Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



One way to escape the tedium of Cable TV News' near-obsession with the political campaign is reading good books. My preference was non-fiction, scanning three new books that describe the experiences of three quite different persons: a TV superstar, a successful recent president, and an Army chaplain in Germany in 1946.

Tom Brokaw writes about how he coped with the shocking news that he had a malignant form of cancer, following a lifetime of major successes, as a TV personality, an acclaimed author, and world traveler in search of human interest stories. "A Lucky Life Interrupted: A Memoir of Hope" relates how, at age seventy-two, he learned that his life would change radically because he had multiple myeloma, an incurable form of cancer that affects bone marrow.

The book is a good read because it describes not only the TV celebrity's emotions during his year of intensive treatment, but also the role of his family, the doctors and nurses in New York and Minnesota, and friends who helped him through a year of treatment.

Another book, titled "Reagan: The Life," by H.W. Brands, is a fine biography of Ronald Reagan. But I found it more than biography, and its title might instead be, "Reagan and his Times." That's because Brands also describes American life, politics, and culture during a remarkable period of American history--most of the twentieth century.

From the Great Depression in the 1930s, through the war years and victory in the 1940s, the postwar onset of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and the emergence of the United States as a superpower, Brands traces Reagan's steady rise from radio sportscaster, to Hollywood actor, to labor union leader, to governor of California--all before he ran for president. For me, the most fascinating part of this book is the well-researched account of Reagan's two terms as president in the 1980s, especially how he dealt with a multitude of foreign policy crises and finally brought an end to the Cold War.

The third volume is altogether different from the first two: "Mission at Nuremberg," by Tim Townsend, and subtitled, "An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis." This book tells the story of Rev. Henry Gerecke, Lutheran chaplain assigned by the army in 1945 to minister to twenty-one top Nazi prisoners who were on trial by the International War Crimes Tribunal for their crimes before and during World War II. Townsend describes how Gerecke reached out to the prisoners, including Hermann Goering, Rudolph Hess, General Wilhelm Keitel, and other top Nazis on a spiritual level.

Chaplain Gerecke eventually persuaded most of the prisoners, through patient counseling, to attend his chapel services. He was with those who had been sentenced to death by hanging the morning of their executions. Even Goering, who escaped hanging by taking poison the night before, had confided to him that he was sorry for the war crimes and sought God's mercy.

This book was especially interesting for me because I was lucky enough on October 1, 1946. to be seated in the courtroom the morning the Nazis were sentenced by the court. It's one of those unexpected experiences a person never forgets.

Reading books seems no longer to be a part of most Americans' lives. It could be one reason the public seems so preoccupied this summer with an election campaign that won't end for more than a year. We surely need a time-out.

File last modified on Monday, 07-AUG-2015 10:54 AM EST

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