11 Minutes to Recognize Israel

Harry S. Truman always ranked among my favorite presidents of the United States, if only because he made sure America was the first country to recognize the birth of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. In his new book Saving Freedom: Truman, the Cold War, and the Fight for Western Civilization (HarperCollins), bestselling author and renowned TV personality (MSNBC) Joe Scarborough reiterates that the 34th president faced stern opposition from his Secretary of State George C. Marshall and his deputies, which “[…] led to an open conflict between the State Department and the White House.”  Although such a conflict is to be expected, I was surprised and amazed to read that it only took 11 minutes for the president to make his decision, against all odds.

Not much is written about Truman. Not enough in my humble opinion. After all, there is much more to the 34th President than the decision to use the bomb to end World War II. In Joe Scarborough’s words, he was “the most consequential foreign policy president of the past seventy-five years.”

Apart from showing tremendous courage in facing headwinds about Israel, he had previously been instrumental in blocking the Soviet Union’s advance in the Mediterranean area. Upon learning in February 1947 that Great Britain could no longer shoulder its global role because “[…] Hitler’s war machine wreathed that nation in everlasting glory, but exhausted its resources and its people”, the Truman administration had a choice to make. Revert to isolationism or espouse a leadership role in the world. Great Britain would pass the torch to the United States and Washington would undertake the mission of developing and implementing a policy to prevent Greece and Turkey from falling under the hammer and sickle.

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Le prince Philip a pris part à une bataille navale souvent négligée

La réputation de l’historien militaire Benoît Rondeau n’est plus à faire. Il a déjà publié des livres et biographies remarqués au sujet de Rommel, Patton et l’Afrikakorps pour ne citer que ces exemples.

Le 22 avril prochain, les Éditions Perrin publieront son nouveau livre Le soldat britannique : Le vainqueur oublié de la Seconde Guerre mondiale.

Dans le contexte du décès de Son Altesse royale le Duc d’Édimbourg, la maison d’édition m’a généreusement donné la permission de partager quelques extraits relatifs au prince Philippe. Qu’ils en soient sincèrement remerciés, en cette journée où je tiens à manifester tout mon respect et ma profonde gratitude envers le Duc d’Édimbourg.

Le prince Philip a servi dans la Royal Navy sur les fronts de la Méditerranée et du Pacifique durant le conflit mondial. Benoit Rondeau résume ainsi l’importance du premier dans la conduite de la guerre :

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“Prince Philip was a serious and accomplished naval officer before he was a member of the Royal Family” – Naval Historian Craig L. Symonds

Prince Philip during in service in the Royal Navy (source: The Independent).

In my humble opinion, one of the aspects that deserves the most interest about the Duke of Edinburgh was his military service in the Royal Navy during World War II. As I’m right into reading the French edition of Professor Craig L. Symonds excellent book World War II at Sea (Oxford University Press, 2008, published in French under the title Histoire navale de la Seconde Guerre mondiale and published by Éditions Perrin at the beginning of this year), I submitted a few questions to this internationally renowned specialist about maritime warfare and the significance of Prince Philip’s service in the Royal Navy. Professor Symonds generously accepted to respond to my questions and I am extremely pleased, on this very day when we bid a final farewell to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, to share this exchange here.

Anyone interested in learning more about the naval dimension of World War II should definitely get a copy of his insightful and well-written book.

The strategic significance of the battle of Cape Matapan was that it dissuaded Italian naval authorities from attempting to exert influence in the eastern Mediterranean afterward.

In your book, you explain that the Battle of Cape Matapan – in which the late Duke of Edinburgh took part – clipped the wings of Mussolini’s Navy in the Mediterranean Sea. In the larger context of the war, could you tell us more about the significance / importance of the battle?

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Prince Philip had a library of 13 000 nonfiction books

Royal biographer Ingrid Seward (source: Twitter)

In the aftermath of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh’s death and the publication of my review of her excellent biography about him, Editor in Chief of Majesty Magazine, Ingrid Seward kindly and generously accepted to respond to a few questions about the longest serving consort in the history of the British Monarchy. For anyone interested in knowing more about the life and times of Prince Philip, I could not encourage you enough to get a copy of Prince Philip Revealed (Simon & Schuster). Without any further introduction, here is the content of our exchange:

Lots has been said and written since the announcement of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, but what would be, in your opinion, his main legacy?

