Propaganda Warriors

Title:                      The Propaganda Warriors

Author:                 Clayton D. Laurie

Laurie, Clayton D. (1996). The Propaganda Warrior: America’s Crusade Against Nazi Germany. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas

LCCN:    95026321

D810.P7 U395 1996


LC Subjects


  • Revision of author’s thesis (Ph. D.)–American Univ., 1990.

Date Posted:      January 22, 2018

Reviewed by Michaela Hoenicke-Moore[1]

Clayton D. Laurie has written a fascinating and comprehensive study of the political and administrative conflict over America’s approach to propaganda in World War II. He traces the origins of competing American conceptions of propaganda and psychological warfare and he recounts the creation, re-organization and, to a lesser degree, the actual campaigns of American wartime agencies that were charged with assisting the military effort through the use of words. We thus learn about the intricate history of the multiple governmental information agencies in 1940/41 from which the Office of the Coordinator of Information (COI) and the Office of Facts and Figures (OFF) emerge as the first larger organizations, and how these were superseded in 1942 by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the Office of War Informa- tion (OWI). Relatively late in the war, according to Laurie, the Army recog- nized the value of psychological warfare and successfully began drawing on personnel and expertise from the existing civilian agencies.

In the beginning, Laurie claims, there was Nazi propaganda. Americans, and in particular members of an interventionist and internationalist elite, were deeply impressed by it and concluded that Nazi psychological warfare had played a crucial role in the Germans’ swift subjugation of half of Europe by 1940–an assessment which the author does not share, but does not disprove either. It is easy today to deprecate American suspicion of internal Nazi subversion. Yet up until 1942, 30 percent of Americans favored a negotiated peace with Nazi Germany. Concerned citizens and politicians rightly feared that this sizable minority of otherwise loyal Americans might become an easy prey to subversive fascist “information” campaigns. Recent studies on German-American organizations during that time, such as the work done by Cornelia Wilhelm, confirm contemporaries’ fears rather than Laurie’s portrait of unwarranted hysteria.

For more than two years following the outbreak of war, only the American private sector mobilized, and Laurie emphasizes the elite character of these private organizations which monitored and counteracted Nazi fifth column activities. Most Americans did not yet share their conviction that “American survival, and civilization as it was then known, depended upon a total eradication of fascism” (p. 40). President Roosevelt understood this problem very well and Laurie is one of the few historians not faulting Roosevelt for not providing guidance in defining America’s war aims and propaganda strategy–two issues closely related, as Allan Winkler has already observed in his study of the OWI. Laurie not only shows sympathy for the president’s predicament of having to organize and later direct a national war effort in the face of continuing public criticism and suspicion, first from isolationist circles, and later from firm-principled intellectuals, as in the Darlan affair (pp. 151f.) or the “moronic-little-king” episode (pp. 175ff.). He also defends Roosevelt’s intentionally low-profile intervention in the creation of the respective offices and their subsequent wrangling for supremacy. As a result of the President’s shrewdly minimalist approach, three separate military and civilian organizations carried out their competing strategies and accomplished complementary goals “without raising the suspicions of a skeptical and propaganda-weary American public” (p. 238).

An important theme in Laurie’s account is the ideological conflict between the members of the two groups, which shared an anti-fascist, interventionist outlook, yet who, due to different political and professional backgrounds, developed conflicting concepts of effective American propaganda. OFF and OWI officials like Robert Sherwood and Archibald McLeish represented the liberal and idealistic writers, journalists, and academicians who were often devoted supporters of Roosevelt’s New Deal philosophy and who propagated the creation of a new world order based on the “Four Freedoms.” COI and OSS director Bill Donovan, on the other hand, personified the more conservative members of his agency which drew more heavily on a business-oriented, Ivy League-educated, east coast establishment that favored a Realpolitik approach to international affairs. This second group advocated the emulation of Nazi tactics, including secrecy, deception, lies and covert action in order to “beat the Germans at their own game” (p. 79). They argued that “total war … demanded that the openness as well as the ethical and moral considerations characteristic of liberal democracies needed to be temporarily relaxed or even suspended to ensure an ultimate victory” (p. 89): the end justifying the means. In the eyes of their Wilsonian colleagues they were thus gambling away [compromising] the very soul of the nation. In contrast, the liberal humanists unwaveringly believed in the effectiveness of the word itself, of a “strategy of truth,” and of “spreading the gospel of democracy” (p. 95).

U.S. military leaders were the last to enter the field of psychological warfare. Unconcerned by ideological squabbles, they made use of different methods and co-opted the staff of the civilian agencies. They imposed complete control over the resulting new formations and campaigns in Europe. The U.S. Army thus “ultimately produced the winning weapon in psychological warfare” (p. 236).

Propaganda Warriors is the history of a bureaucratic struggle. The analysis of the ideological conflict behind it receives less attention. The reason for this relative neglect seems to lie in Laurie’s personnel-oriented approach. He repeatedly cites his protagonists’ general views but offers no in-depth analysis of the particular propaganda efforts that resulted from them. For that purpose one would have to engage the larger American discussion on the enemy and the ideological nature of the war itself. Only such a larger framework could, for example, have illuminated the contemporary misperception of the Holocaust as a World War I-type atrocity tale (pp. 180f.).

Laurie’s book is thoroughly researched and comprehensive in scope and a welcome contribution to the field of American propaganda studies. Thus far, comparable works have either concentrated on individual agencies (see Allan Winkler’s on the OWI, several edited collections on the OSS, most recently by Juergen Heideking and Christof Mauch, and Petra Marquardt-Bigman’s study of the OSS’ Research and Analysis Branch and Germany) or have focused on public opinion itself (see the work done by Richard Steele and Michael Leigh). Yet, Laurie’s subtitle strikes me as slightly misleading. Neither the war nor Germany figure prominently in his presentation. In detailing the internal struggle the author loses sight of the object as well as the nature of the propaganda campaigns until the very last chapters. Long before 1944, however, the Third Reich had become an inexhaustible and gripping topic of research and analysis for many Americans in and outside governmental offices. Laurie’s protagonists not only held conflicting views of the character of American propaganda but also of the enemy. They did not agree, for example, on whether they were fighting a government, a people or an idea. The story of how competing interpretations of Nazi Germany and disputed plans for that country translated into home front and overseas propaganda has yet to be written.

