Friday, November 17, 2017

Al Franken Reconsidered

Compadres Universally,

First, a few words to update.  Everything after this paragraph was composed several weeks ago, when Senator Al Franken was charged by Leeann Tweeden with having menaced her celebrated breasts by posing his cupped fingers above them while being photographed in 2006 on a USO tour.  Franken, a reliable Minnesota liberal, was abruptly under pressure to resign for what seemed at worst an effort to clown around in very bad taste.  Since then, other such incidents involving Franken have become public and on January 2, 2018 he resigned, brought down by a wave of feminist anger which -- in many cases -- may well have been overdue.  Se please read what I wrote several weeks ago:

I know, I issued one of these hypercharged blogs recently, but hear me out with this.  Indignation sparks my creative demons, and public events recently have me jumping around psychologically.

The trigger this week is the brouhaha over Senator Al Franken.  I'd better confess at the outset that I probably tend to identify with Franken, not only his liberal politics but unavoidably his background.  Like Franken, I grew up in the Jewish community of Minneapolis and prepped at Blake, a country day school just outside neighboring  Hopkins, Episcopalian in its orientation and so rigorous that four years at Harvard afterwards seemed like a vacation.  Only Deerfield outranked the place academically among prep schools while I was around.

After establishing a national reputation on Saturday Night Live as a comedian and social commentator, Franken ran for a Senate seat and quickly took his place as a civilized liberal and a telling skeptic when it came to the incoming president Trump.  Now, in the midst of the firestorm around the decades-long performance of Judge Roy Moore as a supposed assaulter of Alabama  teenage girls, the model and sportscaster Leeann Tweeden has charged Franken with having kissed her -- as the script they were using during a USO tour in Kuwait in 2006 while he was still a comedian would require -- and Franken appears to have slipped her a little tongue.  Later, while she was sleeping, Franked had a picture taken of Tweeden, fully dressed, with Franken's hands cupped over her breasts and later sent it to her.  A memento, something funny.

The whole exchange strikes me as the kind of episode that might have happened toward the end of a junior high school Halloween party, but Tweeden -- a onetime Hooters hostess and spokesperson who characterizes herself as a "fiscal conservative" and voted twice for George W. Bush as well as appearing as a fitness model in Playboy and later appearing in a "nude pictorial" (details courtesy of Wikipedia) --  Tweeden claims that the indignity she suffered at Franken's hands has finally become insupportable.  In what reeks of another misdirection maneuver by the Trump handlers, Tweeden went public yesterday after eleven years with the details of the French kiss to which she had been subjected.  Out with it, The Horror, The Horror!!!!

OK, Franken got carried away, he acted badly, he has already 'fessed up.  What concerns me is the extent to which a kind of hard-core retroactive feminism can be misused to undermine an important career.  Roy Moore has a history of dozens of abuses.  Al Franken slipped up and did something most fair-minded women would probably consider objectionable but relatively harmless.  After five decades as a regular in Edward Kennedy's entourage and his principal biographer -- see my Edward Kennedy, an Intimate Biography -- I have had a look at womanizing.  As the acknowledged Lion of the Senate, Kennedy's lifetime of invaluable contributions to our system of laws stands as a memorial we might not have survived without his daily, grinding effort.  We miss him today.

 Al Franken deserves his run at history

Burton Hersh

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Blowing the Trumpet

Fellow Survivors,

These are perilous times.  In part because they are hard to figure, hard to follow.  Who else but Tubs -- I like to think of him as Tubby the Draftdodger -- would pack his White House with unapoligetically Jewish Goldman-Sachs bigwigs like Steve Mnuchin and Gary Cohn after excoriating Hillary for taking a stipend for a speech at Goldman's while simultaneously depending for strategy on so outspoken a bigot and racist as Steve Bannon?  Perhaps Bannon's tremendous gut aroused an irresistible fellow feeling. But then surrounding himself with strong-minded generals who are guaranteed to bristle each time Tubs lathers over in response to his adolescent counterpart in North Korea?

The contradictions keep piling in.  Never having watched The Apprentice, I found myself confused when Trump first burst into prominence during the primaries.  To me he seemed like an overstimulated Borscht Belt comedian, a clown whose routines would normally have been abandoned with the passing of Prohibition.  To Tubs John McCain looked like another quitter who, shot down, let a broken back compromise his sense of duty by surrendering to the North Vietnamese.  This from a Manhattan playboy who worked the deferment racket as long as he could, then claimed bone spurs would invalidate his service -- Trump seems to have trouble remembering which foot justified his exemption.

Each time Trump rants away at Arlington Cemetery it gives me a sharp pain in my universally beloved keester.  Having served myself -- one very cold winter, temporarily an Acting Sergeant, I ran a mobile radio station just across the Czech border; the heavy guns of Russian artillery and tanks woke me up each morning in my sleeping bag in the snow.  We were the tripwire in case of a Soviet invasion.  When his turn came, Donald Trump was too busy groping the interns to take his chances.   McCain, in one recent aside, couldn't resist referring to bone spurs as a problem for all true patriots.

Equally galling to me has been Trump's insistence on rescinding all the environmental regulations Obama left in place.  Virtually his first executive order authorized the dumping of carcinogenic coal slag into rivers and lakes, and chemicals long demonstrated to trigger cancers are again freely distributed by greedy manufacturers.  My recent trilogy, the Landau saga, digs imaginatively into big-league corporate malfeasance and terrifying environmental violations, in Cuba and Costa Rica and finally on the Comanche reservation in Oklahoma.  Heart-stopping stuff, according to Amazon readers, who have boosted the first novel -- The Hedge Fund -- into the top thirty books in its category for sales.  All available digitally; the first book, The Hedge Fund, you can get free. To assure  that you are properly hooked.

One last note.  The government is finally releasing the documents pertaining to the assassination of Jack Kennedy.  As readers of my book Bobby and J. Edgar know, I found compelling evidence that Kennedy was killed by the Chicago Outfit and elements of the CIA consequent to a conspiracy, and not by Oswald.  See Chapter Nineteen.  A careful investigation over several years by a Select Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives directed by Notre Dame professor Bob Blakey also determined that there were several shooters -- there was indeed a conspiracy, and probably not involving Oswald.  A recent court case reveals that Oswald never reached Mexico City and so he never actually threatened the president, as his wife insisted. He had no powder burns on his cheek or hands when he was grabbed in the Texas Theater by Federal Marshals, and so could not have fired a weapon.  Read Bob and Ed.  Now we will see what the newly-released documents indicate. This cover-up has outlived its usefulness.

But enough indignation for one session.  Have a gratifying Thanksgiving.

Burton Hersh

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Leaving Ken Burns Behind

Followers and Leaders,

Our world turns.  Leaving the Ken Burns documentary about Viet Nam behind stirs memories.  For me, well into my thirties as the war played out endlessly, a lot of what happened was immediate, personal.  I remember emerging from a Chinese restaurant in Cambridge, Mass. with Doris Kearns -- she was still a graduate student, not yet a Goodwin --  to find the streets in riot during an anti-war rally.  A phalanx of cops in black raincoats and gas masks were releasing a cloud of tear gas to calm the citizens down; Doris and I crawled on our bellies for at least a block to locate our cars.  The "Pogo Riot"! 

Those days I was running around piecing together my first book about Ted Kennedy.  Bobby, no doubt conditioned by his years working for family friend Joe McCarthy and all the recriminations about "losing China" during the Fifties and heavily influenced by General Maxwell Taylor, had pushed for troop involvement and was tagged around the government as "Mister. Counterinsurgency."   JFK had wavered.  Ted was already unreservedly opposed to our involvement, and in time hung an amendment onto a sure-fire piece of legislation that effectively ended the deferment racket by means of which rich kids stayed in school or produced overnight families to evade the draft. This provision alone had a lot to do with our ultimate withdrawal.  Viet Nam was never a preferred destination for the country club crowd.  I remember several heated exchanges with Ted and his cousin Joey Gargan over drinks between campaign stops over how in God's name to extract ourselves from this quagmire.

Individuals I had known well at Harvard were embroiled.  I was surprised that Burns had largely skipped over the flareups produced when David Halberstam kept on detailing in The New York Times how the Diem regime was hounding Buddhists, leading to the infamous "Buddhist barbecues" once individual martyrs started to immolate themselves in protest against the iron-fisted Catholic newcomers controlling the south..  Within months unhappy Buddhists were forming the cadre of the Viet Cong.  When CIA analyst Sam Adams -- a good friend of mine in college -- went to the mat on national television with General Westmoreland over how many Viet Cong there were in country -- Adams estimated that there were several times the number official U.S. Army numbers projected -- Adams was forced out of the Agency.  "Adams had it right, of course, but none of us intended to march over to the White House and lay anything like that on Lyndon," Richard Helms, CIA operations chief at the time and later the director, explained to me years later.  "If Adams was correct we would need to at least double the troop deployment over there, and everybody knew that was not politically feasible."

