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While most Americans feel unwavering support for the U.S. forces serving in Iraq, unsettling scandals -- like the abuses at Abu Ghraib -- make us question just how well run our military is. What a perfect time, then, for reporter Jack Hamann to publish On American Soil, a riveting retelling of a historic prisoner-of-war catastrophe that resulted in the largest U.S. Army court-martial of World War II.
The prisoner in question was Guglielmo Olivotto, a captured Italian soldier sent to the Fort Lawton Army base in Seattle in 1944. Following a night of riots within and around the barracks, his body was discovered hanging from a rope. Eager for quick answers, the army appointed Lieutenant Colonel Leon Jaworski to prosecute the African-American soldiers charged with rioting and murder. But had there been a rush to judgment?
Using once-classified documents, Hamann recounts interviews with soldiers and prisoners, and questions the Army's conclusions. Along the way, he exposes the ugly prejudice belying Fort Lawton's peaceful, woodsy surroundings. Equally interesting is Hamann's revelation that the press may have been an unwitting accomplice in whatever cover-ups occurred, by accepting the Army's interpretation of events at face value. In these days of embedded journalists and war stories "tweaked" to look good on television, On American Soil is more than a fascinating piece of investigative journalism; it's a warning to us all. (Summer 2005 Selection)