Monthly Archives: March 2008

The Five Best Chess Books | Wall Street Journal

1. My 60 Memorable Games
By Bobby Fischer
Simon & Schuster, 1969

The great chess books are great less for their prose style than for their insight into the application of highly controlled violence. “My 60 Memorable Games” was written while Bobby Fischer was still on his steep ascent to the world-champion title — and long before the slide into madness that ended with his death in January. He recounts his eviscerations of some of the most brilliant minds of the mid-20th century. But Fischer was never content with victory alone; he aimed to inflict agony on his opponents — in his own words, “I like the moment when I break a man’s ego.” Where did such ferocity come from? Fischer, who never knew his own father, once explained that “children who grow up without a parent become wolves.” Continue reading

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To Hell and Back | Wall Street Journal

Can a deserter, a seeming traitor and a star in a propaganda film produced by a Communist dictatorship also be, in the end, an American patriot? That is one of the questions posed by the life of Charles Robert Jenkins, the author of “The Reluctant Communist.”

Uneducated, dirt poor, from rural North Carolina, Mr. Jenkins joined the U.S. Army in 1958 and rose to the rank of sergeant within three years. He was soon sent to South Korea, where he was assigned to patrols along the demilitarized zone and regularly came under hostile fire. Depressed and drinking heavily, he started searching for a way home. The scheme he cooked up: Cross into North Korea, get handed over to the Russians and then repatriated to the U.S. At most he would face the sanction of a court-martial.

But there was a hitch. “I did not understand,” Mr. Jenkins writes, “that the country I was seeking temporary refuge in was literally a giant, demented prison; once someone goes there, they almost never get out.” Mr. Jenkins was to spend the next four decades in North Korea. His memoir, written with the help of Jim Frederick, a Time magazine senior editor, is the story of his life in that bizarre and barbaric land.

After his capture, Mr. Jenkins recounts, he was subjected to a none-too-gentle period of interrogation and then brought together with three other Americans who had done the same thing, “all young dumb soldiers from poor backgrounds” like himself whose misbegotten actions turned them into North Korea’s “cold-war trophies.” Their lives were privileged compared with those of ordinary North Koreans, but the physical hardship was extreme: scarce, rotten food, lack of heat and indoor plumbing (not to mention privacy), insect and rat infestation.

But the mental strain was far worse. Complete isolation from the familiar world was a mere backdrop to the ordeal inflicted by an endless procession of Communist Party minders, who monitored Mr. Jenkins’s every move and who strove, by means of compulsory self-criticism sessions and beatings, to inculcate in him the “correct ideology.” Continue reading

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If Michael Moore Had a Security Clearance |Weekly Standard

How do we explain the bizarre recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, which stated in its opening sentence that the ayatollahs had halted their nuclear weapons program in 2003, even as, tucked away in a footnote, the same document noted that the most critical component of such a weapons program–uranium enrichment–was proceeding at full tilt?

Even Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, the man who presides over the 16 agencies that comprise the U.S. “intelligence community,” was compelled to back away from the assessment issued by his own subordinates. In retrospect, he said in testimony before Congress on February 5, “I probably would have changed a thing or two” in the way the intelligence was presented to the public. The “halt” referred to in the NIE, he conceded, involved the “least significant part” of the program, which was “the only thing” in the Iranian nuclear effort that actually may have stopped.

McConnell’s repudiation of the work of his own staff raises some obvious questions about the organization of his office. One such question: Is anyone in charge of quality control in the cockpit of the most pivotal intelligence position in the United States? Continue reading

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