Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thanksgiving in the 1940s

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 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 others 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.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Are We Really Listening?

My wife, Annette, and I have an excellent financial consultant named Ric Edelman who manages some of our assets for us.  Every month, Ric puts out a little paper called Inside Personal Finance (IPF). The newsletter is chock full of tidbits on financial management and investments. To lighten the overall tenor of the document, Ric’s wife, Jean, also puts in her own column called, The Other Side of Money. After pouring over the November copy of IPF, Annette pointed out Jean’s column and said, “You’ve got to read this!”

Jean’s column was entitled, “You Are Not Listening to Me.” Jean enumerated a number of reasons many people are not good listeners. Here are a few of the mistakes she lists:
  • Instead of listening, we are thinking about what we want to say next.
  • We listen just long enough to decide whether what is being said conforms to their own view.
  • We don’t let the other person finish. Instead, we begin to spout out solutions before the problem has been fully identified.
  • We filter and judge based on pre-existing assumptions, expectations, and intentions. 
After reading Jean’s column, I had to admit guilt on all four counts. I’m especially prone to commit number 3, but I commit the others as well. Fortunately, Jean offers suggestions on how to improve conversations.
  • Limit our talking in the conversation.
  • Stop assuming we know what the other person will say.
  • Turn off all electronics so we‘re not distracted.
  • Take notes to help us stay focused on the conversation.
  • Paraphrase what we think was said and ask whether we are hearing correctly.
  • Ask clarifying questions.
  • Notice facial expressions and body language—those are part of the conversations too. 
This is really good advice. I might paraphrase Jean’s recommendations by saying, “Forget about yourself and PAY ATTENTION to the other members of the conversation.  To be a good listener requires concentration on other people. You cannot stop your brain from continuously analyzing what others are saying, but you must resist the urge to blurt out your incomplete results.

Many people are fond of complaining about the status of the world today.  I believe that a big part of the problem is that we are not really listening to one another.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Forgiving the Unforgivable

Last week, my wife and I watched the movie, Philomena, for the first time. Based on a true story, the film tells about an Irish woman’s  years-long search for the illegitimate son who was taken from her as a baby and sold for adoption by a Catholic nunnery. Near the end of the movie, Philomena and the journalist who had been helping her confront the old nun primarily responsible for keeping the mother and son apart. Astonishingly, Philomena turns to the nun and says, “I want you to know, Sister, that I forgive you.” The journalist, who is focused on retribution, is stunned. How can such forgiveness be possible?

While doing research on my second novel, Hold Back the Sun, and the sequel I have just begun, I studied several books that detailed the suffering of Allied prisoners of war (POWs) and interned civilians during the Pacific war. These prisoners were beaten, worked like slaves, and systematically starved during their entire captivity. Some women were forced to become sex slaves for the Japanese Army. The POW Research Network Japan reported that some 27 percent of military prisoners died in captivity. Crew members of ships taking former Dutch internees from Indonesia to Holland reported that after meals, the women viewed food as so precious that they would sweep the crumbs off the dining tables and save them for eating later.

This week, Anna Fifield had an article in the Washington Post about a visit to Japan by several 90-something-year-old former POWs. After detailing the horrors the men experienced, Fifield states that, “What was striking about the three former POWs was not just how little resentment they harbored but how happy they seemed for Japan.” She quotes one as saying, “I get a kick out of seeing how well this nation is doing.”

One of my research sources is the book, Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose. The wartime memoir of an American missionary interned for years in a camp on Makassar, Rose relates the horrors endured by the women, but goes on to tell of how she was concerned with changing the hearts of her captors. Forgiveness was at the core of her beliefs.  In my research, I encountered other references to former prisoners forgiving their previous tormentors.

