Book Reviews

 

Naomi Klein- Shock Doctrine
 
Klein is a Canadian who likes to look at what is going on across our southern border. In this book she starts by describing the activities of a McGill University psychiatrist named Ewen Cameron. He conducted a series of experiments on mentally ill individuals in the early post-war and these came to the attention of the CIA who subsequently supported his work. His theory was that the mentally ill could be healed only if their mind was cleared of all accumulated ideas and memories. So he achieved this with massive electrical shock treatments and some chemicals which left the patients in a horrible state and incapable of functioning. 
 
For a time Cameron was highly regarded by his peers. He was chosen president of the American Psychiatric Association, for example. Ultimately, he was condemned by the profession and the CIA was successfully sued by survivors.
 
Klein then makes a connection with the economic philosophies of Milton Friedman and his group at  the University of  Chicago. It was Friedman's belief that struggling economies needed the same kind of sanitization as Cameron's patients. He first put this into practise in Chile under the dictator Pinochet. A large segment of his cabinet were graduates of Chicago, sponsored by several US foundations. The policies imposed on the country- removal of all tariffs, social assistance, minimum wages, food subsidies, unemployment insurance and the imposition of a total free market economy resulted in massive hardship, unemployment over 20% and so on. Of course, some people did fairly well but the masses suffered horribly.  
 
She then describes similar programs conducted with the full force of the IMF and the US Treasury in other countries- Indonesia, South Korea, post-apartheid South Africa, Russia, Poland and several others. The results were generally similar to those in Chile- massive unemployment, conversion of state assets to private holdings, especially in Russia during the period when Boris Yeltsin demanded and receive full dictatorial powers. In Poland, the very popular Solidarity Party which came to power after the collapse of the Soviet imposed Socialist Party,  went along with the IMF furnished advisors for a period until popular support was lost and the process was halted. Nevertheless, this ended the political career of Solidarity and Poland subsequently went through a more deliberate and less corrupt process of converting from a state to a market economy.
 
Although Klein does not claim to be an expert on the countries she deals with, she did have nationals assisting her with the details. Her work seems to have stood up quite well and she recently posted a response to her critics, who were neither numerous nor well based in their arguments.
 
 
Murray Dobbin- The Myth of the Good Corporate Citizen- Democracy Under the Rule of Big Business
 
Dobbin is also a Canadian, a journalist and media analyst who has written on our politics for decades. This book was published in 1998.
 
His theme is that we are dominated by our corporations  who dictate the national agenda. He gives a detailed account of the free trade negotiations and the role played in the process by, especially, the Business Council on National Interests and Tom d'Aquino, its CEO. He also deals at length with the Fraser Institute, the CD Howe Institute and the National Citizens Coalition. These groups are heavily funded by both Canadian and foreign owned companies and they are closely linked to similarly minded US associations, think tanks and "non-profit" research institutes.  
 
A quote from the US Trilateral Commission serves to set the direction in which these groups wish to direct the country. "Some of the problems of government in the United States today stem from the excess of democracy". Dobbin points out how the citizenry is unable to see their wishes reflected in government policy and programs. These are now set in response to pressure exerted by Big Business, none better illustrated than the FTA/NAFTA which caused the immediate loss of a quarter million manufacturing jobs and  utterly failed in its professed objective to bring up our standard of living to equal that of the US. We have witnessed the recent refusal of the US to abide by the terms of this treaty and the abject caving in of the Harper government to US recalcitrance in imposing clearly illegal duties on our softwood lumber. Of course, today we are seeing the abject folly of tying our economy so closely to theirs. The obviously more attractive social and environmental attitudes of the Europeans are now being discovered. Whereas US public attitudes are moving towards values like religion, patriotism, acceptance of violence and ecological fatalism, we are going in the opposite direction, towards values more common in the European Union. This should have been our preferred trade partner, something slowly being recognized by the Harperites.
 
This is a worthwhile book, if for no other reason than that it makes us aware of how little the ordinary citizen affects and influences national policies. Although somewhat repetitive, it fulfills an important function in our so-so democracy.
 
 
Peter Goodchild- J. Robert Oppenheimer 'Shatterer of Worlds'
Priscilla J. McLaughlin- The Ruin Of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Birth of the Modern Arms Race
 
These books cover the same ground with only small differences in viewpoint. Goodchild's book was published in 1980 and was based on the then recently declassified material from the AEC under Carter's presidency. Goodchild had also produce a film which I have not seen. McMillan's book came out in 2005.
 
The topic is Oppenheimer but the story is the development of the bomb and the politics postwar relating to its potential use and the posture to be adopted towards the Soviet Union. There is serious human drama as to the effect these discoveries will have on the human race and the prospects of avoiding nuclear Armageddon.
 
Oppenheimer was a brilliant scientist and a very able organizer and manager without whom the bomb would not have been developed in such a short time. He had the loyal allegiance of the Los Alamos scientists and led them in a way which yielded their best performances.
 
An ongoing controversy developed between Edward Teller and Oppenheimer before the bomb was achieved. Teller wanted a full effort made in parallel on a fusion bomb whereas JRO realized that the smaller weapon was terrible enough and there was no need for the Super.  This ultimately led to the establishment of the Livermore Laboratory as an appeasement to Teller and against the strong advice of JRO.
 
After the war, as Oppenheimer's contract was about to terminate, he was accused  of  and subjected to investigation of disloyalty and having Communist friends and, possibly, leaking secrets to the Soviets. Teller testified against him and JRO lost his security clearance. This was terribly humiliating to a proud scientist and loyal American citizen.
 
Teller claimed to be the inventor of the fusion bomb on the patents issued for it. In fact, although he whiled away the war years working on it, his theories were faulty and the crucial mathematical contributions were made by a Polish-Jewish scientist named Stanislaw Ulam. Teller gave him no credit. We can also note that it was Teller who convinced Ronald Reagan to fund the Star Wars  notion against the considered judgment of virtually everyone.
 
JRO ended up at Princeton University and died in 1967 at the age of sixty-three.
 
These books give us much information about the Manhattan project and the workings of the lab at Los Alamos. But they are also insightful studies about human relationships, ambition and greed and vengeance. The terrible power of nuclear weaponry is displayed and should prompt readers to the realization that these are weapons that have no place in civilization.
 
 
William N Hess- Fighting Mustang: The Chronicle of the P-51
 
I picked this book up at a disposal sale at our library. It is a well done work about a technically superior plane that was produced in huge numbers- about 15,000. It had the speed and performance of the Spitfire but vastly superior range due to a much more efficient wing design. Of interest to those who like machines!


 

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