Very little of that seemed to get into Burns' documentary, although there has survived plenty of television footage  and press conference takeouts to demonstrate the lethal politics that poisoned those miserable years.  The impact of Gene McCarthy and Allard Lowenstein and even Sarge Shriver -- who is dismissed as George McGovern's incompetent running-mate -- remain unexplored.  In time individuals were forced to double back and quietly expunge their own positions.  I once asked Frank Mankiewicz, Robert Kennedy's companion when he was campaigning out West for the Democratic nomination for president in 1968, how Bobby of all people turned into such a ferocious dove.  "Mostly a political decision," Mankiewicz was willing to admit.  "Nothing else could possibly have beaten Lyndon."  Meanwhile, so many had died pointlessly and so many, many others came home broken.  Along with his endless patchwork of personal reminiscences by working-class survivors of both cultures, a sophisticated editorial confrontation of the savage geopolitical battles of the period might well have lifted Burns' work to a much wider significance.                                                                 
Most likely it doesn't pay to live in the past.  But it is ruinous to ignore it.

Cheers, whatever.

Burton Hersh 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Stalwarts everywhere,

Again, back in New Hampshire.  The trolls have scrapped the format of my earlier e-mail link over the winter; this is a new site, Fresh History, which I hope gets to you all through the ever-talented ministrations of George Pequignot.

As Donald Trump buddies up with Vladimir Putin in Hamburg I keep hearing reverberations of 1945, when Joseph Stalin and the ailing FDR laid out the parameters of postwar Europe in 1945 at Yalta.  Meanwhile, a British scientist under KGB control in Los Alamos, Klaus Fuchs, was filling his notebook with the critical formulas and emerging technology that would permit the Soviet Union to come up with an atomic bomb of their own months after Hiroshima.  In D.C., Alger Hiss was reassuring the liberals around Roosevelt.

Just now the primary dupe in Washington would seem to be the president himself, whose gratitude is only too plain for the timely nudges the Russians provided his hapless campaign that helped him stumble through to a sort of victory.  Surviving Cold Warriors in Washington, alarmed at Trump's reference to NATO as obsolete and beyond skeptical about the wily Putin, are alarmed that Trump might be quite capable of feeding Eastern Europe into the meatgrinder of his own ever-famished self-esteem.  What they seem to be missing is the largely ignored recognition throughout the ex-Communist bloc that too ambitious a territorial engorgement usually leads to a cosmic bellyache.

Perhaps the first president to comprehend this was Richard Nixon.  Universally reviled at the moment in the aftermath of Watergate, perhaps Nixon ought to be reconsidered as the author of much of the progressive legislation Donald Trump and his crew of reactionary sellouts are in such a hurry to scrap, from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO, Bob Kennedy's inspiration) and the Witness Protection legislation that led to the breakup of the Mafia.  Having recognized the hopelessness of the misbegotten struggle in Viet Nam, Nixon sent my friend Maurice Williams to China to sound out Mao and open the way to the Paris Peace Talks.  Williams would remember Richard Nixon as the most intelligent among the several presidents for whom he undertook troubleshooting missions.  Nixon understood that the war was a burden to the Chinese too.  Soon afterwards Henry Kissinger had pressured the Soviets out of Egypt and the Middle East.

When positioning ourselves vis-a-vis today's Russia, we ought to keep in mind just how the Russian state that Putin has taken over turned into what it is.  General John Reppert, a St. Petersburg friend who found himself the primary Russian-language translator for our military delegation in Moscow during the Gorbashev years, has filled me in on details that don't seem to be commonly available.  The Reagan administration's breakthroughs in Star War technology left Russian scientists stunned, at least a generation behind. More immediately, the essential realization that the Comintern appear to have absorbed was that empire and great power status had now become intolerably expensive.  That led to the release of the Soviet grip on the East Bloc -- Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, finally -- with misgivings -- the DDR.  But even the fourteen secondary republics that made up the USSR seemed to cost a lot more than they contributed, and by 1991, rather abruptly, the Supreme Soviet under Gorbashev's rather shaky leadership had cut them all loose.  Containment had paid off in a major -- and unexpected -- way!

In many quarters -- certainly among old KGB hands -- this was a blunder that Putin would not scruple to label treason.  Much of the old Russia's industry was located in largely Russian-speaking Ukraine.  The Crimea was Russia's primary port on the Black Sea, vital to both commerce and the Russian navy.  With its faltering Third-World economy, dependent largely on oil exports, Russia had pretty much eviscerated itself, and its ruling oligarchy was subject to acute sellers' remorse.  Putin would attempt a recovery.

Having themselves briefly abandoned Great Power Status, the Russians are now attempting to
recoup.  How far they get is going to depend on us.

Cheers, as always,


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Russia Again

Beloved Followers,

I know.  Months have passed.  It has been a long winter here in Florida.  My major accomplishment seems to have been the repackaging of the first novel of The Landau Trilogy, The Hedge Fund, with new covers and a very readable format.  Available on Amazon Books, at Haslam's in St. Petersburg, around the struggling planet.  The two successor volumes, Wet Work and Comanche Country, are also available on Amazon even as we work on final details.  One reader responded to The Hedge Fund by observing that he got so excited as he read that he was afraid the cops would move in and arrest him. Get the novel and see how you feel.

Another reason I haven't been writing these blogs is that the conventional media, from the on-air comedians to CNN to The New York Times to The Washington Post have been covering the early months of the Trump presidency so comprehensively, so acutely, that nobody seemed to need me.  It did surprise me that outrage and astonishment are so general here at Moscow's involvement in our affairs.  This has been standard operating procedure probably since the Thirties.  In 1992 Scribners published a book of mine, The Old Boys: The American Elite and the Origins of the CIA, that tracked in detail the involvement of Carmel Offie and Frank Wisner, the socialite director of operations in the early Agency.  Wily and utterly self-serving, it would become clear afterwards that Offie was under the control of the KGB all along.  Throughout those same Cold-War years, as Richard Helms confided to me during several long interviews, most of the information the CIA was processing came through the headquarters of General Reinhard Gehlen, once Hitler's intelligence chief and subsequently our pick to handle secrets for the Bundesrepublik.  Gehlen, as it developed, was completely penetrated by the KGB.

At Richard Helms' insistence I managed to corner James Critchfield, who had been the CIA officer posted in Gehlen's Apparat in Bonn.  Critchfield spoke no German, and a lot that was going on clearly went by him.  Definitely an inside operator, Critchfield would reappear in my book Bobby and J. Edgar for having been spotted, reportedly, both in Dealey Plaza and later in the basement of the Ambassador Hotel the evening Bob Kennedy was murdered.

One week in 1997 I joined a group of perhaps a dozen American writers on intelligence as the guests of the KGB retirees association in Moscow.  Over discussions at dinner I discovered that these Soviet spymasters were more than conversant with all these background details.  Intelligence stalwarts around Langley were not, and were shocked when The Old Boys appeared.  Currently, however, it is on the must-read list there for officers-in-training.

So Russian intelligence has been interested and involved in our business for quite a while.  That they would land on Donald Trump, with his many bankruptcies, cannot be much of a surprise.  Given The Donald's devouring feelings of inadequacy, how could they go wrong?

Meanwhile, the rest of us mostly lie there like an unwilling patient whose appendix is about to burst.

Cheers.  Burton Hersh

Monday, December 12, 2016

Fellow Commandantes,

It has been a while -- a heartbreaking while -- since our last blog.  Internet availabilities in New Hampshire are unreliable and intermittent, and until recently I was submerged imaginatively in drafting a new novel, Treacherous Intimacies, which its few literary readers insist is going to take its place quickly as the American Madame Bovary.  Several publishers are looking it over at the moment.  When it is out there, you will know.

Another reason I have laid back throughout the summer was the fact that The New York Times seemed to be letting the sawdust out of Donald Trump and the sociological renegades lunging along behind his banner, so why me too?  Trump had no shot, I assumed, although Hillary seemed to me to be presenting herself in less than compelling fashion -- smug, by-passing the rust belt, where all those unhappy white laid-off workers might decide the election, belting forth liberal cliches in that strident, grating voice.  Her basket of deplorables?  A worse put-down of voters she would need than Mitt Romney's 47%  freeloaders aside.  I will not mention the pantssuits.   Early in the Clinton administration I had been in the room when Hillary and her sidekick Ira Magaziner blundered into the process of drafting a bill for effective universal medical coverage, which Ted Kennedy and Jay Rockefeller had well in hand, and left the entire initiative in shreds for a generation.  What had four years as Secretary of State produced?  Still, compared with the prospects for a Trump regime....?

With the Trump takeover less than a month from now I find my apprehensions even deeper than I expected.  Most alarming to me is the recurring evidence that several of those presumptuous youngsters advising Trump expect to continue waging their war on reality  As the lead editorial in yesterday's New York Times pointed up, Trump and his people don't merely challenge unwelcome information.  "There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, as facts," one of them asserted.

Ours is a science and technology-based civilization, which means that pretty much everything that we are and manage to accomplish is based on measurable reality, empirical facts.  Epistemology permits our engine to run.  To abandon this requirement in favor of whatever happens to serve Donald Trump's momentary purposes amounts to cultural suicide.  How this works out was displayed in the dictatorships of the last century, when the likes of Hitler insisted that Germany would rule the world if only she exterminated her Jews.  The Slavs?  Degenerate primitives, incapable of a reliable technology -- until an ocean of Soviet T-34 tanks rolled over the Panzer Divisions at Kursk and crushed the Third Reich.

