Monthly Archives: May 2015

Book Review — Steaming into the North West: Tales of the Premier Line

Steaming into the North West by Michael Clutterbuck

Steaming into the North West: Tales of the Premier Line by Michael Clutterbuck is the newest addition to the Steamingseries of books. Previously Steaming has taken the reader through World War II and then into the final days of steam engines. Although the works are historical fiction they represent the time and subject well. Clutterbuck is the son of a Chester railway man and he, much like myself, spent many childhood hours spotting trains. He currently resides in Melbourne, Australia.

In Tales of the Premier Line, the reader is taken to the opening decade of the twentieth century before the First World War. Commercial trains are a commonplace for both personal transportation and cargo. The smaller lines have merged and a modern system is coming into form. The Crewe works Cheshire is the setting for the stories in this volume. The Crewe facility, itself was an amazing place producing not only locomotives but wrought iron, steel, and bricks. To help the reader, the book contains two appendixes. The first covers the different trains, their configurations, and notes on the particular engine. The second is a glossary with railroad terms from that era that are used throughout the book.

The stories revolve around the railyard and different aspects of the railways — From drivers to painting facilities. However, it is the people that make the stories and not the trains. The trains are ever present in the stories, but the workers have their own culture which is brought to the forefront. There are light stories and a few serious ones. One story even centers on the problems between England and Ireland and self-rule. On the lighter side, karma pays a visit to a lazy driver in the best possible way. The stories not only entertain, but teach the reader about the trains and the people of the time. There is a special sense of loyalty to the railway that puts it on par with military service — The teamwork, discipline, and integrity of the employees.

Steaming into the North West: Tales of the Premier Line is a welcome addition to the Steaming series of books. It is noticeably shorter than the other books, even in ebook format, but a welcome surprise after thinking the Last Days of Western Steam was to be the last book. This is a series for all the kids who used to sit by the tracks waiting for majestic trains to thunder by and wave to the drivers and the crew in the caboose.

Other books in the series by Michael Clutterbuck:

Steaming into the Firing Line: Tales of the Footplate in Wartime Britain (Volume 1)
ISBN: 978-1481024921

Steaming into History: Footplate Tales of the Last Days of Western Steam (Volume 2)
ISBN: 978-1495309861

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Book Review — Steaming into History: Footplate History of the Last Days of Western Steam

Steaming into History by Michael Clutterbuck

Steaming into History: Footplate History of the Last Days of Western Steam by Michael Clutterbuck is the sequel to Steaming into the Firing Line. Both are historical fiction novels on the final years of steam powered engines in Britain.

Although this book stands well alone, it does pick up the story of Driver George Denton and Fireman Lance Hargreaves. The first book takes the reader through World War II and Lance’s early experiences. Steaming into History covers the years from 1946 through 1965. George is retiring and had done his best to pass all he knew to Lance. There is a definite father-son relationship between the two. George does his best to “raise” Lance to be a driver (engineer) which is quite a task. Lance is a little more than rough around the edges and faces several challenges in growing up.

Each story can stand by itself but collectively they cover a twenty-year history. What I like about the stories on an individual level is there seems to be a moral or lesson to be learned from each one. Whether it’s safety, life lessons, or doing a good deed, there is something deeper than the fall of the steam engine era. The writing, like the first book, seems to be from a different era. The reader will feel drawn into an almost black and white era with the arrival of the diesel engines as the color era. There is a historical feeling to the book and a feeling of change. Not only is the change in engine types but society.

One theme driving the change was the nationalization of the railroads in 1948. Nationalization was part of the downfall of the system. Unprofitable lines were shut down almost immediately, still by the mid-1950s the railroads were heavily in debt. A new plan was drawn up in 1955 to totally replace all steam engines with diesels, modern marshaling yards, and new freight and passenger cars. This where Lance finds himself and his career.

Lance becomes the main character in the book. This is the generation that a driver is being moved by a system to replace his beloved steam engines with diesels. Lance becomes a driver and experiences training his fireman and learning to be responsible on the job, and in life. New responsibilities challenge Lance’s old ways.

I can’t seem to get enough good train books. Although Clutterbuck says in the introduction this is the end of the line, maybe we can hear more about George’s days before World War II. Trains have had a long and proud history in most of the world. Some countries have modernized others like America have stagnated. Trains helped build the modern world, kept the industrialized world moving, and in many places now keep people moving more efficiently than automobiles. Although the steam era closed on George and Lance, modernization can bring a new era of love for trains. Read Steaming into History, visit and ride an historic train, and you will wonder how we let this era pass. Thank you for helping us remember.

