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review 2017-03-20 02:29
ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: REFLECTIONS ON "THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE" IN WORLD WAR I
The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War - Richard Rubin

A few minutes ago (it's now 9:29 PM EST as I write this), I finished reading this book. I felt both grateful for the considerable work the author put into travelling across the country (starting in the summer of 2003) to interview personally as many of the surviving U.S. veterans (men and women alike) of the First World War as could be found --- and thankful to hear these veterans speak of their experiences. This has a special resonance to me because my maternal grandfather (who was born in 1895) had served in France as a corporal in the U.S. Army in 1918. He passed away in the early 1970s (when I was a 3rd grader) as I was beginning to come into an awareness of what war was, courtesy of Vietnam. So, it wasn't until many years later, that I came to have a special appreciation for those Americans who served in the First World War and for the changes that war wrought on this country.

Many of the persons Richard Rubin interviewed represented a broad cross-section of those Americans (both native born and immigrant) who served in uniform between 1917 and 1918. While most of the veterans he interviewed (Army, Navy, and Marine Corps) served overseas, there were at least a couple of them who remained in the United States. Indeed, one of them enlisted toward the end of the war and before he could become more fully integrated in "the Army way", the armistice was signed and he was told he could go home. He hadn't been issued a uniform and aside from receiving transit home, the Army gave him a certificate of service and a dollar.

The author also managed to interview a couple of African American veterans of the war. One of them, was George Johnson, a 111 year old living in Richmond, California in 2005. His Army experience was largely reflective of the disdain and indignities with which many African Americans who served in the U.S military during the First World War had to deal with from their white compatriots, and the general society. Mr. Johnson's case was somewhat unique in that, as a very light-skinned African American, he could have easily passed as white, had he so chose. When he speaks with the author about the experiences his brother had with the U.S. Navy (where he was thought to be white and treated as such, until in answer to a query one of his shipmates put to him, he admitted that he was 'Negro'), it was a very sad and tragic story. One that impacted on Mr. Johnson for the rest of his life and perhaps was the contributing factor that made Mr. Johnson later see himself as white and not black. The other African American veteran the author interviewed in 2006 was Moses Hardy at age 113 in Aberdeen, Mississippi. Mr. Hardy served in one of the U.S. Army "pioneer infantry" regiments in France which saw combat during the final stages of the war.
He was in one of the few African American combat units, for most African American soldiers, upon arrival in France, were placed into labor units. (According to the book: "...only 20 percent of all African American troops sent to France in World War I were used as fighting men.") This was reflective of the then widespread belief that African American soldiers were unfit for combat duties. (Never mind the distinguished service African Americans had provided the country as soldiers and sailors since the American Revolution.)

The book concludes with a series of interviews the author had with Frank Woodruff Beckles, who ended up as the last surviving U.S. First World War veteran. His story was richly fascinating, encompassing so much of the world in which he spent so much time between the wars, working on a variety of jobs.

As we approach the 100th anniversary of the U.S. declaration of war against Germany (April 6, 1917), I would strongly urge any one reading this review to pick up a copy "THE LAST OF THE DOUGHBOYS" and treat yourself to one of the most rewarding experiences you'll ever have.

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review 2017-03-12 20:07
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko - Min Jin Lee

The book starts off so wonderfully, drawing you in and making you want to see more of the Kim family.  Unfortunately, the lovely writing and intriguing storyline didn't last very long, and started to wane after about 200 pages.  The writing style changed so much that it became a pain to read, and all the skipping ahead and lack of character development really became tiring.  I really hoped it would improve and tried to keep going, but it just wasn't worth it, so I quit.  Very disappointing after such a strong start.

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review 2017-02-15 22:09
The Secret History of Wonder Woman
The Secret History of Wonder Woman - Jill Lepore

The Secret History of Wonder Woman is an interesting read - it has great ideas about the history of American feminism, and why it's been grinding gears since the 1970s in many ways, but what it does do, and do well, is take a look at "First Wave" feminism, and at William Moulton Marston.

 

And who was he? 

 

He was the creator of Wonder Woman.

 

And he was a very strange man.  And his most famous creation reflects him in many ways.

 

William Moulton Marston headed off to Harvard just as the battle for woman suffrage was getting very heated in the US.  Ironically, the women voters in those states which allowed it re-elected Woodrow Wilson in the exceptionally tight presidential election of 1916.  (Without the female vote in a handful of states, America elects Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes instead.)  Margaret Sanger and her sister, Edith Byrne, found the organization that would become Planned Parenthood.  Alice Paul's American suffragettes are chaining themselves to the White House gates. NAWSA is leading the charge for the 20th Amendment - the woman suffrage amendment.

 

While a Harvard undergraduate, studying psychology, he invented a lie detector (based on blood pressure readings), but failed to patent it.  He married the girl down the street, Elizabeth Holloway, and they both went to law school (he at Harvard, she at Boston University - because "those dumb bunnies at Harvard wouldn't take women"). After law school, he also got a Ph.D in psychology from Harvard, and went off to the academic world, where he taught psychology at places like Columbia and Tufts.  (Elizabeth Holloway, who got the M.A., but may have done most of the work for Marston's Ph.D, went to work for companies like Encyclopedia Britannica, McCalls magazine, or Metropolitan Life Insurance.) 

