Tag Archives: books

We Mustn’t Build It or They Will Come

But build it we did and the enemy did come.

As many individuals who served in the American military believed, building an outpost at the bottom of a valley in Afghanistan was an absurd and terrible idea.  Even when respectful apprehension at the plan was met with agreement, the commands from higher pay grades and ranks superseded all forms of reconsideration.  Jake Tapper’s book The Outpost opens with the lunacy of building an outpost in a valley and not atop a mountain when he relates a conversation between “a young intelligence analyst named Jacob Whittaker” and his “superior officer, Second Lieutenant Ryan Lockner” in the “summer of 2006” (3).  Lockner gave Whittaker an assignment to create a visual aid for a morning presentation detailing the location of a new outpost.  After verifying that he had the correct information for its exact location, Whittaker confirmed that he could make the requested Power Point, “But sir…that is a really awful place for a base…it’s located at the base of a mountain peak…and flanked by a river on the west and another river to the north?”

Lockner added, “And there’s no good road to get to it — they’re still building that…”

To which Whittaker responded, “And it’s an eternity away by helicopter if something goes wrong..Sir, this is a really bad idea…A. Really. Bad. Idea. Anyone we drop off there is going to die.”

Jake Tapper’s summary of the exchange between Whittaker and Lockner includes more information on the topography on the area that Camp Kamdesh (eventually renamed Camp Outpost Keating) would be built no matter how tactically nonsensical.  Orders were orders after all.

OTPST

I finished reading Jake Tapper’s book recently and loved it.  I experienced a substantial pang of sadness and “what the hell?!” afterwards because of current events.  So many lives lost, so many dollars poured into plans, projects, and good intentions that evaporated just like that.

I had wanted to write a blog entry about it after I’d rewatched the The Outpost (Rod Lurie, 2019) and re-read some of the passages in Clinton Romesha‘s account of being at Camp Outpost Keating when it was breached by the enemy….but, I didn’t feel like waiting any more.

If you’ve not seen the film nor read either of the books but would like to plunge into the triumvirate of texts, I recommend you watch the movie first, then read Red Platoon, and then read The Outpost.  Most of the book consists of establishing geo-political and historical contexts that preceded, facilitated, exacerbated what happened at COP Keating.  If you have seen the movie and read Clinton Romesha’s book (or have consumed just one of them) and you want a more compare-and-contrast reading experience of Jake Tapper’s book, then I suggest you read the final section, Book Three entitled “Enemy in the Wire: The End of Combat Outpost Keating”).

OutP  RPlatjpg

I do want to re-watch the movie soon and organize my notes and thoughts for a blog post.

And, the Atlanta Falcons were in merry ole London over the weekend for gridiron action against the New York Jets.  The Falcons moistened the Jets’ towelettes 27 to 20.  Final score.  Get game summary, stats, and play-by-play here.

I concur, Darius the Great Deserves Better

I picked up Adib Khorram‘s Darius the Great Is Not Okay a year ago and read it over mid-summer.  The sequel, Darius the Great Deserves Better, came out in hardback a year ago and the paperback a few weeks ago.  I adored the first book, not only for its Bette Davis reference, but also in the way it presented the subjectivity of its title character.  Even when the “ums” became tiresome to read, I still liked Darius and felt really bad for how his classmates treated him.

DTGINO  DTGDB

Not Okay follows Darius and his family’s trip to Iran to visit Darius’s mother’s family, Deserves Better continues with the story after they’ve returned home to Oregon.  Darius goes from awkward, self-embarrassed to less awkward, but still a little self-embarrassed.  His “ums” decrease a tad — some of them are replaced with “that’s normal, right?”

Although the first book has better writing overall and addresses the topic of self-identity and multi-culturalism very well, the second book is more “fun” to read because there are more opportunities to separate from the interiority of the main character.  The reader can identify with his troubles without being in his head, even though he is the narrator.  There are also more provocations to talk at the book, at the characters, to say things like, “Because Darius, you like ____.”  And yet, some of the conversations between the characters, whether it’s Darius and his parents or Darius and his friends, pulsate with advice column material.  It’s as though the author came across an high school lit mag with the theme of “how to talk about XYZ with your family and friends.”

