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A Review of “Utopia for Realists”

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 5, 2021

Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal WorldUtopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World by Rutger Bregman
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Yeah. Utopia for anything, any reason or topic always sounds good. Do you know how many descriptions like the one this book has here I’ve read over many decades from authors dating back centuries? Do you know how many were right or proven right? Yeah, I do. The answer would be NONE! Why? Cause no matter how brilliant they may seem or even be, these concepts and theories are little but pipe dreams. Fantasy. Let’s give the kids of the world some hope, some premise and promise, something to dedicate their lives too … and then not deliver. Again and again. Over and over.

what-is-a-utopia-n-EDIT1

An obvious example or two. One of the most obvious: Marx and Engels’ semi-brilliant (in theory) deconstruction of economic and political systems to even the playing field for the common man via communism (Marxism). It would be Utopia for the workers. Naturally most western capitalists will gleefully say it was BS, didn’t work out and died the ugly death it deserved. And despite their misguided arrogance, on the whole they’re technically right — in terms of the original and most influential communist system, with the collapse of the Soviet Union (and with China then sliding into a more Sinese type capitalist-centric system while retaining the power elements found throughout the history of typical communist countries), it might seem like communism was inferior to anything else, most notably capitalism. It didn’t work.

Marxism-Fail

But before the Reagan worshippers get too frenzied, while hundreds of books have been written on this so I don’t need to, let’s look at two big, fairly related points. One, did Marxist communism fail to be Utopian, if even fair or safe, because it was a horrible theory, terrible idea, total BS? No. Here’s the truth about nearly every Utopian theory or premise ever thought up and advocated on nearly any subject at all throughout human history. They’re virtually all mere pipe dreams. Cannot and will likely never fulfill their promise, no matter how promising. Because they’re crackpot theories and promises? No, not necessarily and not in the case of communism. The problem is few people ever really take into account the one consistent variable nearly always at the root of any Utopian failure: human nature. Yeah, it’s so simple that it should easily be obvious every time but mankind has this bad habit of rarely learning from past mistakes.

HumanNature-War-EDIT1

Marx actually had some really good ideas. Like the author of this book. Yet Marx’s theories, when implemented – just as surely would seem to be the case with the author – were doomed to fail because not only are people different, but what seems reasonable, rational, logical, FAIR to huge numbers of people will ultimately typically die from within because despite any original good intentions, the fact is it’s impossible to stop power-hungry tyrants, autocrats, dictators, murderers, greedy, fascist EVIL people from being involved or becoming involved, or from falling victim to the lure or power and riches, that despite the original terms used in many such efforts and movements, they’re just semantics and largely meaningless. The Marxist Bolsheviks rebelled against the czar for the people, yet Stalin would become the most famous of the genocidal madmen there to destroy the Utopian dream Marx had described — because he could (with the aid of men like Yezhov and Beria). And he wanted to and took advantage of opportunities and lied and murdered and the term communism was always used but did it fail cause Marx was an idiot? No. Because at heart, much of human nature is evil and those people who “go to the dark side” (Did I get the Star Wars reference right?) abuse that as well as the huge number of people trying to make an honest, sustainable life of it, only to be crushed under the boot of tyranny. (Additionally, the Stalinist interpretation of Marx’s communism was rather warped — thus the war against Trotsky and the edging Lenin out so he could take over…)

However if you think capitalism is the obvious “winner” in this competition, think again. Those who have pushed the fantasy that it can be Utopian if you only pull yourself up by your bootstraps, work your damn ass off (and vote for the “right” political party) and then the American Dream will be possible for all is an even bigger pile of shit because while Marx and his colleagues were naively Ernest, those pushing this capitalist equation to obtain the American Dream, dating further back than “trickle down economics” – a theory so transparent in its lies, non-logic, hypocrisy and true goals, that the fact that so many chump Americans are still spouting bullshit like “America: Love It or Leave It” shows how pathetically stupid, naïve and easily manipulated we are — and sadly that’s not limited just to Americans.