How can people find it within themselves to forgive the unforgivable? I believe that both Philomena and Darlene Deibler Rose found their forgiveness in their religion. Both were dedicated Christians. For the old soldiers, the reasons are less clear.  Forgiving one’s enemies, however, isn’t just a Christian concept. Confucius is quoted as advising, “He who refuses to forgive burns the bridges over which he, too, must cross.” The Buddha wrote that “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

Many in today’s world might consider the forgiving people above to be insane. For decades, the mantra of many has been, “Don’t get mad, get even.” Payback has become a prized concept. Hate, revenge and retribution seem to be the order of the day. I find that I can no longer subscribe to such notions. Novelist Jack Higgins frequently quoted the old proverb, “Before departing on a journey of revenge, first dig two graves.” The second grave, of course, was for the avenger. There is wisdom in those words. Hate corrodes the human spirit. I do not have enough time left in my life to waste any on hatred. To paraphrase Gandhi, “If everyone practiced ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ the world would be filled with toothless blind people.”

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Use It or Lose It

When a younger performer suggested that country music legend George Jones and other older singers should step aside and leave the scene to the next generation, Jones responded with a new popular song called, I Don’t Need No Rocking Chair!” The song is a vigorous defense of the contributions that older people still have to make to society. I have subscribed whole heartedly to this position since I adopted Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses as my philosophy as a teenager. Tennyson has the ancient Greek hero speak these words to the surviving crew who shared his twenty-year voyage home from Troy:
My mariners,
Souls’ that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me
   That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and oppos’d
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil;
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Mov’d earth and heaven, that which we are, we are:
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

I don’t believe that, when looking at me, most people see an Indie author of three novels that have won awards and appeared on bestseller lists.  Yet, although I am in my 79th year, except for some creakiness when I get up in the morning, I don’t feel like an old person.  This didn’t just happen by chance. Before I began publishing Indie novels at 75, I was beginning to slow down. Even as this was happening, I realized that much of it was my own fault. There is an old adage about aging that says, “use it or lose it.” I was not using either my body or my brain enough. Armed with exercise sheets provided by my doctor, I was able to minimize the aches and pains that were invading my body by regular exercise. Reactivating my brain required that my mental faculties be worked just as rigorously.

Entering the Indie author arena came rather naturally to me. I had aspired to be a novelist all my life. Several manuscripts that I had started over the years were still in my computer. The eBook revolution taking place in book publishing provided opportunity. The Internet makes research infinitely easier that in my earlier years. But preparing and publishing eBooks is hard work that demands meticulous attention. Completely focusing the mind is required. But the more I wrote, the sharper my mind seemed to become. I enjoy life much more now than I did in my mid-70s. 

My current role model is the South African novelist, Wilbur Smith. The author of scores of highly successful novels, Smith has done some of his best writing in his 70s and 80s, including #1 Bestsellers. At 81, he has just published the latest in his series dealing with ancient Egypt, Desert God. The book became an instant bestseller in Great Britain when published there. Look for it on the New York Times Bestseller List in the next few months. I have written before that if you want to understand Africa, read Wilbur Smith’s novels. I follow him on Facebook, and I am amazed to read his posts about salmon fishing in Norway and exhaustive book signing tours in Great Britain. He keeps both his body and his mind continuously active.

I know that I will never be anywhere near as good a writer as Wilbur Smith. But I can aspire to emulate his active lifestyle. Like him, I hope to continue writing as long as I am physically able. I don’t enjoy feel like an old man.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The “Where Were You When…” Events of My Life

I have experienced three momentous “where were you when…” events in my life. The first occurred on December 7, 1941. I was only five-and-a-half at the time, but the moment when we learned that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor is one of the most vivid memories of my childhood. The second came on November 22, 1963. What I was doing when I heard that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated is burned indelibly into my consciousness. We have just observed the thirteenth anniversary of my latest “where were you…” experiencethe Al Qaeda attacks in New York and Washington with hijacked airliners.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, my wife, Annette, and I were travelling the roads of South Arkansas, on our way home to Virginia after visiting relatives. Heavy congestion on I-30 because of extensive reconstruction led us to us to use two-lane secondary roads through the dense pine forests. Radio reception was poor, so we were listening to classical music CDs rather than the radio. As we finally turned onto a freeway just south of Little Rock, we decided to search for traffic news. As soon as the radio came on, we learned of the first attack on the Twin Towers in New York.

