Sunday, June 29, 2014

When Life Puts Book Writing on Hold

Writing can sometimes become an all-consuming activity.  Creating characters and imagined worlds may so intoxicate the writer that everyday activities of life fade into the background. Sometimes, however, one must lay aside the heady world of creativity and attend to important milestones of family existence. This weekend, I lived such a fulfilling experience.

Yesterday afternoon, my 20-year-old grandson, Thomas Bell, graduated from the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery here in Phoenix, Arizona. For those unfamiliar with  luthiery, it is the art of designing and custom making guitars and other stringed instruments from raw materials. Luthiery combines the skills of musical instrument design and fine woodworking with music theory and electrical engineering. Almost all the music artists our younger generations so venerate play custom made instruments. My grandson hopes for a career catering to the luthiery needs of these artists.

As an engineer and long-time woodworker myself, I marvel at the skills Thomas amassed during his time at Roberto-Venn.  His designs are artistic, his woodworking flawless, and his finishes impressive.  He completed or made significant progress on seven different instruments during his training.  Both acoustic and all manner of electric guitars are included in his portfolio. Their sound quality is fantastic. Any musician would be proud to own and perform on one of his creations.  Is a little bit of proud grandfather showing through here?  So be it.

Thomas is proving the eternal truth that a traditional college education followed by a career in an office, laboratory, or classroom is not for everyone. Modern society still requires artists, craftsmen and skilled tradesmen as well as those immersed in the world of finance, business, science, or education.  The satisfaction from imagining a fine musical instrument and then creating it from scratch has to be comparable to that felt by a master sculptor who sees his creation already formed inside a block of marble and goes on to free the image.  I hope my grandson has an exciting life in front of him.

As a bonus from the graduation trip, I got to visit my brother, Tom, who lives here in Phoenix with his wife, Charlotte. Tom and I had a grand time regaling my son and his family with our childhood experiences and our memories of our parents. These happy stories are now burned into the minds of two more generations of our family.  We all celebrated our time together and Thomas’s achievements at a fine Mexican restaurant last evening.

Next week, I will be back into my busy routine of writing and marketing my literary creations. My third novel, Asphalt and Blood, will move back  to the front burner. U.S. Navy Seabees will battle the elements and the elusive Viet Cong enemy in the dusty landscape of 1960s Vietnam.  Tweets and Facebook posts will go out on my regular schedule to keep sales up for my published novels, Fall Eagle One and Hold Back the Sun. But my work will be sharper and more clearly defined because of my life experiences this weekend.  No matter how much an author enjoys the art of writing, one must always keep in mind the things that matter most in life.

Note on image: Thomas is the young man in the red shirt holding the blue electric bass guitar higher than the others.

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, June 21, 2014

Do We Really Want “Thought Police?”

Burning Books
In the 1940s, novelist George Orwell penned a chilling, futuristic novel entitled Nineteen Eighty-Four. Having observed the expansion of oppressive, totalitarian governments during his lifetime, Orwell projected a future society in which individual freedoms would be forfeited to full control by the state. One of the features of the totalitarian government was a force of people charged with assuring that anyone expressing ideas contrary to the official positions would be silenced. He coined the term, “Thought Police,” to describe this organization.

Policing the thoughts of the population has long been a prime totalitarian principle. In Nazi Germany, the thought police were called the Gestapo. In Tsarist Russia, they were the dreaded Okharanka. In Stalin’s Soviet Union, the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) policed thought. Militaristic Japan of the 1930s and 1940s, the Tokubetsu Koto Keisatsu suppressed improper thought. In Communist East Germany, the STASI (Ministry of State Security) dealt with contrary thinkers. In Mussolini’s Fascist Italy, the function fell to the OVRA.

Improper thought could result in severe penalties for the offenders. In Japan, the state’s initial response was “re-education.” In Italy, huge quantities of castor oil might be poured down their throats. In the Soviet Union and Tsarist Russia, relocation to Siberia or a bullet in the back of the brain were common remedies. In Nazi Germany, thought offenses might range from confinement in a labor camp to being hung with piano wire from a meat hook.

When I first heard the term, “political correctness” in the 1970s, a chill ran up my spine. As you may have gathered from my writings, I am a history buff. Having lived seven decades and eight years on this earth, I have personally observed a pretty wide swath of history. The very idea that opinions contrary to popular consensus should be condemned and suppressed is anathema to everything I believe about individual freedom and liberty.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution clearly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech (emphasis added), or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution further states that, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…” Is anything so central to a person than their very own ideas and opinions?

To me, the idea that the populous should be coerced into conforming to some conventional wisdom determined by the political elites is clearly a totalitarian concept. To those who would argue that the purposes of “political correctness” are themselves laudable, I would answer that, “the ends justify the means,” is also a totalitarian concept. Read Arthur Koestler’s classic condemnation of totalitarianism, Darkness at Noon, which concludes, “the ends have become the means, and darkness has come over the land.”

