Saturday, December 10, 2016

Why Must We Demonize Those Who Disagree With Us?

While I was writing my Vietnam Seabee novel, Asphalt and Blood, I read a number of memoirs by former soldiers in the conflict. I was somewhat surprised to learn that the U.S. Army purposefully trained its troops to consider the Vietcong and North Vietnamese soldiers as lesser forms of humans. I suppose that I shouldn’t have been surprised. The depiction of the Japanese enemy during World War II had been even more racist. In fact, the depiction of Germans in World War I as rapacious “Huns” was part of the same process.

The psychological purpose of such demonization is to make it easier for the trainee to kill the enemy in combat. If one is taught to hate the other side, killing becomes a reasonable reaction. Many of the electronic warfare games of today originated in military training programs designed to condition the user to “zapping” another human being.

While the military usefulness of such approaches may be understandable in times of war, why have we seemingly extended “demonization” to include just about anyone with whom we disagree? The practice has been particularly virulent during the recent U.S. election cycle. The practice was not exclusive to either party but extended across the spectrum of politics. As an amateur historian, I am well aware that American elections have been plagued with demonization since the beginning of the republic, but the advent of social media has allowed intensification beyond imagination a few decades ago. I have voted in the last 15 presidential elections, and I have never seen it so bad.

Demonization leads to hate. I have written before about how hatred does nothing but poison society. I have also written about “thought police” and their hateful results. Driving wedges between various segments of society will never result in a peaceful civilization. Breeding hatred is a sure path to the disintegration of any culture.

We as a society need to start listening to one another. We need to listen not to frame a counter-argument but to actually understand what the other is thinking. When negotiating engineering and construction contracts, I learned early on to first search for the items upon which both parties agree. To bind our nation together, we need to start looking for those points upon which we agree, both in our legislative bodies and in society as a whole.

Branding those who do not share our beliefs as inferior human beings is the product of intolerance and unwarranted arrogance. Looking down your nose at other segments of society does not prove the correctness of your vision. It just assures that you will be shortsighted.

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Warren Bell is an author of historical fiction.  He spent 29 years as a US Naval Officer, and has traveled to most of the places in the world that he writes about.  A long-time World War II-buff, his first two novels, Fall Eagle One and Hold Back the Sun are set during World War II.  His third novel, Asphalt and Blood, follows the US Navy Seabees in Vietnam.  His most recent novel, Snowflakes in July, is a Pentagon thriller about domestic terrorism.  He is currently working on a new novel, Endure The Cruel Sun, the sequel to his best-selling novel, Hold Back the Sun. For more about Warren Bell, visit his website at: wbellauthor.com or see him on twitter @wbellauthor.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Reprise: Thanksgiving in the 1940s

As my 81st Thanksgiving approaches, I cannot help but look back over the years at the changing role my wife, Annette, and I have played in this important family event. For many years, we enjoyed gathering the clan in our home and providing the feast, but our days of hosting Thanksgiving have faded into the past. We have reached the point in life where we go to our children’s homes for the celebration. Annette, however, still cooks her pecan and apple pies, which are a favorite with our grandkids. In the distant past, we went to our parent’s homes when circumstances allowed. But my Navy career offered few such opportunities, so we were used to decades of having everyone within reach come to our home. As I keep looking back, I am reminded of the blog post I wrote a few years ago about celebrating the holiday in the years right after World War II, when I was a young child. I am repeating it here.

In my childhood, Thanksgiving was truly a family affair. I grew up in a large extended family whose spiritual anchor was my Grandmother Tatum. A physically a small woman, to us Edna Tatum was an awesome presence. She raised five daughters (Brenda, Olive, Evelyn, Lorene, and Sadie) essentially alone on an isolated farm outside El Dorado in South Central Arkansas. Her husband, Miller, worked for the railroad and was away from home five days a week. This left Grandma to run everything, including supervising and feeding the hired hands who worked the farm. Miller didn’t move his family into town because El Dorado was a rough oil boom-town in those days. He felt his daughters were far safer out in the country.

After Miller’s death, Grandma sold the farm to Aunt Evelyn and her husband, Earl Molsbee, with the condition that she would always have a home there. So on Thanksgiving, the whole family less Lorene, who lived in far-away Batesville, gathered at “Aunt Evelyn’s.”
Ours was a strictly a blue-collar family. My Dad, Jewell Bell, worked as a planing mill foreman in a lumber plant. Besides running the farm, Uncle Earl worked in the oil fields. Leonard Goodnight (Brenda’s husband) worked at the local oil refinery. Ross Martin (Sadie’s spouse) served as a policeman. These men, all survivors of the Great Depression, were grateful to have jobs that let them put roofs over their families’ heads and food on the table. To them, Thanksgiving was not just a holiday. It was a celebration of the blessings they had enjoyed during the year.

In those days before television, the men usually sat around the wood stove in the living room and enjoyed each other's conversation. The hardest thing for the children was waiting for the meal. I was one of four sons who were always called, “the boys.” Gerald Goodnight was a few months older than my brother, Tom. Johnny Molsbee was a year younger. I was “tail-end-Charlie.” The one granddaughter, Darlene Molsbee, was about a year younger than me. She usually hung out with the women and helped with the meal. If weather allowed, the boys were banished to the outdoors. There was always lots to do and look at around the farm. I usually just trailed behind the big boys and tried to do whatever they did.

My mother and her sisters prepared dinner as a communal activity. Aunt Evelyn usually furnished the main dish, and the others brought their contributions, some already prepared, some to be finished just before eating. The menu was about the same each year. Turkeys were a luxury in those years just after World War II. Instead, the sisters baked or boiled chickens ahead of time. Making large pans of cornbread dressing with the broth, they would tear up the chickens into bite-sized pieces and embed them atop the breading, then bake the whole thing in the oven. Sometimes, we would have fresh pork roast and dressing as well. Cream gravy with the cooked chicken “giblets” chopped up in it went along with these dishes.

