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The Yankee Comandante

Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss
In Print
Lyons Press (2015)

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The Yankee Comandante

The Untold Story of Courage, Passion, and One American's Fight to Liberate Cuba

Rating: gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star no star no star (8.00)

274 pages. Black-and-white pictures throughout text. Introduction, 1 map, epilogue, acknowledgments, notes on sources, bibliography, index.

During my years in Florida, I made a lot of Cuban friends. I know people who came over during the 'Mariel boatlift', who came to the U.S. with nothing and worked hard to make new lives for themselves. I have been in their homes, and I have eaten their fine cuisine.

However, in reading this book, I discovered that I didn't know much of anything about the Cuban Revolution! As this book represents, the Revolution was not fought by a single group to bring about Communism, but by multiple groups united by opposition to the dictator Batista and promising to restore democracy.

This book tells the story of William Morgan. He was a complicated, imperfect man. He lost his dream of serving in the U.S. Army when he went AWOL to help a girlfriend and was dishonorably discharged. He had worked for circuses and as a bouncer. He had mob connections. His second marriage was unraveling, despite his deep love for his two children.

At this low point in his life, he remembered a friend in Florida who was involved in smuggling arms to the revolutionaries. Morgan determined he would go to Cuba and join the fight to overthrow Batista, the corrupt and ruthless Cuban dictator (and ex-reformer).

By good fortune, Morgan made contact with the Second Front, a revolutionary group based in Cuba's central mountains. He taught himself the language, while utilizing his army training to teach his comrades. In a series of clashes with Batista's forces, Morgan stood out because he was larger than most Cubans, and because of his unusual habit of standing erect to fire rather than taking cover (he was seemingly fearless). His second wife having divorced him in absentia, Morgan married a beautiful revolutionary named Olga. He rose to become a leader – a commandante – of the Cuban Revolution.

Meanwhile, there were struggles within the Revolution. Different groups vied for power. Che Guevara demanded that the Second Front integrate with Fidel Castro's faction; they refused, and the groups become rivals and competitors.

Finally, the balance of power tipped. The revolutionaries descended from the mountains and seized major cities. Batista fled, the revolutionaries rushed to Havana, and the fighting was over. Fidel Castro was recognized as the new national leader, and Morgan as a hero of the Revolution.

This gets us to the middle of the book, and I was wondering what could fill the rest of the book. Politics! Morgan was recruited to assassinate Castro, but out of loyalty to Cuba, he betrayed the plotters (a mix of ex-Batista men, mob and casino interests, and a vengeful neighboring dictator). The U.S. government, suspecting Morgan of being a Communist, stripped him of U.S. citizenship on the grounds that he served in a foreign army. Morgan and Olga had two children, and he launched an agricultural project to provide jobs for his ex-revolutionaries. Castro planted spies among the Second Front, and a drive-through assassination attempt showed that the Second Front's security was deficient. Morgan quarreled with Castro on live television for stirring up anti-American feeling.

At last, Castro came out openly as a Communist. Morgan's men stockpiled arms for a return to the mountains, but he was arrested. Olga escaped to the sanctuary of a consulate. A plan was hatched to rescue Morgan from prison, and Olga left safety only to be caught by the police. Before the escape plan could take place, Morgan was convicted and brutally executed.

This is a highly readable book, yet also a difficult book to read as Morgan's life becomes more and more difficult. It also shines a different light on the Cuban Revolution, and shows Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in an unflattering way.

Is this book useful to wargamers? There are a number of fights in this book, from ambushes to attacking camps and urban assaults, though gamers would need to fill in the gaps and balance for playability. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a lot of wargaming information available about the Cuban Revolution, so research would have to be done to identify suitable models and painting schemes.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about a lesser-known aspect of the Cuban Revolution or the politics of the early Castro regime, or with an interest in guerilla-level combat. It's also a great human-interest story and would make a great movie. This book benefits from additional material not available to authors of two previous books about Morgan.

Reviewed by Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian.