O que é este blog?

Este blog trata basicamente de ideias, se possível inteligentes, para pessoas inteligentes. Ele também se ocupa de ideias aplicadas à política, em especial à política econômica. Ele constitui uma tentativa de manter um pensamento crítico e independente sobre livros, sobre questões culturais em geral, focando numa discussão bem informada sobre temas de relações internacionais e de política externa do Brasil. Para meus livros e ensaios ver o website: www.pralmeida.org.

Mostrando postagens com marcador The New York Times Book Reviews. Mostrar todas as postagens
Mostrando postagens com marcador The New York Times Book Reviews. Mostrar todas as postagens

sexta-feira, 18 de julho de 2014

The Woman: do que o Brasil escapou: a primeira embaixadora americana, que quase chegou...

Eu recebo tudo sobre o Brasil que é publicado no New Wirk Times. Por isso me surpreendi com uma chamada, com esse título, The Woman, e uma resenha de livro, relativa ao Brasil.
Curioso, fui ler agora, o que só vai ser publicado no NYTimes de domingo, uma longa resenha dessa extraordinária mulher, famosa por suas frases cortantes, a primeira embaixadora dos EUA, primeiro na Itália, e quase no Brasil, e que deixou um legado inesquecível, para o bem ou para o mal, para todos os que com ela conviveram.
Em todo caso, a resenha está muito bem feita, mas não pretendo comprar o livro, sequer folhear em livraria. A única coisa sobre o Brasil é a perspectiva de ter quase ido. Não sei do que escapamos, mas teria sido uma sensação.
O Brasil dos anos 1950 já tinha tantos problemas de instabilidade política e militar, que ela certamente seria mais uma fonte de instabilidade diplomática...
Enfim, leiam pelo menos a resenha que está muito boa. Vou tentar achar a resenha do primeiro volume. Essa mulher realmente fez história, mas apenas petite histoire...
Paulo Roberto de Almeida

The Woman
‘Price of Fame,’ by Sylvia Jukes Morris

The Honorable Clare Boothe Luce
By Sylvia Jukes Morris
Illustrated. 735 pp. Random House. $35.