The rest of the menu was pretty traditional: mashed potatoes, home-canned Kentucky Wonder beans, candied sweet potatoes, fruit salad made by augmenting canned fruit cocktail with apples, oranges, and bananas, and jellied cranberry sauce. Desserts were all sorts of pies and cakes. My mother usually took a cake, since my dad preferred them to pies (except chocolate). My favorite was always the mincemeat pie. All this bounty would be spread on the big table in Evelyn’s dining room.

We always had a big turnout. Besides the sisters’ husbands, several other relatives usually came. One constant was Grandma’s younger brother, Johnny Ford. His son, Wilmot, frequently came also. Uncle Johnny, a widower who raised his son alone from infancy, was considered saintly in our family. He always offered the blessing before the meal. A Methodist, he never failed to enumerate the good things that had occurred in the previous year. Sometimes, this made the children impatient.

The dining room and table were too small to accommodate everything at once. As was customary in those days, the men ate first. According to how many were present, we children sometimes got to eat with the men. If there were too many, we were relegated to the “children’s table” in the kitchen. Either way, the women didn’t eat until everyone else was through. If they resented it, they never let on. I suppose they just took it as a matter of course. Things would change in later years.

The way we lived in the 1940s would probably be considered “poverty” by most of today’s young people, my grandchildren included. We had no computers, no television, not even electricity. Batteries powered our radios and listening time had to be rationed. Our homes were heated by wood stoves and lighted by kerosene lamps. Only those who lived in cities had running water and indoor plumbing. But that was how almost all people who lived in the country existed in those days. We did not consider ourselves poor. We were thankful for dry beds and full stomachs and loving families to care for us. Physical things didn’t seem to matter so much. The world has changed a great deal since the 1940s. Some of it is actually progress.

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Warren Bell is an author of historical fiction.  He spent 29 years as a US Naval Officer, and has traveled to most of the places in the world that he writes about.  A long-time World War II-buff, his first two novels, Fall Eagle One and Hold Back the Sun are set during World War II.  His third novel, Asphalt and Blood, follows the US Navy Seabees in Vietnam.  His most recent novel, Snowflakes in July, is a Pentagon thriller about domestic terrorism.  He is currently working on a new novel, Endure The Cruel Sun, the sequel to his best-selling novel, Hold Back the Sun. For more about Warren Bell, visit his website at: wbellauthor.com or see him on twitter @wbellauthor.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Fire Is Still There

On September 16th, I had the honor of attending a reunion of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion FOUR in Springfield, Virginia. BUC (Builder Chief) Jeff Parker, the principal organizer, invited me to the event. He had attended the reunion of the battalion in which I served, NMCB FORTY, last year and saw my presentation on my writing and my books. He purchased a copy of my Vietnam Seabee novel, ASPHALT AND BLOOD.  Having served in the Hue-Phu Bai area, the setting of the story, he identified with many of the events about which I wrote. He wanted to share them with his fellow veterans.

Any reunion of old Seabees brings out sea stories beyond count. Plenty were being bandied about when I entered the Hospitality Suite and started introducing myself. As I listened, I realized that I was in the company of Seabee legends. These were men who had performed amazing feats of construction under fire by an implacable enemy. Some had re-laid the first aluminum matting runway of the war at Chu Lai. Others had built camps and roads throughout the northern part of South Vietnam, the famed I Corps area. I was surprised by how many of their experiences mirrored my own.

Why do these men congregate every few years just to be together again? I believe that they realize that they share a set of experiences that set them apart from the civilian world in which they live.  A sense of brotherhood pervades these gatherings. It is so much more than just shared memories. The participants worked with each other, sweated with each other, took enemy fire together, and in some cases nearly died with each other. And the fire in their bellies that sustained them through those experiences still burns brightly today. They had each other’s backs in those days, and they still do today.

One factor I notice about Seabee reunions is that almost all the attendees are Vietnam veterans. A half-century after that unpopular conflict, the men and women who participated still feel a kinship for one another that subsequent generations seem to lack.  Some of this may be tied to the way many of us were treated when we came home. At best, we were treated like fools for having risked all in such a venture. At worst, we were vilified as war criminals, called “baby killers” and rapists. We were the young generation that listened when John Kennedy called on Americans to, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country!” We were asked to go halfway around the world and fight a tenacious foe in a fight without battle lines or easily identified enemies. We did our job. Despite what revisionist historians would tell you, we were not defeated on the battlefield. That war was lost by the politicians, not by the men in uniform.

I was grateful for the reception that the NMCB FOUR people gave to my short talk and to my writing. Many purchased copies, and I have already had very positive feedback. But then, ASPHALT AND BLOOD is a book about Seabees written by a Seabee.

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Warren Bell is an author of historical fiction.  He spent 29 years as a US Naval Officer, and has traveled to most of the places in the world that he writes about.  A long-time World War II-buff, his first two novels, Fall Eagle One and Hold Back the Sun are set during World War II.  His third novel, Asphalt and Blood, follows the US Navy Seabees in Vietnam.  His most recent novel, Snowflakes in July, is a Pentagon thriller about domestic terrorism.  He is currently working on a new novel, Endure The Cruel Sun, the sequel to his best-selling novel, Hold Back the Sun. For more about Warren Bell, visit his website at: wbellauthor.com or see him on twitter @wbellauthor.

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Sunday, September 4, 2016

Were the “Good Old Days” Really That Good?

Eisenhower and Congress Leaders
The current election cycle has revealed a craving among a large segment of the U.S. population for a return to the way things used to be, to go back to the "Good Old Days." As a person who has lived more than eight decades in this country, I am not sure what part of the past these individuals want to restore. I suspect the time that they yearn for is the 1950s.

