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As much as I would like to live in my own little bubble, in my own little corner of the world, tending my garden, reading books, drinking coffee, and feeding birds, that idealized vision could only last for so long. That is the problem with ideals, they are, well, ideal. They do not account for realistic details. For example, in order to sit in my garden drinking coffee and feeding birds I would have to had bought coffee, with money earned from somewhere, washed the dishes in order to have a clean cup, and have weeded the garden in order to have anything growing worth gazing at. None of those – washing dishes, weeding the garden, working – were in the glimpse of my idealized world. Yet, they all must have happened at some point or another.
So it goes with history at times, either we idealize it or forget about the smaller details completely. At times, it may not matter so much – like whether a distant past relative made roast or chicken for Sunday dinners. At other times, it is very important to remember what happened, how we ended up where we and the world is at today. The actions and words of people in the past have greatly played out into the world we are now living.
Kevin Peraino takes a look into the past, piecing together the different strands to give us insight into how the events of 1949 set the path for where China has ended up today. A Force So Swift: Mao, Truman, and the Birth of Modern China is not a story which follows a straight path, but instead flows from one thread to the other, logically, giving the reader a broader understanding of the forces of the past which had an influence on the molding of what we see today.
In other words, the only cure for a run-away story is another story. ~Kevin Peraino, Prologue to A Force So Swift
I greatly appreciated the broader picture Peraino laid before his readers, connecting and relating the different aspects of what was taking place in various parts of the world, among various factions vying for control and influence. It is no easy task to walk someone through these details without losing them along the way.
A Force So Swift contains many details, not only in the main body of work, but also in the extras. The beginning of the book contains a map of the China and surrounding countries, marking locations of various cities and regions. The last quarter of the book hold an Epilogue, Notes, and a Selected Bibliography. The 261 pages between these two is split into three Parts, which helps delineate various times in the story’s progress.
The research which went into this book resulted in a narration filled with facts, references to primary sources, snippets of conversations and communications, and expansions of the characteristics of the various players. As a testament to the author’s skill, he did it all without making the reading too dry.
Truman thought he was being caution in his decisions. It turns out there was more going on then they realized. Little did they know this would lead to yet another war within a couple decades, one which would claim many American soldiers’ lives.
China is looking back to its past, trying to find where it went right and wrong. Learning from their past is a part of finding their identity and creating a better future. It can be tricky to pinpoint these “good” and “bad” parts among the various tellings of history. Which has the correct view? Which recounts it the clearest? How was one affected by the other? These are questions which do not always have answers. It takes more than 261 pages to work through over a century of ones history to find the truth, if there even is a single right one.
As I listen to the news and read reports of happening in our country and overseas, I can not help but see influences from the past showing themselves today. None of us live in a bubble; what we do effects others, and what they do has an impact on us. We may not know the result of those impacts, whether for good or not. We may assume one outcome, one which never materializes. None of us can predict the future.
Should we give up then? By no means! Keep fighting for what you think is right. Things can change. Meanwhile, remember, the story will not end with you. Your role is a part of the bigger whole, even if it feels as if we are only weeding the garden and feeding the birds.
I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books to review. All opinions are my own.