Books

Four Stories …

Posted on May 15, 2018. Filed under: Books, Guide Posts |

Four Stories by Mich Cochrane – “Recently I was invited to give a special lecture at the university where I teach. I accepted the invitation though, contrary to what my sons might tell you, I don’t really like to lecture. 

But this lecture was different. It would be part of a series inspired by Randy Pausch’s book The Last Lecture. Pausch was a computer-science professor at Carnegie Mellon University who, while facing a terminal diagnosis, spoke directly to his students and colleagues about the things that matter most.

Thankfully I am not sick (illness is not a requirement to participate in the series), but I did try to take my cue from Pausch, and from a line by Bob Dylan: “Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

Rather than deliver some brilliant thesis or clever syllogism, I simply told four stories from my heart — all of them, I hope, like the very best stories – supple and open-ended and perhaps even a bit mysterious”.

These are the four stories.

First Story

I am standing in a bedroom of the house I grew up in. I am four, maybe five years old. My sister, Sue, a year and a half older, is standing next to me, and the two of us are staring out the window into the night sky.

She is teaching me how to wish on a star. She softly says the words, a kind of incantation, and I repeat them, just as softly: “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight . . .”

Maybe for the first time I feel the strange power of rhythmic language, of poetry. Just to be hearing and speaking such words under such circumstances is magical. Sue explains that I’m supposed to wish for something: my heart’s desire, no limits.

So I do. I wish for a stuffed bear. That’s what I want, but no ordinary teddy bear — a big one, as tall as I am. It is probably the most outrageous and impossible thing I can imagine.

Meanwhile, downstairs, my family is falling apart. My father is a successful trial lawyer, by all accounts a brilliant man, but when he is drinking — which soon will be pretty much all the time — he is angry, violent, and abusive.

He throws dishes, kicks down doors, yells and hits and breaks things. In the years ahead my father will leave, return occasionally to terrorize us, but not support us.

He will cause tremendous suffering and die alone in a downtown hotel room when I am in high school.

My mother right now is in the early stages of an incurable, degenerative neurological disease, which will leave her depressed and crippled: she will die at home with my sister and me caring for her while we are both in college.

We will be poor — no car, no telephone, and, for one memorable stretch, no hot water.

Sometime after my wishing lesson — the next day, as I remember it, but that can’t be true, can it? — my sister goes shopping with a neighbor’s family.

She returns holding in her arms — what else? — one very large stuffed bear. He wears a ribbon tied rakishly around his neck. He has bright eyes and a pink felt tongue. His fur is soft and shiny. And he is big — exactly the size of a five-year-old boy.

He is named Twinkles, which is clever, don’t you think? It must have been my sister’s idea. I would have named him Beary, or maybe Mr. Bear.

Twinkles, it turns out, can talk — at least, he can when my sister is around. He has quite a lively and endearing personality. He’s a good listener, too. He cocks his head and gestures expressively.

Over time Twinkles develops an increasingly complex social life involving other stuffed animals, who also begin speaking and displaying distinctive personalities.

Jim Henson hasn’t invented the Muppets yet, but Sue’s genius for creating furry characters is equal to his. She and I start to think of this collection of animals as inhabiting a place, an independent nation. We call it Animal Town.

I’ll spare you the details, but it has an origin story, an anthem we sing together – a political structure. Twinkles is elected president year after year, term limits be damned. We have a clubhouse, sports teams — by some amazing coincidence,

Twinkles plays baseball, which just happens to be my favorite sport, too — even, I kid you not, trading cards hand-drawn by Sue. Together we create a complex web of stories, a mythology almost as rich and varied as that of the ancient Greeks.

So there is my childhood. On the one hand, confusion and fear, neglect and violence perpetrated by damaged adults; on the other hand, a couple of kids with a vast reservoir of courage, imagination, and love.

Second Story.

I am a sophomore at the University of St. Thomas, a private liberal-arts school in St. Paul, Minnesota.

I am a history and political-science major: for sure I am going to law school; maybe I am going to be president. But first I need to take one more English course, and I don’t know which one to choose.

I am in Aquinas Hall, where the English-department faculty have their offices. I have heard about one English professor in particular, Dr. Joseph Connors.

Several people have told me the same thing: Take a class from Dr. Connors. It’s rumored that, on the last day of the semester, his students rise and give him a standing ovation — he’s that good.

I decide to ask his advice about which course would be best for me. It is wholly out of character for me to do this. I am a good student but pathologically shy. I sit in the back of classrooms and do not ask questions and generally cultivate invisibility.

What possesses me to knock on this strange professor’s door? I can’t say.

I should also mention that, at this time, having graduated from a high school that enforced short haircuts, I have long hair. I also have a beard — unkempt, somewhat Amish, somewhat Russian. (I was aiming for Dostoyevsky but may have landed on Rasputin.)

I am wearing boots and an Army-surplus overcoat. Probably I look like General Ulysses S. Grant after a long, bad night.

The great wonder is that, when I knock on his door looking like this, Dr. Connors doesn’t call security. He smiles. He welcomes me into his office, where the shelves are lined with books. The room even smells like books. It smells like learning.

Dr. Connors is the most deeply literate man I will ever meet. He reads all of Shakespeare’s plays each year. He also reads Boswell’s Life of Johnson — unabridged! — annually. He knows a great many poems by heart: in the middle of a lecture he will stare off into the distance and recite a Shakespeare sonnet. (I used to think there was a teleprompter hidden somewhere.)

But I don’t know any of this yet as Dr. Connors brings me into his office and makes me feel there just might be room for me in this place.

He takes books down from his shelves and shows them to me. He talks about the Romantic writers he’s teaching next semester — Blake, Keats, Byron — as if they were mutual friends of ours.

I nod a lot. These books are treasures; I can tell by the way he handles them. They contain secrets I want to know.

Dr. Connors spends a long time with me, somehow intuiting, as all great teachers do, that behind seemingly simple queries there often lie deeper, more difficult, possibly impossible-to-articulate questions.

I leave his office well on my way to becoming an English major. I don’t want to be president anymore; I want to be Dr. Connors.

He and my other professors and mentors, through their kindness and encouragement, changed my life. They gave me hope that a certain shaky, half-formed story I wanted to tell about myself just might — possibly, maybe, someday — come true.

When I did my PhD studies at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Connors took me to lunch at the beginning of each academic year at the Curtis Hotel, just as his mentor had done for him.

