Friday, February 17, 2017

Russia and America: Destined to Conflict

Nearly 200 years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and wrote one of the most important books on America and American politics ever written: Democracy in America. In its nearly 1,000 wonderful pages is Tocqueville's assertion that conflict between America and Russia would dominate the 20th Century. It is not the point of the book at all, but a very French grand prediction about the future, that turned out to be right.

Tocqueville wrote this when America was just 24 states, when Mexico included the territory from Texas to northern California including what is now many of the states of the southwest.  A that time, Russian owned Alaska and a big chuck of western Canada.

In 1831, when Tocqueville visited America, Andrew Jackson was President. America and Russia were both big and crude and isolated when compared with the major European countries, especially as regards slavery.  America enslaved millions of Africans under terms and conditions harsher than any of the Ancient empires.  Russia enslaved more than half of its population. The Russians freed the serfs a year before America freed the slaves, but both countries oppressed the newly freed people in a way that made their lives poor and wretched, but not entirely hopeless.

And in that hope is the permanent conflict that makes America so different than Russia: over the past 240 years, America has steadily moved to give equality to more and more people.  Over the same period, Russia enslaved the majority of its population, granted limited freedom for the years between 1863 and 1917, but then crushed its own people more harshly than most of the worst dictators in history until the communist government fell in 1991. Freedom lasted from 1991 to 2012 when Vladimir Putin returned to power after ruling from 2000 to 2008.  Now press freedom is gone, elections are rigged and political oppression is widespread.

I believe the growing oppression in Russia means that Russia and America cannot be close allies. America makes alliances with oppressive governments, but our closest allies like Great Britain, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Korea and many NATO states is based on our shared commitment to real democracy and freedom.  For the US to be a close ally of Russia would mean either the US would have to become authoritarian or Russia would have to be as free as America, Britain and Europe.

One strong indicator of the oppression in Russia is the rate at which scientists, artists, writers and journalists have left Russia since 2012. When a regime becomes authoritarian, the smart and creative people leave.  They are always the targets of authoritarian leaders. Many Russians come to America to escape Putin's increasingly oppressive regime. If the Russians stop coming here and go elsewhere in Europe, it will be because they perceive America as tending toward authoritarian government.

We have never been at war with Russia despite nearly a century of open hostility. Until now, the leaders on both sides have managed to keep a lid on the conflict between our nations. But America is not in any way the natural friend of Russia. Our Constitution and government were built on Enlightenment ideals and the best of the governments of Rome and Athens.  Russia by contrast has a history that is a millennium of tyranny with just a few years of freedom. Russia is part of Europe, but never had a Reformation, never had a Renaissance and never had an Enlightenment.

America should keep its democratic allies close and keep Russia at arms length.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Barracks Talk, Locker Room Talk and Old Soldiers

A few short years ago, when I was 59 years old, I was assigned to a field barracks in Northern Michigan with a unit I had never trained or deployed with.  The young men in the barracks were mostly mechanics and mostly under 25 years old.  The barracks was not full so I had a bunk to myself off in a corner.

One evening I was reading in my bunk. Five young men sat in a circle in the middle of the floor and began sharing stories with the topic, "Worst [sex] in my life."

I tried to keep reading but left the building after storyteller really got going.  I could read in the mess hall.  I stayed away for an hour. When I returned they were still going and the group now had eight story tellers.  I went to the duty shack near the airstrip and stayed there for a while. After another hour, they had exhausted their deep well of bad sex, the group broke up, and I returned to my bunk.

On fitness tests and obstacle courses, on the firing range and waiting in long lines, I was just another enlisted man from the day I re-enlisted in 2007 until I was discharged last year.  I trained with the 20-year-olds, suffered in heat and cold with them, marched with them, and joked with them.  But when a group of young men decided to impress each other with stories of their love lives, I was not invited, nor were any of the the other men in the second half of their lives.  I was as old or older than their Dads. Despite their obvious delight in perverse stories, they would have thought it actually perverse if a man my age was bragging about sex.

When I first enlisted an old Air Force Tech Sergeant in my unit who was an alcoholic would occasionally talk about sex in front of the young airmen, but we all thought he was disgusting.  He retired the following year and we thought about having a retirement party the day after he left.