[1] Hoenicke-Moore, Michaela, John F. Kennedy Institute, Free University Berlin; published on H-German (September, 1996). Citation: Michaela Hoenicke-Moore. Review of Laurie, Clayton D., The Propaganda Warriors: America’s Crusade against Nazi Germany. H-German, H-Net Reviews. September, 1996. URL: . Copyright © 1996 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at

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The OSS In Burma, 1942-1945

Title:                      The OSS In Burma, 1942-1945

Author:                  Troy J. Sacquety

Sacquety, Troy J. (2013). The OSS In Burma, 1942-1945: Jungle War Against The Japanese. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas

LCCN:    2012045114

D767.6 .S27 2013


  • Before the storm — The fall of Burma — Laying the groundwork: 1941-January 1943 — Creating the detachment out of an undefined problem — Deconfliction — OSS and SOE — Finding a location — Detachment 101 sets up the Jungle School — Communications — Moving toward the first operations — Long-range penetration operations — A Group — B Group — W Group — BALLS, BALL’s #1, and REX — The evaluations — Short-range penetrations meet success — The first short-range effort, Operation FORWARD — Group — KNOTHEAD — Rethinking operations: the detachment evolves, February 1943-January 1944 — The detachment reevaluates its personnel situation — Finances — Communications and coding — Developing liaison — Supplies remain a problem — New additions to Detachment 101 — Peers takes over: Detachment 101 comes of age, January-May 1944 — Existing force structure — New OSS branches arrive — Detachment 101 and the campaign for Myitkyina: February-August 1944 — Postscript — Peers continues his reforms: June-August 1944 — Existing force structure — New OSS branches arrive — Reorganizing after Myitkyina: September-December 1944 — Existing force structure — A new organization of sorts — The last OSS branches arrive: January-March 1945 — Existing force structure — New branches arrive — The Shan states: August 1944-March 1945 — The push after Myitkyina — The Arakan field unit: February-June 1945 — The Arakan field unit (AFU) — Rangoon — The last months: April-July 1945 — Field operations — The detachment — Detachment 101 disbands.

LC Subjects

Date Posted:      January 18, 2018

Reviewed by LTC (Retired) Rick Baillergeon[1]

There are relatively few windows of opportunity for authors to pursue in regards to unexplored World War II subject matter. Yet, there are still some gaps existing in the body of knowledge. Troy Sacquety has seized on one available opportunity in his volume, The OSS in Burma: Jungle War against the Japanese. In it, he focuses on one of the organizations of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), Detachment 101.

For those unfamiliar (perhaps, many) with the operations of Detachment 101, let me offer a brief synopsis. As part of the OSS, Detachment 101 operated in the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater from April 1942 to July 1945. During this period, the tasks executed by the unit included gathering intelligence on the Japanese, conducting guerrilla operations, and being utilized in conjunction with conventional forces to assist them in accomplishing objectives. It was a unit which clearly was far more successful than anyone could have anticipated. It is also a unit which has seen little mention in historical accounts of World War II.

For prospective readers, you must know what Sacquety’s volume “is not” and what it “is.” In regards to what it is not, the title may be a bit misleading. As referenced earlier, the author has narrowed his focus to a unit within the OSS—Detachment 101. Those looking for a broader perspective will not find it in this volume (this is a good thing). This more overarching view is available in other volumes and resources.

Sacquety has also narrowed his focus in another characteristic. As he emphasizes in his introduction, the author keys on the organizational aspects of Detachment 101. Consequently, specifics on the tactical operations the unit conducted in the CBI Theater are minimal. This will disappoint some who were seeking a volume detailing the fascinating missions of Detachment 101. This is another gap that should be filled by another opportunistic author.

What Sacquety does achieve is providing readers with a comprehensive look at the organizational make-up of the unit during its existence. He obviously dedicates many pages to the formation of Detachment 101 and its early days in theater. However, Sacquety continues this in-depth analysis of the organizational structure until it was disbanded in the summer of 1945. In his introduction, the author states his aim is to present “how” Detachment 101 accomplished their missions. He has achieved this purpose in his volume.

There are many strengths within The OSS in Burma. Readers will find it highly readable, exhaustively researched and well structured. Perhaps, what will stand out most is the notes section of the volume. Sacquety has placed a meticulous 70-page appendix at the conclusion of the book. It provides details on the sources utilized and in many cases, tells the “rest of the story.” Those searching for more information regarding Detachment 101 will undoubtedly find potential resources in this section.

As in most volumes, a reader will find areas that could have been improved upon by an author. In regards to the OSS in Burma, I feel the one weakness of the volume is its lack of maps and charts. Within the book, Sacquety has added only one organizational chart of the unit (November 1944) and one large scale map of the theater. In a book emphasizing organizational structure, additional organizational charts would have added significant clarity and understanding. Moreover, the addition of further smaller scale maps would have been a great complement to Sacquety’s verbiage.

I believe the value of Sacquety’s volume lies in two areas. First, it is an excellent link between past and future studies tied to Detachment 101. In regards to the past, it provides a solid backdrop for those who have read some of the excellent personal memoirs written by members of Detachment 101. In reference to the future, I believe it will spark interest in other authors (or Sacquety himself) to study the tactical operations of the unit. As stated previously, there is a clear need for further examination of the missions of Detachment 101.

Second, Sacquety has provided an excellent case study of how an organization adapted its structure in combat. The author superbly describes how Detachment 101 leadership understood its environment and adapted to meet it. Sacquety’s ability to articulate this makes it added value for leaders in both the military and civilian sectors.