After Dr. Connors retired, after his wife passed away, after I had become a professor myself, my wife and I would visit him. He lived into his nineties. Though increasingly frail in body, he was always generous in spirit, as sharp and curious as ever.

Every time I knocked on his door at Rosewood Estate, part of me remembered with pleasure and gratitude that first time I knocked on his door in Aquinas Hall.

That day he treated me — a scruffy, shy, naive young man — like a serious person, a student of literature, someone worthy of the world of poetry and story. And somehow that is who I have become.

Third Story.

I am at the Gowanda Correctional Facility in western New York. It is two days before Christmas, and I have been invited here because of a program called Battle of the Books:

The inmates form into teams and, after weeks of study, compete by answering trivia questions about four novels for young readers — because the prison librarian believes these books will not be too difficult or intimidating.

Today a book I’ve written — about a grieving, baseball-loving girl named Molly who’s mastered the difficult art of the knuckleball — is one of the selections.

I’ve had my background checked, gone through security, and been given instructions on how to behave in here: Don’t reveal private information. Don’t walk between two inmates. Don’t stand too close to anyone.

I am brought into a big open room like a gym, where the men stand in groups. A couple of hand-lettered signs announce BATTLE OF THE BOOKS and list the names of the teams that are competing.

It feels a little like a high-school mixer, except everyone but the librarians is a man, and all the men are wearing green prison uniforms, and instead of chaperones there are guards. Other than that, it’s exactly like a high-school mixer.

I am here to watch the competition, which is like the bastard offspring of Jeopardy! and street basketball: nerdy knowledge wrapped in high-fives and trash talk.

These guys know more about my novel than I do. They know, for example, the favorite color of the main character’s mother. (Teal.) Numbers, food, the full names of minor characters — they have memorized it all.

They know the freaking batting order of Molly’s baseball team. And they know the other books just as well. Rarely does a team miss a question, no matter how obscure.

There is tremendous joy in the room.

The competition lasts around three hours. After a while I almost feel as if I know these guys. Before I arrived here, I had the usual preconceived notions about prisoners.

Now I see that, except for the green uniforms, the inmates look like people I might run into at the grocery store or a ballgame. I start to wonder: If the guards and inmates switched uniforms, would I be able to tell?

Then I wonder: If I were to put on a green uniform, would I stand out? Would someone say, Hey, what’s the novelist doing dressed like an inmate? I don’t think so.

I find myself rooting for one team in particular. They call themselves the Twelve Steppers, or something like that. I get the reference: they are in recovery, trying to change their lives one day at a time.

These men have done bad things. They’ve committed crimes. They’ve hurt people. But here they are, about to spend Christmas in this place. How can I not root for them?

Afterward the head librarian brings one of the men over to tell me something. He is about my age. “Your book,” he says, “is the first book I’ve ever read.”

He thanks me for writing it. I thank him for reading. He extends his hand, and even though it is against the rules — especially because it is against the rules — I take it and try to squeeze into it all the strength and hope I can.

Fourth Story.

My sister, Sue, the Jim Henson of West St. Paul, Minnesota, grew up to major in political science and French in college and studied for two terms in France.

A self-taught musician — piano, guitar, bass, banjo, harp; you name it, she can play it — she performed in various bands: bluegrass, rock, rhythm and blues, classical, polka, even a little punk-polka, an under appreciated genre.

She graduated with honors from law school, worked with a firm that specialized in antitrust law, drank too much, got sober, started her own practice, then switched to legal aid and worked for the St. Paul American Indian Center before being named a Hennepin County Family Court judge.

She got married and adopted three boys from Korea, one with special needs. Throughout her judicial career she was a radical force, always aiming to make the system less damaging and more merciful.

Ten years ago, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing treatment, she moved for a time to traffic court, but she couldn’t give up her inclination to improve the system.

She founded a community-justice initiative and went into Minneapolis neighborhoods that scared even her bailiff.

She sat down with people there, without a robe, across a table in a community center, and listened to their problems, then helped them figure out what they needed to do to get their driver’s license back.

Five years ago Sue learned that her cancer had returned and metastasized to her bones and her brain. It is Stage IV, a terminal diagnosis.

Since then, I have not heard her utter a word of self-pity. She also has not slowed down one bit. She’s taken her sons on a number of trips. She’s organized and spoken at a conference on the topic of “Love and the Law” — an unlikely concept to you and me, but not to Sue.

She’s continued to cook and quilt. She’s maintained her meditation practice and still serves as a kind of personal Buddhist teacher to her sons, her friends, and one brother.

She’s also created a website to share some of her writing. If you visit it — just google “Sue Cochrane healing” — you’ll see that she arranges her writing under several headings.

There’s a section on the law, where she explores more-humane models of resolving disputes. There’s a section called Living My Life, which contains updates on her health.

And there’s a section labeled Power of Love. It contains poems, photos, and essays on compassion. To get to them, you click a link that says, “Click here for unconditional love.” It really says that. “Click here for unconditional love.” I strongly recommend you do this.

About a year ago Sue flew to the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, for brain surgery.

Because her husband needed to stay with their boys, I flew down to be with her. I got on a plane in Buffalo, New York, just about the time she was being prepped.

I thought about what the surgeons were doing, with their scalpels and drills and high-tech vacuums, while I was crossing the Rockies. Not knowing what the result of the surgery would be, I arrived in Phoenix, got a cab to the hospital, found the surgery floor, and entered the recovery room as she was coming to.

She had a wicked gash across her scalp — nineteen staples long — and her face was swollen, one eye almost closed. She looked like she’d gone twelve rounds with Muhammad Ali in his prime.

The surgery, we would soon learn, was a complete success, beyond expectations.

Sue was groggy but recognized me and took my hand. She said two things, again and again, two things I would encourage you to consider saying to yourself and your loved ones from time to time. They are words you can use in almost any circumstance. She said: “I am so happy to be alive.” And: “I’m glad you’re here.”

So there you are: four stories.

There’s no thesis in any of them, no theme, no hidden meaning. If you want to draw some lessons from them, you are free to do so.

You may decide to trust in the sustaining power of the imagination. You may decide to knock on a stranger’s door, or to open doors for others if you can.

You may decide to shake someone’s hand, even if it’s against the rules. And I hope you will click on unconditional love.

Always that: click on unconditional love.


