When I was growing up in the ‘70s, there was a groovy poster that asked the penetrating question, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” Well, in most places, the Democrats found that out on Election Night 2014 after they tried to restage the 2012 “War on Women.”
I didn’t have to become unexpectedly single in my late 40s to be reminded of one basic fact:
Grown women don’t dig being condescended to.
But that was the Democrats’ whole approach in wooing the next constituency they wanted to be able to someday take for granted.
Ever since Sandra Fluke announced she couldn’t afford birth control because she unconvincingly claimed to have needed $3000 of it through her law school tenure, the Democrats have decided that gender identity politics could be as valuable to them as racial identity politics.
It seemed to work in 2012, thanks to an unexpected assist from Todd Akin, who probably picked up the crazy idea in a tent meeting somewhere (where he got the rest of his scientific knowledge) that pregnancies resulting from rape are not merely rare, they basically cannot happen.
So Democrats, spurred on by their cultural Left wing in Hollywood and the media, decided that women (a majority of the population) could be the new minority victim group in their identity coalition that would give them an unassailable majority. But this ignored the fact that economic populism and a flat-footed opponent who directly matched their stereotype had a lot more to do with the 2014 Obama victory.
They decided to openly treat women as though their pretty heads couldn’t be bothered with such things as stagnant middle class incomes, the fact that their kids can only get part-time work because of Obamacare, Ebola, or the fact that the world is “going to hell in a handbasket.”
No, in the Democrat world, chicks only care about their lady parts.
We are getting used to tales of heroism from US Navy SEALs. They have become almost mythic in stature in both fictional and non-fictional accounts of covert ops and wartime derring-do.
But perhaps the bravest thing I ever saw was the last mission of Harry Dale, one of the first Navy SEALs, among the first in Vietnam—and it happened nearly a quarter century after his retirement.
I met Harry in the mid-1990s. The retired Naval officer had called the Flint Public Library because he was looking for a co-author. The librarians there said it sounded like it was right up the alley of a local book reviewer who liked that kind of stuff—me.
If you scratch a book reviewer, you will find an aspiring novelist. So when Harry called, I arranged to meet him at his home. I arrived about 15 minutes early, having misjudged the time the drive would take.
When I pulled in, I saw this wiry old guy climbing out of the lake. “Hi, Dave!” he greeted me. “Sorry, I thought I had time for a couple before you got here.”
“A couple?” I echoed, impressed. “You swam across and back a couple times?”
“Hell no, I’m an old man. I don’t go out that deep. What if I had a heart attack?”
Then it hit me. He was doing laps. Now I was impressed. Harry brushed it off: “Not much compared to my old frogman days.”
Frogman… the age… “Were you a SEAL in the Vietnam era by any chance?” I asked.
“Very good, I think the ladies sent me the right guy. Have a seat while I get some clothes on.”
Here is your one and only warning: I am going to discuss some House of Cards plot points from season two. But don’t write and say I spoiled the show for you. The writers did that.
While the first season of House of Cards was hardly realistic, the plotting–especially the moves of its main character, Congressman Frank Underwood–was adroit and fascinating.
But in season two Frank Underwood has gone from being an amoral scheming man of unquenchable ambition to a monster with fewer human feelings than Tony Soprano—much fewer. Unlike Breaking Bad, where we saw a man’s gradual slide from compromising with evil to embracing it, House of Cards lurched into full-blown sociopathy with jarring fashion.
So if you tuned back in to House of Cards this season looking for moments of sheer brilliance like Frank Underwood’s eulogy at the funeral of the girl who drove off the road while texting about the giant-peach water tower—with its mix of pathos, compassion and, yes, self-interest–you will be severely disappointed.
Instead, we are treated to an impenetrable plot about Chinese trade negotiations and illegal campaign finance, and the way Frank is going to use it to undermine the president since he is next in line. But nearly everything about this plot is not how it would, or could, happen in real life—and is weirdly confusing and obvious at the same time.
Worst of all, the House of Cards’ ideological slip is showing, with a complete nonsensical portrait of a “Tea Party” senator who votes “no” on the biggest entitlement reform since entitlements were invented because… well, just because he’s an idiot.
This is in sharp contrast to the CBS legal/political drama The Good Wife. Most of the campaign events and media kerfuffles make sense—as does the public’s reaction to them. You can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys (or the smart guys from the stupid guys) by their ideology (although extreme leftists like a global warming obsessed federal judge are generally the kookiest characters).
But best of all, good people can do less than admirable things they shouldn’t in the heat of the moment, while antagonists are not always evil or stupid, they are just on the other side of the issue. Though sometimes they are evil or stupid.
Kind of like life outside the political bubble.
