Modern History

Hacksaw Ridge

Veteran’s Day is on November 11th and it once marked the end of World War I. Now it honors all veterans of all wars. Perhaps a good way to remember the sacrifice of many is to see this new film of true events during the Battle of Okinawa during World War II:

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Warnings from Mars

Ray Bardbury’s classic dystopian tale, Fahrenheit 451, is well known as a cautionary tale on censorship and the suppressing of knowledge. It is not his only warning on this danger. In The Martian Chronicles, in the chapter “April 2005 – Usher II,” this scene unfolds:

How could I expect you to know blessed Mr. Poe? …All of his books were burned in the Great Fire…He and Lovecraft and Hawthorne and Ambrose Bierce and all the tales of terror and fantasy and horror and, for that matter, tales of the future were burned. They passed a law. Oh, it started very small…[like] a grain of sand. They began by controlling books of cartoons and then detective books and, of course, films, one way or another, one group or another…there was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past, afraid of the present, afraid of themselves and shadows of themselves.

These warnings, I think, must be taken seriously. Even now, I read of censorship on certain websites, politicians who openly call for suppression of certain views and venues, repeated attempts to control the internet. People who don’t think the suppression of their rights can occur in our age, need to wake up and listen to what Bradbury wrote decades ago.

It all can begin small. Like a grain of sand.

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Did He or Didn’t He?

At the end of World War II the Allies splintered between East and West, and they began carving up Germany and the rest of Europe. Even as the Cold War began to develop, the Allies were rounding up and preparing to try various members of the Nazi regime. It is no secret that while they were doing this, they were also deciding which Nazis to keep for their own purposes (and others would be released early from prison in the following years). This, and the consequences and questions of ethics, have been documented in many books such as The Nazi Next Door and Operation Paperclip.

The Allies also sent investigators to verify the death of Adolf Hitler, since the remains had been burned. There have always been whispers of Hitler escaping, but I’m not one to jump quickly to join conspiracy theories. Then two things happened.

First, there has been the continuing revelations of deception regarding the protecting of many Nazis brought to the U.S., or used in Europe, to “assist” in prosecuting the Cold War. The government’s nonsensical policy of picking and choosing who to use, and who to prosecute, and to occasionally change their mind years later, is a troubling window into what certain people in power do.

Second, something stood out in these accounts of investigating Hitler’s suicide in his bunker. The investigators relied on the testimony on Nazis and evidence provide by them. Continue reading

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13 Hours

Michael Bay gets criticized for his flashy Transformers movies, but say what you will, he does have a tremendous visual style. Now he returns to ground tread in his film Pearl Harbor in 13 Hours:

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As much as I like alien robots, stories about American heroes trump them any day.

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What Could Have Been

Not much holds my attention on television, creativity has plummeted. Leave to Amazon to change that with its original series A Man in the High Castle. Based on famed sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick’s novel, it opens with this disturbing premise:

The Allies lost World War II and the Nazis and Imperial Japan rule the United States.

A fledgling resistance and simmering unrest between Japan and Germany is set in a dystopian 1960s that isn’t exactly the ’60s we remember. The producers have put fort a movie-level effort in the reimagining what the country would be like. The production design, subtle FX and the historical allusions (like the disturbing cause of the “snow” on one scene of the pilot episode) combined with a well-realized plot for an immersive, and cautionary, tale.

Having watched Season 1 in its entirety, one thing is for certain: Amazon has officially put itself on the map for original television (networks take note).

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P.S. Read more on the series here. And muse over the irony of a show on fascism having its ads censored.

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Pandemics, Elementals and Nuclear Missiles

Receive a few gift cards to your favorite book store for Christmas? Well, here are a few suggestions on spending that money:

In one sense, I hesitated to pick up Steven Konkoly‘s The Jakarata Pandemic. Haven’t pandemics and apocalyptic collapse been overdone? Probably, but apocalyptic books have always been a favorite. That, along with the current Ebola threat, encouraged me to give this book a chance. It didn’t disappoint and ripped a story from headlines that had yet to be written. If you want a realistic look at what happens after a major crisis (no zombies, aliens or Godzilla) and what a pandemic could do, The Jakarta Pandemic will keep you on the edge of your seat. Definitely will be reading more from Konkoly. [Similar: One Second After]

While fantasy has been dominated by reluctant male heroes, that has been changing. In Mary Weber‘s Storm Siren, Nymeria is a slave haunted by her past and her ability. An elemental, her influence of the weather is uncontrollable and deadly. Or can her curse be a gift? Written in the first person, very quickly the reader is drawn in wanting to know what happens to Nym as she is drawn into a war of men and within herself. Listed as a “young adult” fantasy — and it is accessible to that group — but so sophisticated and immersive is the world Weber has created that all fantasy fans will be taken in. [Similar: Daughter of Light]

Want some non-fiction that reads like a Tom Clancy novel? Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control will give you and inside look at the Cold War and the tenuous relationship of man with nuclear weapons. If you grew up in the Cold War, and thought the Cuban Missile Crisis was as close as we got, think again. The rush into nuclear armament was peppered with many close calls. Those who did know are still surprised that no nukes have been used, or gone off, outside of test ranges since 1945. Scholosser recounts the history while threading in the account of an armed Titan II that exploded in its silo in 1980. It is also a tale of the many who served quietly in a supposedly “cold” war. A great book on history that we would be amiss to forget and a telling that honors those who died defending our nation. [Similar: 15 Minutes]

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Warnings From the Third Reich

During the 1990s, as 50th year anniversaries of World War II began to come around, accounts of the war filled bookstores, television and film. Veterans who had said little for decades were now telling their stories. Some have wondered why in the years since so much attention has focused on studying Hitler. His motivations. His past. Attempt after attempt to figure out why and how he rose to power. Some think the attention is overdone.