 

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How China became Red …

Posted on May 5, 2018. Filed under: Books, Personalities, Uncategorized |

Gen Bhimaya Writes – General of the Army, G.C. Marshall held almost every important appointments (Army Chief of Staff, Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of State, during the critical stages of World War 2.) He also was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and the Congressional Gold Medal. Hailed as the Chief Architect of Allied victory in World War 2, Marshall was expected to bring about the reunification of China, under a non- communist leader; Chiang-ki-sheik..

Unfortunately, despite his prior knowledge of China and his experience in handling Chinese commanders during war, he was outwitted by Zhou-in-lai who was equally well versed in statecraft, having studied and mastered it in Sorbonne, France. In fact, Zhou even transformed Clausewitz’s concept of war literally and figuratively. (Clausewitz: War is a continuation of politics by other means   Zhou: All diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means.)

Marhall, it is believed, failed to understand the Chinese culture: While Marshall relied on tactical adjustments as a prelude to the final reunification of China, Mao, ably supported by Zhou, yielded to tactical agreements, while stubbornly maintaining the aim, that is, a reunification of China under communist ideology.

James D. Hornfischer ‘s  ‘The Man who Lost China”

Here are some things no one ever says about Gen. George C. Marshall today: That he was vain, dull, a bungler. That he was guilty of “criminal folly” in his handling of foreign affairs. That he was not only disloyal to his country but also part of “a conspiracy so immense and an infamy so black as to dwarf any previous venture in the history of man.”

These dumbfounding slanders, delivered by Joseph McCarthy on the floor of the Senate in the summer of 1951, are well and deservedly forgotten. But they reflected the tremors of their time, after the United Nations “police action” in Korea had spun beyond control, engulfing U.S.-led forces in a massive ground war with China—the same China that less than a decade earlier had been a U.S. ally.

What had Marshall, the now almost universally admired U.S. Army chief of staff who had contributed so much to victory in World War II, supposedly done wrong? He had dared and failed in something grand. In December 1945, he went to China as a special envoy of President Harry Truman in an attempt to broker peace between Chiang Kai-shek’s governing Nationalists and Mao Zedong’s insurgent Communists. In the end, though striving mightily, Marshall failed. As Mao drove Chiang and his forces to Taiwan and unified the mainland under Communist tyranny, his good name back home fell into a snake pit of paranoiac partisanship.

In “The China Mission,” Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, the executive editor of Foreign Affairs, skillfully tells the story of Marshall’s quixotic and forlorn diplomatic initiative. Deeply researched and written with verve, the book ought to be read by any U.S. foreign-policy maker practicing diplomacy in Asia. Marshall’s oft-forgotten experience in Asia has been covered before, notably in Forrest C. Pogue’s four-volume life (1963-87). But Mr. Kurtz-Phelan has performed a service in reviving this important episode with such aplomb, rigor and pace.

Three days before Christmas 1945, Marshall arrived at a small stone bungalow in Chongqing to begin a series of parleys aimed at ending 18 years of civil war. After an eight-year hiatus following the Japanese invasion in 1937, the conflict had resumed with a vengeance.

While there was idealism in Marshall’s heart—he was gravely concerned about the famine confronting ordinary Chinese people—power politics justified the effort too. Without a strong, unified China, Washington calculated, the Soviet Union could assert control of Manchuria, which it was already infiltrating and pillaging for industrial capital and infrastructure. Truman and Marshall believed a negotiated peace could serve American interests at home and abroad. Yet the American people in 1946 had little patience for expensive foreign projects.

Doggedly pushing through thickets of disagreement, Marshall won a quick cease-fire pact between Chiang and Mao’s emissary, Zhou Enlai. Chiang had come to the table because his extermination campaign against Communist forces failed once they retreated into China’s hinterlands. Though Mao professed to be a “Soviet pupil,” Stalin had humbled him, signing a peace treaty with Chiang’s government.

‘The China Mission’ Review: The Man Who ‘Lost’ China
PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

On Jan. 22 Marshall handed Chiang a draft bill of rights, a procedure for a constitution and a plan for interim coalition government. He followed this up by securing an understanding to unify the rival Chinese armies under Chiang’s national leadership. “Marshall had achieved what even cynics were calling a miracle,” Mr. Kurtz-Phelan writes.

Praising him breathlessly were not only American journalists, who believed peace in their time was finally at hand, but his Chinese hosts as well. Chiang’s emissary called Marshall the midwife of unification, the leading strategist of the world and an ambassador of peace. Thus the American general departed Mao’s headquarters on March 5, 1946, flattered and hopeful.

But a stronger geopolitical tide was rising. On that very same day, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave his “Iron Curtain” speech in Missouri. America had already resolved to contain Soviet Communism, of course. And the previous June, the U.S. War Department had concluded that the “Chinese Communists areCommunists,” in league with the movement directed from the Kremlin.

The three-man “truce teams” dispatched throughout China to effect the cease-fire soon encountered difficulty. Both Chinese sides considered the negotiations a stratagem for improving their position on the battlefield before the peace terms froze the lines in place. The cease-fire provided a rationale to press disputes that kept the fighting going.

Mr. Kurtz-Phelan’s brisk narrative handles all this as a compelling drama. He adeptly paints his characters as more than mere avatars of political positions. Zhou was polished and gracious, a talented actor and dissembler who had become a communist in Paris, where he learned to debate with the best the Sorbonne had to offer. With a “personality full of mobility,” he engaged Marshall with relish about “Lincoln’s spirit of freedom and Washington’s spirit of independence.” One of Marshall’s aides thought Zhou “could run General Motors.”

Mao himself needed the talents of Zhou in order to play Marshall, for the Communist leader was by his own admission emotional, arrogant and quick to point fingers. Mao’s strength was his mystical sense of himself and a massively ambitious ego fueled by the resentments of his upbringing.

Marshall emerges in “The China Mission” as a figure of considerable sympathy. Mr. Kurtz-Phelan shows him as a devout public servant, a consummate professional and a sincere idealist who relied upon the good faith of all with whom he dealt. He could command a room yet conveyed “abject humility.” His Olympian calm coexisted with what the author calls “a reputation for truth-telling, for an almost insolent integrity in rooms of yes-men.” He was less a battlefield leader than a superlative organization man. In World War I he had spoken truth to power—to Gen. John Pershing, who promptly made Marshall his aide. In World War II, his talents had helped defeat Hitler and Hirohito. But the problem of China, in the end, was beyond him.

