WASHINGTON — It is summer and time to read books. I recall the editor of the editorial page of the Washington Post, the sainted and deceased Meg Greenfield, making fun of the idea of summer books, but I have long filed her quip away as a quip that was quipless. She could read books almost any time she wanted, but busy people read when they have a special opportunity, and during summer break I would like to remind them of good books to read. This summer there is an abundance of them.
Two books that have been compared justifiably with Dean Acheson’s memoirs from many years ago, Present at the Creation, are by Don Rumsfeld and Henry Kissinger, two men of vast governmental experience who need no introduction. Rumsfeld’s Known and Unknown: A Memoir covers his life in government service, and should be interesting to all Americans because of what he says about the Iraq war but also because of what he says about the decisions he has played a role in, starting with service in Congress in the era of Lyndon B. Johnson. Kissinger’s On China is fascinating for its historic sweep through an ancient civilization from its beginnings to the present with some memoir thrown in, for Kissinger played a critical role in opening China to the world and his first-hand accounts of Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong struck me as particularly enlightening.
Rumsfeld’s book like that of Kissinger, and for that matter like that of Acheson, covers an enormous amount of ground, from service to Richard M. Nixon right up to his role as secretary of defense under George W. Bush. There is much to comment on, but allowing for limited space I should mention only the Lie. That is that “Bush Lied and Others Died.” There is much evidence here to refute that claim, not the least of which is that if the Administration lied so did many of the world’s intelligence agencies. For that matter, so did Saddam Hussein, even to his generals. Rumsfeld reminds us of all this, quotes people like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry urging us to war, and mentions much else, most tellingly the small Kurdish town of Khurmal.
In Khurmal our intelligence indicated that before the war terrorists were engaged in putting the finishing touches on Weapons of Mass Destruction. Unfortunately Secretary of Defense Colin Powell mentioned the town in his speech to the United Nations prior to our invasion, and by the time our troops arrived the terrorists had fled but not without leaving evidence of their grisly business. I have no doubt that in the years to come overwhelming evidence that Bush did not dupe us will be coming in.
Kissinger begins his book with a majestic rendering of ancient China that suggests that for thousands of years China was different from the West. His contention it seems to me is that the emerging China still is different, with different goals than say the British Empire. He may be right. I hope he is. In the meantime I am glad for the services of the American Navy and Air Force in particular. In later chapters Kissinger is particularly interesting in recounting his relations with Chinese leaders.
The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture by the dramatist David Mamet has fetched my attention, and I am willing to recommend it as a splendid read, though probably not the most satisfactory reason for giving up on Liberalism and joining the right. Ever since Whittaker Chambers, the journey to the right by leftists has been entertaining and at times moving, and Mamet’s journey is no different. He has read the right books and formed the right conclusions. He writes with wit and a sense of irony, yet as he derives wisdom from both Hayek and Glenn Beck I think I shall await his further lucubrations on the matter to consider him a sage. Suffice to say, he is a great dramatist and I would like to get to know him better.
Finally Andrew Roberts has a brilliant history of World War II, The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War. I recommend it. I have in my library dozens of World War II histories from the very earliest by Liddell Hart. Now all have been rendered curiosities or unfinished works by Roberts’s stupendous history of the war in the theaters of Asia, Africa, and Europe. He writes beautifully and brings the statesmen, generals and admirals, and ordinary soldier and sailors alive on the page. He left me thinking. What if in the place of Roosevelt and Churchill we had Obama and Cameron in 1939. Obama really would have had to be the Messiah.