pretty sure that's not what Mr. Hama meant to write but that's what I read.

Besides the introductions, the issue is mostly focused mainly on two things. First, an escalating battle between the Joes and Cobra when the Joes manage to take Cobra Commander prisoner in a successful operation and Storm Shadow stops at nothing to break Cobra Commander out. What occurs is a brutal volley of chases as both sides push for the win in a series of fights ranging from the Rocky Mountains to the Florida Everglades. There's a good deal of internal Cobra power plays going on here, as Major Bludd attempts to become a power broker in Cobra and Destro continues to gather people to his faction (Ah the infighting of villainy… They should learn from the Rule of Two era Sith.{That would make it hard to be an international terrorist organization I think}). Second is the beginning of the series-long storyline of Ninja drama. I don't call it that to demean it, Mr. Hama was decades ahead of his time as a lot of the intrigue here would make the heads of Game of Thrones fans spin. It also is the first time we unspool Snake Eyes origin story which is important because he becomes one of the central characters of the GI Joe team. We learn about his service in Vietnam, how he met Storm Shadow here, the death of his family and twin sister. We also learn that when Storm Shadow found out about this, he brought Snake Eyes into the family business. That family business being... you know... Ninjas. Snake Eyes as is the tradition was super good at being a ninja, so good that it caused some friction between him and Storm Shadow. I understand completely where Storm Shadow is coming from here though, imagine training at something your whole damn life only to have a buddy you bring in waltz in and start becoming your equal or even superior in a couple of years (That would, in fact, be extremely frustrating.). That would be more than a little galling. That's not the center of the drama though, the big issue is when the leader of the ninja clan is assassinated by an arrow. While using ninja powers to perfectly imitate Snake Eyes. Storm Shadow is spotting running from the scene of the crime and the clan spins itself apart. We learn more about Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes but I'm going to encourage you to go read the comic for yourself because I honestly think it's a good storyline.

That said, I can see some people being of two minds over this volume. The ninjas of GI Joe are rather polarizing in some parts of the fandom. Some see the ninja characters as not really belonging and preferring to focus on straight soldiers vs fascist terrorist story elements (Look, I don’t care as long as fascists die horribly.). Some are pretty much all about the ninjas, all the time. That said I think most fans are like me, who enjoy and appreciate the flavor that the ninja characters bring to GI Joe as long as they don't hijack the entire series. It’s like mixing peanut butter and chocolate, you need a balance of the two flavors to make it work. So if you break out into hives upon seeing or hearing the nin-word, you're not gonna like this volume seeing it as the genesis of everything you dislike in the series. On the flip side, if you really enjoy this stuff, this is the volume where GI Joe starts to fly for you. For me, this is a good volume and a great read, with interesting characters, although I could understand if some felt it was a bit too 80s for them as we watch Australian Bikers attack an airbase and ninjas duel on trains (Too much cocaine and Ronald Reagan was president.{It was a weird decade}). There are also some realistic parts that I could have lived without, like several male Joes constantly hitting on Cover Girl, mainly because at this point Scarlet has terrified them into submission (Ugh. Straight men.{I’m right here!}). That said, I'm giving GI Joe Vol III by Larry Hama an A-. There's good character conflict, action, and a lot of fun banter to had here if you don't mind some of the dated elements.

So this was voted for by our ever wise Patrons, if you would like to vote for reviews and themes for months of reviews, join us at A dollar a month gets you a vote! Next week, we return to history and the civil war with The State of Jones by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer, where we learn of the Unionists in the south and the plight of the common infantryman in the Confederate army. Until then, thank you for your support and keep reading!

Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
Black text is your reviewer Garvin Anders

Friday, July 3, 2020

Blood Moon: An American Epic of War and Splendor in the Cherokee Nation By John Sedgwick

Blood Moon: An American Epic of War and Splendor in the Cherokee Nation
By John Sedgwick

John Sedgwick was born in 1954, in Boston Massachusetts. His father R. Minturn Sedgwick was an investment adviser (Hissss) and his mother Emily appears to have been a homemaker. A member of a family that first arrived in America in 1636, John Sedgwick grew up with an advantaged lifestyle. He attended Groton School, a private boarding school and Harvard University (Oh dear. You were not kidding.), where he graduated Magna Cum Laude in English in 1977. While he was a senior at Harvard, Esquire magazine published a survey of Harvard bathroom graffiti that he wrote, it was his first published work. He married his first wife, Megan Marshal, also a writer and Harvard graduate in 1980, and they had two daughters. He published his first book not too long after in 1982, Night Vision about a real-life private investigator named Gil Lewis. He worked for Vanity Fair, GQ, Self, Newsweek, and the Atlantic while publishing several novels and nonfiction works. As journalists tend to do he drifted into writing history, starting with In My Blood where he researched his own family and their history of mental illness. Currently, he lives with his second wife, CNN analyst Rana Foroohar and her two children in Brooklyn, New York. Blood Moon was published in 2018 by Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

Before we get into the book itself though we’ve got to slam my own bias on the table for everyone to see. Otherwise, I'm not being honest with you, my readers, and being honest with you is something I always want to be. I myself have some Cherokee ancestry on my Mother's side, just enough to qualify for tribal membership (I've never voted in the elections since I felt that casting a vote for a government that had next to no effect on me was unfair to the people who did have to live with it). However, my knowledge of Cherokee history has always been spotty, since my Grandmother divorced my Mother's Father and passed away when my mother was a child. This is further complicated by the fact that my mother is deaf and very few members of her family bothered to learn ASL (Which is just flipping sad). So any knowledge I have had to be fished out and puzzled together from scraps, often working around my Mother's Father. My paternal Grandmother was a big help to me there, often seeking out and finding books for me to read (Everything he’s ever told me about his paternal grandmother was awesome). That said, the narrative that I pieced together wasn't entirely factual. I grew up believing that Stand Watie was a pure villain willing to go to war for the very people who threw the Cherokee out of their homes to keep his slaves and John Ross was a near saint of a man desperate to keep his nation from being dragged into a final ruinous conflict.

Mr. Sedgwick challenges just about every part of that narrative except the fact that the civil war was a ruinous conflict, killing one out of four Cherokee. Of the survivors, another quarter was left homeless, a third widowed and of all surviving children, a quarter was left orphaned (Holy crap. You know, given those statistics, I can understand why that narrative was a thing. Clarity of hindsight, and all.). While the civil war was the bloodiest war yet fought on North American soil, for the Cherokee it was an apocalypse that killed any frail hope of building a prosperous and free society independent of complete European-American control. What I haven't always known, but Blood Moon tells us, is that this was only the last and most brutal chapter of an internal feud that stretched back decades between Chief John Ross and the Ridge Family, of whom Stand Watie was one of the last surviving members in the Cherokee nation. That feud was both profound and petty, played for high stakes, and unbelievably sordid at times in its motives and conduct. (Buckle in folks, I suspect this is gonna be a bit of a ride.)

Mr. Segdwick starts us off at the beginning of the story, or at least as close as we can get to the beginning, with the birth of the man who would become the first and last grand patriarch of the Ridge family. He was born before the American revolution when the Cherokee nation still loomed across what would become Tennessee, Kentucky, the north of Alabama, Georgia, and parts of the Carolinas. The Cherokee lived in small villages and in clans, the woman farming, the men hunting. It was not a densely inhabited nation, the Cherokee as far as we know never numbered above 30,000. However, even then the influence of Europe wasn't that far away; because The Ridge, who would later be named Major Ridge (he was granted the rank of Major when the Cherokee marched with the American Army but that's later) was born to a Cherokee woman whose father was white. That wasn't the end of it of course, as he was born in time to oversee a major transition in Cherokee life. Mr. Sedgwick carefully takes us through his life, how he would have grown up, his marriage, and his career as a warrior. First fighting the Americans as allies to the British, then fighting the Americans trying to push them back and finally fighting with the Americans against the British and other native tribes. We are also given a close-up view of Major Ridge's children and their lives, such as John Ridge who despite being born with weak legs became an influential figure in Cherokee politics even though he was educated in New England and married to Sarah Northrup, the daughter of the school steward. John Ridge actually serves to show us the new emerging upper class of the Cherokee tribe. Many of them part white, bilingual, Christian, and copying European dress and ways of life and then we have John Ross. Chief John Ross didn't speak a word of Cherokee, was more Scottish than Cherokee in his ancestry, and was often accused of using his office for self-enrichment. Despite all of this he would maintain the support and loyalty of the majority of lower-class Cherokee, who were also the majority of the full-blooded natives in the tribe (Oh dear god. I could go on an anti-colonialist screed here very easily. Talk about the wolf guarding the henhouse, Jesus Christ.).