The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech. There is no constitutional protection of freedom from being offended. Not very long ago, we celebrated the concept of “competition in the marketplace of ideas” in this country. This is not a right-wing concept. When Hillary Clinton was First Lady, she chided college students for shouting down speakers with whom they did not agree. Freedom of speech court decisions have actually cited the quotation once attributed to the French philosopher, Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it...”

Most people are offended by something. I have written about being offended by excess profanity in today’s speech, but I wouldn’t support a law against it. Like former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, I am offended by the epithet, “redneck.” We are both of Scots-Irish ancestry. The term, “redneck,” originally meant Scots-Irish Protestant supporters of William of Orange in his wars against the Stuart Pretenders. Both Protestant and Catholic militias fought in these wars. The Protestants wore red bandanas to distinguish them from the Catholic militias. The term soon became applied to all Scots-Irish. It was not meant to be disparaging. But neither Senator Webb nor I urge the banning of the word from the language.

One further thing that offends me is that defenders of “political correctness” tend to belittle and ridicule those who disagree with them. Their attitude seems to be, if you don’t agree, you are obviously stupid, uneducated, ignorant, or just plain deluded. In adopting such an attitude, they attempt to make their ideas look good by questioning their adversary’s qualifications to even have an opinion. To me, such attitudes are not worthy of respect.

To those who might not agree with what I think, I say, “Argue your case and try to convince me that I am wrong.” Compete in the “marketplace of ideas.” Don’t condemn me or belittle me because I don’t happen to agree with you.

We do not need “Thought Police!”

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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: or see him on twitter @wbellauthor.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Déjà vu All Over Again

Evacuating Saigon

Headlines in this morning’s newspapers trumpet the collapse of the Iraqi Army before the onslaught of the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an al-Qaeda spin-off. Hundreds or perhaps thousands of central government soldiers appear to be taking off their uniforms, abandoning their weapons and equipment, and surrendering in droves. ISIS now controls most cities north of Baghdad, and the ability of the Iraqi Army to forestall the capture of the capital is in question.

To Vietnam veterans, all this seems like what the famed baseball catcher and manager, Yogi Berra, called, “déjà vu all over again.” We have lived this experience before.

CNN has been showing a special series on the decade of the 1960 this week. For those of us who were adults at the time, the series sparks poignant memories of those years. The U.S. went into the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) to save that small state from the tyranny of communism and to build a stable, democratic state. The term, “nation building,” was coined to describe our efforts. After several years of war, an administration that sensed the war weariness of the population decided to accelerate training of indigenous forces and then make a quick exit. The process was termed, “Vietnamization.” In the beginning, it seemed to work. But the government left in place became corrupt. Politically dependable military commanders began replacing competent ones. Antiwar elements in the U.S. Congress engineered a cutoff of military assistance funding. When the North Vietnamese Army renewed attacks, RVN collapsed like a house of cards. U.S. diplomats scrambled to escape aboard hastily organized U.S. military helicopters. Over a decade of sacrifice by the U.S. armed forces went down the drain.

In my new novel, Asphalt and Blood, I explore the thousand-year efforts of the Vietnamese people to remain free of foreign domination. I believe that very few if any U.S. decision makers on the Vietnam struggle had any grasp of local history and culture. Our well intentioned “nation building” programs ignored these important parameters. “Strategic Hamlet” programs uprooted much of the population from their ancestral homes and the tombs of their ancestors. Planners had no concept of the importance of Confucian veneration of ancestors. After U.S. Generals took over command of the war, Ho Chi Minh, General Giap, and their subordinates were able to cast the U.S. as but the last in a long line of foreign conquerors.

Over three decades later, many of us who served in Vietnam watched in dismay as civilian officials in the Department of Defense made the same mistakes in Iraq that Robert McNamara and his acolytes made in the 1960s, starting by overruling military commanders on the forces required for a successful operation. Civilian officials lacking military experience decided that a brigade of military police to maintain order in a conquered Baghdad was unnecessary. Chaos reigned in Baghdad after the conquest. When General Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff, warned that pacifying Iraq would require 500,000 troops, he was replaced. Unruffled, the architects of the war announced a new program of “nation building.” No one appeared to be aware of the simmering, hundreds-of-years-old sectarian fractures in the Iraqi population. Once more, local history and culture were ignored. Veterans truly felt “déjà vu all over again.’

The end of the Iraqi war is playing out to a script similar to that of Vietnam. Again weary of conflict, the U.S. declared that local forces were now capable of maintaining order and withdrew its military presence. The indigenous government soon gutted leadership in the Iraqi Army by replacing competent commanders with political allies. They are now “reaping the whirlwind.” Fragmentation of Iraq into smaller, sectarian states appears inevitable. Another decade of U.S. military sacrifice may be headed down the drain.

I have mentioned the famous Spanish philosopher, George Santayana, in previous blog posts. His admonition that “those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it” springs to the forefront of the mind. Is it time to call in the evacuation helicopters again? 

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.  

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Day That Changed the World

June 6, 2014:  Seventy 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. 

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.