(vejam a foto aqui)
All Clare on the Western Front: With Fifth Army Group troops, 1945. Credit Courtesy of Sylvia Jukes Morris
Clare Boothe Luce has a lot to answer for.
As the grande dame of the Republican Party, she introduced Richard Nixon to Henry Kissinger at her 1967 Christmas cocktail party. As la belle dame sans merci of Manhattan’s smart set, she took whatever she wanted from life without regard to moral consequences, even after showily converting to Catholicism. As a glamorous World War II correspondent, she wrote a book so self-­regarding that Dorothy Parker titled her review “All Clare on the Western Front.”
Her colleague at Vanity Fair in the 1930s, Helen Lawrenson, wrote about the author of the venomous 1936 play “The Women”: “I can think of no one who aroused so much venom in members of her own sex.”
“Throughout her life she had aimed for the best of everything and usually gotten it,” Sylvia Jukes Morris writes in the second volume of her exhaustive biography of the relentless enchantress who had more hyphens in her résumé than Barbra Streisand. Clare Boothe Luce was an actress-editrix-playwright-screenwriter-­congresswoman-ambassador-presidential adviser. And as the wife of Henry Luce, father of the Time empire, she was the clever half of the predominant power couple of the mid-20th century, even giving Luce many ideas for Life magazine, though she was barred from its masthead.
She was “an accomplished seductress” who married once, if not twice, for money and position, Morris writes. Yet Luce always asserted that “in every marriage there are two marriages. His and hers. His is better. . . . What man now calls woman’s natural feminine mentality is the unnatural slave mentality he forced on her.”
In Morris’s first volume, “Rage for Fame,” Luce — the illegitimate daughter of a violet-eyed, conniving Upper West Side beauty who urged her daughter to use her blue eyes, blond hair and luminous skin to ensnare wealthy men — is on the ascent, driven by “her perpetual hunger for power in yet more spheres.”
She had few real friends, as Lawrenson wrote, because “she seemed to trust no one, love no one.” Yet, Lawrenson said, Luce “could enter a room where there were other women, more beautiful, ­better dressed with better figures, and they faded into the background, foils for her radiance.”
Luce flourished as a coquette and courtesan in bows and ruffles, but she once told male diplomats at a well-lubricated dinner: “Women are not interested in sex. All they want is babies and security from men. Men are just too stupid to know it.” Her sometime escort, the French artist Raymond Bret-Koch, appraised her this way: “It’s a beautiful, well-constructed facade but without central heating.”
As “Price of Fame” begins, it’s 1943 and the diaphanous, carnivorous 39-year-old Luce is still on the rise. The woman Morris calls “by far the smartest, most famous and most glamorous member of the House of Representatives” is eluding clamoring reporters as she arrives at Union Station to begin her term as a Connecticut Republican. She is also growing more pompous, becoming the target of contemporaries like Dawn Powell, who wrote “A Time to Be Born,” a piercing satire about the chilly blond climber Amanda Keeler, who was “too successful, too arrogantly on top, to even need good taste.”
Yet as the onetime Democrat became a Republican star — called “Blondilocks” by The Bridgeport Herald — Luce retained her talent to startle. Speaking to bejeweled Republican supporters at a dinner, in the low, melodious pitch she diligently rehearsed, Luce observed, “One of the troubles with the Republican Party is that it contains too many prehistoric millionaires who wear too many orchids.” Luce preferred to wear a rose in a small vial of water on the lapel of her custom-made suits.
When the Democratic representative J. William Fulbright lectured her on the House floor about her views on national security, she lectured him right back that he mixed up “infer” and “imply.” She attacked Senator Harry Truman’s wife as “Payroll Bess” for taking a salary of $4,500 a year to do her husband’s mail and edit committee reports. As president, Truman banned “that woman,” as he called her, from the White House. Luce accused Vice President Henry Wallace of “globaloney” and President Roosevelt of lying his way into World War II. Roosevelt riposted that Luce was a “sharp-tongued glamour girl of 40.”
After winning re-election, Luce went on a newfangled foreign junket with a delegation from the military affairs committee to visit the battlefields of Western Europe and collect some souvenirs: the hearts of romance-starved military men. Just before photographers snapped their shots, she would reverse her camouflage jacket to show the white lining, looking, as one Army public relations officer recalled, like “a gorgeous laughing snow bunny.”
She ensorcelled the married Lieut. Gen. Lucian K. Truscott Jr., in command of the Fifth Army in Italy. Soon she was in a black silk suit on the front, having dinner before a roaring fire with the handsome Truscott in his tent. As they sat on his regulation cot, he grabbed her and importuned, “The most beautiful thing in this world is an American division!”
As their romance blossomed, Truscott wrote poetry to her — “I’m troubled by the ghosts that haunt this place / They mock the skull beneath your lovely face” — and confessed, “I was drawn to you as iron is drawn by a magnet and was almost as helpless.” When she went off incommunicado with her general, the Pentagon dispatched a lieutenant to collect her from a villa in Rome and return her to the Z.I. (Zone of the Interior, i.e., the United States).
The ensuing decades, scarred by family tragedy; marital trauma; bouts with “the dismals,” as she called her bad mood swings; drug dependency; a hysterectomy at 44; arsenic poisoning; suicide attempts; a brain tumor and her horror at her fading beauty; a dwindling pool of male admirers and servant problems, make for fascinating but melancholy reading.
