Sunday, January 19, 2014

Wiretapping and Freedom and MLK

Review by Bill Doughty

"For students of freedom and teachers of history"

That's the dedication for Taylor Branch's 2013 "The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement," a book of highlights of his MLK trilogy. 
"The King Years" offers highlights of "Parting the Waters," "Pillars of Fire" and "At Canaan's Edge," in which the Pulitzer Prize-winning Branch presents the definitive history of America's civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s through the life of its chief architect, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Branch recognizes the limitations due to brevity in his 18 historical turning points from the 1954-1968 era represented in "The King Years."  Despite the "hybrid framework," as Branch calls it, the book is essential to anyone who wants to understand King's influence but who doesn't have time to read 2,306 pages that took Branch 24 years to write.
"Our goal in this edition is to convey both the spirit and sweep of an extraordinary movement.  Newer generations will find here the gist of a patriotic struggle in which the civil rights pioneers, like modern Founders, moved an inherited world of hierarchy and subjugation toward common citizenship.  Others can recall vivid triumph and tragedy at the heart of national purpose for the United States, whose enduring story is freedom.  The unvarnished history should resist fearful tides to diminish that story.  Above all, the King years should serve as a bracing reminder that citizens and leaders can work miracles together despite every hardship, against all odds."
Dr. King in Birmingham jail, 1967.
King's story begins in 1954, sixty years ago this year, the same year as the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown vs. Board of Education against school segregation.

From Montgomery to Nashville, Birmingham to Selma, with a requiem in Memphis, "The King Years" focuses on crossroads largely between Alabama and Tennessee -- with Birmingham at the center. 

"Birmingham had suddenly changed King from a tireless drone on the speaking circuit to the star of a swarming hive," Branch writes.  The author also makes stops in Mississippi, Chicago, Cow Palace, Atlantic City, Oslo and Vietnam.

The book explores the Dr. King's relationships with close advisors, religious leaders, politicians including LBJ, and government officials, notably J. Edgar Hoover who investigated King as a suspected communist.  He shows how FBI wiretapping contributed to "twisting every motive and circumstance ... spreading false information" in order to breed confusion, resentment and mistrust.
Who was listening?
More detail and context are described in the long historical narrative of Branch's trilogy.  For example -- from "Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963":
"There was more to Hoover's reaction than either his hostility to communism or his prejudice against Negroes, both of which were strong.  Above all else, the Director was a consummate bureaucrat, sensitive to deep historical tides.  Twenty years earlier, the FBI had mushroomed in size to guard against Nazi espionage.  From a mid-Depression force of fewer than five hundred agents, the Bureau had more than tripled by Pearl Harbor, then tripled again by D-Day.  Hoover never needed further education on the advantages of an intelligence agency over a law enforcement department.  An intelligence agency enjoyed greater prestige, less danger of public failure, greater freedom and power through the mystique of secrecy, and an enhanced role for shaping national values and symbols.  To avoid postwar retrenchment at the FBI, he fought a protracted bureaucratic war to become chief of the new worldwide intelligence apparatus -- even though he spoke no foreign languages and never then or later set foot outside the United States.  On losing out finally to the newly created CIA, a vengeful Hoover had extracted from President Truman a major consolation prize: responsibility for 'background checks' and other loyalty investigations of federal employees.  Such work not only sustained the Bureau's manpower levels through the McCarthy era but vastly increased Hoover's political influence as the defender and oracle of domestic security."
J. Edgar Hoover advises President Richard Nixon.
"The King Years" doesn't include mention of the National Security Agency's Project Minaret, a surveillance initiative in the late 60s against MLK and other nonviolent activists and Vietnam protesters. Secret information about NSA's Project Minaret was revealed by the Church Commission and reported in recent months by PBS Frontline and George Washington University.