His main legacy is his remarkable sense of duty which enabled him to do so many things. I suppose the Duke of Edinburgh awards are the main thing he will be remembered for.

As a biographer, you have certainly met with Prince Philip on several occasions. What is your best memory of those encounters?

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The Iron Prince

Much has been written in the last couple of days about the late Duke of Edinburgh being a rock for his wife, Her Majesty the Queen, and the Crown. But it is rather as “the man of the house” of Windsor that we can realize the extent of the centrality of his role. Thanks to Ingrid Seward’s amazing biography Prince Philip Revealed (Atria Books – Simon & Schuster), anyone can understand why this consort was so instrumental in the success of Queen Elizabeth’s reign.

A “product of a broken home”, Prince Philip understood, from a very young age that life is difficult and that you need to prepare for its challenges. Private school gave him the structure and discipline he couldn’t find in his own family. Later in life, his insistence on ensuring that his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, follow the same path would leave scars in the soul of the future king. But that’s another story.

In a nutshell, Philip ensured that his family would live in a relative environment of normalcy. From his drive to modernize the kitchens of Buckingham Palace to his designing of “[…] a portable barbecue that would fit into the back of a Range Rover so he could take it out onto the moors at Balmoral”, or his insistence for the adoption of television as a medium to reach out to people, the author succeeds in making you feel that Philip was a down-to-heart man. He was keener to “[…] adapt a range of clothing that would keep him warm during the winter months” than to succumb to pump and circumstances and obsequiousness.

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Don’t be afraid of the mud

11 months ago, right into the first wave of the pandemic, I reviewed Admiral (ret.) William H. McRaven’s excellent book, Sea Stories. Devouring this book was one of the most uplifting moments of this somber period. Not only because I’m a big fan of the author, but also because it is extremely well-written, and the content touched a chord.

That was before I put my hands on Make Your Bed, his shorter previous book which is the companion to the famous commencement speech he gave at the University of Texas in May 2014. While Sea Stories inspired me “from the outside”, Make Your Bed is not in the same category. The 10 life lessons it contains make you dive right into your own life and path. And that’s not always easy.

During his training to become a Navy SEAL, Admiral McRaven was told by one of his instructors: “[…] life isn’t fair and the sooner you learn that the better off you will be.” The purpose of this review is not meant to be autobiographical, but I have no choice but to share a bit of my own story to make you understand why this book has had such a powerful impact on me.

As a young adult, I witnessed my parents’ divorce and suffered greatly from it. In a nutshell, everything kept spiraling from bad to worse, with no end in sight. The temptation to “ring the bell” (a Navy SEAL wanting to quit only needs to ring three times the bell that’s located on the courtyard of the SEALs training camp in Coronado, California) was extremely strong. A few months before the family house was sold, I made a crucial decision. In hindsight, that was the best one I could take. I was moving to the University’s student’s residence. I wanted to be close to my classes, to the library where I spent lots of time and to live with other people my age. It was a huge gamble. After I paid the rent for the first month, I found myself with only 50$ in my pockets.

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Benjamin Netanyahu: Survivor

Sergeant Benjamin Netanyahu, member of the Sayeret Matkal Unit of the IDF (source: The Times of Israel).

Israel went to the polls for a fourth time since 2019 yesterday. If the past is prologue, everything indicates that Benjamin Netanyahu will form another government in the coming weeks. Holding 59 seats with his right-wing allies (at the time of this writing), the leader of the Likud still holds the best cards in his hands to remain in power.

But how is it that, besieged with scandals, trials and the turmoil of political life in the heart of one of the most intense political arena in the world, the longest serving Prime Minister of Israel can still successfully navigate these tumultuous waters?

This might sound cliché, but the key to understand Netanyahu’s political longevity is to reach in the confines of his personality. So far, the best biography I have read about Bibi (the PM’s nickname) is the one written by Anshel Pfeffer, which I reviewed 2 years ago on this blog. I do not intend to repeat the argument I brought forward then (those who are interested can read it here), but there is one essential aspect which I did not refer to back then.

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“Henry Kissinger is still listened to in China” – Exclusive interview with Prof. Kerry Brown

Dr. Kerry Brown, Director of the Lau China Institute and Professor of Chinese Studies (source: China Daily).