Donald Trump brings to our politics the same ominous pattern of self-delusion.  Climate change?  A hoax.  The evidence that more Mexicans have left the United States during the last ten years over the Rio Grande than have stolen across?  Poppycock, build that wall!

Nothing guides us better than the truth.  Nothing guarantees failure like self-deception.  We have now taken the bait, and we are about to start paying the price.

Keep every flag flying.  This too shall pass.

Burton Hersh

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Trump Sunami


I know, another blast on the Trumpet.  But when will we have another target like this -- bloated, cock-sure, catastrophe in a cap?  Bear with.

I wish I could feel a little more honest resentment, but it is very hard for me to write off entirely the figure who introduced the term "pussy" to our political discourse.  Somebody really new, an utterly fresh presentation, if you can stand the smell.

The fact is, Trump is pretty largely what both parties deserve.  The years of starving out education, overpaying a handful of plungers while deflation eroded the blue-collar community, sitting on the minimum wage, permitting bankers to feast on brutally high interest payments crippling the newly-educated poor -- what had the gentility expected?  They created this dumb-ass electorate, why shouldn't it take the government away from the greedy and the privileged?

Bernie Sanders may be exhorting the masses to take the government back and parcel out the benefits, but it is Donald Trump who is cannibalizing the established parties.  By bringing up the issue of trade, the results of exporting so much of American manufacturing consequent to NAFTA and the subsequent agreements during the Clinton presidency, Trump nails Bob Rubin and the policymakers of the nineties. Why was Glass-Steagall abandoned, derivatives and credit default swaps conceded to the unscrupulous bankers around Bill and Hillary Clinton, three-strikes-and-out instituted to control the unrepentant blacks in the streets, welfare slashed  -- whatever it seemed to take to propitiate the rising Democratic elite?

After which Trump  rounds on the Republicans.  What about the heretofore unmentionable blundering into Iraq, the broken bodies and wasted trillions of dollars resulting from that misbegotten oil-grab?  Where was our intelligence community when those Muslim volunteers were learning to fly into the World Trade Center?  When do we start to penalize the corporations that ship their jobs and profits overseas and duck American taxes while Detroit goes dark?

Trump is definitely a primitive.  If there were history and government courses at Wharton when he was gracing the institution Trump obviously stayed away. To call his grasp of  the Geneva Conventions and parliamentary procedure shaky would amount to a cover-up.  Challenge Trump one time too many about his manhood and he is likely to show the mob out there.

Still, Trump has held up this far because he speaks to -- and for -- the aggrieved millions.  Obama has brought the overall society back much of the way, but so many millions are failing.  Donald Trump is speaking to them.  We had better listen too, or The Donald is likely to achieve his fantasy.


Burton Hersh

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Dawn of Trump

Fellow Contemporariones,

The hour is late.  On Tuesday Super Tuesday will rear up and gorge on all our political prospects.  Let me throw in a few observations, an idea or two, at least a little of which you might find relevant.

The political appetite incarnate blotting out the sky at the moment is the candidacy of Donald Trump.  I know, I've attempted to deal with Trump before, but enough has come through to deserve another round.  Bear with me, and I will be patient with you.

For months the pundits dealt with Trump as an obstreperous but passing entertainment, a kind of Borscht Belt quasi-Yankee popoff who couldn't possibly last.  He has lasted, in part by gnawing away at treasured elements of Republican Party mythology the party establishment seems to hold sacred.  Universal, government-run single-payer health care might not be too bad, Trump has suggested, better than the patch-and-fill of Obamacare.  Tax the hedge fund impresarios at normal rates. Face up to the gross misjudgments that induced the Congress to authorize the invasion of Iraq and leave the country with so many thousands of crippled and deranged veterans and a two trillion dollar national debt.  Hang onto Planned Parenthood, except for the subsidizing of abortions.

As Trump sets his charges under the planks of Republican orthodoxy it is hard not to agree with Jeb Bush:  This rabble-rouser is not a Republican at all.   While the drums were beating to go into Iraq in 2003-4 I myself was talking to senior CIA officials and passing on their confessions that there were no WMD  of consequence in Iraq to Ted Kennedy and John Kerry.  Kennedy, at least, listened.  We went in anyhow and have been paying the price.
Many of Trump's revelations are overdue, especially on the Right.  Bernie Sanders is well advised -- our tax policies need revision. The unexpected demise of Justice Scalia doesn't seem to me grounds for his premature canonization -- this was the leader of the Supreme Court faction that delayed federal efforts to clean up toxic coal emissions and foisted Citizens United on the unwary public and by doing so authorized the flood of money that hardened into place the oligarchy Sanders decries.  And on what grounds -- First Amendment, free speech!

The most serious problem I see with Donald Trump's candidacy is his willful ignorance, his habit of throwing phrases and bromides at situations without understanding what has gone on so far and what the likely consequences of his outbursts might turn out to be.  In this respect -- I've suggested this before -- he reminds me of Hitler, who peddled the notion of getting rid of the Jews, or rolling into Lebensraum in the East, and finally found himself compelled to follow up on all the rhetoric.  In the end six million Jews were exterminated along with perhaps twenty million young Germans, a generation the loss of which I would discover when I lived there still tortures the entire nation.  The problem with loose talk is that it leads to unimaginable tragedy.  Trump's claim that he would throw out eleven million Latinos, or execute the relatives of radical Islamists, or permit the government to torture its suspects far beyond mere waterboarding -- a rant like this raises hackles.

I broke off writing this to watch a rebroadcast of Bill Maher's show this week.  His guest was General Michael Hayden, head of both the NSA and the CIA during his time in government.  If Trump makes good his promise to "do waterboarding and a whole lot more" the entire military establishment would revolt, Hayden insisted.  Universal disaffection looms.

We may very well be at a historical crossroads.  Let's hope even Joe Sixpack is starting to understand that.

Keep your powder dry.

Burton Hersh


Saturday, December 19, 2015


Fellow Concordantes,

I sometimes feel that the Republican Party, while it has not supplied the country with a lot of government that holds up since W hammered through his initiatives, has made up for the many shortfalls by providing quite a bit of amusement.  Sarah Palin was outstanding on the plane of the comic irrational, and now we have Donald Trump.

What makes Trump interesting is how, slapping up what passes for his insights and ideas, he occasionally lays out a moment of common sense that suggests that we might have shared a decade or two of history after all.  So often he appears to flout Republican Orthodoxy and come up with a precept so blindingly reasonable that politicians of both parties flee before this latest fireball.  This may help explain why Joe Sixpack bellies up to Trump in so many polls.

For example.  Several months ago Trump indicated openly that we could simplify the bewildering health insurance crisis by adopting a single-payer program, in effect Medicare for everybody, like the rest of the industrialized West.  Bernie Sanders thinks that too, but even he has enough sense of the moment to play that down.  If there is a proposal the others in the Republican field instinctively run from, there it is.  None of Trump's competitors seem to have the nerve to draw him out in debate on that one, and he never mentions it.

Another area in which Trump's utter ignorance keeps surfacing is defense policy.  Early in the campaign he indicated that he, as president, would deal with ISIS by getting his unnamed people into key positions in the military, then pouring troops into Iraq and Syria, then cleaning the bastards out and "grabbing the oil."  Our oil all along, apparently.  Trump rampant keeps reminding me of Hermann Goering on the eve of the Nazi takeover in Germany, except without the finesse.

Like that 1300-mile wall to keep the Wetbacks out during a decade in which more Mexicans are leaving the United States than are creeping across the border, the indication of who in Mexico would pay for the wall or who would authorize Trump's oil grab and who would fight this roaring new war in the Middle East awaits his election as president. Nobody on Wall Street, certainly. Then, with his hyperjingoist credentials established, during the Republican debate last week, Trump suddenly decried the folly of Jeb's brother in involving us in all that action against Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, a two-trillion-dollar debacle, money that should have been spent on roads and bridges here.  None of his competitors seemed inclined to call Trump on this utter reversal of his strategy unless, like Dick Cheney, you could persuade yourself that our next oil grab would somehow pay for itself.

The axiom for empires is learn or perish.  The ascendancy of Donald Trump would suggest that our prospects are not wonderful.


Burton Hersh  

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Kennedy Files

Yes, Yes Fellow Skeptics, Carnivores, and Impassioned Fools,

The whole crowd, yes.  Let me be clear, as ever.  My motives are noble, far sighted, and adorably mercenary.  This is a pitch piece yet at the same time an effort to justify all your doubts.

First the pitch, On November 10, Tuesday at 9 pm, a channel most of you can probably get, the REELZ Channel, will air the first of ten one-hour segments about the Kennedy era, The Kennedy Files.   I will be a main commentator; from what I can tell, a lot of what I have to say is drawn from my own two books Bobby and J. Edgar and Edward Kennedy: An Intimate Biography.  In the Tampa Bay Area Bright House broadcasts this series on Channel 354.  Elsewhere, you will have to contact your TV provider to determine how -- and if -- you can access this channel.

I spent a couple of days in a studio in D.C. last March getting my contribution videotaped.  What follows, some of it drawn from these two books and a lot from my experience once the books came out, is intended to suggest how the Establishment, the Media, and the Participants Themselves endeavor to reshape and censor our memories and corrupt historical truth even when the historian and/or the  biographer is essentially sympathetic.