Why the 1950s? Perhaps that was the last decade in which people with only a high school education could aspire to get a well-paying job and enter the famed middle class. In the 1950s, activity was booming in the industrial cities of the North. If a person were a sharecropper, whatever your race, opportunity beckoned in the factories of the North. If you have read John Grissom's book, A Painted House, or seen the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, you have witnessed this phenomenon from the viewpoint of poor white farmers. All across the South, cotton fields fell fallow or switched to mechanized farming while hundreds of thousands of farmworkers headed north. The "American Dream" was alive for large segments of the population.

Despite stresses of the "Cold War," peace prevailed in the U.S. for most of the 1950s. After the Korean War ended, American troops were not actively involved in combat.

In the 1950s, the Federal Government actually worked. President Eisenhower often conferred with the leaders of both parties in Congress to address national concerns. Compromise positions were hammered out in these discussions, and acceptable legislation was then proposed and enacted. "Compromise" was not a dirty word in those days. Our leaders still realized that compromise is the very lifeblood of a functioning democracy.

Peace, economic opportunity, and a functioning government are all worthy of nostalgia. Unfortunately, there are other factors about that era that are not worthy of restoration.

Rigid gender definitions still divided society. There was "men's work" and "women's work." Men were expected to work and earn the family's living. "Bringing home the bacon" was their primary task. Women were supposed to marry, have children, and become homemakers. Almost all of the myriad duties of maintaining a household fell to the woman: providing meals, childcare, housekeeping, and assuring clean clothes for the family. Just keeping up with family laundry during those days before modern washing machines was an exhausting process. In the 1950s, boiling clothes in an outdoor wash pot and scrubbing them on rub-boards was still commonplace. Soaking garments in starch and ironing them with flatirons could be tiring as well. My mother-in-law always said, "There never were any ‘Good Old Days' for women."

In the 1950s, the Southern states of the old Confederacy remained rigidly segregated by race. African-Americans were decidedly second-class citizens. Segregated schools for blacks were often starved of resources needed to provide a reasonable education. The Ku Klux Klan was still active in some areas. Many white parents still taught their children that blacks were inherently inferior. Finding a better way of life was another motivator for the mass migration to northern cities.

Medical care in the 1950s was primitive compared to what we have today. Preventive medicine was chiefly limited to smallpox vaccination. The current inoculations to prevent childhood diseases had yet to be invented. Most children endured Chickenpox, Measles, Whooping Cough, and Mumps at some time. Some died of these diseases. And in the background always lurked the specter of polio, the crippler, and killer of hundreds each year. Many parents would not let their children take swimming lessons because of polio concerns.

Most people only saw a doctor when they got severely sick or injured. Doctors did make home visits in those days, but the treatments available to them were only a fraction of what exists today. Standard treatments still included prescribing laxatives for just about everything to "purge the body." Bed rest was recommended for most ailments. Smoking, on the other hand, was viewed as a good way to relax from stress. Almost all doctors were heavy smokers. Alcohol was considered a stimulant, although it is actually a depressant. The number of hospitals was limited. In those that did exist, privacy was given limited priority. Most patients were confined in large open wards.

At least in the early 1950s, many country families still lacked indoor plumbing. Use of outhouses remained a necessity. Chamber pots were used at night. Of course, emptying these every morning usually fell to the woman of the household. Bathing usually occurred on Saturday night so people would be clean for church the next day. Galvanized washtubs in the kitchen were the usual bathing place.

I believe that the human mind tends to retain and augment the good things about the past while conveniently forgetting the not so pleasant ones.  Widespread opportunity, functioning government, and peace are all objectives toward which we need to strive, but I do not personally desire a return to the 1950s. There are many aspects of the current situation that need to be changed, but we need to hammer out new solutions in keeping with the realities of the world today rather than seeking to go back to the past.

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Warren Bell is an author of historical fiction.  He spent 29 years as a US Naval Officer, and has traveled to most of the places in the world that he writes about.  A long-time World War II-buff, his first two novels, Fall Eagle One and Hold Back the Sun are set during World War II.  His third novel, Asphalt and Blood, follows the US Navy Seabees in Vietnam.  His most recent novel, Snowflakes in July, is a Pentagon thriller about domestic terrorism.  He is currently working on a new novel, Endure The Cruel Sun, the sequel to his best-selling novel, Hold Back the Sun. For more about Warren Bell, visit his website at: wbellauthor.com or see him on twitter @wbellauthor.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Peaceful Reflections From a Carolina Beach

Nags Head, NC
A glassy blue sea beneath puffy white clouds. Dune grass seed pods nodding gently in a cool sea breeze. Seagulls and pelicans racing across the sky. The warm sun loosening taut back muscles. Such are the joys of a summer beach vacation.

My wife, Annette, and I are at Nags Head in the North Carolina barrier islands (Outer Banks) enjoying time together with our daughter and her family. This is a three-generation affair. Three of our grandchildren are here, along with spouses and a girlfriend. Even the family dog got to come. It is a laid back time for all of us. We sleep as long as we feel like it. During the day, we are all in charge of feeding ourselves. Only in the evening do we gather for a communal dinner, often from a "take out" restaurant.

Our days are spent with dips in a fine swimming pool, time at the beach, and walks along the sand. Those who tan lie in the sun for long periods. We "old folk" take shade baths. We read "beach books" to pass the time.

People who live hectic lives need time like this to unwind. We try to keep the everyday world at bay. We don't discuss politics. News is banned from the big flat screen TV in the great room. The Olympics, however, are considered entertainment. Seeing our U.S. team rack up medals is a lot of fun. Those of us who feel lost without at least some news have to use the TVs in our bedrooms.

Too soon, this pleasant interlude will come to an end. We'll join the mass migration of vacationers moving up into Virginia, through the congestion of Hampton Roads, and on up the coast to our places of abode. But the memories of these lazy, unhurried times will remain with us as we return to the hustle and bustle of daily life, sustaining us through more stressful times.

Some archaeologists postulate that humankind developed along the beaches of Africa, that we are all the descendants of consummate beachcombers. Time at the beach makes that theory easy to believe. Most humans have an affinity for living close to the sea. May we never lose that connection. 