Oh yeah, and here’s how every Eliot Spitzer/Anthony Weiner/Mark Sanford press conference should end:
1. The Unabashed Heroism of the American Military—Even During a Screwup
Since the title gives it away, I don’t need to issue a SPOILER ALERT to say that Lone Survivor is about a mission gone wrong, in which only one SEAL makes it out alive.
Hollywood action movies tend to go one of two routes—the heroic cartoon, or the “realistic,” ironic, fatalistic film, where violence doesn’t solve anything and soldiers are forced to re-evaluate their former gung-ho attitude, and even the justness of their mission.
The second route is the way to the Oscars.
(Too many commentators put The Deer Hunter in that category, but I defy you to find one act by an American soldier in that film, or even by the officers or staff at the VA hospitals, which is less than valorous. Conservatives should embrace the movie, but that discussion is for another day.)
Lone Survivor is Black Hawk Down on a more personal level. After a botched mission to take out a terrorist commander, outnumbered American warriors face overwhelming odds of survival and kill an unbelievable number of enemies while trying to keep from being overrun.
Instead of a whole city coming after a couple of dozen soldiers, in Lone Survivor four Navy SEALs take on a whole al Qaeda militia, while stuck on the side of a mountain.
Steven Boone writes:
The film opens with a long montage of real-life Navy SEALs in training and ends with a slide show of SEALs and soldiers living full, happy lives off-duty, set to an emotional power ballad. What’s in between amounts to “The Passion of the Christ” for U.S. servicemen: a bloody historic episode recounted mainly in images of hardy young men being ripped apart, at screeching volume. Though Berg’s source material isn’t the New Testament, he often handles Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell’s account (via ghostwriter Patrick Robinson) of his doomed 2005 reconnaissance mission with the thunderous reverence Mel Gibson brought to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.
That’s not even factually correct. The film ends with a montage of the characters in their real lives before the mission, while letting you know what they sacrificed to be there. Showing the photos of the real characters in a film is a common enough final-credits sequence, as can be seen in such movies as Gettysburg and Argo.
And enough with the The Passion of the Christ references already, as though it is some nadir of filmmaking to be trotted out whenever a liberal reviewer wants to mock a movie but can’t quite admit why it bothers him so much. But nearly every negative review of Lone Survivor brings up Gibson’s epic. (Hey, Bernie Goldberg, are you SURE these people don’t get together and determine the narrative?)
Boone goes on… and on:
“Lone Survivor” means well, but what it has to say about the costs of modern warfare is nothing new or especially illuminating. It’s cut from the same cloth that was once fashioned into the Pat Tillman legend and the Saving Private Lynch saga, honoring sacrifice in imagery that the American war machine can easily fashion into a recruitment commercial. “Lone Survivor” makes political interests superfluous to the religion of the warrior, which is all about enduring whatever hardship is thrown at you while protecting the brother at your side.
This is the cheapest of shots, associating the true story of Marcus Luttrell, which has held up and been vetted over the last seven years (George W. Bush awarded the Medal of Honor to mission leader Lt. Michael Murphy), with fog of war stories put out by the Defense Department before all the facts were in.
If Lone Survivor has a fault, it’s that it’s too authentic, with enough jargon and tactics talk to satisfy the military buff, and almost, but not quite, getting so caught in the details that an average viewer will drift off or get lost.
Admitedly, the account of the final rescue and the Pashtun villagers who act heroically is a bit synthesized (I actually thought the book’s account was even more dramatic), but that was probably for reasons of length.
For the most part, however, Lone Survivor deserves a place alongside Black Hawk Down and Zero Dark Thirty as a well-acted, superbly directed, and very well-done depiction of modern warfare and the Americans who get the job done.
In case you think I overstated the case of Boone’s agenda because we disagree about the merits of the film, check out this reply to a reader who took him to task for reading politics into a movie that avoids politics (unlike the book).
Ah, but politics *are* in every facet of life, including the movies. You might mean partisan politics, but filmmaking that glorifies the American war machine and its employees (let’s remember that, whatever their passions and sense of brotherhood, soldiers are paid to do a job) isn’t really a right or left proposition. It’s a weary Ho’wood tradition, carried into the new century with a jolt of Private Ryan/Black Hawk Down caffeine. A great many filmmakers at Berg’s level might be liberal on domestic issues but take a post-9/11 stance on such matters as the War on Terror: whatever it takes, whatever it costs to eliminate the threat….
So, yes. Not a movie for twits.
Media frenzies are now the norm. There’s no use complaining about them; we can only grade them.
With something like the Boston Marathon bombing or the Newtown school shooting, a certain amount and type of news coverage is obviously justified. But with the following media stories, I would say they were worth a Bret Baier Grapevine segment at most, but many made top 10 lists of the year’s media stories.
