Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power (Jon Meacham)

Thomas Jefferson 3rd President of the United States

Thomas Jefferson
3rd President of the United States

Jon Meacham‘s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power is the fourth book of his I have read.

Meacham makes history easy to read for even the most casual fan of U.S. history.  His management of theme through the issues of the day and the personality of the subject helps the reader see a broader picture of a man like Thomas Jefferson.

His approach to describing in overview the important events and critical issues; developments and solutions that evolved; giving the reader the essential insights without bogging down in a load of minutia.  Meacham’s works are thoroughly footnoted, which helps the real history junkie decide where they might like to do more in-depth reading or research.

The American Revolution, and the birth of the country which followed is a favorite subject of mine.  Of particular interest is the collection of men that came together in challenging times to take a dangerous stand against England; risking life and property for Liberty; then steering a course towards constitutional government that resulted in a Republic now over two centuries old.

These men were the wealthiest, most educated, and most successful in the American colonies.  But …

These men were not perfect.  They had their flaws.  Yet they came together and created a politically complex national union out of disparate regions and competing interests in such a way that enabled growth; promoted its survival through the tests of time; and allowed it to emerge from the crucibles of several dramatic – even catastrophic – national and international crises as an even stronger nation.

George Washington appointed Jefferson  the first U.S. Secretary of State

George Washington appointed Jefferson
the first U.S. Secretary of State

Thomas Jefferson‘s contributions to the success of The Great American Experiment in the period between George Washington‘s inaugural as our first President and Jefferson own presidency (following John Adams) were – in my opinion – the most compelling .

Citizens with a casual appreciation for American history might believe that once the U.S. Constitution was ratified as the Law of the Land, the Forefathers simply finger-skimmed the honored document whenever a question of function or politics arose.  But The Constitution was but a “blueprint” with many operational and philosophical issues undefined or at the very least open to all manner of nuance and interpretation.

Thomas Jefferson was one of those flawed individuals that rose to play a prominent role in taking that constitutional blueprint and – if I can stretch an analogy – installing the wiring and plumbing that allowed the Government to relate as best as possible to the People it would govern.  It was a herculean task that required the input and at times the nastiest of opposition between Federalists and Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans to negotiate a national vision from contending philosophies of governance.

Jefferson was a study in contradictions throughout his personal life and public service.

Sally Hemings

Sally Hemings

1.  He was a man who passionately subscribed to the concept of Individual Liberty.  He made several attempts early in his public career to advance the concept of slave emancipation in the Virginia colony.  He provided insights for the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen via the Marquis de Lafayette, which became the central theme of the French Revolution; and he fought hard against John Adam’s Alien and Sedition Acts.

Yet he continued to own slaves; using one – Sally Hemings – as a concubine; and went so far as to maintain their offspring as slaves until they turned age 21 or until his death in 1826.

2.  As a member of Washington’s first American government, serving as its first Secretary of State, Jefferson fought aggressively with fellow Democratic-Republican James Madison to counter the Federalist’s efforts (Led by Alexander Hamilton and John Adams.) to create a strong national government with a singularly powerful Chief Executive.  Jefferson was fearful that such a strong centralized authority, with the prospects for close ties with Great Britain, would eventually whittle away at individual liberties.

James Madison Fellow Democratic-Republican

James Madison
Fellow Democratic-Republican

However, when he served as President himself, he found a way to expand the powers of the presidency in order to take full advantage of a French proposal to effectively double the size of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase.

3.  Jefferson was an accomplished author of A Summary View of the Rights of British America (a list of grievances against King George III), The Declaration of Independence, and as contributor to the French Constitution.

But he wrote only one published book in his life, Notes on the State of Virginia.  And he was not much of a public speaker for such a renown politician and communicator!

Meacham’s primary theme emphasizes that in his quest for power, that he wanted for the good he felt he could accomplish, Jefferson was a practical politician.  He had his ideologies, his strongly held positions.  But Jefferson believed in “limited government” only to the extent that it was practicable.  If he thought a more expansive government was the better option in the best interests of the country (e.g. Jefferson’s quick actions to accept and ratify the Louisiana Purchase), he held no qualms about pushing the National Government’s reach and authority.

In the end, both the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans enjoyed a mixed success influencing the path of The Grand Experiment.  As bad as contentions grew in the early years of the Republic, it was clear both Federalists and Democratic-Republicans were advocating what they believed was best for The Country.

One can only hope the current crop in Washington, D.C. feels the same way for all the right reasons.  They certainly give you reason to question their over-arching objectives

A very cool John Adams

A very cool John Adams

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams formed the opposing poles of American political thought from 1790 to 1809, when Jefferson left the presidency.  They were close friends at one point, including Jefferson’s pleasant plutonic relationship with Abigail Adams; strong allies during the colonial confrontations with Britain; friends and co-commissioners to Europe (along with Ben Franklin) for the infant U.S.; and then nasty political opposites during those formative years of the constitutional republic.

They served as consecutive Presidents, then went to their separate corners of the country after leaving office.  They eventually renewed their friendship years later with frequent letters.  And on July 4, 1826 – coincidentally the 50th anniversary of the issuance of The Declaration of Independence - within hours of each other, first John Adams and then Thomas Jefferson shook lose their mortal coils and left the rest of the work on the grand experiment to later generations of Americans.

Other interesting aspects of Thomas Jefferson learned from Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power:

  • Jefferson received his early inspiration for public life and politics at the age of 22, when he heard Patrick Henry give his treasonous Stamp Act speech in opposition to British taxation.
  • Jefferson’s term as Governor of Virginia changed his view on the use of authority.  His oft criticized indecisiveness and timidity during the British invasion of the colony in 1780 were also valuable lessons in leadership and government.

    Patrick Henry gives his Stamp Act speech

    Patrick Henry gives his
    Stamp Act speech

  • Jefferson was derisively referred to as “the negro president” by opposing Federalists, who disliked the congressional advantage Virginia and the other southern states enjoyed due to the 3/5 clause on The Constitution.
  • It took 36 ballots in the House of Representatives to finally confirm Thomas Jefferson as the 3rd U.S. President.  (Electoral College ties, which go to the House of Representatives, were common early in the Republic.)
  • Jefferson may have been the earliest President subject to an assassination plot (December 1804), although no overt attempt was actually made.
  • He requested just three of his accomplishments be etched upon his gravestone:  The Declaration of Independence, the Statute of Virginia for Religious Liberty, and Founder of the University of Virginia.

    Memorial marker at Jefferson's Monticello gravesite

    Memorial marker at Jefferson’s
    Monticello gravesite

  • Sally Hemings accompanied Jefferson’s daughter when he summoned her to France during his ambassadorship there.  By French law, as soon as she stepped foot in France Hemings was a free person.  Jefferson convinced her to return with him to America (additional evidence of their relationship) by negotiating an agreement with her that ensured eventual freedom for their offspring.
  • Philly Connection:  Jefferson leased a house from Thomas Leiper, a merchant and politician, at 274 High Street in the east Germantown section of Philadelphia when he served in the then nation’s capital as Secretary of State under George Washington.
The real John Adams

The real John Adams

Interesting Jefferson quotes …

  • Jefferson’s oft quoted words on fertilizing the Tree of Liberty was written in a letter to John Adams in comment on British criticism of U.S. instability in the wake of Shay’s Rebellion in western Massachusetts, which erupted over early financial difficulties in the infant U.S.

” … what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

  • Jefferson’s famous position on the separation of Church and State came from a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in Ceaderbrook, Connecticut as they planned to celebrate religious liberty.

“Believing as you do that religion is a matter between Man and his God, that he owes account to no one for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions. I contemplate with solemn reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

  • Jefferson loved the use of guns for hunting and sport, and recognized their importance in defending Home and Homeland.

“I am a great friend to the manly and healthy exercise of the gun.”

  • Finally, Jefferson felt that  the U.S. Constitution was a worthy effort as imperfect as the brave men who declared independence in ’76.  But he was much dismayed by the lack of a bill of rights in the original version.  Still he saw hope for the good conscience of the American people.

“If they approve the proposed Convention in all its parts, I shall concur in it cheerfully, in the hopes that they will amend it whenever they find it work wrong.”


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Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Consolidated B-24 Liberator

Consolidated B-24 Liberator

When it comes to book reviews, I can get a bit wordy.  (Hard to believe, I know!)  Usually this occurs because my goal is to encourage people, who might hold the same interests, to read a book I have found enjoyable or educational.

Such encouragement won’t be necessary for Unbroken, one of the few books I had to ask coworkers not to discuss in my presence so as not to spoil a highly anticipated read.  As an entry at the top of best-seller lists for quite some time, it had a rather large following long before I got around to picking it up.

Laura Hillenbrand, who also wrote the best-seller (and eventual movie) Seabiscuit, masterfully chronicles the true life and trials of Louis Zamperini.  The main character of Unbroken, Zamperini led a fascinating – and at times tragically graphic – life.