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Warren Bell is an author of historical fiction.  He spent 29 years as a US Naval Officer, and has traveled to most of the places in the world that he writes about.  A long-time World War II-buff, his first two novels, Fall Eagle One and Hold Back the Sun are set during World War II.  His third novel, Asphalt and Blood, follows the US Navy Seabees in Vietnam.  His most recent novel, Snowflakes in July, is a Pentagon thriller about domestic terrorism.  He is currently working on a new novel, Endure The Cruel Sun, the sequel to his best-selling novel, Hold Back the Sun. For more about Warren Bell, visit his website at: wbellauthor.com or see him on twitter @wbellauthor.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Can a Historical Novelist Do Too Much Research?

I once read that before beginning a historical novel, authors must immerse themselves in the history and culture of the period until they are essentially living there. I have often taken this admonishment to heart in my historical writing.

I love history and actually enjoy doing historical research. I like to root out the exact details of how history unfolded and later subject my characters to events as they really took place. This requires a lot of digging around in both the Internet and into printed material. I especially prize first-hand accounts by people who experienced the times about which I write. Sometimes, I buy used copies of the actual books to gain access to the information I seek. I recently purchased BARBED WIRE SURGEON, the memoirs of Dr. Alfred A. Weinstein, MD, a surgeon who served in the jungle hospitals during the defense of Bataan in 1942. When I write about my Navy Nurse protagonist working in these hospitals in my current project, ENDURE THE CRUEL SUN, I have the advantage of the point of view of someone who was there at the time. Nothing I could make up would be as horrible as the circumstances that actually took place.

My worktable is typically piled high with reference books. I also like to write on my big IMac desktop with my MacBook Air opened to Internet references beside it. When I need to insert a detail, I can usually get to it very quickly.

Lately, I have begun to believe that it is possible to do too much research. I am currently dealing with the Battle of the Coral Sea. This is not an easy battle to come to grips with. American Vice Admiral H.S. Duckworth described one day of the battle as, “Without a doubt…the most confused battle area in world history.” My challenge was to explain these circumstances to my readers in an interesting and entertaining way. (After all novelists are in the entertainment business.) I found myself reading Internet articles for hours, clicking on one link after another to dig for further details. Each question I answered seemed to raise several more. This created a problem as it broke the rhythm of my writing. I realized that I was actually enjoying my research too much. Research is, after all, a means to an end, not the end itself.

I recalled the old writer’s saw, “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.” The story is paramount. The historical details are but the background against which the tale is set. I have to keep drumming this point into my head.

I’m trying now to limit my research to that necessary to get my basic story down in writing. I can always dig deeper during the rewrite and editing phases if I find that I need more detail.

I hope to soon get myself fully back on track, spinning stories of bombers diving on enemy carriers and submarines landing commandos on Japanese held islands. The yarn is all there, spinning around inside my head. All I have to do is get it down in type.

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Warren Bell is an author of historical fiction.  He spent 29 years as a US Naval Officer, and has traveled to most of the places in the world that he writes about.  A long-time World War II-buff, his first two novels, Fall Eagle One and Hold Back the Sun are set during World War II.  His third novel, Asphalt and Blood, follows the US Navy Seabees in Vietnam.  His most recent novel, Snowflakes in July, is a Pentagon thriller about domestic terrorism.  He is currently working on a new novel, Endure A Cruel Sun, the sequel to his best-selling novel, Hold Back the Sun. For more about Warren Bell, visit his website at: wbellauthor.com or see him on twitter @wbellauthor.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Reprise: The Poison Fruits of Hatred

I do not often agree with Washington Post political cartoonist Tom Toles. His left-leaning drawings are usually too much for my moderate Independent leanings. But when he published the above cartoon on June 14, 2016, he absolutely nailed the importance of hatred as the nexus that connects many of the ills that plague society today. I was at once reminded of a blog post on hatred I published last July. I am repeating it today to emphasize that hate is a dead-end street that leads to nowhere.

July 25, 2015: Today’s world appears awash in hatred. From lone-wolf shooters to suicide bombers, the results of hatred fill our newspaper headlines and television news broadcasts. Hatred takes many forms, and all of them are evil: racial hatred, religious hatred, tribal hatred, regional hatred, class hatred, and, of course, personal hatred.

Religious hatred fuels many of the conflicts in the world. The Moslem world is split between Sunnis and Shia, and these groups have been in conflict since the Dark Ages. The fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq let loose a torrent of bloodletting between the branches of Islam that continues to this day. Mass suicide bombings and the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which practices “Shia cleansing” by massacring “enemy” forces, goes on daily. Women are frequently kidnapped into sexual slavery.  No end to this conflict is in sight.

Racial hatred still haunts the world, and not only in the American South. Much racial hatred harks back to the concept of “white supremacy” that pervaded Europe and the Americas during previous centuries. Less evolved civilizations and their inhabitants were deemed to be “inferior.” Lopsided military victories by the better- armed Europeans reinforced that view. And when Spanish priests seeking to save Native Americans from extinction began preaching that African’s black skins were a punishment from God that marked their ancestors’ evilness, generations became doomed to chattel slavery. The concept of world racial equality only began to receive acceptance in the last half of the Twentieth Century. Racial hatred still pervades many parts of this planet.  Racial hatred is a two-edged sword. Any race hating any other race(s) is racial hatred. Any race or nationality that feels itself superior to any other is, by definition, racist.

Hatred for people of Jewish extraction is a combination of religious and racial hatred. During the Middle Ages, Jews were condemned as “Christ killers” by the European churches. During the Crusades, large massacres of Jewish populations occurred all over Europe. These attitudes continued into the Twentieth Century. Anti-Semitists began to decry the “undue influence” of Jews on European history. But it remained for the Nazis of Germany to dub the Jews a “race” that needed to be exterminated. The Holocaust was the result. Creation of the State of Israel in Palestine was the United Nations’ attempt to compensate Jewish survivors for the atrocities they had suffered. Many Arabs viewed the event as the reestablishment of the crusaders’ Outremer kingdom. The attempt by surrounding Arab nations to snuff out Israel in its infancy led to the first of a series of wars that solidified a lasting hatred between the parties.