This assessment originates from the mind of someone who used Windows 3.1 on the first family computer.  If I were in junior high or high school right now, or even college, would my reception of these two books be different?

Fun fact: I read Randy Ribay‘s Patron Saints of Nothing after finishing Not Okay and waiting for Deserves Better on paperback to be released, and when I got my hands on the latter finally, I kept thinking about Randy Ribay’s book.  Both of the Darius books together generates the same emotional response as Patron Saints of Nothing in their exploration of coming-of-age narratives and themes around family dynamics and ethnic heritages.  Would their protagonists be friends?  Hmmm.

What Does It Mean to Have Bette Davis Eyes?

Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon wrote a song about it, Kim Carnes made it popular, and Gwyneth Paltrow covered it in the film Duets (2000), but what does it mean to have Bette Davis eyes?

BetteD

Sure, her hair is Harlow gold and she might just have Greta Garbo stand-off sighs, but do the song lyrics of “Bette Davis Eyes” adequately elaborate beyond depicting a seductress who is not afraid to cause a bit of pain (physical or emotional)?  Writer Adib Khorram offers this perspective in his book Darius the Great Is Not Okay: Fariba Bahrami had the kindest eyes in the entire galaxy.  They were huge and brown, with little soft pillows under them.  Mom called them Bette Davis eyes (165).

I like Khorram’s mental image much more than the one from the song.  To be honest, despite the nearly three decades I’ve been watching classic movies and mentally ranking various Hollywood actresses’ personas, talents, and other elements that evoke an air of alluring curiosity, Bette Davis did not feature prominently in these exercises.  It wasn’t due to a lack of effort as much as it was a very delayed reaction. After all, I only developed an admiration for Ingrid Bergman and Barbara Stanwyck‘s onscreen magnetism years after college.  As the adage notes, timing is everything, and when it comes to opening yourself up as a viewer to performing artists to whom you had previously felt indifferent, you cannot hurry the manifestation of that kind of esteem and fondness.

Eleven American presidents in office, forty-nine Nobel Peace Prizes awarded, and fourteen sets of Leap Years have come and gone in the half century that Bette Davis lit up the cinema and television screens.  From 1931 to 1989, the two-time Academy Award-winning actress built an illustrious career playing an heiress [The Bride Came C.O.D. (William Keighley, 1941)], a non-conforming southern belle [Jezebel (William Wyler, 1938)], twins [A Stolen Life (Curtis Bernhardt, 1946) and Dead Ringer (Paul Henreid, 1964)], and a celebrated thespian [All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950)], among many other roles.

Spending a large part of last year better acquainting myself with Bette’s filmography by watching her films and interviews with Dick Cavett and reading Kathryn Sermak’s memoir Miss D & Me and Sherrie Tucker’s book Dance Floor Democracy has led me to a juncture of cultural and cinematic (re)discovery.  As evidenced in the examples of mentorship, social etiquette, and reclamation of self-agency throughout Miss D & Me, Bette Davis was as much an actress as she was a teacher, eager to share her understanding of human psychology as well as her benchmarks for a fulfilled life.  It was her strength and weakness — knowing exactly what and how she wanted to experience life, supremely prescient in the now quotidien meme of “expectations vs. reality.”

Learn more about Bette Davis in this TCM piece about her role at the Hollywood Canteen.

Enjoy these Bette Davisisms:

Having a career [in Hollywood] includes not only that you can act but that you–that the people go and see you, because people make careers.  No studio manager, no studio head can make you a star.  The audiences made me a star, that was the great miracle to me.
—  Dick Cavett interview from 1969 included on the Criterion Edition of All About Eve.

I feel I am an actress, I hope.  With my taste in what I like to do, I never thought I would ever be a box-office person, because you see, when I went [to Columbia Pictures] in [1930], imagine looking at me after they’d been looking at these really beautiful women that’d been in silent pictures for years.  Imagine seeing Jean Harlow and then I come through the gate, you know, ’cause I started in theatre and stage actors, you know, it wasn’t important how you looked out of the theatre.  I didn’t wear makeup and glamourous clothes, you know, I just dressed in an ordinary, little Yankee way.”
— Dick Cavett interview from 1971 included on the Criterion Edition of Now, Voyager.