Born of Italian parents and living as a teen in Torrance, California Zamperini fought the allure of juvenile delinquency early in life through competitive running.  He developed into a record-holding high school track star, qualified for the 1936 Olympics held – appropriately enough considering the main theme of his story – in Berlin, Germany during the swelling of European Nazism and the reign of Adolph Hitler.

Zamperini tied 5000 meter world-record holder, Dan Lash, to qualify for the '36 Olympics as a high school runner

Zamperini tied 5000 meter world-record holder, Don Lash, to qualify for the ’36 Olympics as a high school runner

While still in high school, Zamperinin’s 56-second final lap performance in the 5000 meter in the 1936 Olympics was so impressive, Der Führer Adolph Hitler pointedly asked to meet him.  Legend has it Zamperini made off with one of the Führer’s personal flags before leaving Berlin.

The circle of karma to which this event belongs is but a small segment of a truly amazing story.

Zamperini, not quite ready to call 1936 the apex of his athletic career, trains hard for the 1940 Olympics, scheduled to be held – of course – in Tokyo, Japan.  But with the drums of World War II beating throughout the world, the 1940 Olympics never occur and Louis Zamperini marches off, along with millions of other young Americans, to a world-wide conflagration to beat back fascism and the Asian Pacific designs of the Japanese Empire.

Louis Zamperini becomes one of the recognizable icons representing all those who risked everything to free half the world from tyranny.   He becomes one who survives perhaps the one collective ordeal that might rival death in combat as a more favorable outcome.

Trained as a bombardier flying in B-24 Liberators in the Pacific Theatre, Zamperini survives a non-combat air crash; barely survives a 47-day ordeal floating in a raft through the Central Pacific with two fellow crewmen - one of whom does not survive the ordeal; then spends the rest of the war at the mercy of several sadistic Japanese prison camp guards.

green hornetThere is no “spoil” in laying out the major waypoints of the Zamperini saga here because you must read the details of his journey to truly appreciate the mind-numbing difficulties faced by Zamperini and the thousands of POWs and civilians held by a Japanese culture where surrender and capitulation rendered the subjugated as inferior beings unworthy of humane treatment.

The telling of this part of the Zamperini tale would normally make the events that preceded it nothing more than prelude, yet his early life challenges and his evolution into an Olympian admired throughout the world is equally interesting.  And his fame in pre-war life has its effects on his captivity at the hands of the Japanese, a scary intersection that may have saved his life while at the same time rendering his time as a prisoner-of-war barely survivable!

Mr. Zamperini still resides in Torrance, CA at the extraordinary age of 96!

Mr. Zamperini still resides in Hollywood, CA at the extraordinary age of 96!

It is – very simply – a story that must be read to be believed.

As one might expect, his life immediately after his return from imprisonment includes post-traumatic symptoms and problems in his attempts to return to a normal life.  In this regard, Zamperini’s experiences are no different in most regards to those suffered by thousands of POWs in WWII and hundreds of others in dozens of wars.

In these “book reports” I tend to share those new things I learned or the more interesting perspectives a good read can bring to light.  But to do this here would simply spoil a fascinating twist to Zamperini’s psychological and spiritual recovery.

So if you are one of the few who – like me - waited too long to pick up a fascinating book, grab Unbroken before the movie comes out!

  • In 1998, at the spry age of 81, Zamperini was afforded the opportunity to run a leg of the Olympic torch relay for the Winter games in Nagano, Japan.  While there he requested the opportunity to meet his worst POW tormentor, but was frustrated in his attempt.
  • For those of us Philadelphia Eagles fans, Mr. Zamperini continues to attend USC football games, and is purportedly a friend of recent Eagles draft pick, QB Matt Barkley!
  • Unbroken, to be directed by actress Anjolina Jolie, is slated to appear in movie theatres for Christmas 2014.

The Admirals (Walter R. Borneman)

Fleet Admirals Chester W. Nimitz, Ernest J. King and Bill Halsey

Fleet Admirals Chester W. Nimitz, Ernest J. King and Bill Halsey

I have always enjoyed reading American history, especially about both the American Civil War and World War II.  One – a domestic conflict - determined the future course of America’s development as a “united nation”; the other – a world-wide conflict – resulted in America’s emergence as a global leader.

That’s not to say I have read everything out there on either subject.  And from time-to-time I run across a book that teaches me a new thing or two.  In the case of The Admirals, I gained a new perspective on America’s military leadership during the last world war to end all world wars.

Walter R. Borneman ‘s enlightening work focuses on the four admirals, who transcended the U.S. Navy’s pre-World War II rank hierarchy, to become the first five-star admirals in American history.  This development was made necessary by the British Allies’ penchant for Fleet Admirals and Field Marshalls.  The 5-star rank was added (by Act of Congress in June 1944) to the American military ranks to place U.S. admirals and generals on equal footing with their European counterparts.

Flag of the Fleet Admiral of the U.S. Navy

Flag of the Fleet Admiral of the U.S. Navy

Five-star ranks of Fleet Admiral were bestowed on the four U.S. Navy Admirals and subjects of the book: William D. Leahy, Ernest J. King, Chester W. Nimitz, and William F. Halsey, Jr.  Fifth stars have not been issued to a Navy officer since 1945 and the conclusion of World War II.

Prior to reading The Admirals I was much more familiar with the four U.S. Army Generals, who carried the five-star rank of General of the Armies:  George C.Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Henry H. Arnold.  (Omar Bradley was added as a five-star General in 1950, the only officer in U.S. military service so honored after WWII.)

In The Admirals a new appreciation is gained for the leadership exhibited by two men often overlooked in most media presentations on the War in the Pacific.  Those men are Admirals Leahy and King.  Until I picked up The Admirals, I had no appreciation for the contributions they made in the prosecution of America’s WWII efforts.

The exploits and accomplishments of Admirals Nimitz and Halsey during the Pacific campaign are well-known and referred to relatively often.  For instance, the other night I could not resist watching part of the movie, Midway in which Nimitz and Halsey are prominent.  For that reason, the following speaks mostly of Bill Leahy and Ernest King.


Admirals King, top left and Leahy, behind FDR, at the Yalta Conference in June 1945

Admirals King, top left and Leahy, behind FDR, at the Yalta Conference (June 1945)

Bill Leahy had been age-retired and was serving as Governor of Puerto Rico when the long-anticipated conflict with Japan broke with the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  His friendship with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, cultivated during a period in his Navy career when – as a Navy captain - Leahy ferried the then Assistant Secretary of the Navy up and down the U.S. eastern coast.  Their relationship led to Leahy being named the Ambassador to Nazi-controlled Vichy, France when the Germans had overrun most of Western Europe.

Leahy’s role as ambassador was to influence the Vichy government from total subservience to the Nazi government, especially when it came to the remnants of the French fleet.  When the Vichy eventually fell in line with the Nazis through the elevation of the pro-German Pierre Laval to the head of its government, FDR kept his promise to the previously retired Admiral Leahy; brought him home from France; and recalled him to military service to help fight the war.

Leahy, left, and King, top right, in conference with Generals George C. Marshall, right, and Henry "Hap" Arnold, top left

Leahy, left, and King, top right, in conference with Generals George C. Marshall, right, and Henry “Hap” Arnold, top left

Tragedy befell Leahy as he prepared to leave the Vichy.  His wife, Louise died suddenly from medical complications of a rushed hysterectomy performed in France.

In time Leahy came to be viewed by  FDR and – almost as importantly – General George Marshall as the perfect candidate to become Chief of Staff to the Commander-in-Chief and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  From this position Bill Leahy would not only coordinate the military’s strategic implementations with FDR’s global considerations, he became the man The President relied upon more and more for all manner of domestic and foreign policy execution.

Admiral Leahy accompanied President Roosevelt to most of the major war conferences, being left behind once in Tunis and missing Casablanca due to a high fever.  He acted as a gatekeeper to information, communications, and personal access to FDR; coordinated execution of the both military and domestic presidential directives; and as Roosevelt’s health diminished, assumed responsibility for the daily functions of The Chief Executive.

The true testament to Admiral Bill Leahy’s effectiveness in those positions was his retention by Harry S Truman as his Chief of Staff for the entirety of his first term following FDR’s death in April 1945.


Fleet Admirals Nimitz and King with Admiral Raymond Spruance aboard the U.S.S. Indianapolis

You gain keen insight from the earlier, less exciting chapters of The Admirals for the process through which the U.S. Navy ensures its officers and future leaders are well-rounded and thoroughly trained.  In the pre-World War II chapters, Borneman concentrates on the early careers of his four study subjects.  What is learned is the important role played by the Navy’s Bureau of Navigation (Bureau of Navy Personnel since 1942), an administrative position that controls the assignment and detailing of naval officers throughout the vast opportunities offered by Navy service.  Each of the World War II five-stars is exposed to the various types of boats, ships and planes.  From destroyers, to submarines, through cruisers, battleships and aircraft carriers …

Although none of the four officers Borneman follows gains experience in every possible Navy assignment, the reader sees how each officer’s background developed and how those experiences contributed to their efforts, ideas and strategies during the war.