Just a few minutes later, the news station reported the second crash into the towers live. We were hardly onto the Little Rock bypass when the announcer told of the third crash into the Pentagon. When we learned that the plane had flown into the Pentagon at the heliport, our hearts seemed to stop. Our son, Stephen, was serving on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations. Although his office was in another building, we knew that he spent a great deal of time in the section of the Pentagon that had been destroyed.

Annette immediately tried to call Stephen on her cellphone. But by that time, all cell service with the Washington area was frozen. She tried his home phone and then that of our daughter, Karen, who lived in Alexandria, Virginia. Again, no calls went through. After a quick discussion, we decided to press on toward Virginia. We soon approached a rest area, where I knew there were pay phones. Thinking that I might be able to get through on a landline, I stopped and attempted to call both my daughter and daughter-in-law. Nothing went through. The entire Capital area was in a communications blackout.

We continued to drive northward. As we neared Memphis, we finally got a call from our daughter. She reported that her family was okay, but she had no word about her brother. She told us that she had learned from a government contact that more hijacked planes were on the way to Washington and that she and her family were evacuating. She strongly urged us to go back to our relatives’ home in Arkansas and wait for further news. Being a stubborn old Seabee, I resolved to go on to Virginia. No terrorist was going to dictate my actions.

Just after crossing into Tennessee, word came that the Twin Towers had both collapsed. This came as a shock, but after reflection, I was not surprised. I am a civil engineer, and I was trained to evaluate the effects of severe heat on steel beams. Once the first failures occurred, the “pancake” failure of the other floors was inevitable.

As we cruised up I-40 through East Tennessee, we got our first good news of the day. Our daughter-in-law called us on the cellphone to tell us that our son was safe. He was not in the Pentagon at the time of the crash, but he had lost several good Navy friends in the explosion and fire.

The last piece of major news that day was of the crash of United Airlines Flight 93. At first, there were only rumors that the passengers had revolted and caused the crash.

We stopped for the night in a hotel in Cookeville, Tennessee. Only after we checked in and reached our room were we able to see the day’s events on television. Seeing it all for ourselves, the horrible reality of the attacks finally struck home. But by then, the facts surrounding the crash of Flight 93 were becoming clear from cell phone calls made from the aircraft.

Aboard the United flight, the hijackers moved all the passengers together near the back of the cabin. They allowed the captives to keep their cellphones, perhaps even encouraged their use to spread fear and shock. The terrorists made one fatal assumption: that the passengers would be cowed and sheepishly obey their orders. Big mistake! Once the passengers learned what had happened to the other hijacked planes, they got organized and resolved to go down fighting.  Upon learning that one passenger was qualified to fly the aircraft, they hatched a plan to storm the cockpit and take control of the plane.

The flight attendants boiled water in their coffee pots. Then, on the command, “Let’s roll,” a group charged up the aisle toward the cockpit. They immobilized the terrorist guarding the cockpit door by throwing scalding water onto him. But once the door was breached, one of the terrorists inside pushed the controls forward and dived into the ground, killing all aboard. But either the White House or the U.S. Capitol was spared destruction, and countless lives on the ground were doubtless saved.

The terrorists had hoped to foster fear and despair among the American public. As far as I was concerned, they failed miserably. My first reactions were anger and a thirst for revenge. But then my pride in the Heroes of Flight 93 became dominant. All Americans learn early on to think for themselves. Faced with a stark choice between certain death and a slim chance to survive, the passengers on Flight 93 chose to go down fighting. They made me proud to be an American.

Photo: "World Trade Center, New York City - aerial view (March 2001)" by Jeffmock - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -,_New_York_City_-_aerial_view_(March_2001).jpg#mediaviewer/File:World_Trade_Center,_New_York_City_-_aerial_view_(March_2001).jpg

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Gender-Based Book Classifications: Still Relevant?

When I was working with an agent on my first book, Fall Eagle One, the agent called my action/adventure novel, “a boy book.” After publication, one of my biggest surprises was the large number of women readers who really like the book. I never envisioned that a World War 2 story about German aviators flying to the U.S. to kill President Roosevelt would find a following among women. I should have known better. With stereotypes about the respective roles of men and women rapidly evolving from those that existed in my youth, I should have anticipated that the barriers between gender-based book classifications would also begin to blur.