The Phil Robertson kerfluffle didn’t make this list—yet. I’ve only watched Duck Dynasty once. I thought it was better than I expected, but not appointment TV. But I like their family a lot. Robertson made some substantive points—and the one that everyone says was “gross” is something that has crossed every straight male’s mind at some point. And I mean every one.
Also, the discussion has been valuable—even when some of the commentary is not—as a Rorschach test for the pop culture and a measure of how many Americans are following the party line.
The rest of these, I would argue, don’t come close to that standard.
7. Paula Deen
Paul Deen is getting referenced again in the controversy around Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty. Yeah, let’s compare apples and cinder blocks.
Paula Deen, if it’s a story, is a story about lawsuit abuse. It’s a story about the media feeding frenzy. But Paula Deen herself should sell cookbooks and stay out of my newscasts.
Granted, she didn’t try to get there. She was minding her own business on the Cooking Channel (which was why I had never heard of her) when some former employees sued her. They lost the lawsuit in slam dunk fashion, but not before Mrs. Deen fell all over herself in a deposition in which she had to answer questions about whether she (or her hiring practices) was racist.
Not that I’m condoning perjury, but what special kind of fool blurts out something in a deposition that only a spouse could sell them out on—especially since doing so would hurt the spouse financially in equal measure? Did Paula really think that if a lawyer asked her husband if she said “ni**er” a lot, he would say, “Hmmmm, well back 20 years ago after she was mugged, I think she called that guy bad names…”?
Paula Deen then proceeded to show up on morning shows and give tearful apologies that would make Tammy Faye Bakker cringe.
But other than being really bad at being in the national spotlight outside her cooking show bubble, I can’t for the life of me think of what Paula Deen did wrong—or why anyone should care.
What Books Does PJ Lifestyle Critic David Forsmark Recommend for 2013?">What Books Does PJ Lifestyle Critic David Forsmark Recommend for 2013?
Thriller writer Elmore Leonard died recently at the age of 87. He leaves a huge legacy, including perhaps the best crime show currently on television, Justified, and dozens of classic American suspense novels, a few of which were turned into classic movies— more of which were absolute disasters.
For his early career, Leonard wrote tough, gritty westerns like 3:10 to Yuma and Hombre, both turned into very good films.
But for years even Stephen King could not claim to have been as badly abused as Elmore Leonard when it came to his crime novels. His first, The Big Bounce, was also filmed starring Ryan O’Neal. He wryly said it was “at least the second worst movie ever made.” Then it was remade in 2004 with Owen Wilson and it was even worse.
Overall, I tend to enjoy Leonard’s tight first 25 books more than his talkier next 25. Book 25, Glitz, was his breakthrough bestseller, causing the author to joke he was an overnight success after 25 years.
Get Shorty was the first film to really capture Leonard’s style, and frankly I thought it was even better than the book. In the second half of his career, Leonard added about a hundred pages to the length of his books, mostly of dialogue. Admittedly, it could be great dialogue, but I like the early books that just had a bit less of it. Others disagree.
Out of Sight is a perfect example. The book is too long, and too talky, but still quite good. Cutting it down to film length helps a lot — so does the chemistry between George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez which helps sell the outlandish premise of the U.S. marshal and the bank robber’s mutual attraction.
He once called Freaky Deaky his favorite book, but the limp film adaptation of this send-up of the radical ’70s counterculture deservedly went straight to video in 2012.
Leonard was known around Metro Detroit as an unassuming guy. He didn’t play the big celebrity, and was known for his love of the Detroit Tigers and of blues clubs. He was gracious to writers who asked advice, skeptical of whether they would follow through on his emphasis on hard work and routine; and finally published a short book compiling his rules for writing.
So here, submitted for your approval, are 10 good reasons to remember Elmore Leonard, even if you aren’t a fiction reader. Maybe I’ll get to his best 10 books in a future column.
Louis Farrakhan (approvingly) called it “Preparation for race war” while according to Brietbart’s Big Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-winning film Django Unchained was “The Most Pro-Freedom Movie of 2012.”
Then there was Marc Lamont Hill, the intellectual mediocrity of a Columbia professor who gets dragged out of mothballs when a racial event reaches pop status, says something stupidly outrageous, apologizes or clarifies, then gets put away until the next time.
On a CNN panel about the ghoulish fan club for rampaging LAPD ex-cop Christopher Dorner, who counted among his victims the Asian-American daughter of a cop who investigated him, Hill said:
And, many people aren’t rooting for him to kill innocent people: they’re rooting for someone who was wronged to get a kind of revenge against the system. It’s almost like watching Django Unchained in real life. It’s kind of exciting.