For a U.S. Navy plying the seas leading to an intriguing World War II theatre of operations in a Pacific Ocean covering tens of millions of square miles, this background provides perspective to the Navy’s evolution from a force built around the great battleships of the Great White Fleet to a fighting force oriented around the aircraft carrier and the long-distance reach of ship-borne aircraft.

It was this kind of ingenuity, an ability to take what was experienced and learned in career assignments that led to a vastly improved vision of modern ocean combat.  The kind of vision that most adequately prepared the U.S. Navy for the challenges of fighting a veteran Japanese navy in the expansive Pacific Theatre.

For this reason, Borneman’s focus remains almost exclusively on the Pacific side of the two-front war America faced during World War II.  There is little mention – aside from Admiral King’s assignment as Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet – of the Atlantic conflict that was more narrowly focused in the fight against the German U-boat.


Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King

Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King

Ernest J. King was known as cold, career-oriented, hands-on boss with a penchant for hard-drinking, something which changed in the years just before the war broke out.  One of the most senior Navy officers, who was on the short list for mandatory retirement when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Recalled to active fleet duty, King was initially assigned to lead the Atlantic campaign against the German U-boats.  After convincing FDR to use his flag-ship, U.S.S. Augusta in his initial meeting with Winston Churchill off the coast of Newfoundland, King began consolidating a leadership position that would eventually land him as Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet (COMINCH).  From this position he would direct the overall strategy of fending off the advances of the Japanese in the Pacific even as the U.S. and its allies pursued its Germany First war strategy in Europe.

King realized that to leave the Japanese free to roam the Pacific, if the Allies became exclusively focused on Fortress Europe, would make retaking the largest ocean in the world that much harder.  Throughout the war King would beg, borrow and steal to keep the Japanese at bay, then slowly start pushing them back towards their home islands.

It was King who charged Nimitz with preserving the vital ocean links from the U.S. west coast to Hawaii and Wake Island as well as the ocean routes to Australia through New Caledonia and Saipan. A strategy that led to the early and successful battles at Coral Sea and Midway.

Admiral "Fighting Bill" Halsey on a Victory poster

Admiral “Fighting Bill” Halsey on a Victory poster

King also endorsed a plan, developed by his Operations Officer, Captain Francis “Frog” Low to bomb Tokyo with Army Air Force bombers launched from aircraft carriers known as the Doolittle Raid.  King’s global strategic vision made winning the war in the Pacific less costly than a myopic obsession with Germany First could have cost the Allies in time, lives and treasure.

As with such major world conflicts, even Allies don’t always get along.  Besides clashes with British and Soviet priorities and strategic visions, American military leaders had to deal with their own internecine struggles over power, resources, and tactical ideas.  As one would expect the U.S Army and Navy did not always see eye-to-eye on how and where the great battles should be fought.  And with personalities as large as Generals George Marshal and – more pointedly – Douglas MacArthur there were more than a few opportunities for paralyzing disagreement.

Borneman credits Admiral King for smoothing the often ruffled feathers of his Army counterparts, particularly MacArthur.  King’s relationship with General Marshall got off to a slow start; would never be particularly close; but was always of mutual respect.  King wholeheartedly endorsed Eisenhower to head the North African invasion (Operation Torch), a success that led to Ike’s leading of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France (Operation Neptune).

MacArthur, as most who competed with or tried to control would learn, was another story.  But King was deft at keeping MacArthur from interfering too much in the Navy’s war efforts; and usually was able to keep him happy enough to remain an effective threat to the Japanese.


In an attempt to summarize this very long post, Borneman’s The Admirals forces the reader to focus on the complexities of developing properly trained, strategic-thinking naval officers; the prosecution of wide-ranging global warfare on a scale rarely seen in any generation; and the way personalities and the politics of leadership comes together in just one arm of the U.S. military.  In a war that encompassed much of the globe and no less than three major Allied powers, respective political establishments and military organizations, it is a tribute to confident and visionary Allied leadership that the effort didn’t simply collapse under the weight of its divergent personalities and priorities.

Admiral of the Fleet Chester W. Nimitz at Japanese surrender Behind him stand MacArthur, Halsey and Admiral Forrest Sherman

Admiral of the Fleet Chester W. Nimitz at Japanese surrender
Behind him stand MacArthur, Halsey and Admiral Forrest Sherman

Other random bits of knowledge picked up from reading The Admirals:

  • Vice Admiral Ernest King staged an attack on Pearl Harbor in 1938 from the U.S.S. Saratoga as part of Fleet Problem XIX manuevers.  The result was complete surprise.
  • When asked what won the war in the Pacific, Bull Halsey stated, “I would rank them in this order: submarines first, radar second, airplanes third, bulldozers fourth.”
  • By FDR’s fourth inaugural, Roosevelt was so weakened and Bill Leahy so trusted by the President that it was Leahy who rendered Roosevelt’s remarks at his fourth inaugural dinner.
  • In early December 1941 Vice Admiral Bill Halsey commands Task Force 8 on a mission to reinforce one of America’s isolated island bases.  Bad weather delays their expected return to Pearl Harbor on Saturday, December 6.
  • Ensign Chester A. Nimitz ran his very first ship command, the destroyer U.S.S. Decatur, aground on a reef near Manila Bay in 1908, an event that usually dooms a Navy officer’s career.  He also once jumped into the water to rescue an overboard sailor who could not swim.
  • Admiral Nimitz almost died in a PB2Y Coronado (flying boat) crash at
    PB2Y Catalina

    PB2Y Catalina

    NAS Alameda after the Battle of Midway.  The crash was caused by a telephone pole-sized piling allowed to drift into the landing area.  The aircraft flipped onto its back and broke apart.  Although Nimitz escaped without injury, the co-pilot, Lt. Thomas M. Roscoe of Oakland, CA, was killed.

  • Early in the war, U.S. submarines were plagued by a host of defective torpedoes.  Many exploding prematurely or, when they did hit, simply emitting a hollow thud and sinking.  The problem wasn’t solved until well after the summer of 1943.
  • In another torpedo story, as FDR - with Admiral Leahy in tow – was sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to the Teheran Conference (November 1943 with Churchill and Stalin) aboard the battleship U.S.S. Iowa, the destroyer U.S.S. W.D. Porter decided to track the Iowa in a targeting exercise.  Inexplicably, with the President on the main deck watching a gunnery exercise, someone on the Porter accidentally hit the FIRE button for one of the torpedo tubes.  The Iowa’s skipper, Captain John McCrea, was forced to take violent evasive action to prevent the accidental assassination-by-friendly-fire of much of the country’s war leadership!

As you can see, there’s a lot of good sea and war tales in this very enjoyable and informative book.  And despite the length of this post, it barely scratches the surface.  If you have a “WWII habit” like I do, you should find a few new topics in The Admirals to scratch that itch.

Killing Kennedy

300806jfkIt has become cultural cliché that everyone – old enough to be aware that day – remembers where they were when they heard JFK had been shot … or when the planes hit the World Trade Center … or 70 years ago when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Yet by whatever definition we now describe such memories does not change the fact that they indeed will last a lifetime.  And as in the events described above, they will also transcend generational experience.

Friday, November 22, 1963 was a pleasant day for the week before Thanksgiving.  I was a first-grade student at the Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic elementary school located on Chelten Avenue in the Germantown section of Philadelphia.

UnknownIt was close to lunch when the quiet of the classroom was broken by the unexpected squawk of the intercom system.  At first just a confusing message to this 7-year-old, “Please say a prayer, the President has been shot!”  Initially all of us were puzzled, but the one image that was seared into my memory was the look of horror on Sister Anne’s normally placid face.

Minutes later came the words I remember so clearly, as though it was only yesterday, “The President is dead.”


A sign of those times in a Romans Catholic family, though not exactly what hung in our home.

What I remember most from then, particularly those days after the assassination was the reaction of my parents.  As Irish Catholics, the Kennedy election and inauguration held a special sense of pride for them.  In our house one wall contained two pictures, one of John F. Kennedy, the other Pope John XXIII … side by side.  The days after November 22 were filled with an almost non-stop vigil in front of the television, where we first witnessed some of the images that accompany our never-fading memories of those emotional days.

Recently I came across Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot (Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard) in an unexpected place - my 23-year-old son’s bedroom.  It was a bit surprising given the way many historical events get lost within our natural focus on more current events.  But Brian has always been a bit of a book-worm, and was never very parochial about his reading choices.

And in his room I also found a Steven King fiction, 11/22/63, that revolves around the Kennedy assassination.  Of course I immediately confiscated it; and added it to my reading list as well.

Apparently, the Kennedy assassination had indeed transcended Brian’s generational experience and interests.

Lee Harvey Oswald

Lee Harvey Oswald

This is certainly not the first book on the Kennedy tragedy I have picked up.  My first in-depth look into that day in Dallas was Josiah Thompson‘s conspiracy piece Six Seconds in Dallas, a book that sowed all sorts of doubts in my young mind on the official version of the assassination as set forth in the Warren Commission Report.

