Sunday, July 28, 2013

Bragging rights



Although the Amazon review posted below is of Erika Holzer's Freedom Bridge and we're justly gratified about it--5.0 out of 5 stars, entitled Cold War Thriller With A Message--I'm reprinting it here for what it says about the place of moral issues in popular fiction. Too often today's thrillers, mysteries, and the like merely tell stories--often engaging, but rarely making a moral point in the telling. The anonymous author of this review "gets it." (X's review is exactly as it appears on Amazon.)

 *****************

 My first reading of this book was in the early '80s, far too long ago to pick out the revisions Ms. Holzer did for this edition, but no matter. "Freedom Bridge" will transport you to the aftermath of the U2 incident in the blink of an eye and make you forget that the Soviet Union is no more. The sense of suffocating totalitarian malice, the sense of urgency in the face of certain death, the suspense of imminent betrayal under the highest of stakes, are as palpable and immediate in this novel as this morning's headlines.

Holzer weaves a plot that becomes a kind of literary origami - I won't do spoilers, but suffice it to say that her original title "Double Crossing" is a serious understatement, a play-on-words several times over. As a reader repeatedly disappointed in spy thrillers so complex that they're nearly unreadable, "Freedom Bridge" is a refreshing surprise. Rather than miring the story in a quicksand of frustrating complexity, its multiplying plot convolutions work together so logically that they actually *clarify* rather than muddle. The analogy to an elaborate jigsaw puzzle is perhaps a cliché, but in this case it fits.

The characters in this novel could not be more different from one another - in culture, in ethics and in motives - but Holzer draws them together from those disparate points as if by a gargantuan magnet. Ground zero is the Glienecker Bridge between East and West Berlin, and the resulting multi-faction clash is at once understated and explosive. An edgy, brooding atmosphere throughout accelerates with a cinematic flow that makes me think "Freedom Bridge" would make a great movie - provided someone could be found in that industry with the integrity to do it justice. Holzer's exposition of these different personalities, particularly in context of their ethics and moral choices, does positively wonderful things to the integration of plot and theme.

That theme, the magnet that pulls everything together in Cold War Berlin, is of course: Freedom.

Holzer makes freedom not just "the moral of the story" but the motive that animates the actions - and for some, the transitions - of the characters. For Soviet defector Kiril, it's an overriding passion worth dying for; for American journalist and kindred spirit Adrienne, it's a value fully grasped and vigorously defended; for the Soviet and East German communist operatives, it's a threat to be hated, crushed and, unmistakably, feared - in much the same way that a liar fears the truth; for an underling assigned to spy on Kiril, it becomes an unbearable conflict of allegiances; for a corrupt doctor waffling between the two poles, it becomes an object of disdain to be ignored and betrayed.

All of which means that "Freedom Bridge" is a choices-driven morality play that becomes a timely meditation on something too often taken for granted in today's world. If you're looking for a read that's of significantly greater long-term value than passing entertainment, "Freedom Bridge" is an excellent choice.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Shame, shame, shame!




 July 27, 1955—Yongdungp’o, South Korea——As Eighth Army chief order of battle analyst of the Chinese Communist Forces in North Korea, I stare at a huge map of the Korean peninsula. In the corner rests an M1 Garand rifle.

Ordinarily, when we carry weapons they are holstered side arms. But today is different. It’s two years to the day American, South Korean, and United Nations forces entered into a cease-fire with the North Korean and Chinese Communist Forces at a non-descript place call Panmunjom, a stone’s throw from the 38th Parallel across which the NKPA swarmed on June 25, 1950 when it invaded South Korea.

American and South Korean troops are on high alert throughout the country. Our intelligence assets, such as they are, have been working overtime for any sign that the Communists will celebrate the armistice, which they consider a victory, by anything from a nuisance incursion to a full-blown invasion. If they attack, again, will we be better prepared?, I wonder. Will we be pushed off the peninsular, as almost happened from June to September 1950? Will the NKPA murder their prisoners? Will the Chinese fight the same way? Dozens of questions. No answers.

Reports come in from the CIA’s Combined Command for Reconnaissance Activities Far East, occasional defectors, and elsewhere. I brief the Eighth Army G2, Colonel Hasselbach.

I read the reports. Watch the maps. The day and night pass. Nothing happens.