I thought of this last year when America elected a guy who at 59 years old bragged to a 33 year old about grabbing pussy.  His defenders said this was just "locker room talk." It is, but not for men at the end of their sixth decade of life.  No soldier near my age in a 40-man room in a field barracks or a 77-man tent in Kuwait ever spoke that way.

He is President now, but the way he spoke on that Access Hollywood bus was not locker room talk.  It was not barracks talk. It was an arrogant old man bragging to a man half his age.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Volunteer Army Consolidated Mess

Consolidate Mess line, or German prisoners marching out of Stalingrad?

In almost every way, I liked the draft Army and the Cold War Army better than the 21st Century Army, but that is not true of food.  More specifically, that is not true of the way the food was served at Fort Carson, Colorado, in 1975-76: The Consolidated Mess!

In the consolidated mess, up to 4,000 soldiers were expected to eat lunch and return to their duty—which meant eating lunch in two minutes or just skipping lunch altogether.  The cost cutting wizard who decided to subject an entire brigade to the rotten routine for food delivery should spend a thousand years in Purgatory in a metal pan on steam table—stuck and burned on the bottom, cold and squishy on top. 

My father was a company commander in World War II.  The mess sergeant worked for him and cooked the food for his men.  That mess sergeant worked for his commander, not for a faceless Army bureaucracy.  One odd thing about the consolidated mess operation is that we all came to appreciate our own mess sergeant and the battalion mess.  When we went to the field, our mess sergeant fed us. It was the same when moved en masse to West Germany for Brigade 76.  The food in the field was from a battalion kitchen with our mess sergeant making and delivering our food. 

But the best food I ever ate in the military was in Iraq. So I have to give the modern Army that. MREs are ten times better than C-rations and the food on Camp Adder was the best I ever had in the Army.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

One Last Haircut: World War II Vet Shares a Story After Forty Years

Elias King learned to cut hair while serving as a gunner’s mate on a destroyer in the Pacific during World War II.  When I met him in 1982, he was planning to retire and sell his barbershop.  After getting my hair cut a couple of times in his shop, I could not believe Elias would ever retire. In the days before talk radio, he was the local source for the true conservatives that were the core clientele of his shop. 

He was loud and funny and had opinions that the John Birch Society might think were too far right.  He did not think women should work outside the home unless they were widows and their families abandoned them.  For Elias, the Soviet Union was the enemy, forever. America needed to stop them everywhere. 

I got a hair cut there once a month just before my Army Reserve weekends.  I was close to thirty years old at the time, and by age, any of the customers and barbers could have been my Dad.  Elias liked me because I served during the Vietnam War, then Cold War West Germany and was a tank commander in the Army Reserve. “Too many young cowards won’t serve the country anymore,” he said.

King was against divorce and sex outside marriage in any way.  He was against welfare, government programs, government regulations, and he knew the federal income tax would destroy the country.  But he was also self-deprecating and funny when he stepped off his conservative soapbox. 

In May 1984, I came in for a haircut just before the shop closed.  I told Elias it would be my last haircut for a while because I was leaving the Army Reserve.  I did not tell him I was going to grow a beard and let my hair grow out. He was about to close up, which he did promptly at six because, “Mother (his wife) has dinner ready.” But he stayed to give me the haircut.

He told the other barber he could go. It was just Elias and me. Before he started cutting my hair he turned the barber chair so it faced away from the mirror instead of toward it. He was talking, but I could not see his face. He had never talked about the war before, but today he started talking about fighting off air attacks at Leyte Gulf and what it was like when his ship got hit.  But then he abruptly switched to talking about a long Pacific cruise to visit liberated allied ports just after the end of the war.

“I do believe the things I say about marriage,” he said. “But that cruise was the best days of my life.”

He said they stopped at Singapore and “Mamasan was waiting at the bottom of the gangway. She had a baby on her back and would suck your dick for four bits (50 cents).” He described wild sex with women across Asia. “I love the wife, but even when she was young, she was not…” he stopped talking. The scissors stopped.  “I never strayed once, young fella,” he said.  “Near forty years, I still think about that cruise.”

