January 8, 2006

"American Gunfight"

My new VDARE column reviews American Gunfight: The Plot to Kill Harry Truman—and the Shoot-out that Stopped It by Stephen Hunter and John Bainbridge Jr. I write:

The Bush Administration's Invade-the-World-Invite-the-World strategy of throwing our weight around abroad while not bothering to secure the borders at home threatens to lead to some nasty blowback in the future.

In the past, a similar combination of policies—the subjugation of Puerto Rico in 1898 combined with the opening of our borders to Puerto Rican immigrants in 1917—eventually brought about two of the most spectacular terrorist attacks in American history:

  • The November 1, 1950 assault by two immigrant gunmen hell-bent on assassinating President Harry Truman in the name of Puerto Rican independence. They might well have succeeded if not for one of the great acts of individual heroism of the last century.

  • The March 1, 1954 attack on the House of Representatives in which four Puerto Rican nationalists fired 30 pistol shots from the visitor's gallery, wounding five members of Congress.

Both events have been largely forgotten, but the former is vividly brought back to life in the thrilling new nonfiction book American Gunfight: The Plot to Kill Harry Truman—and the Shoot-out that Stopped It by Stephen Hunter and John Bainbridge Jr.

As a film critic, I'm not quick to hand out compliments to my competitors. But I would be hard-pressed to argue that Stephen Hunter, who in 2003 became the first movie reviewer to win a Pulitzer Prize since Roger Ebert in 1975, isn't the best in the business.

Gunplay is one of the prime elements in American movies. Yet Hunter is unique among critics in knowing an enormous amount about firearms. We've all seen thousands of shoot-outs on screen. But American Gunfight's meticulous recreation of the battle that raged between the terrorists and seven Secret Service guards for 36 to 40 seconds in front of Blair House (Truman's temporary residence while the White House was being renovated) finally lets us understand what really happens when brave men fight to the death.

It's not like in the movies. Hunter and Bainbridge explain:

"Physiologically, the fighters have entered a zone that cannot be duplicated by man. It has to be real for you to get there: you feel nothing, you see only a little bit of what's ahead of you, you hear nothing. "Auditory exclusion" it's called: your hearing closes down. Meanwhile your fingers inflate like sausages and your IQ drops stunningly."

Yet, not one of the nine men who fought that day even flinched.

The authors take care to dispel the comforting myths with which the two worst Puerto Rican terrorist attacks have become encrusted:

"Soon enough the two stories melded in the U.S. folk imagination under the rubric of stereotype: hot-tempered Latin revolutionaries, undisciplined, crazy even, pursuing a dream that made no sense at all, Puerto Rican independence."

Since November 22, 1963, we've become accustomed to assassins who are obvious defectives, little men who want to kill a big man so they too can go down in history. But Hunter and Bainbridge show that the two gunmen of 1950, Griselio Torresola and Oscar Collazo, were selfless and resourceful revolutionary cadres fighting for a cause much larger than their own egos.


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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