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War, persecution and manhood: three books

War, persecution and manhood: three books

Cold weather means more time indoors, and more time indoors means more time for books. Here are three for the season of Jack Frost, sweaters and robust beverages.  

In “The Rifle 2: Back to the Battlefield” (Regnery History, 2023, 320 pages), Andrew Biggio’s sequel to “The Rifle,” we again join the author in meeting some of our country’s dwindling number of World War II veterans. As in his earlier book, Biggio travels across America with a 1945 M1 Garand, the infantry weapon of that war, and has these soldiers of long ago sign the rifle after listening to the stories of their time in combat.

We look at these few survivors today, old and gray, and forget that they were practically kids when they marched off to battle and all its horrors. One of these aged warriors, for example, Charles Ketcham of Massachusetts, signed Biggio’s rifle, but he refused to pick up the weapon as so many other veterans had done. “I vowed I would never pick up a gun again,” vowed the 95-year-old veteran of the chaotic and sometimes brutal fighting in Germany near the war’s end. In the battle for the German town of Crailsheim, the teenager was running ammo belts to his squad when he heard someone yell, “Here! Here!” Ketcham followed the cries, and found a German soldier no older than himself whose “stomach was blown open entirely.” The teen gestured to Ketcham to put him out of his misery. “‘Perhaps if I was older, I would have pulled the trigger … instead I just cried with him,’ Charlie recalled.”

As Biggio later notes, “Charlie’s experience was another example of the lack of unalloyed glory in war. When the teen soldier died that day, both he and Charlie lost something. Both of these soldiers, American and German, were robbed of their youths.”

From these stories, we not only learn first-hand of the combat these young men experienced, the courage they exhibited and suffering they endured, but these elderly veterans also serve as a reminder, as philosopher George Santayana — not Plato — once wrote, that “only the dead have seen the end of war.” Biggio makes this point by dedicating “The Rifle 2” to the 13 U.S. service members who died on August 26, 2021, at Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai International Airport. Five of these men and women who were killed were age 20, the oldest was 31.

Pertinent as well to our time is Linda Broenniman’s “The Politzer Saga” (Bethesda Communications Group, 2023, 256 pages). When Broenniman learns that her father, an immigrant from Hungary following World War II, is Jewish and when a box of family documents survives a house fire, she sets out to trace her heritage.

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Over the course of several years, she untangles her family’s rich history in Hungary, which includes prominent physicians, attorneys, and entrepreneurs. These ancestors were often caught up in the swirl of national events, like revolutions and plague, or suffered discrimination and oppression because of their Judaism.

The Second World War brought persecution and death both from Nazis occupying Hungary and from the Arrow Cross, who were Nazi-related Hungarian collaborators. Many Jews were taken to camps, where they perished or worked for the regime as slaves, but some were rescued by fellow Hungarians. One of these was Broenniman’s father, who was saved by the woman who would become his wife and who was later declared Religious Among the Nations, a high honor awarded to those who had risked their lives to save Jews.

The blurb on the back cover of “The Politzer Saga” declares, “Illuminating the destructive power of hatred, dehumanization, and injustice, this power story encompasses issues that still echo today.”

Right now, I’d say those issues are echoing loud and hard.

“Gut Check: Confronting Love, Work, & Manhood in Your Twenties” (Spence Pub., 2008, 208 pages) is out of print but available on Kindle. Here Tarek Saab tells the story of his youth, his party days in college, his years in the corporate world and his appearance on the Donald Trump reality show, “The Apprentice.” 

The first half of “Gut Check” shows Saab surrounded by the temptations and the lessons of college life. He drinks to excess with his friends while at the same time, as he puts it, “I lusted, in mostly subtle ways, after the two Ws: Wealth and Women.” At the same time, though he is majoring in engineering, Saab takes several classes in philosophy and humanities, which rouse in him certain critical questions about his life. He is a Catholic attending a Catholic College, Saint Anselm in New Hampshire, and though practicing his faith only nominally, he experiences both in the college and in his climb up the corporate ladder a spiritual awakening.

As he successfully makes his way through the world of business, Saab comes to realize more and more that his life, like the lives of so many others around him, is empty of any real meaning other than the acquisition of goods, money, and prestige. Through reading and talking with others, his faith deepens, he focuses especially on what his life will have meant at his death and he finds his two Ws in his faith and in the woman who would become his wife. Of her, he writes, “She arrived …when I was able to appreciate the sublime nature of womanhood and my responsibilities as a man to nurture and protect it.”

Three authors, three very different books and good things to learn from each of them.

(Jeff Minick reviews books and has written four of his own: two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust On Their Wings,” and two works of nonfiction, “Learning As I Go” and “Movies Make the Man.” This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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