Taylor Branch concludes with an ode to the global legacy of nonviolence from "At Canaan's Edge."
"A paradox remains.  Statecraft is still preoccupied with the levers of spies and force, even though two centuries of increasingly lethal 'total war' since Napoleon suggest a diminishing power of violence to sustain governance in the modern world. Military leaders themselves often stress the political limits  Military leaders themselves often stress the political limits of warfare, but politics is slow to recognize the glaring impact of nonviolent power.  In 1987, students spilling into the streets of South Korea compelled a dictator to respect a permanent structure for elections.  In 1989, the Soviet empire suddenly dissolved in a velvet revolution of dockworkers' strikes and choruses of 'We Shall Overcome' at the dismantled Berlin Wall.  There was no warning from experts, nor any hint of the nuclear cataclysm long prepared for and dreaded.  That same year, Chinese students inspired the world from Tiananmen Square with nonviolent demonstrations modeled on the sit-ins, planting seeds of democracy in the authoritarian shell of Communist control.  In 1990, Nelson Mandela emerged from twenty-seven years in prison to a Cape Town Balcony, where he destroyed the iron rule of apartheid not with Armageddon's revenge but a plea for hopeful consent: 'Universal suffrage on a common voters' roll in a united, democratic, and non-racial South Africa is the only way to peace and racial harmony."
Branch's dedication at the beginning of "The King Years" -- "For students of freedom and teachers of history" -- explicitly highlights the importance of education in promoting freedom and democracy, principles the Navy defends around the world.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Kennedy/Lincoln Link to Mandela

Review by Bill Doughty

Fifty years ago -- Jan. 14, 1964 -- JFK's former top advisor, still grieving from Kennedy's assassination, walked into the Oval Office with his formal letter of resignation to President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Ted Sorensen was a top advisor and writer for Senator-then-President John F. Kennedy.  His 2008 autobiography "Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History" is a remarkable behind-the-scenes look at successes and failures in the 1950s and 60s.  Sorensen discusses his role in helping write the former naval officer's "Profiles in Courage" and discusses Lincoln, Civil Rights, Cuban Missile Crisis, LBJ, Nixon, MLK, Vietnam and Nelson Mandela, among other subjects.

Historians consider him to be not at the edge but at the center of history.  He drafted speeches to the nation, wrote articles for the president for influential publications and penned influential correspondence to Soviet Union's leader Nikita Khruschchev.  He was at the heart of the crisis (Cuba) that brought our nation the closest it may have ever been to nuclear war.
Sorensen siblings read Life magazine at home in Lincoln, Nebraska; Ted at left.
Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, Sorensen attended college at the University of Nebraska with contemporary Johnny Carson (Malcolm X was another Nebraskan he mentions in "Counselor").  

Sorensen reflects, "I have occasionally wondered: Can a political career be affected by the name of one's hometown? Hope? Independence?  What I do know is that growing up in a city named for Abraham Lincoln, whose stately statue stood by the state capitol n front of a wall on which his Gettysburg Address was inscribed, intensified my interest in the man, his life, and his speeches -- speeches I have been quoting ever since."

He writes in depth about his relationship with John F. Kennedy and the Kennedy family, including Robert F. Kennedy, Edward "Ted" Kennedy and father Joseph P. Kennedy.

In a chapter titled "My Perspective on JFK's Personal Life," Sorensen discusses JFK's virtues, including his service in the Navy as a "WWII combat hero in the Pacific," and vices, including reports of his infidelity.  "Once he became a popular national figure, enough men claimed to have serve on his little PT boat with him to have staffed a battleship ... and after his death, enough women claimed to have gone to bed with him to have left him time and energy for little else."

Sorensen writes of his role and arrangement  with JFK in producing the Pulitzer Prize winning "Profiles in Courage," featured recently here on Navy Reads.

As for Kennedy's own profile in courage, Sorensen says the failure to vote and speak out in a censure of fear monger Senator Joe McCarthy was the only lasting stain on JFK's and his political record.