 

At Tufts he met Margaret Sanger's niece, Olive Byrne, and after she graduated, gave his wife an ultimatum: either they all three lived together as a threesome, or he would leave her.

 

She chose to stay.

 

Marston, who truly did think of himself as a feminist, certainly did not live in a matriarchy.  One wife, Elizabeth, worked twelve hours a day in Manhattan, supporting the entire family.  The other, Olive Byrne (they explained her presence as "their widowed housekeeper, Mrs. Richard"), raised the four children the women had by Marston.  When she was not writing puff pieces about Marston in Family Circle.  Marston, meanwhile, hung around the house, mostly in his underwear, only dressing up for the occasional client visit.  (He had been blacklisted from academics, for a combination of his very esoteric psychological theories and the rumors about his sex life, and had then failed to make a success of himself in Hollywood.)  His attempts to get the FBI interested in his lie detector only succeeded in getting J. Edgar Hoover to open a file on him.

 

And then, as the 30s turned into the 40s, he noticed that Americans were reading an insane number of comic books, and saw his opportunity.

 

And he created Wonder Woman.

 

The first female superhero.  A feminist role model.  And also a reflection of some of Marston's other interests - she's almost as interested in detecting lies as he was, for one thing.  She's kind of kinky.  (He got a ton of interesting fan letters.)  And she was an enormous success.

 

She hit hard times, however, when Marston died in 1947.  She was given to writers who either didn't know or didn't care what her backstory was, and were certainly not feminists.  The strip's "Wonder Women of History" segment was abruptly cancelled.

 

By the late 1960s, she had been remodeled into a shadow of Emma Peel, and lost her superpowers.

 

And then she was reclaimed by "Second Wave" feminists, like Gloria Steinem.  ABC television came calling.

 

Meanwhile, American feminism splintered, and 1972, and the launch of Ms. magazine, with Wonder Woman on the cover, was the high ground never to be recovered.

 

And, Lepore claims, that's all Wonder Woman's fault.  Having set out to prove that Wonder Woman was molded by American feminism, and, I would say, having done so, she fails to prove (and doesn't really try) to prove that Wonder Woman then molded American feminism in her own image. 

 

Like I said, she makes the argument, but presents no evidence that I would call substantial.  Ms. debuted with Wonder Woman on the cover, yes.  But that doesn't mean that American feminism was now being modeled on Wonder Woman.  Frankly, Wonder Woman is a strong image (what American doesn't recognize her?), and that's what a magazine always wants for its cover - a punchy graphic that makes a statement.

 

Lepore provides almost fulsome detail about anything connected with Marston.  He led a fascinating life.  The material on Wonder Woman, and on American feminism, after Marston's death is almost perfunctory.

 

Lepore got access from DC Comics, as well as permission to use, copious numbers of illustrations from 1940s Wonder Woman strips.  They make fascinating viewing.

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text 2017-02-15 14:26
Hope in the Midst of War

Suzy Henderson is a guest on my blog today with a wonderful post about the disfigured soldiers of WWII and the doctors who worked tirelessly to give them new lives.

 

Source: samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com/2017/02/hope-in-midst-of-war.html
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review 2017-02-10 14:33
Wherein I discuss my totally rational fears + reminisce on blog beginnings
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania - Erik Larson

Today I'm going to tell you about Deep Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania aka reason #5022 why I will never go on a cruise. I have an odd fascination with shipwrecks but also a deep, crushing fear of them. I cannot deal with images of sunken ships, statues, or really anything submerged under the water and nestled at the bottom of the ocean floor (you can also substitute ocean with sea, lake, or deep pool). Here is also where I confess that I am woefully ignorant about World War I. I always struggle to remember who was fighting in the war and what it was really about (I think this is still being puzzled over in some places). As far as the Lusitania, the only thing I knew was that it was a large passenger ship that had sunk (filling me with terror like the sinking of the Titanic and the film Poseidon with Kurt Russell). So I went into this book pretty much as a blank slate and by 30 pages in I was already spouting facts about it to my coworkers (who may never go on a cruise either). Like with all of Larson's works, he focuses on a major topic while interweaving storylines that occur parallel to the main event. For example, this book is about the Lusitania and its final voyage but in order to put that into context Larson had to discuss WWI and President Woodrow Wilson's state of mind in regards to the neutrality of the United States in that war (Wilson was one passionate dude, ya'll.). So not only did I learn about the machinations of the leading world powers of the early 20th century (Germany, Great Britain, and the U.S.A.) but I also got a glimpse into President Wilson's personal life, learned how submarines operate, and discovered that people really liked to smoke in 1915.

 

PS As mentioned in other posts, I love reading the end notes of nonfiction books because there are always fantastic little tidbits there that just didn't fit in the overall narrative of the book. Dead Wake was no exception. It led me to The Lusitania Resource which is a website dedicated to uncovering all of the facts of the sinking of the ship including primary documents, articles concerning the controversy of its significance to WWI, and much more. I highly recommend you check it out if nothing else than to whet your appetite for Larson's book. (Yes, I know that it's insane for me to be obsessed with this site after referencing my very real fears of traveling on a cruise ship but I like to have all of my facts ready for those trying to change my mind. It's perfectly normal.)

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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