Over the years, Morris pursued Luce, who finally gave in and provided access to 460,000 items in the Library of Congress, more than many presidents save. With her husband, the fellow biographer Edmund Morris, Morris spent time with Luce at her home in Honolulu, which the renowned hostess called her “fur-lined rut,” and once ingratiated herself by filling in when Luce was lacking a full-time maid. “I don’t see much hope for a country where you can’t get live-in servants,” Luce, who was very hard on the servants — even once slapping the wife of one — grumpily told Morris.
She had no small talk, just pontification and a jutting jaw if anyone interrupted her monologues. And, when Luce poured herself a big Scotch despite her ulcers, nicknamed Qaddafi and Begin, Morris writes, “it seldom occurred to her to offer drinks to others.”
Morris is not great at stepping back and analyzing. She just methodically piles up the facts. Two volumes would seem excessive, but Luce’s pathological need to invent and reinvent herself, her restless, acquisitive drive to conquer new worlds and her cascading calamities end up providing plenty of vivid material.
Luce was not enamored of Congress. Her combination of femininity and forcefulness — which Vogue called “analogous to being dynamited by angel cake” — unnerved some colleagues, who ostracized her. She complained to Pearl Buck about “myriad little snubs and discriminations” dished out to “the girls.” (Her husband’s top editors also belittled her, and curtailed coverage of her, despite his importunings. She had to settle for the cover of Newsweek.) When a colleague in Congress tried to flatter Luce by saying she had “a masculine mind,” she demurred: “Thought has no sex.” She was touted as a possible vice-presidential candidate in 1944, but said: “Politics is the refuge of second-class minds.”
Although called “The Woman Who Has Everything,” she was lonely, and her marriage was ragged. Morris chronicles the “heart trouble” of both Luces, to use the euphemism Time editors employed for their boss’s infatuations. While she was recovering from her hysterectomy, Luce got a visit from a lawyer sent by Harry, as her husband was known, telling her that she “owed it” to Roman Catholicism to divorce him. But she clung to the marriage, even though he had refused to have sex with her for eight years, citing two events early in their relationship that he said made him impotent: when she had not been impressed enough that he made $1 million a year, and when she had been dismissive of his cherished membership in Yale’s Skull and Bones.
Although Luce had not been the most nurturing mother (Harry said she had treated her daughter, Ann, “abysmally” when the girl was growing up) she was shattered when the 19-year-old Stanford student died in 1944 in a car accident in Palo Alto. She wandered into a Catholic church in a haze of bitterness. It was the beginning of an intense spiritual odyssey that would end with her conversion to Catholicism — her instructor was Fulton J. Sheen, the monsignor with the piercing eyes who became a television star in the 1950s. It was a move that alienated her from Harry’s anti-­Catholic Presbyterian missionary mother, who would have been appalled to know that Luce asked Pope Pius XII to help persuade Harry to convert. It didn’t work.
Collecting charismatic priests the way she had once collected charismatic generals, Luce wrote religious screenplays and pointed out that Hollywood “means Holy rood — the wood of the Cross.” But she blamed the conversion for her inability to write with bite.
She moved on to fighting Communism. She conjured the dangerous idea of “preventive war” long before Dick Cheney, urging America to go to war with Russia. After she helped him in his campaign, President Eisenhower made her the ambassador to Italy (the first woman to hold the post). Despite some initial misogyny among Italian politicians and in the newspapers — the leader of the Communist Party described her as “an aging witch” — and a blunder when she urged Italians to vote against Communist pols, she did well in the job, and Harry enjoyed being the “consort.” She became known as “Machiavelli in a Schiaparelli.” But she was descending further into the Valley of the Dolls, not realizing that some of her ailments might be traced to the lead paint fragments in rosettes above her bed in the American embassy residence in Rome that were dropping into her morning coffee and possibly poisoning her.
Back in America, Harry tried to leave her for Lady Jeanne Campbell, the granddaughter of the British press titan Lord Beaverbrook. But she attempted suicide and he stayed, even though he could not bear even to cuddle her anymore, and she called him “a moral leper.” In an unsent letter to the younger Campbell, whom she referred to as “Baby,” Luce summed it up this way: “Big Mama won’t let Big Poppa go.” (Campbell married Norman Mailer instead.) In her “anecdotage,” as she termed it, Luce had a six-year “flirtation” with LSD, and said one trip made her realize that God didn’t like to be flirted with.
She agreed to be Eisenhower’s ambassador to Brazil. Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon fought the nomination, arguing that she was qualified to be only a “political hatchet man.” One Ohio senator even read into the record a poem by Sir William Watson entitled “The Woman With the Serpent’s Tongue.” Luce was confirmed but then proved Morse’s point when she made a crack, culled from Time researchers, about how her tormentor had once been kicked in the head by a horse. In the ensuing furor, Luce decided to drop out.
She proceeded to a new “enthusiasm,” Henry Kissinger, even though she was known to tell people that “there existed a relatively small group of wealthy Jews who met once a year in the greatest secrecy and planned the strategy of world Jewry for the future.” (The one time I met her, at a Time party in the ’80s, her opening gambit was: “Did you know all the mischief in the world was caused by five Jewish men?”)
Harry, a heavy smoker and drinker, died of a heart attack in 1967. Clare had once remarked that “widowhood is one of the fringe benefits of marriage,” but hers, she said, was “a sort of deluxe loneliness.”
Once, not long before she died in 1987 at age 84, felled by a brain tumor, Luce called Morris from her apartment at the Watergate, sad because it was Saturday night and she had no “beaus.” Morris asked her what kind of escort she would like. “A homosexual admiral would be good,” Luce replied, “because at the end of the evening I wouldn’t have to put out.”