After JFK's death Sorensen was unable to resolve his ambivalence about supporting President Johnson.  He says he was grateful that Johnson carried on Kennedy's fight for civil rights but profoundly disappointed about another key decision that affected history for decades.
Ted Sorensen in the White House.
"I felt an immense sympathy, almost pity, for the man who had fought the good fight against poverty and racial injustice, who had pushed through so much important legislation for those who, in the end, had turned against him.  then I thought of the tens of thousands of young Americans he had needlessly sent into an escalating war in Vietnam, and all the innocent civilians killed by the tons of American bombs he dropped on the North Vietnamese without breaking their will to battle for independence, and all the federal health and housing programs that had been financially starved because of that war -- and I could not find it in my heart to utter more than a few words of routine praise and gratitude for Lyndon B. Johnson.  For all his brilliant successes, I would always revere the tragically abbreviated thousand days of John F. Kennedy's New Frontier far more than the nearly two thousand days of war and waste in Johnson's Great Society."
After leaving federal service, Sorensen worked for a private legal firm, where in 1993 he met the head of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela.  Then, 20 years ago he took a New Year's to New York on an Irish businessman's private jet, where he talked to "Madiba" about celebrity-social issues, opinions about de Klerk and Mandela's personal-family issues.
"On our flight back to New York on O'Reilly's private jet, Mandela and I had a long, wide-ranging conversation, discussing everything from Jackie Onassis and Elizabeth Taylor (both of whom impressed him), to the singer Michael Jackson (was he guilty of sex abuse charges? Mandela asked), to his twenty-seven years' imprisonment and his family life ... He liked George H. W. Bush, who he said was the first head of state to call him upon his release from prison; but he had no regard for Ronald Reagan, who had once alleged that there was no true believer in democracy in Africa, then later amended that to say he had met one -- Zulu chief Mangosuthu G. Buthelezi, Mandela's principal rival, who, Mandela believed, sought guaranteed regional rule without being elected to the post and without cooperating with those who were elected."
Sen. Ted Kennedy presents a bust of JFK to Nelson Mandela, Boston 1990.
Published just two years prior to his death and well after the passing of principals JFK, First Lady Jackie Onassis, LBJ and others, Sorensen writes with the freedom of someone unconstrained to share his opinions -- at the edge or center of history.

In the book's epilogue, he writes:
"...half a century ago, John F. Kennedy showed in fewer than thousand days how quickly our country's role in the world can be changed for the better.  Ultimately, I predict, the American people will grow sick of cynically corrupt political hypocrisy and turn on those who permit our security and international standing to erode, our environment to be despoiled, our fiscal problems to worsen, and our energy independence to wither.  In time, they will return once again to the idealism of the New Frontier."
Ted Sorensen died in 2010. To the end he remained hopeful. He believed in equality. Like military leaders he said he admired most -- General Maxwell, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt and General Wesley Clark -- he believed in responsible use of military power.  He left a record of opening gates, building bridges and keeping faith in the future for a freer, more peaceful and safer world.

Sorensen concludes:
"I'm still an optimist.  I still believe that extraordinary leaders can be found and elected, that future dangers can be confronted and resolved, that people are essentially good and ultimately right in their judgments.  I still believe that a world of law is waiting to emerge, enshrining peace and freedom throughout the world.  I still believe that the mildest and most obscure of Americans can be rescued from oblivion by good luck sudden changes in fortune, sudden encounters with heroes."
He concludes, "I believe it because I lived it."

Sunday, January 5, 2014

How John McCain Sees Character, Destiny

Review by Bill Doughty

Complex and complicated, Senator John McCain -- son and grandson of admirals, former U.S. Navy pilot and Vietnam Prisoner of War -- thanks his mother with helping develop his character and credits his father with giving him the gift of conscience.  "I don't think there is anything greater a parent can do for you," he writes.

"Character is Destiny" John McCain and Mark Salter is subtitled, "Inspiring Stories Every Young Person Should Know and Every Adult Should Remember."  Random House published the book in 2005 as one of three bestsellers by the authors that "may be their most influential and enduring book yet."

McCain introduces his mother, Roberta McCain, "raised to be a strong, determined woman who thoroughly enjoyed life, and always tried to make the most of of her opportunities."  He praises her curiosity, courtesy and humility.

McCain's grandfather and father in World War II.
He writes of the integrity and "demands of his conscience" of his father, John S. McCain Jr., former Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Command (CINCPAC), in the face of difficult choices.
"He fought in three wars [including WWII and Korea], and in his last war, Vietnam, he commanded all our country's forces in the Pacific, including those who fought in Vietnam.  I am his oldest son and namesake, and I fought under his command.  For several years I was held as a prisoner of war in the enemy's capital, the city of Hanoi.  When the president of the United States [Richard Nixon] and his advisors decided to try to shorten the war by bombing Hanoi, it was my father's duty to order it done.
President Nixon meets McCain.
"The planes that flew to Hanoi on his orders were B-52s.  They were the largest bombers in the air force.  They could carry the largest and the most bombs.  They flew at high altitudes, but unlike those aircraft used by our air force today, they did not have the technology to be very accurate in their targeting.  The pilots knew Americans were being held captive near their targets.  So did the man who commanded them, my father.  he knew where I was, and he loved me.  He prayed on his knees every day for my safe return.  Whenever he visited his soldiers in Vietnam, he would end his day by walking to the northern end of the base and standing quietly alone, looking toward the place where his son was held.  But his conscience required him to do his duty, and his duty required him to risk his son's life.  And so he did."
McCain meets with President Barack Obama to discuss Syria.
"Character is Destiny" is filled with short biographies arranged in seven parts -- Honor, Purpose, Strength, Understanding, Judgment, Creativity and Love.  Each profile is preceded by a quality of character.  For example: Respect - Gandhi, Self-Contol - George Washington, Dignity - Viktor Frankl, Resilience - Abraham Lincoln, Discernment - Leonardo da Vinci, Enthusiasm - Theodore Roosevelt, and Selflessness and Contentment - Mother Teresa.