My own reading experience should have alerted me. Prior to becoming an Indie author at 75, I was a voracious reader, plowing through four-six books a week. Once I discovered that I liked a writer, I would read every book in the library that he had written. After finishing all of Jonathan Kellerman’s police thrillers, I read one by his wife, Faye Kellerman, on a whim. I found myself enthralled. Ms. Kellerman writes excellent police fiction. With my eyes finally opened, I began reading other women crime thriller authors as well. They were all great reads. Women write action/adventure that stacks up very well against that by male authors. But do women like to read action/adventure? My experience with both of my published novels leads me to believe that they do.

I believe that the days when men wrote books for men to read and women wrote books for only women are becoming a phenomenon of the past. Consider the genre of erotica, once the exclusive purview of men, both as authors and consumers. Then, when Rosemary Rogers published her novel, The Insiders, in the 1970s, a Time Magazine reviewer proclaimed that she had invented a new genre: pornography for women. Fast forward to the 2010s. Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James took the publishing world by storm. Most reports suggest that the majority of Ms. James’s readers are also women, but I’ll bet that a lot are men. It would be interesting to sample the audiences of the upcoming movie.

Books written for children can also become wildly popular with adults. Look at the runaway success of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Ms. Rowling clearly enchanted boys, girls, men, and women. As Bob Dylan wrote, “The times, they are a changing.”

Stereotyped gender roles are fast fading from Western society, and I think this to be a good thing.  I believe strongly in individual freedom. The old “one-size-fits-all” way of viewing human relationships is no longer acceptable to emerging Western generations. I would not want any of the women in my life, whatever their age, to be forced into a gender-role straight jacket.

Friday, August 15, 2014

We Take So Much for Granted

 Today, we live in a world of technological marvels.  We take most of them for granted. Yet so many of the innovations we enjoy did not exist within the lifetimes of many people alive right now. A few years ago, a woman who had reached the age of 100 was asked what was the greatest improvement she had seen in her life. Her answer was simple” “Central heating.” She might have added, “And air conditioning.”

Even in the mid-Twentieth Century, central heating and air conditioning were luxuries enjoyed only by the wealthy that lived in the cities. Everyone else was still dependent on open flame for heating and had no defense at all against excessive heat. In the depths of winter, people clustered around fireplaces of wood-burning stoves to keep from freezing. At bedtime, fires were banked to preserve live coals. Temperatures within houses soon dropped to match that outside. People wore heavy sleeping clothes and scarves or nightcaps on their heads to stay warm.

In the rare instances where running water existed, faucets were left open to prevent water from freezing and breaking the pipes. Water in open buckets would freeze overnight. When a family arose the next morning, the first chores were to get the fires going to provide heat. Women cooked breakfast either in the fireplace or on wood-burning iron “ranges.” Providing an ample supply of split wood consumed a great deal of time, usually for the male children. Just staying warm and preparing food consumed a large percentage of human energy.

In the heat of summer, people sweltered.  Heavy sweating was taken for granted. In that age before deodorant, people used perfume or cologne to cover the smell. Daily bathing was limited to well-off city dwellers. Rural families were limited to sponge baths or a once-a-week dip in a galvanized washtub.

Most of the country lacked electricity until well into the Twentieth Century. Those lucky enough to own radios depended on batteries not much smaller than those in an automobile. Listening time had to be carefully rationed to preserve the battery charge for as long as possible. Indoor lighting was limited to candles and oil lamps. Only those lucky enough to own “Aladdin” lamps using mantles like Coleman lanterns enjoyed illumination anywhere close to that of an electric bulb. A can full of coal oil (kerosene) was a necessary weekly purchase. Television and computers remained undreamed of luxuries.