In summary, Troy Sacquety has not rehashed the works of other authors. He has filled in one of those existing gaps in the study of World War II. In doing so, his volume also highlights that there still exists many holes in our understanding of the role of Detachment 101 in the CBI Theater. This combination makes The OSS in Burma a valuable contribution to current and future World War II scholarship

[1] Baillergeon, Rick, LTC, online pdf file, accessed January 18, 2018

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Arabian Knight

Title:                      Arabian Knight

Author:                 Thomas W. Lippman

Lippman, Thomas W. (2008). Arabian Knight: Colonel Bill Eddy USMC and the Rise of American Power in the Middle East. Vista, CA: Selwa Press

OCLC:    213449123

DS63.2.U5 L566 2008

Contents: France —
New York —
Cairo —
North Africa —
Saudi Arabia: Part One —
Saudi Arabia: Part Two —
Yemen —
Washington —

Date Updated:  January 17, 2018

Review posted at[1]

Caveat. Perpendat itaque lector cavendum (civilis).[2]

Thomas Lippman’s new book (2008) contains fascinating vignettes from the life of an important participant in the development of American policies in the Middle East during the crucial decade 1940-1950. In that period, which included both World War II and the turmoil surrounding the establishment of Israel in 1948, Colonel William Eddy served as a vital official link between the US government and Saudi Arabia. As one of the few fluent Arabic speakers at senior levels of the OSS and subsequently the State Department, the Lebanon-born Eddy also had many unofficial but influential contacts throughout the Arab world who gave him unique insights into political issues in the region. The book gives many examples of his prescience about the consequences of the establishment of Israel, including the prospect of extreme radicalization of various Islamic groupings. Anyone interested in this period of Middle Eastern politics in general, and Arab-American relations in particular, will find this quite a worthwhile read.

Be advised, though, that it really is a collection of vignettes, with fragile connecting threads. Colonel Eddy spent a good part of his professional life in intelligence work, and was circumspect regarding the records he left behind. In addition, despite the author’s valiant attempts to provide brief contexts for Eddy’s activities, the period is altogether too rich for these summaries to capture the complexities. Two or three pages, however well written, to cover the background of revolutions in Egypt and Iraq just doesn’t work. In trying to provide both a successful biography of a central but reticent figure, and a historical outline of the relations between the US and Arab states in a turbulent period, the author fails to do a very satisfying job of either.

That said, why is this a worthwhile read? Because Lippman provides insight into the activities of an outspokenly “pro-Arab” figure at an important historical juncture, while accepting Eddy’s sincerity in pursuing what he saw as his country’s national interests. Lippman does not hesitate to point out where the assessments of Eddy and his colleagues were wrong, but he does not obsess about ulterior motivations. It is clear that the author does not entirely understand or share Eddy’s attitudes, but with rare exceptions he refrains from amateur psychoanalysis. As a result, the reader gets an unusually objective description of both the remarkable William Eddy and a historically important period for relations between the United States and the Arab countries of the Middle East.

[1], author “Liban1”. Posted January 29, 2009

[2] On occasion, personal loyalties and opinions can be carved in stone and defended with a vengeance — at times with some venom thrown in. In these situations, the actual importance of the subject matter is dwarfed by the amount of aggression expressed. Retain a sense of proportion in all online and in-person discussions. [From The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies.]

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Title:                      Stanton

Author:                 Walter Stahr

Stahr, Walter (2017). Stanton: Lincoln”s War Secretary. New York: Simon & Schuster

LCCN:    2017022628

E467.1.S8 S73 2017


  • “Walter Stahr, award-winning author of the New York Times bestseller Seward, tells the story of Abraham Lincoln”s indispensable Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, the man the president entrusted with raising the army that preserved the Union. Of the crucial men close to President Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (1814-1869) was the most powerful and controversial. Stanton raised, armed, and supervised the army of a million men who won the Civil War. He organized the war effort. He directed military movements from his telegraph office, where Lincoln literally hung out with him. He arrested and imprisoned thousands for “war crimes,” such as resisting the draft or calling for an armistice. Stanton was so controversial that some accused him at that time of complicity in Lincoln”s assassination. He was a stubborn genius who was both reviled and revered in his time. Stanton was a Democrat before the war and a prominent trial lawyer. He opposed slavery, but only in private. He served briefly as President Buchanan”s Attorney General and then as Lincoln”s aggressive Secretary of War. On the night of April 14, 1865, Stanton rushed to Lincoln”s deathbed and took over the government since Secretary of State William Seward had been critically wounded the same evening. He informed the nation of the President”s death, summoned General Grant to protect the Capitol, and started collecting the evidence from those who had been with the Lincolns at the theater in order to prepare a murder trial. Now with this worthy complement to the enduring library of biographical accounts of those who helped Lincoln preserve the Union, Stanton honors the indispensable partner of the sixteenth president. Walter Stahr”s essential book is the first major biography of Stanton in fifty years, restoring this underexplored figure to his proper place in American history”– Provided by publisher.
  • “Walter Stahr, award-winning author of the New York Times bestseller Seward, tells the story of Abraham Lincoln”s indispensable Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, the man the president entrusted with raising the army that preserved the Union. Of the crucial men close to President Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (1814-1869) was the most powerful and controversial. Stanton raised, armed, and supervised the army of a million men who won the Civil War. He organized the war effort. He directed military movements from his telegraph office, where Lincoln literally hung out with him. He arrested and imprisoned thousands for “war crimes,” such as resisting the draft or calling for an armistice. Stanton was so controversial that some accused him at that time of complicity in Lincoln”s assassination. He was a stubborn genius who was both reviled and revered in his time. Now with this worthy complement to the enduring library of biographical accounts of those who helped Lincoln preserve the Union, Stanton honors the indispensable partner of the sixteenth president. Walter Stahr”s essential book is the first major biography of Stanton in fifty years, restoring this underexplored figure to his proper place in American history”– Provided by publisher.

LC Subjects

Date Posted:      January 16, 2018

Reviewed by Joseph C. Goulden[1]

Although overshadowed in history by battlefield titans such as Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Edwin Stanton was arguably President Abraham Lincoln”s most valuable ally during the Civil War.