After he finished my haircut he started sweeping up. I took out my wallet. He waved me off. I thanked him. It was years before I saw him again. He was retired. I saw him outside the shop. I stopped and said hello, but am not quite sure he recognized me.  I liked Elias King.  He died a few years ago. There was a big obituary about him in his local paper. It mentioned his war service and the victory cruise after the war. “…the best days of my life,” said the young gunner’s mate who learned how to cut hair.

[Elias King is a pseudonym]

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

"...No Time for That, Gussman:" Book Report 2016, Fiction

Lt. Col. Scott Perry, Blackhawk Pilot, Battalion Commander, in Iraq, 2009

In December of 2009 Scott Perry, my battalion commander, burst into my office in his headquarters.  He was sending me on a mission the next day. When he finished the instructions he gave me, he looked down and saw a copy of "Aeneid" on my desk. We had a brief exchange that shows why fiction dropped from its high place in the world to its niche place in the busy, media-saturated world of the 21st Century.

"I've got no time for that Gussman," Perry said. "I've got so much to read, I just don't read fiction."

I knew that night the officers were having a movie night. So I asked him, "Which documentary are you watching tonight?"

"Documentary?" he said. "What are you talking about. We're watching Godfather, Part 2."

"You mean you watch fiction, you just don't read it."

"Shut up Gussman. Be on the ramp tomorrow at Zero Seven."

Most people stop reading fiction with the last book they were assigned in school, whether that was high school or college.  Fifty or more years ago, fiction writing provided entertainment for many people, but it movies, TV and digital games are eating away at the place of fiction in the world of entertainment.

But not on my booklist.  The category I will comment on for this post includes 15 of the 50 books I read last year. Although, 14 of the 15 books I listed in the "War" category are fiction and 3 of the 6 "Faith" books are fiction.  So really, 32 of 50 books, or 2 out of 3, are fiction.

Just to stay with the numbers, 10 of the 15 in this category were written in Russian or by a Russian-born author in English, so I have lately been more than a little obsessed with Russia and Russian literature.

My favorite story on this list "The Death of Ivan Ilych" by Leo Tolstoy should have been on the Faith list, at least for its effect on me.

This wrenching story begins with the announcement "Ivan Ilych is dead" then moves back to the time just before Ilych becomes fatally ill. As fiction the story is wonderfully told. As faith literature, it says a life devoted to material gain is pathetic. But many stories say that. The real beauty is in the character of Ivan Ilych's servant Gerasim. The good man Gerasim cares for his master while Ivan's wife and daughter go on with their lives and Ivan's friends go on with theirs.  Then there is the final agony Ivan suffers going from this life to the next.  From the first time I read this, I felt I could understand how suffering could be used for good and why we humans are never allowed to see beyond this life.

Another view of the spiritual life was Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse.  This fast moving story follows the main character from the day he defied his father, denied his fortune and struck out on his own, through many adventures, poverty, riches, deep love, self loathing and finally throwing off materialism.  I could have put this book in the Faith category also, but it was more of an adventure that happened to be concerned with the spiritual, than a spiritual journey that was an adventure--as was Narcissus and Goldmund.

Early in the year I read Lolita. I had never read a novel by Vladimir Nabokov, only essays.  The story is obsession from beginning to end, played out in kidnapping, murder and a wretched end for the protagonist.  It is beautifully written and in its own way as creepy as a horror novel.

Hamlet is my Shakespeare for 2016.  I can't remember how many times I have read, seen and listened to this play.  Ophelia's death hurts every time; the slaughter at the end never bothers me the same way.  But my favorite scene is the speech to the skull, "...alas poor Yurick...."

Turning to Russia, is the beautiful novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, which is where I will begin next post.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Band of Brothers: Book and Video

One of my favorite memories from the 1-70th Armor barracks in Wiesbaden, West Germany, was the night we watched "The Green Beret" starring John Wayne on the dayroom TV.  We hooted, hollered, and threw rolled up socks and popcorn at the TV for most of the two hours. The "Green Berets" may be the worst war movie ever made. As a rule, soldiers make fun of war movies or angrily say, "That shit is wrong...." then explain why.