Having painted what to my grandchildren is a horrifying picture of life in my early youth, it saddens me to realize that a large segment of humankind still exists in such conditions. Those of us in the Western world should consider ourselves extremely blessed to enjoy our current circumstances. We should be thankful people, not resentful that this or that person might have more “stuff” than we do. And we need to do what we can to relieve human suffering throughout the world. We need to get outside ourselves and focus on making the world a better place for all.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Keeping Focused While Wrapping Up a Book

I am a lifelong fan of newspaper comic strips. When I was a young man, the comic strip characters with whom I identified were Steve Canyon and Buzz Sawyer. For those too young to remember, Steve was an Air Force aviator, while Buzz was a Navy test pilot. Today, however, I have more in common with Earl Pickles, a retiree who lives with his longtime wife, Opal. They are creations of the artist, Brian Crane, and the strip is entitled, Pickles.

One recent strip which I found entertaining opened with Opal coming into the room with Earl and saying, “I thing I’m getting the ‘but first’ syndrome.” Earl perks up and asks, “What’s that?” “You know,” Opal continues. “I start to do something but then decide to do something else first. But then I decide to do something before I do that. Pretty soon, I think of so many ‘but firsts’ that I forget what I started out to do originally.” “Whee!” mumbles Earl, wiping his brow. “I was afraid you were going to start walking around backwards.”

As I press forward to wrap up my new Vietnam novel, Asphalt and Blood, I fear I’m suffering from the “but first” syndrome. My mind should have a laser-like focus on the tasks remaining before the book can be launched. Instead, my attention keeps drifting to future writing projects. New characters, situations, and plot lines keeping popping into my head uninvited.  Two new series are trying to take over my mind.

I have dealt with this problem before. In my days as a U.S. Naval officer and municipal engineer, I began many writing projects. I would get to a certain point, and then work situations would require that I lay writing aside for a while. When time again became available, my mind tended to leap off on some other idea to write about. Only when I retired from my engineering jobs did I find the self discipline to see a novel through to the end. After I thought I had completed the manuscript for Fall Eagle One, I convinced an agent to take it on. Three extensive rewrites transpired before the book was ready to shop to publishers. Early 2002 proved a tough time to sell a book about aircraft attacking the continental U.S., so I had to have patience and wait for a better world situation.

Self discipline is required to get any writing project into print, especially for the Indie author. Doing everything that an agent and publisher’s editor do for the conventional writer can be a daunting task. Manuscripts must not only be well written and cleanly presented, but modifying formats for the Internet is also required. Covers must be designed or procured. Short, attractive descriptions of the work must be written. Internet publisher’s applications have to be precisely filled out and entered.

Just as important, one must have a strategic plan for marketing the new work. Teaser advertisements on social media need to be scheduled weeks ahead of publication to build up pent-up demand. Blog posts remain to be written, websites updated, new business cards printed. A site for launching must be chosen and scheduled far in advance. One must not forget press releases, both on the work itself and on the launching.

So I tell myself, “Suck it up, Bell! Get Asphaltand Blood on the street before you go off chasing a new idea. Those new characters and plot lines will not fade completely. They’ll still be there when the time comes to exploit them. In the meantime, get your nose back to the grindstone! As Snuffy Smith used to say in the comics, “Time’s a wastin’.”

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Nature of War

I write historical novels about war. My first book, Fall Eagle One, is about World War II in Europe. My second novel, Hold Back the Sun, is set in the opening months of the Pacific War in the Western Pacific. Asphalt and Blood, which is at the copy edit phase, tells the story of U.S. Navy Seabees in the Vietnam Battle for Hue City.

In order to write about war, one must understand it. I spent over 29 years in the U.S. Navy, of which seventeen months were in Vietnam. I hold the Navy’s Combat Action Ribbon. An amateur historian all my life, I have concentrated my studies on WW2. From personal experience and rigorous study, I believe that I have an understanding of modern warfare.

War is, by its very nature, barbaric and horrific. The purpose of war is to impose one’s will on the enemy through the use of military force. War is not a duel, with rules to assure that one opponent has no advantage over the other. War is successful only when the enemy loses the will to resist.