O’Reilly and Dugard do a credible job of identifying those organizations and criminal elements long considered as potential conspiracists in the Kennedy assassination.  Yet they do an even better job of describing Lee Harvey Oswald as a dejected reject of both the Soviets and Cubans, a man who always believed he was deemed for “greatness” despite doing little to achieve even a passing notoriety.

Even his relationship his wife, Marina, an increasingly disenchanted spouse, shows a man who had a very difficult time living up to even pedestrian expectations.  Oswald was the loser lone gunman that has become the all too familiar figure in many objectified killings, be they the assassination of key public figures or the serial killing of more common citizens.

Oimages-1ne of the well-developed themes of Killing Kennedy is the ability to look back through the perspective of time and pull an entire picture together.  The book looks back at the figures and events that led up to that bloody day in Dallas.  But it is even more interesting to relive those legends that surrounded the troubling facade of the Kennedy Camelot.

  • Most Americans from that era are familiar with JFK’s propensity for extra-marital relationships.  Chapter 5 of Killing Kennedy deals openly with Kennedy’s well-known affair with Marilyn Monroe.  But how many people dazzled by the Kennedy mystique ever considered the lengths to which his wife, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (and later Onassis) went to enable – if not condone - said dalliances?

    Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy

    Jacqueline Bouvier kennedy

Jackie was known to leave The White House almost every Thursday for weekends away at the family’s Glen Ora estate in Virginia.  She was no fool when it came to JFK’s escapades, yet she left him each weekend alone with Dave Powers, who kept a constant stream of young women accessible to the President.

Kennedy actually claimed that he needed sex almost every day to prevent debilitating headaches (the male twist on the headache-sex relationship?).  As for Jackie, she eventually took the unusual step for the 1960s and sought frank, explicit sex advice from Dr. Frank Finnerty, a cardiologist and family friend, in an attempt to improve the First Couple’s intimacy and keep The President from wandering.

  • Another interesting facet of Killing Kennedy is its frank discussion of the Bay of Pigs disaster, that ill-advised, poorly executed attempt to invade Cuba and overthrow the young revolutionary, Fidel Castro.  One  factor in the military disaster was Kennedy’s own part in forcing the Bay of Pigs plans to its infamous conclusion.  Kennedy was particularly hard on the images-2Eisenhower Administration’s for what he described as its soft stance on Communism – and Cuba in particular – in the 1960 election campaign against Vice President Richard Nixon.

After such a showing Kennedy was in no position to forego a plan that had its origins in the Dwight Eisenhower administration despite his obvious misgivings in the lead-up to the invasion.  Once it became apparent that the invasion would fail, Kennedy further complicated his mistake by being indecisive and timid; and then abandoning the effort completely, leaving many of the Cuban expatriates spearheading the invasion to die or to suffer years of imprisonment in Castro’s new Cuba.

  • Amazingly enough it appears that the Soviet-Cuban Missile crisis resulted in Kennedy’s far wiser embargo strategy against Communist Cuba; and it also may have saved the Kennedy marriage.  Many within the Kennedy inner circle, even the men on the Secret Service detail, saw a marked change in JFK’s womanizing after the Soviets almost forced a nuclear showdown over placing offensive, nuclear-capable missiles on the island just 90 miles from Florida.  As a result of that nuclear near-miss, the President appeared to become a much more family oriented and accessible husband and father.
  • It is not difficult to appreciate JFK’s actions to end racial discrimination in the South.  Although his
    Martin Luther King, Jr and LBJ at a meeting in the Kennedy White House

    Martin Luther King, Jr and LBJ at a meeting in the Kennedy White House

    civil rights efforts really found their impetus in Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, the actions - and reactions – taken in the early stages of the 1960s would continue as a central theme of the Lyndon B. Johnson administration and culminate in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

As I read Killing Kennedy much attention was being given to the 50-year anniversary of the Birmingham campaign to protest racial discrimination .  It’s sobering to consider that just 50 years ago African-Americans – some as young as elementary school students - were motivated to expose themselves to physical violence at the hands of white law enforcement authorities to press their case for equal treatment under the law in the racially hostile South.  The author’s description of the Birmingham Children’s Crusade is provocative.

Other facts I found interesting and enlightening in Killing Kennedy:

  • Jack Kennedy was hardly the decisive Navy PT boat Commander immediately after PT-109 was cleaved in half by a Japanese warship in the South Pacific.  Initially Kennedy is hesitant to make command decisions, instead polling his crew as to the best course of action.  But he certainly made up for his timidness as the episode progressed.
  • Kennedy was in constant pain over most of his adult life as the result of injuries from the PT-109 incident.  To relieve his back pain, Kennedy liked to swim naked in the since removed White House pool.  This activity also led to some embarrassing episodes with young female staff members.
  • During the Bay of Pigs Kennedy was beset with diarrhea and urinary tract infection that severely tested his ability to concentrate.
  • Jackie Kennedy was a closet chain-smoker, who continued the practice even during pregnancy!
  • UnknownThe Kennedy’s despised LBJ; and him them.  This is not difficult to understand, given the way the Kennedy brothers brought Johnson onto the 1960 ticket in order to land the Electoral College votes of Texas then eviscerated his political power as Vice President.
  • Just weeks before his death, Kennedy already has the U.S. heavily involved in the survival of the South Vietnamese government.
  • JFK greatly embarrassed Frank Sinatra when he cancelled long-made plans to stay at Sinatra’s Palm Springs home following a speech at UC-Berkeley in 1962. This after Sinatra had already gone to the trouble of making significant changes to his property, even adding a helipad.  Instead Kennedy stayed at Bing Crosby‘s estate, purportedly bedding Marilyn Monroe for the first time there, because of Sinatra’s alleged relationship with La Cosa Nostra.  Sinatra, irate when Peter Lawford - a Kennedy by marriage - was forced to break the news, eventually became a Republican.

Regardless of whether you come from my generation, an earlier one, or a generation much younger and far removed from the shock of an assassinated President, you will enjoy the historical perspective provided by Killing Kennedy!

Understanding China – John Bryan Starr

China has become one of the most important influences on U.S. foreign policy in the years since the United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) dissolved into a smaller version of itself (Russia) and a collectively less prominent scattering of nation states.  The Peoples Republic of China has impressively grown beyond being Southeast Asia’s powerbroker of the 1970s and ’80s to be recognized as an international force in the world’s economy, as well as a major industrial contributor to the planet’s environmental problems.

It slowly dawned on many Americans that China was emerging as the United States chief international rival.  But the relationship between the two major superpowers developed a unique twist that was never an issue in the U.S. competition with the U.S.S.R.  China became a significant holder of American international financial debt, a situation created in part by our own credit card addict’s view of financial (mis)management, aggravated by a growing U.S.-China trade imbalance.

For these reasons I became very interested in former Ambassador to China, John Huntsman’s unsuccessful run at the Republican Presidential nomination.  Suddenly, here was someone who understood the intricacies of our relationship with the Chinese.  But I also came to realize my own “China problem”.  I knew very, very little about the Peoples Republic of China. 

This glaring blind spot led me to John Bryan Starr‘s Understanding China, an expanded 2010 study of a nation so few of us know much about, let alone understand.  This is Starr’s third revision of his original book, published in 1997.

Starr is a former U.S. Navy officer and current political science lecturer at Yale University.  Before Yale he taught Chinese politics at UC-Berkeley.  He has served as Executive Director of the Yale-China Association and as President of the China Institute in New York City.

The Great Wall

I found Understanding China to be a well-organized and enlightening look into a region of the world I have admittedly ignored over the years, at least since those heady days of fifth-grade geography and 10th grade world science.  Starr’s approach begins with a discussion of 12 critical issues facing China as it moved from being the brunt of jokes about cheap toys and flimsy consumer products to a regional military power and international economic force. 

The 12 issues range from those that most affect the Chinese people (e.g. housing and feeding a growing population, restrictions in the free flow of information) to the issues that challenge the country of China as it emerges as a developing economic power (e.g. environmental degradation, finding sufficient sources of energy, relationships with Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the United States).  This outline sets in the reader’s mind the questions that will be addressed throughout the book and serves as a useful guide for framing Starr’s discussion.

It proves difficult for me to do such in-depth studies justice in a blog post.  So many of my readers have short attention spans and prefer lawn care tips over international political science.  With those restrictions in mind, I’ll limit my discussion here to those aspects of China I found new and most interesting.  A serious study such as Understanding China is a useful tool for gaining an overview on a broad spectrum of issues; the reader can then decide which specific areas might require more in-depth research. 