But not the HBO series "Band of Brothers." Soldiers I knew who thought "Saving Private Ryan" was bullshit after the first 15 minutes or who were shushed making smart-ass comments during the "Hurt Locker" had not one bad thing to say about "Band of Brothers."  In the nine years I served in the Army National Guard between 2007 and 2016, I never heard anyone disparage the 10-part series about Easy Company 2-506th Airborne.

I saw the video several times. I finally read the book. I finished it today. The book is well-written and tells the story accurately, filling in details that could not be easily included in the fast-moving video--like Dick Winters decades-long anger about a trip to America General Taylor (101st Airborne Commander) took during the Battle of the Bulge.  Although the book is very good, the video series is better.

The video follows the book faithfully, but the actors add a dimension the book cannot.  They can give life to the relationships among the men that author Stephen Ambrose can only report.  There is a terrible beauty in the video that only the finest fiction can portray in print.

Usually if there is a book and a movie/video, my recommendation would be read the book first. But in this case, I would recommend seeing the video series first, then read the book to fill in details.

Then watch the video again, which is what I am going to do.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Blood and Money: The NATO Alliance

NATO, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been in the news for months. For the first time since the organization was created, an American President has questioned the value of NATO and accused member nations of not paying their fair share.

No one in the world is less able to make that accusation than the current President. Whatever the state of their monetary payments, most of the 28 member nations of NATO have fought in America's wars. And their men, some of them draftees, have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our Draft-Dodger-in-Chief, who avoided the Vietnam War, feels free to attack allies who sent men to die in wars we started.

The issue with NATO should be blood as well as many.  The NATO charter includes a mutual defense clause, what is essentially a "Three Musketeers" clause:  All for One and One for All. The ONLY time that clause was invoked was on September 11, 2001, when NATO nations came to our defense.

An honorable man would know that when men serve and die for you, you owe a debt of honor. Only a coward would reduce that debt to money.  Character is Destiny, said Aristotle 2,500 years ago. He is still correct.  Only a man who let another man serve in his place could see NATO as another "Let's Make a Deal" transaction.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Of Course I am Happy! I Know Who the Enemy Is!

In October 1976, I was on patrol on the East-West German border at Fulda. I saw Soviet tanks on the other side of the border.  We had arrived from Colorado less than 48 hours before and had a full combat load of 63 cannon shells on board our M60A1 tanks.

I was scared. But I was also happy. I knew who the enemy was, where the enemy was, and what I was supposed to do if the enemy attacked.  

This morning, a good friend asked me about how I was handling the news since Friday. I told her about going to the march in Philadelphia on Saturday and to the "Tuesdays with Toomey" protest in Philadelphia yesterday. I told her about some of the stuff I had been posting on social media.  She thought I looked happy, a lot happier than she expected.

I said, "Of course. I'm a soldier. I know who the enemy is. I am happy."

It's true. The hypotheticals are over.  Trump is not a candidate or a president-elect.  He is a Birther who discredited President Obama for five years every chance he had.  He has given the head of Breitbart News an office in the White House.  Our President, not some guy, is whining about crowd size at his inaugural and instructing his press secretary to lie.

This is not a drill.  I am a citizen. I am a patriot who actually served in our nation's wars. I am ready to fight.

And I am happier than I have been for months!

Have a nice day!

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Rommel Effect

On social media and in news commentary, there is near universal agreement that making General James Mattis Secretary of Defense if a great thing for America and the Trump Regime. Not only is Mattis arguably the best living general in America, maybe in the world, but he is also seen as willing to stand up for what is right.

But the meteoric rise and fall of the World War II German General Erwin Rommel shows that great generals can make ultimate defeat worse. And it shows that soldiers are lousy conspirators.

The common view of the first year of World War II is that the British and French armies were routed and defeated in six weeks by a superior German armored force using Blitzkrieg tactics. The truth is, the invading Germans were outnumbered and outgunned by the defenders of France. They won because Erwin Rommel commanded 7th Panzer Division at the front of the invading German Army carrying out a brilliant invasion plan.

The British and French had a combined 3,000 tanks, all of which had cannons capable of destroying any of the German medium tanks in the invasion force.  The Germans had 2,000 tanks, hundreds of them armed with just machine guns.  But the Germans concentrated nearly all their armor on a 20-mile invasion front, while the British and French spread their tanks from the Swiss border to the English Channel.  Rommel punched through the allied lines. He personally waded into rivers when his engineers were making bridges for his tanks.  Rommel broke through the allied lines and captured huge formations.