Maureen Dowd is an Op-Ed columnist for The Times.
A version of this review appears in print on July 20, 2014, on page BR16 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: The Woman

segunda-feira, 19 de maio de 2014

Primeira Guerra Mundial: audio books - book reviews NYTimes

The Long, Long Road Ahead

Audiobooks About World War I

n my home state, California, we listen to audiobooks mostly while driving. When stuck in freeway traffic, I sometimes wonder whether the guy in my rearview mirror is secretly absorbed in “Harry Potter,” or if the smiling woman in the next lane is hearing Mr. Darcy woo Elizabeth Bennet. When it comes to immersing yourself in the First World War by audio, however, you’ll need more than a short commute. The war was very long, the books about it tend to be very long, and about this cataclysm that so thoroughly changed our world for the worse, surely you don’t want to listen to merely one book? So I suggest you reserve this listening for some road trip of epic length, like that drive you’ve always wanted to take from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, or from Rotterdam to Vladivostok. Here are some suggestions for the journey:
Prelude to Catastrophe
Start with one or two of the very good books about how this war began. After all, part of the tragedy is that it didn’t have to happen. In the early summer of 1914, Europe was happily at peace. No country openly claimed another’s territory. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Czar Nicholas II of Russia had been on yachting holidays together. Ties between Germany and Britain were particularly close: Wilhelm had been at the deathbed of his grandmother Queen Victoria; more than 50,000 Germans were working in London or other British cities; and Germany was Britain’s largest trading partner. In late June, British cruisers and battleships visited Germany’s annual Elbe Regatta, where the Kaiser donned his uniform as an honorary British admiral. When the Royal Navy warships sailed for home, their commander sent a signal to his German counterpart: friends in past and friends forever.
And yet weeks later the Continent was in flames, and the slaughter on such a scale that 27,000 French soldiers were killed in a single day. The veteran journalist and military historian Max Hastings describes the day, Aug. 22, in his vivid “Catastrophe 1914”: A great mass of French troops were disoriented in a heavy fog, then suddenly found themselves in the sights of German howitzers on a hilltop as the fog cleared. Gallant French charges, spurred on by drums and bugles, were useless in the face of machine-­gun fire, and the cavalrymen’s horses only made their riders more conspicuous. “The dead lay stacked like folding chairs,” Hastings writes, “overlapping each other where they fell.” Similar disaster struck colonial troops from Senegal and North Africa, one regiment led by a French officer who had advocated the use of “these primitives, for whom life counts so little and whose young blood flows so ardently, as if eager to be shed.” It is hard to imagine a more engrossing panorama of this momentous year, although the audio rendition by the actor and former BBC news reader Simon Vance is slightly too tense and breathless for my taste.
In his introduction, Hastings pays generous tribute to someone who covered much the same ground more than 50 years ago, Barbara Tuchman in “The Guns of August.” Documents found since then have made Tuchman’s diplomatic history slightly dated, but her portrait of foolhardiness and delusion as Europe slipped into war is unsurpassed. What were the Russians thinking, for example, when Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich, who had never commanded men in battle, was appointed commander in chief? Considered in the grand duke’s favor, however, was his magisterial height of 6 feet 6 inches, with “boots as tall as a horse’s belly.” The railway cars that housed his headquarters were built for ordinary mortals, and pieces of white paper were pasted over all doors to remind Nikolai to duck. In a later essay about the writing of history, Tuchman named this as her favorite visual detail in the book: “I was so charmed by the white paper fringe that I constructed a whole paragraph describing Russian headquarters at Baranovici in order to slip it in.” (The grand duke, incidentally, let it be known that after-dinner conversation among members of the headquarters staff should be on topics not concerned with the war.)
Anywhere you look, in these early months of fighting, there was madness in abundance. What were French generals thinking when they sent millions of infantrymen wearing bright red pantaloons, bright blue jackets and bright red caps off to face German snipers? What were the Germans thinking when they outfitted their soldiers with spiked helmets made not of metal but of leather?
At a mere 15 CDs, the audio version of Tuchman makes a smaller pile than the 20 discs for Hastings. But it will still get you 19 hours and quite a few hundred miles along that drive. The narrator, Wanda McCaddon — who records under the name Nadia May — is spirited but not melodramatic. Still, as a longtime admirer of Tuchman, who was a native New Yorker, I confess that I wanted her reader to have an American accent rather than McCaddon’s British one, elegant though it is.