Perhaps the most famous off-screen line about the film came from an opening Saturday Night Live satirical monologue from Jamie Foxx that riffed on “how black is that,”
I play a slave. How black is that? And in the movie I had to wear chains. How whack is that? But don’t be worried about it because I get out the chains, I get free, I save my wife, and I kill all the white people in the movie. How great is that? And how black is that?
But in the film, Django does no such thing. In fact, [SPOILER ALERT] he teams with a white guy whose moral outrage eventually gets the better of him, and gets himself killed (and without whose help, Django would have accomplished none of his heroics.)
I recently grabbed Django Unchained at a Redbox, and found it far less a compelling re-watch than it was as a first time experience in the theater (and less disturbing, having watched it in an urban multiplex where audience reaction was, at times, appallingly inappropriate). This movie relies so much on shock value and surprising choices (particularly musically) that the second time around, some of the anachronisms become much more annoying.
And since Tarantino himself brought up history…
Next: Django Unchained is much like the rhetoric that helped cause the Civil War.
Thomas Fleming is known for his provocative, politically incorrect, and very accessible histories that challenge many of the clichés of current American history books. Fleming is a revisionist in the best conservative sense of the word. His challenges to accepted wisdom are not with an agenda, but with a relentless hunger for the truth and a passion to present the past as it really was, along with capturing the attitudes and culture of the times.
In The New Dealers’ War Fleming exposed how the radical Left in FDR’s administration almost crippled the war effort with their utopian socialist experimentation, and how Harry Truman led reform efforts in the Senate that kept production in key materials from collapse.
In The Illusion of Victory, Fleming showed that while liberal academics may rate Woodrow Wilson highly, that he may have been the most spectacularly failed President in history. 100,000 American lives were sacrificed to favor one colonial monarchy over another, all so Wilson could have a seat at the peace table and negotiate The League of Nations. Instead, the result of WWI was Nazism and Communism killing millions for the rest of the century.
Fleming’s new book A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War , exposes how inflammatory Abolitionist rhetoric and propaganda were a major cause of the Civil War. Every other civilized nation outlawed slavery, despite economic and financial incentives, without killing a major part of its own population to do so.
While reading the book, I imagined if the pro-life movement was actually dominated by spokesmen who advocated killing abortionists.
Fleming is also a novelist, the mega-best-selling author of Officers’ Wives and Liberty Tavern, among many others. My personal favorite is the all too convincing alternate history novel, The Secret Trial of Robert E. Lee which also explores the hatred of the Radical Republicans for all things Southern.
He is best known for his numerous books on the American Revolution, including the gigantic-selling coffee table book, Liberty!, which was the basis for the PBS series. Fleming is a leader in the movement to restore the reputation of the Founders– especially George Washington– in the public square.
Fleming is a recent past President of the Society of American Historians. Recently we sat down for an interview about A Disease in the Public Mind, perhaps his most provocative book yet.
Before September 11, 2001, bestselling author Robert Ferrigno was known as a cooler West Coast version of Elmore Leonard. His mysteries put a modern, whacked-out L.A. spin on noir fiction, and if there was a political point of view expressed, it might have been a rough libertarianism.
But when he decided to get political, he went all out. His audacious novel Prayers for the Assassin was a dazzling dystopian mix of social/political satire and spy thriller that proposed a future America ruled by Sharia law. Suddenly Ferrigno’s patriotic and conservative convictions were on view for all to see.
The Assassin trilogy became a huge favorite with conservatives — and was decried just as soundly by the advocates of political correctness. Mark Styen’s positive reviews of the books were even used to haul him before the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Like fellow mystery writer Andrew Klavan, Ferrigno began doing overt poltical commentary as well as working within the popular culture. He wrote a series of columns for Andrew Brietbart examining the Obama White House from the point of view of Bo, the president’s dog; and his blog on his website would feature brilliant bits like this about gun control and pop culture in the wake of mass shootings: We Are Not the People We Used to Be.
Ferrigno’s new thriller, The Girl Who Cried Wolf, is available as an e-book (and at $.99 for the Kindle download on Amazon, the best value I can think of). It hearkens back to the old Ferrigno darkly comic/noir, but with his new political sharp elbows fully employed. In it, a small group of eco-terrorists kidnap Remy Martin, a beautiful heiress, hoping to benefit both the Cause and their personal cause as well. You see, it takes money to live free of modern conveniences.
They are a little surprised at how calmly her billionaire father takes the news, not realizing that this just may be the most ill-conceived kidnapping since The Ransom of Red Chief. Remy’s job as an entertainment lawyer and her posh upbringing may make her seem like a soft mark, but calling her a handful would be a considerable understatement. Then there’s the fact that Remy had just begun dating an ex-cop security expert who takes his failure to have protected her very seriously indeed.
