Thursday, November 15, 2012


Running around like the chicken with the head cut off these days.

Here's what I'm reading on the GO Bus and the subway:

The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China by Jay Taylor. It's fairly recent (2009) and makes use of a lot of recently released archival material to construct a sympathetic portrait of China's KMT leader during the mid-20th Century. It encompasses his entire life, so there'll be a lot of stuff about Taiwan which will be brand new to me.

Chiang Kai-shek is generally not well treated by history. He was seen as a ruthless, colourless autocrat who spent more time fighting and killing Mao's CCP than he did fighting the Japanese and reforming his thoroughly corrupt KMT party. This book argues that Chiang has been done wrong by such accounts. While he was ruthless and no democrat, Chiang was a genuine nationalist and Chinese patriot. Mao and the CCP were at least as duplicitous and murderous. Nobody has been able to argue that Chiang himself was corrupt or how, given how tenuous his hold on power often was, he could have controlled the powerful elites whose support he relied on. Finally, contrary to both the US military and government personnel and most histories, it seems Chiang fought the Japanese invaders with as much aggressiveness as was possible given the disparities in the military machines of the two nations.

I'm not sure that I agree 100% with Taylor's revision, but it's at least persuasive.

I'm also looking at Alan Riding's And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris. I don't often choose to read about painful things. But this book just sort of jumped off the library shelf at me. I'm only at chapter two but it's already done a fine job of summarizing the national crisis of confidence that prevailed in inter-war France. Conservatives, liberals and radicals argued over society. Militarists and pacifists argued about the real significance of the First World War. Anti-Semites argued with non-stupid people. Hitler bludgeoned the German people into submission. I wouldn't argue that France needed its own Hitler. I don't know what I'm saying. I'm tired. I think it's made real to me the anti-democratic stupor that North America (and most of the world) is in. The disarray and the confusion.

Finally, I picked up two books by long-time blogging nemesis Scott Neigh.

Talking Radical: Canadian History Through the Stories of Activists. There's Gender and Sexuality and Resisting the State. Haven't started 'em yet. Bought them during his Toronto stop for his book tour to support the cause.


Owen Gray said...

In the two decades between World War I and World War II, thwap, the liberal class in Europe threw up their hands in despair.

There's a lesson there.

Simon said...

hi thwap... Did you ever see the great documentary The Sorrow and the Pity? It had a great section on Maurice Chevalier crooning away in night clubs full of Nazis. It reminded me how easily some people can adapt to tyranny. Or are simply cowed by it. What would we call our present situation I wonder? The Sorrow and the Impotence? ;)