Pic creds: 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, IMDB

Last Mission to Tokyo

I’d read about Last Mission to Tokyo by Michel Paradis in Military History Magazine in late 2020 and absolutely had to get my hands on it.  I did but didn’t start reading it until earlier this year.  I finished it a few weeks ago and loved it.  I was about halfway through Jake Tapper’s The Outpost when I started reading Last Mission to Tokyo and by the time I had read just over half of the latter, I’d developed a deep admiration for how necessarily different are the voices, tones, and styles of Jake Tapper’s journalistic/investigative writing and that of Michel Paradis’s creative non-fiction.

LMTK

Paradis points out in the Author’s Note that he had intended originally to “write a more scholarly examination of the case of United States v. Sawada, et al. and the lessons it has for contemporary international and national security law,” but the more he researched and worked on it, the more he realized that this history would appeal to a wider audience, not just law professors, students, and experts (343).

Upon reading just a few chapters of Paradis’s book, I kept thinking to myself, “Did I learn about the US military bombing Tokyo before the atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima?  Why is this piece of knowledge so shocking?  The Doolittle Raid is referenced and briefly depicted in Roland Emmerich’s war film Midway?”  Honestly, je ne me souviens pas.

Last Mission to Tokyo chronicles the aftermath of The Doolittle Raid and what happened to the crew of two planes, the Green Hornet and the Bat Out of Hell, when they made their way to China (hoping they’d found themselves in US-friendly, Chiang Kai-Shek-backed communities).  Captured, tortured, executed (but not all of them); bringing a trial against those responsible for ordering the deaths of American airmen, having to navigate through not just Japanese military bureacracy to get names but also post-war socio-political stability in the region, and finding yourself having to serve as defense counsel for the accused Japanese officers?  There was so much to compile, consider, and process to find a modicum of justice.

If you like reading books on history in general, military history in particular, international law, World War II, or creative non-fiction overall, please give this book a try.  If you want to learn things you never knew you’d derive pleasure from learning, read this book.  For example, did you know that “the Philippines had been the United States’ largest colony for more than forty years” until the Japanese kicked them out in WWII for three years, at which time “MacArthur had made good on his promise to return and wiped out the Japanese forces in the Battle of Manila” (85)?

Part of me is under the impression that the Philippines being an American colony was in the AP US history textbook, but when I came across this passage in Last Mission to Tokyo, my response was not of “oh, yeah, I knew that,” but rather, “what?!”

It goes without saying that I want to read more about Asian countries during WWII.  Anyone have recommendations?

So You’ve Got Broken Wings

Kahlil Gibran once wrote in The Broken Wings:

It is said that unsophistication makes a man empty and that emptiness makes him carefree. It may be true among those born dead and who exist like frozen corpses; but the sensitive boy who feels much and knows little is the most unfortunate creature under the sun, because he is torn by two forces. The first elevates him and shows him the beauty of existence through a cloud of dreams; the second ties him down to the earth and fills his eyes with dust and overpowers him with fears and darkness.

Solitude has soft, silky hands, but with strong fingers it grasps the heart and makes it ache with sorrow. – Chapter One

The sorrowful spirit finds rest when united with a similar one…Hearts that are united through the medium of sorrow will not be separated by the glory of happiness.
– Chapter Four

It is wrong to think that love comes from long companionship and persevering courtship. Love is the offspring of spiritual affinity and unless that affinity is created in a moment, it will not be created in years or even generations. – Chapter Five

He was born at dawn and died at sunrise…
He was born like a thought and died like a sigh and disappeared like a shadow.
– Chapter Ten

Dipuc

Emmie introduced me to this very short tale of love, longing, and loss.

I’m not sure I agree with Gibran’s assertion that love can only come from near-instantaneous spiritual affinity rather than nurtured companionship and courtship.  Of course, an initial pull between both parties should be there of its own accord, but how many times have you found yourself enamored with and very well acquainted with someone you didn’t think much of at first?