Margaret MacMillan’s “The War That Ended Peace,” with a sonorous but rather slow 32-hour narration by Richard Burnip, covers a longer time period than do Hastings and Tuchman, the entire decade and a half before the conflict began. MacMillan is an old-fashioned historian in the way she puts great stress on personal responsibility — but this is an appropriate perspective, I think, for a time when Europe’s three remaining emperors wielded such enormous power. “Any explanation of how the Great War came must balance the great currents of the past with the human beings who bobbed along in them but who sometimes changed the direction of the flow.” MacMillan’s thumbnail portraits of some of those bobbing in the currents are a delight, and she happens to be the great-granddaughter of one of them, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George.
Whose fault was the war? There is enough blame for all to share: When leaders confidently ordered their armies to mobilize, neither side foresaw just how catastrophic the carnage would be. After it was over, the victorious Allies of course blamed Germany, exacting big reparations in the Versailles peace settlement. Then from the 1930s onward, revulsion at the war’s vast toll led both historians and popular culture to pin responsibility on the Allies as well. Archival finds by the German scholar Fritz Fischer in the 1960s, however, led him to fault German expansionism. In recent years, the pendulum has swung in some new directions. David Fromkin’s “Europe’s Last Summer” focuses on Austria-­Hungary’s role (its artillery and Danube gunboats did, after all, fire the war’s first shots); Christopher Clark’s widely praised “The Sleepwalkers” puts considerable onus on Serbia as a rogue state with irredentist dreams; and Niall Ferguson’s “The Pity of War” provocatively blames Britain for entering the conflict, even though it had not been attacked, and thereby turning a Continental war into a worldwide one. (Audio is not a good way to take in Ferguson’s book, however, because of its many charts and graphs.)
Now Sean McMeekin’s “July 1914” points a finger at Russia and its waffling czar, its ambition to control the Bosporus, and its generals who wanted to avenge their humiliating defeat by Japan in 1905. Concentrating on the period before the actual fighting, McMeekin lacks some of the color — and horror — of Hastings and Tuchman. The audio narration by Steve Coulter is matter-of-fact and bereft of theatrics, but perhaps that is suitable for a book primarily about diplomatic maneuvering.
Armageddon in Full
By now, at the midpoint of your drive — Panama? The Urals? — it’s time to move beyond 1914 and into the nearly four years of fighting that followed. John Keegan’s authoritative “The First World War” is a solid, balanced and reliable account by a man who spent his life writing military history (Keegan died in 2012) and teaching it to officer cadets at Sandhurst, the British equivalent of West Point. The book is enriched by his deep knowledge of wars past. For example, he compares the “novelty” of telephone lines allowing a World War I general to have his headquarters behind the front to Wellington’s having to ride in sight of the enemy at Waterloo in order to know what was going on, as well as to the way technology in the Persian Gulf war of 1991 (which Keegan covered for The Daily Telegraph) allowed commanders to orchestrate land, sea and airstrikes from a great distance.
Simon Prebble gives “The First World War” a brisk, fast-paced reading. However, the Keegan book I would recommend you listen to first is “The Face of Battle,” his study of Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme. These three crucial battles in British history were centuries apart but took place remarkably close to one another, in what today is northern France and Belgium. His evocation of the Somme, in 1916 — a vast bloodletting that was a victory for neither side — is particularly powerful. Surprisingly for someone on the political right who was a hawk about wars in his own time, Keegan is extremely sensitive to class privileges, pointing out that even today we know more about how some British regiments fared at the Somme than others, because those with less wealthy officers could not afford to commission detailed regimental histories.
Compared with some of these behemoths, Norman Stone’s compact, almost aphoristic “World War One: A Short History” is as a skiff to a battleship; you can almost listen to its some 150 pages of text — Prebble reading again — on a drive to pick up the groceries. But do you really want such a short account of such a long war? A more interesting book of Stone’s is “The Eastern Front 1914-1917.” No aspect of the war is more haunting than the meeting on these battlefields between the two regimes with double-headed eagles on their coats of arms, Imperial Russia and Austria-­Hungary. Russian officers were promoted largely by seniority and connections at court; in Austria-­Hungary, three-quarters of the officers were German speakers, but only one in four of the enlisted men, from a bewildering array of ethnic groups, even understood the language. Russia’s illiterate peasant soldiers frequently chopped down roadside telegraph poles for cooking fuel. Exasperated signalers then had to send orders by radio, but had few code books, and so broadcast “in the clear” — to the delight of their enemies. Men died by the millions, and in the Carpathian Mountains, wolves gnawed on the bodies of the wounded.
This clash of rickety empires epitomizes the senselessness of the war that left behind what Winston Churchill called a “crippled, broken world.” That folly should underline a lesson we have painfully learned anew in recent years: Wars are seldom won as quickly as everyone expects, and almost always create far more problems than they solve.