I find at this point I am best known from my treatment of the JFK Assassination in Bobby and J. Edgar (Chapter 19).  Roger Stone, long a corridor operator on the Republican Right and most recently a popular reviler of the Clintons and the manager who dumped Donald Trump, observed in his recent volume, The Man Who Killed Kennedy, which purports to prove that LBJ was behind the Kennedy assassination, that my work, Bobby and J. Edgar, now appears to be "the groundbreaking book" on the subject.  I appreciate the applause, however belated.  When my book appeared it was scholars and investigators on the Left -- to the left of The New York Times, that is -- who liked it best.  At last, some agreement.

Other aspects of my book seem to remain submerged, and I have attempted to surface them throughout The Kennedy Files.  For example, the career and effect of Joe Kennedy on the direction the nation took.  Recently, compromised biographers have attempted to erase from history the bootlegging and union-busting years, the real estate investments with mobsters, the early and open-handed backing of Senator Joe McCarthy, the pressure the old man  -- who owned the Coca Cola franchise there --put on his sons to retake Cuba militarily, however ill-advised.  It was this spirit as well as the Vatican connection of the family that pushed Jack Kennedy, along with the enthusiastic Bobby, into war in Vietnam.  Jack himself realized the foolhardiness of this venture, and he was apparently attempting to correct this blunder when he was shot.  Hating Lyndon Johnson, Bobby reversed himself.  None of this is unconnected to the assassination itself.  Cockamamie theories have appeared ever since, like the notion that the car behind JFK, which contained Kenny O'Donnell and Dave Powers, also contained a mythical Secret Service  operative who iced Jack.  Balderdash, but balderdash deliberately circulated to confound the issue.

Interestingly, exactly the opposite case is there to be made for Edward Kennedy, and in Edward Kennedy:  An Intimate Biography I have attempted to make it.  A lot of Ted's effort over the decades I knew and worked with him went into reversing the process to which his father and brothers had contributed so much.  By pushing  for reduced military exemptions Ted scared the country-club set as to the safety of their sons, married or in graduate school, and helped foreclose the war in Vietnam. Deputized by Lyndon Johnson, he did the leg work that got the Voting Rights Act through the Senate, staved of a potential exchange of missiles with the Soviet Union while Brezhnev was in charge, drove through the embargo that ended apartheid in South Africa, stymied the Reagan-era efforts to drag us into a war with Nicaragua, undermined efforts to prop up a number of quasi-fascists on the Supreme Court.  The truth about Chappaquiddick is in my book.  Unlike his brothers, he was an unembarrassed liberal.  All this, I hope, comes through in The Kennedy Files.

So try and have a look.  Reality is overdue.

Yours eternally,

Burton Hersh

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Holy Land IV

Coconspiritors Everywhere,

Again, a bit more of a hiatus than anticipated.  The world turns.  I was reminded, swerving on my bike back into our driveway in St. Petersburg the other afternoon, to find the bougainvillea sapling I planted a few years ago in the island of our turnaround exploding with Chinese red blossoms. Ripeness is all, and spring comes with a gratifying violence around here.  I wrote a poem once addressing this recurrent miracle:

                                                Florida: The Permutations of May

                                                        The ibises in committee
                                                         Are pecking up our lawn,
                                                         Their black-tipped probes must aerate
                                                         Our sprinkler-driven dawn.

                                                          The stately jacaranda blooms
                                                           Drop filtering through our tea.
                                                           The transference of spring is rife
                                                           With deep psychiatry.

                                                            Beside our pine the egret towers
                                                            And eyes me from afar.
                                                            If I would peck grubs from the bark
                                                            He'd gladly drive my car.

                                                            The trees are putting out fresh scales,
                                                            The lizards all are budding.
                                                            The rock is crawling on the moss,
                                                             Its stony heart is thudding.

                                                            This is the time our solid core
                                                            Turns to a molten thing.
                                                             Don't ask what spring can do for you.
                                                             What can you do for spring?

I sent a copy of this poem to Edward Kennedy, whose biography I was working on at the time.  I knew he would pick up on more than the reference.  He wrote me he liked it a lot; he wrote poetry himself from time to time, although he tried to keep that quiet.  His difficult death has been a weight on my spirit ever since.  When Walt Whitman composed "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed" he dealt with some of the misery losing Abraham Lincoln involved.  No parallels involved here, but as I reread the poem above perhaps I feel the same way.

If Ted Kennedy were alive today I have a hunch the recurring waves of tribal animosity and open religious hatred that are toxifying feelings here as well as abroad would more than sadden him.  Having devoted his entire professional life to providing for the neglected and the oppressed, the savage cross-currents of hatred, recrimination and violence that are destroying the ancient cultures of the Middle East and are starting to convulse us here would have aroused Kennedy's most profound revulsion.

 Floating around in Israel, as I've indicated, I found myself comparing ideas with plain people attempting to keep going somehow.  The driver of our bus, a tall, dignified Palestinian from East Jerusalem, never missed a chance to offer up prayers on his knees whenever we were stopped near enough a Mosque.  He helped us daily, in every way he could.  I would remain astounded at his skill negotiating our big tour bus in and out of the back-switching, overhung streets, jammed every waking minute with vehicles,  Returned to America, I wondered how this patient man would have responded to the provocations of nitwits like Pamela Geller, co-founder of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, who is making a career out of baiting Muslims by sponsoring competitions among aspiring artists to determine who can draw the most demeaning caricature of the prophet Muhammad.  This in the name of the First Amendment.  When a couple of ISIS hotheads appeared with weapons at one of Pamela's convocations in Garland, Texas they were gunned down by a waiting posse.

As Muhammad himself emphasized, we are all -- Jews, Christians, Muslims --  the children of Abraham.  The merchants of hate seem to be poised these days to take over the planet.  This must be fought by civilized people of every origin until our world comes to its senses.

That's what we can do for spring.


Burton Hersh



Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Holy Land -- III

Fellow Countrycongregants.

Almost six weeks since we returned from Israel, and the place still haunts me.  The New York Times covers Israeli affairs with a thoroughness and realism I sometimes wish the paper took to our own politics.  This morning's edition contains a profile of Ayelet Shaked, a former computer engineer sworn in this week as Israel's Minister of Justice.  Strikingly attractive, demonstrably more than adept with eye liner and lip gloss, the article identifies this thirty-nine-year-old star of the Intractable Right as a hard worker -- " a robot" -- and openly promoting a "'nationality bill' that many see as disenfranchising Israel's Arab minority, about 20 percent of the population." Ecco -- Israel's new "Justice Minister?"

At a time when -- to my observation -- a great many Israeli Arabs are increasingly horrified by the chaos throughout the Muslim Middle East and quietly grateful for the protection and social advantages of residency in the Israeli state, an appointment like this must have horrifying implications.  It has to nourish throughout the Arab community the apprehension that its days in Israel are numbered.  Recent student elections in the universities of the West Bank came down heavily in favor of Hamas rather than the more moderate Fatah.  Selecting a hard-nosed babe like Avelet Shaked doesn't help.

What kept coming through during our days in Israel was how heavily the stresses and costs keep building in this tense garrison state.  Israel has a flourishing industrial life, from pharmaceuticals to armaments, but for the great majority of the citizens who keep the country running day to day the demands are incessant.  Apart from the mandatory years of military service and the annual month of training for both men and women, there are the open-ended call-backs as war follows war.
Most memories of these engagements are not especially heroic.  Our guide, Rotem Litov, a tank commander in his other life, remembers weeks on end, quite recently, getting through the days with the other four men in his tank laying ambushes for roving parties from Hamas.  The tank was beyond cramped, and sanitation was such that the men took pills to bind them up until the battle was over, sometimes weeks. Nobody's mood improved a lot.

 My college roommate's son-in-law, nominally a banker, is also a reserve lieutenant colonel and the commander of an artillery battalion whenever the balloon goes up.  His son is an explosive specialist, and inescapably the family was on edge for months even after dad got back as the boy remained out there helping blow up mile after mile of the tunnels that survived the recent unpleasantness in Gaza.  Dangerous work, a lot of unanticipated casualties.

Taxes are high -- close to confiscatory, 50% on the cost of a new car.  Higher education is so expensive that families with roots in the United States are moving back here to educate the next generation.  The prices of apartments in Tel Aviv rival Manhattan.  The hands-on, post-religious, do-it-yourself mentality of the founders seems to be giving way to the priorities of investment bankers.  A great many are expected to sacrifice, but not that many appear to be profiting, and the anxiety about the surrounding Muslims chokes off the populist impulses which would normally inspire a remedial labor vote.

Irreconcilables on the Arab side play into all this.  We had one session with a spokeswoman for the PLO, a svelte lady of Armenian heritage.  Her version of Israeli history was utterly expurgated and completely made up -- she left out things like the invasion of the Arab armies after Israel accepted the United Nations mandate, although she did fess up again and again when confronted with the details.  She threw in comments like an aside to the effect that all the settlers streaming through to occupy the expanding enclaves in the West Bank were shipped in wholesale from the United States.  That sounded highly unlikely: A social scientist I checked with afterwards agreed that such a projection was beyond wild.  Some Americans had moved in, at best no more than twenty percent. And many soon went home.  But propaganda like this may well be stirring up those Palestinian college students.

Despite all the above, there is hope.  But the Middle East will have to move beyond provocation, beyond racism and delusions of group superiority into a larger humanity.  Perhaps Allah will provide.