As secretary of war, Stanton faced the awesome first task of rapidly raising an army, and keeping it armed and fed in the field. The telegraph and the railroad were revolutionizing the rules of warfare. Stanton recognized their value, and he proved a genius at shuffling thousands of soldiers from battlefield to battlefield to counter the threats raised by advancing Confederate armies.

But Stanton was also prickly and outspoken, quick to acquire enemies in and out of the White House. One contemporary called him “arbitrary, capricious, tyrannical, vindictive, hateful and cruel.” To which biographer Walter Stahr replies, “Yet Stanton was a great man and a great secretary of war.”

Stanton”s Ohio boyhood was marked by hard times. Money woes meant he spent only a year at Kenyon College, then “read law” with an attorney in his native Steubenville. He was involved in an array of complicated cases, from Mexican land claims in California to a seven-year struggle to halt the building of a suspension bridge over the Ohio River as a barrier to steamboat traffic.

A Democrat, he entered government as attorney general under President James Buchanan, and he initially opposed Lincoln (although they had worked together on a major patent case). But when war came, his loyalty to the Union was foremost and he became perhaps the most radical Republican in the war Cabinet. He was one of the few who advocated enlisting former slaves and giving them the same pay as white soldiers. Thus, black soldiers, with 179,000 enlisted, made up about one-tenth of the Union army. Nearly 40,000 died in combat.

And he praised their battlefield performance: “They have proved themselves among the bravest in fighting for the Union, performing deeds of daring and shedding their blood with a heroism unsurpassed by soldiers of any other race.” (Altruism was one factor; damaging the Southern economy was also important.)

Although Stanton had no military experience, Mr. Lincoln trusted his judgment in the incessant feuding among Union generals. He was instrumental in vaulting Gen. Grant over more senior officers to take command in the western theater.

And he did not hesitate to make major military decisions. When a Union defeat at Chickamauga, Tenn., threatened to obviate recent gains in the South, Stanton summoned key railroad presidents to Washington (“Please come as quickly as you can”) to plan a massive and swift movement of 20,000 troops from northern Virginia to southern Tennessee.

President Lincoln “mocked Stanton” for his audacious plan, for the Union army was not noted for mobility. But Stanton”s plan worked: A combination of several rail lines, supplemented by riverboats, carried out “the largest and fastest movement of troops in history.” Battlefield disaster was thus averted.

Stanton was also astute in politics. Mr. Lincoln”s 1864 re-election was uncertain. With four candidates on the 1860 ballot, he had received less than 40 percent of the popular vote. To ensure that the president received every possible vote, Stanton ordered that soldiers from key states be granted furlough to go home and vote—presumably for the incumbent. The serving military voted overwhelmingly for Lincoln, who won handily.

Stanton always found a back-channel means of shaping media coverage of the fighting. He dispatched telegrams about battlefield developments to John Dix, the general in charge in New York. These cables were routinely routed through the Associated Press, which happily passed them along to member newspapers—in effect, distributing government press releases as news.

Control of the press—and of anti-war dissent—was key to Stanton, and his actions in these areas prompted criticisms that tarnished his reputation. Some of his actions—such as curbing anti-war riots—could be categorized as essential wartime counterintelligence. But throwing newsmen and anti-Lincoln politicians in jail was another matter, and remain a stain on Stanton”s record.

The night of Lincoln”s assassination, Stanton essentially seized the reins of government. As did most everyone in Washington, he recognized the shortcomings of the frequently soused Vice President Andrew Johnson. He directed the investigation that quickly fingered John Wilkes Booth as the killer and brought his associates to justice.

As president, Johnson reciprocated Stanton”s hostility by ousting him from office, touching off a dispute that led to his attempted impeachment.

Mr. Stahr”s conclusion is to the point:

Stanton learned on the job. He learned that warfare had changed since the days of Joshua, and by the end of the war he was a master of bringing both technology and public opinion to bear in modern warfare.

[1] Goulden, Joseph C. in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (23, 2 Fall 2017, pp. 106-107). Joseph C. Goulden is a long-time review of espionage and spy books for Intelligencer, for the Washington Times, for law journals and other publications. Some of these reviews appeared in prior editions of the Washington Times or the Washington Lawyer (DC Bar Association). Joe Gouldon’s most recent book is Goulden, Joseph C. (2012). The Dictionary of Espionage: Spyspeak into English. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications. His 1982 book, Korea: The Untold Story of the War, was published in a Chinese-language edition in 2014 by Beijing Xiron Books. He is author of 18 nonfiction books.

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Red Famine

Title:                      Red Famine

Author:                 Anne Applebaum

Applebaum, Anne (2017). Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine. New York: Doubleday

LCCN:    2017029952

DK508.8374 .A67 2017


  • “From the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gulag and the National Book Award finalist Iron Curtain, a revelatory history of one of Stalin’s greatest crimes–the consequences of which still resonate today In 1929 Stalin launched his policy of agricultural collectivization–in effect a second Russian revolution–which forced millions of peasants off their land and onto collective farms. The result was a catastrophic famine, the most lethal in European history. At least five million people died between 1931 and 1933 in the USSR. But instead of sending relief the Soviet state made use of the catastrophe to rid itself of a political problem. In Red Famine, Anne Applebaum argues that more than three million of those dead were Ukrainians who perished not because they were accidental victims of a bad policy but because the state deliberately set out to kill them. Applebaum proves what has long been suspected: after a series of rebellions unsettled the province, Stalin set out to destroy the Ukrainian peasantry. The state sealed the republic’s borders and seized all available food. Starvation set in rapidly, and people ate anything: grass, tree bark, dogs, corpses. In some cases, they killed one another for food. Devastating and definitive, Red Famine captures the horror of ordinary people struggling to survive extraordinary evil. Today, Russia, the successor to the Soviet Union, has placed Ukrainian independence in its sights once more. Applebaum’s compulsively readable narrative recalls one of the worst crimes of the twentieth century, and shows how it may foreshadow a new threat to the political order in the twenty-first.”–Provided by publisher.


