John Davis’ Rainy Street Stories is a marvelous collection of essays, vignettes, poems and thoughtful stories that have tremendous resonance and relevancy to the times in which we live.
Davis, a former Army counter-intelligence officer and Cold War veteran, is at his best etching the stark difference between an East Berlin, a Czechoslovakia or a Poland under the withering rule of Communism and the intoxicating freedom people living there felt after the Berlin Wall was torn down and those regimes fell.
The author is a gifted writer with a keen eye for detail and a deep knowledge of history, politics and ethics. His stories and essays remind us what it means to be an American, living in and defending a democracy. He also reminds us of the moral and mortal perils of giving up the values that make America a great nation and the dangers of reviving the nationalism that led to two world wars.
One essay is particularly striking, starting out with short, vivid descriptions of two grim artifacts of Nazi torture chambers — a wooden bathtub used in Holland and a wooden rack formed by two x’s connected by a central axis used by the Gestapo in Krakow. The former was used to plunge prisoners under water until they almost drowned, a precursor of waterboarding; the latter device was not described, leaving it to the imagination to figure out its cruel use.
Davis then reminds us of a secret Army interrogation unit that operated out of Fort Hunt, near Washington, D.C., during World War II. The members of that unit prided themselves on using their wits to ferret secrets out of Nazi generals and scientists, learning more over a game of ping-pong or cards than the cruelest tortures used by the Gestapo.
In doing their vital work to learn of secret Nazi weapons and war plans, the American intelligence officers of that unit, members of the Greatest Generation, knew and held fast to two truths. One — that torture scars both the torturer and the victim. And, two — resorting to torture would sacrifice sacred American values for war-time expediency.
Davis writes in a clear, concise style, with a tone that is both thoughtful and evocative, but never preachy. Ranging from Afghanistan to Vietnam and the Middle East, Davis takes us on a journey that reminds us that history is a living thing that echoes powerfully in the present.