GHOST SOLDIERS: Carabao (Water Buffalo) and Benzedrine

Escape route from POW camps was facilitated by the local villagers contributing their carabaos. The Rangers started with 12, a precious gift in itself. More and more carabaos arrived, so that there were 30 in all. This was a Godsend, since most of the POWs could scarcely walk, and many had contracted diseases like tuberculosis and beriberi. This supply of carabaos was no small sacrifice on the part of the villagers. A carabao was almost the most precious possession a farmer could have.

And then, the lack of sleep: the Rangers had averaged 5 hours sleep in the last 72 hours. To keep them going, their commander handed out Benzedrine pills.

Self remembers reading about the Allied retreat to Dunkirk (She remembers the author: Hugh Sebag-Montefiore, but she can’t for the life of her remember the title of the book he wrote). The commanders were so punch-drunk from the lack of sleep that during briefings, they would doze off in the middle of a sentence. An enlisted soldier behind the officer would nudge him awake, and the briefing would continue.

And as for the pills: during the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, some of the SEALS were dozing off in the Blackhawk. It came out later they’d taken Ambien.

Here’s a passage from Ghost Soldiers (which is a really good book; self highly recommends)

During World War II, amphetamines became all the rage as a stimulant, with some 72 million handed out to both Allied and Axis soldiers by the end of the war. It was said that Adolf Hitler underwent a daily regimen of amphetamine injections. Certainly, this was the first time any of the Rangers had taken speed. — Ghost Soldiers, p. 307

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


Her next book after Ghost Soldiers is a biography of Jesse James by T. J. Stiles. Then, she’ll move back into fiction with Kate Walbert’s A Short History of Women. With any luck, she’ll get to Walbert’s book just in time for the elections.

She watched all three debates. This last one was potent: there was one certifiable meltdown. When a man says live, on camera, to an audience of millions, that his opponent is “a nasty woman,” you can forget everything he said earlier about respecting women. He could have said “a nasty person.” But he said: nasty woman. As if her gender made it even more nasty (And you, sir, are a nasty man!)

Someone tweeted that he thought it would be a good idea to re-name all public restrooms to read: BAD HOMBRES and NASTY WOMEN.

All those in favor, say “Aye!”

Anyhoo, Back to Ghost Soldiers. The raid to free the American POWs in Cabanatuan has a very surreal quality. First of all, the POWs do not seem impressed by the American Rangers who’ve just arrived to rescue them, and are reluctant to leave the camp. Quite a few of them have to be actually kicked in the rear end because the Rangers are on a very tight program.

After the camp is completely emptied, the leader of the raid does a last check of each and every barrack. He’s all alone. Satisfied that the Americans haven’t missed a single POW, he fires a flare into the sky, visible for miles, to signal the end of the mission.

But they do leave one man behind. A British POW who’d gone deaf, who was using a latrine, who didn’t come out until everyone — Rangers AND POWs had left. The operation had to have taken at least an hour, so — the man was constipated?

There is also an American Ranger who is shot by one of his own men (by accident), from point-blank range. And this Ranger can’t stop saying, to his last breath, “By my own men. By my own men.” The men around him try to comfort him by assuring him that he was shot by a Japanese, but he refuses to believe it and just keeps repeating, in absolute horror, “By my own men.” Until he dies.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Sentence of the Day: Hampton Sides

One of the pleasures of reading Ghost Soldiers, by Hampton Sides, is reading his descriptions of Nueva Ecija, in the Philippines.

The Rangers have arrived at the POW camp in Cabanatuan. They’re spread out in the fields, waiting for cover of darkness.

  • The highway still held the day’s heat, a narrow strip of cooked asphalt half ruined by neglect and by war, the surface rubbed with potholes and forced open by thistles.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Raid on the Cabanatuan POW Camp: p. 164 of GHOST SOLDIERS

Much to the chagrin of the commander of the operations, it seemed like the American Rangers’ presence, so close to the POW camp in Cabanatuan, was an open secret to anyone within a day’s walk of the camp — no, to anyone in the entire province of Nueva Ecija.

First, more and more Filipino guerrillas kept appearing, offering their services. Next, the welcoming committee in Platero, the nearest town to the camp, arranged a veritable extravaganza:

The Americans had barely begun the approach to Platero when they were halted by the strains of singing, carried on the evening breeze:

The tune was hard to make out, at first, but then Prince caught it — “God Bless America,” the familiar stanzas rendered in thickly accented English, the melody charmingly curdled stale note. At the entrance to the town, a few dozen teenage girls dressed in white gowns were singing in sad, sweet voices. It was like a hastily arranged beauty pageant. The local school principal had gone door to door recruiting the prettiest young women from Platero and the surrounding countryside. Some of the girls shipped garlands of fresh sampaguita flowers over the Rangers heads and offered welcoming kisses.

Behind the cordon of singers, the village bustled with the sounds of cooking and preparation. The town were planning a feast. People were slaughtering their chickens and cows, building fires, stirring vats of stew. The villagers had prepared a classic Filipino fiesta, with all the gaiety and spare-no-cost lavishness, everyone brimming with a warmth that would almost seem cloying if it wasn’t so obviously sincere.

Self is convinced that everything, everything that happens in the Philippines, gets turned into melodrama at some point. Our history is full of tragi-comic events, and the one self has just finished reading is one of them. It’s the end of three years of occupation, one can say that the Filipinos were not doing too badly if they had enough food to impress the Americans.

The Filipino taste for drama shows them to be skilled comedians (and self remarks on this with a complete absence of irony, you’d better just take self’s word for it), with a comedian’s impeccable sense of timing. If the Japanese had spies in the village, they would have known for sure something was up, especially when the Filipinos de-camped and left the village a virtual ghost town. Self hoots because you know, you’re never sure what the ruse was: the welcoming committee or the fact that everyone took cover, as far from the field of action as possible.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Sentence of the Day: GHOST SOLDIERS

  • When he was sixteen, he broke the world record for sitting in a tree — Hampton Sides on Sergeant Abraham “Abie” Abraham, survivor of the Bataan Death March

GHOST SOLDIERS, by Hampton Sides: the Surrender

Bataan Peninsula, April 1942:

Major General Edward King, commander of the American ground forces on Bataan, surrendered April 9 without informing his superiors, or General Wainwright on Corregidor. He said later that he was thinking of the 24,000 wounded who were crowded into field hospitals around southern Bataan: The field stations and hospitals were about to come “within range of enemy light artillery” which would have resulted, he said, in “the greatest slaughter in history.”

Hampton Sides:

Never had the U.S. Army fought against an enemy about whom it knew so little. The initial encounter between victor and vanquished would involve an extreme clash of two proud cultures whose profound ignorance of one another predictably generated intense feelings of racial animus and mutual disdain. There was a sense in which the defeated Americans had become victims of their own blithely held notions of racial superiority. (p. 51, Ghost Soldiers)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Bataan Peninsula, April 1942

April 8, 1942, on the eve of the American surrender:

  • . . . the vast volcanic jungle clinked and snapped and exploded with the sounds of an army deliberately destroying itself. With surrender imminent, the men had been given the order to ruin their weapons and sabotage any hardware that might prove valuable to the enemy . . .  For a time that evening, the southern tip of Bataan took on the sheen of day, and one could limn the complex outline of the peninsula, with its deep ravines and extinct volcanoes, its innumerable points and promontories fingering out into the sea.

pp. 39 – 40, Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission

In the middle of all this, while an army medic named Dr. Ralph Emerson Hibbs shakes with malarial fever, the ground starts to rumble and heave. “You’d think it was an earthquake,” he grumbles. And a Filipino standing nearby tells him, “It is an earthquake.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

THE WAY TO THE SPRING: The Roots of Conflict

The town of Hebron used to have a small Jewish community. In 1929, Ehrenreich writes, “nearly 10 percent of Hebron’s” Jewish community was slaughtered.

Before then, “Jews and Arabs lived in relative harmony throughout Ottoman-era Palestine. Overall, Jew enjoyed greater security and freedom in the Muslim Levant than they did among Christians elsewhere, particularly in Eastern Europe, but also in the West. In his official report to the British Parliament on the 1929 ‘disturbances,’ Sir Walter Shaw acknowledged that ‘there had been no records of attacks of Jews by Arabs’ in the previous eight decades and representatives of all parties had concurred that before the (First World) War the Jews and Arabs lived side by side if not in amity, at least with tolerance. The aggravating factor, Shaw was forced to admit, was the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which promised British support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, such that ‘the Arabs have come to see in the Jewish immigrant not only a menace to their livelihood but a possible overlord of the future.” (pp. 192 – 193)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Isolation Leads to Extinction

Reading Ben Ehrenreich’s The Way to the Spring: Life and Death In Palestine, which is mainly about land. Land, stony land. Homeland.

She remembers reading, a couple of pages back, something about settlements. That it is natural for settlements to expand.

She also learns the meaning of the word Intifada: it means shaking off.

Which brings us to “isolation leads to extinction.” Which is something she read in a book, long long time ago. A book about extinction. She thinks it was The Beak of the Finch. Or maybe something by Stephen Jay Gould.

What self is trying to say is, from that book read so long ago, self learned this vaulable lesson: that when earth’s land bridges disappeared, and islands and their attendant species became cut off from other species, a species inevitably lost its vigor, inbreeding passed on genetic weakness, and eventually that species was no more.

Which brings us back to Palestine!

Apologies for the digression.

On p. 55, Ehrenreich introduces us to a man named Hani Amer whose land exists as “a crease” between concrete fences and barbed wire. The Israelis built the walls and gave Amer a choice: either he move and let them demolish his house, or he remained and they would build the wall around him. Amer stayed.

On the day he meets Ehrenreich, Amer says, “I’m tired of telling this story.” But Ehrenreich prods it out of him anyway.

p. 57:

  • Amer’s house was soon surrounded: the wall on one side, the fence on the other. They built a gate and told him to choose a time and they would come and open it for fifteen minutes every twenty-four hours. He demanded a gate of his own with a key of his own, so that he could let himself in and out when he wished, so that his home would not become for him a prison. They refused.

And now, self has spent far too long on this post and will resume reading.

Stay tuned.



Steve Jobs Photograph

The greatest photographs of Steve Jobs self has ever seen are here, at the Douglas Menuez Photography Archive in Stanford.

When she visited Bletchley Park in June, the tour guide said the first computer was invented at Bletchley Park, by Alan Turing. She saw this thingamajig (really, there is no other word to describe what she saw. Unless it’s the word contraption) that looked like the inside of someone’s cabinet, only with — gear wheels? And wires? It was a codebreaking machine.

That’s funny, self thought. All along, she thought the computer was invented in Silicon Valley. By IBM.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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