  • Introduction: the Ukrainian question — The Ukrainian revolution, 1917 — Rebellion, 1919 — Famine and truce: the 1920s — The double crisis: 1927-9 — Collectivization: revolution in the countryside, 1930 — Rebellion, 1930 — Collectivization fails, 1931-2 — Famine decisions, 1932: requisitions, blacklists and borders — Famine decisions, 1932: the end of Ukrainization– Famine decisions, 1932: the searches and the searchers — Starvation: spring and summer, 1933 — Survival: spring and summer, 1933 — Aftermath — The cover-up — The Holodomor in history and memory — Epilogue: the Ukraine question reconsidered.

LC Subjects

Date Posted:      December 18, 2017

For a review see Serhii Plokhy (2017). Lost Kingdom[1]

[1] Plokhy, Serhii (2017). Lost Kingdom: The Quest for Empire And The Making of The Russian Nation from 1470 to The Present . New York: Basic Books

Posted in Ukraine | Tagged | 1 Comment

Lost Kingdom

Title:                      Lost Kingdom

Author:                  Serhii Plokhy

Plokhy, Serhii (2017). Lost Kingdom: The Quest for Empire And The Making of The Russian Nation from 1470 to The Present . New York: Basic Books

LCCN:    2017021215

DK43 .P56 2917


  • “In 2014, Russia annexed the Crimea and attempted to seize a portion of Ukraine. While the world watched in outrage, this blatant violation of national sovereignty was only the latest iteration of a centuries-long effort to expand Russian boundaries and create a pan-Russian nation. In Lost Kingdom, award-winning historian Serhii Plokhy argues that we can only understand the confluence of Russian imperialism and nationalism today by delving into the nation’s history. Spanning over 500 years, from the end of the Mongol rule to the present day, Plokhy shows how leaders from Ivan the Terrible to Joseph Stalin to Vladimir Putin exploited existing forms of identity, warfare, and territorial expansion to achieve imperial supremacy. An authoritative and masterful account of Russian nationalism, Lost Kingdom chronicles the story behind Russia’s belligerent empire-building quest”– Provided by publisher.

LC Subjects

Date Posted:      December 18, 2017

Reviewed by Joseph C. Goulden[1]

In a European continent torn by incessant warfare over the centuries, Ukraine deserves sympathy for its most-abused-state status. As the real estate adage holds, “location is everything.” And Ukraine has the misfortune to be snuggled against the southeast corner of Russia, historically its prime tormentor.

Two complementary books trace Ukraine’s travails, climaxing with Russia’s brutal seizure of a Ukraine that sought to become an independent nation after the 1991 collapse of communism and the USSR. Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decreed otherwise, and the Red Army crushed Ukrainian hopes for independence.

The Harvard historian Serhii Plokhy, the leading Western scholar on Ukraine, details Moscow’s historic insistence that Russia and its East Slavic neighbors occupy a joint historical space, and essentially comprise a single nation—despite strong language, cultural and religious differences.

Ukraine attempts to retain its independent, medieval Kievan Rus’ state over the centuries had off-again/on-again successes. At one point it was amalgamated into Poland.

In the 19th century Russian imperial authorities compromised (in a sense) by creating a tripartite nation composed of three tribes: Great Russian, Little Russian (Ukraine) and Belarusian. Russian revolutions in 1905 and 1917 destroyed the forced alliance, and Ukraine was independent again until the communists seized power after World War I. The Lost Kingdom of Mr. Plokhy’s title refers to its involuntary incorporation into the USSR.

Although the reborn state received swift recognition from many European countries (plus the United States) Lenin moved to reclaim it for the new USSR in January 1918. But would the mostly-peasant regime mesh with the new communist regime? Karl Marx considered peasants “at best an ambivalent asset.” In an 1852 essay he had claimed they were not a class and hence had “no class consciousness.”

Lenin was more pragmatic—and even more so because Ukraine had agricultural resources needed by the rest of the USSR. The area’s fertile land and mild climate permitted two grain crops annually, far more than the rest of Russia.

The first scheme was to convert private farms into collective agriculture, run by the state. Lenin put it directly in a 1922 message to colleague Vyascheslav Molotov: “We must teach these people a lesson right now, so that they will not even dare to think of resistance in coming decades.” The dreaded Cheka, the secret police, aided by the Red Army, slaughtered resistant rural leaders by the hundreds. But grain production was not enough to alleviate national shortages.

Thus, Stalin and the ruling hierarchy in the early 1930s moved to a more draconian plan: to destroy what remained of Ukrainian culture and to seize the land for the state.

Segue here to Anne Applebaum’s gripping account of the grim years during which Moscow deliberately sought to starve Ukraine into submission.[2] Ms. Applebaum won a Pulitzer Prize for an earlier book, Gulag, on the Soviet prison system. Red Famine relates a story that is perhaps more cruel, an account of the misery the Communists inflicted on an innocent populace.

The state-evoked famine that stretched over two decades is well known in USSR history. The consensus of previous historians was that the primary reason for starvation was Stalin’s campaign for collective farms. But having gained access to Ukraine archives, Ms. Appelbaum relates an even more chilling story: that in its latter stages, the motive driving “land reform” was in fact the deliberate obliteration of the Ukrainian people.

Dissident peasants were forced into labor battalions. “Procurement commissars” were tasked with confiscating every grain of wheat produced—including seeds that were essential to raising the next year’s crop.

Fortunately for history, many oral histories survived in various archives, and Ms. Applebaum makes wide—and painful—use of them: “Here are old women, some of them sitting half-conscious on the ground, dazed by their hunger, their misery, and their misfortune. Here were pallid mothers seeking to feed dying babies from their milkless breasts. People dig up worms, eat grass.”

The death toll: some five million persons. The killings led a Ukrainian legal scholar, Raphael Lemkin, to invent a word for it: “genocide,” a combination of the Greek word “genos,” meaning race or nation, with the Latin “-cide,” to kill.