Mr. Sedgwick is also careful to show us what started the struggle and turned it violent. It came down to two things, first was a rather normal struggle for political power, the second was how Ross and the Ridges were dealing with a grave and massive threat to their ways of life. I speak of course of the land seizures carried out by the State of Georgia that were the direct cause of the Trail of Tears, an event the Cherokee consider near equal to the holocaust in its moral depravity and the sheer damage leveled on the nation (Well, being the victim of a state-backed genocide and geographic ethnic cleansing will do that. The way the European colonialists treated Native Americans of every stripe was just… look, we talk about slavery being America’s original sin, but the reality is, it was continuous with the genocide of the people who lived on this continent first. Arguably, it is also something that continues to this day by way of the bullshit done by the Bureau of Indian Affairs at the behest of their true masters: various corporate interests.{On the Cherokee side there’s a bit of extra bitterness that I will argue is well warranted. The Cherokee abandoned a life style of hunting/farming to adopt European style farming and livestock keeping. The Cherokee abandoned their clan-based laws to adopt European style laws and courts. A European style government. They adopted Christianity, their own written language, and were in the process of turning themselves into a copy of the Americans as well as fighting alongside them against other Indians. Only to be treated like this.}I can imagine that bitterness... Though again, hindsight is 20/20. It never mattered what they did, they weren’t white and thus would never be treated like people by the settler-colonialists. And still aren’t.) This book makes a strong case that the Cherokee are right. This is another part of the history I learned growing up that Mr. Segdwick only reinforces. As the government of Georgia used its state troops and murderous mobs to hound the Cherokee almost immediately after the war or 1812. For example, units of Andrew Jackson's (I wish there was a hell for this piece of shit to dwell in {On the flip side readers, I believe in hell and I firmly believe Jackson is sitting there}) militia army burned and looted their way across Cherokee territory on their way home, despite the Cherokee being their allies against the British and the Creek. At first, we see the Ridges and Ross are allies in the struggle to hold back invasion and pillage of their lands and homes but as the decades roll on and Presidents Andrew Jackson and later Van Buren make it clear that the federal government will not even bother to enforce the dictates of the Supreme Court against Georgia, the Ridges (correctly) realize that there is no hope of victory here, just the hope of taking as much as they can west. It's at this point that Ross, having already canceled elections, pretty much shuts them out of power and refuses to budge. Ross constantly told the Cherokee that if they just refused to move, sooner or later the US would give up and cut a deal that let them keep their land (With the hindsight of history though, that was delusional. Honestly, it was probably delusional at the time, to the point that it was like Comrade Dyatlov at Chernobyl insisting that the reactor had not, in fact, exploded.{It was delusional to the point that a good minority of the Cherokee didn’t buy it. The majority, however, many of whom couldn’t speak English, bought it, because they couldn’t hear what the whites were saying and they desperately wanted it to be true}Which is outrageously fucking sad.). It's possible he even believed it before the Trail of Tears began in earnest and US federal troops began rounding up the Cherokee and marching them out of their homes, with greedy white Georgians often swarming in behind them to loot and seizure the farmhouses and barns that the thoroughly Euroized Cherokee had built. When they didn't just burn them to the ground for the sheer thrill of it honestly. (This, BTW, is one of the reasons why statues of Andrew Jackson are being torn down. He was shitty as fuck to anyone who wasn’t white, and our anti-racist movement includes the atrocities committed against native peoples.)

This feud which sparked off in the 1820s continued past the Trail of Tears into the 1840s and into the Oklahoma territory, where violence would take hold. Ross scapegoated the Ridges and their supporters and the Ridges sought revenge for the hurts and insults slung at them. There was also a good deal of money at stake, 5 million dollars that the US government promised to pay to the Cherokee government and neither side believed the other would honestly share it out (Probably justifiably). This led to bloodshed and much like Kansas the Cherokee nation bled and threatened to split apart permanently well before the US Civil War began. This bloodletting claimed the lives of many of the leading Ridges and left Stand Watie as the last Ridge standing. By the time Mr. Segdwick arrives at the civil war, we see many people brutally murdered in their own homes. While Stand Watie and Chief Ross manage to scrap together a truce in the 1850s, it was blown apart when the US Civil War began. It's only after reading this book that I came to grasp Stand Watie's logic in siding with the Confederacy. The upper class of the Cherokee were slave owners, as the Cherokee had owned slaves well before any Europeans had shown up, and seeing all their white neighbors owning slaves convinced them that owning black slaves was the civilized thing to do (I’ll just be over here vomiting into my mouth.{Look man, when your example of “civilization” is the pre-civil war American South…} And I’ll just be retching more...). So men like Watie viewed abolitionists as a threat, additionally, Ross favored neutrality which would only piss off both sides but did slightly lean Union. So when the Confederacy promised to pay the debt the US government owed and officially recognize the Cherokee as a sovereign nation... Watie decided to risk it, besides it would let him get back at Ross. So a combination of personal grievance, a desire for justice in regards to murdered family members, and class loyalty (*Stares in Marxist*) started an even worse bloodbath that would claim several of Watie's and Ross' children and leave them both broken hollowed-out shells much like Cherokee society in 1865.

Blood Moon is a historical record and a tragedy, of how the leading members of the Cherokee nation fell to infighting and as such destroyed a lot of their own hopes and dreams. It doesn't shy away from looking at the many crimes and broken promises of the US, which played a huge role in what happened but when you read this book you are left with the feeling that if the Ridges had been better able to communicate to the average Cherokee what they saw coming or if Ross had been less pig-headed or less insistent that the damage could have been repaired; that the Cherokee might have been able to build something better and grander in Oklahoma. While the Cherokee continue today and have managed to repair a lot of the damage, I can tell you from my visits to the Cherokee museum as a child that the wounds still linger and this book gave me a deeper understanding of why they lingered. I don't think this book is perfect though, there is a lot of what I can only call speculation as to the motives of various men in the book and the full blood average Cherokee is often cast as a dupe in thrall to John Ross rather than a group of people with their own agency and beliefs that drove their loyalty and actions (That’s a general flaw that seems to happen in historical works when dealing with what I’ll call The Peasantry vis a vis their nobles.). That said it provides a lot of information on the men who were driving Cherokee decision making and the events and most likely motives that were part of those decisions. Because of this, I'm giving Blood Moon: An American Epic of War and Splendor in the Cherokee Nation by John Sedgwick an A-. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the post-revolutionary history of the Cherokee people.

Alright, so I'm back folks and it was a nice vacation, I recommend isolation if you can pull it off these days. So Blood Moon was voted for by our ever-wise patrons and if you would like a vote on future reviews and themes for as little as a dollar a month join us at Next week we take a break from history and enjoy GI Joe Real American History Vol III. Until then wear your mask, stay safe and keep reading!

Friday, June 26, 2020

Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II By Robert Matzen

Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II
By Robert Matzen

The war was very, very important to her. It made her who she was.”
Luca Dotti, Audrey Hepburn's son

Robert Matzen was born in Pittsburgh and grew up in the Mon Valley of Pennsylvania. He graduated from Cal State and immediately published his first book “Research Made Easy: a Guide for Students and Writers” in 1987. I wouldn't recommend leaning too heavily on that book however because it was written before the internet was developed. In 2001 he worked as a filmmaker for the feature documentary When the Forest Ran Red, a documentary on young George Washington in the French Indian War (I think I saw that one…). Mr. Matzen has said that experience deeply influenced his research style and gave him a desire to take a more intimate perspective in telling history. For ten years he worked as a communications specialist in NASA headquarters in Washington D.C using his film making experience to write and direct films for NASA facilities across the country (Nice.). He began working on Hollywood histories with Errol Flynn Slept Here, writing about the house that Errol Flynn built for himself; that book was published in 2015. He swiftly found himself in demand, especially after writing Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe, a book on Jimmy Stewart's wartime service, where he served as a squadron commander in the Army Air Corps. Today Mr. Matzen lives in the Pittsburgh area with his wife Mary. Dutch Girl, his latest book and the subject of today's review, was published in April 2019 by Goodknight books.

