Review: Bitter Scent: The Case of L’Oreal, Nazis, and the Arab Boycott

Bitter Scent: The Case of L’Oreal, Nazis, and the Arab Boycott by Michael Bar-Zohar, PhD.

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Library Book

REVIEW: Michael Bar-Zohar’s “Bitter Scent: The Case of L’Oreal, Nazis, and the Arab Boycott” garnered an easy five-star rating from me. This book had it all: history, smut, politics, international intrigue, foreign policy, terrorism, psychological warfare, a touch of romance and so much more–all interwoven expertly–something difficult to accomplish given the amount and range of content covered by the author. The story began as a biography of Jean Frydman, a French immigrant from Poland who became a leader of the Nazi Resistance in WWII’s, Holocaust-driven Vichy France. He eventually worked his way up into the position of a vested partner for L’Oreal…only to be covertly fired by historical Nazis with the goal of illegally complying with the Arab boycott.

Dr. Bar-Zohar explained that the Arab boycott was designed to destroy Israel via the prevention of commerce with any organization(s) that had ties to it. This effected L’Oreal when it purchased another company that had previously built one factory in Israel as well as another entity that had a subsidiary or secondary brand’s facility there, too; and, L’Oreal partner Jean Frydman maintained a dual citizenship status in France and Israel.

When the Arab League “demanded a list of all affiliates” (pg. 8), the reader began to learn about how the League’s political system interfaced with L’Oreal. This boycott had the potential to financially damage additional corporations outside of the beauty industry and those which a person would not have typically associated with L’Oreal at the time: Nestle, Baxter International, Panavision and others. A progressive reveal of the vastness and unexpected international business holdings of L’Oreal took place while the author provided a simultaneous education pertaining to L’Oreal’s Nazi era history of three politically and financially powerful people, how they worked to hide anti-Semitic and collaborationist activities and pasts while they gained power, and (ultimately) how they were linked to Jean Frydman’s removal and attempted divestiture.

Bitter Scent: The Case of L’Oreal, Nazis, and the Arab Boycott” impressed me with how well Michael Bar-Zohar conducted his investigative research and taught the reader about a set of parallel histories and how they intersected. It taught the reader that anti-Semitism never ended and that, surprisingly, it existed even within the Jewish community. This story made me want to read books about Vichy France as well as more texts about the Helena Rubinstein empire. The author’s writing style made me wish I could read the book at a much faster pace. It was so well written! My desire to read more pieces by this author led me to add a few more of his books to my reading list; in doing so, I learned that Michael Bar-Zohar also authored books under the pseudonym “Michael Barak.” I highly recommend this book and suggest that readers consider his other investigative pieces.

Review: The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East

cvr_the-oil-kings-how-the-u-s-iran-and-saudi-arabia-changed-the-balance-of-power-in-the-middle-east-by-andrew-scott-cooperThe Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East by Andrew Scott Cooper

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Purchased Copy

REVIEW: This is the second piece I have read by Andrew Scott Cooper, with the first one being “The Fall of Heaven: The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran.” I purchased “The Oil Kings” as part of an extensive book haul in late 2015, and this piece sat in rotating loads of books from my local library system and other occasional ARCs that always, immediately, went to the top of my “To Read” stack. Had I known then what great work this book contained, I would have read it much sooner! How could I ever have delayed reading about the importance Middle East oil prices with their crude mix of politics!

The Oil Kings” revealed some jaw-dropping, pertinent micro-histories:
*“Asking the National Security Adviser to rig a defense contract” (71).
*Gilda (“the most dangerous of the Shah’s paramours” (100)).
*Corporate empire fixing.
*Money laundering from Iran, via Mexico, to support Nixon’s campaign/Watergate.
*Iran’s supply of fighter jets to South Vietnam during the war.
*Instability of worldwide economic systems.
*Scathing, SAVAK-caused “Charles Jourdan Incident.”
*Kissinger’s ambitions gone too far.
*Follow the oil; it shifts the power.
*Algiers Accords: a deadly domino effect.

My jaw dropped when I read about how “1975 Algiers Agreement” (246) shifted the balance of power in the Middle East: it betrayed the Kurds, empowered and emboldened Iraq, and weakened both Iran and the United States…immediately. Secondary consequences occurred in countries outside of the region as well. This book significantly underscored the entanglement, or interdependence, of every country with another, regardless of its location on this planet. There was no where to hide from the economic fall-out.

The Shah attempted to hide his cancer diagnosis to prevent political fall-out; I had read details surrounding its secrecy several times throughout the years. Cooper included new information and wrote about it with an unforgettable analogy: “In the spring of 1974, Iran’s supreme leader and his closest aide had both contracted incurable cancers. Shakespeare could not have imagined a more exquisite tragedy of state: unbeknownst to each other, the empire’s two most experienced helmsman were mortally ill. It brought to mind another empire whose fated Romanov dynasty and the deadly hemophilia suffered by Czarevitch Alexei, son and heir of Czar Nicholas II” (167).