The focus on Hitler isn’t entirely about him. It is also very much about the place. In 1945, as the Germans looked around them at their destroyed nation, more than one had to ask, “How did it come to this?”

Indeed, that is why Hitler and his Reich are studied so much. It all unfolded in nation made up of people very much like us.

Sure World War I, social chaos and the wild economies of the 1930s set the stage for Hitler’s rise. But Germany wasn’t a backwater, tribal nation ripe for a dictator. Germany was a sophisticated western nation with a deep history and a society of technology, intellect and culture.

Yet Hitler still led them down a path of ruin where tens of millions would die. He led a Reich that excelled in horror, destruction and death.

This is why the story of Hitler must be studied and remembered. Evil just doesn’t rise in nations of radicals and extremists. Do yourself a favor and check out the course, History of Hitler’s Empire or this classic volume.

And here look at the philosophies that gave rise to the Reich, which are growing again in our world:

More on those troubling times can be read here. Be vigilant, because wherever you live in this world, do not think evil cannot arise there and take hold. Make sure you don’t ever find yourself in the position to ask, “How did it come to this?”

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Where’s Your Money Going?

Apparently convicted war criminals are.

Unfortunately, not really surprised. After all, the U.S. grabbed up quite a few Nazis after the war, scrubbed their past, and put them to work for the military. Even as some were being prosecuted at Nuremberg — in fact, before the war even ended — others were being vetted for the usefulness in the Cold War in what was called Operation Paperclip. And there began a decades-long policy with Nazis that still doesn’t make much sense.

Those not so valuable to the country were kept out or sent home. Some became exemplary rocket scientists, until someone decided certain ones should be prosecuted years after being effectively give a free pass. We still hunt down aged SS guards with a few years to live, yet many jailed after the war were released early in Cold War Europe to join the new cause.

Yet another lesson highlighting the government’s long downward spiral.

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History Uncensored, Remembered

We don’t have to always look towards fiction for powerful stories. Our own history is full of them. Many of the best, and the worst, you may have never heard.

When we are taught history in schools, it is condensed into names, dates and places. Rarely do we get to know the people involved. The result is a distant, impersonal past that seems like it never happened, nor is it relevant to the present.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In Miracles and Massacres, Glenn Beck and others have pulled 12 stories from our past (though some not so long ago). Many are obscure, yet impact us to this day. Some show triumphs of our nation, and others its failures. Some of the failures have been hidden and remain unaddressed. All of these historical events provide valuable lessons for us in government, freedom and justice.

They also put faces to dry facts. When you tell a person’s story, it connects us to them. They are no longer a faded memory, an irrelevant soul. Not all of them are pretty with happy endings. Those are often the ones we shouldn’t forget. We all have a story. Some of those stories reach out from times forgotten begging to be heard.

And sometimes, we had best stop and listen.

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Deal With the Devil: Operation Paperclip

Long a student of the history of space exploration, I knew of the Operation Paperclip (often called Project Paperclip) to bring rocket scientists to the U.S. after WWII from Germany. Never thought much about it until more studies on WWII and the Cold War started to reveal more about these scientists. Not all were innocents caught up in their nation’s war.

Some were part of the Nazi Machine.

Indeed, even when it was exposed in the ’40s that hundreds of these scientists, doctors and engineers were coming to America, protest was raised. It was largely too late. Records were scrubbed and classified. The people themselves remained quiet and evasive on the subject of their past until their death. While some Nazis to this day are hunted down in their old age, some were allowed to be free, in the open. Perhaps the most bizarre example of cognitive dissonance ever known, and widely at that. But most don’t know the whole story.

Annie Jacobsen remedies this in her new book, Operation Paperclip: The Secret Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America. She isn’t the first to write on Paperclip, but perhaps the most thorough. She has brought new materials to light as more has become unclassified and through interviews with Paperclip family members and others with first hand knowledge.

I thought I knew a lot about the program, I didn’t. The twisted policy of chasing down prison guards in their 90s while other individuals were in effect acquitted. Some became American heroes. I have read of Von Braun and other rocket scientists who oversaw the V-2 production sites were thousands of prisoner-slaves died, but many know little of this. Jacobsen’s account will force you to look at our space heroes quite differently.

It wasn’t just the builders of rockets, however. Doctors involved in the Reich’s human experiments, experts in chemical and biological warfare and others were also spirited away by Paperclip. Most of these men lead productive lives contributing to our country. Others, though, were part of questionable state-sponsored activities here. In either case, Jacobsen writes this for us to ponder:

The question remains, despite a man’s contribution to a nation or people, how do we interpret fundamental wrong? Is the American government at fault equally for fostering myths about its Paperclip scientists — for encouraging them to whitewash their past…When, for a nation, should the end justify the means?

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