Without Rommel carrying out a brilliant invasion plan by General Heinz Guderian, the allied army could have stopped or slowed the German advance and dragged out the war in France. The great early success of Rommel, Guderian and the German Army led Hitler to invade Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

Four years later when Allied armies were back in France after D-Day and Soviet armor was in Poland headed for Germany, Rommel joined a plot to assassinate Hitler. Rommel took his own life after being caught.  Honorable soldiers are lousy conspirators.

General Mattis could be great for America. His job is to make the American military the best weapon possible. He could make the American military an even better fighting force. But Trump, not Mattis decides who that weapon will be pointed at, just as Rommel fought where Hitler told him to.

Generals decide HOW to fight, not WHO to fight.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Book Report 2016, Part 6, Politics

Of the fifty books I read in 2016, just four are in the category Politics, but every book about war is to some extent about the politics that leads one nation to fight with another.

The first book I read on politics was New Czar: Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin by Steven Lee Myers.  This long, thorough book traces the entire life of Putin and the improbable path to his present place at the among the top world leaders.  He has been on top of Russian politics for all of this century, all the more amazing because he was truly as another biography calls him The Man Without a Face by Masha Gessen. Masha Gessen's book is on my list for 2017.

Boris Yeltsin picked Putin for leadership in 1999 partly because Putin was the only man in Yeltsin's government who was not on the take. The year before, Putin's house burned down. While it was burning Putin ran back in the house to get a briefcase with 5,000 rubles in it.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many top government officials were taking millions from the failing economy for themselves. If Putin would risk his life for just 5,000 rubles, he could not have millions stashed in Switzerland.  But the corruptions of power corrupted Putin as power corrupts everyone. And now Russia is ruled by an authoritarian government keeping some appearance of democracy.  Putin now is reputed to have more than $30 billion stashed in overseas accounts.

In the spring I re-read The Prince by Machiavelli.  I just got a new translation and will be writing about that later in the context of military leadership. I use the Prince to keep score on the leadership of Presidents.  In a few months it will be interesting to compare Presidents Obama and Trump on how they followed (or not) Machiavelli's council.

In the Fall as it began to look as if Trump had a chance to win, I re-read Why I Write by George Orwell.  In the main essay of this short book, Orwell says that everything he writes will be to bring about Democratic Socialism in Great Britain. Orwell lived only a few years after this essay was published in 1946, and his dream never came pass.  At the end of this volume is "Politics and the English Language" Orwell's most famous essay describing the language used by "Big Brother" in Orwell's book 1984. The whole text of the essay is here.  In the past 30 years since I first read the essay, I heard echoes of Newspeak in many political statements.  But now, the time of Newspeak has fully arrived.

Which brings me to A World Split Apart, the dual-language edition of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's address at Harvard in 1978.  Solzhenitsyn had recently come to America, exiled from the Soviet Union for his books chronicling the horrors of Soviet life.  Yet his address is not a grateful refugee basking in freedom after a decade in a Soviet GULAG after heroic service in World War II.  Solzhenitsyn says the west has sold its soul for materialism and crushing its own soul for comfort and wealth.  He lived in seclusion in Vermont for almost 20 years, then returned to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union.

This year, I will be reading Machiavelli and a biography of Putin as I noted above.  I will also be reading about the years leading up to The Holocaust. Every genocide begins when some minority is declared non-persons by the majority.  All through history mass murder and deportation begin with revoking rights, then revoking citizenship. I will be looking for that in 2017, because that is where the next war will follow.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Forty Years Later: U.S. Armored Brigade from Fort Carson Reinforces Europe

Today an Armored Brigade from Fort Carson, Colorado, arrived in Poland as a show of force to Russia.  More than three thousand mechanized soldiers will spread across Poland and the Baltic States as well as Romania, Moldova and Hungary to the south.

The unit deployed is the 3rd Armored Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, including 1st Battalion, 68th Armor.  

Forty years ago, in October 1976, the 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized), including 1st Battalion, 70th Armor was sent to Wiesbaden, West Germany, as a show of force against the Soviet Union.  I was a tank commander in Bravo Company of the 1-70th Armor.  