History is replete with other “holocausts” around the world. Many consider the subjugation of Native Americans by European settlers and their descendants to qualify in this category. The massacre of Armenians during World War One and the inter-tribal warfare in Rwanda clearly meet the standard. Massacres in the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the so-called “ethnic cleansing,” are another example.

Hatred on a personal level results in much of the violence in the world. Many cultures include the concept of vendettas, warfare between families over some wrong or perceived slight done to one of the parties. The cartoonist for Doonesbury captured the absurdity of some vendettas during the Iraq war. A mixed American/Iraqi team is about to go on a raid. The American tells the Iraqi that they must capture the target of the raid alive. The Iraqi replies that he must kill the target because of a family feud. One of the target’s kinsmen had killed one of the Iraqi’s family. The American asked when the killing occurred. The Iraqi replied, “in the Fourteenth Century.”

Hatred is corrosive to the human spirit. No good can ever come of it. Hatred makes a person bitter, paranoid, and spiteful. It consumes valuable mental energy that is better focused on bettering the human condition. It can also destroy the holder as well as the target. Author Jack Higgins likes to quote the old European proverb, “Before beginning a journey of revenge, it is necessary to dig TWO graves.” That sums up the fruits of hatred concisely.

I don’t have enough time left in my life to waste it on hatred. Humans all need to stop hating each other! 


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Warren Bell is an author of historical fiction.  He spent 29 years as a US Naval Officer, and has traveled to most of the places in the world that he writes about.  A long-time World War II-buff, his first two novels, Fall Eagle One and Hold Back the Sun are set during World War II.  His third novel, Asphalt and Blood, follows the US Navy Seabees in Vietnam.  His most recent novel, Snowflakes in July, is a Pentagon thriller about domestic terrorism.  He is currently working on a new novel, Endure A Cruel Sun, the sequel to his best-selling novel, Hold Back the Sun. For more about Warren Bell, visit his website at: wbellauthor.com or see him on twitter @wbellauthor.  

Monday, June 6, 2016

Reprise: A Day That Changed The World

Soldiers Storm OMAHA Beach
I originally planned to write about another subject today, but the significance of June 6th led me to change my mind. What happened on the coast of France seventy-two years ago today was one of the turning points of history. Here is a reprise of the thoughts I expressed on the subject last year.

June 6, 2016:  Seventy-two years ago today, the greatest fleet ever assembled in history launched the largest amphibious invasion ever undertaken.  Over 100,000 American, British, Canadian, French, and other Allied troops stormed ashore on five beaches in Normandy.  American and British airborne divisions preceded the landings by a few hours to disrupt the German lines-of-communications.

On some beaches, the invasion plan worked smoothly despite opposition from the defending German. But the American beach called OMAHA became a slaughterhouse. The defending positions were formidable, and German resistance proved almost fanatical. The beach became littered with dead and wounded attackers and destroyed equipment. The filmmakers of Saving Private Ryan vividly captured what these men endured. The situation seemed so dire that General Omar Bradley, the American commander, considered evacuating the beach entirely.  Then American leadership, training, initiative, and ingenuity turned the tide.

One on-site commander told his soldiers that there were two types of men on the beach: those who were already dead and those who were going to die. He admonished them  “Let’s take that hill and die inland.” Then he rose and led his men from the front. Engineers breached barriers holding up the troops, and the few tanks that made it ashore surged forward. Hundreds of soldiers overcame their terror and braved fierce fire to attack the defenders. They took the high ground, and the crisis was overcome.  By nightfall, all the landings were securely established.  Although much hard fighting still lay ahead, the fate of Nazi Germany was sealed.

D-Day occurred ten days before my eighth birthday. I still recall President Franklin Roosevelt’s somber radio announcement of the event to the American public and his solemn prayer for the success and safety of our fighting men. As I recall, the mood of the country was grim but determined.  The Axis had started this war, and they deserved whatever they were getting. We were damned well going to finish the war with total victory.

Almost every family in the United States had someone directly involved in World War II. Although my father was too old to serve, I had uncles and many cousins in the armed forces.  Some served in the Army, others in the Navy. Several served in the Army Air Forces. My close relatives endured combat in North Africa, Italy, Northwest Europe, New Guinea, the China-Burma-India Theater, and in the Pacific. One helped sink Japanese carriers at Midway to turn the tide of war in that region. He was one of the few torpedo plane pilots who made it back to his carrier. He remained on the USS Enterprise for the remainder of the war and fought in almost every major battle in the Pacific. My oldest brother-in-law flew 8th Air Force heavy bombers over Germany. It seemed that everyone studied world geography. Our family experience was typical of the entire country. We were a united nation, focused on the single purpose of victory. As I said in a previous blog post, we would not be so united again until the days immediately following September 11, 2001.

The Normandy landings cost the Allies over 9,000 soldiers, sailors, and airmen killed or wounded. Those of us in succeeding generations owe these men an enormous debt of gratitude. Their sacrifice in lives lost or maimed freed the world of the gruesome specter of Nazi conquest. Western Europe and the Americas remain free today as a result of their efforts.


Warren Bell is an author of historical fiction.  He spent 29 years as a US Naval Officer, and has traveled to most of the places in the world that he writes about.  A long-time World War II-buff, his first two novels, Fall Eagle One and Hold Back the Sun are set during World War II.  His third novel, Asphalt and Blood, follows the US Navy Seabees in Vietnam.  His most recent novel, Snowflakes in July, was released on September 15, 2015.  He is currently working on a new novel, Endure the Cruel Sun, the sequel to his best-selling novel, Hold Back the Sun. For more about Warren Bell, visit his website at: wbellauthor.com or see him on twitter @wbellauthor.  