Points of interest I was surprised to learn:

  • China experiences approximately 120,000 very public protests every year.  Quite the surprising statistic for such an authoritarian and – in the case of the 1989 Tiananmen uprising - downright brutal government.
  • China is just a tad larger than the United States (3.7 million square miles vs. 3.6 million).  But 75% of its population lives on just 15% of the land mass; two-thirds of which is covered by mountains akin to the U.S. Rockies.  China’s arable land for farming is limited to just 10% of the total.
  • The 2008 global financial meltdown had a relatively limited effect on the Chinese economy.  The reason was the authoritarian government’s capability to quickly and effectively inject new capital into the domestic economy.  So there does seem to be at least one advantage to not having to kowtow to a democratically elected legislature … quick action in a crises!
  • Foreign investment, channeled primarily through the Special Administrative Regions (Hong Kong, Macao), tops $1.6 trillion a year; consisting of 60,000 joint ventures; and accounting for half of all Chinese exports.
  • China’s People’s Liberation Army receives an official annual budget of only $70 billion; but experts estimate that it’s truly 3-4 times that large.  In addition, the PLA self-finances in part through the manufacture and international sale of military weapons and equipment.  And until recently ordered to divest,  military-owned and operated facilities also produced consumer goods for domestic sale that accounted for 20% of the domestic consumer market. 
  • In 2004 Morgan Stanley estimated that high quality, less expensive Chinese products saved the U.S. consumer an astounding $100 billion!    

There were several topics in which I was keenly interested, given China’s expanding global presence and impact.

Interests of local authorities and economies vs. objectives of the national government …

Despite China’s authoritarian communist rule, the countryside is relatively free of control by the central government.  Local authorities are delegated much latitude on a broad spectrum of administrative and operational issues.  This arrangement serves to contradict certain objectives like reducing pollution and feeding an expanding population. 

The crux of the problem is that local authorities at regional and village levels are incentivized (or penalized) based on production outputs and cost efficiencies, along with ensuring compliance by its citizens with social programs (e.g. one-child birth policy).  Often the extent of local compensations, power, and access to corruptive practices causes local interests to run counter to national policy.  Local leaders will overlook environmental threats, sacrifice arable land – which are already scarce in relation to farming needs – for modern industrial facilities, and coerce social compliance with the one-child policy simply as a cost reduction measure.

Mao Zedong

The environment was just one sacrificial lamb in Mao Zedong’s vision of the Chinese nation.  He portrayed Nature as an enemy to be overcome in the struggle for a powerful, independent China.  Water and energy were provided free of charge, which ensured no one questioned the economies of conservation or the use of alternate energies. China is the largest user of coal, the second largest of oil (with 60% coming from the Middle East), and home to 16 of the 20 most polluted cities on the planet. 

China’s refusal to commit to most international environmental restrictions is based on its claim as a developing industrialized power (i.e. not yet fully developed).  The claim has some merit since all developing nations, including the U.S., have histories as a major polluters as they grew into advanced industrial powers.  This standoff does not bode well for international efforts to reduce the global effects of man-made pollution.

The family responsibility system …

The Chinese are well-known for the strength of their family system; and this is illustrated nowhere better than the reliance on the family responsibility system as a glue that holds Chinese rural society together.  Due to China’s sparse infrastructure outside its urban concentrations, huge swaths of rural land especially in the north and west have limited accessibility, little in the way of government and social support structures (hospitals, schools, roads, communication, etc.), and less government control.  As a result, a loose federation of local authorities coupled with a strong family agrarian culture are left to their own devices for sustenance, industry, and social support.

The family structure is most important here.  The family system is responsible for seeing the individual through life from birth to death.  With national priorities focused on feeding the much larger urban populations, the family structure is crucial to the success of rural farms which are owned and operated primarily by family units.  Farming and limited rural industrial capacity is owned, managed, and staffed almost entirely within the family system.  For this reason the limits of the one-child policy are largely ignored in rural areas since the larger the family, the greater the output; the greater the output, the more healthy and wealthy the family.  These families find the penalties for multiple births and additional children over one-child to be well worth the investment, even a matter of pride. 

In addition, older Chinese in rural areas do not benefit from the pensions city dwellers can accumulate.  So younger generations see providing for their elderly parents and grandparents to be part of their family duty. 

One interesting spinoff from this significant urban-rural divide is that rural Chinese do not identify with the problems and shortcomings faced by those Chinese in the big cities.  As a result, rural Chinese felt little compulsion to become involved in the Tiananmen Square uprisings of 1989, which were initially caused by protests over poor education and living conditions at Chinese universities, located in its major urban centers like Beijing.      

Remaking the Chinese economy …

This post is already way too long for some of my attention-span-challenged fans, but Starr’s biggest contribution to my understanding of China’s present day status was his explanation of the remaking of the Chinese economy.  For decades China was the land of cheap toys and poorly made consumer products.  Now it’s known for cheaper priced consumer products and top-line brand-name clothing and electronics.

China’s status as The Land of American Outsourcing hits a sensitive nerve with work-a-day Americans, particularly those without good jobs and especially those who have lost jobs to cheaper overseas labor.  It’s an issue that will plague Chinese-American relations for years to come until some form of equilibrium is reached.  One cold, hard reality is that the outsource destinations did nothing other than take advantage of the high cost structure in this country, much of it the result of the high level of Government regulation and the expenses of a union-committed labor force.

China’s big chance to remake its often ridiculed economy came with the cessation of Hong Kong by Great Britain.  This handover opened the door for China’s own brand of “capitalism with Chinese characteristics”.  Hong Kong, which had long existed as a conduit for financial activity, opened the floodgates for a dramatic expansion of foreign investment. 

Deng Xiaoping

It was Deng Xiaoping who set the stage by initiating a number of reforms that eased the transition for China’s economy.  Deng’s reforms included moving industrial development from central government planing to market-driven decisions, and shrinking the state-owned industrial sector in favor of an expanded private sector.  These decisions accomplished more for China’s economy than any other outside development.  

From the socialist/communist point-of-view however, China also moved from an economy among the most equal in income distribution to one that is now one of the most unequal in terms of the differences between rich Chinese and poor Chinese.  This just goes to prove that trying to force a philosophy of income equality for all does absolutely nothing for the long-term financial and economic health of a developing country.

And that’s it, a rather long-winded but inadequate attempt to portray John Bryan Starr’s look inside the Chinese behemoth.  I certainly have skipped and skimmed a large part of Starr’s treatment.  For a real appreciation of China’s story from the age of dynasties to land of Wal*Mart you really need to pick up Understanding China.

“Game Change”, HBO’s new Democrat-umentary

democratumentary – (def) a media production presented as a “documentary” when it really only addresses issues and events from a subjective point-of-view favorable to the Democratic Party. 

I try not to be a cynic.  I really do.  But when it comes to politics, I am no longer a match for the machinations of those on the National political stage.  And when they are joined by willing sycophants in the media and entertainment industries, it’s about all I can stand without blowing a Cranky Man gasket! 

My latest migraine comes courtesy of the abomination made by HBO of the best-selling book Game Change, authored by John Heileman and Mark Halperin following the 2008 presidential election. 

If you happened to watch this HBO democratumentary this past Sunday (I didn’t, and won’t; and why will become obvious to you as you read this.), please take a moment and read my review of the book Game Change, written for this blog back in January 2011.  And as you read my review, see if you can identify what was left out of the HBO democratumentary.

(Cranky hums the Jeopardy theme song as he patiently waits for his readers as they enjoy another brilliant Cranky Man piece.)

That’s right!  Not a single mention, character casting, or on-screen appearance of any significance by any Democrat that participated in that 2008 presidential election!  Not a single one …

This despite that the dominant theme of Game Change – the book -  was the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama battle in the Democrat primaries, and the harrowing details of John Edwards’ disastrous campaign and failing marriage! 

Not a peep …

I had seen several of the teasers and promos for the HBO democratumentary, and kept wondering where was the Clinton-Obama characters?  What about the confrontation between the two on the tarmac of Reagan National Airport?  Where was the controversy over the Clinton campaign’s speculation on past drug use by Obama and rumors of his Muslim roots?  Where was the grab-you-by-the-collar stories of John and Elizabeth Edwards’ constant fights and dysfunction?      

Nowhere, that’s where …

It’s gets even uglier - as in Rielle ugly - when you peruse the political donations of the cast and production executives that worked on the democratumentary. 

Tom Hanks, producer well over $100, 000 to the DNC since 1994, $36,500 to liberal causes like SEN Al Franken’s Midwest Values.  Republicans: not a dime

Ed Harris (SEN John McCain), $9500 to Democratic candidates, $11,975 to liberal special-interest groups like  Republicans: squat, nada, nil

Woody Harrelson (Steve Schmidt, McCain-Palin chief strategist), $4,300 to Democratic candidates, $3,500 to liberal causes like GreenVote.  Republicans: zip, zero, zilch

Jay Roach, director/co-executive producer, $15,800 to Democrats; Republicans?  You should be recognizing the theme by now!

Julianne Moore (Sarah Palin), $2,250 to Democrats, $7,500 to DNC, Democratic White House Victory Fund and special-interest groups.  Republicans: Everybody join in!