Europe Goes to War
By Max Hastings
Read by Simon Vance
Blackstone Audio


By Barbara W. Tuchman
Read by Nadia May
Blackstone Audio


The Road to 1914
By Margaret MacMillan
Read by Richard Burnip
Random House Audio


Explaining World War I
By Niall Ferguson
Read by Graeme Malcolm
Audible Studios

JULY 1914

Countdown to War
By Sean McMeekin
Read by Steve Coulter
Audible Studios


By John Keegan
Read by Simon Prebble
Random House Audio


By John Keegan
Read by Simon Vance
Blackstone Audio


A Short History
By Norman Stone
Read by Simon Prebble
Audible Studios

Segunda Guerra Mundial: como os EUA e o Japao foram a guerra - Book review NYT

The March to War

‘No End Save Victory’ and ‘Japan 1941’

In February 1933, President-elect Franklin Roosevelt was nearly murdered in Miami by a gunman whose errant fatal shot struck Mayor Anton Cermak of Chicago. Cermak gallantly told Roosevelt, “I’m glad it was me instead of you.” Today’s Americans should not disagree. Had Roosevelt been killed, the 32nd president of the United States would have been his running mate, Speaker John Nance Garner of Texas, a neophyte in foreign and military affairs, isolationist by instinct and deeply rooted in a Congress determined, notwithstanding the growing threats from Hitler and the imperial Japanese, to keep another president from repeating what a majority of its members considered to be Woodrow Wilson’s catastrophic mistake of needlessly dragging the nation into a distant “foreign war.”
Photoshopping Roosevelt out of the history of that epoch shows how lucky we are that he indeed survived to be our president, preparing America to fight and help win World War II. So does “No End Save Victory,” David Kaiser’s judicious, detailed and soundly researched history of Roosevelt’s tortuous process of first preparing America psychologically, politically and militarily, and then nudging the country into that apocalyptic struggle. This story has, of course, been told many times before, but what Kaiser especially brings to the table is his mastery not only of the documents and other primary sources that directly reveal Roosevelt’s behind-the-scenes leadership but also of other archives that are sometimes too little mined by political historians, like Army and Navy war plans (the author taught history at the Naval War College).
Americans are not immune to the temptation to see historical events as inevitable, which, by logic, reduces the credit we grant to individual leaders like Roose­velt. But Kaiser crisply reminds us how dangerous and unpredictable the period really was, noting Roosevelt’s not inconsiderable private dread that Hitler might well put himself in a position to dominate the world. Cogently deciphering the twists and turns of the president’s thinking, Kaiser argues that his famous 1940 deal to trade United States destroyers for British bases was “a logical step based on current U.S. war plans and the ever-present possibility that Britain might fall and force the United States immediately to defend the Western Hemisphere.” Kaiser considers the first half of 1941 to be the most difficult time for those in Washington to figure out how World War II might unfold, making Roosevelt’s “sensitive and discriminating judgment” more valuable than ever. United States Army intelligence was warning him that unless the still-unprepared America entered the war fast, Britain would enjoy at best a one-in-three chance to survive. As Kaiser writes, Roosevelt behind closed doors seemed less worried about “getting the United States into the war” than “about war coming to the United States before it was ready.” In Kaiser’s judgment, it was June 1941, when Germany attacked the Soviet Union, that Roosevelt “evidently decided not only that the United States had to enter the war at a relatively early date, but that it should seek the complete defeat of all its enemies.”