His warm personal relationships with Chiang and Zhou did not seem to matter. Culture was part of it—at every turn, the American was desperate to make a deal. But the Chinese civil war had a momentum, a ruthlessness, all its own. The talents that made Marshall an effective leader in Allied war councils doomed him to failure with his cynical Chinese counterparts. “Each side overplayed its hand when momentum seemed to be in its favor and them came back to negotiate when the momentum had shifted, at which point the other side was no longer interested,” the author writes.

Before Marshall knew it, American troops stationed in China to oversee an orderly repatriation of Japanese troops were caught in the rekindled civil war. Marshall pressed on nonetheless. Unable to parse the murky relationship between Mao and Stalin, he gambled on good faith, hoping for the best. An honest broker trapped in a wicked game, Marshall was in the end whipsawed by cultural and political forces beyond his ken.

By November 1946, Marshall was all but finished. More than two-thirds of his truce teams had been recalled to headquarters for reasons of their safety. With Truman’s domestic poll numbers in the tank, the midterm elections saw a Republican sweep of Congress. Marshall flew back to Honolulu two months later, never to return.

His failure inadvertently offered up America as a scapegoat for the continuing misery of ordinary Chinese. The Communists exploited it to the hilt. Chiang, meanwhile, believing that Republicans were more sympathetic to him, was counting on the 1948 presidential vote to save his cause. But his reading of U.S. politics was no keener than Marshall’s reading of China’s. With a fatal overconfidence, and poor counsel, Chiang saw his Nationalist forces stretched thin, too heavily outfitted to pursue Mao’s guerrillas into the hills. The same day Chiang’s armies finally lost Manchuria, Truman won a close re-election.

Chiang’s collapse produced an opening for McCarthyites in Washington to push back against Marshall’s idealism. The general returned home to vicious gossip. “There have been rumblings and rumors around Washington to the effect that you have been taken in by the Chinese Communists,” his colleague Gen. Albert C. Wedemeyer told him.

The Marshall Mission was, by any standard, a failure. The 13 months of frenetic negotiation led to all-out war, and a Communist government in Beijing that vexes America to this day. The question is whether it had any chance of succeeding at all. After World War II, with the U.S. carrying out a massive demobilization (Truman preferred the term “disintegration”), failure was probably foreordained. Mr. Kurtz-Phelan’s book is valuable for its reminder that diplomacy is futile when it is backed only by the frail regiment of hope.

When a chastened Marshall, as Truman’s secretary of state, turned his attention to Europe, he found that change and peace were possible in war-torn regions of the world. The success of the Marshall Plan was a godsend for the ravaged continent and a boon for America too. But U.S. largesse toward Europe summoned forth hungry supplicants around the world. When Chiang’s ambassador in Washington said there should be a Marshall Plan for China—his chorus of supporters posited the existence of a racist double standard—Marshall could only laugh. Mr. Kurtz-Phelan does so right along with him. “Predictions by American diplomats and journalists that the Chinese Communists would turn into mere ‘agrarian democrats’ proved laughable.” Mao’s victory made it possible for Stalin to approve North Korea’s invasion of South Korea.

We know how the movie ends: the Communists in control by 1949, Chiang defeated and exiled to Taiwan, a customer of American arms. After Moscow tested a hydrogen bomb and war broke out on the Korean peninsula, the Cold War hit full stride.

 

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Targeted Killings – Rise and Kill First …

Posted on April 25, 2018. Filed under: Books |

All Countries have clandestine Targeted Programmes. Notably Russia, the most notable assassination of which was Trotsky who enjoyed the highest security in Mexico but had his skull crushed by an ice axe as he pored over his papers.

The assassin was Stalin’s chosen killer who first befriended Trotsky, becoming his close friend and confidant. He served his sentence of 20 Years before returning to Russia – for his reward or retribution? As Stalin had long since died a possibly unnatural death. 

Internally too, Countries have ‘elimination programmes of possible irritants – and India seems to be no exception! Here is a review of a Book on this subject relating to Israel and it has become a Bestseller.

RISE AND KILL FIRST’ is a New York Times’ Best Seller. It is the first definitive history of the Mossad, Shin Bet, and the IDF’s targeted killing programs, hailed by The New York Times as “an exceptional work, a humane book about an incendiary subject.”                                                                             .

 The Talmud says: “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.” This instinct to take every measure, even the most aggressive, to defend the Jewish people is hardwired into Israel’s DNA.
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From the very beginning of its statehood in 1948, protecting the nation from harm has been the responsibility of its intelligence community and armed services, and there is one weapon in their vast arsenal that they have relied upon to thwart the most serious threats:
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Targeted assassinations have been used countless times, on enemies large and small, sometimes in response to attacks against the Israeli people and sometimes preemptively.
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In this page-turning, eye-opening book, journalist and military analyst Ronen Bergman—praised by David Remnick as “arguably [Israel’s] best investigative reporter”—offers a riveting inside account of the targeted killing programs: their successes, their failures, and the moral and political price exacted on the men and women who approved and carried out the missions.
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Bergman has gained the exceedingly rare cooperation of many current and former members of the Israeli government, including Prime Ministers Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as high-level figures in the country’s military and intelligence services: the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), the Mossad (the world’s most feared intelligence agency), Caesarea (a “Mossad within the Mossad” that carries out attacks on the highest-value targets), and the Shin Bet (an internal security service that implemented the largest targeted assassination campaign ever, in order to stop what had once appeared to be unstoppable: suicide terrorism).
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 Including never-before-reported, behind-the-curtain accounts of key operations, and based on hundreds of on-the-record interviews and thousands of files to which Bergman has gotten exclusive access over his decades of reporting, Rise and Kill First brings us deep into the heart of Israel’s most secret activities.                                                                                        .

Bergman traces, from statehood to the present, the gripping events and thorny ethical questions underlying Israel’s targeted killing campaign, which has shaped the Israeli nation, the Middle East, and the entire world.“A remarkable feat of fearless and responsible reporting . . . important, timely, and informative.”—John le Carré.                                                                                  .

“Ronen Bergman has set out in incontestable detail the history and scale of Israel’s use of extrajudicial killing as an instrument of defense and foreign policy. His material is stark and sensational, but he steers a steady course through it, even pausing along the way to debate the effectiveness and morality of his subject. The result is a compelling read whatever your point of view.”—John le Carré.                                                                                                .

“This remarkable account of Israel’s targeted-killing programs is the product of nearly eight years of research into what is arguably the most secretive and impenetrable intelligence community in the world. Bergman, an investigative reporter and military analyst, interviewed hundreds of insiders, including assassins, and obtained thousands of classified documents.”—The New Yorker.                                                                                     .