Stay well,

Burton Hersh


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Holy Land II

Fellow Countrycommandantes,

Still coming down from two weeks battering through Israel.  I spent much of last week under the lights in a sound studio in Washington, D.C., where a crew of zealots interviewed me exhaustively for a ten-hour documentary intended to worm out of my scratchy memory the whole truth about the Kennedy family.  My two full-length treatments of the family, Bobby and J. Edgar and Edward Kennedy:  An Intimate Biography are replete with widely suppressed facts and interpretations of what actually happened throughout the Kennedy years, from Chappaquiddick to Dallas, revelations largely avoided in calculated establishment cover-ups.  We shall see how much of what I divulged will make it into the final cut.

I think I was still processing the implications of what I had run across in Israel during the previous month.  Most surprising, I have to suggest, was the absence of threat, the open and relatively unprotected way we were able to roll around the country, from the border in the Galilee overlooking Syria to the Judean desert below the Dead Sea, almost entirely without guards or security measures or warnings of any kind.  It was far easier to get in and out of Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv than to process through endless customs hangups coming home through JFK.  I had the chance to exchange ideas with a variety of Muslims, not a few Palestineans, and most were frank enough.  Life in Israel had its problems, plenty needed to be corrected, but compared with existence around the rest of the Middle East...?

In Bethlehem I had a frank conversation with our driver for the afternoon, a squat, cheerful Arab.  How were things going in The Territories?  Pretty good, he said.  Something like 50,000 workers passed over every day into Israel to work.  It would be nice if Jerusalem would let up on the red tape. Overall, couldn't really complain -- it was the leaders on both side who were causing the disruptions.  What was he hoping for? I asked. "Peace," he told me.  Let people live their lives.  Meanwhile, Jewish and Arab families were in abundance in the better restaurants wherever we went, sometimes sharing tables.  I never ran into a scuffle, or even raised voices, from the teeming marketplaces to the hush of the great museums.

At one point a woman in our group, a Jewish retiree from New York, got hit by a serious intestinal problem and our guide Rotem took her the the emergency room of the general hospital in Nazareth.  The staff there is entirely Arab, doctors on down.  Did he feel, I asked Rotem when she returned, feeling better after the right antibiotic, that there was any danger our friend might have been...deliberately misdiagnosed by the people in the hospital.  Or worse.  Rotem was startled.  How could that happen? he demanded.  They're all Israeli citizens.

It may be that Israel presents the greatest threat to radical Islam by presenting opportunities to the Muslim population that no other country in the region is progressive enough -- or prosperous enough -- to match.  More than Israel's reputed 300 atom bombs, genuine progress and social decency may get the country through.   I ran into several refugees from the bloodbath in the Sudan:  not immigrants exactly, but permitted to stay because where else could they go?  Every day victims of Assad's barrel bombs are carted across into the Golan Heights from Syria, where Israeli surgeons do whatever they can.  "We remember rejection," one Israeli told me. "We remember Auschwitz."

 We had a delicious lunch one day in the apartment of a Druze Arab woman.  Her husband was a goat herder.  She had two grown children.  One was in Moscow furthering his education in physics.  The other, a young woman, was doing graduate work in Berkeley.  Perhaps a generation of Arabs is coming along ever more likely to prefer the twenty-first to the fourteenth century and less likely to be conned into blowing themselves up for a corrupted version of supposed Muslim writ.  The tradition of tolerance and openness to other cultures which distinguished Byzantine society and Ottoman intellectual life and kept Aristotle alive in the Arab world throughout the Dark Ages in Europe may now be experiencing a secret rebirth in Israel.

This works both ways.  We spent several nights in a kibbutz, run by a charming Irish-Catholic lady.  I was surprised to discover that in the kibbutzes -- a primary social instrument of Israel's founders -- there are no synagogues.  No rabbis, no prayers.  The founders of Israel -- like the founders of the United States -- were rationalists.  The Jewish homeland they envisioned must not be hidebound, enslaved by the assumptions of the ghetto.

Let's not write Israel off too soon.


Burton Hersh


Monday, April 20, 2015

The Holy Land

Esteemed Concelebrants,

Yes, yes, I know -- almost a month.  Just when you thought Spiritual Guidance was out of your sensitive lives forever -- it's back.  There are, of course, excuses, not least of which is the fact that we were on a two-week trip to Israel, subject to the iron regimen of a travel service designated OAT -- Overseas Adventure Travel.  This blitzkrieg tour of Israel was skillfully if exhaustingly micromanaged, with most days, most meals, all travel accommodations clicking by with Teutonic efficiency.  Tiring, but an amazing engorgement of immediate experience.

Primary to the pitch of OAT is the concept that you will not only view the monuments and historical sites and and sacred landscape but you will also meet the people.  This was arranged through a series of home visits, native dinners, unlikely hospitality from specimens as unlikely as Ultraorthodox Jews, Christian Arabs, and a spokeswoman for the PLO.  Just when you thought you were beginning to understand the place, another take threw a lot into question.

I start with our guide, Rotem.  Rotem Litov, whose forebears fled the prevailing Ukrainian anti-Semitism a couple of generations ago, is a towering extrovert in an Australian bushhunter's hat, by his own admission incurably ADHD, who shepherded the fifteen or so of us -- three couples and the rest adventurous, uncomplaining women-- on and off the bus as we scoured the ancient overlays of civilization.  I came to understand that the ever-attentive Rotem, like his generation of Israelis, lived a double life,  Married, working hard to pay for the cinderblock residence going up beside his olive orchard in one of the villages, Rotem is simultaneously a tank commander in an Israeli armored division, who has taken leave of his civilian life repeatedly during the last ten years to take his tank into battle throughout the prevailing war.  The fierce battle over for the moment, dust settling, Rotem can return to his family and his olive orchard and the next delegation of jumpy Americans for whom he must steel himself.  Like most Israeli men these days a robust, resilient fellow, clearly worried underneath, Rothem incarnates the dream of Israel for his generation.

We made so many scenes, which to elaborate?  We started and ended in Tel Aviv, a bustling, beachside commercial center reminiscent of the Lower East Side of Manhattan fifty years ago, a welter of half painted buildings, many daubed with graffiti, and motorcycles and mopeds.  Adjacent Jaffa seems calmer -- we tour a private museum a painter has opened for tourists and were treated to lunch at the home of a very soignee -- and busty -- Christian Arab, a spread of the usual mushy chipped-pea-based hummus followed by superb baklava.  Coffee exporters, the family was clearly doing very well in today's Israel.

The next evening we were the guests in a slum of the wife of an Ultraorthodox rabbi.  This variety of Judaism was utterly startling to me.  Forswearing all material comforts, these throwbacks to the ghetto  devote themselves to the study of the scriptures and the propagation of enormous families.  We ate whatever there was on a blotched paper tablecloth protected by a wrinkled sheet of clear plastic.

The Ultraorthodox comprise a surprisingly large percentage of the Israeli electorate, and can coerce the politicians into policies otherwise anathema in this bustling state,  For instance, since it is forbidden for a female to touch a male, even incidentally, in passing, except in marriage, the chance that such a contact might occur in the military appears to justify the exemption of all Ultraorthodox children of age, male or female, from the prevailing draft.  All the other Israelis resent this -- even the Druze Arabs serve in the Israeli regiments these days --  and a major fight is brewing in the Knessett.

No single blog can begin to incorporate the many impressions this trip has left.  For more -- keep posted .


Burton Hersh

Monday, February 23, 2015

On American Exceptionalism

Fellow Conquistadores,

Time passes, snow melts, spring is suddenly possible.  Yet somehow the same old self-destructive reflexes appear to be animating our foreign policy, the extraordinary presumption that ours is the responsibility to meddle worldwide in societies we do not begin to understand, to manipulate outcomes and advance hidden interests wherever that serves our unacknowledged commercial purposes.  I will be getting into aspects of all this as a speaker at the 2015 St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs at the St. Petersburg campus of the University of South Florida on Friday, February 27 at 9AM.  Subject of our exchange:  Can We Keep Our Rights and Protect Our Country Too?

The public-relations justification we have been putting out lately to explain our maneuvering is time-honored American Exceptionalism.  We know better, we can do more.  The cultures and historical experience of the subjects of our attentions seem beside the point, and are rarely mentioned.  It remains quite enough that we are able to "project power," and we do. It remains impolite and worse to bring up the interests whose profit is almost always out there driving these calamitous decisions.  What seems to be lacking in so many discussions is some sense of how we got historically into the role we now find ourselves assuming and where all this is taking us -- all of us, not merely a few special interests.

Throughout the Middle East we are attempting to impose our own terms, political and commercial, on a culture that as recently as 1917 regarded itself as a great, tolerant center of civilization, an achievement comparable with China at its height, or nineteenth century Europe.  The collapse and utter dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 left it to assorted Western governments to draw the borders of new states in the wreckage and impose self-serving commercial conditions on the entire region. In Iran, for example, as oil became the prize throughout the area, the British moved in and demanded a monopoly of the resources for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, the predecessor to British Petroleum. When Dr. Mohammed Mossodegh, the country's sickly premier, took steps in 1953 to nationalize Iran's oil fields, the British Secret Service and the CIA sent  in the Agency's top operative in the region, Kermit Roosevelt, with a car trunk full of currency, to pay for a revolution in the streets that brought the corrupt Shah back to run the country as the foremost U.S. military base in the Middle East.   The U.S. oil majors moved in immediately and grabbed important concessions.  When another revolution under the Ayatollahs evicted the Shah in 1979 and nationalized the oil reserves, the grinding enmity between Iran and America began which persists to this day.  Several long afternoons spent with a disheartened Kermit Roosevelt while I was researching my book The Old Boys filled in a lot of the details.