After the publication of my recent review of his insightful book about the history of China (Polity Books), Professor Kerry Brown kindly accepted to answer my questions about the relationship between the United States and China – an extremely timely subject. Without further introduction, here is the content of our exchange.

Chinese still admire some aspects of the western world, but not, anymore, its political figures.

On page 71 of your compelling book, you write that President Nixon was impressed “[…] witnessing Zhou Enlai redo the front page of the People’s Daily.” I often ask myself if any figure has a comparable influence in Xi Jinping’s entourage?

I imagine the figures from the outside world that most impress Chinese leaders today are more our business or technology leaders than our political ones. The excitement of new acquaintance from the Nixon era has long gone. Now, figures like Warren Buffett probably arouse more interest in China, or Bill Gates. I guess this is simply a sign that Chinese still admire some aspects of the western world, but not, anymore, its political figures.

I think we deceive ourselves if we do think individuals can magically find a way around the issue of the relationship between China and the US.

In the case where there would be no such influential figure, do you think it would help, notably in the relations with the US, and why?

Henry Kissinger is still listened to in China, and indeed, till recently, went there. I don’t know however whether intermediary figures are of much help now. This is not an issue of individual people being able to sort this out – the disagreements between China and the US are structurally too deep. There are maybe groups of people who might, over time, help – academics, perhaps, in trying to at least maintain some middle space. But I think we deceive ourselves if we do think individuals can magically find a way around this issue.

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Ian Fleming et James Bond: tel père, tel fils

Dans Skyfall (le meilleur film de James Bond à mon humble avis), il y a une scène où 007 fausse compagnie aux mercenaires de Silva en empruntant un tunnel secret dissimulé dans la maison de son enfance. Au moment de s’y engouffrer, le mythique agent secret déclare : « j’ai toujours détesté cet endroit ». Cette déclaration se veut non seulement emblématique des sentiments du personnage, mais aussi de son créateur, Ian Fleming.

Dans l’enlevante biographie qu’il consacre au père de James Bond (Perrin), l’historien Christian Destremau permet au lecteur de constater à quel point le père et le fils littéraire partagent le même ADN. Amour des voitures, de la vitesse, des douches à l’eau chaude, des montagnes, caractères irrévérencieux et vie sexuelle bien assumée, voilà autant de traits donnés par Fleming à son emblématique personnage. Et j’oubliais que la mère de l’agent du MI6 est Helvète, tout comme celle de Fleming. Je laisserai aux psychologues le plaisir d’épiloguer sur la parenté entre les deux hommes, mais je peux facilement imaginer que l’auteur aurait rêvé de vivre les aventures de son héros. Après tout, n’est-ce pas là le but de la fiction?

Cela dit, n’importe quel amateur des questions de renseignement, aussi novice soit-il, aura tôt fait de constater que M. Bond détonne de manière très exubérante par rapport à la discrétion élémentaire requise de la part des manœuvriers de cet univers ombrageux. Rares doivent être ceux et celles qui raffolent d’attirer l’attention. Il n’est donc guère étonnant que le biographe écrive que « […] James Bond est pour une large part l’héritier des braves du SOE » (Special Operations Executive) – les légendaires services spéciaux créés par Churchill quelques semaines après son arrivée aux commandes en juillet 1940.

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“The CIA Director is ultimately the person we depend on to prevent another 9/11 or lethal pandemic.” – Exclusive interview with Chris Whipple

Chris Wh

In the aftermath of my review of The Spymasters, author Chris Whipple was very generous in accepting to respond to a few questions. If you have not read the book already, I trust this interview will provide you with an additional incentive to do so.

The content of our exchange follows.

Mr. Whipple, in light of the nomination of Ambassador William J. Burns as Director of the CIA (pending his confirmation), could you tell us in what direction the relationship between the President and the Director will lead things?

Given his breadth of knowledge in the national security field, and his hands-on experience with CIA operations when he was ambassador to Jordan, William Burns will have a short learning curve as CIA director. As an outsider, Ambassador Burns is very much in the Leon Panetta mold. And like Panetta, he is grounded and confident—essential qualities for a great CIA director. His congenial relationship with President Joe Biden is also a tremendous advantage.    

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