Ms. Applebaum concedes that the archives contain no single document containing a Stalin order to obliterate Ukraine. But his iron control of the USSR makes him the prime mover.

Moscow’s lies continue even with communism dead. In 2015, Sputnik News, a Russian propaganda website, posted an article calling the famine “one of the 20th century’s most famous myths and vitriolic pieces of anti-Soviet propaganda.”

Ms. Applebaum puts the lie to this denial in strong and readable terms.

[1] Goulden, Joseph C. in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (23, 2 Fall 2017, pp. 105-106). Joseph C. Goulden is a long-time review of espionage and spy books for Intelligencer, for the Washington Times, for law journals and other publications. Some of these reviews appeared in prior editions of the Washington Times or the Washington Lawyer (DC Bar Association). Joe Gouldon’s most recent book is Goulden, Joseph C. (2012). The Dictionary of Espionage: Spyspeak into English. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications. His 1982 book, Korea: The Untold Story of the War, was published in a Chinese-language edition in 2014 by Beijing Xiron Books. He is author of 18 nonfiction books.

[2] Applebaum, Anne (2017). Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine. New York: Doubleday


Posted in Ukraine | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Orders to Kill

Title:                      Orders to Kill

Author:                 Amy Knight

Knight, Amy W. (2017). Orders to Kill: The Putin Regime and Political Murder.  New York, NY: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press

LCCN:    2017028156

HN530.2.Z9 V535 2017


  • Covert violence as a Kremlin tradition — How the system works : Putin and his security services — Galina Starovoitova : Putin’s first victim? — Terror in Russia : September 1999 — Silencing critics — Mafia–style killings in Moscow : Kozlov and Politkovskaya — The litvinenko story — The poisoning — Continued onslaught against Kremlin challengers — Boris Berezovsky : suicide or murder? — The Boston Marathon bombings : Russia’s footprint.

LC Subjects

Date Posted:      December 15, 2017

Reviewed by Joseph C. Goulden[1]

A report that has circulated in world intelligence circles for years has finally surfaced publicly in a book by an author who the New York Times has called “the West’s foremost scholar” on the KGB– that Russian strongman (and former KGB officer) Vladimir Putin is a pedophile with a preference for young boys.

The allegation it contained in Orders to Kill, Amy Knight’s book, which is a richly detailed account of the murders of multiple Putin foes over the years, including one brazen assassination of a would-be “reformer” literally in the shadow of the Kremlin. Although evidence strongly points to President Putin as responsible for many of the killings, “Putin is never seen holding a smoking gun,” as Ms. Knight writes.

One of the murders she analyzes is the death (by polonium poisoning) of Alexander Litvinenko, one-time fellow KGB officer and friend of Mr. Putin. The two had a falling out when Litvinenko gave Mr. Putin a scathing report on corruption within the government and the FSB (successor agency to the KGB). He was also appalled by Mr. Putin’s harsh conduct against dissidents in Chechnya.

For self-preservation, Litvinenko fled to London, where he became close to another Putin enemy, Boris Berezovsky. He also became an asset of MI6, the British Secret Intelligence service.

Litvinenko died an agonizing death in 2006 after someone slipped polonium into his cup of tea in a London cafe. (One source of the rare radioactive element is a KGB lab.)

According to Ms. Knight’s account, Litvinenko “sealed his fate” with a 2006 article in the Chechen Press in which he described a “bizarre incident” outside the Kremlin. Mr. Putin chatted with a group of tourists, “then went over to a small boy, lifted up his T-shirt, and kissed him on the stomach.”

Litvinenko wrote that “nobody can understand why the Russian president did such a strange thing.” As Ms. Knight writes, Litvinenko “went on to explain that Mr. Putin had been known by KGB insiders to have been a pedophile and that there were secret tapes he destroyed once became head of the FSB showing him having sex with underage boys.”

True or not, a Litvinenko associate said the accusation was enough to “make Mr. Putin mad regardless of whether he is a pedophile or not.”

So, is the accusation true? I first heard the allegation several years ago when a prominent KGB defector asked me to help him find an agent to market a collection of articles he had written about the KGB. One article dealt with KGB associates who called their colleague Mr. Putin a pedophile. (The book was never published.)

Concerning the current spate of murders in Russia, one sees a different modus operandi from the old KGB, which used its own agents to carry out murders ordered by Joseph Stalin and the longtime KGB head, Lavrenti Beria. In the Putin era, of the few murderers brought to trial, many were low-grade Chechen thugs who killed either for money or to escape punishment for other crimes.

Ms. Knight sees Mr. Putin in an unholy alliance with Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of Chechnya since 2007. Mr. Kadyrov “has run Chechnya as his own little country, although it is part of Russia, terrorizing its citizens with violence, kidnappings and extra-judicial killings.” Thus, rebellious Chechens are held in check.

“At the same time, Mr. Kadyrov has acted on behalf of Mr. Putin as his ‘hatchet man’ in getting rid of the Russian president’s troublesome critics.” Mr. Kadyrov has called Mr. Putin “a gift from God.” Ms. Knight contends that Mr. Kadyrov thrives because Mr. Putin bills him—falsely as an ally with the West in the fight against Islamic terrorism.

A striking feature of the Russian murders is their brazen character. In separate killings, two investigative reporters are gunned down in city streets. A leading reformer was shot on a bridge only 300 yards from the Kremlin. Authorities claimed that security surveillance cameras on the bridge were not working and hence did not photograph the assassin.

A British inquiry into the Litvinenko death— a masterpiece of criminal investigation—fingered two Chechen characters as the guilty parties. Russia refused to extradite either of them—and indeed, one won a seat in the Duma, the Russian legislature, and became rich as a TV personality.

One involved section of Ms. Knight’s book— making ample use of circumstantial evidence—points a finger at Russian involvement in the Boston Marathon bombings. Men involved in the attacks indeed learned much in Russian-sponsored training camps; here a “smoking gun” is implied rather than proved.

