US History Anecdotes





In 1988 I had the privilege of speaking with Senator John Glenn. We discussed his friendship with Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Here Glenn talks in detail about that friendship - INTERVIEW HERE




The recent terrorist  attack in San Bernardino was an act of terrorism and not 'work -related' violence - a term I found reprehensible when it was used to describe the massacre at Fort Hood in 2009.

It appears that more people are coming around to the view that the assassination of Senator Robert F Kennedy in 1968 was the first Arab terrorist act on American soil. Stephen Kinzer was one of the first journalists to recognize this fact - Read Kinzer's article here;

The latest reviews on The Forgotten Terrorist page on Amazon relate similar sentiments:

 By E. C. Mercado on April 5, 2015

This book is the Rosetta Stone of the terrible event of 5 June 1968 that put Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford in the White House and changed the course of U.S. history for the next forty years. Sirhan Sirhan was not just a crazed 24-year-old Jordanian immigrant. He was in fact a radicalized Palestinian refugee with a clear political motive to attack the U.S. and its political institutions. As senator from New York, Robert Kennedy had acquired a large Jewish Democratic constituency. With the June 1967 Six-Day War fresh in the headlines, Kennedy's unfortunate pledge to arm Israel constituted a declaration of war against the Palestinian people. Coupled with his obsessively fatalistic determination to campaign for the presidency without an adequate security cordon, Kennedy's frenetic eighty-day campaign was destined to bring him into direct contact with the dangerous blow-back effect of unilateral U.S. support for Israel at the dawn of the new era of international political terrorism.


By CameandWent on February 1, 2015

This is one of the most important books I believe in modern American History. If you want to understand the 'mind" of our enemies - Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and yes, ISIS, you have to get this book and read it. To most Americans, there is a feeling of "lets move on", but for the Arab world there is a violent streak looking for "justice" even for things gone wrong centuries before. This cold blooded murder, robbed us of our destiny, and was the first shot in the Jihad.Remember, PLO, ARAFAT wanted to trade Sirhan for three captured American Diplomats from the Sudan. Nixon said no. And ARAFAT, the "moderate", and the PLO tortured and killed all three.

Over the years my critics have cited Sirhan Sirhan's 'Christian' religion to argue that Sirhan did not act out of a 'jihadist' motive. However, they are missing the point. Sirhan abandoned his Christian faith when he was a child and turned to the occult instead. He was also a firm supporter of Al Fatah (PLO) and frequently expressed his excitement to his fellow Arab students in Pasadena that the organization had been sending fighters to cross the border between Jordan into Israel to commit terrorist acts. Sirhan's act was the onset of the evil carnage that has brought us to the Paris attacks and the shooting in San Bernardino.

 4 October 2015

 JIMMY CARTER AND PLAINS, GEORGIA                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

My wife Sheila and I visited Plains, Georgia, hometown of Jimmy Carter, in 2011 and stopped off at the Plains Inn which is still managed by Jan Williams. We had been making a road trip around the back roads of Georgia, North and South Carolina, to see once again the 'real America' which to us is exemplified by the nation's small towns. We were overwhelmed by the many kindnesses and hospitality which we received. 

During a visit to the town's Plains Inn we met Jan Williams, who was recently the subject of a CBS TV news story. Video here:

Jan is a Carter family friend, who kindly offered to ask President Carter to sign a copy of his White House Diaries and then mail the book to me in England.

Jan, a retired teacher who taught First Daughter Amy in the fourth grade in the Sumter County school system, entertained us with tidbits of information about the former president and his family.

Just a few steps away, across Highway 280, is Billy Carter's Service Station. The 'First Brother' and good ol' boy ran the station from 1972 until 1981. He then moved away but returned to his home town before passing away a few years later.

Just beyond Plains cemetery is the Carter boyhood farm with its barns, pecan trees and chicken coops. 



Back to town we went to Plains High School and ambled through the museum and visitor center, taking our time to see Carter's Nobel Peace Prize, the replica of his presidential desk, and hundreds, if not thousands, of photos and exhibits from the extraordinary lifetime of an extraordinary man.




I have been following US presidential elections since 1964. The most fascinating election, which I'm sure my contemporaries will agree, was the 1968 election. From the start, the campaign's background included the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy; LBJ's decision not to stand for re-election; nationwide ghetto riots; and the debacle of the Democratic Convention which was held in Chicago.