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In Flander’s Field

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John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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May 22, 2015 · 14:21

Book Review — The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East

The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East

The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East by Efraim Karsh is a history of the Arab world since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Karash is founding director and emeritus professor of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King’s College London. Since 2013, he serves as professor of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University (where he is also a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies). Furthermore, he is a principal research fellow (and former director) of the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based think tank. He is regarded as a vocal critic of the New Historians, a group of Israeli scholars who have questioned the conventional history of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Karsh opens with an interesting premise that would have made the world, or at least the Middle East, a different place entirely. No doubt the Ottoman Empire was, as Nicholas I described, the sick old man of Europe but its role was pivotal in the modern Middle East. The Ottoman Empire was under no pressure to join in World War I. France and England both made promises to the empire that they would not attack. The Ottoman Empire like France and England were all leaders of empires. This created a bond between the three. The Ottomans, however, chose to join the Germans which lead to its defeat and loss of its empire. German and Ottoman lands were put under mandate and divided up between England and France. The competition for power in the region lead to various Arab leaders and internal rivalries. Had the Ottomans stayed out of the war granted, some regional autonomy, things may have been very different. There was no Arab sense of nationalism region, that idea was created by the mandate system.

The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East history up until recent events including the rise of the IS and the failure of the Arab Spring. He does make note of the United States’ pride Israel being the achievement of a liberal democracy in the Middle East and likewise notes that it was the US that installed the Shah’s totalitarian regime. Soviet intervention into the region is discussed in the form of aid and influence to the invasion of Afghanistan to create a buffer from radical Islam. Although the world powers played a role, Karsh claims the driving force was and is the Arabs themselves.

The Middle East Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt is examined. Seen as a great event by the US it happened only months before the fall of the Shah and just over a year before the attack and hostage crisis in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The idea of peace was quickly overshadowed. The most telling event of the peace process was the exclusion of any Palestinian representation in the Camp David Summit. The US did not directly deal with the Palestinians until the Clinton presidency. Perhaps that is the key point to understanding the Middle East is that it is not about national identity. The problems in the Middle East are usually not between nations and national identities, with Iraq being the modern exception. It is contained in the Arab identity. Egypt wanted to unite the Arab world under the United Arab Republic and failed. IS, the Muslim Brotherhood, and others are Pan-Arab are movements do not recognize international borders. Their aim is to unite all Arabs and Islam. Again even entering into the present with the concept of Western nationalism is not a factor.

The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East provides a history by a controversial author and historian. The writing is well documented and appears to use a great deal of source material. The history is very detailed and reads much like a graduate level textbook. There is certainly new information or at least new thinking of the complex history of the Middle East. I would be surprised if Karsh does not receive some criticism from the established academia. His work does appear to be factual, but like all histories there will be an interpretation of actions and motives. Personally, I gathered a great deal of information on the subject and perhaps new thinking on some subjects. History needs to be examined and reexamined to keep it honest. Controversy keeps history alive and intentionally or not this is what Karsh is facilitating.

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Thoughts on — Lusitania: Triumph, Tragedy, and the End of the Edwardian Age

Lusitania by Greg King

Lusitania: Triumph, Tragedy, and the End of the Edwardian Age by Greg King is another audiobook I took in this last week. The Lusitania has that mythical quality to it almost equal to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The sinking had vilified the Germans and has been credited for bringing the US into World War I. First the easy explanation, the sinking of the Lusitania happened May 7, 1915. The US did not enter the war for almost another two years; Government moves slowly, but not that slow. Under the Hague Convention, merchant ships could be stopped during the time of war and searched. The submarine would surface give warning up to fire a shot across the bow. The merchant ship would stop, perform no hostile act or run, and allow the search. If nothing was found the ship would be free to go. Otherwise, adequate time would be given for passengers to board lifeboats and the ship could be sunk.

Britain was the first country to break the Hague convention. The admiralty told captains to run, or better ram submarines, if stopped. Furthermore, Britain created armed decoy ships. These were merchant ships with hidden weapons. When stopped by a German sub they opened fire. Other captains would hoist a neutral flag and continue on. Ships also hid their names to avoid identification. In retaliation, Germany declared the British coast a war zone. The Lusitania, itself, was officially registered as an auxiliary cruiser or armed merchant ship. At the time of the sinking, the Lusitania was not flying a flag and the usually red smokestacks had been painted a military grey. It was sunk without warning for the above reasons. Had the Germans spent a bit more time looking at the situation, the result may have been different, but it was war. If the British had followed the Hague Convention, this result could also have been avoided.

is as much about an end of an era as it about the Lusitania. It describes the Edwardian Era as the Indian Summer before the beginning of the war. In modern terms, however, it was an era of the 1%ers. Greg King uses recorded interviews and journal entries from mostly the first class passengers. Some second class passengers are included too, but no third class since no one would have written about them and very few would have had any written record of the trip. The book goes into personal stories of the passengers like the Alfred Vanderbilt and prominent Canadians like the Ryerson’s are included. There is even a tie-in to the shootout at the OK Corral. Included are many interesting stories of people on the Lusitania and a bit of the ship’s history, but it is mostly a who’s who of the ship’s last voyage. The reader will also become more that familiar with the word gilded: Gilded Age, gilded trim, gilded this and that. Lusitania is an interesting book, but one that is not a typical history. It’s a history the E! TV would have written. The celebrities of the times written about with the backdrop of the war. Entertaining and with some historical value.

