Sunday Bookchat

May 24, 2008

We observe Memorial Day in this week’s Sunday Bookchat by highlighting Andrei Cherny’s The Candy Bombers: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America’s Finest Hour, which will be the discussion topic for the week of June 2 at the TPM Cafe Book Club. Calling this an “untold story” is pure hype: the Berlin Airlift of 1948-1949 is an oft-told story — Jon Sutherland’s The Berlin Airlift: The Salvation of a City was published only a few months ago — but Cherny is right about it being America’s finest hour.

In a nutshell: after the defeat of Germany in World War II, the capital city of Berlin was divided into occupation zones separately controlled by the U.S., France, the U.K. and the Soviet Union. Germany itself was similarly divided, but Berlin lay deep within the eastern section of the country and was surrounded by the Soviet occupation zone, though the Soviets had agreed to permit highway and rail access through their territory. Already suspicious of the U.S.-led Marshall Plan to restore the war-shattered European economy, and at odds with its former allies on the fate of postwar Germany, the Soviets made a series of moves in June 1948 that left West Berlin isolated from the Allied-controlled sectors. With only about a month of coal and food supplies on hand for civilians and soldiers, America and Britain conducted a joint airlift into the city that staved off disaster and boosted America’s moral standing around the world.

The book’s title refers to “Operation Little Vittles,” started by airlift pilot Gail Halvorsen, who began dropping candy bars and chewing gum to Berlin children. Other pilots joined in, and American candy companies began donating sweets to the project. Because he always bobbled his wings as a signal that he was about to drop candy, Halvorsen became known as “Uncle Wiggly-Wings” to the children of Berlin.

The airlift reached its peak with the April 1949 “Easter Parade” in which a continuous stream of landings brought thousands of tons of coal into the city. The Easter Parade was the last straw for the Soviets, for whom the airlift was a daily humiliation, and they lifted their blockade a month later.

Since Bush sycophants and conservatives are determined to appropriate World War II imagery to sanctify their disgusting and contemptible venture in Iraq, let them contemplate the story of the Berlin Airlift and consider how much of America’s moral capital has been squandered over the last few years. To go from Uncle Wiggly WIngs to “Kick Their Ass, Take Their Gas” is a very steep drop indeed, and a marker of just how badly the Bush administration has soiled America’s good name.

* * * * *

It was only to be expected that Vincent Bugliosi, the man who prosecuted Charles Manson, would turn his attention to George W. Bush. And, doing so, he asks: Why do so many people think impeachment is the proper response to Bush’s crimes and corruption?

Perhaps the most amazing thing to me about the belief of many that George Bush lied to the American public in starting his war with Iraq is that the liberal columnists who have accused him of doing this merely make this point, and then go on to the next paragraph in their columns. Only very infrequently does a columnist add that because of it Bush should be impeached. If the charges are true, of course Bush should have been impeached, convicted, and removed from office. That’s almost too self-evident to state. But he deserves much more than impeachment. I mean, in America, we apparently impeach presidents for having consensual sex outside of marriage and trying to cover it up. If we impeach presidents for that, then if the president takes the country to war on a lie where thousands of American soldiers die horrible, violent deaths and over 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians, including women and children, even babies are killed, the punishment obviously has to be much, much more severe. That’s just common sense. If Bush were impeached, convicted in the Senate, and removed from office, he’d still be a free man, still be able to wake up in the morning with his cup of coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice and read the morning paper, still travel widely and lead a life of privilege, still belong to his country club and get standing ovations whenever he chose to speak to the Republican faithful. This, for being responsible for over 100,000 horrible deaths?* For anyone interested in true justice, impeachment alone would be a joke for what Bush did.

As to what Bugliosi would do, take note that the title of his upcoming book is The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder. Anybody out there ready to make this dream a reality?

* * * * *

With so many conservatives trying to distance themselves from King George II and his glittering record of disaster, it’s good for J. Peter Scoblic to remind us — as he does in his new book U.S. vs. Them: How a Half Century of Conservatism Has Undermined America’s Security — that Bush’s foreign policy failures are grounded in the very foundations of conservative thought.

Actually, “thought” isn’t the appropriate word here. As this NYTBR writer explains:

Cast adrift after the cold war, conservatives seized upon the 9/11 attacks to craft a new “them”: Iraq, Iran and North Korea, sponsors of the formless evil of terrorism. The Bush administration ached for a world where America could guarantee its own safety without the messiness of alliances, diplomacy and compromise, a dream that appealed to both the newfangled unilateralism of neoconservatives and the old-fashioned nationalism of paleoconservatives.

And though all three countries epitomized for conservatives the futility of trying to negotiate with or contain evil regimes, only Iraq offered the tantalizing promise of a quick, satisfying and demonstrative military victory. “Iraq,” Scoblic writes, “was the most invadable member of the axis of evil.”

Along with its analysis of Bush foreign policy, “U.S. vs. Them” doubles as an incisive intellectual history of conservatism. Scoblic briskly traces the movement’s evolution from pre-World War II isolationism to the active anti-Communism propounded by William F. Buckley. He provides a useful corrective to the conservative myths about Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy. Reagan was a staunch anti-Communist and pursued a military buildup against the Soviet Union, Scoblic notes. But most pivotal was Reagan’s decision to overrule conservatives in his own administration and negotiate historic weapons reductions with the Kremlin, paving the way for an end to the cold war arms race.

The recent childish attacks on Barack Obama for saying he would talk with Iran and other antagonistic countries show that the conservative learning curve is shallower than ever when it comes to foreign policy.


One Response to “Sunday Bookchat”

  1. Karen Haggerty Says:


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