With his respect for the documentary evidence, the author’s literary inclination is to be self-effacing, but while reading this book you might occasionally wish to hear a little more comment from Kaiser. For instance, the author almost offhandedly quotes Roosevelt in November 1941, privately recalling his involvement years before in Harvard’s decision to reduce its share of Jewish students to 15 percent; Kaiser adds no reaction of his own. His book has the effect of refuting the charge that Roosevelt connived for the tragic destruction of American ships at Pearl Harbor in order to shove the nation into a war it would otherwise oppose, but not frontally. If this volume were your only source on the disaster of Dec. 7, 1941, you would not know how many of our fellow citizens (probably a growing number in these times when many people — agitated, in some cases, by talk radio hosts — seek to explain complicated events through malign conspiracies) insist that a warmongering Roosevelt was its eager architect. Nevertheless Kaiser has brought us a careful, nuanced, credible account of the events and complex issues surrounding America’s entry into World War II, which, however historical fashions change, is likely to wear well over the years.
Examining the same period as it looked from the other side of the Pacific, Eri Hotta’s “Japan 1941” seeks to reveal and explain the secret internal mechanics of the Tokyo regime that planned and executed the Pearl Harbor assault. Suffice it to say that Japan’s people were not lucky enough to be led by a Franklin Roosevelt. Instead the Japanese leadership was a sequestered gaggle of blinkered, hallucinatory, buck-passing incompetents, who finally pushed the vacillating Emperor Hirohito into gambling on war against the United States. Hotta, an Oxford-trained Asia specialist, does an effective job of portraying the almost Keystone Kops-style decision-making in Tokyo; the cumulative effect of her narrative is chilling as we watch it march toward global tragedy despite warning after warning.
Hirohito’s navy chief of staff tells him in July 1941 that there might be “no choice but to strike,” although he is “uncertain as to any victory.” The emperor replies, “What a reckless war that would be!” Hirohito complains to his prime minister, Prince Konoe Fumimaro, that he has been “kept in the dark” about advanced military preparations, and ineffectually recites a pacifist poem written by his grandfather: “In all four seas all are brothers and sisters. / Then why, oh why, these rough winds and waves?” Gen. Tojo Hideki, then the Japanese defense minister, is told a potential war is unwinnable, but brazenly scoffs: “This is, after all, a desktop exercise. Actual wars do not go as you fellows imagine.” Hotta acidly remarks: “Was Tojo hoping for the sudden discovery of oil fields in Japan so that his country could forget that the United States had until recently been providing more than 90 percent of its petroleum? . . . Was he anticipating a series of natural disasters to work in the empire’s favor, like the typhoons that had prevented the Moguls from invading Japan in the 13th century?” In September 1941, three months before Pearl Harbor, Adm. Yamamoto Isoroku presents his now well-known caution that “a war with so little chance of success should not be fought.” As Hotta writes, in the end “all the leaders asserted their right to decide Japan’s fate by initiating a war, while paradoxically insinuating that they had no ultimate control over the fate of the country they led.”
Hotta’s argumentation is sound and her message important, but “Japan 1941” falls short of its publisher’s assertion that it is “groundbreaking history, . . . certain to revolutionize how we think of the war in the Pacific.” The volume will no doubt move students of Japan’s machinations before Pearl Harbor to consider modest adjustments in their estimates of certain historical characters and moments. But truly groundbreaking revisionist history requires the kind of major new interpretations and archival discoveries that are scarce in this volume. Furthermore, a book so clearly ambitious to revamp our understanding of a subject so heavily written about as the run-up to the Pacific war would be more persuasive if it had more adequate documentation; this volume offers merely 14 pages of endnotes. However, with those caveats in mind, Hotta’s book remains a useful addition to the vast pre-Pearl Harbor literature. Read at this time of our own dysfunction in Washington, it also constitutes a warning of the literally earth-shattering dangers that can emerge when the political system of a powerful nation fails to work.


