The Source of JFK’s Greatness

For as long as I can remember, November 22 has always been a sobering date on my calendar. My late father, like many of his generation, revered John F. Kennedy. He owned several pieces of memorabilia. He also vividly remembered where he was and what he was doing on that fateful day when his favorite statesman tragically fell under the bullets. Before the Roosevelts, Truman, LBJ, Reagan and both Presidents Bush – commanders in chief for whom I have tons of admiration – JFK was the first one who piqued my intellectual curiosity.

I cannot proclaim that I have read every book regarding the main figure of contemporary Camelot, but I always make a point of skimming the pages of as many as I can. Mark K. Updegrove is a presidential historian whose work I have always been interested in. I was, therefore, impatient to grab a copy of his recent book Incomparable Grace: JFK in the Presidency. I was expecting a good read because the author has an enthralling writing style. But I got much more than that.

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Planet Strongman

In his 2020 bestseller Rage, Washington legendary journalist and author Bob Woodward recalls discussing the direction of the Trump administration’s foreign policy with the President. Mentioning his dealings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan regarding the war in Syria, the commander-in-chief said: “I get along very well with Erdogan, even though you’re not supposed to because everyone says ‘What a horrible guy’. But for me it works out good. It’s funny the relationships I have, the tougher and meaner they are, the better I get along with them. You know?”

In his captivating recent book The Age of the Strongman (Other Press), Financial Times foreign affairs commentator Gideon Rachman quotes former National Security Affairs specialist Fiona Hill when she declared that her former boss was seduced by “autocrat envy”. From Jair Bolsonaro (in Brazil) to Vladimir Putin, as well as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the 45th President got along quite well with those whom he perceived as being strong, an expression easily interchangeable with being autocratic. This trend was confirmed early last month when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán took the stage at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) gathering in Dallas, Texas.

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True heroism can’t be found in the absence of risk

I discovered Admiral (US Navy – retired) James Stavridis as an author at the beginning of the pandemic two years ago. This warrior-intellectual always amazes me by the depth of his thought and the finesse of his writing style. His last book, To Risk It All: Nine Conflicts and the Crucible of Decision (Penguin Press) depicts nine characters – 8 men and 1 woman – who left their mark on US military history.

You can almost hear the lyrics of the US Marines hymn and its reference to the shores of Tripoli when you read about Lieutenant Stephen Decatur’s expedition in North Africa to save US Navy comrades detained by pirates and you want to watch Captain Philips with Tom Hanks another time after completing the chapter devoted to Rear Admiral Michelle Howard who was in command of the successful rescue operation in the Gulf of Aden.

But my favorite – by far – was Cook Third Class Doris “Dorie” Miller. If there is one chapter I would love to see the author expand in a whole book, the life and lessons of that exceptional warrior would be my choice. Think about it for a moment. You’re an African-American and you enlist in the US Navy to better support your family, seeking advancement out of the segregationist South. But you must still endure sanctioned racism. Admiral Stavridis reminds the reader that “the high-tech specialties of communication, gunnery, navigation, and engineering were closed to African Americans; in fact, the only jobs they were permitted to do were cooking, cleaning, and serving as valets for the senior officers in the ships.”

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One man can change the course of a battle

“The vast majority of men receiving the Medal of Honor in World War II belonged to the infantry but the American public was fixated on marines and the glamour boys in the air corps with their nice blue uniforms”, writes acclaimed author and historian Alex Kershaw in his recent book Against All Odds: A True Story of Ultimate Courage and Survival in World War II (Caliber).

Undoubtedly, Alex Kershaw is the master of the battle narrative. His books always remind me of Sir John Keegan’s classic The Face of Battle, in detailing the reality and sacrifices of fighting soldiers. Between the covers, he details the courageous and selfless feats of Maurice “Footsie” Britt, Michael Daly, Audie Murphy and Keith Ware. All these men were part of the “[…] 3rd Division, the legendary “Rock of the Marne” outfit that had saved Paris in July 1918 by blocking the last great German offensive of World War I.” The men of that Division were sent on the first line to absorb a strong German attack along the Marne River in April 1918. The stubbornness of their defense earned them the famous nickname. Their successors in World War II would be no different.

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“Putin is clearly trying to ignite a larger conflict” – Martin Dugard

Author Martin Dugard (source: MartinDugard.com)

After the publication of my review of his excellent book Taking Paris: The Epic Battle for the City of Lights (Caliber), Martin Dugard kindly accepted to answer some questions for this blog. I feel privileged for the interview with an excellent and engaging author, who is also the coauthor of Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Series.

Here is the content of our exchange.

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Mr. Dugard, where did the idea of writing Taking Paris originate from?

