Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Mau-Mau and Irgun descendants head for the White House?

Can anyone tell me more about Obama’s grandfather’s experience with the British army in Burma during World War II, such as what regiment he was attached to? Americans tend not to know much about the Burma theater, aside from some fliers being out there, like the officer in John Irving’s Cider House Rules. But it ...

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589684_090109_burma25.jpg

Can anyone tell me more about Obama's grandfather's experience with the British army in Burma during World War II, such as what regiment he was attached to?

Americans tend not to know much about the Burma theater, aside from some fliers being out there, like the officer in John Irving's Cider House Rules. But it looms large in the literature of the war. Indeed, three of my all-time favorite combat memoirs are by Britons who were there then: Gen. William Slim's Defeat Into Victory, John Masters' The Road Past Mandalay, and George McDonald Fraser's Quartered Safe Out Here. On top of that, one of my favorite writers ever, George Orwell, wrote a fictionalized memoir in his Burmese Days.

After the war, Obama's grandfather, back in Kenya, was suspected of being involved in an anti-British guerrilla movement, the Mau-Mau. It is interesting that at about the same time, his new chief of staff's father was reportedly a member of a similar anti-British outfit in Israel, the Irgun, which "was branded as a terrorist organisation by the British colonial authorities."

Can anyone tell me more about Obama’s grandfather’s experience with the British army in Burma during World War II, such as what regiment he was attached to?

Americans tend not to know much about the Burma theater, aside from some fliers being out there, like the officer in John Irving’s Cider House Rules. But it looms large in the literature of the war. Indeed, three of my all-time favorite combat memoirs are by Britons who were there then: Gen. William Slim’s Defeat Into Victory, John Masters’ The Road Past Mandalay, and George McDonald Fraser’s Quartered Safe Out Here. On top of that, one of my favorite writers ever, George Orwell, wrote a fictionalized memoir in his Burmese Days.

After the war, Obama’s grandfather, back in Kenya, was suspected of being involved in an anti-British guerrilla movement, the Mau-Mau. It is interesting that at about the same time, his new chief of staff’s father was reportedly a member of a similar anti-British outfit in Israel, the Irgun, which “was branded as a terrorist organisation by the British colonial authorities.”

Most notably, in 1946 the Irgun blew up the southern wing of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, which housed a British military headquarters. Such Third World radicalism certainly differed from what the current president’s grandfather was doing around then-puttering around with Planned Parenthood in Connecticut, and then living in a Georgetown house that previously had been occupied by Alger Hiss.

But then, times change. Who would have thought a few years ago that Iraq would not have a president with Hussein in his name, and that the United States would?

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Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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