Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pearl Harbor Day Thoughts on Newt's Books

I've read seven books by Newt Gingrich.

I first read one of Newt Gingrich's books in 1997.  The first edition of his book, To Renew America had come out.  Some friends were encouraging me to run for the Alaska Legislature in the 1998 cycle.  A bunch of Gingrichites had swept the Mat-Su Valley legislative slate in November, 1994:  Lyda Green in the Senate; Scott Ogan, Vic Kohring and Bev Masek in the House.  I decided to read Gingrich's book so as to better understand where these people were coming from.

It was the only non-fiction book of his I've ever finished.  I found his arguments unconvincing, but he seemed more pragmatic in his conservatism than most "Contract with America" polemicists realized.  I don't remember much about the book now, but this critical comment from might help:
This is an invaluable read for students of American history who want to understand what the "Republican Revolution" of 1992-1998 was all about. Newt is the Tim Leary to Rush Limbaugh's Jerry Rubin.
 I started reading his A Contract with the Earth (written with Terry L. Maple) when it came out, but had learned to distrust Gingrich as a political figure on environmental issues.  I found his ideas unworkable, and his concept of "ten commandments" for conservatives on the environment to be ridiculously smarmy:

A Contract with the Earth's is, broadly, a manifesto that challenges those on the right to provide a strategy for repairing the planet and calls on government to embrace the concept that a healthy environment is required for a healthy democracy and economy.  his approach, alternately branded mainstream and entrepreneurial environmentalism by the authors, requires that companies should lead the way in environmental issues while governments provide them with incentives to reduce their carbon footprint.

With its 10 "commandments", A Contract with the Earth calls for politicians to abandon adversarialconservationists to form compatible partnerships. In one of the book's themes, Gingrich and Maple argue that environmental efforts shouldn't be exclusive to one political philosophy and reject the idea that free enterprise and a cleaner world are opposing forces.
In 1999, I picked up his book 1945 from the free book shelf at the barber shop.   It was the first of his many alternative history books written in partnership with William R. Forstchen.  Its premise is based upon a World War II in which Germany had not declared war on the US in December 1941, and after we had defeated the Japanese in the Pacific, were faced with a triumphant German adversary.

As these alternative history books go, it was a hilariously strange, somewhat inept attempt.  The denouement seems to be when Sgt. York of World War I fame, outwits and defeats German commando general Otto Skorzeny, in the latter's attempts to destroy the Oak Ridge Tennessee atomic labs, in a sort of sniperfest in the Tennessee hills.  It was filled with way too much admiration for such German military figures as Skorzeny and Gen. Erwin Rommel.

I read all three of his Gettysburg series books.  Essentially, the plot is this:

On the second day of Gettysburg, Confederate Gen. Longstreet and others convince Gen. Lee to abandon the Gettysburg position secretly, and come around to the south of the Union forces, between Gettysburg and Washington DC.  The Confederates decisively beat the Union forces.

Gen. Grant is called from Vicksburg to take charge of the shattered  Union forces.  The Confederates besiege Washington DC and occupy Baltimore.  They then defeat Gen. Dan Sickles.  But Lee's forces have been weakened, and ultimately Grant defeats the rebels near Frederick, Maryland.  Lee's retreat back to Virginia is stymied, and he surrenders to Gen. Grant.  The result is a late 1863 end of the Civil War, rather than one in early 1865.

Though the events in the book seemed plausible, the character sketches of historical figures were pretty shallow, and his supporting fictional characters, particularly those of African Americans who help in the siege of Washington and battle of Frederick, come across as caricatures Gingrich unconvincingly hopes to advance, showing he really does care for minorities.

Gingrich's ongoing series about an alternative early Pacific War in late 1941, is further evidence that he admires strong military figures way too much.  He fixates over U.S. Admiral Bill Halsey, and other military icons.

In Pearl Harbor, Gingrich has the Japanese not only perform a third strike against U.S. military installations on Oahu, he improbably has them stay in Hawaiian waters, to try to engage the U.S. carriers that had been away during the sneak attack.  This was unfeasible, as noted by this critical review of the first book at
The commitment of the [Japanese] 1st Air Striking Fleet was at the very limit of the operational range for the Japanese ships taking part in the attack. They had to refuel on the crossing and during the return to Japanese waters from fleet oilers. The IJN had insufficient oilers to support both all the other naval operations going down in South-East Asis and sustain a carrier force off the Hawaiian coast for several days of hard steaming.

If the IJN had committed three waves against Pearl Harbor, they would have had insufficient aviation fuel and ordnance to go hunting US carriers. 
But hunt them they do, in book two - Days of Infamy.  Here's a great comment from one of the readers who awarded the book one star:
The authors do not understand naval communications, in spite of the fact that one of their heros is a communicator, and communications play a huge part in their story. They have Japanese aircraft that did not carry voice radios having nice radio chats, and ships breaking radio silence over and over again thinking that a short broadcast would not reveal their positions, which was flat wrong for both sides. In fact, Japanese voice radios were unreliable and of poor performance, to the extent that most Zero pilots had their radios removed. Their only reliable long-range communications was HF CW keyed transmissions. Carriers in particular had limited numbers of radios that could monitor only one frequency at a time and had a large number of nets they had to monitor. Yet, the authors have the Japanese search aircraft each on a different frequency (wrong), has Navy strike aircraft talking to Army heavy bombers (different nets), and of course, with a politician as an author, the whole war stops and the admirals tune their limited number of radios to hear Roosevelt's "Day of Infamy" speech. Only a politician would think that would happen.
All that having been said, I find it remarkable that Newt Gingrich the politician has taken such an abiding interest, as Newt Gingrich the "historian," to constantly want to change the past in some way or another.  He has written (all in partnership with William R. Forstchen) eight alternate historical books - three about the Civil War, three about World War II, and two about the American Revolution.  In each, though he tries to humanize the historical figures - mostly generals and admirals, what one remembers, rather than these lame attempts, is his deep respect for hierarchical military structures, and how they are more reliable than personalities that inhabit them.  And of how politicians, whether they be Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Franklin Roosevelt or Winston Churchill, are best off when they defer to their Grants, Lees, Halseys or Marshalls.  This unnatural deference to hierarchy may be part of the explanation of Gingrich's conversion to Catholicism.

His main claim to having actually changed the past was picked up today by poll analyst Nate Silver, who wrote:

I have seen a lot of other commentators bring up versions of this point, but there is a reason why Republicans, especially conservative Republicans, see Newt Gingrich as by far their most qualified nominee and why they have been willing so far to excuse his periodic lapses from conservative orthodoxy.

The reason is simply that under Mr. Gingrich’s Congressional leadership, the Republican Party finally broke the New Deal coalition that had dominated American politics for more than a half-century, moving policy substantially to the right. That is a pretty impressive credential.
 Silver, arguing that Gingrich is actually more conservative than his GOP rivals' campaigns admit, continues:
The current 112th House is probably the most conservative since the New Deal on economic policy.

It is hard to say how much of this shift is because of Mr. Gingrich. Like the quarterback for a winning football team, he is probably given somewhat more responsibility for his party’s wins and losses than he truly deserves. Nevertheless, no other Republican candidate can come close to matching his record. It is also one that older voters in particular — with whom Mr. Gingrich performs extremely well — may be inclined to appreciate. Those older voters may have a keener sense of history and would have remembered that the House of Representatives had been dominated by Democrats for their entire adult lifetimes until Mr. Gingrich came into power.
As much as Gingrich both has sought to change history in his novels, and did in his congressional actions,  there is a lot of history he cannot escape.  I hope someone is going through all the old C-SPAN Book TV appearances he has made.  I understand he has made many comments over the years stereotyping various racial and cultural groups, at book tour events.  Maybe readers can help us find links.

On the one hand, Gingrich is far more comfortable in front of the media and campaign appearances than any other GOP candidate.

On the other hand, he often doesn't know when to stop talking.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your review of Gingrich's flawed histories and observations of this supremely nasty Republican megalomaniac.