isutopiareallypossible

(And Reagan isn’t to blame. It’s hard to pinpoint an actual individual or group of individuals responsible for foisting this dramady onto the American worker, thus forever using the stick and carrot routine which never fails to work brilliantly. Many attribute this “conspiracy” to powerful men such as JP Morgan, the Rockefellers, some of the major financial leaders (often theorists love to throw in the Rothschild family, which hasn’t been proven but can’t be discounted), but led by a mysterious visitor from Europe who, it was alleged, was. a Rothschild representative. When the Jekyll Island retreat resulted in the invention of a central bank, later to be called the Federal Reserve, or the Fed (and there are a dozen of them around the country, not just one…) — (an interesting aspect to this is the Fed never was and is not still a government agency or government anything, yet many people don’t know that. Why does a largely private bank control the country’s currency, interest rates, print the money, etc., on behalf of the government and the people when it is not at all related to that very government? Who then is benefitting from this little scenario? And when researching history combined with some reflection, it’s interesting to ponder about how a few mysterious but very rich and powerful men controlling the Fed have ultimate power over the country, if not the world, because with the simple unanticipated move by them, such as a serious loan rate change, a devaluation of the dollar, etc., the Fed can create recessions at will, can end them equally, conceivably start wars and more — and yet they’re not a part of the government despite being potentially more powerful.) that venture has and does beg the question or perhaps confirms the suspicions some people have of a “conspiracy” of rabid capitalists controlling various countries with the future goal of that dreaded phrase we hate so much and which I won’t bother writing here, but just think of the Euro as the first major step in that direction. And since I’m off topic with popular theories about the advent of a capitalist plot to create sheeple who lack critical thinking abilities and will do what they’re told by the authorities — something Orwell wrote about with horror, something that our educational systems have embrace, and something that has succeeded brilliantly and that’s not me — I’ve read interviews with top CEOs in journals like Forbes where they complain they can’t hire college graduates worth a damn anymore because everyone is a specialist, no longer generalists, and virtually all lack critical thinking skills, thus limiting them in the workplace. And to get through this aside, the other main popular conspiracy theory with any credibility is the ole Skull and Bones one, which many people laugh off without bothering to research the details of the Russel Trust or the Bavarian intellectuals who influenced those early Yale men, their colleagues who returned from Germany to found the University of Chicago, Princeton Theological Seminary (I think) and Johns Hopkins University and take on the role of the first presidents, who then installed said German immigrant academic intellectuals at their institutions and elsewhere, all allegedly influenced heavily by a bizarre Bavarian psychologist and it gets really crazy sounding, but when you do the research and find that Prescott Bush was a major player (who financed the Nazis throughout WW2, following Henry Ford), as well as a Dulles or two, both Bundy brothers, possibly two of the most powerful, devious and evil Americans of the twentieth century as McGeorge Bundy worked his magic on Kennedy and Johnson to get and keep the US in a southeast Asian unwinnable war while William rode shotgun at the CIA, and it gets crazier sounding when you dig deeper, but allegedly a S&B elite has run for president every cycle since Carter with possibly one exception, and certain Yale devotees were delighted to note that when W ran against Kerry, both candidates were Skull and Bones men, so they couldn’t lose no matter who won…

So after admittedly getting way off track on those potential initial starts at creating a capitalist system to ultimately do what it’s done, when I have the audacity to make a critical remark about US corporations being equal to people to enable the rich and powerful to buy elections, at best I get verbally attacked. Yet typically the atmosphere changes when I ask a simple question, which might be followed up with a couple more — “So, how’s capitalism working out for ya? You personally and your family? Are there any businesses or jobs left in your community and do the jobs even pay enough for you to have enough money in the bank if you have an unanticipated car emergency, like a wreck, requiring, say, $500 to get it fixed?