Danny Strong, co-executive producer, $2500 to Obama Victory Fund.  Republicans: a big wet willie 

You don’t need someone to draw the picture for you.  It’s just sitting there plain as day.

You would think the movie-based-on-the-book would have at least addressed in some way the REAL Game Change in 2008, Barack Obama as the first African-American President.  But that story had to be ignored, to avoid the ugliness of the Democrats’ 2008 campaign and to maximize the spotlight on the Republican-Sarah Palin debacle.

Afterall, you never want to beat the horse you’re betting on.      

(Shout out to reader Mark D for tipping me to the donation information.)

Franklin and Winston

Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship by Jon Meacham, an accomplished author, media executive and social/political commentator, is a great read on the close, personal relationship of the primary protagonists – Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill - behind the Western Hemisphere’s defeat of German fascism and Japanese hegemony during World War II. 

I became a fan of Meacham’s approach to historical figures and concepts through my weekday habit of catching segments of MSNBC’s Morning Joe while getting dressed for work.  Meacham has always struck me as a down-to-earth commentator on political and social issues.  He won the Pulitzer Prize for his treatment of Andrew Jackson in American Lion (not reviewed here); and his book on religion’s influence on the American experiment in American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers and the Making of a Nation is an excellent guide to discussions on the spiritual foundation of American governance.  

Meacham’s approach in Franklin and Winston is similar to the other works mentioned above.  He takes an overview approach to the subjects, and provides plenty of source notes and references for the serious scholar who wishes to dig deeper.  It is this approach that makes his books enjoyable reads regardless of your reasons for picking up a Meacham historical study.

In Franklin and Winston Meacham focuses on the personalities of FDR and Churchill, including their family lives and how their personal backgrounds, ambitions and political situations played into the Allied war effort and the friendship that developed between the two during the war. 

Both men were the products of rich American mothers; Churchill’s mother marrying Lord Randolph Churchill, Member of Parliament, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Leader of the House of Commons (1886).  Their parental relationships – or lack thereof - influenced both men in their very public lives.

Churchill’s parents were almost entirely absent; his father did not like him; and his upbringing and education was left to his nanny and the prescribed boarding schools for England’s power elite.  As a result, Churchill was driven to be the center of attention.  He was vigorous in all things he did, but was also impulsive and stubborn.  Churchill needed to be liked by those he highly regarded.  This would become a continuing theme in the Roosevelt-Churchill relationship, as Churchill found himself constantly chasing the more aloof, confident Roosevelt. 

FDR’s upbringing was quite the opposite.  He was doted on constantly by his mother.  Very little is mentioned of his father.  His mother’s coddling became even more prevalent when Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio in 1921 at the age of 39.  What FDR found at home as a child and even as an adult was everything Churchill’s early home life lacked.  As a result FDR did not feel compelled to seek anyone’s approval, even Churchill’s.  FDR greatly admired Churchill’s strength and leadership however, especially his skills at oratory during the dark days of 1940-41 (Battle of Britain). 

The friendship that these men forged in the year-and-a-half leading up to America’s entering the war and throughout the conflict resulted in a vision and strategy that freed Europe from the Nazis and chased the Japanese back to their home islands.  In this regard, Churchill did not have much choice but to follow the lead of Roosevelt on most matters of strategy.  Britain desperately needed the resources and manpower of the United States for their ultimate survival.  Only the thinnest of margins kept the Germans from attempting a cross-Channel invasion in 1940-41. 

Roosevelt – on the other hand – had to deal with an American electorate that for the most part wanted nothing to do with another war in Europe.  Yet he understood that the United States had to eventually enter the war or Europe would be lost to fascism.  He characterized his plight as ” … no leader should get too far ahead of his followers.”  FDR’s political strength permitted him to push such programs as Lend-Lease, which allowed for the sale of supplies and munitions to England (and eventually to all Allies) on a cash-and-carry basis.  Earlier under the Destroyers for Bases Agreement Roosevelt was able to send 50 aging destroyers to England for basing rights in the Caribbean.  Britain’s loss of those bases – though painful – provided FDR with necessary political cover, allowing the country to fulfill Roosevelt’s vision as “the arsenal of democracy”.

Despite Churchill’s standing as #2 in his relationship to FDR and to a greater extent England’s relationship to the U.S., he was a loyal and sensitive confidante to Roosevelt.  He protected FDR’s image in light of his crippling disease when the two met for the first time as world leaders at sea aboard the U.S.S. Augusta.  And he admired Roosevelt’s ability to transcend his disability and to accept the dependence on others that it required.  The description of the two leaders enjoying the view atop La Saardia in Marrakech in January 1943 is one of a caring Churchill overseeing the spiritual well-being of a cherished friend.

Like all friends, they also had their disagreements and slights that resulted in hurt feelings.  Churchill was upset when Roosevelt neglected to acknowledge Churchill’s cable of congratulations following FDR’s successful election in 1940.  And Roosevelt was miffed when Churchill sought a meeting of minds with Wendell Wilkie, FDR’s opponent in the 1944 election.  To make matter worse, Churchill ends up with Roosevelt on the phone due to a miscommunication and fails to recognize Roosevelt’s rather unique voice when the call goes through to the wrong man.  As the war winds down, Roosevelt realizes that stability in the post-war world requires greater interaction between the U.S. and Soviets as opposed to the British; and Churchill is - for a time – left out in the cold.

At the core of what would normally be an arm’s-length diplomatic relationship, the two most important men at such a critical juncture of history shared much.  Both had children serving in theatres of war.  Something not seen much these days aside from Britain’s royal family.  They leaned on each other at times of darkness, be it Dunkirk or Pearl Harbor.  They not only cooperated strategically and politically during the most trying of times, but genuinely liked each other and were lifted in spirit whenever they had the chance to get together.

And at times like those, what else are friends for?

Citizen U.S.A.

I did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING on Monday, December 26.  Well, almost nothing …  I had to do some post-Christmas clean-up, since we host a house full of relatives for Christmas dinner every year.  So the Day After Christmas is reserved for Decompression and Recovery.

The one thing I’m glad I did was catch an HBO documentary called Citizen U.S.A.: A 50 State Road Trip, where director Alexandra Pelosi travels to naturalization ceremonies in all 50 states; meeting brand new American citizens to learn why they chose America as their new home.  I found it inspiring and thought-provoking.

Two experiences I have had with younger, liberal family members made the story Pelosi tells all the more poignant.

Documented and legal vs. Undocumented and running scared 

One young relative not only constantly shines the light on the dangerous sub-culture of illegal aliens (The PC term is now apparently “undocumented workers“.) … pouring across the southern U.S. border, he has actually spent time in that hostile environment working with charitable organizations trying to help these “undocumented workers” survive the physical ordeal of crossing the desert border region.  It’s an admirable humanitarian effort, providing they aren’t directly abetting illegal entry. 

We have gotten into some spirited internet discussions about the subject of illegal/undocumented aliens/immigrants/workers.  My central point in these discussions comes down to what barriers prevent these illegal border crossers from going through the process of becoming legally announced, recognized and controlled immigrants?  How difficult it is really to apply and obtain legal work permits, then enter the country and work here legally?  

From my research, it appears that the only practical barrier undocumented immigrants face to become documented laborers is the bureaucratic wait to receive work visas from the U.S. Government.  But a New York Times report found that H2-A visa for agricultural workers, one of the few unlimited visa categories, can be obtained on the same day.

The HBO documentary – on the other hand – showed thousands of legally documented immigrants, who not only came here to attend schools and/or to work, but who have flourished to the point where they persistently and successfully sought to become fully naturalized U.S. citizens.  They did not have to live a life under the radar, isolated from helpful human services; constantly on the move; always looking over their shoulder due to the fear of being caught and sent home.  No hiding, no running.

How can the undocumented worker lifestyle be any freer, safer or more productive for the individual when they determine it necessary to leave their home and sneak into the U.S. for work, better wages and services that would improve their family’s quality-of-life? 

Legal entry is obviously the safer, cleaner choice for the immigrant, even with the bureaucratic hoops which – according to the above NY Times link – is not an unreasonable barrier to LEGAL entry.  So for me, it is hard to argue with the premise that illegals would rather enjoy the improved lifestyle and new opportunities without having to contribute a fair share towards the human services (schools, hospitals, etc.) they and their families enjoy while here.

The part that doesn’t make sense is having to SURVIVE the ordeal of a border crossing so dangerous that charitable organizations are compelled to be there to provide survival assistance.

I am hardly one who fails to recognize the value that foreign migrant workers contribute to the U.S. economy.  Their labor is indispensable to many areas of our agricultural industry.  So I’m waiting – even hoping – for someone to disprove this negative view of a generally hard-working, productive people, who – on the surface at least – appear to be only interested in improving their lot in life.  These are givens.

(As an interesting aside, in six months during 2006 Mexico deported over 100,000 illegal immigrants.  It is illegal for foreign nationals to be in Mexico – including Americans – without proper documentation.  Mexican immigration law allows authorities to arbitrarily check immigration papers and to racially profile groups determined more likely to be in Mexico illegally.)

