Reader Reactions & Anecdotes

19 April 2008

Need a Nostalgia Fix? Dosage Coming Up!

As most of its nearly 10,000 readers know by now, this blog is devoted to any subject that’s interesting to grown-ups — except for partisan politics and heavy-duty raunch, categories which, although undeniably interesting, are readily available by the ton elsewhere on the net.

Here we spend a lot of time remembering the world as it used to be, its beauty and warts alike, and after I’ve established a theme, or thread of thought, every Saturday morning, readers jump in during the ensuing week with personal recollections or commentaries that resonate with the theme. It’s all very laid-back and entertaining for those of us in the front office, and, from the reactions we’ve been getting from you guys around the world, it appears that we’re not alone in our fondness for nostalgia, literature, and good-natured banter.

Well, as a result of our ongoing reconnaissance for lore that not only looks back and entertains but also casts reflected light on the world as it is today, we’re about to launch a new department that’s tantamount to re-inventing the wheel.

One of the most entertaining ways to get a line on the way things used to be is to take an occasional dose of historical fiction, especially from novels crafted to portray suspenseful situations in suspenseful times in the past. Just as a grab-bag for instance, a well-researched novel like The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco is a great mystery thriller that illustrates life (and murder) in a Middle Ages abbey. (In the movie version Sean Connery did a great job as the investigating monk.) Advise and Consent, by Allen Drury, shows how the Congress of a half-century ago was little different from the dreary spectacle we witness today. These, of course, are only two among tens of thousands of fictional treatments of epochal times, but you get the idea. Whatever your interest, there’s bound to be a body of entrancing fiction that deals with it. It’s as close as your nearest book store or public library. And the best part is that you can take it in small doses — a chapter here, an epilog there — and at any time of the day or night that suits you.

So, okay, what does all that have to do with this blog?

I rarely re-read my own novels after they’ve been published. Finished business, and what’s next sort of thing. Recently I had need to look into a corner of World War II for something I’m writing, and, remembering that I’d researched it and written about it in one of my 16 novels, I took a short cut. But in reading that long-ago stuff I was struck by how current much of it sounded and how much fun I was having with these samplers from the past. Then the thought: I wonder if my blog readers would like to see some of this material, maybe get a comment or two from me on how the book was conceived, what happened on the way to the book stalls, etc., etc.

I bounced the idea off my website manager. Did she think it would look too much like an ego trip, an exercise in icky self-promotion? “Sure,” she said in her wryly cynical way, “but who else is there to promote? Besides, every blog on the ’Net is somebody’s ego trip, so why apologize? Good idea. Let’s go with it.”

So, with this stamp of approval from one of the most widely read and worldly wise computer nerds I’ve yet come across, we will begin, with next Saturday’s blog, a series featuring the opening chapter of each of my 16 novels. Each chapter will remain on the department’s active page for two weeks, when it will be replaced by a new first chapter of another book and moved to a special archive, there to remain ad infinitum for reference and the convenience of newcomers who want to catch up.

Big deal for you, Hunter, you say, but what’s in it for us?

Beyond eclectic glimpses into the past, both distant and near, you’ll have a chance to contribute your own commentaries and to ask the author questions about each work’s genesis and realization — a behind-the-scenes peek at the agonies and ecstasies of the literary world, so to speak. Sort of serving as admission to a creative writing course in your local college, so to speak. And you can’t beat the price, so to speak.

And so, so to speak, that’s what we’re going to do. Hope you enjoy it!

* * *

Dumbest of the Dumb

I was playing the piano late last night, a thing I do when I want to ease off from the day’s Sturm und Drang, and for some reason my mind went to one of the dumbest among the uncountable dumb things I’ve done in my life.

It was on the day in 1943 when I reported to the New Cumberland, Pa., Army induction center. Standing in the rain with 200 other bone-weary souls, I heard the man in charge — a sergeant with a Boy Scout hat and a face like a bowl of oatmeal — ask, “Anybody here play the piano?”

Cheered by the prospect of pleasant duty at the USO dance, a few of us raised our hands. “Fine,” said the sergeant. “You guys fall out and report to Warehouse C. A piano there’s gotta be carried over to Warehouse F.”

From that moment until the end of my tour in 1946, I never raised my hand again.

As the war went on and I began to dare a look around, I perceived that I wasn’t the only dummy at work. There was the second looey who marched a platoon into a bog when he couldn’t remember the command to change directions. There was the corporal who filled his canteen with wine instead of water at the outset of a cross-desert march. There was the colonel who abandoned a Jeep because he’d never learned to fix a flat. There was the OCS cadet who delivered a pompous five-minute critique of the general’s lecture when the general asked the ritualistic closing question, “Comments, anyone?” That kind of thing.

Dumbness wasn’t restricted to us peons, either. I cite as an example the notorious case of Col. Otto Skorzeny, the Nazi’s dreaded commando leader, who, during the Battle of the Bulge, infiltrated American forces with English-speaking SS saboteurs. What was the U.S. High Command’s reaction? To scour the Army for German-speakers. The idea, presumably, was for bona-fide Americans to chat in German with phony Americans whose very survival depended on their speaking English.

And, as a kind of derivative of this incident, there was the case of the hard-pressed chief of a U.S. counter-intelligence regional office in Occupied Germany. He sent an urgent message to Washington for “a reasonable number” of badly needed “trained CI agents as replacements for those lost to attrition.” He soon received an answering telex: “Replacement agents en route your station. ETA Munich 11/15/45.”

When the replacements arrived, there was a slight problem. They were Nisei Japanese, trained to serve in Occupied Japan.

Furious, the regional chief cranked up the phone and called his boss at Theater Headquarters in Frankfurt. “What the hell am I supposed. to do with 30 Oriental special agents in Munich Germany?” he thundered.

After a thoughtful pause, the boss said, “Suggest you use them to staff a string of safe-houses for agents coming out of the cold. Disguise the places as Chinese restaurants.”

And honest to God, the man was absolutely serious.


Copyright © 2008 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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