In today’s Washington Post, Eliot A. Cohen, former Counselor of the U.S. State Department, argues persuasively that many in today’s Washington, D.C., do not understand the nature of war. He points out that President Abraham Lincoln hated war as much as anyone on earth, yet he understood that winning the American Civil War required his generals to break the will of the Confederate population to continue the struggle. I assert in Fall Eagle One that Union generals invented the modern concept of Total War as it was practiced in WW2. The “scorched earth” campaigns carried out by General Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley and General Sherman’s March to the Sea in Georgia speak for themselves. Photographs of Richmond, Virginia, after its surrender look much like those of Berlin in 1945.

Only rigorous application of force makes possible a rapid conclusion of hostilities and a minimization of total casualties. Following the suicide bombing of U.S. Marines in Lebanon early in his administration, President Reagan ordered Caspar Weinberger, the Secretary of Defense, to develop a new doctrine for the use of military force. The resulting “Weinberger Doctrine,” sometimes called the “Weinberger/Powell Doctrine,” espoused the following: 
  1. military force should only be used as a last resort in situations where key national interests are involved, 
  2. military force should only be used in situations where a large majority of the U.S. public supports its use, and 
  3. when military action is taken, it should be in such overwhelming force that the ensuing conflict is concluded quickly, thereby minimizing overall casualties. 
This doctrine governed U.S. military involvements through the NATO actions in the Balkans during the Clinton Administration. 

Unfortunately, sometime during the run-up to the Vietnam War, the competing doctrines of “Just Enough Force” and “Proportionality” crept into the conduct of war. For years, the U.S. attempted to apply just enough military pressure to force the North Vietnamese to give up their conquest of the South. When Moshe Dayan, the former Defense Minister of Israel, visited Vietnam in the 1960s, he was asked how the U.S. could end the war. His answer was direct: take the war to the enemy’s homeland. Because obliterating North Vietnam’s capacity to continue fighting was not even being considered, the Vietnam War dragged on for years.

“Proportionality” implies that, when attacked, the response should be no more severe than the attack. This doctrine seems especially attractive to reporters in the news media, who ask about it continually when interviewing combatants. “Proportionality” calls for a “leveling of the playing field,” a minimization of one side’s military advantages. In the context of warfare, “proportionality” guarantees prolonged conflict, which in turn maximizes total casualties. Pursuing this course is anathema to any competent military commander.

War is not some game. People suffer and die in war. It is not, as Chancellor Bismarck argued, simply “Diplomacy by other means.” As I said earlier, war is both barbaric and horrific. I believe that Secretary Weinberger and General Powell got it right on the use of military force.  Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, and Harry Truman all understood the nature of war and applied overwhelming force to end WW2. Current world leaders could emulate their wisdom.

Note: Warren Bell is a historical fiction author with two novels for sale either for Kindle or in paperback from Both are set during WWII, with Fall Eagle One taking place in Europe, and Hold Back the Sunset in the war in the Pacific.  

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Realities of Our Interconnected World

The world in which I grew up was relatively simple. Most people lived and died in the area in which they were born. Transportation was still mainly by train, with automobiles slowly gaining ascendance. Communication between cities consisted mostly of what is now called, “snail mail.” Radio and land-line telephones provided our only electronic links with the rest of the world, supplemented by newsreels between double features at the local movie houses on weekends. Television had just been invented but was not widely available. Computers and the Internet were scarcely even dreamed of.  Individual countries had separate economies that dealt mainly within their own borders. Events on one side of the world had little effect on people or economies on the other.

Our world today is far different. Electronic networks bind us to people all over the globe. Social media allows interchanges between individuals of different cultures with vastly differing lifestyles. Globalization has bound the economies of most nations together in webs of interdependence. Events in one part of the world can have catastrophic effects on markets far distant from one another. Closure of a pipeline in a remote area can drive up world-wide oil prices. Drought in South America can affect the price of a cup of coffee in Europe, Asia, and the U.S. Economic destabilization of one country in the Euro Zone threatens all the economies of the Western world. Labor rates have been leveled throughout the globe.

Nations are now interdependent in ways unimagined in the mid-Twentieth Century. Sometimes I wonder if our political systems are up to the task of coping with the new realities. They will be only so long as people dedicated to the advancement of humankind are willing to devote their energies to the effort.