July 25, 2013Denver, Colorado——I sit at my computer 58 years, less forty-eight hours, after that day in Yongdungp’o. Though there is no Garand M1 in the corner of my study, I am mindful that July 27, 2013, is the 60th anniversary of the cease-fire. What are the North Koreans—they of the nuclear weapons, rocket launches, military provocations, civilian kidnappings, forced starvations, terrifying gulags—doing? Are American and South Korean troops dug in, waiting?

The Internet answers my questions in an Associated Press report from Pyongyang, the capital of Communist North Korea.

Turns out, in Pyongyang it’s party time, on this North Korean “Victory Day.” According to the Associated Press:

Brightly colored banners with the words “Victory" and “War Victory” fluttered from buildings across the capital city. The North Korean government is expected to use the anniversary to draw attention to the division of the Korean Peninsula and to rally support for Kim [Jong Un].

North Koreans have been gearing up for months for the milestone war anniversary. Soldiers were assigned to carry out an extensive renovation of the Korean War museum. Students rehearsed every afternoon for a new war-themed rendition of the “Arirang” mass games song-and-dance performance, which opened Tuesday. And citizens got down on their hands and knees in the lead-up to help lay sod and plant grass as part of a massive greening of Pyongyang.

Scores of foreign visitors have arrived in Pyongyang this week, including a planeload of journalists from the U.S., Japan, China, Russia and elsewhere. China's vice president, Li Yuanchao, arrived Thursday.

Happy days are here again in the Hermit Kingdom, among the last strongholds of Stalinism and possessor of the dubious distinction of being one of the most brutal dictatorships on earth.

Yet, as the AP reported, among the celebrants are some Americans. Not just journalists, but two others who must have lost their minds when they decided to participate. The AP again:


Two decorated U.S. war veterans who survived one of the worst battles of the Korean War found themselves among former foes at a memorial ceremony Thursday as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un launched the country's commemoration of the war's end 60 years ago.

“Found themselves?” Apparently they went to sleep and awoke in the capital of North Korea, much like Dorothy who awakened in Oz. (The AP reports the two are “on a mission to find the remains of a fellow aviator killed in the war”—a Quixotic quest, even with North Korean help).

Back to the Associated Press story:


The two Americans, retired U.S. Navy Capt. Thomas Hudner , of Concord, Massachusetts, and Dick Bonelli, a former U.S. Marine from Englewood, Florida, are in North Korea on a mission to revisit Jangjin County, better known to Americans as the Chosin Reservoir — site of one of the deadliest battles of the Korean War.

“It’s a very emotional occasion to be here with so many veterans — not only the veterans but also the people of the nation who turned out to show their support to all of veterans,” said Hudner, who received the Medal of Honor for trying to save his downed wingman, Ensign Jesse Brown, at the Chosin Reservoir in 1950. (My emphasis.)

“And as an American veteran, I am delighted to see that our former foe and we share some of the same feelings about this,” Hudner said.

It beggars belief that a Medal of Honor recipient (for an heroic action I allude to in my forthcoming book Unjust Blame?: The Korean War, Chinese Intervention, and Douglas MacArthur) even 60+ years after “one of the deadliest battles of the Korean War” can make common cause and celebrate with North Korean veterans who would have, at the very least, killed Hudner and Bonelli if only they had the chance. It is shameful for Hudner to believe his “former foe and we [who?] share some of the same feelings about this.” Feelings about a Stalin-Mao invasion by grandfather Kim Il-sung that destroyed a non-aggressor South Korea and killed literally hundreds of thousands?

Perhaps while Hudner and Bonelli were celebrating they joined “[o]ne North Korean, Pak Chun Son, [who] sobbed as she paid her respects at the gravestone of her father, Pak Hyon Jong, who died in the war when she was 5. ‘My father will be honored on this hill forever,’ said her brother, Pak Yun Yong, who was 8 when his father died. He was dressed in a military uniform weighed down by medals. Tears sprang to his eyes. ‘We want to raise our children to be patriots like their grandfather was’.”

One wonders how many Americans the late Mr. Pak killed before someone on our side nailed him.


Of one thing I am certain. The tens of thousands of dead, wounded, captured, imprisoned, and missing American, South Korean, and UN troops, and countless dead and maimed South Korean civilians aren’t celebrating.