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Dive-Bombers—The First Precision-Guided Munitions


Mention dive-bombers in any gathering of World War 2 enthusiasts, and you will instantly conjure up images of the ugly, bent-wing Ju88 Stuka, the German Luftwaffe’s primary close-support aircraft. Fighter pilots will sneeringly call dive-bombers, “A fighter pilot’s dream,” because they believe they are easy to shoot down. Very few people in and out of the military are aware of the critical role that dive-bombers played in winning the Second World War for the Allies.

The term, “dive-bombing,” is precisely descriptive. To execute such an attack, a pilot flying at an altitude of anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 feet altitude puts his aircraft into a steep dive and aims it directly as the target. U.S. Navy procedure called for a 70˚ dive. German and Japanese aircraft were limited to 65˚ dives. Using special dive brakes to maintain control during the high-speed dive, the pilot drops down to 1,000 to 2,000 feet above the target before pulling the his bomb release. As the bomb rotates out on its “crutch” to clear the propeller and falls away, the aviator pulls back on his controls, experiencing a force of six times normal gravity as the plane levels out at low altitude. Five seconds or less after bomb release, it strikes the target. The bomb has been controlled by the pilot’s brain to within seconds of impact.

Dive-bombing was first tried above the trenches in WW1. Heavy losses of aircraft and aircrew discouraged widespread adoption of the technique. European air forces largely ignored the concept in the interwar years. But as carrier-borne naval aviation developed rapidly in the 1920s, naval air forces revived the idea. Hitting a fast-moving and maneuvering ship in the open sea presents a complex problem. With both aerodynamic and weather forces acting on both aircraft and missiles, hitting a moving ship from a horizontal bombing position remained an unlikely proposition. The USN pressed forward with development of dive-bombers to solve the problem.



In 1931, the famed American Director, John Ford, released a film called Helldivers. Clark Gable and Wallace Berry portrayed two chief petty officers that flew dive-bombers. A typical Hollywood action film of the time, it did feature American naval aviation at that time and brought dive-bombing to the attention of all naval powers. That same year, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) issued its specification for a carrier-based dive-bomber.

At the 1931 Cleveland Air Races, German ace Ernst Udet observed a dive-bombing demonstration by Helldivers. The concept soon enthralled him. He convinced his WW1 commander, Hermann Goering, to buy two export versions of the Curtiss F11C-2 Goshawk Helldiver, for evaluation by the fledgling Luftwaffe. Later put in charge of aircraft development by Goering, Udet ordered that all German bombers be capable of dive-bombing. This requirement hindered development of a strategic bombing force in the Luftwaffe.

The spectacular successes of Germany’s Panzer columns operating with continuous dive-bomber support are a matter for separate discussion. The dive-bomber’s critical contributions to final victory were in the realm of naval warfare. Dive-bombing proved key to successes of both the USN and the IJN during the Pacific War.

In 1941, over half the aircraft on USN carriers were SBDs (Scout-Bomber-Douglas Aircraft) Dauntlesses. Thirty-six SBDs were divided into two squadrons, a Scouting squadron (VS) and a Bombing squadron (VB). In practice the squadrons were used interchangeably.

For a plane approaching obsolescence in 1941, the Dauntless was a remarkably capable warbird. Thirty-three feet long with a wingspan of almost 42 feet, the SBD had a 1,200 horsepower, 9-cylinder radial engine. It had a range of over 1,000 miles and aerodynamically pleasing shape. A long greenhouse canopy housed the pilot and radio operator/gunner. A 1,000-pound bomb could be carried on a “crutch” beneath the fuselage, and hard-points on each wing could bear 250-pound bombs. A typical combat load was either one 1,000-pounder or one 500-pounder and two 250-pounders. The Dauntless had a significant gun armament. The pilot controlled two .50-caliber machine guns firing through the propeller. The rear gunner had a pair of .30-caliber guns on a flexible mount. The pilot’s guns actually outranged those on a Japanese Zero fighter. The Dauntless was even frequently used in combat air patrol situations against slower torpedo bombers. It had a combat kill ratio of 3.2 to 1—better than some fighters.

In the first year of the Pacific War, SBDs sank six aircraft carriers, one battleship, three cruisers, a submarine, and fourteen transports, approximately 20 percent of IJN prewar tonnage. Of IJN warship losses during the Pacific War, dive bombers sank over 170. Submarines accounted for another 140 sinkings, and surface ships about 40 others.  Dive-bombers thus proved crucial to final victory by the USN.

SBDs will figure prominently in my next two novels about the Pacific War. I am currently writing about the Battle of the Coral Sea in Endure The Cruel Sun, sequel to my bestselling novel Hold Back the Sun. The Americans have just found the IJN light carrier, Shōhō.  Japan has won every battle to date. How will this one turn out?


Warren Bell is an author of historical fiction.  He spent 29 years as a US Naval Officer, and has traveled to most of the places in the world that he writes about.  A long-time World War II-buff, his first two novels, Fall Eagle One and Hold Back the Sun are set during World War II.  His third novel, Asphalt and Blood, follows the US Navy Seabees in Vietnam.  His most recent novel, Snowflakes in July, was released on September 15, 2015.  He is currently working on a new novel, Endure The Cruel Sun, the sequel to his best-selling novel, Hold Back the Sun. For more about Warren Bell, visit his website at: wbellauthor.com or see him on twitter @wbellauthor.  

Thursday, May 19, 2016

How Japan Came to Dominate Naval Aviation

'Kido Butai'  by Marii Chernev
Three weeks ago, I set aside my writing to concentrate on getting my left knee replaced with a new titanium alloy and plastic marvel. My leg is recovering nicely, and daily physical therapy is rapidly improving my use of the new joint. The time has come to return to the war in the Southwest Pacific Theater in May of 1942.