Many people throughout the world yearn for a return to simpler days. Demonstrations at global economic meetings demonstrate the depth of such movements. Political parties dedicated to nationalistic economics are proliferating. Anti-immigration groups are growing in many Western countries. Longing for the days when each nation-state could control its national economy is evident throughout the world. Unfortunately for those who long for the past, I believe that time has passed them by.

Nations and peoples throughout the world must learn to live together under the new realities. Nostalgia for a simpler past will not cut it on the interconnected globe on which we live. The problem is that we don’t seem to know how to do this. Humans tend to divide the world into “us” and “them.” Differences in skin pigmentation, language, religion, and the “developed” and “undeveloped” nations created chasms that are hard or almost impossible to bridge. Has our technology outstripped our political capabilities. Can we learn to live together in harmony?

I fear that all I am doing is raising questions. It will take people far wiser than I to solve the complex problems of globalization. But I remain an optimist, a “glass half-full” person. Humankind has solved daunting problems before, and I believe that we shall again. However, looking backward with nostalgia is not the answer. As my mother-in-law used to say, “The good-old- days never really existed--especially for women.” We can’t go back. We must move forward.

Note: Warren Bell is a historical fiction author with two novels for sale either for Kindle or in paperback from Both are set during WWII, with Fall Eagle One taking place in Europe, and Hold Back the Sun set in the war in the Pacific.  

Sunday, July 13, 2014

My Electronic Window on the World

Few computers existed when my generation came of age. My first Navy duty station, the Naval Research Laboratory, had one of them for use in scientific calculations. That computer occupied an entire floor of a large laboratory building. It consisted of hundreds of interconnected aluminum chasses filled with vacuum tubes. The machine hardly ever ran   more than half an hour without at least one tube burning out and shutting it down. Yet it made the computations for the first space flights conducted by the U.S. Today, my iPhone has greater capacity than that laboratory computer.

Many people my age are still reluctant to adopt the computer lifestyle. Some even seem to take pride in not spending any time interacting with electronic machines.  I understand this reluctance. My children and grandchildren do seem to spend an inordinate amount of time staring at computer screens. For a time, I too resisted moving my mind into the 21st Century. However, my desire to maintain contact with my progeny finally overcame my reluctance. Like it or not, electronic messaging has become the preferred method of communication for the younger generations. I now text, have both personal and professional Facebook pages, and tweet extensively. At first shocked to receive text messages from me, my children and grandchildren now regularly exchange electronic messages with me.

When Peter the Great established St. Petersburg in the early 1700s, he called it his “Window on the West.” I look on my computers as my window on the world. Not only is a vast amount of knowledge now available at my fingertips, but a new world of human interaction also awaits my participation. E-mail and texting allow real time communications. Facebook provides instant interaction with a circle of friends that has no geographical limits. By far, my widest range of interaction with other humans comes through Twitter.

When my daughter offered to set up an electronic marketing program for FALL EAGLE ONE, my debut novel, I had no idea what I was getting into. After she set up my Twitter account, I began experimenting in earnest. I seem to have a facility for composing 140-character book sales pitches, so that soon became a part of my routine.  After a few weeks, a light suddenly came on inside my head. I realized that Twitter can be an ever-expanding platform for marketing my writing. As my “followers” re-tweet my postings to their “followers,” my message spreads like the expanding ripples from a rock thrown into a glassy-surfaced pond. The more people hear about one’s work, the more sales can be expected.

I learned early on to adopt a courteous attitude in my Twitter communications. After all, good manners alone dictate that one should thank others for taking the time to re-tweet your posts or become new followers. However, the contact I feel with my followers soon went far beyond just good manners. Regular exchanges on the Internet with many of the same people establishes bonds of communication that continue to expand. A kind of friendship actually develops. My horizons have broadened to encompass other countries and other societies. I currently have over 5,600 “followers” from all over the world. My life is much richer because of these contacts. I hope that interacting with me has enriched the lives of those who read my electronic communications.

My sympathies go out to those of my generation who choose to limit their interactions to the physical world. They are missing out on a whole world of intellectual stimulation. For as long as my mind continues to work, I plan to write fiction and interact with my Internet friends. I pray that my remaining time may be productive. 