There is an analogous process behind what happened more recently in Iraq.  When Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party came to power in Iraq they nationalized the Iraqi oil fields.  We lived with that and actively assisted Hussein throughout his war with Iran.  Ultimately, we invaded Iraq on the WMD pretext and left the shaky and vulnerable Shiite government  that presides at the moment.  Meanwhile, oil drillers from many places, especially the American majors and Halliburton, are back in Iraq and hard at work.

The notion that we are the disinterested Good Guys around the planet, righting international wrongs and feeding the needy, is overdue for an infusion of reality.  If the exponents of "Radical Islam" are insane and predatory throughout the region, the policies of Western governments and corporations helped  bring a lot of this on.  Highest regards to some of the apologists for our power projections throughout the last several decades, but the fact is we did not go to war over Rwanda, an example of our restraint commonly cited, mostly because there was not enough potential economic profit in an adventure like that to convince our senior policymakers to take their chances and risk paying the price.  Bill Clinton  might have preferred to have intervened retroactively, but at the time the rewards simply did not approach the political risks.

 If we can stop repeating the mistakes of the past, and confront out true motives, perhaps it will not prove necessary to take our beatings in one unproductive and depleting war after another. Or put our constitutional rights in danger by attempting to suppress dissent.  For more, attend our discussion at the St. Petersburg campus of the University of South Florida on Friday, February 27.  We will be taking names.

Cheers, always,

Burton Hersh

Monday, February 2, 2015

Other Peoples' Wars


Again, leading with my apologia.  I have not been active on this blog for a while, and don't I know it?  The novel I have been working on, Comanche Country, picked up so much momentum and whipsawed its own plot with so many surprises that it absorbed my days and nights until I finally finished it last week.  All you aficianados can get a running start toward this last book in the Landau saga by ordering a copy of the first book in the trilogy, The Hedge Fund, either from Amazon or by buying it directly -- and inexpensively -- at Haslams in St. Petersburg, FL or Gibsons in Concord, NH.  If you want to understand, grinning all the way, why what happens happens let the misadventures of the Landaus clue you in.

What prompts this outburst today is word in The New York Times this morning that the administration is considering supplying "lethal weaponry" to the Ukraine government in Kiev.  However duplicitous the involvement of Moscow in Ukraine may be, there is a large population in the Eastern section of the country that prefers to rejoin Russia, and what is playing out there is in essence a civil war. Meddling in other peoples' civil wars has cost us heavily and set us back throughout most of the last half century, and before we back ourselves into another disaster we ought to reconsider.

I remember well the heartbreaking background details of our misadventure in Viet Nam.  Pushed through by John Foster Dulles, whose evangelistic imperialism inclined him to want to send troops into the Hungarian revolution and the collapsing French efforts in Viet Nam until Eisenhower stepped on both proposals, a program was developed that led to the dispatch of the U.S. Navy to cart over a million North Vietnamese Catholics down the coast to Saigon once the provisional peace treaty was signed in 1954.  Dulles had agreed to abide by the countrywide vote scheduled for 1956, which installed Ho Chi Minh.  Dulles reneged.  Instead, prodded by Cardinal Spellman, the Diems, strict Catholics, were pushed into office by American planners and replaced the local Buddhist administrators all over South Vietnam with Catholic refugees from the north,  The Buddhists were incensed and began to form the cadre of what became the Viet Cong.  I got a lot of this from my friend Nick Natsios, who was the CIA station chief in Saigon before we began to intervene militarily.

Civil war broke out.  I remember how angry President Kennedy was at David Halberstam, the N.Y. Times upstart in country and a classmate of mine in college, when he began to report on the "Buddhist  barbecues"  -- self-immolations -- and the corruption of the Diems, longtime Kennedy family friends. When another of my classmates and a personal friend, Sam Adams, a CIA analyst, concluded that there were many times as many Viet Cong around as our projections would admit he was bounced from that Agency.  To admit that would have meant hugely augmenting U. S. troops on the ground, politically unacceptable for Lyndon Johnson.  Years later Richard Helms, head of CIA operations at the time, told me that Adams was right, but who wanted to confront LBJ with those numbers?

As it all played out there were millions of Vietnamese killed, 60,000 U.S. dead, hundreds of thousands of GIs permanently ruined, if not with wounds with drugs, and a national debt it took decades to pay down, at the expense of all public services and efforts to rebuild the national infrastructure.  And still, we lost, utterly.  Their little civil war set us back a generation.  And obviously the same can be said of our stumbling around in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Must we do this again?  So soon, so avoidably?  We ought to be very, very careful about electing a warhawk to the presidency if a cold-blooded peacenik like Obama is tempted to intervene in Ukraine.

Think about all that.  Meanwhile, if you live in or are visiting the Tampa Bay Area I would be very pleased to meet any of y'all at the St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs, presented on the St. Petersburg campus of the University of Southern Florida.  University Student Center, 200 Sixth Ave. S.  I will be on a panel on Friday, February 27 at 9 AM on the subject:  Can We Keep Our Rights and Protect  Our Country Too?

Meanwhile, buy The Hedge Fund.  It will be the best $13 you ever spent.


Burton Hersh  

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Before the Jihad XII

Dedicated Faithful.

Yes, I know, it has been a while.  My only excuse -- and it ought to be compelling -- is that I have been ablaze since mid-summer writing the third novel of the Landau Trilogy, on which my expectations of literary immortality will certainly be based.  The publication last spring of the first book, The Hedge Fund, appears to be commanding increasing attention. Early charges of inappropriately salacious material and a clear political bias have largely been overcome and this breakthrough work is commanding a following.  Easy to acquire -- cheap, $13 plus shipping and handling or whatever -- at Amazon or leading bookstores, especially Haslams in St. Petersburg or Gibsons in Concord, NH.  Go ahead, pick it up, turn yourself on.  This is a challenge!

Now to the more serious rant.  Last night I attended the Christmas banquet of the principal Foreign Affairs Committee in Tampa.  Our recent ambassador to Russia was the scheduled speaker, but he apparently picked up a bug and was replaced hours before the dinner by a local academic coming off a wide-ranging career in military intelligence.  Struggling along without Power-point, our speaker threw out there a hodgepodge of observations on the deteriorated position of the United States in the world, attributable mostly to the bewilderment behind the scenes inside the Obama administration.  We needed to get things straight, he stressed again and again, understand the dangers, follow through.  We needed to get -- this was the subtext throughout the presentation -- back into the Middle East in force.  Get those boots back on the ground.

Judging from the comments I heard afterward this had been a disheartening performance even to that upper-middle-class assemblage.  The costs of our seemingly feckless involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, in cash, blood, and thousands of victims of post-traumatic stress disorder are already calculated to run into the trillions of dollars.  Meanwhile, our children cannot afford higher education and the nation's infrastructure is falling apart.  More boots on the ground?

Something our speaker never got close to mentioning was that most dreaded word in establishment circles today:  oil.  Important facts are routinely left out of all purportedly informed discussions of the Middle East.  When the CIA jumped in as a proxy for the British in 1953 and undermined parliamentary democracy in Iran -- a relatively stable society since it was Persia during Biblical days -- our cat's-paw the Shah was propped back up on his throne to run a brutal police state.  British and U.S. oil companies took over the petrochemical industry. The American military turned Iran into our principal base of operations in the Middle East.  When all that fell apart and Iran turned abruptly into a kind of parliamentary theocracy we were hurt and surprised, and have been pounding away ever since.  Paradoxically, any real hope of expelling ISIS from Iraq and Syria may now depend on our de facto cooperation with Iran's military. See today's New York Times. Go figure.

As I have suggested in this blog before, our policies in Iraq make very little more sense.  We backed Saddam Hussein against Iran throughout the eighties, attacked him in Kuwait after he thought he had our permission to throw Kuwait out of the oil-rich borderlands, then cooked up unwarranted excuses to invade Iraq under Bush II.  Oil in Iraq had been a state monopoly, but while we were disentangling ourselves we made sure -- see Ambassador Christopher Hill's account in his memoir, Outpost, in which he describes how "the bidding got underway" in Baghdad on June 30, 2009 among the major international oil companies for the important Iraqi fields -- pp. 379-380.  The organizers of ISIS were no doubt watching.

Much the same appears to have been true in Afghanistan.  The Taliban, the founders of which the CIA trained as the mujahedin, reportedly came into existence to resist plans by a consortium led by Unocal to run a pipeline through the country to bypass Russia with what was getting pumped out of Kazakhstan.  Our destiny is profoundly entangled with the politics of oil

More war?  More sanity is what we need.