To answer that question, just in case you think it’s theoretical, the answer to people having jobs paying well enough to have $500 for an unanticipated emergency the next month is NO. Look it up if you don’t believe me. The average American (and this isn’t even “average” as it’s actually the vast majority) doesn’t have enough money to pay rent, buy a new set of tires, etc., for just one simple future month and the middle class that is now a distant memory has (had) to learn some hard lessons…and I would keep writing for hours, but I’ve already been doing this for several hours on a mobile device (takes me longer now that I’m old and feeble) and I’m tired and my arthritis is killing me (LOL!), so I’m just going to have to end prematurely. Capitalism, like Marxism, sounds good in theory, but like communism, in practice the Utopia of the American Dream is a lie and a pipe dream for over 90% of the people. Because of human nature, again. The sharks want power and money and see millions of suckers out there (who sadly and pathetically buy into their little game) and lie and manipulate to STILL ensure people are forever getting fucked by US capitalism will be willing to fight to the death against a critic despite their being victims of the very oppressive system they defend! So does capitalism work? Sure, if you have obscene wealth and power and are cutthroat and heartless enough to be hypocritical to your (typically American) religion and to betray and screw your fellow man just to keep edging toward the top, while the rest of us are now in such bad situations that the literal majority of US bankruptcies are for excessive medical bills but yet the powerful know we’re so stupid we’ll vote against our own interests in refusing to do what every other first world nation on earth does — act ethically enough to provide at least basic health coverage to their citizens for free. Even the tiny Republic of North Macedonia, which didn’t even exist as recently as 1990, provides free healthcare to its citizens. Jesus allegedly talked about aiding and caring for the sick and the poor more than any other topic in the Gospels. Yet today’s power brokers, often white well off evangelical “Christians,” are adamantly opposed to anything their messiah ever said, especially when it comes to helping or aiding the sick and poor. They want the sick and poor to basically die as they annually try to kill off the few pathetic “entitlements” Americans have while instead they focus on two topics — abortion and homosexuality — to the point of violence and murder (WWJD), despite the fact that Jesus cared so very much about these two most important issues that he NEVER felt compelled to even ever mention them at all, while aiding the sick and poor are mentioned over 160 times. Obviously his priorities were out of place for current American so-called “Christians.” Or maybe since they’re representatives and witnesses of their god and their religion, this whole Jesus peace and love bullshit is just that — hypocritical bullshit. Because the vermin have come out of hiding, already despised for their judgmental persecution of everyone else in the world while always claiming to be the only victims in America (I grew up in a hardcore fundie home and heard that brainwashing crap every day). They no longer feel the need to hide the fact that not only have they not read their “holy” book, but they don’t give a shit about it anyway, or like the Jews and Muslims, they might actually consider following it, rather than attacking and in some cases killing anyone who won’t convert — just like the Taliban. Funny how life works sometimes.

problems-of-capitalism

A point in that last huge chunk on capitalism was merely to give an example of people buying into Utopian bullshit and just displaying the rampant hypocrisy of it all. One could go on to mention many of the naïve Utopian ideals of the 1960s and ‘70s — flower power, free love, the thousands of communes, protesting the war, etc. — but just to end this with one last thought, American students protested the Vietnam war by the hundreds of thousands, claiming it was an immoral war and shouting about standing together with their South Vietnamese brothers in solidarity, which had an idealistic, somewhat Utopian narrative. Until it didn’t. Once “our boys” came home (to be ignored, abandoned, abused, criticized, thrown to the wolves), our great “solidarity” kinda disappeared since the Americans were gone and it was just poor little yellow/brown men against other poor little yellow/brown men and I guess the protestors shifted showing their solidarity by disappearing, shutting up, moving on to other things like the fight for the rights of oppressed American minorities (valid) while South Vietnam got crushed and essentially disappeared two years later. Did the solidarity protesters even care? One of the implicit points of this last example is that those hypocritical protesters were Boomers who took For Granted the American Dream OWED them (there’s a great book on that and I think I reviewed it here) as they went on to switch from Ginsberg and free drugs and sex to ‘80s Reagan Republicans, with many joining the Moral Majority and many more buying into the decade of greed — these, the hippies who rejected a traditional oppressive capitalist society guilty of colonial imperialism and genocide, living off the land in communes, many replacing currency with barter. A decade later, they were rich Wall Street tycoons before breaking into politics to work on destroying the country from the inside out, year by year regardless of party.