The kidnappers are surprised at how well Remy takes to being held in a wilderness paradise—but that’s just the beginning of their surprises.
I caught up with Robert Ferrigno to talk to him about the changes in his writing, including huge changes in the business of writing, and how a conservative operates in the pop culture.
”You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. …. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion …”
— Barack Obama
There is a constant narrative in today’s increasingly irreligious modern Western societies that the reason we are less religious — specifically less Christian for this discussion — is that we have just outgrown such outmoded notions.
The common theme pumped out by educational, media and societal elites is that there has been a steady march to personal enlightenment since the Enlightenment, and that the smarter, more prosperous and more individualistic a society becomes, the less it needs the superstitions of the past with all its silly restrictions on human freedom and individuality.
In her new book How the West Really Lost God Mary Eberstadt, a scholar at the Hoover Institution (and the author of one of my favorite all time articles, “Why Ritalin Rules“), provides her signature unique take on something “everybody knows” and shows us how little actual wisdom there is in the “conventional wisdom” on the subject.
It is important that Eberstadt’s re-examination of this subject not only be used to puncture the conceits of the secular elites; but also that ultra-conservative Christians hear this message too. Many of them, wittingly or unwittingly, promote this fallacy by acting as though everything modern — from music to movies — is inherently evil, and some even treat the Enlightenment (even in its most general sense) as the equivalent of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
This guy below is a prime example. While Eberstadt repeatedly makes the point that “conservative” Christian churches are still thriving, this brand, which thinks it is the only “conservative” church, is getting decidedly smaller.
Most Overrated: The West Wing
I have to confess I didn’t watch much of this show, after the first episode featured a group of antisemitic “conservative” teachers (as though that’s a bigger problem with conservatives) and President Martin Sheen, I mean Josiah Bartlett, telling a bunch of conservative pastors (in real life, Israel’s best friends) to “get your fat asses out of my office.” That easy, clichéd slander was enough for me.
This show was constant liberal wish fulfillment throughout its run, like any production from the much-overrated Aaron Sorkin that directly deals with politics. Knock down straw men that represent liberal nightmares about conservatives, then be all self-congratulatory for taking on the “tough issues.”
In 2002, President Bartlett’s campaign was against the typical Republican candidate, a stupid, Southern right-wing governor, so it was an easy victory — despite the fact that the most recent president was someone that Hollywood considered a stupid, Southern right-wing governor. And a year after 9/11, the central issue seemed to be green energy; and, of course, liberal goodness and farsightedness won the day because the president had the good sense to embrace it.
In 2005, the show presented the “ideal” Republican candidate. The one that liberals supposedly fear the most. A pro-choice moderate played by… wait for it… Alan Alda!
His most triumphant moment is his refusal to go to a conservative mega-church and a declaration against religious tests. But, alas, he is a Republican, so of course he is most afraid of a dynamic Latino candidate on the Democrat side, the idealistic Jimmy Smits, and uses immigration as a wedge issue to hurt him in his own primary, leading to this slapdown by a close aide:
But aside from the constant liberal fantasy, there are two things that anyone who has ever worked for — or even with — government has to find laughable. First, the idea that government at any level doesn’t move with the speed of a glacier.
And second — adding to the ponderous pretentiousness of the show — did the White House not pay its light bill? The noirish atmosphere may be dramatic, but government buildings are anything but dimly lit, and their favorite type of lighting tends to be fluorescent.
During the run of The West Wing, every successful Republican for president in a generation had run as a conservative, while every successful Democrat had run disguised as a moderate. Of course, 2012 changed all that…
GRADE: The Show Overall — C, the Campaign — D
America’s muddle in Afghanistan is not merely an unwise policy. Two prominent American authors — one a serious analyst (and former badass warrior), the other a bestselling novelist (who created one of our biggest badass heroes) — worry that it is an affront to American manhood as well.
For years Bing West has argued that our carrot with no stick approach to counterinsurgency and nation building in Afghanistan is sapping the “martial spirit” of our armed forces. Recently, he even wrote a column titled “We’re Too Nice to Win in Afghanistan,” detailing how a wimpy approach to a truly savage enemy is making victory impossible.
West proposes we change from a counterinsurgency protocol (winning hearts and minds in order to recruit allies against the terrorists while building a civil society) to a counter-terror strategy (kill them whenever and wherever we can find them and let the Afghan government build its own society).
Vince Flynn, in his new book The Last Man, has his fictional alter ego, Mitch Rapp, take a very direct approach. Upon being introduced to a former Taliban official the CIA has recruited to be part of the Afghan security infrastructure as America prepares to leave the country, and who is certainly playing both sides, he sees only one incentive structure that can work:
Pistol-whip the sneaky bastard and threaten to kill him if he doesn’t cooperate.