“America’s difficult relationship with targeted killing and the dilemmas we may face in the future are beautifully illuminated by the longer story of Israel’s experiences with assassination in its own endless war against terrorism. . . . Americans now have a terrific new introduction to that story with publication of Ronen Bergman’s Rise and Kill First. It’s easy to understand why Bergman’s book is already a bestseller.                                        .

It moves at a torrid pace and tells stories that would make Jason Bourne sit up and say ‘Wow!’ It is smart, thoughtful and balanced, and the English translation is superb. It deserves all of the plaudits it has already received.”—The New York Times Book Review.                                                          .

“Blending history and investigative reporting, Bergman never loses sight of the ethical questions that arise when a state, founded as a refuge for a stateless people who were targets of a genocide, decides it needs to kill in order to survive. . . . This book is full of shocking moments, surprising disturbances in a narrative full of fateful twists and unintended consequences.”—The New York Times.                                                                        .

 “Authoritative . . . a chilling portrait of the evolution of the assassination program . . . Bergman has a reputation as an indefatigable journalist who has developed hundreds of informed sources in the defense establishment over the past two decades. . . . Since World War II, Bergman calculates, the Jewish state and its pre-state paramilitary organizations have assassinated more people than any other country in the Western world.”—The Washington Post.                                                                                                               .

“A must-read . . . [Bergman is] Israel’s premier chronicler of the country’s principal spy services—the Mossad (Israel’s CIA), Shin Bet (its internal security organ) and Aman (military intelligence).”—Newsweek.                           .

“A textured history of the personalities and tactics of the various secret services . . . makes the case that Israel has used assassination in the place of war, killing half a dozen Iranian nuclear scientists, for instance, rather than launching a military attack . . .                                                                                       .

[Bergman] says that while the [United States] has tighter constraints on its agents than does Israel, President George W. Bush adopted many Israeli techniques after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and President Barack Obama launched several hundred targeted killings.”—Bloomberg

 

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Challenging Books …

Posted on April 24, 2018. Filed under: Books |

http://www.bookishelf.com/the-most-challenging-books-ive-read-ever/

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China’s OBOR …

Posted on April 23, 2018. Filed under: Books, Chinese Wisdom |

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/business/imf-head-warns-china-on-exporting-debt-through-silk-road/articleshow/63726779.cms

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https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/chinas-belt-road-initiative-exposes-its-ulterior-strategic-motives/articleshow/63877035.cms?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=defencenewsletter&type=defencenewsletter&ncode=1373aa15166c50c8817eefc76ec08668

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https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/chinese-port-with-few-ships-stokes-fears-in-indian-ocean/articleshow/63809490.cms?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Dailynewsletter&ncode=1373aa15166c50c837501c351faec094

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Ordinary People make Great Heroes …

Posted on April 7, 2018. Filed under: Books |

Wikipedia –

Otto and Elise Hampel – who are a working class couple in Wartime Berlin  were never interested in politics but after Elise Hampel learned that her brother had fallen in France, she and her husband began committing acts of civil disobedience.

They began writing leaflets on postcards, urging people to resist and overthrow the Nazis. They wrote hundreds of them, leaving them in apartment stairwells and dropping them into mailboxes.

Though they knew the law made this a capital crime, they continued this work for well over a year until they were betrayed, arrested, tried and executed.

The uneducated Hampels made spelling mistakes and their language was simple, but their message was strong. Their story conveys the omnipresent fear and suspicion engulfing Germany at the time caused by the constant threat of arrest, imprisonment,  torture and death.

We must remember that the postcard writer and his wife are an uneducated, quiet, simple working class couple.

Their Story was written, translated and became a Best Seller and is still being republished some 70 Years after the War.

The book is in novel form under the title Every Man Dies Alone and has been translated into most languages including Russian.

 

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‘Rebecca’ – at 80 …

Posted on March 3, 2018. Filed under: Books |

From The Wire – Once dismissed as a mere ‘love story’, Daphne du Maurier’s masterpiece is a novel that has haunted and enchanted generations of readers.

Her boat had been found with its queer prophetic name, Je Reviens, but I was free of her forever.

The name of Rebecca de Winter’s boat – Je Reviens (“I will return”) is a chilling promise that lies at the heart of Daphne du Maurier’s bestselling novel – and, despite the narrator’s bold claim, neither du Maurier herself nor the reading public has ever been free of Rebecca. Celebrating its 80th anniversary year with a new edition published by Virago, Rebecca is a novel that has haunted and enchanted generations of readers, who find themselves drawn to return to Manderley again and again.

Recently voted the nation’s favourite book  of the past 225 years and repeatedly adapted for stage and screen – most famously by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940 – why does Rebecca retain its power to captivate and challenge readers, 80 years on?

Rebecca’s famous opening line: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”, sets the scene for a novel in which dreams become nightmares, obsessions take root in the mind – and a lost house of secrets feels as real as any of its inhabitants, living or dead. Nothing is at it seems in this novel in which du Maurier, the consummate plotter, is always one step ahead, pulling the strings and surprising us time after time.

Famous for its rich evocation of the secretive mansion Manderley and its first mistress, the effervescent and treacherous Rebecca, the novel beguiles and deceives by turns as we are compelled to delve beneath the surface glamour that skilfully veils what du Maurier’s biographer Tatiana de Rosnay  calls its “muted violence and suppressed sexuality”.

“Rebecca, always Rebecca. I should never be rid of Rebecca”, laments the second Mrs de Winter, the shy, gauche creature who is repeatedly overshadowed by her glorious and vibrant predecessor. But then she muses: “Perhaps I haunted her as she haunted me”, betraying that spark of nerve that hovers at the edge of her narration. The young, impressionable girl who cowers before the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, and shrinks in the face of her responsibilities as mistress of Manderley, is in fact the controlling voice of the story.

She might begin by telling us that “there would be no resurrection … For Manderley was ours no longer. Manderley was no more”. But it is by the power of her feverish and intense imagination that the house rises up before us and we risk losing ourselves down its serpentine drive, overcome by the monstrous blood-red rhododendrons, but drawn on by an uncontrollable desire to know what is hidden in du Maurier’s “house of secrets”.