However, I'm sure the 2016 election will turn out to be just as fascinating. There are differences for sure. Back in the 1960s candidates did not begin their campaigning until election year. Now many candidates throw their hats into the ring long before that. That's because they have to raise a lot of money for their campaigns and donors do not want to divvy up if their candidate of choice decides not to run.

The only presidential election I observed up close was in 1988 when I met a number of potential candidates in Washington DC during the time I was a Fulbright teacher. The first meeting I had was with Michigan's Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee. I also followed the Dukakis and Bush Sr campaign rallies in and around Detroit. I was lucky enough to attend a luncheon at Cobo Hall in Detroit with Vice President George H. W. Bush (see below) and took my children to meet Mike Dukakis at one of his campaign rallies (see below). Dukakis Campaign rally - Detroit, Michigan

For what it's worth, here are my predictions for the 2016 election.

·        Hillary Clinton will not be the Democratic nominee. She has far too many negatives including her ability to lie like some people breathe - ergo, Benghazi, the 'email' scandal and her dissembling during her husband's presidency when she lied about her knowledge of his affairs.

·        The likely Democratic nominee will be Vice President Joseph Biden (who I met way back in 1971). His Vice Presidential running mate will be Elizabeth Warren.

·        Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will burn himself out before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary next February. Senator Marco Rubio will take the lead and ask Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie, John Kasich or Ben Carson to be his running mate.  

 All this, of course, must be taken with a pinch of salt as I have never personally chosen a candidate, who eventually became president, in the primary elections. These were my choices -

 1968 Robert Kennedy

1972 Ted Kennedy (who decided not to run)

1976 Birch Bayh

1980 Ted Kennedy

1984 John Glenn

1988 Paul Simon

1992 Paul Tsongas

1996 Robert Dole

2000 Dan Qualye

2004 George W. Bush

2008 Mitt Romney

2012 Mitt Romney

After the party candidates were chosen for the November general election I bet on -

 1964 Lyndon Johnson (won)

1968 Hubert Humphrey (lost)

1972 George McGovern (lost)

1976 Jimmy Carter (won)

1980 Jimmy Carter (lost)

1984 Ronald Reagan (won)

1988 Michael Dukakis (lost)

1992 George H.W. Bush (lost)

1996 Robert Dole (lost)

2000 Al Gore (lost)

2004 George W. Bush (won)

2008 John McCain (lost)

2012 Mitt Romney (lost)



1988 Democratic presidential candidate  Michael Dukakis at a campaign rally in Detroit, Michigan


 Luncheon for Vice President George H.W. Bush October 1988, Cobo Hall, Detroit



16 July 2015

                                                         JIMMY CARTER AT 90



 I took the above photo in 1977 after Carter arrived in England for his European trip. After shaking hands with Carter I only had an instant to grab my camera and quickly snap the photo  - which is probably why it is a little blurry. The photo below was taken at the famous Plains Railroad Depot where Carter embarked on his campaign for president.


Former president, Jimmy Carter, still lives in his rural Georgia hometown and my wife and I had the privilege of meeting the mayor of Plains during our trip around the Deep South in 2011. The Mayor accompanied Carter to Norway after the former president received the Nobel Peace prize. We also spoke to one of Amy Carter's nannies who looked after her in the White House during the Carter years.


Carter is in the news once more with the publication of his 29th book, A Full Life: Reflections At Ninety. He is the longest serving ex-president in American history. President Hoover formerly fulfilled that role after leaving office in 1933 until his death in 1964.


Carter has often been criticised as an ineffectual president who failed to achieve significant domestic and foreign policy successes during his time in office. He has also been criticised as America's 'worst' president who had "an undistinguished presidency"; a president who failed to "set consistent policy goals-or more grandly, a philosophy for government". The economy sank with very high interest rates, the price of oil skyrocketed. Additionally, he failed in his efforts to secure the release of American hostages in Iran and ordered a failed rescue attempt. Ronald Reagan characterized Carter's foreign policy as "one of weakness, inconsistency, vacillation and bluff".