How FDR Led the Nation Into War

By David Kaiser
Illustrated. 408 pp. Basic Books. $27.99.

JAPAN 1941

Countdown to Infamy

By Eri Hotta
Illustrated. 320 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $27.95.

sábado, 4 de janeiro de 2014

Alemanha anos 1920: a loucura da hiperinflacao e outras loucuras - book review

Bad Marks

‘The Downfall of Money,’ by Frederick Taylor

Albert Harlingue/Roger Viollet—Getty Images
German children playing with banknotes that have lost their value through inflation, circa 1919.

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Frederick Taylor’s “The Downfall of Money” promises, on its jacket, to deliver “an economic horror story.” A horror it was: We’ve all seen the photos from Germany with the wheelbarrows full of cash or the children playfully stacking bricks of worthless bills (by late 1923 the mark had deteriorated from a value of 4.2 to the dollar in 1914 to over 4 trillion). The monetary crisis was so traumatic that to this day, it renders the German people thoroughly allergic to price increases.


Germany’s Hyperinflation and the Destruction of the Middle Class
By Frederick Taylor
Illustrated. 416 pp. Bloomsbury Press. $30.
But despite its title, this book is primarily concerned not with money but with everything else the Germans were also concerned with from 1914 to about 1929: military strategy, starvation, assassinations (of people good and bad), putsches (fruitless and fruitful), foreign occupation, riots, strikes and pretty much every other permutation of anarchy and violence.
For the first 100 pages or so, Taylor, the author of “Dresden” and “The Berlin Wall,” gives us a highly detailed, and somewhat detoured, narrative of the years around World War I. There is little mention of monetary issues, save an occasional reference to the exchange rate. Taylor pays more attention to the economic issues of the 1920s, but even then what he really seems to want to write about is the general craziness that was Weimar Germany.
There is much engrossing craziness to cover. Many readers are no doubt familiar with the Treaty of Versailles’ war-guilt clause, which shifted blame for a pointless, expensive autopilot of a war entirely onto Germany and its allies. Fewer probably remember how that finger-pointing then ricocheted within Germany itself after the Kaiser was ousted and splintered groups of Communists, Social Democrats and far-right nationalists blamed one another for the humiliations of the war and its aftermath. Abused by the vengeful victors, the Germans turned to abusing (and slaughtering) themselves.
To be sure, Germany was not simply a victim deserving of sympathy. Taylor documents its plans to visit crushing indemnities and annexations upon its enemies had it prevailed in the war. Everyone, he argues repeatedly, behaved badly. And almost everyone borrowed way too much to bankroll this bad behavior, counting on the other guy’s losing in order to get back in the black. The United States, the main creditor to the other victors, comes off looking worse than Americans may care to remember. It was Washington’s refusal to forgive the Allies’ war debts, after all, that encouraged Britain and France to tighten the screws on the broke and psychically broken Germany (which was effectively paying French and British debts to the United States indirectly). As a result, Uncle Sam collected the nickname “Uncle Shylock.”
Only toward the end of the book are we introduced to the long-awaited hyperinflation. There Taylor details the less obvious ways in which dizzyingly high prices frayed the social fabric. Women couldn’t marry, for example, because their dowry savings had been inflated away. Lifestyle choices became strangely distorted by price changes; unlike food costs, opera ticket prices remained cheap because they were set by the state, encouraging consumption of entertainment instead of calories. Strikes and riots abounded — including, most memorably, a strike by Reich printing house workers when the government finally got serious about stamping out inflation. (If they weren’t regularly printing money, they were in danger of losing their jobs.)
There are, Taylor suggests, parallels between the profligate German welfare state of the 1920s and Germany’s European Union peers today. But he is frustratingly noncommittal about why the German government pursued the inflationary policies it did — and to what extent they were deliberate or just ad hoc. Uncertainty ruled not only Weimar economic policy, it seems, but also the historians’ assessments that followed.

Catherine Rampell is an economics reporter for The Times.
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