America:  An Ideal not a guarantee

In the middle of watching the HBO presentation, I caught my eldest son snickering at one newly naturalized citizen’s proclamation that in America you can become successful, accomplish anything, and realize a better quality-of-life. 

I’m willing to bet this is a fairly common reaction in some people.  Those who have come to believe that corporatism and the financial system keeps the lower and middle classes hopelessly bogged down; those who think that social inheritance and political opportunism will always trump hard work and creativity; the cynical who look at the faults one can inevitably find in a society as large and complex as ours and conclude the deck is fixed against all but the properly connected.

I prefer to look at it another way.

Living in America is an Ideal, not a guarantee.  It is a Promise that Hard Work and Creativity will be rewarded.  It’s not a guarantee that you will be made rich and amazingly successful or even that all your Hard Work and Creativity will free you of financial pressures or eliminate all social disadvantages.   

The Ideal is an objective for which we should reach up and out.  The Ideal may very well be unattainable, which any true Ideal worth working towards should be.      

America is still an Experiment just as the Founding Fathers saw it 235 years ago.  America is imperfect.  There are flaws in every segment of the Political, Economic, and Social orders.  Solutions to these problems, whether these challenges develop over decades or pop up suddenly like cracks on a windshield, are tweaks in the Experiment that in reality are experiments on the Experiment.  And sometimes the Solutions end up causing more problems elsewhere.   

As in any experiment, when the variables – like economic stability or political efficacy - get out of whack the results suffer.  Sometimes the confluence of problems and events within The Experiment develops into a perfect storm that threatens much of what has been accomplished.  The storms can hold us back; and sometimes they can ruin the Individual.  But part of the Promise is that the Foundation will always be there for You, a Foundation that can protect you and help you to recover.    

The Promise isn’t that You will be carried forever.  The Experiment has developed mechanisms that allow You to be carried when You cannot carry yourself.  Yet even these support structures were never guaranteed to be there always or to carry into perpetuity those who fall on hard times, especially when they have the basic capabilities to work for themselves.  Certainly the Promise was never intended to be a substitute for Hard Work.    

In the end, You get out of the Experiment what you put into it.  And if You wait only for what America will give you, you only cheat yourself, and the Promise will turn into nothing more than that … a promise.        

As I viewed Citizen U.S.A. I heard people who spoke of their love for America – their new home.  They understood the distinction between the Promise of America vs. America as a guarantee.  Some spoke of how much is taken for granted by birthright Americans … how many things we accept as givens, such basic concepts as physical safety, freedom of speech and religion, freedom from overt government harassment, even the simple conveniences of running water and electricity at the flip of a switch.  Things that many of these newly naturalized Americans saw as Miracles of Democracy, because in so many other parts of the world even these simple expectations regularly go unfulfilled.                               

Spyglass Hill: Pebble Beach’s better half?

When you get the chance to play golf at Pebble Beach, you play there for the incredible scenery, for the amazing golf holes, and for the historic golf moments that have occurred there.  But once you have played the headline course, another great golf opportunity awaits at Spyglass Hill!

Pebble Beach’s main attraction can be “golf overload” for many a golfer the first time they play there. (Trust me on that one.)  Spyglass Hill tends to be a more relaxing golf day.

Spyglass offers a limited amount of the spectacular ocean scenery found at Pebble.  The visual background is nowhere near as dramatic; and once you get past the first five holes, you lose all view of the ocean.  Playing Spyglass is simply a more traditional, picture-perfect, immaculately manicured day of golf.

So the day after I almost choked over Pebble Beach, my brother and I set off for Round 2 at Spyglass Hill.  The weather started out very similar to the previous day at Pebble … cool, foggy, damp.

As we hit balls at the practice tee, the ocean layer fog and mist condensed on the trees overhead and dripped like rain.  As the day progressed the fog eased.  Though there was little sun, the day was comfortable, dry … perfect!

We met our caddy, Doug on the first tee and were paired with two friendly golfers, Pete and Tom, who maintained my perfect record of NEVER being paired with a jerk on a golf course!  Pete’s wife, Joanne, was our fifth and the groups’ unofficial photographer.

Yet another first … someone who walked through 18 holes of golf simply for the scenery and photo ops!

Your first impression of Spyglass Hill is how lush and wooded it is in contrast to the wide open ocean landscapes of its more famous neighbor.  The lush surroundings makes for better overall golf conditions.

At times Pebble Beach suffers from the effects of too much sun and not enough rain.  When we played there, some Pebble Beach fairways had recently gone through hair-plug-type treatments to remedy “pattern baldness” caused by a hot, dry summer.  No such issues were found at Spyglass.

Fairway on par 5 #1 (Treasure Island)  (Photo: J.Jarocewicz)

The first five holes at Spyglass are the most dramatic – scenery wise – of the circuit, with panoramic views of lush forest green against sandy waste areas and the ocean beyond.  After #5 the course moves inland and upwards into the Del Monte Forest.  It’s easy to see how Spyglass differs from Pebble in these first 5 holes.

Looking down #2 (Billy Bones) from the green.

Number 2 is a 349-yard uphill par 4 that requires precision to avoid trouble surrounding the fairway.  Once you get the green at #2, you get your first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean – Spyglass style, which is less dramatic than Pebble but just as beautiful.  The tee shot for the par 3 - 3rd hole (The Black Spot) is one of two Par 3s (#3 & #5) at Spyglass that play directly towards the ocean, although the Pacific is not in play on either hole.

Spyglass Hill was designed by Robert Trent Jones in the 1960s; and the 345-yard (White tees) par-4 fourth hole (Blind Pew) is said to have been his favorite.  And it’s easy to see why.

The hole is neither long or treacherous; but the green is unique and requires precision to set up and execute the best approach.  The green is an estimated 20 feet wide on the back-end; but is as narrow as 8-10 feet on the front side.  The putting surface stretches about 60-75 feet, and quite literally snakes between several dunes and hillocks.

Not only is it an easy green to miss; if you hit it in the wrong spot, you could be looking at a meandering, incredibly long putt, assuming you even have line-of-sight to the hole.  This was easily my favorite hole as it played that day with the pin located at the green’s narrowest spot – the front.

Caddy Doug made his first “stroke saving” contribution here by coaching me through a delicate and tricky chip shot that had to land well off the green to stay on the green!

The back – or “wide” – end of 4th green at Spyglass. Note the thinner lower end trails off to left. (Photo: J.Jarocewicz)

I hit one of my more memorable shots to the green at the par-3 #5 (Bird Rock) after chunking my tee shot into the sandy waste area short and left.  Caddy Doug talked me into an almost effortless recovery shot that resulted in a much appreciated bogey 4.

Spyglass Hill #5 (Bird Rock)

Part of my enjoyment for our round at Spyglass Hill was the fact that I was playing very well from the tees with driver in hand.  Out of 14 holes requiring driver or 3-wood off the tee, I hit 12 fairways; and one of those was a technical near-miss.  With woods all around, you need to be straight off the tees or frustration will reign!

My brother, Pat struggled a bit with his golf demon – the snap hook; but for the most part he was able to keep up with me.  Caddy Doug kept our heads in the game – especially on the back nine – by constantly hustling to position himself as fore caddy.

Many approach shots (more my undoing than those off the tees) have one – if not more – challenging aspects, be they an overabundance of sand or sentry duty performed by perniciously placed ponds.  That being said, I lost but a single ball to “water envelopment”, which for me was a minor accomplishment!

The greens are not full of the crazy, sea-driven breaks and bends found at Pebble Beach; but they present enough of a challenge that investing in a caddy can make a difference.  With that in mind, I highly recommend the services of our caddy, Douglas Allen Miller ( should you go to either Pebble or Spyglass.  Doug is a real hustler; a great source of course information; and works hard to keep your head in the game.

His only drawback is that he’s a stinkin’ Yankees fan!

The gallery on #13 grazes on Pat’s pitch-in birdie!

Other golf highlights of the day were my stiff approach to the flag on the number one handicap hole, the par-4 #8 (Signal Hill), though I missed the par putt.  And brother, Pat thrilled the gallery (left) with a pitch-in birdie on #13 (Tom Morgan).

The deer population is a cute diversion from the “pressures” of golf at Spyglass.  The wildlife is neither frightened or especially put off their feeding by the presence of humans with their long shiny golf weapons.  It is possible to get quite close to the deer; if you take it slow and easy.  They are wary, but obviously used to humans playing stupid games in their midst!  They’ll let you know when you get too close by simply moving away.

The last real drama of the day occurred at another par 3, the 15th (Jim Hawkins).  The shortest hole at Spyglass; it plays to just 98 yards and downhill at that.  (See Pat’s picture above for a look at the shot to #15.)  I was hitting fourth in recognition of my superb snowman on the previous hole.  One of our partners, Tom, preceded me and promptly stuck the ball two feet from the hole; spun it back directly over the hole; ending up about 8 feet below the flag.