As ever,

Burton Hersh.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fellow Commandantes,

Yes, I know, it has been an unconscionably long time since I clued all of you in on the underlying cosmic dilemma.  Mostly it has been a series of minor heath problems -- all annoying, none too serious -- that have plagued this New Hampshire summer.  Then there has been a computer replacement and the attendant learning curve.  Perhaps most vital of all -- I am seven chapters into the third and presumably last novel of the Landau trilogy.  To stay with the process it is incumbent on every one of you to go to Amazon and pick up a copy of that most affordable first book in the series, The Hedge Fund, and exult with the wild plot and compounding sensuous thills this book affords.  Then you will be qualified to leap aboard as its two successors make literary history.  Patrons can find this book in Haslams in St. Petersburg, FL. and at Main Street Bookends in Warner, N.H. and Gibsons in Concord, N.H.

Let us turn to the larger world.  It had been my intention in this blog to try and offer a little perspective to our current political attitudes, especially as they pertain to the prevailing tendency to lambaste Obama. The all-persuasive Republican subliminal propaganda machine has been working this incumbent over since he took the oath of office, and this incessant and too often fallacious assault has been taking its toll, judging from the national approval polls.  As always with what passes for Tea-Party thinking -- talk about oxymorons! -- reality and this toxic barrage are connected at very few points.  John Krugman has dealt recently with the durable achievements already coming out of Obamacare and the bailout and subsequent banking reforms that have distinguished the president's domestic policies in recent magazine and newspaper pieces, and deserves to be listened to.

What strikes me is the extent to which the president's judgements in foreign policy suggest at least as much a historian's instincts as those of a law professor.  He seems to understand intuitively the limits of American power and the dangers of habitually overreaching, as he has all along, certainly since he objected publicly to jumping into war in Iraq.  When troops dug Saddam Hussein ont of some rabbit hole and he went on trial and was eliminated, I remember commenting to a shocked friend that we should have intervened and kept the motheaten dictator around.  Given the treacherous politics of the Near East, the time might be coming up when Saddam and the Baath Party could be reinstated and run his country in our interests, as he had before 1991.  His regime was brutal, but under his leadership a substantial middle class came into existence along with primary elements of a modern society.  Something of the same could be said of Gadaffi and General Sisi in Egypt and -- dare I say it?-- President Assad.

It took us hundreds of years, and several failed tries, before we were able to steam together what passes for a working democracy here, and even that has been stalling out recently.  Projecting power, as the Cold War phrase goes, into unstable, sect-ridden, and fundamentally irrational societies has proven impossible, even for the British, over any extended period.  Our success in the Cold War resulted largely from following effective policies of containment, letting structural instability abroad play out and undermine our opponents.  Whenever we attempted to force the issue, as in Viet Nam, the cost to us has been horrific and purposeless and the result was defeat.  To let our policies in the Third World be driven by unspoken special interests -- I notice that the American oil majors and Halliburton are again quietly ensconced in Iraq in a major way -- is to insure another financial and political disaster guaranteed to sap our troubled republic further.

Barack Obama seems to have understood all this all along, in his bones.  That's how he got elected and reelected.  Let's hope his original perceptions stay the course.

Meanwhile, pick up The Hedge Fund.  It will open out your thinking and reinvigorate your private life.


Burton Hersh

Monday, August 25, 2014

Before the Jihad XI

Fellow Condolores,

August ending, summer winding down.  Working on new book proposal -- travails of today's CIA -- and finding my way into the third of the Landau novels.  The first, The Hedge Fund, appears to be finding its following on Amazon.  Check it out -- go to Amazon Books, then Burton Hersh, then The Hedge Fund itself.  Straight five stars to date from excited reviewers.  The latest from the legendary historian and biographer Joan Mellen, whose incisive biography of New Orleans D.A. Garrison has helped shred what's left of The Warren Report.  Joan finds The Hedge Fund "shrewd, snappingly wise-cracking and just plain fun.  It's the world as it is, with no holds barred.  I enjoyed particularly Burton Hersh's knowing grasp and satire on the concept of property and how property threads, often unexpectedly, through the shoals of everyday life.  This is a rare summer read."  At thirteen bucks, how can any of you justify not buying and luxuriating in this hot-button novel?  We need some sales, and I am depending on all of you.  I know who you all are, and I will be taking names and kicking butt.
Seriously, give it a try.  And let me know what you think at:

I want to expend a few paragraphs on what appears to be a massive and apparently coordinated effort to rewrite history.  I've had my say about Professor Nasaw's solemn whitewash of the life and times of Joseph P. Kennedy, detailed in my book Bobby and J. Edgar.  To maintain that Old Joe was innocent of mob connections is tantamount to maintaining that Casanova was a virgin.  When I suggested that in newspaper reviews and blogs, the good professor called me directly to chew me out.  I gave it back in kind, as you may imagine.  Nasaw didn't even  recognize the names of gangsters even when  -- the result of staff slipups -- he ran across them in the Kennedy Library.

The folks at the Central Intelligence Agency appear to have the whitewash brush out themselves these days.  The July-August issue of Foreign Affairs, affiliated technically with The Council on Foreign Relations but inevitably something of a spokesman for the State Department and its semi-cloaked kid sister, the CIA, features articles under the rubric "What Really Happened" in Iran 1953, Congo 1961, Pakistan 1971 and Chile 1973.  Responsible historians have long since surfaced and laid out the details of all these operations.  In every one, short-sighted Agency operatives reached into societies struggling to find some political balance and so skewed the outcomes that it would take decades before meaningful progress could resume.  The people involved suffered terribly.

The treatments put forward in Foreign Affairs rewrite the settled history in ways that defy belief.  In the piece on Iran, for example, Ray Takeyh seems to maintain that CIA manipulations didn't affect the outcome.  He refers to Kermit Roosevelt's "self-aggrandizing 1979 book Countercoup:  The Struggle for the Control of Iran."  In my bookThe Old Boys (1992) I dealt at some length with the coup Roosevelt triggered when he appeared in Teheran with the trunk of his car loaded with currency and paid off power groups from military officers to bodybuilders to march on the parliament and overturn the government and reinstall the Shah,  whose brutal tenure brought on the Ayatollahs.  While researching The Old Boys I interviewed Roosevelt several times; by then he was very depressed at what he had done. He refused to engineer the disastrous coup in Guatemala.  Even the medal President Eisenhower gave him for putting together the coup didn't help.  To write Kermit off as "self-aggrandizing"  is beyond  cruel -- callow.  Much the same applies to the ignorant treatment of our operations in the Congo.  At one point a CIA man surfaced who moved Patrice Lumumba's corpse around for several days in the trunk of his car.  As in Iran, the Agency was more than involved.  Chile was without a doubt our most shameless performance, and subjected the helpless populace to the Pinochet regime.
Rewriting established history like this can do no good for the reputation of The Council on Foreign Relations.  As a longstanding member of the affiliated Committee on Foreign Relations I am especially embarrassed.

History is history.  We've got to learn to live with it.


Burton Hersh

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Before the Jihad -- X


The lull, the silent bottom-scraping low-point of summer -- early August.  Demons rain in from the sky and rise in every direction from the ground.  Otherwise, business as usual.

One hopeful note -- my recent novel, The Hedge Fund, is making its way, mostly on Amazon although it has appeared in a few bookstores.  Five stars, every review, with readers gratified and dumbfounded by its highly charged erotic content and its bareknuckled treatment of money and society.  Cheap at the price:  $13 plus mail costs.  Just go to Amazon Books on Google, then Burton Hersh, then to The Hedge Fund, which is at the top of the list of my many august publications.

But enough promotion.  Mostly on my mind these weeks is the carnage in Gaza, with the Israelis determined to extirpate enough of Hamas to eliminate the challenge and the threat from this inflamed appendage on their coastal flank once and for all.  More than ever, they are likely to win every battle and ultimately lose the war.  The Arab Street is already regrouping.

A piece in The New York Times that seems to have caught everybody's eye appeared last Thursday, July 31, 2014, by David Kirkpatrick.  It identified a "new coalition of Arab states -- including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emerites and Jordan," which along with Egypt are quiely supporting Israel, mostly by stepping back while Hamas gets pulverized.  "The silence," the author quotes Aaron David Miller, "is deafening."

Commentators these days often remark that the traditional Western powers now find themselves implicated -- mostly because of the requirements of Western oil interests -- in a civil war that breaks out every few centuries between the Shiites and the Sunnis.  There is truth to that, but probably at least as relevant is the struggle across the Muslim world between modernist elements in these societies, established power groups, from the Saudi and Jordanian royal families to the business classes from Morocco to Indonesia, which have come to understand the suicidal mistake they made in funding the madrassa movement and fomenting the fundamentalism throughout the region which led to the resurgence of Arab fanaticism.

My exchanges recently with Saudi Prince Turki Al Faisal, who decades ago helped propagate Muslim awareness beyond the Kingdom, suggest the urgency of some of these second thoughts throughout the Mideast.  The fourteenth century is over, events would suggest, and the speed and conclusiveness with which the Morsi presidency came to an end in Egypt suggests the ruthlessness with which the propertied classes are prepared to act to make sure it stays over.