This book’s author wants to talk about good, generous wages, 15-hour work weeks, a new dynamic, a type of Utopia. I applaud that. While trying to decide whether to laugh my ass off or roll my eyes as another potentially great idea will be left to crash and burn once again, if it even approaches getting off the ground to begin with. What was that term? Oh yeah, “pipe dream.”

beautiful-woman-smokes-pipe-260nw-130563416

3.5 for decent, enthusiastic book/comments. A 1 for naïveté due to apparent lack of study and analysis of (recent) history, among other crucial topics. Ultimately a 1 because despite being an intriguing fantasy, it’s unfortunately little more than that and there are far too many fantasies better than this one. Yes, I’m sadly that jaded. Not recommended.

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[All photos in this piece have been obtained via Google Images and credit is given when required and/or possible.]

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A Review of Mao Tse-Tung on Guerrilla Warfare

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 1, 2015

Mao Tse-Tung On Guerrilla WarfareMao Tse-Tung On Guerrilla Warfare by Mao Tse-tung
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can’t believe I discovered this treasure in a Maryland antique store last week while visiting the Eastern Shore from Tennessee with my wife. As a long time student of the Vietnam conflicts and Ho Chi Mihn, and to a lesser degree, Mao Tse-Tung, I had heard of this classic guerrilla primer for some time, but I’ve never been able to find it. Until now. In hardback. And it was pricey. But worth it.

Mao wrote this small book in 1937 while leading the Chinese Red Army guerrillas against the Japanese invaders. The book was later translated and published by the US military in 1940. My edition was re-translated and published in 1961 by Brigadier General Samuel B. Griffith, who wrote a most excellent introduction to the book. In fact, while short, it’s so excellent, that when combined with Mao’s text, I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if the French and US governments and military had read the original first, and for the US later, this edition. They could have learned some lessons, taken some advice, maybe taken some pointers, and perhaps saved countless lives in futile efforts to take over a people. It’s beyond idiotic. It’s actually something I’ve long thought, dating back to Edward Lansdale’s CIA efforts in 1950s Indochina and the conclusions he drew about probable guerrilla warfare the US would be facing if we were drawn into conflict there. Simply stunning how no one in charge ever listened to the experts, the “real” experts.

Mao wrote this primer while allegedly on the “Long March,” I believe it’s called if I remember correctly, which would have put him under serious stress while doing so. It’s quite comprehensive for such a small volume. It covers things such as what guerrilla warfare is, the history of guerrilla warfare, the relationship of guerrilla operations to regular army operations, the actual organization of guerrilla units and armies, political issues for guerrillas, and more. He writes quite convincingly of his firm belief that while the enemy may be technologically superior, they can’t fight on all fronts at all times of day or night and eventually a long term war will wear them down and defeat them. Griffith, the translator, makes a point that both Ho Chi Mihn and Castro used this primer and this strategy successfully and it’s hard to argue against its success.

Mao writes of political goals for guerrillas. These include:

1. Arousing and organizing the people.
2. Achieving internal unification politically.
3. Establishing bases.
4. Equipping forces.
5. Recovering national strength.
6. Destroying enemy’s national strength.
7. Regaining lost territories.

He also lists the essential requirements for all successful guerrilla operations:

1. Retention of the initiative; alertness; carefully planned tactical attacks in a war of strategical defense; tactical speed in a war strategically protracted; tactical operations on exterior lines in a war conducted strategically on interior lines.
2. Conduct of operations to complement those of the regular army.
3. The establishment of bases.
4. A clear understanding of the relationship that exists between the attack and the defense.
5. The development of mobile operations.
6. Correct command.

One thing Mao makes clear is guerrilla warfare is to be an offensive-only operation. Strike and strike quickly, move fast, run away if you have to, run away a lot, hit from behind, from the flanks, at night, strike supply lines, get arms and supplies from your enemies. His original guerrillas had perhaps three rifles and a few pistols per unit. The rest had swords and spears. They had to wait until they had successfully attacked and defeated Japanese units and taken their equipment before they could arm themselves.

Of course it’s always important for guerrillas to win the hearts of the people, especially in China’s case (and Vietnam’s later), the peasants. Everyone — even children — can help out. Anyone can be militia, spy, courier, cook, medic, soldier, etc. It’s imperative to politically educate the population so everyone will know why you’re fighting and why it’s important to fight. And why it’s important to find and eradicate traitors.