Today's news was certainly deja vu for me. Forty years ago and today, troops from Fort Carson waving a finger in the face of the Russian/Soviet leader.  One big difference is that all the countries where the 3rd ACT, 4th ID will be training are places that were under Soviet control 40 years ago.  

In a further coincidence, after I left active duty, I joined an Army Reserve Armor unit: Company A, 6th Battalion, 68th Armor.  All of my service in armor was in these two units.  Now they are together in former Soviet states, resisting Russia.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Obama's Gonna Take Our Guns

With just nine days left till the inauguration of Donald Trump as President, the current President has less than nine days to take away our guns!  He needs to get those black helicopters revved up really soon if he is going to complete the campaign promise that he never said, but "everyone" knows. By everyone, I of course mean the listeners of Alex Jones and Breitbart News. Also Glenn Beck in 2009 and the always reliable rumor monger and current lover of Russia Sean Hannity.  Fox News did not come out and say it, but......

Eight years ago, I was getting ready to go to Iraq.  The inauguration of Barack Obama was just days away and many of the soldiers I would deploy to Iraq with at the end of January 2009 were quite sure "Obama's gonna take away our guns while we are in Iraq."

Those soldiers still have their guns, but they did not leave their conspiracy theories behind when they returned to America. Every few months on training weekend or during annual training in the summer, I would hear an intense conversation about how the confiscation would actually happen.  Sadly, one occasion was the days after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Another was the re-election of the President in 2012.

Part of my military experience from January 1972 to May 2013 has been rumors and conspiracy theories.  I was in the Air Force testing missiles, including the Minuteman missile, during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War when there were rumors that the war would go nuclear while the Israelis were losing. I was in the military when President Nixon stepped down and when Saigon fell. I had just left the military when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan which was supposed to be cover for a Soviet invasion of Europe.

Crazy rumors are just part of the atmosphere of the military. But the "Obama taking our guns" rumor has hung stuck like a barnacle on a battleship. Part of the persistence was the Birther lie pushed by the TEA Party and then by the President Elect.  Alex Jones could already be telling his gullible minions that President Obama will still carry out the confiscation somehow even after leaving office.  Maybe a cabal of Kenyan socialists is waiting and ready in black helicopters......

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Book Report: The Complete List

It's taking so long to write about my books in 2016, I thought I would pass along the complete list by category.


A Canticle for Leibowitz Miller, Arthur M. Jr.
A Pale View of Hills Ishiguro, Kazuo
An Artist of the Floating World Ishiguro, Kazuo
From the Front Line Grossman, Vassily
Grunt Roach, Mary
Hero of Our Time Lermontov, Mihail
Iliad Homer
Life and Fate Grossman, Vassily
Odyssey Homer
Periodic Table, The Primo, Levi
Sin Prilepin, Zakhar
The Lover Yehoshua, A.B.
The Zone: A Prison Camp Guard's Story Dovlatov, Sergei
When We Were Orphans Ishiguro, Kazuo
Zinky Boys Alexievich, Svetlana

Elements of Style

Strunk and White
Mastermind:  How to think like Sherlock Holmes Konnikova, Maria
Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength Baumeister, Roy F.

Does Altruism Exist?
Wilson, David Sloan

New Czar: Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin

Myers, Steven Lee
Prince, The Machiavelli, Niccolo
Why I Write
Orwell, George
World Split Apart, A

Solzhenitsyn, Alexander

Brodsky, Joseph

English Grammar for Students of Russian

Cruise, Edwina
Russian Verbs of Motion for Intermediate Students Mahota, William
Schuam's Russian Grammar
Levine, James S.
Student Activities Manual for Golosa, Book Two Robin, Richard
Голоса: A Basic Course in Russian, Book Two Robin, Richard

A Foreign Woman

Dovlatov, Sergei
Dead Souls Gogol, Nikolai
Eugene Onegin
Pushkin, Alexander
Fathers and Sons Turgenev, Ivan
Hamlet  Shakespeare, William
Il Etait Une Fois 
Savigny, Francois
Nabokov, Vladimir
Nocturnes Ishiguro, Kazuo
Notes from Underground Dostoevsky, Fyodor
Oil and Water Lazos, PJ
Russian Short Stories Various
Selected Poems Brodsky, Joseph
Siddhartha Hesse, Hermann
The Death of Ivan Ilych Tolstoy, Leo
День без впанья, A Day Without Lying  Токарева, Виктория