No matter. Her detailed indictment makes a strong case that Vladimir Putin and the criminal empire he created survives because dissidents are slain without any consequence.

Oddly, President Trump scoffs at reports that Mr. Putin has sponsored murders. Campaigning, he said, “Nobody has proved that he’s killed anyone. He’s always denied it. It is not been proven that he’s killed reporters.”

Mr. Trump has voiced disdain for reading books. Perhaps someone should slip a copy of Orders to Kill onto his nightstand.[2]

Another Assessinent, a review by Peter Oleson[3],[4]

Orders to Kill is a powerful but chilling book. In describing today’s Russian politics, Dr. Amy Knight explains the organizations, elements, methods, and personalities that control a criminal state through intimidation and murder. She details the intricate relationships, often based on corruption, other criminal activity, and kompromat (compromising information of each others’ crimes) that binds the surviving oligarchs and siloviki (those that emerged as national leaders from the security services after Vladimir Putin came to power). She explains the long history of assassinations in Russia and the St. Petersburg connections of those cronies close to Vladimir Putin, many drawn from his days in the KGB (Committee for State Security).[5]

Putin—by 1998 head of the FSB (Federal Security Service)—was supported by some oligarchs, such as Boris Berezovsky, who were close to the ineffective, corrupt, and alcoholic President Boris Yeltsin, to be prime minister. When Yeltsin resigned, Putin became acting president on 31 December 1999. Since his accession, the use by the state of false legal charges, imprisonment, and murder have increased significantly. Knight admits she does not have definitive proof of Putin’s or his allies’ complicity in these many murders, pointing out “that would be impossible, given that they control the investigations and that there would be no written orders.” But she details convincing circumstantial evidence.

Russia has often reached beyond its borders to conduct extraterritorial killings. Famous historical cases include the axe murder of Leon Trotsky in Mexico City in 1940 and Nikolai Khokhlov, a KGB defector, poisoned by radioactive thallium in Germany in 1957. The list of extraterritorial killings has grown significantly under Putin, especially after the Russian Duma passed a law in 2006 legalizing (at least in Russia) such killings of “terrorists.” “‘Terrorism’ would become the Kremlin’s label for many forms of political opposition,” Knight points out. BuzzFeed has listed 14 deaths linked to Russia in the United Kingdom alone.[6] There have been other questionable deaths in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States.

While Putin had been successful in silencing many of the oligarchs that he turned against to consolidate power through trumped up prosecutions or forced sale of their assets to his cronies, he still had many critics. Knight lays out in detail many of the prominent murders of Putin opponents. Methods varied. Some killings were Mafia-style in which the authorities enlisted the criminal underground. Examples included the gunning down of anti-corruption banker Andrei Kovlov and journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Some were poisoned: Alexander Litvinenko by polonium-210, Alexander Perepilichnyl bya toxic fern (Gelsemium elegans, which induces a heart attack), and Oleg Gordievsky (who survived) by radioactive thallium.[7] Poison has been a favorite Russian technique for decades. There has been a special NKVD/ KGB/FSB laboratory dedicated to perfecting untraceable poisons for assassinations since the 1930s. Fatal automobile “accidents” have also occurred.

Journalists critical of Putin or his cronies have been favorite targets. In 2000 alone five were killed covering the atrocities of the Second Chechen War. Two were clearly assassinated. In another case Igor Domnikov, a reporter for Novaya Gazeta, a crusading anti-Putin periodical, was beaten unconscious in his apartment house on 12 May 2000 and died six weeks later. Paul Klebnikov, the editor of Forbes magazine in Moscow and a US citizen, was shot in broad daylight on 9 July 2004. He died in a hospital elevator that was hijacked by unidentified thugs. Klebnikov had accumulated detailed information on the origins of the wealth of many of Putin’s supporting oligarchs. One of Klebnikov’s sources, Ian Sergun was also killed. “In the Klebnikov case,” Knight observes, “like those of many other political murders in Russia, investigators went through the motions of trying to solve the crime without really doing so. It was if they had been hired as actors in a play, where the scenario was already written.” Another Novaya Gazeta journalist was particularly irksome to the Kremlin. Anna Politkovskaya reported on the horrors of the Chechen war. Her reports prompted the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to condemn the Russian government. She was particularly critical of Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, the Putin supported dictator of Chechnya. On one flight to Chechnya she was poisoned but survived. However, on 7 October 2006 she was gunned down in her apartment house in Moscow. The government blamed the Chechens and dragged the inconclusive investigation out for over six years.

Parliamentarians were not immune to audacious murders. The first was Galina Starovoitova, leader of the Democratic Russia party, who campaigned against corruption in St. Petersburg when the city was largely run by gangs with which Putin maintained a close relationship. She was gunned down in St. Petersburg in November 1998. Vladimir Golovlev, a Duma deputy and leader of the opposition party, Liberal Russia, that was formed by Berezovsky, Sergei Iushenkov, and others, was shot dead on the street on 21 August 2002. Iushenkov himself, who was investigating the suspected involvement of the FSB in the September 1999 multiple apartment building bombings in Moscow, blamed on Chechen terrorists and which helped catapult Putin into the presidency, and the FSB’s use of poison gas that killed all the Chechens and many innocents in the Moscow theater siege in October 2002, was shot when exiting his apartment building in April 2003. On 3 July 2003, IIuri Shchekochikhin, another Duma deputy and deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta, died from an unknown poison. Authorities declared his diagnosis a “medical secret.” Shchekochikhin had been investigating weapons smuggling, tax evasion, and bribery and was talking with the FBI about money laundering via Bank of New York.

Others were added to the “list” of those to be eliminated over time. Andrei Kozlov, first deputy of Russia’s Central Bank, was gunned down in September 2006. He was investigating money laundering via Russia’s Diskont Bank and Austrian Bank Raiffeisen. “With Kozlov gone, the way was clear for those high up in the Kremlin to pursue their corrupt financial dealings unimpeded.”

