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American Gunfight: The Plot to Kill…
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American Gunfight: The Plot to Kill President Truman--and the Shoot-out… (vuoden 2007 painos)

– tekijä: Stephen Hunter (Tekijä), John Bainbridge Jr. (Tekijä)

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioKeskustelut
1404156,410 (3.63)-
This is a groundbreaking work of meticulous historical research and the dramatic story of an act of terrorism that almost succeeded. Journalists Hunter and Bainbridge have pieced together the story of the 1950 conspiracy to assassinate President Harry Truman, and of how a few good men--ordinary guys willing to risk their lives in the line of duty--stopped it in a bloody shoot-out in the streets of Washington. The authors examine the forces that led the Puerto Rican nationalist perpetrators to conceive the plot. They tell the story of the men themselves, from their youth and the world in which they grew up, to the moment the gunfire erupted. This book is about courage--on both sides, about what politics and devotion to a cause can lead men to do, and about what actually happens, second by second, when a gunfight explodes.--From publisher description.… (lisätietoja)
Jäsen:addeter
Teoksen nimi:American Gunfight: The Plot to Kill President Truman--and the Shoot-out That Stopped It
Kirjailijat:Stephen Hunter (Tekijä)
Muut tekijät:John Bainbridge Jr. (Tekijä)
Info:Simon & Schuster (2007), Edition: Reprint, 384 pages
Kokoelmat:Oma kirjasto
Arvio (tähdet):
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American Gunfight: The Plot to Kill President Truman--and the Shoot-out That Stopped It (tekijä: Stephen Hunter (Author))

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näyttää 4/4
As the authors point out, very few people know that there was a serious assassination attempt against Harry Truman on November 1, 1950, and those that do often confuse it with the Puerto Rican nationalist attack on Congress in 1954. The attack figures heavily in the modern Secret Service mythos, with the “official” lore being that a haphazard, unplanned assault on Blair House (where the President was staying while the White House was being remodeled) was brushed aside by the skill and dedication of the President’s protective squad. American Gunfight authors Stephen Hunter and John Bainbridge Jr. demythologize the event – although the Secret Service personnel present were extensively trained, their training wasn’t realistic and didn’t prepare them for the assault. The attack had a very real chance of success – with a tiny bit more luck on behalf of the assassins, they might have broken into Blair House or shot Truman as he looked out the window to see what was going on.


The book is well-paced; I’m always a little suspicious of journalists writing history, but they do a decent job here. Biographies of the participants fill the first half of the book: the assassins Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola; the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party leader Pedro Albizu Campos; White House policemen Leslie Coffelt and Donald Birdzell; and Secret Service agents Vincent Mroz, Floyd (Toad) Boring, Joseph Davidson, Joseph Downs, and Stewart Stout. These are “slice-of-life” style, with details like what the participants had for breakfast.


The gunfight, which took 38.5 seconds of real time, is described with considerable drama, even though we know what happened (there’s a strange interlude in the middle – a capsule biography of Doctor Cornelius Packard Rhoads, whose insulting comments about Puerto Ricans while a doctor on the island supposedly inspired Collazo to join the assassination attempt. It’s oddly out of place here; perhaps the authors were trying for a break in the tension.) The key event was the initial one – Oscar Collazo had never fired a semiautomatic pistol before and didn’t understand the safety and double-action of his Walther P38. As a result, his initial attempt to shoot Donald Birdzell failed as he dropped the hammer with the safety still on. This alerted the Secret Service agents, who immediately opened up on him. In the meantime, Torresola (approaching from the other direction) shot Leslie Coffelt three times (missing with a fourth), Joe Downs three times,
Donald Birdzell (previously wounded when Collazo finally figured out how to work his pistol) once, and began to reload his Luger. At this point mortally wounded Coffelt managed to get to his feet (he had been sitting in a guard box when Torresola shot him) and drilled Torresola through the head before collapsing. Three Secret Service agents and Birdzell, all firing at Collazo, didn’t manage to inflict a fatal wound. Although Birdzell had a clear field of fire, he didn’t hit; a wrought iron picket fence between the agents and Collazo managed to stop most of their fire, and although Mroz took a careful stance and squeezed off a head shot, Collazo had an unusually small head and an usually large hat and the bullet just grazed the top of his head. Somewhere along the line, a bullet fragment partially intercepted by the fence grazed Collazo’s chest – and he fainted at the sight of his own blood while trying to reload. The authors do an excellent job of describing how, despite training, instincts tend to take over when the bullets are actually flying.


The final part of the book is a postmortem discussion, although I think it brings up some interesting points, suffers from the authors really not knowing that much about what they talk about. The one point that does ring true is that the Secret Service was poorly prepared. Agents were all required to qualify on the range monthly, but they didn’t use service ammunition, instead shooting reloaded wadcutters. The authors speculate that this contributed to Mroz’s miss; the ammunition in his Detective Special was higher power than what he had trained with and may have resulted in his shot going high. Agent Stout was inside Blair House, in the Secret Service office, and did what he was supposed to do when he heard gunfire – he headed to the door with a Thompson submachine gun. However, the Thompson and riot guns were kept unloaded in a locked gun cabinet, and Stout had to unlock the cabinet, insert a magazine, and cock before he could respond. As a result, he didn’t get to the door until the fight was over. (Another Secret Service myth is debunked here: it’s long been claimed that Stout was ordered by a “high official” to go out and join in the fight and the Secret Service has used his refusal as an example of following the rules. However, the authors note that Stout didn’t get to the door with his Thompson until the fight was over, that he didn’t recall anybody ordering him to go outside, and not only did all “high officials” deny giving such an order, nobody was even within shouting distance of Stout).


Although I think the authors are correct in their evaluation of Secret Service marksmanship training and availability of heavy weapons, I believe they are off base in the rest of their criticisms: that the Secret Service agents should have been armed with semiautomatic pistols and that they should have been taught a two handed shooting stance. This ignores historical reality; the only semiauto that could have been reasonably used by the Secret Service in 1950 was the Colt 1911A1 Government Model, and while this was certainly an effective firearm I don’t think anybody would claim it’s especially easy to carry concealed, especially with 1950 holster technology. The Secret Service is supposed to be secret, after all. There were, of course, smaller semiautos at the time, but nothing American made and chambered for a reasonably effective cartridge (0.38 Super Automatic might have done the trick but AFAIK this was again only available in weapons built on the 1911 frame). It’s worth noting in this particular context that Coffelt was shot three times in the chest and abdomen with a 9mm but was still able to kill his attacker. It’s also worth noting that a heavy semiauto with ball ammunition was probably not the weapon of choice for fighting in an urban area with the potential for a lot of bystanders. I doubt that any police force in the United States was routinely armed with semiautos in 1950. The 0.38 Special revolvers used by the Secret Service and White House Police were probably the best choice under the constraints of the time.


The two handed shooting stance claim, I think, also suffers from impeccable hindsight. I doubt that such a stance was taught anywhere at the time. The authors note that Torresola hit seven out of eight times with a two-handed stance, but I rather doubt he was taught it.


The last flaw I find with the book – and you’re probably getting bored with this by now – is that there are no maps or diagrams. The only illustration of the gunfight scene is a contemporary newspaper photograph. A map showing the relative positions of the people involved, especially coupled with a time line, would aid greatly in understanding what was going on. (There may not, in fact, be any interior plans available of Blair House as it existed in 1950 – but that’s not terribly relevant since most of the action took place outside.


Nevertheless, quite readable in the biography and gunfight sections. You could probably make a good movie out of this (I note one of the authors is a film critic).
( )
  setnahkt | Dec 3, 2017 |
I found this to be a relatively interesting bit of history, as I realized that I knew little of the nationalist movement in Puerto Rico. I don't claim to know all that much about it even now except that this incident occurred where 2 nationalists attempted to assassinate Harry Truman in his temporary dwelling, the Blair House, across the street from the White House that was under renovation at the time.

Hunter spent quite a bit of time on the background of all the participants, which did get a bit repetitive after a while, but I still found it a good read, overall. ( )
  LWhite54 | Feb 28, 2016 |
In [The Face of Battle] John Keegan remarked that many people who write about war are very uncomfortable with the details of violence. The same is true of most accounts of political violence. [Stephen Hunter] understands firearms and the people who use them for good and for evil very well. This background of knowledge allows him to bring new insights into a well explored event in American history.

There are many published misconceptions about the attempted assassination of President Truman. It was presented at the time and in some later works as an almost laughable attempt. The authors of this work show that this was a near run event. We came very close to losing another leader on November first of 1950. ( )
  hippypaul | Dec 8, 2009 |
I enjoyed this book--the characters were a little tough to keep straight at times, but it was an interesting book about a period I know little about. I borrowed this book from the Stillwater Public Library.

Read December 2006 ( )
  jwlowery | Dec 30, 2006 |
näyttää 4/4
ei arvosteluja | lisää arvostelu

» Lisää muita tekijöitä (2 mahdollista)

Tekijän nimiRooliTekijän tyyppiKoskeeko teosta?Tila
Hunter, StephenTekijäensisijainen tekijäkaikki painoksetvahvistettu
Bainbridge, John Jr.Tekijäpäätekijäkaikki painoksetvahvistettu
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This is a groundbreaking work of meticulous historical research and the dramatic story of an act of terrorism that almost succeeded. Journalists Hunter and Bainbridge have pieced together the story of the 1950 conspiracy to assassinate President Harry Truman, and of how a few good men--ordinary guys willing to risk their lives in the line of duty--stopped it in a bloody shoot-out in the streets of Washington. The authors examine the forces that led the Puerto Rican nationalist perpetrators to conceive the plot. They tell the story of the men themselves, from their youth and the world in which they grew up, to the moment the gunfire erupted. This book is about courage--on both sides, about what politics and devotion to a cause can lead men to do, and about what actually happens, second by second, when a gunfight explodes.--From publisher description.

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