Griffith’s introduction, as I mentioned, is short but excellent. He gives a brief overview of Mao himself, on the nature of revolutionary guerrilla war, on strategy, tactics, and logistics of such a war, and some conclusions. Among his conclusions are the notion that fighting such guerrillas is definitely a losing proposition for a conventional army and even counter-guerrilla tactics won’t work! He even goes on to say that if any country or government were to try to aid a country or government fighting against a guerrilla army, it would be wise to ONLY offer advisers and equipment. Remember, he wrote this in 1961, about the time when America was starting to openly send advisers to South Vietnam. I guess he could foretell things. Pity no one in the US government read this or listened to him or took him or this book seriously. Cause he was right. We had no chance. And if you believe Mao — and Griffith — virtually any government or army fighting a conventional or counter-guerrilla protracted war against a “revolutionary” guerrilla army is pretty much destined to lose. Fact. Tragedy. Too much loss of life.

This book was everything I’d hoped it would be. It was superb. It was a history, a strategy, a tactic, a warning — it was fascinating. And to read it with the benefit of history’s hindsight made it especially amazing. Mao wasn’t right about everything. He couldn’t be. But it seems to me that Ho picked Mao’s brains and used what he could and improved upon everything to totally destroy the US effort in the war we lost against North Vietnam, a war that could have been avoided if we had only looked at history. This is a book I’m keeping in my library and will undoubtedly be reading again. It’s quite short and easy to read. And it’s most highly recommended.

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A Review of Warrior: Frank Sturgis

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 3, 2015

Warrior: Frank Sturgis---The CIA's #1 Assassin-Spy, Who Nearly Killed Castro but Was Ambushed by WatergateWarrior: Frank Sturgis—The CIA’s #1 Assassin-Spy, Who Nearly Killed Castro but Was Ambushed by Watergate by Jim Hunt

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book is about a legend in the subject’s own mind. And perhaps the co-authors’. And perhaps even a few others. But he’s really not all that. This book is poorly researched, is largely hearsay, is mostly guided by the nephew of the subject, who lived with him for awhile and is one of the co-authors, and seems spurious at best.

Sturgis joined the Marines in WWII and fought in the Pacific, winning several decorations. He was later stationed in Europe after the war. This is where he began spying for the Zionist movement for Israel, pre-Mossad, something which would have been illegal and would have resulted in dishonorable discharge at best and perhaps even loss of his citizenship. After leaving the Marines, he joined the Navy and the Army, although in what capacity, I’m not sure. The book states he served in all four armed services, but he did not serve in the Air Force, one of a number of factual mistakes made by the authors.

Following his military career, Sturgis, who’s real name was Fiorini and who changed his name to suit his circumstances some 33 alleged times opened up several bars, but grew restless, so he became a mercenary and started becoming involved in several South and Central American country’s military efforts, both in terms of training and arms supplying. At some point, he became interested in Cuba and was put off by the dictator there and intrigued by the new rebel, Castro, who promised reform and democracy. So Sturgis went off to offer his help to Castro. He trained his rebels, supplied arms and ammunition, an airplane and boats, and helped Castro and Che take over Cuba. A famous picture of Sturgis holding a rifle and identified as a captain in Castro’s army standing on a mass grave appeared in a Philadelphia newspaper, which later got him into trouble. When he returns to America, he was stripped of his citizenship, and held for trial. His Florida senator got him off. He returned to Cuba, retained his status in the army, was given control of the air force, and was then made the gambling czar. In this capacity, he met all the mob bosses, many of whom he pissed off, most of whom he forced back to the US. Still, he seemed to be on good terms with them. During this time, he was approached, apparently, by a CIA agent who asked him to spy on Castro and supply them with any information about communism or anything else that could be indicting. Since Sturgis was extremely anti-communist, he agreed. And he was becoming nervous. It seemed Castro was backtracking on his promise for democracy and was filling his cabinet with communists. Che played a big role in this. Sturgis thought it might be time for him to head back to Miami. But first he contemplated assassinating Castro. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d done such a thing, apparently. He was, after all according to the book, the CIA’s “#1 Assassin-Spy,” and someone Castro later called the CIA’s “most dangerous agent.” He apparently had at least four opportunities. On page 80 in the book, it states “Throughout his anti-Castro career, Frank participated in more than 150 air operations and 60 boat incursions. As Frank put it, these missions were done both ‘with the green light and without the green light’.” So one of my biggest questions about the book is, at some point, Sturgis is asked why he didn’t pull the trigger and he replied that he never got the green light. So if he hated Castro that much, why suddenly wait for the green light when everything else he does is done without any authority? That makes utterly no sense at all. It sounds like a bad cop out and I don’t buy it.

In 1959, Frank leaves Cuba for Miami, where he sets up an anti-Castro operation, where he sends in teams of people, including himself, to disrupt, antagonize, breed anti-Castro resentment, etc. It barely ever works. He does this for the rest of his life.

Much later, he is hired to commit the Watergate burglary, where he is caught and goes to prison. He allegedly does this as a CIA operative, along with other CIA operatives, most of whom are Cubans who the CIA are just dying to hire to join the CIA fresh off the boat (sarcasm intended) when Sturgis remains an independent contractor his whole career and is never an actual employee of the Agency.

One thing that’s interesting about the book is the Kennedy assassination conspiracy. Apparently there are those who believe Frank was involved and indeed was the “only one who could pull off killing Kennedy.” Um, right. Yep. Apparently, because of his Cuban connections, his mob connections, and his right wing CIA connections, all of whom wanted Kennedy dead, he was the one to pull it all together and pictures show him as one of the tramps on the grassy knoll. The two co-authors offer their own interpretations, one of which places him in Dallas on hand and ready to pull the trigger, and the other of which states that he had to have been in Miami through an eyewitness account, but that he could have overseen everything and indeed, probably did. If this is true, it’s likely the only successful thing he ever did, as he failed at unseating Castro and he failed at Watergate. Now, he did help assassinate a couple of small time banana republic dictators, apparently, so I guess that’s something, but for a man who considered himself a true patriot, he sure did a lot of unpatriotic things, including hating Kennedy for life after the Bay of Pigs incident, which he apparently trained the men for, and including virtually everything else he did.

Enough. It’s hard enough to believe that much of this is true. If it is, Sturgis was an interesting failure. He’s dead, so we’ll never truly know. His nephew thinks he knows, but he doesn’t — it’s conjecture. The tale is fascinating, but largely unbelievable and thus not recommended.

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A Review of Mao: The People’s Emperor

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 27, 2015

Mao, the People's EmperorMao, the People’s Emperor by Dick Wilson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a hard book to rate. On one hand, it provides a lot of information and is somewhat detailed. On the other, it leaves out huge chunks of information which is simply unforgivable.

I wanted to read about Mao to learn more about him — I knew next to nothing — and I did. I learned of his modest upbringing, his hardships, his love of country, his love of the peasants, his introduction to Marx, his awakening to socialism and communism and the way to save his country — and every country. I learned of his split with the nationalists led by Chiang Kai-shek, the backstabbing, dictatorial asshole American naturally supported to rule China and whom Mao eventually drove to Taiwan. I learned about Mao’s raising of a peasant army, about the Long March, about his battles against Japan during WWII, his continued battles with the nationalists after the war, and about his victorious march into Peking after defeating them. I read of his rise to power and of how power corrupts, in this case, his cronies. Mao apparently wanted the Chinese to continue to revolt to bring about true communism, but his cronies on the Politburo grew a little too comfortable. I read of the numerous attempts to get Mao thrown out of office, which surprised me, and of how he survived each, coming back stronger each time. I read of his Cultural Revolution, which was taking place when I was born and was something I barely remember. I read of when Nixon went to visit him, the first time an American president had done such a thing. And I read of his death in the mid-70s.

All of this was interesting, but so much was left out. For instance, you would think the Korean War would be pretty big, wouldn’t you? It was big for the US, the two Koreas, and China, but it only merits a few sentences in this huge book. WTH? What’s up with that? Surely the author could have written something about that! Also, during the Hundred Flowers phase of the ’50s, Mao was said to have said that “the imperialist claims that twenty million people had been killed as counter-revolutionaries were quite false. The true number was ‘not much greater than 700,000.'” Um, excuse me? Where the hell did that come from? At least 700,000 people died and perhaps as many as 20 million and the author never even hints that executions are taking place, that people are being murdered, that there are death squads, that anything AT ALL is happening???!!! Doesn’t Mr. Wilson owe it to his reader to let them know that this is happening? It’s shocking that he left this information out of the book. It’s insulting to the Chinese and to the reader. If I were a relative of one of the deceased, I’d be outraged. I just couldn’t believe it when I read that passage. And that’s not an isolated example! This occurs elsewhere. Mass massacres, with no advance warning. No sense of injustice. Mao’s just a rustic good old boy, a somewhat naive genius who barely understand Marxism, but is well loved by the peasants. What the hell??? And so on. And then there’s the Vietnam War. How much do you think that’s mentioned in this book? Not at all. I can’t believe it. Not at all. The author is an idiot, or he thinks his reader is, I’m not sure.

I would give the book one star, but I’m giving it two because a lot of research did go into it and the author did tackle a moderately complex character with a minimum attempt at explaining him. He tried, but only just. I expected so much more. If anyone can recommend a better Mao bio to me, I’d appreciate it. Definitely not recommended.

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A Review of Ho Chi Minh: A Life

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 25, 2013

Ho Chi Minh: A LifeHo Chi Minh: A Life by William J. Duiker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve always been fascinated by Ho Chi Minh, one of history’s most mysterious yet prominent figures. I’ve read what little there is on him over the years, and then finally came across this book, William Duiker’s Ho Chi Minh: A Life. What a thoroughly researched and detailed book! Duiker does a truly admirable job of piecing together information from archives and sources from all over the world to give us the best possible picture of Ho, and he does it in a reasonably objective way.

Ho Chi Minh was born on May 19th, 1890 with the given name, Nguyen Sinh Cung, to a Confucian scholar in the Nghe An province of Annam, part of French Indochina, a colonial territory. Duiker writes a great deal about the history of Vietnam, how it had been conquered and occupied for centuries (much of it by the Chinese) and how the 20th Century Indochinese resented their French occupiers for many legitimate, assorted reasons. As young Cung was about to enter adolescence, his father gave him a new name – something customarily done then – Nguyen Tat Thanh, meaning “he who will succeed.” Thanh learned Chinese and Confucian history. He also started being influenced by displaced nationalists who wanted to see an independent Vietnam. However, Thanh felt it important to first understand their oppressors, so he began studying French and the French culture at a Franco-Vietnamese preparatory school in Vinh. Thanh’s attitudes about the French were also no doubt influenced by his father, who despised the imperial government the French allowed to rule over the three sections of Indochina.

In 1907, Thanh enrolled in National Academy, the highest level Franco-Vietnamese school in Hue, the imperial capital. He learned French, Vietnamese, and Chinese, but he was considered somewhat of a country bumpkin by his peers. Still, Thanh’s patriotic instincts were stoked while at this school. Indeed, his first direct involvement in political action came during this period as a wave of unrest swept the countryside and there were many demonstrations. On May 9th, he was beaten and fired upon by French troops during a demonstration. Thanh was dismissed from school and left Annam for Cochin China (South Vietnam) where he taught school for a period before deciding to go to France to study, leaving on a liner where he worked for passage under the name, “Ba.”

In France, Thanh took up odd jobs and started attending labor union meetings and meetings of socialists and Marxists, who supported more freedoms for colonial territories. He started writing articles under pseudonyms and publishing them in numerous media. In 1918, Thanh drafted an eight point petition to the government demanding Annamite freedom. He signed his document, Nguyen Ai Quoc, or “Nguyen the Patriot,” a name he would carry forward with him for decades to come. Eventually, the French police and secret police started taking notice, and he went to New York and London to escape their notice for awhile, before returning to France. He became rather prolific there and the voice for the Vietnamese people, as well as others. In 1924, he left for Moscow, where Lenin had radicalized Russia, a newly Communist country with great goals of expanding communism to the third world, including Indochina.

