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If You Don’t Have Time to Read You don’t Have the Time or Tools to Lead

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

During the first week of March I took about a week off of regular writing and commended a new campaign of reading. This was not because I don’t read, I am always reading, but sometimes I don’t read enough, so that week I began to catch up on some reading. Since then I have read, and read, even as I began to write again, not that I ever really stopped. I fully subscribe to the words of American satirist Will Rogers who noted: “There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”

Honestly I prefer to learn by reading or observing, and reading has been part of my life since I was a child and I cannot imagine trying to write a single sentence without reading, as Stephen King noted: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” I would extend King’s observation to say that if you don’t have time to read you don’t have time or the tools to lead. Sadly the American President and many of his most devoted followers never challenge themselves by reading.

So tonight I wanted to take a few minutes and catch you up on the newest additions to my reading rainbow. I finished reading German historian Paul Carrel’s Unternehmen Barbarossa im Bild (Operation Barbarossa in Pictures) in which the text is in German and Max Boot’s The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale an the American Tragedy in Vietnam. 

I took on Carrel’s book because I had read many of his histories of the German Army in the Second World War in English and I wanted to use this large German volume to improve my German vocabulary. It’s an excellent volume first published in 1976 but unless you have a moderate familiarity of German it I don’t recommend it despite the vast number of photos that I have not seen elsewhere and his honest commentary and reflections on the moral, social, and political disaster that was Operation Barbarossa.

I also finished Max Boot’s outstanding volume of the life of General Edward Lansdale. This is really a good account of U.S. involvement in the Philippines and Vietnam from 1945 until 1975. Lansdale was deeply involved in one of the few successful counter-insurgencies of the 20th Century, that against the Communist supported Huks in the Philippines  by Lansdale who worked closely with political reformers and sought to understand and win over insurgents without engaging in massive military sweeps. However successful he was he was distrusted by much of the CIA and military establishment and his efforts in Vietnam were undercut by them. Boot treats Lansdale’s story well without attempting to hide his many flaws. Lansdale has been referred to as an American T. E. Lawrence and Boot gives an excellent account of his life in the context of the CIA, American actions in Indochina, and American politics in the from the mid 1950s until the early 1970s. The book is well worth the read.

On the Vietnam front I read the late Michael Herr’s Dispatches, his classic account of his time serving as a war correspondent in Vietnam at Hue, Khe San, and other battles over the course of 18 months. Having been to war I highly recommend it.

On the more contemporary American political situation I read conservative and former Bush Administration advisor, David Frum’s book on the Trump Era, Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic. It is well worth the read for anyone but I highly recommend that conservatives read it. I don’t always agree with some of Frum’s political positions, but his take on the corrosive effects of Donald Trump on the United States and how Republicans have aided and abetted him.

Continuing down that road I read Michael Isikoff and David Corn’s masterpiece of investigative journalism Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump. Trump loyalists will hate this book because their work continues to be verified by every new discovery about the Russians and their role in the 2016 elections. It gives the reader a superb understanding of the key players  in this drama and help the reader to put in context the daily revelations of the investigation being conducted by Special Prosecutor Robert Muller and the actions of the President’s words, actions, and policies toward Russia and Putin as well as when he melts down on Twitter. In time it might be ranked with All the President’s Men. 

As a matter of contextualizing the present I read the late historian Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land which was written following the collapse of 2008. Judt discusses how we have not learned the lessons of the Twentieth Century and the problems related to the failures of both the right and left to learn those lessons. It is well worth the read but it is not a book designed or written to comfort partisans on any side of the political spectrum.

Going back to look at history I took the time to read Walter Lord’s sequel to his classic book on the sinking of the Titanic, A Night to Remember by reading his book The Night Lives On: The Untold Stories and Secrets of the “Unsinkable” Ship – Titanic. The second volume was published some three decades after Lord’s first volume which I think is the best account of the event ever written.  To follow it up I ordered and watched the film A Night To Remember which was also well worth watching. While not as technically accurate nor filled with “A list” stars the film captures the the tragedy of the ship in a way I don’t think that James Cameron’s masterpiece Titanic really gets.

I re-read Lord’s book on the integration of Ol’e Miss The Past that Would Not Die which though it recounts events of 1962 seems amazingly relevant in the present day.  The account of the admission of Air Force veteran James Howard Meredith in the face of the political opposition of Mississippi’s Governor and Legislature, armed White Supremacists against Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and civil rights activists. The event was a crisis that brought to the present the memories and ideology of secession and revolt against the Federal Government and Constitution in the name of preserving a history of white supremacism. Likewise I also re-read British historian and military theorist B. H. Liddell Hart’s little book Why Don’t We Learn from History? 

I took up Jason Stanley’s excellent How Propaganda Works. This is an excellent book for academics but I do not recommend it for the casual reader because it presupposes a knowledge of political philosophy and history that most people don’t have. It was a long and tiring read for me and I liked it. It provides a lot of insights into the mechanics of propaganda. For me it gave me a different level of understanding of the propaganda being used by the Russians agains the United States and the machinations of the American President to discredit opponents through both official government pronouncements and the official unofficial White House propaganda network, Fox News.

I am currently reading a number of books. I am about a quarter of the way through John Dower’s The Bloody American Century, about a third of the way through Timothy Snyder’s The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America, and have just started Tony Judt’s Thinking the Twentieth Century and Ron Chernow’s biography of Ulysses S. Grant.

So anyway. Have a great night and see you tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Authoritarian String of Tricks: Learning from History

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been a bit under ten months since President Trump took the oath of office as President of the United States. Over that time his actions have been similar to other leaders of history who have gravitated towards authoritarian rule. Today I want to share the words of British military theorist and historian B.H. Liddell-Hart on what happens when authoritarian, or would be authoritarian leaders gain control of a government. His words, from his short, but profound book Why Don’t We Learn from History are worth the considered read for anyone with an open mind who can, despite the proliferation of propaganda can still see clearly. Liddell-Hart wrote:

They soon begin to rid themselves of their chief helpers, “discovering” that those who brought about the new order have suddenly become traitors to it.

They suppress criticism on one pretext or another and punish anyone who mentions facts which, however true, are unfavourable to their policy.

They enlist religion on their side, if possible, or, if its leaders are not compliant, foster a new kind of religion subservient to their ends.

They spend public money lavishly on material works of a striking kind, in compensation for the freedom of spirit and thought of which they have robbed the public.

They manipulate the currency to make the economic position of the state appear better than it is in reality.

They ultimately make war on some other state as a means of diverting attention from internal conditions and allowing discontent to explode outward.

They use the rallying cry of patriotism as a means of riveting the chains of their personal authority more firmly on the people.

They expand the superstructure of the state while undermining its foundations by breeding sycophants at the expense of self-respecting collaborators, by appealing to the popular taste for the grandiose and sensational instead of true values, and by fostering a romantic instead of a realistic view, thus ensuring the ultimate collapse, under their successors if not themselves, of what they have created.

This political confidence trick, itself a familiar string of tricks, has been repeated all down the ages. Yet it rarely fails to take in a fresh generation.

Yes it has been nearly ten months and one can see President Trump following the script of authoritarian rulers. So many of the things that the British historian and theorist noted are present in the actions, words, and policy of the President and his administration.

The book is worth the read.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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