Gospel According to Mark, The

Focant, Camille
Laurus Vodolazkin, Eugene
Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer Lewis, C.S.
Mark Beavis, Mary Ann
Narcissus and Goldmund
Hesse, Hermann
New Testament Mark
The Greek New Testament Mark

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Book Report Part 4: Trump and Obama and Machiavelli

On November 8, starting at about 7 p.m., almost 63 million Americans were showing signs of depression and disbelief.  Me included.  As the night went on it became clear that a reality TV star, the most famous avowed racist[1] candidate since George Wallace of Alabama, was going to become the 45th President of the United States.


Almost no one predicted it, even among the 60 million voters who decided “grabbing them by the pussy” was just something a 59-year-old man would say while wearing a microphone.  But Niccolo Machiavelli saw clearly how that Tangerine Tornado would sweep away all opposition and take the most powerful job in the world.

In his most famous book, The Prince, Machiavelli describes what works in politics, not how the world “should be.”  Machiavelli says the Prince (Leader) must “take power and keep power, for without power he can do nothing.”  While the world wondered what Trump really wanted, he kept charging forward and won.  And now he has the power. 

Trump beat 16 Republican opponents in the primaries before beating Hillary Clinton. How did he beat all of them?  Machiavelli says, “If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.” Trump lashed out at his opponents and kept at them until they gave up. Since he could not crush his toughest opponents all at once, he attacked them separately. He made temporary alliances with some, and then crushed them later. 

Ted Cruz fell for this like a bass snapping at bait.  Machiavelli says, “Since love and fear can hardly exist together, it is far safer to be feared than loved.” Trump kept Cruz close with flattery, then crushed.

Trump’s method points to the way he is likely to govern. When Cruz and others on his own side get out of line, he will attack them mercilessly, either by himself, or with his attack dogs at Breitbart, supplied by Steve Bannon.  As President Barack Obama leaves office, it is clear that one of his great failures was trying for years to get the Republicans to work with him.  Obama made deals, then the Republicans would back out or defy him.  Trump will not present his back to be stabbed as Obama did.  Trump may end democracy, but Congress will lose when they challenge him.

Trump told so many outright lies at his campaign rallies that even his most strident critics had trouble keeping track of the outrageous things he said. Yet Trump continued to flourish.  Why?  Men are so simple and yield so readily to the desires of the moment that he who deceives will always find those willing to be deceived,” says the writer of The Prince.

Trump followed exactly one of the warnings from Machiavelli that President Obama flouted.  Machiavelli says that the people’s money should be spent in small amounts with great fanfare. President Obama gave away hundreds of billions of dollars to save the economy from depression in 2009. He took no credit.  Many people who owe their jobs to that bailout have no idea they were part of a government rescue program.  Obama’s people said, “We don’t spike the ball.” Sounds admirable, but the loss of the House, the Senate and many state governorships could have been slowed or avoided by taking credit for the way that money was spent.

When Trump saved several hundred jobs Carrier Corporation was sending to Mexico, he took full credit.  In addition, Trump used money from Indiana taxpayers for part of the package.  Machiavelli said the Prince can and should be generous with other people’s money.

For me, re-reading The Prince every four years allows me to keep score on politicians at every level.  With few exceptions, those that defy the advice of Machiavelli bring themselves down.  Machiavelli says that the Prince who touches the women of his subjects will be despised.  I could see this in the reaction to Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” comment.  At the time Trump said it, he was not in a political office.  Trump’s response was to attack Bill Clinton for women he slept with while in office, whether in the White House or the State House in Arkansas. Trump could effectively make the case that he was a private citizen and not subject to the same rules.  And 60 million voters clearly accepted that premise.

At just 68 pages of text, The Prince can read in a few hours and provide fun for a lifetime. 

Next post I will discuss the other political books I read in 2016.

[1] Beginning in 2011, Donald Trump rode the Birther lie to political prominence.  There is no reason to be a Birther except to discredit the President on racial and religious grounds. Every Birther is a racist.