Nor should anyone who calls himself an American.




Saturday, July 20, 2013

Guest essay: From a former student, now a large metropolitan area prosecutor



So many things about this make my head explode.  Just the notion of examining the so-called stand-your-ground laws as a response to this case!  Zimmerman did not avail himself of Florida’s stand-your-ground law . . .there was no need for that . . .that law deals with the duty to retreat, and it simply did not come into play here at all.  Even apart from the propriety of the stand-your-ground laws, this case provides no legitimate reason to raise that question in the first place.  And, the absence of a legitimate causal connection underscores the pernicious nature of the attacks on those laws.  

“(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony (my emphasis).

I tell people there’s one clue:  Zimmerman literally was not standing.  Quite the contrary, when he fired the shot, he was lying on the ground, where he had been knocked by Martin, and Martin was sitting on top of Zimmerman’s body, forcibly holding Zimmerman down and smacking Zimmerman's head repeatedly against the concrete ground.  THAT was the only version of the events offered by the defense in justification of Zimmerman's actions.  So, the facts in this case supported a classic self-defense/justification defense that would be supported by the Penal Law of every state in the Union.  Zimmerman had no need to reach out and avail himself of the stand-your-ground defense . . ."ordinary" self-defense covered it completely.   

No one suggested that, under the scenario Zimmerman described, he had a duty to try to retreat before firing.  The prosecution just urged that the events hadn't occurred as the defense contended.  Again, the only version presented by the defense was that he was pinned . . .physically incapable of freeing himself from Martin's hold, much less running away with safety.  The defense had no need to reach out and avail itself of a provision about retreat-first.  If the defense had requested it, the judge would have rightly denied it, because it would have been unsupported by the facts and could only have confused the jurors.
  
Stevie Wonder, one of the great intellectual and moral forces of our time, is outraged by the verdict and has declared for all the world:  he will not perform in any state that has a stand-your-ground law on the books.  I wonder if Stevie knows that the law had no bearing on, and was not used in, this case. 


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Eric Holder's posse



In the essay below, my friend Robert Bidinotto (bestselling author of the novel Hunter) describes how Eric Holder, Attorney General of the United States has created a posse of progressive lawyers and organizations to investigate George Zimmerman and provide “evidence” to support a Soviet-style show trial. 

Bidinotto’s essay eloquently speaks for itself, and my only task is introduce it, and make two points. 

One is that the definition of “posse” (Encarta Dictionary) is “sheriff’s helpers, especially in the western United States in the 19th-century, a group of citizens assembled by a sheriff to assist in maintaining law and order (my italics). The irony here, of course, is that Holder’s posse has been assembled to find, or create, “evidence” with which to persecute George Zimmerman, a scheme that’s the antithesis of law and order. Indeed, Holder’s recent gambit makes a mockery of law and order.

My second point is that Robert’s essay needs wide exposure, so I ask you to give it an afterlife by forwarding and distributing his words as far and wide as you can.

Thanks.

HMH

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Obama, Holder, and the New McCarthyism
By Robert Bidinotto

In the wake of George Zimmerman's acquittal of the murder of Trayvon Martin, the Attorney General of the United States, through his underlings at the Department of “Justice,” is
appealing to the general public to supply the federal government with “tips,” i.e., dirt, on a private citizen—and is now enlisting private political gangs to help them in this witch hunt.

Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law—who earlier in the day joined calls for federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman, said that later in the afternoon, she joined a U.S. Department of Justice conference call to discuss the prospects.

“They were calling on us to actively refer anyone who had any information, that might build a case against Zimmerman for either a civil rights violation or a hate crime,” Arnwine said. “They said they would very aggressively investigate this case.”

Arnwine said the call was convened at about 3:30 p.m. by Tom Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice [Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Labor—HMH), and included representatives from the FBI, and several federal prosecutors, she said. DOJ officials also said they would open a public email address so people could send in tips on the case....(I refuse to publish that email address here.)

In addition to Arnwine’s group, Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Laura Murphy, Washington Chapter head of the ACLU; and several national, Florida and Sanford-based “human relations” groups participated, Arnwine said.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the last straw.