I followed that near ace by chosing my trusty 9-iron and stuck my tee shot just two feet past Bill’s quite visible ball mark on the green; but my ball simply trickled down the slope towards the hole, ending up; 4 feet from the hole.

Of course, I missed the birdie putt!

From there on out, and aside from pars by both Pat and I at the 17th (Ben Gunn), our Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill experiences were coming to an end.

All kidding aside, Patrick played better than me both times; posting a 97 at Spy Glass that included two pars to go along with his stunning pitch-in birdie on #13.

Overall, I loved playing both courses.  Who wouldn’t?!?  But the experience at each course is quite different from the other.

Pebble is a must-do for any golfer who prizes the ultra golf experiences that come only at the sport’s premiere venues.  Spyglass Hill however, is simply golf at its purest, without the thrills and chills of crazy, sea-cliff golf.

Play Pebble Beach because you must.  Play Spyglass Hill simply because you LOVE golf!

More pics from Spyglass Hill:

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Choking down a day at Pebble Beach

pearlpbLiterally, I was choking down my Pebble Beach experience.  My big chance to play one of the iconic golf courses in the country and the sport, and an hour-and-a-half before our tee-time my Anxiety-O-Meter was shutting down my internal organs!  I had NEVER felt like this before playing a round of golf.  As much as I tried to relax; to take in the surroundings; to enjoy my Eggs Benedict, I was very, very close to a Critical Mass Event!

There were several possible reasons.

  • We had left Mission Ranch, where we had stayed the night before with the woman folk, at 0-it’s-still-so-freakin’-dark hundred hours, so it felt like we were sneaking onto the most famous golf resort in America like a pair of illegals.  I half expected the immaculately uniformed attendants and valets to lay hands upon us and eject us from the premises!
  • Everything about this place is intimidating when you allow the mystique of Pebble Beach and the potential heights of its golf experience to get a stranglehold on your emotions.
  • And of course, every golfer can appreciate the phenomena of First Tee Jitters.  Now just multiply that by several orders of magnitude and suddenly those Eggs Benedict are like trying to swallow a chunk of fairway turf.  My biggest fear was cleaving a foot-sized divot from the first tee and seeing my golf ball mocking me from its perch, untouched by my TaylorMade!

Yes, that would explain a lot!  But eventually it passed, though I’m not sure exactly when or how.  After a ride out to the range and a bucket of balls, it was time to face the legacy of Pebble Beach and those golf legends that had played there before us.

Of course I had to make a few adjustments to my golf-playing expectations, given my surroundings, the difficulty of some of the holes we would play, and the fact that I was still battling the flight side of my fight-or-flight survival instincts.

  1. I knew – or at least expected – that unless I morphed into my Tiger Woods PGA Tour video game icon, the quality of my golf game was going to be a distant second to the overall aura of playing Pebble Beach.
  2. I was going to enjoy the atmosphere, scenery and uniqueness of what could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, regardless of how well or poorly I played.
  3. I wasn’t about to permit the demons of my sporadic golf game to ruin such a monumental day!  But – may Johnny Miller forgive me - if I did chunk up a big piece of Pebble Beach fairway, it might just be ground-under-repair for a few months; because THAT hunk of turf would be heading back East with me if I had to wear it as a hair hat the rest of the trip!

And then we were on the first tee!  I think that the overload of panic I felt earlier that morning somehow mitigated the horrendous crush of first-tee jitters I had anticipated.  The first tee area wasn’t nearly as crowded as I had anticipated for our 9:00 a.m. tee time, which I’m sure helped.  And all the ancillary distractions of meeting our caddy, Josh (another first for me!), our playing partners, and even the relatively tame layout of the first hole allowed me to swing my driver without hurting anyone.

Of course, that dreaded high fade didn’t help.  But I wasn’t the only one who needed to hit a provisional ball off the 1st tee.  The second drive was much better; and I played the first two holes pretty well, including a bogie on the par 5 #2 hole.  On Hole #3 you get your first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean.  It’s just a teaser for what’s to follow; but it’s enough to make your putter take notice!

First glimpse of ocean at #3

At #4 my dastardly fade cost me my first ball on the first true ocean hole.  (I would only lose 6-8 for the day, which was far better than I expected!)  Then the REAL FUN began.  #5 is a par 3 that runs along the ocean cliffs; and I didn’t play that hole too badly, given the difficulty of finding my pulled tee shot after it bounded down the cart path.  My brother, Pat, deposited his tee shot off a tree and into what was purportedly Charles Schwab’s backyard!

Little bro, Pat putting on #4

Holes #6, 7 and 8 are three of the most beautiful holes in golf.  And I would say that #8 is indeed one of the greatest holes I’ve ever played!

The second shot up the hill to the second fairway and green of #6 is the first of those grip-grinding moments you face at Pebble, at least if you’re a short hitter like me and it looks like you have to clear a 8-story building to reach the upper portion of the fairway.  You have to marvel at those strong and brave enough to play right-to-left over the most dangerous portion of the sea cliff.

The par 3 #7 was the setting for my closest encounter with Pebble Beach greatness!  #7 is not particularly long at 106 yards; but the backdrop gives you much pause.  Golf jail here is in the form of a high, steep ocean cliff surrounding the green.  No one in our foursome found the green most likely due to an overabundance of caution.  Once I travelled down to the putting surface, I found my tee shot in the green-side bunker left of the pin.  In a classic “ugly but effective” moment, my semi-crisp sandwedge barely cleared the lip; was slowed by the thick grass lining the top of the trap; and tracked right at the hole.  (My cinematographer has the video evidence!)  Despite shouts of encouragement (“It’s right at the hole!”), the ball struck the edge of the cup and rolled away.  Of course I missed the comeback putt, but that couldn’t diminish the thrill of almost holing out from the sand of #7!

My “almost” sand shot position can be seen just pin high in the sand!

When we arrived on the tee of #8, Josh – our caddy for the day, warned us not to hit anything further than 200 yards off the tee.  His advice was timely given the amazing challenge awaiting us.  All four of us hit perfect tee shots to within 20 feet of the edge of the fairway, only to look down at one of the most awe-inspiring approach shots in golf.

The approach shot on the magnificent #8 at Pebble Beach

Two balls later, I had just missed clearing the yawning sea chasm.  My playing partners were more successful; but that was the kind of day it was for me.  Regardless, I was pumped at having played the kind of golf shot I might never see again!  The fascinating part of #8 is that there is no protection whatsoever – aside from politely placed signs warning of a steep drop – to keep an unsuspecting golfer (as difficult as that might be to imagine) from taking a slip ‘n slide dive into the most hazardous hazard known to the sport!

The above photo and those following show the dramatic changes in fog conditions we encountered resulting from the cool ocean layer.  Shortly before playing #8 in bright, clear sunshine, this was the view down #6 (below).  The fairway lies just left of the bunkers.

The fog was a minor nuisance.  But it did curtail the number of dramatic photo-ops we encountered, especially on those holes along the cliffs and lower shoreline (#17 & 18).

Infamous #18 along the beach from the green

This is what #18 looked like from the green down the fairway (left). You can make out the well-known seawall and sand trap that line the craggy shoreline that is death for any stray shots.  Off in the distance you can see the form of the two trees that mark the aiming point for drives off the tee.  My lone disappointment was not being able to appreciate the full incredible vista of #18 from the tee box.

It was just that kind of day on the Monterey peninsula!

The rest of our round from #10 through #16 – though devoid of spectacular vistas – was full of excellent golf holes and mind-boggling putts.  My one recommendation for anyone looking to experience Pebble Beach (or Spyglass Hill which will be posted later) is to spend the extra cash and arrange for a caddy to accompany you.  You cannot ride a cart up to your ball at Pebble as carts are always restricted to the cart paths; so the caddy (hauling both our bags) is advisable for getting the most out of your round.

In addition, the putts alone on some of the greens REQUIRE an experienced guide.  I could have easily 4 or 5-putted a number of greens without the assistance of Josh.  The first few times your caddy tries to give a read on some of the greens, your brain won’t allow you to follow his advice.  Your mind simply can’t overcome the difference between what the eye sees and what you’re being told to do.  After just one or two bad misses though, you learn to listen to your caddy and tell your brain to shut up, sit down, and enjoy the ride!

On #14, which we were told is shaved like cue ball for tournaments, I faced what looked like a severe uphill 20-foot putt.  Not so fast, counseled Josh.  It’s actually a DOWN HILL putt!  (Putting so near the ocean turns everything upside down.  Downhill can be “up”; and uphill “down” depending on your orientation to the sea.  The physics of which I cannot comprehend!)  Josh points to a spot barely 3-4 feet away from my ball and a good 8 feet - directionally – AWAY from the flag!  “Trust me.”, he says.  “Hit it here and gravity will do the rest!”  So I hit it where I’m told, then watch in disbelief as the putt breaks not once, not twice, but three times as the ball meanders UP the 8-inch slope.  The putt finishing just inches away from the hole!

Trust me, take a caddy!