So, based on West’s superb book on the war in Afghanistan, The Wrong War, and Flynn’s best thriller to date, here are 5 ways that Obama’s approach to Afghanistan is an affront to American manhood.
Americans have a naïve view of religion. The religious freedom that is so ingrained in our tradition — and our Constitution — has morphed beyond tolerance to a sort of anthropomorphic acceptance of pretty much anything.
In other words, in order to prove how tolerant we are, we take our basically Judeo-Christian view of what religion and God should be, and assume all other religions share the same goals, have the same values, and are just differing manifestation of the same loving and just God.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, the God of the Bible is unique in the history of the world’s religions. From Baal to Zeus, from Jupiter to Allah and Odin, the gods of paganism are capricious masters, not loving fathers. Control is their goal — when they think of humans at all — not justice or peace.
But saying so is sooooo judgmental!
Marvel Comics master storyteller Stan Lee took the most interesting of the Norse gods, Thor, the God of Thunder, and made him a crusader for truth, justice, and maybe even the American Way… or at least Western values.
But think of it from the view of the Vikings — what could be more capricious and destructive than the god of the weather?
But of course, a self-centered destructive superhero who loves war and longs to be worshiped would make for a crappy comic book.
On the serious side, though, a misunderstanding of a leading world religion has serious implications for most of the current world conflicts.
Even George W. Bush mouthed the diplomatically convenient canard “Islam means peace.” Yes, and Pravda means “truth.”
A non-rebellious slave is at “peace” with his master, too.
The Black Count:
Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
By Tom Reiss
Crown, $27, 414 pp.
Review by David Forsmark
It sounds like one of those goofy Black History Month blog posts put out by an activist — hey, did you know the inspiration for the Count of Monte Cristo was really black … and his name was Alexandre Dumas?
The first thought that crossed my mind while reading The Black Count — the fascinating new book by Tom Reiss — was “why the heck hadn’t anyone written a major biography of General Alex Dumas before 2012?” This was immediately followed by “why the heck do we have Black History Month if it’s not going to uncover and publicize this man’s story?”
First, to avoid any confusion, the book’s subject is not the 19th century author who penned such adventure classics as The Three Musketeers, The Corsican Brothers, and The Count of Monte Cristo. Rather, this is the tale of the writer’s father, who is not nearly as well known as he deserves to be.
Reiss, author of The Orientalist, presents the story of the son of a French aristocrat and a Dominican slave who rose through the ranks of the French army through feats of incredible valor, only to be betrayed by racist backlash. In the process, Reiss offers a unique look at the first modern-style totalitarian government to be born of revolution.
The Black Count begins in the slave-trading world of colonial France, an oddly hybrid system where French legal protections for people of mixed race clashed with perhaps the most brutal form of European-sponsored slavery in the New World.
Alex enters the historical record at the age of 14, when his father, a rebellious French nobleman who disappeared into the Haitian wilds with his slave mistress, returns after a years-long absence to reclaim his inheritance. Alex, however, is his father’s sole companion when they return to France; his mother and sisters were sold off by his father before the journey. Alex, in fact, was recorded as his father’s slave upon their return.
Alex, however, was brought up as a nobleman’s son and grew into an intellectually and physically imposing figure. Still, he entered the French army as an enlisted dragoon, rather than taking advantage of his titles.
By Dakota Meyer and Bing West
Random House, $27, 239 pp.
Does this sound familiar?
1. A group of Americans on a diplomatic mission to reach out to Muslims are pinned down by al-Qaeda and come under overwhelming fire.
2. They repeatedly call for support fire missions, which are denied because they cannot absolutely guarantee no civilians are in the area.
3. A frustrated American warrior disobeys orders to go on what appears to be a suicide mission to try to save them.
4. The pinned down Americans are wiped out because supporting fire missions are denied them.
No, this is not a rush-to-press account of the recent disgrace in Benghazi, but if you think Libya was a unique screw-up during the Obama administration, Into the Fire — the story of the Battle of Ganjigal, by Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer and war correspondent extraordinaire Bing West — will change your perception.
As Benghazi and Ganjigal show, it’s the unwritten policy of the Obama administration that civilian lives come before the lives of American soldiers, even when there is only a slim chance bystanders will be killed.
I first learned of Meyer’s story while reading West’s masterful The Wrong War, a scathing critique of how the Afghan war has become more of an ill-conceived welfare plan than an anti-terrorism fight.
Among that book’s most gripping chapters is the story of the ill-conceived and ill-fated Operation Dancing Goat (which I’m sure is informally known as goat-something-else among those who participated). Here, the rules of engagement and brass with no respect for the enemy’s capabilities nearly led to a disaster that would have been much worse but for the unbelievable heroism of one Marine, Dakota Meyer.