  Let's be honest, any World War II story in Europe is going to have its real beginnings in at least the early to mid-1930s, if not World War I. This story starts with Audrey's parents, Joseph Ruston and Baroness Ella Van Heemstra. Joseph was born in Austria but was a British citizen and because of that Ella and Audrey were both British citizens. Ella was the fifth daughter of a minor nobleman, her title came with no wealth or land but her family did have a certain social relevance (Kinda like British hereditary peers, at this point, if I remember correctly.), her father served as colonial governor of Suriname but quit when his government refused to back his efforts to hold an American mining company in check and diversify the economy of the colony (Weeeee Colonial Capitalism!  I will direct you, comrades, to the writings of Rosa Luxemburg on this topic.). Honestly the fact that Ella had a title but no wealth is likely what led to their divorce and Joseph would be an absent figure for much of Audrey's life. Audrey was raised in a single-parent home or a home with grandparents or uncles and aunts. Perhaps the more relevant fact was that Joseph and Ella were both fascists and members of the British fascist party, the British Union of Fascists (Every last one of whom should have been taken out back and shot.). It's likely easier to understand in 2020 than it would have been in 1990, but there was a time when fascism was well... fashionable (They’re back.  The US president is one, down to using Nazi dogwhistles and open iconography rather than subtext in his campaign ads.  If you disagree, go fuck yourself.). With the great depression in full swing and the horror of World War I still on the world, the great experiment of democracy seemed to have failed. Many believed that the only thing to do was to abandon democracy and embrace either soviet-style communism or fascism (Never mind that there was the example of the CNT.  Poor CNT.). A famous example of this that appears in the book is Unity Mitford, one of the girls known as the Scandal Sisters. They were daughters of an aristocratic family in Great Britain who divided themselves with some supporting fascism and others communism. Unity was known to go so far as to spend months in Germany practically stalking Adolf Hitler (Creepy, but if she scared him with her creepiness, good.  Fascists should live in perpetual fear.). Ella herself saw fascism as a spiritual movement that would restore joy and pride to Europe (Wow, I know hindsight is 20/20 but that is some delusional bullshit right there.). She even wrote two articles that were published in support of fascism and in 1935 visited Berlin with her husband and Unity to meet Hitler, who went so far as to kiss Ella's hand (Excuse me as I vomit into my mouth.). By 1944, Ella was hiding downed British pilots (Good.  Like Wilhelm Canaris, it is possible to change your mind before you commit atrocities, and the world will forgive you.  If you are a fascist right now, just stop.  That’s all you have to do.  Give up your fascist ideology.  You don’t even have to help us fight them, all you have to do is stop.) and her daughter was volunteering for a resistance doctor. This book is Ella's story as well as Audrey's; although because of Ella's decades of work to hide the fact that she ever supported fascism piecing, it together is harder than you might think. Still, there is a journey of Ella from a privileged, upper-class supporter of fascism to embittered resister of Nazi occupation and I can't help but wonder how much that journey influenced Aubrey's own as she was all of 11 years old when the Nazi's invaded the Netherlands.

Mr. Matzen, in the pursuit of providing us context, tells us a bit about Audrey's life before the war. We learn that despite the fact that the marriage fell apart, Joseph and Ella worked to have Aubrey educated in England in her early life. Ella thought it would be better and in some degree safer for Audrey to be English. When in the late 30s the war clouds gathered Ella moved quickly to bring Audrey back to the Netherlands, again thinking it safer for her. Now today that decision seems laughable but in 1938, most Dutch citizens believed that any war would pass right over them. After all neutrality in World War I, had proven to be the right choice and most of them believed there was no damn reason for either the British Empire or Nazi Germany to invade them (Yeah, in retrospect it seems silly, but at the time, they figured their southern neighbor Belgium would be the thoroughfare of the war, and that they’d escape invasion and occupation.  Poor Netherlands.). As we know today, Hitler disagreed and Ella would have to live the rest of her life with the knowledge that she had pulled her daughter right into the line of fire and perhaps worse, she had helped build that fire in the first place. While Audrey - with the mania only a child or a teenager is capable of - focused herself entirely on ballet dancing and her goal of becoming a prima ballerina (Aawwww). This was always the great ambition of her life and Audrey would never really consider herself a professional actress. There is an odd irony in the fact that her instructor, Winja Marova, was a Dutch Jewish woman pretending to be a Russian (Woah.). Winja's husband even joined the Dutch Nazi Party to keep the Nazi's eyes off of her (Double Woah.  Okay, we have found the Only Acceptable Reasons to ever join a Nazi party.  Maskirovka, and protecting “undesirable” family members). Ella acted to protect herself and her daughter, even becoming romantically involved with an SS officer and working for Germans in the local hospital (Hopefully she passed on the pillow talk to SOE.). This doesn't mean that Audrey was unaffected, Mr. Martzen uses quotes from Audrey herself to show what memories burned themselves into her and went further by tying together the events from the war to the behavior that Audrey would show in the future. Ella also becomes a stage mother at this point, as Audrey starts preforming in public, often to acclaim and praise in front of Dutch and Nazi audiences. While Mr. Matzen never comes out and says it, there's a heavy implication of cold-blooded calculation on the part of the adults here. Ms. Marova, for example, was likely using Audrey's public performances as an additional layer of armor between her and the SS (Can’t blame her.), Ella was likely hoping that every scrap of stardom and attention Audrey would get would shield the family from harm. Ella's hopes were doomed to failure, however.

Audrey was born into a noble family and one of those relations was her uncle Otto Ernst Gelder Van Limburg Stirum. He was a judge who had quit because he refused to name names for the Nazis as well as refusing to sentence people for political crimes (Good for him!). Audrey spent a lot of time with him and her aunt, at times even living in their home for months, so she was very close to both of them. In 1942, he was taken hostage by the Nazis who announced they would kill hostages if there were any acts by underground resisters (The Dutch Resistance was very active.  One of my personal heroes, Willem Arondeus, blew up the Municipal Office for Population Registration with a bunch of his friends, and his last words before the Nazis shot him were “Let it be known that homosexuals are not cowards”.  There were also teenage girls who lured Nazis into the woods to be shot.  Glory to all those who fight fascists.  Happy wrath month, motherfuckers.). At this point, the Netherlands was considered an unruly province having worked to shield Jews from the Nazis to the point of brawling in the street with the SD, the homegrown version of the SS, and preforming general strikes against Nazi policies (Yaaassss!). When the resistance decided they couldn't let the Nazi's stay their hand and attempted sabotage against the train system, Audrey's uncle and 4 other men were taken out to the forest and shot (Rest In Power, Comrades.  You and your sacrifice shall never be forgotten.). The ground they were murdered on remains a shrine in the Netherlands to this day and the poles they were tied to can be viewed in a museum. This shattered the family, Ella would break off her ties with the Germans and Aubrey, who was only entering her teenage years, never forgot. Ella moved them to the village of Velp, where Audrey came into contact with Dr. Hendrik Visser't Hooft, a doctor of medicine and leader of the local resistance.

