‘Pawley’ absorbing biography

Anthony R. Carrozza

WILLIAM D. PAWLEY: The Extraordinary Life of The Adventurer, Entrepreneur and Diplomat Who Cofounded the Flying Tigers. By Anthony R. Carrozza. Potomac Books. 405 pages. $34.95.

William D. Pawley was born in Florence in 1896. He descended from a long line of Pawleys of Pawleys Island fame. They were characterized as a “can-do” lot, a propensity very much evident in the dynamic entrepreneurial spirit of the subject of this biography.

Author Anthony R. Carrozza, in a decade of extensive research, has written a thorough and very interesting account of a man who seized opportunity by the throat, thought on a global scale, dared to accomplish big things and was completely unafraid of withering assaults on swollen egos in the process. As Carrozza reveals, Pawley didn’t win ’em all, but he won more than he lost.

The State Department’s worst nightmare, Pawley was ambassador to Peru and led a series of “diplomatic” missions around South and Central America and the Caribbean.

The professional bureaucrats regarded him as somewhat of a loose cannon whose decisions often were motivated by personal gain.

His earliest foray into foreign politics was a business alliance with Nationalist China in the 1930s in which he positioned himself as the sole supplier of American military aircraft. Not only did he provide the aircraft, but also volunteer U.S. pilots to fly them in the earliest incarnation of the “Flying Tigers.” He built and operated factories in China and India to assemble aircraft for the Chinese Air Force.

He was either in the forefront or in the shadows as many Latin American countries toppled long-standing dictatorial regimes. He saw the results of professional diplomatic bungling as Cuba toppled its dictator, only to see him replaced by a communist leader openly hostile to American interests. He actually visited Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista twice in an effort to get him to relinquish power and move to the U.S.

After Batista’s ouster by communist rebels in 1959, the “replacement” by Castro became a persistent obsession of Pawley’s until his death in 1977.

According to the author, Pawley’s life was a cross between Indiana Jones and Donald Trump, a combination of high adventure and super-salesmanship. This is a well-written and absorbing story of a remarkable South Carolina native whose work influenced three decades of American foreign policy.

Reviewer Ben McC. Moise, an author and freelance writer who lives in Charleston