One thing I’ve always been curious about regarding Ho is whether he was a patriot fighting for national independence or a communist fighting to spread communism. The author of this book addresses this issue at several points throughout the book. He writes, “There are valid reasons for the argument that Nguyen Ai Quoc was above all a patriot. In 1960 he himself conceded in [a] short article … that it was the desire for Vietnamese independence that had drawn him to Marxism in the first place.” Yet, “there is also persuasive evidence that the young Nguyen Ai Quoc viewed Marxism-Leninism as more than just a tool to drive out the French…. Quoc believed that the struggle against the forces of imperialism throughout Asia would culminate in a global revolution.” And there you go. He was both.

Whatever the case, Quoc stayed in Moscow a very long time, studying at the Stalin School and writing things like The Revolutionary Path, his first major effort to introduce Marxist-Leninist doctrine to his countrymen. He moved from Moscow to China next, where he established himself with a network of like-minded nationalist/communists who sought Vietnam’s independence. From there, he oversaw the battle for Vietnam’s independence on behalf of both Russia and China, playing both countries against each other brilliantly – something he’d do for the rest of his life.

Rumor had it he was married to a Chinese woman and had a daughter, but he had to leave them and flee to avoid arrest by the ever aggressive French, returning to Moscow. There he set up a system for patriotic countrymen to come study Marxist philosophies and to go home to spread their knowledge. In 1941, Quoc traveled back through China under the assumed name of Ho Chi Minh, the name that would stick with him for the rest of his life. (It meant “He Who Enlightens.”) During the World War Two years of Japanese occupation in Vietnam, Ho traveled back to Vietnam for the first time in decades, to head the Vietminh Front, along with future general, Vo Nguyen Giap and others. With China’s help, they carved out for themselves some territory in northern Vietnam and solicited help from both Russia and the US, of all countries.

After the war was over, Ho declared Vietnam an independent country, much to the delight of his countrymen who viewed him as a hero. The French had other plans, and with US backing, returned to re-colonize Indochina. Ho and the Vietminh went into hiding and started conducting guerrilla warfare, eventually demoralizing the French and gaining power, ultimately resulting in the military destruction of the French at Dien Bien Phu, and France’s essential surrender, resulting in a split Vietnam, where the northern part would be governed by Ho, and the southern by a corrupt president propped up by the US, one who would later be assassinated with America’s permission and knowledge.

One thing you have to understand is this – the Vietnamese wanted a free and independent unified Vietnam, even most of the southerners. Thus, the Viet Cong, who started making their appearance in 1961 with the north’s backing. Ho continued to seek a political solution, but Lyndon Johnson would have none of it and with the suspicious Gulf of Tonkin incident, he brought the US right into the war. Something that will forever be remembered as one of the most stupid things done by a US president. It was an unwinnable war. Ho said that the Vietnamese may lose 10 soldiers for every one American soldier, but that Vietnam would outlast America, and he was right.

Ho’s influence started to wane as he aged, on into the 1960s, but even as a figurehead, he still played a large role. Power had shifted to other Vietnamese leaders, such as Le Duan, but until Ho’s death on September 2nd, 1969, he was viewed as the legitimate leader of his people and a fighter for the oppressed the world over.

The book, aside from an epilogue, ends with Ho’s death and briefly describes the end of the war, so you won’t get much information about how the war ended or why, but this book goes a long way to demystifying a mythical man of immense power and stature, and for that, the author should be applauded. Perhaps I should end this review of this strongly recommended book by citing the final paragraph in the book, a book written by a man who worked at the US Embassy in Saigon back during the war:

“Ho Chi Minh, then, was … an ‘event-making man,’ a ‘child of crisis’ who combined in his own person two of the central forces in the history of modern Vietnam: the desire for national independence and the quest for social and economic justice. Because these forces transcended the borders of his own country, Ho was able to project his message to colonial peoples all over the world and speak to their demand for dignity and freedom from imperialist oppression. Whatever the final judgment on his legacy to this own people, he has taken his place in the pantheon of revolutionary heroes who have struggled mightily to give the pariahs of the world their true voice.”

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