 Audrey eagerly volunteered for him, first running messages and small packages (including one episode of running food to a hiding English pilot) and later dancing in secret concerts to raise money for the local resistance. She also likely wore dog tags for these missions, as she could end up the victim of a mis-dropped bomb. It was during this period that Audrey and her family suffered the most, and not just from the Germans. The air war would reach white-hot intensity with the arrival of the US Army Air Force leading massive daylight bombing raids into Germany, while British Air forces bombed Germany at night. The sky above Velp was lit by tracer rounds and flak bursts, while below the Germans ruthlessly looted the Netherlands of every piece of food they could. Audrey lived in near-starvation until liberation. Her iconic slenderness may very well have been a result of the malnutrition she suffered from age 13 to 16. The worst came when following orders from London, the rail workers of the Netherlands launched a strike, and as a consequence food and fuel were unable to be moved around the Netherlands. The village of Velp was also the scene of fighting during the failed Operation Market-garden (I’ll be over here wincing) and became a target of air attacks when the SS turned Velp into a rallying point for retreating German armies. However in 1945, Velp, Ella, and Audrey were freed of Nazi Occupation by Canadian forces and the war would, at least on Dutch soil, come to an end.  The effects of the war, according to those who knew her, never did (We’re still fighting aftershocks.  Fascism refuses to fucking die.).

Mr. Matzen gives us a colorful and careful account of a child's life in occupied Europe, as well as the compromises and maneuvers of her elders to keep her and themselves safe in a dangerous time. Nor does he disregard Aubrey Hepburn's adult life but takes pain to connect that childhood to the adult and show us how the scars of those events affected and influenced the full-grown woman. Not just the emotional burdens or the physical effects of coming of age while starving but the continuing strain of having to hide her Mother's sins. Today, I dare to think we could understand and perhaps forgive Ella and I think most of us would never dream to hold Audrey accountable for her Mother or for dancing for Nazis as a 12-year-old girl. However in the 1950s and 1960s? Even though so many people had much more grievous sins, or perhaps because they had those sins and were eager to hide them, no such mercy would have been shown. One adult episode that stood out to me was Aubrey's reaction to the publication of Anne Frank, the reading of that diary in Audrey's own words ``destroyed her.” Likely because reading it made her confront her own traumas. If you want to see a picture of a woman in stress and pain and trying to hide it, track down the picture of Aubrey Hepburn meeting Anne Frank's father in Switzerland. Despite Otto Frank asking her directly to star in the movie version of Anne Frank, Audrey simply couldn't bear the idea. Perhaps she was terrified of facing those old ghosts, perhaps she was afraid of her Mother's past being revealed. Maybe it was everything. Either way, those experiences drove Audrey to work with UNICEF and other organizations right up until her death. What gives this book it's importance is how we see how much the war affected even a child of privilege and how even fame and wealth couldn't erase the wounds that the war inflicted on her. Even if you're not interested in Aubrey Hepburn at all, I would encourage you to read this book for a view of war to the people caught up in the middle of it, even if they're not on the battlefields directly. Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II by Robert Matzen gets an A.

Hello comrades and non-comrades.  So, you know how I said that Trump is definitely a fascist back there a few paragraphs ago?  Last week his campaign put out 88 ads on Facebook, the first sentences of which were 14 words long.  These are long established Neonazi dog-whistles.  The 88 for HH or Heil Hitler; 14 words for "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.".  Not only that, but the ads were a call to action against the political left and progressive Liberals, and featured the inverted red triangle the Nazis used to denote political prisoners in the concentration camps.  

If you are already doing things to fight fascism, welcome to the struggle comrades! Remember to take the time to take care of yourself.  If not, get up and do something.  Donate money if you've got it, better yet join and be active in an org.  I’ve put some links down below, the first three are socialist orgs (because that’s the ocean I swim in), the fourth is basically a massive list of Liberal activist orgs.  As usual, we’re gonna need support to get our people out of jail (especially after the RNC…) so I also have the list of bail funds.  This also serves as a reminder that Black Lives Matter, Trans Lives Matter, that protests against police brutality are still ongoing, and the city of Minneapolis just voted to abolish its fascistic police department.

And as usual comrades, this book review series runs off Patreon.  Please consider supporting it so that Frigid can finally buy the moveable archive stacks we all know he wants.  Seriously, you should see his room.  He needs them.  

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Friday, June 19, 2020

The Tango War, The Struggle for the Hearts, Minds, and Riches of Latin America During World War II By Mary Jo McConahay

The Tango War, The Struggle for the Hearts, Minds, and Riches of Latin America During World War II

By Mary Jo McConahay

Mary Jo McConahay was born in Chicago but her parents packed her and her five siblings up to the sunny lands of California before too long. Her father was a navy vet and from what stories I can find of her childhood, he enjoyed traveling because he took his children all across the American West every summer. She came of age in the 1960s, writing through grammar and high school, graduating from Berkeley University in California, and attending Loyola University. In the early 70s, she started as a freelancer in Mexico, which is where her first break as a writer happened. She was working for a small travel magazine when she heard that there was a large number of Americans being held in prison in Mexico City for drug running. She spent weeks doing interviews and sold the story to the Rolling Stone Magazine and that started opening up doors. She became a staff reporter for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia, reporting for the Paris based International Herald Tribune and the London based Middle East Economic digest. However, she couldn't stay away from Latin America and returned there to cover insurgency and warfare (By which we of course mean the fuckery of the US Army School of the Americas, and the aftermath of US foreign policy; which at the time was to coup any government that was to the left of Margaret Thatcher or that wanted its citizens to be something other than serfs to American corporations.) in Central America for over a decade for the Pacific News Service. Her work has appeared in Time, Newsweek, Salon, and dozens of other magazines and papers. Her first book Maya Roads focused on the peoples and rainforests of Central America and was published in 2011. Her second book, Ricochet was about her own experiences in Central America as a reporter. The Tango War is her latest book, focusing on what was going on in Latin America during World War II. It was published in 2018 by St. Martin's Press, one of the biggest English publishers and owned by Macmillan Publishers, a British publishing company owned in turn by Holtzbrinck Publishers out of Stuttgart Germany. Let's get to it. 

Latin America doesn't loom large in the narratives of World War II. Except for Brazil, most of the Latin nations didn't send troops to the field, although many Latins did volunteer to fight under the banners of other nations. Some nations such as Argentina are even widely considered to be near allies of the Axis (Fun story. I have an ex-friend we’ll call John. That is not his name. His grandfather was a Nazi who fled to Argentina after the war. He had a son, his son was a communist - which I am sure made family dinners awkward - who immigrated to the US and spied for East Germany. John, who was born in the US, came full circle and last I talked to him he’d spiraled down the Alt-Right rabbit hole. He’s like the Kylo Ren of the NSDAP and I wish there was a hell so he could go there when he dies.). That doesn't mean Latin America sat the war out, however, nor does it mean that the Allies and the Axis powers ignored Latin America. Quite the opposite Latin America was vital for both sides. The Allies needed the vital resources and labor of Latin America, Brazilian rubber, Argentinian beef, Colombian coffee, the oil, and labor of Mexico were all major contributions. The Axis also needed those resources, as Nazi Germany was Mexico's biggest oil customer in the 1930s before the war. The Polish and French campaigns were fueled by Mexican oil for example (And remember, Germany had no oil reserves worth mentioning. It’s nearest continental source was Romania.). Latin America was also full of Axis sympathizers, millions of Germans lived in Brazil alone in enclaves many of which celebrated the Nazi government, showing Nazi films, marching in support of Hitler, and creating private German schools staffed by teachers sent by the Nazi government. This created a hotbed of espionage and deep-seated fears of a fifth column that would either lock Latin American into a neutrality hostile to the Allies or worse declaring for the Axis. While that last fear is debatable in how realistic it might have been, many Latin governments openly flirted with Fascism and regarded it as the wave of the future before the war broke out (This is still true in many places. And after the war, the US had no problem propping up fascist regimes in the name of anti-communism. I don’t really mean to rag on the United States here, but honestly, it’s mostly because this shit gets whitewashed so hard and it’s so important to understand the mess we’re in now, that I feel like I have to drive it home whenever I have a reasonable opportunity.). These ranged from Vargas in Brazil to various Central American dictators. 