However, history may very well absolve Carter. He didn't go to war and not a single serviceman died in combat during his presidency. Historians may also come to characterize the president as the real 'architect' of the end of the Cold War. In 1979 he inveigled the Soviet Union into its war in Afghanistan thus creating the Taliban. It proved an unwinnable ten year war and the intense unpopularity and outright failures of the conflict were a serious factor in bringing to power Mikhail Gorbachev long sceptical of the sustainability of the communist system. Carter also brought lasting peace between Israel and Egypt, reconciled China's relations with the United States and secured a treaty which out the Panama Canal back under the control of Panama by 2000. He kept the country's budget balanced and instituted a 'human rights' dimension to American foreign policy. And when Carter became president he vowed there would be no 'imperial presidency' like those of Johnson and Nixon.


Carter's new book highlights the importance of personal relationships a president must have with other foreign leaders. As an example he writes about his interactions with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egypt's Anwar Sadat. On the 13th day of the Camp David talks in 1978 Begin said he would make no more concessions to Sadat. "We thought we had failed", Carter said, "and were ready to go back to Washington....Begin...asked me if I would sign copies of the picture of me and Begin and Sadat for his grandchildren". Carter found out the names of his grandchildren and personalised each photo with their names and a dedication. "He was angry", Carter said, "And so I handed him the photographs...tears began to run down his cheeks...he said 'Why don't we give it one more try'."




 16 JULY 2015



                  MEETING ATTICUS FINCH





                         Above: Frank Sinatra and former Vice President Hubert Humphrey at the US Capitol, June 1971

In recent weeks the publication of Harper Lee's Go Set A Watchman has caused some controversy. The role of Atticus Finch, who was characterized in Lee's first book To Kill A Mockingbird as a courageous small town lawyer defending a black man accused of rape, has undergone a transformation in Lee's new book. Finch is portrayed as an unreconstructed racist who, in his retirement from law, rails against the 'mongrelisation' of the races. He will never again be seen as the white knight we once thought of him.


However, the actor who portrayed 'Scout' in the movie, Mary Badham, defends the new characterization of Finch as portrayed in Go Set A Watchman. Badham says her own father was "very much" like the Atticus portrayed in both books.

"My father had to walk a very fine line," she said. "The rules we lived under socially in Birmingham at that time, you could not - it didn't matter what you believed in - you could not live that path that you wanted to. You had to conform. Anybody that didn't conform, it would hurt their personal life, it would hurt their business life. … You were locked in. If you were white, you were expected to toe the line." Badham said, in hindsight, she could see the predicament her father was in.


Atticus Finch was portrayed by Gregory Peck in the movie To Kill A Mockingbird. It was released in 1962, during the height of the Civil Rights movement in the South, and Peck won an academy award for his portrayal of the Depression-era lawyer and widowed father. In 2003 Atticus Finch was named the top film hero of the past 100 years by the American Film Institute.


In June 1971 I was in Washington DC visiting the Capitol when Frank Sinatra was honoured by the Senate the first time he 'retired'. I was in the Senate visitors' gallery when Sinatra and Peck sat across from me listening to former Vice-President and now senator, Hubert Humphrey, and other senators extolling the virtues of this 'American icon'.


For my part, I was more thrilled to see Gregory Peck who played the lead role in one of my favourite movies of all time, 'To Kill A Mockingbird'. After the speeches ended Peck and Sinatra headed for the lifts outside the Senate gallery and I followed, collecting my camera on the way. As I entered one of the elevators I was followed by Peck who had broken away from Sinatra because of the throngs that surrounded the famous singer. I only had time to blurt out that he was one of my favourite actors and how his role as Atticus Finch had captured the character of the Southern lawyer magnificently. Naturally, I wanted his autograph and fumbled around for notepaper. I could only find my passport which he kindly signed.


After shaking hands with Sinatra I joined Hubert Humphrey and a group of his young constituents on the steps of the Capitol and spent some 15 minutes talking about his four years as Lyndon Johnson's vice-president.


Gregory Peck died in 2003. His eulogy was read by Brock Peters who played the accused defendant in To Kill A Mockingbird. 



 Above: Mel Ayton on the steps of the US Capitol with former Vice President  Hubert H. Humphrey. Below: Actor Gregory Peck as lawyer Atticus Finch in 'To Kill A Mockingbird'.