About thirty years ago, I was hired to write for Ted Kennedy, and I was having a tough time finding his voice. Contrary to popular belief, he didn’t speak like John or Robert, but rather he had his own unique cadence. So I sat with him and asked him to just talk so that I could find the vocal pattern. I asked him to tell me about a traumatic experience in his life. Surprisingly, he didn’t talk about his brothers, or his political tribulations. Rather, he launched into a recitation about his visit to India in 1971 to visit Bengali refugee camps, and the horror of viewing 50,000 children who were about to die from disease, malnutrition and abuse as a result of the Pakistani genocide in East Pakistan. I confess I was fairly unfamiliar with the story, but I’ll never forget the emotion from Senator Kennedy as he related that when he closes his eyes, that was the horror he saw. Curiously, I’ve seen very few books about that episode, until Gary J. Bass published his book, The Blood Telegram; Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide. This is bound to be the authoritative book on the birth pains of Bangladesh, and what a great book it is. For one thing, the book makes copious use of the Nixon tapes, and no one can any longer contest that Nixon was consciously violating the law in his foreign policy initiatives. The book also relates, I think for the first time, the story of Kennedy’s visit to India to see the consequences of the American backed genocide first hand. The book has a couple of notable points–first, this is a story that I don’t think most Americans, or even foreigners like Obama, fully understand or appreciate. Second, I’m noting from this book the substantial similarities between the duplicity of Richard Nixon and the criminality and stupidity of Obama, who has also the nastiness of Nixon without any of the smarts. I’m also appreciating how sad it is that Kennedy’s seat in the Senate is now held by Senator Squaw, a bloodless and characterless excuse for a human being. Obama may be Nixon, but Squaw is no Kennedy. The book is outstanding and long overdue, and especially useful and timely for teaching why American policy in AfPak is so ill considered and boorish. In a year of great books, it’s going to be a tough choice between Blood Telegram, Dirty Wars and Warrior Cops.
One that won’t be on the list is Phil Caputo’s new book, the Longest Road, which is a boorish tale of his geriatric camping trip from the Florida Keys to the Alaska. The curious thing about Caputo was that Rumor of War, to many of us, exhibited a sharp conservative sensibility hindered by a professed trend toward liberal thinking. This new books makes the implied more painful. Caputo is a very real conservative, yet he plaintatively professes to despise conservatives. No where is his writing more ironic than his brief foray to help tornado victims in Missouri. He looks at a map of volunteers who have traveled from all over the country, and then professes his love for the liberal spirit of America. Hey, Phil, it’s people, not FEMA. You’re a Tea Partier! Admit it! Why do I still read Phil Caputo? Because his earlier work was so good that you want to support the guy in his dotage. Which is clearly here. At least he is not Martin Cruz Smith, who has just ground out another unreadable Renko mystery. Retire! Retire! Please, god, make that guy stop writing!
Blood Telegram. Don’t miss it.