The US military considered it very possible that if western Africa fell to the Nazis that Brazil would be open to invasion by air and sea (Interesting, given that even if the Nazis somehow took West Africa, they didn’t have the air or sea lift capacity to invade Britain, let alone Brazil, but okay.). Creating the one nightmare that the US military and political establishment had worked for over a century to prevent, a powerful hostile military presence in the New World (Well obviously, can’t have our not-colonial dominions challenged. Not to detract from the very real threat of the Nazi Regime, but the Monroe Doctrine wasn’t exactly benevolent.). At the very best, an openly Axis aligned South America would have forced the US to focus it's time and resources to the south when they were incredibly needed to the west and east. To this end, the United States government and private interests engaged in a massive propaganda blitz utilizing everyone from Walt Disney to Orson Welles to engage the South American public and elites and pull them onto our side. These same resources were also aimed squarely at the American public to ensure they would consider Latin Americans allies during the war, with Disney creating animated films like Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros for these purposes. 

Ms. McConahay provides a good grounding for why the Allies would be concerned, showing that Latin America was home to millions of Germans and Italians, a number of them having only come over after WWI. In Brazil, for example, many of these immigrants lived in enclaves where they spoke their native languages and maintained very close contacts with their homeland. The Germans for example created private German-speaking schools for their children, schools that the Nazi party was only too happy to provide teachers for. So by 1939, there were a number of young men and women in Latin America who had grown up being educated about the greatness of the Nazi party. Nor were the Germans the only ones, the Japanese had a sizable community with varying levels of loyalty to the Japanese Empire. For example, you had plenty of young Japanese Americans volunteered to fight against Japan despite us imprisoning their families without legal cause and on the other, you had a society of Japanese loyalist in Brazil who murdered 23 people for not working to subvert allied effort, several of which they murdered after the Japanese Empire surrendered because they refused to believe that Japan could lose the war! (There were dudes who held out in the jungle for decades, not knowing/believing the war was over…)This provided fertile ground for the Axis espionage services, who provided intelligence that among other things directed U-boats in the battle of the Atlantic and worked to subvert and foul up Latin American efforts to contribute to the Allies. This was so wide-ranging that the Nazis were even able to use movie stars such as Hilde Kruger, who rendered herself untouchable by marrying the grandson of a former Mexican President. She was so successful that when she died in 1991, she had been living in luxury in New York City for years. Ironically Ms. Kruger was sent to the states first despite speaking no Spanish and very little English because she aroused the interest of Joseph Goebbels who wanted her to work very closely with his own Gestapo and Mrs. Goebbels was having none of that (HAHAHAHAHAHA!). Showing that sometimes the wildest of successes happen for the pettiest of reasons.

To combat this the Allies, mostly the United States and the British Empire resorted to means fair and foul. At first, Wild Bill Donovan urged FDR that his OSS be allowed to run counterintelligence in South America. Unfortunately, this ran afoul of empire-building instincts of J Edgar Hoover who insisted that the remit of the FBI be expanded to cover the entire Western Hemisphere. While Donovan was the better spy, Hoover was the better politician and bureaucrat and won out, giving the FBI authority over all of Latin America. Not only was Hoover a lot more heavy-handed than Donovan but his insistence on using standard FBI agents and tactics meant that the Abwehr ran circles around them. The Abwehr was the military intelligence agency of Nazi Germany run by Admiral Canaris (who actually did a lot of work to undermine the Nazi regime from within but that's another review(It very well may be, but this dude… he did enough work he might as well have been a double agent. He was found out and tortured to death near the end of the war.)). Their operations in Latin America were high tech, utilizing such technology as micro-dot (Micro-dot is basically text or images that has been reduced in size to tiny little 1 mm dots. This is done using analogue cameras, and because they don’t use pixels you can use optical means to shrink down a page of text to a .01 square millimeters and read it with a microscope, or do the same with camera images.) or personal radio; and being extremely flexible with field agents being given wide latitude to accomplish their goals. Hoover insisted on his agents maintaining the same discipline and standards they used in the US, meaning it wasn't hard to figure out who was working for them. After all when your organization is known for only recruiting young white men and insisting on a haircut and dress code... You're gonna stand out in places like Havana and Lima (Jesus fucking christ…). The price for this was paid mostly in the form of sunk Liberty ships, undelivered cargoes, and dead crews as U Boats would attack ships right up to the coasts of South America. It would take years for Hoover to learn that counter-intelligence work required a certain willingness to relax discipline in exchange for results (Unfortunately he turned that knowledge on the American people.). Unfortunately, Hoover was willing to substitute heavy-handedness and brutality for subtlety and expertise (That is true, and the same is true within the US. What with the FBI assassinating US citizens on US soil. Remember Fred Hampton, comrades.). Ms. McConahay also takes a good hard look at the immoral and darker actions that the US specifically did in South and Central America at the time. While FDR did implement the good neighbor policy and attempted to cut back on meddling in South America's internal politics (honesty forces me to admit that interfering in South American politics is a reoccurring American addiction (One it needs to be broken of to this day. Maybe start going to Fascist Coups Anonymous meetings. I wonder, if Trump loses the election, if he’ll try for a lame-duck autogolpe...)) the war brought the US right back to its old habits and doing even worse. In this case, outright kidnapping Germans and Japanese citizens of South American and Central American countries focusing on community and business leaders. The goal of this was to render the German and Japanese communities in those countries leaderless and break apart their communal cohesion, which would make it easier for Hoover's agents to turn people into informers. Additionally, the men and women kidnapped could be traded for American prisoners of war. This was a going concern at the beginning of the war, as Japan alone had over 12000 American civilians that it had imprisoned and the American government felt it had a responsibility to get those citizens out of danger, a feeling I can't disagree with. What I can disagree with is the fact that many of the people kidnapped were 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants who had never even seen their “home” countries and in some cases didn't even speak the language of those countries (It’s almost like the US is racist or something, and always has been.). To make matters worse, the business community of the United States got involved in drawing up the target list (oh boy) and they were much more concerned with breaking apart the business networks that provided competition to them. So in many cases, these men and women weren't kidnapped because they were working with the enemy but because they were wealthy and providing competition to US companies! While the US government might have been trying to break up spy networks, we were perfectly okay with helping the US business community ensure that Germany would have no remaining business networks in Latin America after the war.

Ms. McConahay provides an unflinching look at the strategies and tactics that the Allies used to keep Latin America out of the Axis camp and to combat Axis operations in those same nations. In doing so, she gives us a look at a part of World War II that is honestly forgotten, not just in the United States but in Latin America as well for the most part. This helps us remember that it was a world war that would determine the course of history for the next century if not more and left pretty much no corner of the world untouched. She also does a good job of showing us how the effects of those actions still affect the world today. This shows us that even though World War II started over 80 years ago, we're still living with it today. That is something we need to remember about our history, it doesn't matter how long ago it was, the odds are we are still living with it and it's effects on our world (We still have Nazis, for example.). The Tango War: The Struggle for the Hearts, Minds, and Riches of Latin America During World War II by Mary Jo McConahay gets an A. Give it a read.

Good evening comrades and non-comrades. If you are reading this, you got to the end of the Review. Frigid is on a well-earned vacation this week and next, but you are in luck! He worked his butt off and pre-wrote next week’s review. Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II By Robert Matzen. Also recall comrades, that Frigid uses a lot of his precious time (much of what is left to him after hours of wage-labor and the alienation from the value of said labor that he endures under capitalism) reading and writing for this series, and if you enjoy this series and have the means to do so, please stop by patreon and help support the series.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Blood, Oil and the Axis: The Allied Resistance Against a Fascist State in Iraq and the Levant, 1941 By John Broich

Blood, Oil and the Axis: The Allied Resistance Against a Fascist State in Iraq and the Levant, 1941
By John Broich

    Dr. Broich is a British Empire historian. He earned his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 2005 and from there taught at Amherst College until 2007. In 2007, he joined Case Western Reserve University where he currently teaches World War II history, British Imperial history, World environmental history, and other topics. He is also a noted writer, with articles appearing in The Washington Post, Time Magazine, Slate, and BBC History Magazine among others. His current book is his third. His first book entitled London: Water and the Making of the Modern City was published in 2013. His second book Squadron: Ending the African Slave Trade was published in 2017. The book we are reviewing today Blood, Oil and the Axis was published in May 2019 by Harry N Abrams, Inc. Harry N Abrams was founded in 1949 and is currently the leading American publisher of high-quality art and illustrated books, it is currently owned by La Martiniere Groupe of France.