America is a nation where every individual is supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, under the rule of law. For purely political reasons, George Zimmerman was dragged into court on flimsy evidence, but then acquitted by a jury of any crime.

But that is not enough for the gangsters of this regime. They won't let a little thing like the verdict of a jury be the last word.

So the highest law enforcement official of the United States, acting at the behest of his boss in the Oval Office, is now leading a full-blown witch hunt about the private life and views of an individual citizen—and enlisting a gang of private political cronies and allies to assist them, in order to railroad that same individual behind bars for the “crime” of—are you ready?—“hate.

Let's get this straight. Hatred is an attitude...a frame of mind...an emotion based on certain ideas. Hate may or may not be justified, depending on the circumstances. A victim of a heinous crime or a despotic regime, for example, may be fully justified for feeling hatred. It would be a just, though certainly not pleasant, emotional response to mistreatment.

But to convict a person of “hate crimes” is a variation of George Orwell's totalitarian concept in 1984 of thought crimes: of punishing an individual, not for criminal actions, but for merely holding ideas and emotions that are offensive to the political regime in power.

In short, the Attorney General and his boss have just declared open war on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as well as on the privacy protections afforded by the Fifth Amendment. Moreover, they are encouraging a witch hunt by private citizens against a fellow private citizen: encouraging people to go spying and reporting to the government about a political target.

Before anyone replies that a “hate crime” must also be an actual crime, and that the “hate” is only its motive, let me point out that in Zimmerman’s case, he was exonerated of any underlying crime which could be motivated by “hate,” or by anything else. Thus, persecuting Zimmerman for an alleged “hate crime,” when no crime exists, can only mean that he is being targeted for his presumed motive alone. In other words, for a “Thought Crime,” a la Orwell’s 1984.

Please forget the name George Zimmerman for a moment, and whatever your opinion of the man may be. Consider only the principles at stake. To do that, put yourself in the shoes of such a targeted individual.

How would you feel if you became the target of the enormously powerful federal government, which insisted on continuing to persecute you for something, anything, such as your thoughts and emotions, even after you were exonerated in a court of law of the alleged crimes?

How would you feel if hundreds of armed apparatchiks from the FBI and other police agencies were dispatched after the trial to continue to hound you, under orders of the chief law officer of the land?

How would you feel if he, acting under orders of his boss in the White House, dispatched investigators around your neighborhood, digging into your past, perhaps looking into your emails and social media (there are precedents), soliciting any idle rumors and unprovable claims about your attitudes, ideas, and temperament from everyone you know now or had ever known; from old lovers or spouses who might bear some grudge against you; from any past employer you ever argued with or who may have fired you; from any casual acquaintance who might want his 15 minutes of celebrity fame on an MSNBC show hosted by the likes of Al Sharpton, or perhaps in exchange for the promise of some government reward...at your expense?

My friends, this is goon squad stuff, right out of the playbooks of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Communist China, and North Korea. In a nation supposed to be distinguished from such dictatorships by our Bill of Rights, the contemptible Obama Regime is establishing the horrifying precedent of targeting enemies, then soliciting neighbors to spy and report on them.

And this sickening witch hunt is being led by the same "liberals" who endlessly, self-righteously preach against the dangers of “McCarthyism.” Perhaps the most grotesque symbol of hypocrisy is the fact that one of the groups participating in this witch hunt is the Washington chapter of the ACLU—the self-proclaimed "liberal" champion of the Bill of Rights.

I have said that there is no bottom to the depths to which this power-lusting group of sanctimonious gangsters won't sink. Every day they prove me right by descending to yet a lower rung. But this is the lowest yet...and the most dangerous.

The Obama Regime is loaded with nothing but wannabe despots, starting right at the top. We have already seen how far these people are willing to go, with the scandals of the IRS, EPA, SEC, NSA, and many other agencies. They have zero respect for the rule of law and contempt for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which they regard rightly as impediments to their quest for boundless, unending power over the rest of us.

If we continue to perpetuate them in office after the next election, we as a nation deserve the complete destruction and chaos toward which we are rapidly sinking.

Meanwhile, though, we need to SPEAK UP against this outrageous new step toward totalitarianism. Please link to this message on your social media, and to the
Orlando Sentinel report. This ugly precedent must be stopped dead in its tracks, now...or you and I will not recognize this nation in another year.