I left almost equally balanced American and Japanese naval air forces searching for each other in the vastness of the Coral Sea northeast of Australia.  Behind the Japanese strike force, a large invasion convoy is poised to spring through the Jounard Passage at the tip of New Guinea and seize the Allied bastion of Port Moresby, the last barrier before Australia.  How could a nation less that a hundred years removed from the Middle Ages be in a position to strike a deathblow to the world’s two foremost naval powers?

The dawn of fixed-wing aviation came at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Hardly had the Wright brothers taken to the air than forward-thinking naval and military officers recognized the advantages that aircraft might offer in battle. Of prime importance was simply locating the enemy. Naval commanders had been limited to the range of vision of lookouts posted atop mastheads since naval warfare commenced. Aircraft promised to extend that vision far beyond the horizon. Planes operating from shore bases were almost immediately available. But what was really needed were aircraft that could operate from ships at sea. Both Britain’s Royal Navy (RN) and the United States Navy began experimenting with various ideas even before World War I.

The use of seaplanes with floats, that allowed takeoffs and landings on water, became an obvious first step. Seaplane tenders, equipped with heavy cranes to transfer the aircraft between ship and water, became the first aircraft carriers.  The RN pressed ahead throughout the war, experimenting with foredeck landplane launch platforms, and then tacking on separate afterdeck landing decks with arrestor cables. Finally, the various concepts were combined on HMS Furious to provide a single long flight deck cleared of superstructure. On 2 August 1917, RN Squadron Commander E.H. Dunning made the first landing of a plane on a ship under way. The modern aircraft carrier had arrived.

Nowhere was the emerging naval aviation concept embraced more readily than by the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). When Japan’s 19th Century Emperor Meiji decided to modernize Japan, he and his governments decided to pattern their armed forces on those of the most successful European examples. Thus, Germany was chosen as the model Army. The British RN was the obvious choice for the new navy. Ties between the RN and IJN remained close well into the 20th Century. Japan actually conducted the world’s first successful naval launched air raid in September 1917, employing seaplanes from seaplane carrier IJN Wakamiya.

The IJN closely followed the RN aviation developments. As valued Allies against the Central Powers, IJN officers were allowed to observe operations and study the first purpose-built carrier design for HMS Hermes. Although begun later, IJN Hōshō became the world’s first built-from-scratch carrier.

In the 1920s, the western powers sought to limit the naval arms race by treaty limitations. Japan emerged from these negotiations very dissatisfied with the battleship and battle cruiser numbers and tonnage allowed to their empire. One area where the IJN retained significant flexibility was that of aircraft carrier construction. They took full advantage of this opportunity.

Japan immediately decided to convert to aircraft carriers two large battle cruisers then under construction. One was damaged beyond repair by an earthquake, but the second, IJN Akagi, went forward. An incomplete battleship, IJN Kaga, became the second new carrier. As soon as these ships joined the fleet, the IJN integrated them into fleet operations and developed their naval aviation doctrine. In the 1930s, more ships designed from the keel up filled out the fleet. IJN Sōryū and Hiryū were next off the building ways. At the end of the 1930s, IJN Shōkaku and IJN Zuikaku added additional punch to the fleet.

Japanese naval aviation experts gained further advantage because they were actually at war during the 1930s. New ideas could be tested under combat conditions. Unlike their western counterparts, IJN aviators came to believe that sea-based airpower should always be concentrated as much as possible. Raids combining the air groups of all ships available became their standard at a time that other navies tended to parcel out their carriers one or two at a time to protect their battle fleets. In a major war, IJN aviation was assigned the mission of seizing control of the air from the very beginning by massive attacks. The IJN understood “shock and awe” as early as the 1930s.

As fortune would have it, Japan’s rigid seniority-based promotion system elevated an aviation specialist, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, to the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet at this crucial point in history. Yamamoto had at his disposal a cadre of talented “young Turk” aviation staff officers and commanders, such as Lieutenant Commander Minoru Genda and Lieutenant Commander Mitsuo Fuchida. On their urging, he organized all six of his large carriers into the 1st air Fleet, commonly known as the Kido Butai (Strike Force). To compliment the carrier forces. Yamamoto also built up a large force of twin-engine, long range shore based bombers especially trained in bomb and torpedo attacks against ships. Named the 11th Air Fleet, this force could deploy rapidly to newly conquered bases to extend control of the air by hundreds of miles.

Japan’s aviation industry kept pace with the forward thinking navy visionaries. By 1940, the torpedo bombers and dive bombers being produced were at least as good as their western contemporaries. And in the Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighters, Japan possessed the finest carrier fighter in the world at that time. Designed to operate both off carriers and in support of the 11th Air Fleet, the Zero possessed a phenomenal range of almost 1,200 miles.

Choosing IJN pilots and their training regimen were highly selective, resulting in almost perfect human specimens. For instance, candidates had to be able to see the primary navigation guide stars in broad daylight. Intense physical and instructive training characterized the program. Only a small percentage of each class actually achieved their coveted wings. Naval aviators were the elite of the elite. Combat experience in China honed this cadre of experts into a finely sharpened rapier. The process worked well in the relatively low level combat of the 1930s, but it was incapable of producing a large number of replacements to meet the demands of high intensity combat.

Kido Butai and the 11th Air Fleet performed superbly in the opening months of the Pacific War, savaging the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and sinking the Royal Navy’s battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battle cruiser Repulse in the Gulf of Siam. The protagonists of my second novel, Hold Back The Sun, battled elements of Japan’s naval aviation in the skies over Borneo and Java and over the seas in between. Chased out of the Dutch East Indies, my characters now face battle in the seas and skies of the Coral Sea northeast of Australia in my current work-in-progress, Endure The Cruel Sun. Will they meet defeat yet again? Or is fortune finally deserting the victory-drunk Japanese forces?


Warren Bell is an author of historical fiction.  He spent 29 years as a US Naval Officer, and has traveled to most of the places in the world that he writes about.  A long-time World War II-buff, his first two novels, Fall Eagle One and Hold Back the Sun are set during World War II.  His third novel, Asphalt and Blood, follows the US Navy Seabees in Vietnam.  His most recent novel, Snowflakes in July, was released on September 15, 2015.  He is currently working on a new novel, Endure the Cruel Sun, the sequel to his best-selling novel, Hold Back the Sun. For more about Warren Bell, visit his website at: wbellauthor.com or see him on twitter @wbellauthor.  