    It is spring 1941 and the year is dark across the Old World. In Asia, the Imperial Japanese Army rampages across the Republic of China In Europe, the avowedly anti-communist fascists powers have finished waging war on Poland with the aid of the Soviet Union, conquered their way to the Pyrenees Mountains and are marching through the Balkans in a seemingly unstoppable tide of oppression and hate (Death to all fascists!). Berlin has become the center of an Empire that stretches from the equator to the Arctic circle and is growing. All that is left is the Republic of China, a dozen exiled governments with the rags and tags of their armed forces and the British Empire leading the Commonwealth of Nations. The resources of the Allies grow thin and every battle is fought on an increasingly thin margin. The Republic of China's armies fractures more by the day. France has been occupied for almost a year (The collapse of France is a case study in getting inside your enemy’s OODA-Loop.  Jesus.). The British retreat on almost every front. To many across the world, it seems like the days of the British Empire are numbered and perhaps even the ideal of liberal democracy is doomed. The United States and the Soviet Union still slumber in their neutrality. The Soviets, secure in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, were happy with the gains it brought them. The US was secure behind two oceans and the American First movement grandly declared that the world was none of our concern. This is the stage that leads a group of Iraqi Colonels, discontent with the British domination of their nation to dare to dream of a new status quo and all they have to do is make a deal with the Devil in Berlin.

    The Anglo-Iraq War is an often overlooked part of World War II. Fought on a shoestring and with improvised logistics, it is still a war that was waged by enlisted men and officers from four continents and if it didn't decide the fate of the Middle East, it certainly weighed the dice. This book gives us a broad look at the coup that overthrew the two-year-old King of Iraq and his regent in favor of a pro-fascist government led by a Prime Minister as a frontman for four Iraqi Colonels. Now Dr. Broich does give some early context here, the leaders of Iraq were frustrated with the British domination of their government which they saw as the betrayal of earlier promises (Because it was.  The British betrayed pretty much everyone who wasn’t white and gentile at the end of WW1). See Iraq was formed after World War I from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire and the British had widely promised a large number of Middle Eastern ethnic groups independence and freedom in exchange for fighting the Turkish Ottoman Empire. It's a bit complex to get into but to put it simply, the promises they made were wide-ranging and contradictory so the British solved this problem by pretty much breaking all of them (Lawrence of Arabia was most displeased.  Also, fuck the British Empire.). This did not make them a lot of friends in the Middle East and was one of the many, many seeds for the issues affecting the Middle East today. Now, the British did withdraw most of their direct rule from Iraq in the 1920s and 1930s, the Kingdom of Iraq was formally independent but in many ways was a puppet state for the British Empire. As might shock you gentle readers, a lot of Iraqis hated that. With the British Empire on the ropes, the Colonels of the Golden Square thought they could get a better deal from Nazi Germany. They even dared to dream of a Pan-Arabic state by unifying Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq under a single government (I'll be honest, there are days I think we should have let them do it. It would have fallen apart like a melon cart hit by a train but at least it wouldn't be our fault) an idea that had luke-warm support in Berlin at best (This has been an idea that’s cropped up again and again in Iraq, famously it was a central tenet of the Ba’ath party.{The idea of a Pan-Arabic state has also popped up in Egypt and Syria a couple of times}). Another obstacle to this would be the fact that Syria was currently under the rule of the Vichy French, the French vassal state of the Nazi Empire (Oh man, those fucking collaborationist pieces of shit.  Don’t even get me started on them!). While humiliating the French warmed the average Nazi's heart, no one wanted to push it too far and push more Vichy French army units into General De Gaulle's arms. However, what did drum up quite a bit of support was the idea of Iraqi oil flowing into German-occupied Europe to fuel the ever more thirsting Axis War Machine (It was very very thirsty, you see. The Reich didn’t have much in the way of oil reserves, and was one the reasons why they literally had to attack the USSR at some point, and win fast, because otherwise, they would drain their strategic reserves dry.). Plus a fascist Iraq would bring 50,000 armed soldiers onto the Axis side and allow them to open a new front against the British in Egypt and Palestine, giving the Axis chance of seizing the Suez Canal a massive boost. It would also potentially force Turkey out of neutrality into the Axis and open a road for an Axis aligned Iran.

    To oppose this, the British Empire didn't have much that it could commit to a whole new front, as they were fighting in North Africa already against the Afrika Corps and the Italian Army (Though, the Italians…I almost pity their soldiers.). Additionally, they knew it was only a matter of time before the Imperial Japanese armed forces were going to come knocking at their door. Additionally, the Arab troops in Jordan and Palestine were... Unenthusiastic about a campaign centered around suppressing an Arabic independence movement, at best (You don’t say!). Dr. Broich shows us this by taking us to the ground level letting us see things by following the stories of individual officers in the Indian Army, or the Australian forces attached to the British command and even members of the Free French forces. Dr. Broich is careful to give us a full view of these people's lives so we can remember these are real men and women not just characters in a book. Although some of them had lives that would easily slot into a Hollywood blockbuster, like the American Jack Hasey who ends in the French Foreign Legion or John Masters, the son of a British family that had lived in India for generations (Oh yeah, some of these people were absolute characters.  You read the biographies of some of the people who fought in WWII and you find yourself questioning reality.). We also meet men like Jack Bartlett and Harry Chalk who are normal men very much like you or people you know who would go on to do amazing things. We also get to see the struggle for public opinion through the eyes of British agents like Freya Stark and Nazis like Fritz Grobba, both of whom could easily be movie or novel characters given the very real events of their lives. Through this Dr. Broich paints a complex but very real picture of the people who took part in these events. Some of these events, especially in Iraq make me feel an intense feeling of deja vu, especially given the ineffectiveness of Iraqi officers and their inability to effectively use the forces at their command to achieve their objectives once they are fighting a force not made up of other Iraqis (History doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme). I am left questioning what is it about Iraq that they cannot seem to develop an effective officer or NCO corps to lead their armies? It's not inherent in the people, Arab Americans and Iraqi American soldiers and marines have performed with distinction in the US armed forces. For that matter, Iraqi troops during the colonial and WWII period fought very well under British officers. It's not inherent in the government, as the Iraqi military has fallen apart under kings, dictators, oligarchs, and democratically elected leaders. And yet when I read the performance of the Iraqi military I am forcibly reminded that history may not repeat but it often rhythms (Oh look!) as their performance reminds me of how the Iraqi Army performed in the invasion and how they performed versus Daesh.

    To continue the echoing, Dr. Broich takes us into the follow-up, a more savage and vicious war in Vichy controlled Syria. As Free French units and Arab units were used in greater numbers there, often people who knew each other or were even brothers found themselves battling it out on opposite sides. The war in Syria took on the tones of a civil war extremely quickly with Vichy French officers calling Free French units mutineers and Free French units having a wide range of insults for the people defending fascist interests (Traitors, for instance.). There were also elements of strangeness as ethnic groups with long bloody feuds would decide they didn't want to butcher each other for the interests of Europeans (No one should want to butcher each other for the interests of Europeans.). The Syrian campaign would also display in greater measure the sheer horror of industrialized war, as tanks were used on infantry who had no armor support. British columns would be exposed to French bombing with next to no air support causing a number of psychological casualties. These were things that were not yet a common experience on the western front, the Blitzkrieg into France having struck too quickly and the war in North Africa not yet at its height but soon... All too soon an entire generation would come to grips with it, as warfare would return to Western Europe and the Nazi War Machine geared up to march east.