But Into the Fire, despite its subtitle, is more than just an account of that fateful day. Meyer sets the stage by telling of his complete tour in Afghanistan, recounting the successes and failures of training Afghan troops to take over their own security, and of the incredible strictures placed on American combat forces by their own command.
Time and again, Meyer was constrained from engaging enemy forces by casualty-shy commanders who forgot the age-old maxim: force projection is force protection.
But even more frustrating were the rules of engagement that all but forbade contact with the enemy if civilians were part of the context, thus giving Taliban and al-Qaeda forces the incentive to surround themselves with innocents.
They all pledged their “lives, fortunes and sacred honors,” and it was more than just an idle boast.
The Founding Fathers were committing treason against the most powerful empire that the world to date had ever seen. It was also their Mother Country, to which many of their friends, family, and neighbors were still loyal.
And while they certainly, in the words of Patrick Henry, “made the most” of their treason, the idea that they would establish the most free and powerful nation in the history of mankind was not the most likely outcome.
So in singling out these 7 men in standing out as badasses (and I am sure some of you will find a more worthy nominee or two that I should have thought of, so please feel free to enlighten me in the Comments section), I am not minimizing the notion that Ben Franklin was right — that they could most certainly “all hang separately” whether they all hung together as he urged them, or not.
However some men risked just a bit more, courted danger a little more closely, and were just a bit more reckless with their lives or fortunes. Here are 7 of them, and on this Independence Day, I hope I do these Founding Badasses justice.
7. Henry Laurens
Veteran Indian fighter Henry Laurens from the Cherokee campaign of the French and Indian War was a bit too old to serve in the Continental Army during the Revolution, but that didn’t stop him from being the only American to be imprisoned in the infamous Tower of London.
After that war, Laurens became a very wealthy rice planter, and was a continuously elected member of the South Carolina Assembly. Like most of the eventual revolutionaries, Laurens favored reconciliation with the Crown, even while advocating for more freedom for the colonists.
He became a prominent member of South Carolina’s revolutionary government, was elected to the Continental Congress, and eventually succeeded John Hancock as the president of the Revolution’s governing body.
Meanwhile Henry’s son John was making a name for himself as a soldier in the Continental Army. John vociferously argued that slavery was anathema to the fledgling nation’s rhetoric about liberty, and was granted permission to offer South Carolina’s slaves freedom in exchange for military service.
He was vigorously opposed by Governor Rutledge, who was not quite as fierce in his defense of Charleston from the British. When Rutledge tried to surrender, John Laurens took on the defense of Charleston and repulsed the British forces.
Shortly thereafter, he was captured by the British and shipped to Philadelphia, just as his father Henry was leaving that city for a secret mission to convince the Netherlands to help the American cause financially. Henry’s diplomatic mission was successful, but he was himself captured by the British on his second voyage to Amsterdam and tossed into the abysmal conditions of the Tower.
Eventually both Laurens were freed in prisoner exchanges (Henry for Lord Cornwallis himself), and, undaunted, John went back to fighting Redcoats and Henry back to get money from the Dutch. John was killed in a skirmish late in the war in 1782; but his father honored his principles by manumitting all 260 of their slaves after the war.
By Eric Blehm
Waterbrook Press, $21.99, 257 pp.
It’s hard for a book to stand out in a publishing world filled with excellent accounts of valor by America’s warriors in the fight against al-Qaeda, the war in Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan.
But in Fearless, Eric Blehm — author of the excellent The Only Thing Worth Dying For, the underreported story of the fight in southern Afghanistan and the worst “friendly fire” incident of the conflict — has given us an inspiring and unlikely story that is unique in several points:
- It’s probably the only biography of a Navy SEAL I have ever read that will appeal equally (or nearly equally) to both men and women.
- It features a hero whose biography is even more compelling than his considerable combat exploits.
- It’s the first such book written by this bestselling mainstream author for a Christian publisher.
- And I imagine it’s the first book published by an imprint associated with said publisher, Waterbrook, an imprint associated with the venerable Christian publisher Multnomah Press, to include the words “shit” and “ass” (unless the latter refers to the animal that talked to the prophet Balaam or provided Jesus’ mode of transportation on Palm Sunday).
But aside from such publishing and marketing considerations, the story of Navy SEAL Adam Brown would be unique for a trio of reasons, any one of which would have been enough to disqualify Brown from the SEAL teams on its own.
To my knowledge, Brown is the only former crack addict to become a Navy SEAL, an extraordinary testimony to faith and determination. SEAL training is some of the toughest military training in the world, designed to weed out candidates by breaking them mentally.
Then after overcoming that — though not without the occasional temptation or backslide — Brown overcomes losing an eye in a training accident and having the fingers of his right hand severed and reattached.