Saturday, May 7, 2016

On My Way Back—Doing the Physical Therapy

Measuring Knee Angle

I’ve had my new left knee for over ten days now. It has mostly been a positive experience. There has, of course, been pain, but not nearly so much as I had been led to expect. Modern anesthesiology blocked a great deal of the pain at times when it would normally been the worst. But current physical therapy practice is to begin moving replacement joints very soon after installation. My sainted mother used to say that, “Old age isn’t for cowards,” and the same can be said for surgery. But the pain is very manageable. And I can say without equivocation that I’m already more capable than I was before the operation.

Physical Therapy is key to recovery from any major injury or surgery. I learned this lesson well over thirty years ago when I originally broke my left leg. Proper exercise to recondition and strengthen the muscles and ligaments around the effected joint(s) are imperative. Physical Therapists are trained to evaluate progress in joint recovery and determine the next level of workload necessary to continue improving the situation.

I had my knee replaced at the Sentara OrthoJoint Center® in Williamsburg, Virginia. The Center has an outstanding staff of Orthopedic surgeons, Orthopedic Patient Navigators, nurses, and Physical Therapists who are dedicated to the most effective recovery for their patients. From the time one wakes up from the operation, the emphasis is to move, move, move! Inactivity is the enemy of those who would be physically capable, especially those of us with a few years under our keels. Complete success for every patient is their minimum standard of performance. I owe a great debt of gratitude to these consummate medical professionals!

Fortunately, My medical insurance allowed me to have home nursing and physical therapy services from the KARYA HOME CARE INC. These began immediately after my release from the hospital. I was assigned a skilled nurse, an occupational therapist, and a physical therapist. All three women are extremely knowledgeable and have skill in motivating their patients.

I have been continually surprised by my progress. After walking on a severely bowed leg for decades, I had expected to have difficulties adjusting. Instead, I felt immediately at home with equal length legs and my center of gravity back in the right place. I went from  shaky performance on a walker to easy walking with a cane in just a few days. My new situation feels “normal.”

I must say a few words about pain management. From well before the operation, advice from doctors, friends, and relatives who have had similar work done was to, “stay ahead of the pain.” In other words, don’t wait to try to overcome pain—preempt it ahead of time. That’s good advice, even if there are some negative trade-offs.

I’m not a fan of opioid painkillers. I don’t like what they do to my thought processes. I find it almost impossible to write while under their influence. I even found composing a simple Tweet difficult. Fortunately, my daughter/publicist, Karen B. Williams, has stepped in to keep things moving.  

Any reader of my novels realizes at once that I have great respect for medical professionals.  From World War II to Vietnam and beyond, many of my pages are peopled with doctor and nurse characters. In fact, one of the main characters in my upcoming book ENDURE THE CRUEL SUN, sequel to my bestselling novel HOLD BACK THE SUN, is a US Navy nurse! I believe that my personal medical experiences should make my writing about these heroes more authentic.


Warren Bell is an author of historical fiction.  He spent 29 years as a US Naval Officer, and has traveled to most of the places in the world that he writes about.  A long-time World War II-buff, his first two novels, Fall Eagle One and Hold Back the Sun are set during World War II.  His third novel, Asphalt and Blood, follows the US Navy Seabees in Vietnam.  His most recent novel, Snowflakes in July, was released on September 15, 2015.  He is currently working on a new novel, Endure the Cruel Sun, the sequel to his best-selling novel, Hold Back the Sun. For more about Warren Bell, visit his website at: wbellauthor.com or see him on twitter @wbellauthor.  


 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Built in the 1930s - All Original Parts - Some Still Work

Warren recovering in his favorite recliner.

For several years, I have seen t-shirts advertised with the above caption. I always meant to get one. I was, after all, born in 1936. But now it’s too late. I don’t still have all my original parts. Last Monday my orthopedic surgeon flattened the surfaces of my left knee, cut mortises in the new surfaces, and installed a full knee replacement joint. My weight is now borne through plastic bearings onto titanium alloy surfaces. I am already walking on the new joint (with a walker). There is some pain, but I can manage it. And for the first time in 33 years, both my legs are the same length.

My surgeon and anesthesiologist used a series of pain blockers that delayed the onset of pain for about twenty-four hours. When I initially woke up from the operation, I felt hardly any pain at all. I was able to do all the exercises ordered by my physical therapists with no problems. I was beginning to think that this operation was a snap when the pain blockers started to wear off. That got my attention in a hurry!

The second day following the surgery was definitely the worst as far as pain was concerned. One just has to tough it out! Almost continuous therapy to straighten and then flex the new joint can definitely be quite uncomfortable. So can using a walker be. I mastered that art fairly quickly; it seemed to come natural to me. However, throw rugs are booby traps of the most serious order. All our rugs are now piled in the dining room.

It appears that how fast I will be able to get “back to battery” will depend largely on me. The harder I work, the better off I’ll be.  And the sooner I’ll get back to writing on Endure the Cruel Sun, the sequel to my best-selling novel, Hold Back the Sun.  The Battle of the Coral Sea beckons.


Warren Bell is an author of historical fiction.  He spent 29 years as a US Naval Officer, and has traveled to most of the places in the world that he writes about.  A long-time World War II-buff, his first two novels, Fall Eagle One and Hold Back the Sun are set during World War II.  His third novel, Asphalt and Blood, follows the US Navy Seabees in Vietnam.  His most recent novel, Snowflakes in July, was released on September 15, 2015.  He is currently working on a new novel, Endure the Cruel Sun, the sequel to his best-selling novel, Hold Back the Sun. For more about Warren Bell, visit his website at: wbellauthor.com or see him on twitter @wbellauthor.