OLD GODS, NEW NATIONS by Eugene Staples


A Memoir of War, Peace, and Nation Building
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A veteran globetrotter exhaustively reminisces about the Cold War and its aftermath.

A former World War II pilot, journalist, Foreign Service diplomat and foundation executive, Staples has had a front-row seat for many of the major events of the past half-century. He was aboard presumably the first aircraft carrier to enter Japanese waters in the closing months of war, a reckless incursion that ended with the loss of many lives to an enemy attack. He acted as press officer for Vice President Nixon’s tour of Latin America, where he lived and worked until moving to Moscow, where he supervised cultural visits by the likes of Benny Goodman and George Balanchine during the Khrushchev years. Living in the Soviet capital during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Kennedy assassination, he experienced these dramatic episodes from a unique perspective. Then he moved on to a policy and planning position at the Ford Foundation, during which he traveled to Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and India. He served as mission director for the Agency for International Development bureau in Pakistan in the years of the United States’s proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Throughout the account, Staples is a shameless name-dropper, but his pragmatic views grow from intimate experience with ideologues and bureaucrats, as well as his refusal to isolate himself when living abroad. He and his family always engaged with local peoples, assiduously studying languages and local practices, wholeheartedly embracing foreign cultures. The views that emerge diverge sharply from what Staples calls the “rigid world-view” of the current Bush administration, “a poor paradigm for running the affairs of America and the world.” He also bemoans the increasing reliance on the military in place of diplomacy and cultural exchange. This central theme surfaces only after lengthy, often diverting, descriptions about nearly any topic: adolescent sexual awakenings, specific meals, the problem of traveling in airplanes with dogs, etc. The resulting text is part all-inclusive autobiography, part geo-political diagnosis and prescription.

Sprawling and overly ambitious, but incisive and astute.

Pub Date: May 9th, 2006
ISBN: 0-595-37662-2
Program: Kirkus Indie
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