    Blood, Oil and the Axis gives us a view of a front in the war that is widely neglected by most people today. Even in the middle east, as far as I know, it's not studied in any depth and it is easy to miss given that it was a minor struggle in the greatest war that humanity has ever fought. However, the book also shows how the consequences of defeat or victory in even a minor campaign in such a vast war can have long-ranging effects. Consider that if Iraq had gone fascist, it may have allowed Rommel to seize Egypt and the Suez Canal. This means supplies and men heading to the British isles from Asia or from the isles to Asia would have to go around Africa. Turkey and possibly Iran would seriously consider joining the Axis, possibly threatening India from another direction even as the Japanese would soon march into Burma. Hundreds of thousands of Jews across the Middle East would be exposed to the genocidal madness of the Nazis and there can be no good consequences for the Eastern Front. Success gave the Free French a stronghold to rebuild from, a safe place for Jews fleeing continental Europe (Which they needed, because no one else was giving them one.), and allowed the British and their allies to gather the strength to resist the Afrika Corps and the Italians until the resources and manpower of the United States began to arrive en masse in the west and the strength of the Russian people could be deployed against their Nazi invaders. This holds true even today, despite the vast events that are sweeping over the US and the World, remember even the small decisions and acts that you do, whether it be join a protest, record the actions of the police, clean up after a protest or even just donate money to a cause you believe in can have ever greater knock-on effects (Can confirm.  The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, as of this writing, remains free!). Every great event is really just a group of smaller events building up together after all and this book shows that really well. Blood, Oil, and the Axis: The Allied Resistance Against a Fascist State in Iraq and the Levant, 1941 by Dr. John Broich gets an A for being a great historical source.

As I write this, events continue to move at an increasing pace inside the United States and the rest of the world.  I'm going to remind folks that our last review has a list of places and causes to donate to if they are so inclined.  Next week we review The Tango War: The Struggle for the Hearts, Minds and Riches of Latin American During World War II by Mary Jo McConahay and I'll be leaving my editor in charge.  May God be with y'all.  Until I see you again folks, stay safe and keep reading.

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Black text is your reviewer.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Information Hunters When Librarians, Soldiers, and Spies Banded Together in World War II Europe By Kathy Peiss

Information Hunters When Librarians, Soldiers, and Spies Banded Together in World War II Europe
By Kathy Peiss

Dr. Kathy Peiss was born on January 25, 1953, in Greenfield MA. The granddaughter of Russian Jewish immigrants who settled in the United States in the early 20th century (So here is the deal. The basic plot of An American Tale - you know the kids movie with Jewish mice - is basically true. The Black Hundreds and other groups brutally pogromed Jews across Russia, leading to the latest in several waves of Jewish immigration to the United States. Waves, which increased the Jewish population of the country to the point that Americans threw a xenophobic hissy-fit drivan by capitalists and Antisemitism became endemic. America’s immigration problems are not new. The target is the only thing that ever changes. I’ll just be over here listening to Yiddish language Klezmer music.). She attended Carleton College, graduating in 1975 with her bachelor's degree (Presumably in History). She earned her Masters and Ph.D. at Brown University graduating from there in 1982. She then began to teach at Rutgers, Cornell, and the University of Maryland, where she developed a women's studies program (Feminism is important, yo!). From there she headed to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst where she served as director of the history graduate program, she also wrote her first book there; Cheap Amusements, which focused on the social life of working-class women in New York at the turn of the century. She also co-edited Passion and Power, an anthology about sexuality in American history. With the publishing of the Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture, a book discussing the history of makeup in the US, Dr. Peiss began to get media attention and was invited to appear in a number of documentaries. The book itself was also a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award and was named one of Amazon's 1999 top ten books in Women's Studies. Dr. Peiss later moved to the University of Pennsylvania becoming the Roy F. and Jeannett P Nichols Professor of American History and kept writing. Her latest book (and I'm skipping a number of works to give us room to actually review this book) Information Hunters When Librarians, Soldiers, and Spies Banded Together in World War II Europe was inspired when she found out through the magic of the internet, that she had an uncle she never met. Ruben Peiss, who according to her family was a spy. Let's be honest, no one, let alone an acclaimed historian could just leave that story alone (I know I couldn’t.). So Dr. Peiss started digging, what she found was a massive piece of history that was practically forgotten. Let's take a look, shall we?

Post World War One, the libraries, and librarians of the United States began to embrace new techniques and technologies. New ways of cataloging and archiving books, periodicals, and other works made it vastly easier to know just who had what and where. Technologies like microfilm were all the rage as it was seen as solving the space issue every library faces (Praise be unto microfilm.). The libraries of the United States also began to work together and exchange catalogs and indexes and set up shared borrowing programs to make research and development easier. To be clear, I'm not just talking about public libraries, although they were an important part of this but also university and professional libraries, research libraries, and government archives. There was also an embrace of a whole new ideology that sprang from the fear that world war one could have destroyed culture and art in Europe. To put this in context, at the time Europe was very much the technological, economic, and financial capital of the world, undergirded by the vast colonial empires that the Great Powers carved from the rest of the world and the exploitation of people's they weren't able or willing to colonize (Sound familiar?). Because of this European Culture and Art were prioritized over everyone else, imparting a very Eurocentric view of history. Also... To be honest, Europe's libraries and museums were full of books and cultural artifacts looted from other cultures creating issues we're still hashing out but that's another book review (TL;DR: Basically Europe looted everyone else, and to this day resists giving what they stole back based on some pretty White Man’s Burden bullshit about how their custody is necessary to preserve archeological and artistic treasures from the barbarians. Never mind the fact that the real barbarians were the fucking Belgians even by European standards. Don’t worry, America isn’t left out here.). After the carnage and destruction of World War One, the libraries of America began to embrace the idea of serving as an outpost and final redoubt of European culture and heritage (And everyone else’s). A safe-house for books, art, and artifacts away from the dangers of war and other such madness. This was considered fairly reasonable because North America was fairly peaceful compared to other continents and well out of the range of even the greatest weapons of the time. The fact that this also expanded American prestige and importance was of course a mere by-product of a noble mission to save civilization (wink, wink). This probably would have faded over time except... Nazis (Who we still aren’t finished killing.). On April 8th, 1933 the main office for Press and Propaganda of the German Student Union proclaimed a nationwide “Action against the Un-German Spirit” which climaxed in a literary purge by fire (I’ve mentioned this before, but it is worth repeating because it is pride month. What you don’t know because your history books don’t tell you, is that the iconic Nazi Book Burning you always see photos of? Yeah, that was the burning of the archives of Institut Für Sexualwißenschaft, one of the first human sexuality research institutes and the global progenitor of the queer rights movement. They burned it. America straight-washed it, and kept queer people in prison after liberating the survivors of the concentration camps.). The reaction in the American literary sphere was one of panic and horror. If these barbarians would burn their own books, what would happen if they got a hold of other people's books after all?

This was the seed for a mission shared between the Library of Congress of the newly formed Office of Strategic Services (The progenitor of the CIA. A pox be upon them for their perfidy.). This was further nurtured and tended by the personal cooperation of the legendary head of the OSS Wild Bill Donovan and the Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish (That is one hell of a name.). Wild Bill was concerned about gathering intelligence against enemy nations and when they began meeting in the spring and summer of 1941, he knew that his nation would soon be at war. Archibald, himself a patriot, was willing to help, and being a librarian his mind naturally turned to books. Even before the war, there was a concern over the practices of the Nazis. Not only did they burn books but they seized them. From the Jewish peoples of conquered nations but also from the universities, libraries, and printers of those same nations (And they often destroyed those works which conflicted with their ideology. Judenphysik, for example. Or physics they considered too Jewish.{And were left utterly incapable of building a working nuclear weapon. Most of their accomplishments would be mainly engineering in nature… Hm}). Both men knew that the United States could be cut off from important technical information and research. Archibald was also convinced that important intelligence could be gleaned from periodicals printed by the Nazis, periodicals that were often strictly controlled. This led to phase one of the deployment, teams were sent to the neutral cities of Europe, Lisbon, and Stockholm in the main to collect books and periodicals that the Nazi government were trying to keep secret, take pictures that could be converted to microfilm and send them back to London and Washington DC. Stockholm was headed by the only lady field agent of this operation, Adele Kibre. She was a medievalist who had taught Latin at Berkeley, spoke seven languages and had spent the 1930s living in Italy and traveling throughout Europe. She also considered microphotography a great advancement and spent a lot of her own time in the study of the art. Born in Hollywood with brothers and sisters in the film business she could also use family connections to gain access to rare works and did so shamelessly. She was actually in France when the Germans invaded and fled with cases full of microfilm copies of rare works that she had gained access to. Under her leadership, Stockholm would be the most successful field station in the first phase. This aggravated her superiors, mainly because she steadfastly refused to explain how she was so successful (Obviously, then men might take the credit! Seriously, that was and still is a problem.{I get that but that meant the wider war effort suffered because no one could replicate her success. Lisbon was a smabbles compared to her} True. But there is also a security issue too. If you transmit your means and methods, they could be intercepted and countermeasures taken.). Flat out ignoring requests to report or write down her collection methods and other such details. As such we're not entirely sure how she was successful either.