Forget any sports rehab story you thought was the best you ever heard. Brown taught himself to shoot well enough with his left hand to not only stay a Navy SEAL but also move up to DEVGRU (Naval Special Warfare Development Group), the most demanding unit in the SEALs. It’s better known as SEAL Team SIX, basically the Navy’s version of Delta Force.
Like the Army’s DELTA Force, Seal TEAM SIX is one of our nations Special Missions Units, anti -terrorist teams called upon for the most important and dangerous missions, with orders that come directly from the Oval Office and/or top ranks within the Pentagon. These are our nation’s most secretive warriors with millions of dollars invested in their training. To put it mildly, they don’t often take guys who just learned to shoot with the hand he’s using.
Whatever the facts of the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case may turn out to be, it is instructive in how the media narrative works. Many reporters and pundits are ignoring the forest of reality while waiting to climb the one tree and go out on a limb assuming a local crime story reinforces their world view.
So it comes as a bit of a surprise that three of today’s best suspense novelists — writers who stand firm against the media narrative of crazy killer veterans, reflexively racist cops and imperialist CIA oppressors — are prize-winning journalists from the liberal troika of the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and, yes, the New York Times.
It will surprise no thriller fan that Stephen Hunter is less than politically correct. For more than 20 years and through 17 novels, Hunter has tweaked media narratives and refuted their clichés about guns and the men who use them. His most famous novels, which feature former Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger, celebrate the small-town American fighting man who fights his country’s wars and has contempt for the elites who underestimate him.
In his last Swagger book, I, Sniper, Hunter showed he was fed up with the industry that awarded him a Pulitzer Prize for film criticism as a writer for the Washington Post. In what could be seen as a one-paragraph summary of Thomas Sowell’s The Vision of the Anointed, Hunter put these words in the mouth of a frustrated FBI agent:
The narrative is the set of assumptions the press believes in, possibly without even knowing that it believes in them. It’s so powerful because it’s unconscious. It’s not like they get together every morning and decide “these are the lies we tell today.” No, that would be too crude and honest. Rather, it’s a set of casual non-rigorous assumptions about a reality they’ve never really experienced that’s arranged in such a way as to reinforce their best and most ideal presumptions about themselves and their importance to the system and the way they’ve chosen to live their lives. It’s their way of arranging things a certain way what they all believe in without ever really addressing it carefully. It permeates their whole culture. They know, for example, that Bush is a moron and Obama a saint. They know Communism was a phony threat cooked up by right-wing cranks as a way to leverage power to the executive. They know Saddam didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, the response to Katrina was f—ed up, torture never works. … Cheney’s a devil, Biden’s a genius. …The story [the central frame up in I, Sniper] was somewhat suspiciously concocted exactly to their prejudices, just as Jayson Blair’s made-up stories and Dan Rather’s Air National Guard documents were. And the narrative is the bedrock of their culture, the keystone of their faith, the altar of their church. They don’t even know they’re true believers, because in theory they despise the true believer in anything. But they will absolutely de-frackin-stroy anybody who makes them question all that.
This was written too early to add: “And innocent Trayvon Martin was executed for Walking While Black to buy Skittles by a racist white Hispanic who listens to Rush Limbaugh.”
Hunter’s latest, Soft Target (Simon and Schuster, $26.99), makes the rant above seem subtle. On the surface it updates Die Hard with the setting in the Mall of America. A Marine sniper is trapped with 1,000 customers on Black Friday by a team of jihadists calling itself the Mumbai Brigade.
That’s on the surface. At its core, Soft Target is a withering media and political satire that takes fewer prisoners than its hero, Ray Cruz, son of Swagger.
You see, the man in charge of the response to the terror attack is Colonel Douglas Obobo of the Minnesota State Police, whom Hunter describes as a charismatic media darling being pushed to be the first black director of the FBI. Hunter goes on to add he “hadn’t really done anything. His career was primarily a phenomenon of showing up, giving speeches, accepting awards, then moving up to the next level.”
Obobo scoffs that terrorism is the motive for the raid, opining that “other than a few Arabic-styled scarves, there is no evidence for that.” He goes for negotiations rather than confrontation, while the jihadists — spurred on by a local radical imam who is good at pleading persecution whenever someone objects to his sermons — plan to go out in a blaze of glory, taking their hostages with them,.
Ultimately, of course, it turns out it is the terrorists who are trapped in the Mall with Ray Cruz. Soft Target is shorter and more obvious than the average Hunter book, but it’s great fun, fueled by Hunter’s knowledge of weapons and tactics — and his newly revealed sense of outrage.
Besides, who can resist a thriller where the department store Santa gets sniped by a Muslim terrorist on page one?