Since I was so busy with more intense caregiving duties this summer, I mostly read light mysteries or other books that can be easily set down and picked up without losing concentration.
I did read Hitler’s Spies by David Kahn [Macmillan, 1978], which was a highly detailed and fascinating account of German intelligence-gathering history leading up to and focusing on WWII. The book is quite daunting. I read a lot of WWII non-fiction and it would be quite difficult to comprehend much of this book without a knowledge of Nazi personnel. There were many references to not only the Abwehr, the SS and the Gestapo but to Navy intelligence as well. Some of the technical details of radio use left me out in the cold but there were accounts of Nazi’s I knew but with added information I didn’t know. For example, I knew Reinhard Heydrich as a cold-blooded murderer and sadist but Kahn’s account is even more terrifying. The intimate accounts of the spies themselves were the most interesting, of course. Kahn basically concludes that much of the spying was ineffectual but little bits of info did aid the Nazi military in strategy and was occasionally powerful, as in the devastating theft of the American invention of the highly advanced Norden bomb sight for planes, which ended up not only American airplanes but in some Nazi airplanes as well. All in all, the book is a very good source of WW II history.
I accidently stumbled onto the ‘old strains’ when I decided to reread yet again the Dorothy Gilman Mrs Pollifax series. They’re enjoyable but worthy of a little mystery tension, and always occur on foreign lands, written with respect by an author open to other cultures and experiences. I began my reread quest with the first of the series, The Unexpected Mrs Pollifax, which spoke of the beauty of Albania from the perspective of a proud native patriot. Kosovo and the Serbs are mentioned in passing, a sad reminder of life before the carnage of war and ethnic cleansing. The villains were the Chinese and the Soviets, showing that leaders may be purged and nations may experience great upheavals but our relationships with them are essentially the same, Reset and Smart Diplomacy be damned.
In Mrs Pollifax Unveiled [Ballantine Books, 2000], a fictional pre-911 State Dept. diplomat observed of Syria: “Before Assad worked his way to the top, there were something like twenty coups” [….] Without him, Assad’s secular government could be taken over by Islamic radicals -which would alarm us very much – or Syria could be invaded by neighboring countries – which could alarm us even more. You’ll find the people themselves very friendly but never forget it’s a police state and completely under Assad’s control. ”
In Mrs Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha [Doubleday, 1985], the thesis centered on Nationalists Day, celebrated in October – wonder if those young Hong Kong protesters knew that – and the response of some Hong Kong residents that the British were negotiating with the Chinese mainland, not Taiwan, for the 1997 return. As a character notes, ” I daresay it could make for a bit of rage, seeing Hong Kong – the capitalist center of the Orient – being turned over to a country of communes and communism.” Spot on.
I reread Peace Kills by P J O’Rouke [Atlantic Monthly Press, 2004] for a few laughs but found it quite depressing, not only because of his views on Iraq but because of his sections on DC demonstrations, which cover lots of inane and inane topics were harbingers of today’s pro-Palestinians anti-Israel hatred. His observations on Egyptian Coptic Christians are especially poignant since they’re being wiped out – along with Jews and other Christians – all over the Middle East and Africa. Here’s an apt and funny quote to leave you on an upbeat note.
The United Nations Security Council offered a weak and vacillating response to Iraqi provocations. This timidity undermined the power and prestige of the UN – to the profound relief of all thinking people. A potent and esteemed United Nations would be in danger of evolving into a true world government.