Menabily in Fowey, Cornwall: the house that inspired Rebecca. Credit: Wikipedia

The narrator’s passion for Manderley was inspired by du Maurier’s own longing for the Cornish house, Menabilly, that she had discovered abandoned “like the sleeping beauty of the fairy tale”, waiting to be awakened by an intrepid trespasser such as herself. She began writing the novel in the sticky heat of Alexandria, Egypt, where she had accompanied her husband, Frederick Browning, on a military posting, leaving her beloved Cornwall behind but remaining “possessed” by the house – “even as a mistress holds her lover”.

Five years after Rebecca was published, du Maurier realised her dream of living at Menabilly, after convincing the owners to lease it to her, but the entailed house would never be hers and indeed she was heartbroken to have to move out in 1969. Like Manderley itself, Menabilly represented both love and loss, a house which possessed its tenant but to which she could never, ultimately, return.

Du Maurier described Rebecca as a “study in jealousy” – and that jealousy snakes its way into the heart, not just of Mrs de Winter, but of Mrs Danvers and Maxim de Winter as well.

Maxim the Menace

A favourite codeword in du Maurier’s secret language among friends and family was the term “menace”, used for an attractive individual. But “menaces” like Rebecca de Winter often attract and repel in equal measure – and they need to be controlled. Just after the narrator has agreed to Maxim’s most unromantic of proposals in Monte Carlo: “I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool” – she comes upon a book inscribed with Rebecca’s distinctive handwriting. Emboldened by the thought of her marriage, she not only neatly excises the offending page and tears it into pieces, she sets it on fire and watches, with satisfaction, as the curling R crumbles to dust. Such flashes of power are easily missed in the novel but when Mrs de Winter returns to Manderley, Rebecca’s presence is not so easily extinguished.

Much of Rebecca’s “menace” derives from the housekeeper Mrs Danvers’ obsession with her former mistress, whose room and possessions she devotedly preserves, stroking Rebecca’s furs and delicate nightgowns, and conjuring up an irresistible image of a seductive and rebellious woman whose presence in the house is inescapable. “Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?”, Mrs Danvers asks. “Sometimes I wonder if she comes back here to Manderley and watches you and Mr de Winter together.”

A still from the 1940 Hitchcock film: Rebecca. Credit: 20th Century Fox

But it is Maxim himself, patriarch of the aptly named Manderley, who is the most dangerous character in this novel, not the supposedly vampiric and deviant Rebecca. Even the sepulchral Mrs Danvers, who tempts Mrs de Winter into oblivion at an open window, has to take second place to Maxim. In the context of the #MeToo movement, his treatment of his first wife – who had the audacity not merely to betray him but to laugh at him – triggers a stomach-churning recognition of misogyny that modern readers are chilled to find that the second Mrs de Winter cheerfully ignores. Maxim de Winter is far more menacing than the ghost of his first wife.

Rebecca is a novel that has haunted du Maurier’s literary reputation, for both good and ill. Wrongly promoted by her publisher Victor Gollancz as an “exquisite love story”, du Maurier’s critical standing has been hampered by her misrepresentation as a “romantic” novelist and Rebecca’s popularity has often been an excuse for snobbery and dismissal by the critics.

The ConversationBut when we return to the novel, 80 years on, and step into the vivid and dangerous dreamworld of Manderley, “secretive and silent as it had always been”, du Maurier’s creative power cannot be in doubt. We will never be free from Rebecca – nor would we want to be.

Laura Varnam, Lecturer in English Literature, University of Oxford

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Another Viet Nam Regret …

Posted on January 18, 2018. Filed under: Books |

The Truth Behind “A Bright Shining Lie” By Patrick Sauer a writer in Brooklyn.

More than 58,000 United States soldiers died in the Vietnam War, but in the world of letters, the death of a single American civilian came to represent the entire jungle quagmire. John Paul Vann went down in a helicopter crash on June 9, 1972. Four presidential administrations and a societal shift in recognizing Vietnam veterans later, Vann, a former lieutenant colonel and the first “civilian general” to lead American troops in combat, was memorialized in Neil Sheehan’s masterpiece, “A Bright Shining Lie.”

Thirty years on, Sheehan’s book hasn’t lost any of its astonishing power. At a September screening of the Burns-Novick documentary “The Vietnam War,” John Kerry told the audience he never understood the full extent of the anger against the war until he read “A Bright Shining Lie,” which showed him that all the way up the chain of command “people were just putting in gobbledygook information, and lives were being lost based on those lies and those distortions.”

What makes the book particularly compelling is that it is both a broad look at the folly of the war and an intimate portrait of a chillingly Shakespearean character. Sheehan spent five years researching Vann’s life, interviewing seemingly anyone who ever met him, and nine more writing.

The years it took to complete “A Bright Shining Lie” consumed Sheehan. It was extremely hard on his wife, Susan, and their daughters; the girls were barely in elementary school when he started, and out of the house by the time he finished, with no family vacations to speak of along the way.
“I set out to write a normal-length book in a few years time, but Vann turned out to be the most extraordinarily complicated man I ever met,” Mr. Sheehan, 81, said from his Washington home. “I never thought I wouldn’t finish the book, but it was extremely draining.”

A poor Irish farm boy from Holyoke, Mass., Mr. Sheehan first went to Vietnam in 1962 for United Press International. He soon befriended Vann, a distinguished veteran of the Korean War serving as an adviser to the South Vietnamese Army.

Although he was a gung-ho warrior type and always believed the Vietnam War was winnable, Vann came to realize the attrition strategy was a failure, the constant bombing of the countryside was helping Vietcong recruitment, and the rampant corruption in the Saigon leadership, funded through American dollars, was devastating to the cause. He fought back through the news media, leaking information sometimes through Mr. Sheehan, who eventually was hired by The New York Times, some of which directly contradicted what was coming out Washington.

To Mr. Sheehan and other reporters in Vietnam, Vann’s version of what was going on rang truer than the sunny propaganda emanating from the White House. In April 1963, Vann left Vietnam, and it seemed to all the world that the Pentagon was punishing him for speaking out when he resigned from the Army that July. As the years went on, Mr. Sheehan increasingly regarded Vann as the personification of America’s long, painful war effort. But it took his death for the book idea to coalesce.

“A Bright Shining Lie” opens with an incredible scene, Vann’s funeral, full of Washington power: Senator Edward Kennedy and the Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg were in the pews; pallbearers included the former commander of United States forces in Vietnam, William Westmoreland, and a future head of the C.I.A., William Colby. Seated up front were Vann’s widow, Mary Jane, and his four sons. (Their lone daughter had just given birth.) Mr. Sheehan found himself standing in the back of the chapel. The bird’s-eye view of the high-profile crowd gave him his opening line: “It was a funeral to which they all came.”

