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Real history for our time,
This review is from: A Disturbance of Fate (Hardcover)
"A Disturbance of Fate" is a deeply researched and thorough analysis of the political environment of the late 1960's, and the consequences that might likely have happened had Robert F. Kennedy gone on to win the Democratic primary and presidency in 1968. With amazing detail and an entertaining ear for dialect, Freedman introduces us to a wide variety of major personalities during the mid- to late-20th Century and reveals their relevance to our present-day lives and, more particularly, our modern political scene.
Having achieved the Presidency, RFK is faced with fulfilling his first and most important campaign promise - to bring US troops home from Vietnam. This proceeds in a way that is consistent with RFK's personality, both his politically calculating side and his side that spoke to his haunting need to realize his brother's best visions. RFK begins by mobilizing support from Republicans and hawkish Democrats, assuring (and subtly reorganizing) a deeply suspicious and resentful military, and orchestrating diplomatic missions with not only the Vietnamese, but other involved nations. The outcome is never clear, because Freedman does not neglect to deal with the setbacks and inevitable unforeseen consequences of such a complex undertaking. The early de-escalation of Vietnam marks a powerful new direction in US foreign policy, although what follows is anything but appeasement of Communist adventurism. There is, instead, the freedom for the US to pursue global policies that more closely track our democratic principles. In an atmosphere of reduced threat, many of the world's dictators find it more difficult to play the super powers against each other. Within the lively narrative descriptions, Freedman gives us a close and personal picture of the Soviet, Chinese, and other foreign leaders as they cope with and adapt to America's new leadership. Vietnam, in fact, becomes a continuing touchstone throughout those aspects of the book dealing with foreign affairs. What happens in Vietnam after the de-escalation also becomes part of a larger historical thread that makes the book powerfully thought-provoking. In that larger thread, as in Vietnam, very little goes smoothly or as predictable as one might suppose, though the book's achievement is in the historical thread's believability and its "inevitableness" once various events occur.
RFK pursues his domestic agenda with the same systematic, hardball style that got him to the Presidency. But do not expect a left wing utopia, for Freedman's RFK, as in real life, must often compromise or shift gears as he pursues various initiatives. And while the political and cultural consequences are often surprising, they are never unbelievable and almost always enlightening.
"A Disturbance of Fate" is a relevant and an inspiring work that challenges us to consider that politics need not only be a cynical, manipulative process that ends up serving the needs of the most privileged. Instead, it boldly sets forth the meaning of RFK's legacy today within the structure of imagining an alternative past.