While the Shah’s illness progressed, his country became more politically isolated…though one did not directly create the other; the possibility existed that the ruler’s behavior drastically changed as a result of his terminal diagnosis. By “December of 1974…it should have been abundantly clear that the Shah was pulling away from Washington to pursue a foreign policy based on independent nationalism, as Ardeshir Zahedi had been advocating since the late 1960s. Years earlier the CIA had warned that as the Shah became more assertive the chances would increase that Iranian foreign policy goals would diverge from those of the United States. Whereas Saudi Arabia was making inroads in Washington, Iran was increasingly identified as a source of tension and instability” (228). The American intelligence failure pertaining to knowledge surrounding the Shah’s lymphoma diagnosis allowed for the following situations: “…no policy adjustments made, no contingency plans drawn up, no legwork asked of the intelligence community. The transfer of high-tech weaponry to Iran did not slacken. The negotiations to sell Iran nuclear power technology remained on track. No steps were taken to reduce the number of expatriate personnel. In short, the United States continued its march to folly in Iran” (280).

This folly included targeted assassinations and generalized attacks on Americans in Iran. The warning signs and predictions were in place and well-known…but they were ignored. Everything led up to the Islamic Revolution, where this book tastefully ends but includes a follow-up to what happened to some of its key players. “The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East” contained compelling writing, great analogies, and interesting stories with just the right amount of “smut” factor. This piece easily earned its place on my “Favorites” shelf.

Review: A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It

cvr_a-thousand-hills_rwandas-rebirth-and-the-man-who-dreamed-it-by-stephen-kinzerA Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It by Stephen Kinzer

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Library Book

RELATED MOVIE(S): Hotel Rwanda (2004)

REVIEW: The central figure in Rwanda’s rebirth, Paul Kagame, emerged during the first decade of the twenty-first century as one of the most intriguing figures in Africa (pg. 3). “He preaches a doctrine of security, guided reconciliation, honest governance, and, above all, self-reliance” (pg. 3). Three distinct parts comprise Stephen Kinzer’s book, “A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It:” colonial rule, genocide, and reconciliation. Rwanda’s current status rests in that of reconciliation. The genocides have been dated as far back as 1959, and colonial rule has been officially established as early as 1884. This time-frame may be equated with the creation of the foundation for this country’s genocide.

The “Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 had awarded Germany control over the territory of Ruanda-Urundi, which today forms the ‘twin’ nations of Rwanda and Burundi” (pg. 24). During World War I, Germany lost Rwanda to Belgium. Belgians took over and created an official, twisted classification system of segmenting Rwandans already existing tribes (Tutsi, Hutu and a minute group of Twa) into racism-based categories.

Laws passed that required Rwandans to always carry their race identification cards. Belgians placed Tutsi into power positions and the Hutu majority into, essentially, servitude and poverty. As the world social climate changed, Belgian alignment with the non-majority Tutsi did not bode well with outsiders. Belgium reduced its presence in Rwanda, placed the majority Hutu in power, and broke its alliance with the Tutsi. The Hutu utilized this situation as a time for payback; and, “the racial designation on the cards, called ubokwo, would later consign hundreds of thousands of Tutsi to death” (pg. 26).

As a child, Paul Kagame’s life was spared due to royal interference at just the right time; ultimately his family had to flee to Uganda to preserve its safety. Paul developed a close relationship with Fred Rwigyema while in a Ugandan refugee camp. At one point, Fred had disappeared to conduct a string of rebel activity for the sole purpose of overthrowing Uganda’s Idi Amin. Once this action was completed, Fred returned, reunited with Paul and shared the rebel knowledge with Rwandan exiles. This knowledge helped them envision an independent Rwanda; thus the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) was formed.

“Most RPF leaders…grew up in Uganda, spoke English, and felt no connection to France” (pg. 95); this was opposite of Rwanda’s Hutu regime. Kinzer described how the RPF gained strength and credibility over time and that Uganda supported this group as allies. Prior to the mass genocide of 1994, Kagame negotiated a “Demilitarized Zone” created by the Arusha accords; they also mandated withdrawals of French troops coupled with United Nations neutrality, the latter two points were ones of consternation for the RPF leader. Regardless of the accords, plans continued to develop under Hutu extremists for increased killing of Tutsi. The Hutu hardliners began developing militias and a vocabulary to start carrying out the genocides; “death squads in Kigali could slaughter one thousand people in twenty minutes, kill Belgian peacekeepers (so the rest would withdrawal)…” (pg. 125). One could assert that they created a genocidal culture; it was supported by France and other countries, including the Middle East. The United Nations had no idea as to the haste and extent of the genocidal campaign. Regardless, UN troops withdrew “except for 270 whose main job was to watch the slaughter” (pg. 156).

Stephen Kinzer was thorough in interviewing an array of people familiar with the holocaust and having them define what reconciliation meant to them. It proved to be a word with much more meaning than that found in the dictionary. The word evoked an expectation of all Rwandans and perhaps the outside world as well. The author delivered well on his promise. He provided an in-depth set of lessons all rolled up into a neat package. He took readers on a visitor’s tour in between interviews and casual conversations. Quotes were well-utilized and did not detract from the intensity of neither the story of Rwanda nor the accomplishments of Paul Kagame. “A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It” encompassed all of this and so much more…easily earning it a well-deserved five-star rating and a place on my “Favorites” list.