“I was watching all these important people coming in one after another, like a class reunion,” Mr. Sheehan told me. “I talked to Susan that night and she said it sounds like this is a book.”

(“Had I known how long the book was going to take, I would’ve committed hari-kari,” Susan Sheehan said with a laugh. “I ended up writing a piece for The New York Times Magazine, ‘When Will the Book Be Done?’” )
Mr. Sheehan himself makes a smart tactical decision by letting readers get to know Vann as a soldier first. He’s a compelling figure: tough, brash, energetic, hard-headed, and with enough charisma for a dozen Audie Murphy movies. His idealism and bravery shone through after he returned to Vietnam in 1965 as a civilian pacification officer for the Agency for International Development. In 1971, Vann was made a senior adviser for the Central Highlands in charge of all military personnel, effectively a major general in the Army.

The following spring, the North Vietnamese Army launched the Easter offensive, surrounding and attacking the provincial capital Kontum with three enemy divisions. Vann was instrumental in leading the ARVN’s defense of Kontum, which prevented South Vietnam from being bisected, but as protests mounted back home, the feat barely made a ripple. The day after Kontum was secured, Vann perished in the mountains. A week later, at his Washington memorial service, Vann’s family felt that he wasn’t getting the respect he deserved.

“We all felt a pride in dad for standing up for his beliefs, because he was having a wonderful military career that was cut short,” says his eldest son, John Allen Vann, now 69.

John Allen led the family in refusing to stand at the end of the service for several dignitaries, including Secretary of State William Rogers. However, there were limits to the Vann family rebellion. Following the burial in Arlington National Cemetery, other members of the family talked middle son Jess out of handing President Richard Nixon half of his draft card, which he’d torn up in advance of an Oval Office photo op.
“At Dad’s funeral, I had long hair, but I was never a radical. I didn’t march and always respected the military, but I think my father’s career has an empty all-for-nothing feeling to it, like the Vietnam War itself,” said Jess Vann, 67.

It was, indeed, a “funeral to which they all came,” (credit Susan Sheehan for astutely changing “everyone” to “they all”), because of Vann’s stature as a military strategist and a civilian warrior. What nobody knew at the time, Mr. Sheehan included, was how much more there was to the story. John Paul Vann had secrets, including the reason he left the military.

Vann was never going to be made a general not because of his rebellions against the Pentagon, but because in 1959 he’d been charged with the statutory rape of a 15-year-old babysitter for the Vann children. As Mr. Sheehan notes, Vann “turned himself into an amateur specialist on the polygraph,” passed a lie detector test, and beat the rap, but he went to Vietnam knowing his career was already lost.

The depths of Vann’s sexual compulsions are thoroughly examined in “A Bright Shining Lie,” and they were overwhelming. Even in a world of macho libertine behavior, Vann stood out, bedding women everywhere he lived, traveled and worked, often multiple times a day. He had two longstanding mistresses in Vietnam; one he forced to get an abortion, the other had a child. Women were to be conquered. He certainly never took the feelings of his wife, Mary Jane, into consideration.

Although they eventually separated, Mary Jane stood by her man for years, even though he didn’t care if she suffered. After the statutory rape charges were dropped, she asked if he’d learned his lesson. He replied that next time he’d make “goddamn sure they’re old enough.”
“As the oldest, I knew a lot of what went on. Neil dug up a lot more and unfortunately, it’s all true,” John Allen Vann said. “In retrospect, Neil was actually kind to my father and didn’t plumb the depths of what was there. When my father wasn’t serving overseas, ours was a household of violent abuse.”

Remarkably, even with the rampant womanizing and misogyny, Mr. Sheehan is able to create empathy for John Paul Vann through his diligent reporting. He went to Vann’s home of Norfolk, Va., and found out the boy was born out of wedlock to a prostitute whose clients were upper-class men who preferred not to visit the brothel. It wasn’t out of desperation either – she was a hard-drinking partier who kept all her earnings for herself. John Paul, his stepbrother and two stepsisters were raised by Frank Vann, a decent, passive man who was intermittently employed and took the brunt of her cruelty.

Things would get worse for John Paul when he came under the wing of a young Methodist pastor, Garland Hopkins. At 14, Vann unburdened himself to Hopkins, who persuaded him to join his Boy Scout troop. Hopkins was a pedophile, and Mr. Sheehan writes there is no doubt he molested Vann. Years later, a few weeks before returning to Vietnam, Vann was staying with Hopkins. By now, the pastor had been left by his wife and child, dismissed by his church, and was facing prosecution for his continued pedophilia. Hopkins drank rat poison with strychnine, knowing Vann would find his body.

A half-century later, the hurt Vann caused the family lingers. John Allen Vann, who went on to have a successful investment banking career, spent many years in therapy to break the cycle of violence. Yet the combination of the abuse at home and the absenteeism of a military father caused rifts. John Allen avoids contact with his sister and one of his brothers. Jess Vann talks to everyone now and again, and believes the family isn’t close because of lack of proximity and the demands of modern existence, but he’s also spent most of his life alone in the mountains, working as an ecologist in Colorado.

The Vann family realities are murky. What is clear is that both sons separate their father from the soldier.

“John Paul Vann had a horrific upbringing, but during wartime, he had focused energy and was a great strategist and tactician, which is rare in an officer. Usually the military teaches its officers strategy and its noncoms tactics,” John Allen says. “Back home, for my father, was close to being captured. He became a starved shark whose only goal was to trash and conquer blindly.”

“A Bright Shining Lie” forced the Vanns to publicly reckon with their father’s failings, but at least for John Allen and Jess, there is no ill will for the author. Their mother, Mary Jane, 90, has never read it, but they both love the book and have warm memories of getting to know the Sheehans.

Mr. Sheehan took a leave from The Times to write his book, but he never returned. By 1988, the family was $295,000 in debt to his publisher, Random House, and The New Yorker, for which he wrote regularly and which had loaned him money (as magazines did back in those days), keeping afloat through fellowships, teaching gigs and Susan Sheehan’s freelance work. The longer the book took, the worse his anxiety, insomnia and stress became, but the passage of time gave his 861-page masterpiece the breathing room to become a hit.

When it finally came out, the political climate in America surrounding the war had changed immensely. The reconciliation and reflection that started with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982, and helped “Platoon” win the Academy Award for best picture in 1986, opened up the public conversation surrounding America’s first losing war.