The Alexander Litvinenko case made international headlines. A former FSB officer who defected to the United Kingdom in 2000, he was close to exile Boris Berezovsky. He was supporting Italian and Spanish investigations of Russian money laundering. He wrote highly critical articles about Putin, including alleging that he was a pedophile. Poisoned by two former FSB associates in London, Litvinenko died on 23 November 2006. Knight details how his inept assassins, using polonium-210, left a radioactive trail on airplanes, in apartments in Germany, and in hotel rooms, restaurants, and cars in the UK. After more than one try they succeeded by poisoning his tea, but also exposed many others, including their own families, in what was a case of international nuclear terrorism. Six years later, overcoming resistance by the British government that did not want to upset relations with Moscow, an inquest by Sir Robert Owen laid the killing at the feet of Vladimir Putin.

Boris Berezovsky was always a controversial figure. An oligarch and initial supporter of promoting Putin to be FSB chief and then prime minister, the two soon fell out. Facing charges in Russia, Berezovsky fled to Britain and obtained asylum. With his enormous wealth he funded anti-Putin activities and became “enemy number one,” especially after the anti-government demonstrations in Russia in 2012. He was a supporter of Alexander Litvinenko’s scathing attacks on Putin. On 23 March 2013, Berezovsky was found dead in his bathroom. Initial findings were of a suicide. However, subsequent analyses cast doubt on that conclusion. At the time of publication of Knight’s book the case remains a mystery.

On 27 February 2015, Boris Nemtsov was assassinated by two gunmen on a bridge within sight of the Kremlin’s walls. A former Duma member and deputy prime minister, Nemtsov had become a harsh critic of the regime’s corruption and human rights abuses. He had testified before the US Congress, supporting legislation that imposed sanctions on many of Putin’s associates. This was viewed by those targeted as treasonous. He was preparing a damning report on the corruption surrounding the Sochi Olympics when he was shot. Knight concludes “… Nemtsov’s revelations about Russian corruption were directed specifically at Putin and his close cronies, which is why he was killed. His associate, Vladimir Kara-Murza, was poisoned in May 2015, a month after appearing before the US Congress but survived despite being in a coma for over a week. After promoting a film in praise of Nemtsov throughout Russia, Kara-Murza was poisoned again in February 2017.

Not well covered in the US press is the evidence that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing brothers, may have been a Russian agent, recruited by the FSB to demonstrate that Chechen terrorism was not just a problem for Russia. With the International Olympic Committee worrying about security of the upcoming 2014 Sochi Olympics, Knight traces the evidence that suggests Tamerlan may have been indoctrinated covertly and recruited by the FSB during his 2012 visit to Russia to be a jihadist and conduct the Boston bombing, demonstrating for public opinion that Chechen terrorism was a worldwide problem, and not just in Russia.

Knight explores the dependent relationship between Putin and Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, whom she describes as “deeply connected to the Chechen criminal world.” Moscow funds Kadyrov’s government, including his 80,000-man militia. Kadyrov in turn pledges obeisance to Putin and has provided him with assassins when requested. Like Putin, Kadyrov is sensitive to criticism. Natalia Estemirova, a human rights advocate, had challenged Kadyrov for human rights abuses and the reign of terror by his forces against the general population in Chechnya. She was kidnapped and shot in July 2009 after being threatened by Kadyrov.

Knight points out that Western governments have largely failed to confront the “uncomfortable truths” of Russian state sponsored murders and explains how Putin took advantage of the post-9/11 political environment to manipulate White House anti-terrorism policies and get favorable treatment from Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush. This gave Putin a pass to pursue his savage war in Chechnya and suppress his opponents both inside Russia and overseas. Obama’s “reset” of policy toward Moscow failed to yield anticipated benefits as Putin continued his murderous ways.

Putin can be charming but is a master manipulator. George W. Bush once said that he got a “… sense of his soul…” In reality, Putin’s soul is that of a serial killer. Anyone who believes that Putin is someone to be admired ought to read this book.

[1] Goulden, Joseph C. in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (23, 2 Fall 2017, pp. 104-105). Joseph C. Goulden is a long-time review of espionage and spy books for Intelligencer, for the Washington Times, for law journals and other publications. Some of these reviews appeared in prior editions of the Washington Times or the Washington Lawyer (DC Bar Association). Joe Gouldon’s most recent book is Goulden, Joseph C. (2012). The Dictionary of Espionage: Spyspeak into English. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications. His 1982 book, Korea: The Untold Story of the War, was published in a Chinese-language edition in 2014 by Beijing Xiron Books. He is author of 18 nonfiction books.

[2] Readers are also directed to a second assessment—by Peter Oleson—of this important book which follows Mr. Goulden’s review.

[3] Dr. Amy Knight is a scholar of Russian politics and history. She has written six other books and many articles on the Cold War and Soviet/Russian intelligence. She has a PhD from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and has taught at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), George Washington University, and Carlton University in Ottawa, Canada. She was a Soviet/Russian expert at the Library of Congress for 18 years. The New York Times has called her the “West’s foremost scholar” of the KGB.

[4] Peter Oleson is the author of “Stalin’s Disciple:Vladimir Putin and Russia’s Newest ‘Wet Affairs,’” the Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies, Vol. 22, No. 2, Fall 2016, pp 19-27. In his article he detailed over 4o political murders that have occurred since Putin gained power. Oleson is a former associate professor at the University of Maryland University College, senior intelligence advisor to the Under Secretary of Defense (Policy) and Assistant Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

[5] The KGB was disbanded In 1991. Its parts were divided into several organizations, which are described in Knight’s book.

[6] BuzzFeedNEWS, “Poison in the System,” “From Russia with Blood,” “The Man who Knew Too Much,” and “The Secrets of the Spy In the Bag.” .

[7] Gordievsky was a defector from the KGB. See Andrew, Christopher (1991) and Oleg Gordievsky. KGB: The Inside Story of Its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev. New York: HarperCollins Publishers

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