The book actually started as Taking Rome but as the research expanded it became obvious that the story of Rome worked more nicely as a small section in the larger context of the 1940 fall of Paris and 1944 liberation.

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A striking parallel between Zelensky and de Gaulle

I initially wanted to review Taking Paris: The Epic Battle for the City of Lights by Martin Dugard last February, but then Vladimir Putin launched his troops against Ukraine and I had to shuffle my publications calendar. As you will see, there are fascinating parallels between the fate of France in World War II and the current situation in Ukraine, if only at the leadership level.

After the invasion of France by the Germans in May 1940, the country is in disarray and its statesmen have given up. In the ashes of defeat, a temporary brigadier general will rise to the occasion. Fleeing his homeland on board an airplane provided by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle left with a “[…] hastily packed suitcase contain[ing] four shirts, one pair of pants, and a single photograph of Yvonne and the children, whose current whereabouts he does not know.” I couldn’t help but think of the same predicament in which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky found himself on February 24th. As did de Gaulle, he chose to fight, but from home.

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Zelensky is living up to what Churchill called “the level of events”

Source: Michael de Adder (@deAdder) / Twitter

Andrew Roberts is the contemporary authority on Winston Churchill. He gave an interview yesterday to Michael Crick for the Mail Online about the similarities between the Greatest Briton and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, his contemporary disciple.

Here are a few lines from this insightful article:

“Not only has Zelenskyy stayed in Kyiv, as Churchill did in wartime London, but he is seen on the streets, rallying his people with speeches, and recognizes all the perils and risks.

‘It’s straight out of the Churchill playbook,’ Roberts tells Mail+. And Zelenskyy is showing extraordinary bravery when a team of Russian assassins dressed in Ukrainian army uniforms is said to be out to kill him. That’s not a hazard Churchill faced.”

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The bookworm, the martyr, and Xi’s longtime friend

War adapts itself and evolves. While some may take comfort in the fact that conventional battles are most likely a phenomenon of the past, the wisdom that guided those who won them is crucial to inform us about how to efficiently carry the fight from now on.

I recently reviewed the insightful novel 2034 by Admiral James Stavridis about a potential future war between China and the United States, during which China’s People’s Liberation Army takes advantage of technology to defeat the US Navy. Anyone watching the news can grasp that the rivalry between Beijing and Washington could lead to a hot war in the future, even if the author of the novel – a man who forgot more about polemology than any of us will ever learn – evaluates that the risks are feeble, the need to be prepared is nevertheless crucial.

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“Overall, 2021 has been a difficult year for the Biden team” – Admiral James Stavridis

Admiral James Stavridis USN (Ret.) (source: US Naval Institute)

Before the Holidays, Admiral James Stavridis USN (Ret.), one of my favorite authors, granted me an end of year interview about issues related to his amazing novel 2034 about a war between China and the United States. These geopolitical issues are unlikely to disappear from the radar in the coming months and years. The Admiral’s insights are therefore not only very informative, but also crucial to grasp the state of the world.

Admiral Stavridis, I’ve read and reviewed 2034: A Novel of the Next World War (Penguin Random House) with tremendous interest. Before we head into more serious stuff, a question burns my tongue. Since there are lots of mention of the delicious M&Ms throughout the novel, I was wondering if you are a fan of that candy yourself and if that’s the reason why it is mentioned in the book?

While I am not personally a fan of M&M candies, I have known many sea-going naval officers who are. I liked the idea of Lin Bao [one of the main characters of 2034] enjoying an American candy, essentially a nod to the duality of his upbringing.

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2034: The War With China?

I am not a person who enjoys novels. My youngest daughter was therefore astonished when she saw me reading 2034: A Novel of the Next World War. “Yes, but it’s about a potential war between the United States and China. Plus, it’s written by an author I really like and admire, Admiral Stavridis [and Elliot Ackerman]”, I said. I admit that this was an exceptional experience and not only because of the genre, but mainly because this is one of the most thoughtful books anyone interested in geopolitics and the fate of the world should read now.

2034. About 12 years from now. Might as well say tomorrow. Russian President Vladimir Putin still occupies the highest office in the Kremlin – a scenario that made me smile – and the Israelis have lost the Golan after a military confrontation with Syria – an outcome that makes me cringe, since I have seen with my own eyes how vital this territory is to Israel’s security. The Chinese are still vying for “[…] uncontested control of the South China Sea.” Equipped with superior cyber capabilities, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army neutralizes the weapons and communications system of a flotilla of three American warships. Only one of them will remain afloat at the end of the confrontation. A military operation that was supposed to serve as a message turned into a World War.

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