“A Bright Shining Lie” was published to great acclaim. It won the National Book Award, the Pulitzer, a special achievement award from the Vietnam Veterans of America, and in 1989, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights Book Award. It sold 165,00 copies worldwide, which wiped out the debt and righted the family’s financial ship.

Perhaps the most appropriate tribute was detailed in a 1988 Washington Post profile by William Prochnau. He wrote that the Sheehans’ 21-year-old daughter, Maria, a Wellesley graduate by this point, wore a T-shirt saying, “Daddy’s Book Is Done.”

“A Bright Shining Lie” lives on as a lasting work of scholarship, and a staple of high school and college history and literature course syllabuses. Neil Sheehan has Parkinson’s, and his career has slowed down, but he is still writing about Vietnam and was most recently seen in “The Vietnam War.” His dapper appearance and the Irish lilt in his voice offered a fitting tribute to his writing life.

“They filmed Neil in 2011 and he looks great,” says Susan Sheehan, a Pulitzer Prize winner for her 1982 book about schizophrenia, “Is There No Place on Earth for Me?” “It’s lovely that our grandsons get to see him strong and healthy, not the man who needs a walker.”

Although he did not follow through with his threat to never write another book after “A Bright Shining Lie — he wrote two — Mr. Sheehan is most proud of the work for which he, and John Paul Vann, will always be remembered.
“I was enormously gratified to have written the book; it felt like I’d truly accomplished something,” he said. “When the splendid reviews came out, and even more when I heard from friends in the military who liked it, I was thrilled. I hope it endures as a piece of history to be read again and again. All I can say in my later days, I am deeply satisfied.”
“A Bright Shining Lie” opens with a funeral to which they all came. It ends with “John Vann was not meant to flee to a ship at sea, and he did not miss his exit. He died believing he had won his war.” So too, will Neil Sheehan.

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Ho Chi Minh Trail …

Posted on December 13, 2017. Filed under: Books, Guide Posts |

Bicycling the Blood Road By Rebecca Rusch

The Ho Chi Minh Trail was called the Blood Road because so many people lost their lives there. My father, Stephen Rusch, was one of them. He was the weapons system officer in an F-4 Phantom fighter jet. On March 7, 1972, he was flying a strike mission over Laos to bomb trucks spotted along the trail. His plane was struck by ground fire and crashed to the jungle floor. He didn’t make it home.

In 2015, I set out on the most important bike ride of my life. I went to ride the entire length of the trail and to search for the place where Dad’s plane went down. I had no idea what I would find, if I could even get there or what the riding would be like. I started the expedition with so many questions, but now I can look back and see that my choices have always been preparing me for and leading me to this ride. My path as a professional endurance athlete has always been unpredictable, but something was always calling me to the remote jungles of Southeast Asia: a magnetic pull toward the map coordinates in an Air Force crash report.
The complicated network of paths that form the Ho Chi Minh Trail runs from the former North Vietnam, through the jungles of Laos and Cambodia, then re-enters Vietnam near Ho Chi Minh City. The trail, parts of which are still maintained today, was the main supply route for soldiers, supplies and ammunition as the North Vietnamese moved to take over the South during the Vietnam War. By shielding the route under thick jungle canopy, often pushing bicycles loaded with supplies, the North Vietnamese were able to evade American air strikes.

Forty-five years later, the bike is still the most efficient way to travel over there. Being on two wheels allowed me to cover distance and also be nimble enough to thread through the dense forest, dodge muddy trenches and cross rivers where bridges had washed away. In the most remote areas, locals had never seen a tourist or a carbon bicycle, and certainly never an American woman.

We stared at each other with wide-eyed wonder, greeting each other with a smile and palms pressed together, head bowed. Sitting in wooden huts, harvesting rice, raising children: This is the peaceful life they live now. But the scars of the devastation are everywhere. Bomb craters still mark the landscape like Swiss cheese, scrap metal from planes and bomb casings are repurposed as planters, buckets and roofs. There are even unexploded bombs that still threaten their daily lives.

My history is intertwined with theirs through shared loss and bloodshed. Even though my father was one of the pilots raining bombs on them, they opened their homes and hearts to me. Without words, they understood my journey.

After many demanding days on the trail, I finally arrived in Ta Oy, Laos, a small village near my father’s crash site. I felt as if the villagers there had been expecting me for a long time. Sitting cross-legged on the floor of his home, Mr. Airh, the village chief, told me the story of how his father had buried mine. Despite the fact that my Dad was dropping bombs on their village, Mr. Airh’s father respectfully laid the bodies of the two American airmen under a beautiful, ancient tree.

The tree was still there waiting for me. When I saw it in a small clearing in the jungle, I could feel my Dad’s presence. Though investigators had found just two of his teeth and a bone fragment at the site, finding plane debris reassured me that this was really the place. For the first time in my life as a professional athlete I was able to stop, pause and not think about what was next. I had finally reached a finish line I never knew I was striving toward.

I was three years old when Dad disappeared, and I don’t remember him. But under that tree, I finally had a chance to talk to him. “Hi Dad, I’m here.” I also spoke to Mr. Airh in the only Lao words I knew: “Khàwp jai lãi lãi” (Thank you.) He held my hands and we cried together as he whispered “Baw pen nyãng” (It’s OK.) He also told me that if his father had died that way, he would have come searching too. As foreign as we may seem to each other, in that moment we discovered a deep kinship.

My athletic career has spanned more than two decades. I’ve racked up countless wins and world championship medals. I’ve also learned that some medals are not worn around your neck, but instead are imprinted on your soul. As I neared the finish line of this 1,200-mile ride down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, I felt a sense of contentment and clarity that I had never experienced before. This ride wasn’t about death, destruction and closure, but instead it was about healing, forgiveness and discovery. To me, Blood Road no longer represents a trail stained red, but instead a path toward finding our family and shared connection in the most unexpected places.

Rebecca Rusch is a professional cyclist. “Blood Road,” a documentary about her trip along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, is airing for free on Red Bull TV. Click here to watch it.

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Macaulay’s Best …

Posted on October 25, 2017. Filed under: Books, Great Writing, Personalities, The English |

Lays of Ancient Rome, a series of very popular poems about heroic episodes in Roman history which Macaulay composed in India and published in 1842.

The most famous of them, Horatius, concerns the heroism of Horatius Cocles. It contains the oft-quoted lines:

Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods?”


PS As a rival you might enjoy

https://improveacrati.wordpress.com/2008/03/15/ulysses/

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