In Part Five, Judgment, McCain chooses a diverse group to illustrate qualities of fairness, humility, gratitude, humor and courtesy:  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dwight D. Eisenhower, Tecumseh, Mark Twain and Aung San Suu Kyi.

McCain showcases the citizenship of Pat Tillman, former Arizona State and NFL Arizona Cardinals football player, who, along with his brother Kevin, was moved to join the Army Rangers in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001.  About the brothers, McCain writes:
"They intentionally refused to talk about their decision.  They shunned all publicity.  They refused all requests for interviews ... They were special, but no more special than the Americans they served with.  But their modesty, as much as their sacrifice, taught us the first lesson of patriotism.  Patriotism is a lot more than flag waving or singing the anthem at ball games.  Patriotism is the recognition that each of us is just one small part of a cause that is greater than ourselves, one small part, but a part we are honor bound to play.  America is dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, and have an equal right to freedom and justice. That is our cause: to prove the truth of that proposition.  And that cause is far more important than the ambitions and desires of any individual."
Pat Tillman, in a photo illustration on Reddit.
Tragically, Pat Tillman was killed on a mountainside in Afghanistan, and the murky circumstances of how he was killed -- and how his death was reported -- compound the tragedy.  The full story can be read in the 2010 bestseller by Jon Krakauer, "Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman."  Krakauer, a favorite author of Tillman, brings out the essence of Tillman's character and intelligence.  

Tillman's honor, courage and commitment mirror that of Navy SEAL Michael Murphy, whose heroism is portrayed in "Lone Survivor" and chronicled in Gary Williams's "SEAL of Honor: Operation Red Wings and the Life of Michael P. Murphy, USN."

McCain's book about "remarkable people who chose well" implies how important it is to make good choices and to have the freedom to make those choices.

Frankl's "Man's Search For Meaning" is "considered by many to be one of the most important books of our time."  Even in the face of death under Nazi persecution Frankl had the power of choice -- to be good or bad.

McCain calls William Shakespeare "the greatest writer in the English language" and quotes several passages, including a father-to-son quote in "Hamlet":  "This above all: to thine ownself be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou cannot then be false to any man."

McCain writes, "In other words, being true to our conscience, being honest with ourselves, will determine the character of our relations with others.  That is the concise definition of integrity."

Another Shakespeare quote shared, this one from "Henry V": "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.  For he today that sheds his blood for me shall be my brother."

In "Tolerance: The Four Chaplains," McCain writes of the sinking of U.S. Army troop transport ship USAT Dorchester in World War II and the four Christian and Jewish chaplains who helped others escape before going down with the ship.

McCain writes about the brilliance of da Vinci, an artist "without any equal"; of Twain: "The Great American Novel was published in 1885 ... 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn'"; and of Darwin, who explained "the theory of natural selection, the key to the mystery of mysteries."  Darwin's "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection" is listed as a source.

"Character is Destiny" lacks an index.  Its glossary of sources is slim and includes references such as Wikipedia and numerous .com and .org sites, "readily recommended."

The authors also highly recommend books for children and parents alike. 
Lt. j.g. John McCain and his parents in 1961.

"Happily, reading books remains among the most satisfying of experiences.  As a means of transporting us into other lives and times, they still have no equal," McCain and Salter write.

Reporter Mark Leibovich, New York Times magazine’s chief national correspondent and the author of “This Town,” wrote a recent in-depth piece, "How John McCain turned his cliche's into meaning," with cooperation of McCain and including an interview with daughter Meghan McCain and friend Senator Lindsey Graham.  Leibovich's story touches on some of the points and principles raised by McCain and Salter in "Character is Destiny."