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Book Review — First to Fly: The Story of the Lafayette Escadrille, the American Heroes Who Flew For France in World War I

First to Fly by Charles Bracelen Flood

First to Fly: The Story of the Lafayette Escadrille, the American Heroes Who Flew For France in World War I by Charles Bracelen Flood is a collection of short informative true stories of Americans at war, before America was at war. Flood was born in Manhattan and graduated from Harvard, where he was a member of Archibald MacLeish’s noted creative writing seminar, English S, and was on the literary board of the Harvard Lampoon. He is a past president of the American Center of PEN, the international writers’ organization, and has served on the governing bodies of the Authors League and Authors Guild.

Growing up I was fascinated with World War I, especially with the development of combat aircraft. While other kids were talking about F-111s and F-14s I was much more interested in SPADs and Sopwith Camels. I read about the war and still regularly re-read Ernest K Gann’s In the Company of Eagles. As a middle-aged adult, I am still fascinated by the war and how it shaped the twentieth century.

Flood bases his book on the members of the Lafayette Escadrille, Americans who volunteered to fight for France in the first world war. America was still neutral and its citizens could not legally fight in the war, but joining the French Foreign Legion was a viable loophole. Some Americans joined the Legion and eventually found their way to pilot training. Other Americans volunteered to fly, and entrance into the into the program was rather lax as Flood tells of a one-eyed American passing the eye exam. France needed help and Americans were willing to step up with visions of glory. Thirty-nine Americans flew for the Lafayette Escadrille and ten would die in service including Kiffin Rockwell who scored the squadron’s first victory.

There were colorful pilots. Bert Hall was a con man and a liar, but also produced some of the most interesting stories including of how he got caught up in the Russian Revolution while training new Russian pilots. He tried to escape back into Europe, but was turned back and crossed Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, jumped a freighter to the US and ended up back in France. Edward Genet, tired of waiting for the US to enter the war, deserted the US Navy to fight for France. Genet said, “If I die wrap me in the French flag, but place the two colors upon my grave to show I died for two countries.” On April 17, 1917 he was killed by anti-aircraft fire and buried according to his wishes. Ironically, dying for two countries is what happened. Although Genet was still in the Lafayette Escadrille, America had entered the war on April 2nd making Genet the first official American casualty. Bigger than life people also had bigger than life pets like Whiskey and Soda, two lion cubs, the mascots of the squadron.

War is hell and life in planes though romanticized was also hell. Freezing at altitude facing a fiery death was a more probable outcome than glory. Even worst of time pilots were able to make the best of it. Stories of pilots flying behind enemy lines to ferry back wine or capturing a downed German pilot before he could burn his plane by punching him in the face. The German was outraged not by being shot down, but that another pilot resorted to using his hands in a fight. Flood brings the story of the horrors and the lighter side of the war to light. I wish I had this book while I was growing up. It would have made a great addition to my collection. First to Flyis a great read for all ages interested in World War I.

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Thoughts on Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David

Thirteen Days in September by Lawrence Wright

I listened to Thirteen Days as an unabridged audiobook this last week and will share my thoughts about it. I am old enough to remember the Camp David Summit from the news and the excitement that peace in the Middle East would bring. It was reported to be the biggest peace treaty since World War II. I also remember it was very much about religion as it was about nations.

Interestingly religion was a much bigger concern for the Israelis than it was for the Egyptians. Begin used the old testament as part of his justification, going as far as calling occupied areas by their Biblical name. Egyptian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Boutros Boutros-Ghali was (and is) a Christian who was married to a Jewish woman. Osama el-Baz had a Jewish girlfriend at the time and asked if a member of the Israeli team could bring a menorah from Israel for his girlfriend.

Sadat wanted peace. In 1977, he made a speech saying he would go to Israel. Begin then issued an invitation, not expecting Sadat to accept. Sadat did accept and addressed the Israeli Knesset. He was the first Arab leader to visit the state of Israel and in a sense the first Arab leader to accept Israel’s existence. This is where the peace process begins: Egypt, the leader of the Arab world, meeting with the Israeli government. