Three days in May

Dunkirk by Joshua Levine William Collins 356pp Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops 350 baht

Hitler learned a lesson from his unsuccessful Munich putsch of 1924 -- that weapons are legal only in the hands of the government. He spent the next decade getting into the national government. After that Germany built weapons at breakneck speed.

A corporal-messenger during WWI, with no officer training, he was no tactical or strategic genius. (Through he was convinced he was.) He was a pathological liar and a consummate bluffer, with the instinct for knowing that the other fellow would fold.

His war machine was no bluff, however. Panzers, fighters and bombers rolled off the assembly lines, while the rest of the world still had a First World War mindset. At the outset of World War II, the UK wasn't anywhere as prepared. Even less so the US.

Nevertheless, Britain went to war when Poland was invaded, France joining in. The British Expeditionary Force landed in France. They didn't raise a finger to help the Poles. Yet they had a plan to join Belgium and confront the Germans in the West.

It fell through when Belgium surrendered. The Wehrmacht raced for Paris, threatening to bag the BEF. Its commander opted to evacuate from the French beach of Dunkirk, the Royal Navy reluctant to come to the rescue with the Luftwaffe controlling the air. Nor was newly-appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill enthusiastic about it.

As British historian Joshua Levine describes in great detail in his book, and film, Dunkirk, the owners of British boats came to the rescue. Crossing the English Channel, they rescued about 300,000.

A fair number were French soldiers. More than a few civilians.

Military analysts are still disputing why Hitler halted the offensive for those three days in late May 1940. It certainly wasn't out of the goodness of his heart. The British rearguard could have been steamrollered over. He was no Napoleon.

The author researched it on both sides -- books, memories, period letters, interviews. The returned soldiers certainly contributed to Hitler's decision to indefinitely postpone operation Sea Lion, the invasion of Britain.

Killers Of The Flower Moon by David Grann Simon and Schuster 339pp Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops 595 baht

Greed and murder

Fact is, most Americans can't name the 50 states, much less pinpoint them on a blank map. But they'd recognise the names when they hear them. Not the fault of the schoolmarms. Just, well, who cares?

Oklahoma! was the name of a musical. It has twisters. People left it during the Great Depression. Indians sell blankets there. No famous battles were fought there. No landmarks. It's just there.

To be sure, to those living there it's home. The Osage Indians have lived and died there for generations. Died is the operative word. They were being killed off -- murdered, poisoned, blown up, etc.

The motive is clear. There's oil under their reservation. Owning the headrights, a good number are rich. For the single woman, there are suitors. For the wives, lovers. Not only unscrupulous white men.

Indians have their share of scoundrels, especially those not in the money. Coroners are bribed to write false cause of demise on the death certificate. Police couldn't care less.

However, a century ago, a man in authority did care. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover wanted to get to the bottom of it. He tapped a former Texas Ranger, now Special Agent Tom White, to investigate.

In Killers Of The Flower Moon, David Grann has penned a well-researched book, with many photos, about how White went about his assignment. To his credit, White was indefatigable.

In the age before computers, he perused innumerable pages of material.

Narrowing his list of suspects was one thing, producing evidence in court beyond the shadow of a doubt quite another.

Witnesses lied and/or were murdered. The Mafia wasn't involved. Still, the local perpetrators had a thing or two to teach them. They could be anybody, those arrested, those at large. Relatives, friends.

A confession, guilty conscience, breaks the case. A century later, the mortality rate among Osage Indians is still above the national average.

Hoover and White are gone, but their work in Oklahoma is being carried on. A worthwhile read.


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