Note: Warren Bell is a historical fiction author with two novels for sale either for Kindle or in paperback from Both are set during WWII, with Fall Eagle One taking place in Europe, and Hold Back the Sun set in the war in the Pacific.  

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Another Glass Ceiling Shattered

Admiral Michelle Howard

Last Tuesday, July 1st, Admiral Michelle Howard became the first woman four-star admiral in the U.S. Navy, joining the first women who hold four-star rank in the Army and the Air Force. Admiral Howard is becoming the Vice Chief of Naval Operations (VCNO), the second most powerful job in the Navy. Many people who hold this billet go on to be CNO.  By the way, Admiral Howard is also an African American.

Her new position is but the latest in a career filled with “firsts.” She was among the first women to attend the Naval Academy, graduating in the Class of 1982 (the first class to include women at all was the Class of 1980). A Surface Warfare Officer, she served in increasingly responsible positions aboard ship and ashore. When she took command of the dock landing ship, U.S.S. Rushmore, in 1999, she became the first black woman to command a U.S. Navy warship. She was later to become the first black woman to command a strike group at sea and the first to attain the rank of vice admiral.  She is a super smasher of “glass ceilings.”

Admiral Howard’s path to these achievements was not easy.  “This is not for wimps,” she told an audience at NOVA Southeastern University in Florida. “You have to develop a sense of humor. You have to develop stamina because there’s going to be tough days. Like the pioneering women of old, you have to let some things go. It can be scary going into an environment where no one looks like you. I have been in rooms where I was the only woman and the only minority.”
As a twenty-nine-year Navy veteran, I can well imagine the discomforting situations Admiral Howard faced.  One of the central characters of my new novel, Asphalt and Blood, is “Bull” Barker, a young African American petty officer in a Seabee battalion in the Vietnam War.  While happy and comfortable as a Seabee, Barker encounters many instances of overt racism as the story progresses. Getting Barker right is one of the most difficult challenges I faced in writing Asphalt and Blood. 

The Navy has changed a great deal since I retired. In an interview last Monday, Admiral Howard commented that many of the obstacles she faced and overcame no longer exist, at least not to the degree they did at the outset of her career.  Repeal of the combat exclusion law has allowed women to serve on all types of ships and aircraft. Now even submarines are open to women.

“Admiral Howard is also a great example of how much we lose as a Navy and a nation if we put artificial barriers in,” Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus told a crowd of about 150 people at Howard’s promotion ceremony. “If we don’t judge people on their ability, based on their capability.”

Like any successful executive, Admiral Howard has her detractors. One contemporary hinted that she might not have been required to cross as many hurdles as her male counterparts. In an interview with Navy Times, Rear Admiral Sonny Masso refuted such claims. “Do I think she’s a token female, a token African American?” Masso commented. “I would say absolutely and emphatically not. With her performance and critical jobs across the spectrum, …she has brought an extraordinary amount of experience that is equal to any of her peers.”

To those who would question the ability of women to command in combat, I would cite Admiral Howard’s performance while Commanding Task Force 151 during anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. In April 2009, when Somali pirates seized the cargo ship, Maersk Alabama, and her skipper, Captain Richard Phillips, Admiral Howard devised a plan to get him back and sent destroyer, U.S.S. Bainbridge, to perform the rescue. Navy Seals aboard Bainbridge later shot and killed the pirates and freed Phillips.  A win-win situation for everyone but the pirates. This woman is a warrior!

In closing his remarks at the promotion ceremony, Secretary Mabus concluded, “I hope that I have always been as passionate about that (judging people on their abilities), but the intensity has increased since I became the father of three daughters, and I refuse to believe that there are any ceilings for them, glass or otherwise. That they can get to where their abilities take them. And with that, they and countless others in the Navy now have a wonderful role model in Michelle Howard.”

To paraphrase a popular TV commercial of past years, “Admiral Howard gained her new position the old fashioned way—she earned it.”

Note: Warren Bell is a historical fiction author with two novels for sale either for Kindle or in paperback from Both are set during WWII, with Fall Eagle One taking place in Europe, and Hold Back the Sun set in the war in the Pacific.