The Second Phase was taken over by a force of Librarians, book collectors, and military officers in mixed units dubbed T forces. Their job was to race right behind the leading edge of the Allied Advance into Europe and try to find and secure the caches of rare books looted by the Nazis and secure them against damage or unauthorized looting. This phase of the war often rode the edge of acceptable behavior especially as the Allies fought their way into Germany itself. The question of what the fine line between preservation and looting was one that would keep coming up again and again and honestly was never really answered (I mean…). On the one hand without the efforts of the T forces, entire universities and libraries of written works would have lost forever or at best disappeared into the Black Market and been hidden away in private collections for who knows how long (Private collectors are the bane of existence as far as archeology, paleontology, and historical preservation are concerned. {When he talks about private collectors he doesn’t mean people who keep their own libraries mind you but people who use their wealth to hoard rare books and prevent their coping or relics that belong to a museum like…} Hobby Lobby for instance recently had to give a tablet containing fragments of the Epic of Gilgamesh to federal authorities, because they didn’t do their due diligence and procured it from a smuggler.). On the gripping hand, the T Forces also served as the instrument of finding and preserving the vast amount of Jewish books and relics that the Nazis looted. Strangely enough, instead of destroying these works, the SS gathered the books and artifacts together with an ambition to create a museum to the “Jewish Question” and their all-too-human and all-too-monstrous solution to that “question.” It's an odd feeling to be grateful to the packrat tendencies of the SS, but here I am. The question of who got final custody of the looted Jewish property was an intense one, as the decimated Jewish communities of Europe were considered by many to be pretty much on their last legs. Different Jewish groups in England, the United States, and what was soon to be Israel would duel for possession, while private persons and institutions would fight lonely battles to retrieve their property, often not entirely sure that their property had survived in the first place (This is one of the reasons why Israel exists, in point of fact. When they got let out of the concentration camps, their expropriated homes had new residents, they hadn’t been allowed to keep their family documents and deeds. And to an extent, no one wanted them back. The US took in some, as for the rest, they got shipped off to Palestine.). This would continue well into the 1950s and was in the background as the operation shifted into the 3rd phase. What to do with all the Nazi written books and propaganda pieces that the Army was now in rather unwilling possession of. Especially given the Army's commitment to deNazification before the Cold War kinda shifted priorities around. When the French and Russians started pushing the idea of simply destroying all the Nazi works... The US Army was inclined towards the idea which caused the Libraries and literary community of the United States to go up in flames. Many men and women announcing that they hadn't made sacrifices of blood, treasure, and years of their lives battling a bunch of book burning murderous barbarians only to turn around and start copying their behavior. Frankly, I can see where they were coming from here especially given the strain of American thought that likes to ban books, almost always for the sake of the children (Or rather The Children™.). The Army was a bit put out by this as they weren't burning anything, they were mulching the books and using the mulch to create new paper for German printing industries. As always the ability of the brass to miss the damn point is awe-inspiring. A compromise was reached where every written work would have an example saved but there was no need to save every copy of every Nazi comic book after all. The last phase was determining what to do with the works that couldn't be handed over to someone else and most of them went to the Library of Congress. Which kinda made it the final safe-house after all in a way didn't it?

Dr. Peiss takes us through each phase of the combined operations of the Library of Congress and the OSS with great attention to detail and willingness to examine the context in which the agents operated. She is also willing to spend a good amount of space on those agents, many of whom were immigrants fleeing the oppression of the dictatorships of Europe. A great many of the operations of the US Army and the OSS were only possible because of immigrant volunteers willing to go back into danger for their adopted country (And yet here we are, treating immigrants like shit to this day.). This operation was no different. She also isn't afraid to ask hard questions that are still difficult to answer today. Like how much of this was justified and how much of this was the victorious US and Western Allies looting books and rare works because they could. It's a hard question to answer because there was some looting going on, at the same time the US and its allies, even the Soviet Union (which looted like it was the only shopper in a going out of business sale when it came to Eastern Europe and Germany [In fairness, the Germans did completely wreck half their country, and they were anticipating war with the US. They dismantled factories and shit.] {Sure but they also looted Poland and other conquered territories complete with kidnapping people from those conquered populaces. We talked a bit about that in Trail of Hope you might recall} Yes. Absolutely no denial there. The USSR was ruled by dicks.) exercised more restraint and concern then the Nazis did on their best day. This is a book that shines a light into an obscure and sometimes strange corner of one of the greatest events in history and leaves you with a lot to think about. Because of that, I'm giving Information Hunters When Librarians, Soldiers, and Spies Banded Together in World War II Europe By Kathy Peiss an A. Pick it up if any of the above sounds interesting.

I'm not going to talk about our patron this week, given the events that have rocked the nation, it would feel cheap and tawdry to do so to me. I'm not going to talk those to death either, as I'm sure everyone reading this has heard plenty already and I doubt I can add anything of value. Instead, your editor and I are leaving some links below this review for places you can donate to or volunteer at to help protesters victimized by this or aid in clean up and recovery. If our support for the protesters offends you? Too damn bad, don't bother telling me you're leaving angry, just fucking leave (Seeing as I am one of the protesters, I’ll second that. Black Lives Matter. If you can watch George Floyd’s lynching and not be concerned with the now-open fascism of the police, fuck you, bootlicker. Leave.). To the rest of you? Let us do the best we can and remember that even if times are dark and trying now, there will be a better day. Until then, do your best, stay safe and as always keep reading.

If you would like to support our people in the fight against police brutality: has a comprehensive list of bailout funds with links. Anything left over tends to go toward funding protest actions or community relief programs. Also, if you would like to go out and protest yourself the following link has useful advice on how to go out and do that.

If you are in the Jacksonville FL area, the Jacksonville Community Action Committee is the org you want to find. If all else fails (and this is a shameless plug that Frigid is not responsible for) find your local DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) chapter. We’re plugged in everywhere. Mutual aid association Mutual aid association and fund for the D.C. area Legal aide for protesters in Atlanta Mutual Aide for Los Angles, also includes relief for COVID 19 Minneapolis Mutual Aide association George Flyod fund for the care of his family. an alternative media organization devoted to providing on site coverage Police reform group Bail and legal funds for LGBTQ persons Act Blue allows you to donate to many organizations at once. Mutual Aid association Philadelphia Community Bail fund, providing bail for poor persons on a national level. Community Bail fund, providing bail for poor persons on a national level. Donate or volunteer for mutual aide in Salt Lake City A fund for the care of Ahmaud Arbery Mother A fund for Breanna Taylor’s family and their legal battle. A fund for the funeral of David McAtee business owner in Kentucky murdered by police action. Naacp Legal Defense and education fund Aide society focusing on those rended homeless. organization for the reform of the NYPD. God be with them. Activist group for racial justice, donate or volunteer. Communities United Against Police Brutality, providing political action, services to victims and other aid. Black Lives Matter Global Network American Civil Liberties Union "The Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide. We defend the right of journalists to report the news safely and without fear of reprisal. CPJ protects the free flow of news and commentary by taking action wherever journalists are under threat." "National Police Accountability Project (NPAP) is a project of the National Lawyers Guild, which was founded in 1937 as the first racially integrated national bar association. In 1999, NPAP was created as a non-profit to protect the human and civil rights of individuals in their encounters with law enforcement and detention facility personnel. The central mission of NPAP is to promote the accountability of law enforcement officers and their employers for violations of the Constitution and the laws of the United States."

Red text is your editor Dr. Allen
Normal text is your reviewer Garvin

Join us next week for Blood, Oil and the Axis: The Allied Resistance Against a Fascist State in Iraq and the Levant, 1941 by John Broich. Until then, stay safe and keep reading!