 I picked up more than an echo of that a couple of winters ago during a dinner-table conversation with Muhamad  Musri, the Imam -- spititual leader -- for Central Florida.  There are an estimated six million Muslims in America right now, about as many as there are Jews, and like the Jews most have made their way into the middle and upper classes.  Most are for the most part no more enthusiastic about the dictates of radical Islam, from the ritual "circumcision" of woman to the beheading of unbelievers, than their fellow Americans.  It is probably worth remembering that throughout much of European history, especially during the ghetto-ridden "Dark Ages," it was the tolerance and openmindedness of  the Muslim caliphates that kept traditional Jewish culture alive.  A student of the Koran, Imam Musri observed, to my astonishment, that the country in which the precepts and directives of true sharia law are most closely followed is the United States.

There is quite clearly a war going on in the Muslim world for -- remember Viet Nam? -- the hearts and minds of the several billion faithful.  The carnage in Gaza this week has started to provide, to the initiated, a number of surprising perspectives.  Let us hope our foreign policy is agile enough to respond in time.

As ever,

Burton Hersh


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Haves and the Have Nots


A hard transition, this time, Florida to New Hampshire.  Up here a new computer, break-in problems, the residue of a very tough winter.

The issue of wealth distribution in America, the 1/10 of one percent who have so much vs. the rest of us, is coming into focus fast in our troubled politics.  All hail the rise of Elizabeth Warren.  All this is recurrent with us at least since the Gilded Age.  The death last week of the boisterous rentier Richard Mellon Scaife in Pittsburgh reminded me of how much confusion an heir with too much money and very little concern with the truth can stir up whenever he cares to.

A serious alcoholic, Scaife was behind the press campaign to hang the 1993 death of Vince Foster, a long-time Clinton crony, on the president and his wife, who allegedly arranged for Foster's murder.  Scaife had helped fund the Watergate burglars.  As it happens, years earlier I interviewed Scaife at some length while working up the Pittsburgh half of my book The Mellon Family.   Relatives attributed a lot of Scaife's volatility to a fractured skull early in life; drunken hi-jinks got him thrown out of Yale and convulsed his several marriages.  Scaife's public-spirited sister Cordelia had told me that she was convinced that her brother was behind the shooting in her back yard in Ligonier of her husband, Pittsburgh District Attorney Robert Duggan.  Duggan was under investigation for mob connections by Richard Thornburgh, at the time the U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania, later the Republican governor.  Thornburgh himself filled in a lot of the details for me.

It was a tale worthy of John O'Hara.  When I brought up Duggan, Richard Scaife rocked back in his chair and filled me in on just how crooked Duggan had been.  Sad as hell, Scaife observed; he and Duggan had been friends at the University of Pittsburgh.  He remembered one night when they had both gone out and gotten pie-eyed and Duggan was so far gone that Scaife had carried him up three floors of his rooming house and put him to bed.  Once he was down Duggan had reached up and embraced Scaife and kissed him on the mouth.

Scaife must have thought about that, because once I was back in New Hampshire he telephoned me and warned me not to print that anecdote about Duggan.  If I did, he growled, his people would take care of me.

"I don't think so,"  I said.

"Yeah?  Why?"

"Because I'm recording this call," I told Scaife.  I included the anecdote in The Mellon Family.

A few months later, when The Mellon Family came out, I was in Pittsburgh doing radio and television publicity for the book. The Pittsburgh newspaper Scaife didn't control printed much of the livelier material in my treatment, which turned into a best-seller locally.  After a hectic day of appearances I got back late to my room at The William Penn and attempted to settle down.  The phone rang.  A husky, Italianate voice delivered the message: We saw you come in.  You ain't going to leave this hotel alive.

I really didn't like those prospects.  I waited until perhaps 2 AM, then stole with my bag down the fire stairs and flagged a cab around the corner for the airport, where I slept for a few hours.  I was the first passenger to board the plane.

What this anecdote illustrates is the fecklessness of permitting the exorbitantly rich  to rummage, armed with billions, through the ante-rooms of American politics, buying and selling candidates and resorting to any means they care to to force their control on the rest of us.  They do that here, and they do that around the world.  We pay the price.

One price all of you should consider paying is $12.95 for a copy of The Hedge Fund -- via Amazon -- which pulls open the way power works in America and demonstrates the way the heedless rich sometimes arrange to foul all our nests, especially their own.  The novel is funny, scary, amorous and -- covertly -- political.  If you like this blog, you will definitely grok on this novel, even in the face of all this shameless self-promotion.  More to come.


Burton Hersh


Friday, May 30, 2014

The Return of Mother Russia -- IV


First, an all-important commercial note.  This week a novel of mine, The Hedge Fund, the first of a trilogy, came out as an Amazon/Tree Farm Book.  As I described it on Facebook, this thriller opens as “a social comedy, about a well-fixed academic family in St. Petersburg, FL, one of the daughters of which marries the son of a Cuban financial gangster.  The attempt by the new in-laws to clean out their relatives, who battle back, picks up velocity steadily and turns into a page-turner that ends in Havana.

The book has very heavy literary support – Liz Smith, Thomas Powers, etc. –and remains by turns very funny, very sensual, very moving and exciting.”  Modestly priced at $11.95 as one of my offerings on the Amazon Books section under my name, none of you avid followers will be able to live with yourselves unless you send for this novel immediately, read it with enormous enjoyment, and contribute a comment indicating your joy to the Amazon response page.  I am depending on all of you.  There was a cover of Mad Magazine years ago featuring a solemn mongrel with a giant horse pistol pressed to his forehead.  The subscript ran:  “If you don’t buy this magazine, we will shoot this dog.”  It is in this spirit I urge all of you to acquire The Hedge Fund.

Now -- with the election yesterday of Petro Poroshenko, the Chocolate King, as president of Ukraine the crisis in Kiev appears to be building down.  Vladimir Putin seems to have signed off on the outcome. Poroshenko has manifest pro-European sympathies while maintaining extensive business interests in Russia, an oligarch for all seasons.  How he can negotiate a Russian reconsideration of the status of Crimea, which he asserts he intends to do, should test the Chocolate King’s magical powers.

Much of the global psychodynamics that seem to lie under this situation originate with Putin’s need to establish his status as the leader of an ex-Superpower, the exponent of a nation that was – and intends to become again – a contender.  This is a recurrent impulse within the Russian leadership.  Many years ago, when I was newly rearrived in the States and struggling to build a career as a free-lance writer, I happened to be visiting the Greenwich Village digs of my then-pal the novelist Dan Wakefield.  The phone rang. “It’s for you,” Wakefield whispered.  “William Shawn.”  Shawn was the legendary executive editor of The New Yorker, the hottest literary ticket in Manhattan just then.  “A show of force like this,” Wakefield muttered, “was not necessary.”

Shawn had come across a sketch my agent was circulating just then and wanted me to stop by the magazine’s murky offices.  This led to several afternoons exploring one-on-one my interests and background, what I was into that might interest the magazine.  Shawn was a small, bald, shrewd, musty, probing, excessively earnest fellow.  It happened that a delegation of female Soviet apparachniks were due in New York the next week, and  since I knew some Russian perhaps I should join their party and write up something about that.

I did as requested.  The women were there for business, which I soon surmised was winkling out examples of capitalism in collapse which they could bring back to their colleagues on the Supreme Soviet.  They were increasingly disappointed as the sites we visited – Wall Street, an apartment in Harlem so well appointed , with contemporary jazz on the eight-track – transcended anything around Moscow just then.  I called the piece “In Quest of Squalor” and submitted it to Patricia Nosher, Shawn’s assistant.

It happened that Yuri Gagarin, the first Soviet Cosmonaut – the first human – to circumnavigate the globe in a space capsule was visiting New York.  There was a reception for him at the Soviet consulate to which I was invited.  There was a lot of collective anxiety around Washington just then that the Soviets had overtaken us and now were emerging as the dominant player in space.  Gagarin himself turned out quite friendly and unpretentious, but the Soviet officials around him were strutting their stuff.  The brief post-war dominance of the corrupt , undisciplined, self-indulgent  United States had come and gone, Marxism would dominate the future.  All this not that long before the first American landed on the moon.

Many of these same themes appear to be revisiting the media today.  From Tea Party activists and gun nuts in Idaho to fundamentalist preachers and hard-right Israeli politicians, a distaste for the ecumenical remains of The American Century is palpable.  Individualism is destroying us.  Vladimir Putin agrees. “It is therefore an ideological battle,” a recent article in Der Spiegel asserts – translation mine – “in which Russia according to the vision of its president fights against the superficiality of materialism, against the collapse of values, against the feminization and weakening of society, which results from the loosening of traditional  bounds, in short: against everything unRussian.”

Putin represents a return to reactionary values of the twenties and thirties, the writer asserts – in a word, to fascism, with its emphasis on “hardness,” racial superiority, sacrifice for the nation.  A lot of this, of course, is reasserting itself in the Muslim jihadists roiling up so much of the planet.  Die for some exalted clique of your coreligionists, the virgins are waiting.

Our media are picking this up.  A piece by Andrew Higgins in the May 21 New York Times notes the Western European sympathies on the far right with Putin’s pronouncements.  “Some of Russia’s European fans, particularly those with a religious bent, are attracted by Mr. Putin’s image as a muscular foe of homosexuality and decadent Western ways.  Others…are motivated more by geopolitical calculations that emphasize Russia’s role as a counterweight to American power.”
My generation has attended this blood-soaked opera before.  It culminates in Hiroshima and Auschwitz.

Be ready.

Burton Hersh