Cowboy: interpreter, warlord, one more casualty


The rip-off artists are piling on to exploit the Hamilton! muscial, but Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton has the virtue of being the real deal. (It inspired the musical!) I was a bit skeptical, since I kept hearing hip-hop lyrics as I turned the opening pages, but I soon got hooked. It's the best kind of biography, by a writer who clearly admires his subject, a young bastard from the Virgin Islands who immigrated to the American colonies and with astonishing speed and skill educated himself and then became a member of society. By the age of twenty-two, he was a lieutenant colonel and aide to General Washington. I wrote a thesis on John Boyd, the OODA Loop, and American's war on terror, so I was impressed that young Hamilton understood guerrilla warfare even before the winter at Valley Forge: "By hanging upon [the British] rear and seizing every opportunity of skirmishing," the rebels could make a superior army "insupportedly uneasy." Later, Hamilton was among those who favored a strong central government at the expense of the states, which may go far to explain his popularity today. Indeed, it's fair to say that he was the man, more than any other, who invented our Federal government.

American history was never my favorite subject, but I was quite caught up by Michael Beschloss's Presidents of War. In particular, I was impressed by the short, contentious, and fatal presidency of James Polk. (After a single term, he set out on a triumphal tour to Nashville, catching a cold and then apparently cholera, which killed him a few months later.) It is hard to imagine our country without the nearly million square miles he added to it, including the present states of Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Utah, plus portions of Colorado and Wyoming. At the very least, if Mr Polk hadn't ordered the US Army into Mexico, John Wayne would have had to find another career. Later wars -- and war presidents -- are not as surprising, because we know more about them, but it's amusing to see how often Democrats and Republicans swap positions, depending on who occupies the White House. For most of the 20th century, Democratic presidents got us into war (Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy) while Republicans were the isolationists, 180 degrees off from what followed the Vietnam War. This isn't as clear as it might be in Mr Beschloss's book, because for all practical purposes Vietnam is the most recent war he writes about, though it ended more than half a century -- and nine presidents! -- ago.

It's very bad of me, I know, but I started reading Energy: A Human History two-thirds of the way through, at the dawn of the atomic age. Richard Rhodes won the Pulitzer Prize for The Making of the Atomic Bomb, published forty years ago but still selling so briskly that it ranks higher on Amazon than his new book. He's a fan of nuclear energy, pointing out that the deaths caused by the meltdowns at Three Mile Island (none, as far as we know), Chernobyl (37 known, thousands estimated), and Fukushima (none known, hundreds predicted) are eclipsed by the lives saved by replacing coal-burning plants with nuclear. A chapter on smog focuses on the "Great Killer Fog" of December 1952 that shrouded London in darkness for more than three days and killed three thousand Londoners from inhaling coal-smoke particles coated with sulfur dioxide. And there were killer fogs and smogs in cities around the world, including Beijing in recent years. His earlier chapters trace the evolution of mankind's lighting and heating through the millenia. He doesn't much go into our current obsesssion with "sustainable" energy, though he does make the point that every new source has been expensive to start -- inflation adjusted, whale oil for lamps cost upwards of $30 a gallon! -- so why should solar and wind be any different? Blue skies! — Dan Ford

Incident at Muc Wa

Daniel Ford's books:

Cowboy: Interpreter, Soldier, Warlord, and One More Casualty of Our War in Vietnam
The Only War We've Got: Early Days in South Vietnam
Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault & His American Volunteers, 1941-1942
Tales of the Flying Tigers (think of it as a lengthy appendix to the history)
The Lady and the Tigers (Olga Greenlaw)
Poland's Daughter: How I Learned About Love, War, and Exile
Glen Edwards: Diary of a Bomber Pilot
A Vision So Noble: John Boyd, the OODA Loop, and America's War on Terror
The Country Northward: A Hiker's Journal
The Greater America: An Epic Journey Through a Vibrant New Country (Ralph Paine)
~ ~ ~ ~
Michael's War: A Story of the Irish Republican Army
Remains: A Story of the Flying Tigers
Incident at Muc Wa: A Story of the Vietnam War
The High Country Illuminator: A Tale of Light and Darkness and the Ski Bums of Avalon

And a close-out sale

Over the years, I've accumulated a pile of books now out-of-print or just bought in too-large quantities. I'm selling them off for $5 each. Add $5 for Media Mail postage in the United States (only), no matter how many books your order. They include three novels: Now Comes Theodora: A Story of the 1960s, The High Country Illuminator: The Ski Bums of Avalon, and Remains: A Story of the Flying Tigers. For non-fiction, there's the 2007 HarperCollins edition of Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and His American Volunteers, A Vision So Noble: John Boyd, the OODA Loop, and the War on Terror, the Smithsonian hardcover of Glen Edwards: Diary of a Bomber Pilot, and The Country Northward: A Hiker's Journal.

They'll be autographed and mailed straightaway, as long as they last. Media Mail takes about a week in the Lower Forty-Eight. Get the order blank here. Blue skies! — Daniel Ford

Sign up for the newsletter

Once or twice a month, I send out an email newsletter about my books and the subjects covered in them, most often about military aviation and the wars of the past hundred years. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. Blue skies! — Dan Ford

Now Comes Theodora

Warbird Forum: Front page | Flying Tigers | Chinese Air Force | Japan at War | Brewster Buffalo | Glen Edwards & the Flying Wing | Vietnam | War in the Modern World | The Spadguys Speak | Bluie West One | Poland: War & Exile

Bookshelf | Book reviews | Question? | Google us | Website & webmaster | Site map

Other sites: Flying Tigers book | Daniel Ford's blog | Daniel Ford's books | Facebook | Piper Cub Forum | Raintree County | Reading Proust | Sail the coast of Alaska

Posted January 2019. Websites © 1997-2019 Daniel Ford. All rights reserved.