Thursday, February 05, 2009

Fighting the Cold War in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe): Chico author book signing


In his first book, "Special Agent, Vietnam: A Naval Intelligence Memoir," Chicoan Douglass H. Hubbard Jr., chronicled his experiences as a special agent with the Naval Investigative Service (now the NCIS) in Vietnam. Hubbard left Vietnam in 1972; he was 27. "I was alive after three years of madness and the angry scarred mountains of Vietnam were nearly behind me."

After a stay in Australia he traveled to Rhodesia in 1974, his "heart set on rural Africa." He found himself a member of the British South Africa Police, "Rhodesia's national police force." His was not a peaceful life. The story is told in "Bound For Africa: Cold War Fight Along the Zambezi" ($34.95 in hardcover from Naval Institute Press). Hubbard will be signing copies and presenting his experiences at Lyon Books in Chico tonight at 7:00 p.m.

Rhodesia was governed by a white minority. In 1965 white settlers declared independence from Britain and resisted efforts to negotiate a transition to a black majority government. As John Cann says in the introduction, "The political vacuum between the white minority's position and the majority black population's desire for a government elected by universal suffrage allowed the emergence of Robert Mugabe, a Marxist intellectual and leader of the Chinese-backed Zimbabwean African National Union."

Hubbard trained counterinsurgents. "Rhodesia was facing an apparently escalating war against terror--one with disturbing similarities to the conflict in Vietnam I had left. . . . " The author's account of his field training operations will be attractive to anyone interested in military history. But the story gets personal in a chapter modestly entitled "Unexpected Events." In field training one evening Hubbard lit the fuse of a charge he wanted to throw as a simulated grenade when, "midstep, there came an enormous crackling explosion that hurled me to the ground. In a millisecond, my life changed forever. The charge had detonated prematurely, taking with it my right hand and wrist."

Hubbard would leave Rhodesia, with "a wife to consider and a very uncertain future," but he never forgot the "ignorant intolerance that I had witnessed fueling African conflict." He mourns over a Zimbabwe that has "lost the last vestiges of democratic government through ethnic cleansing, arbitrary seizures, and state-sanctioned brutality."

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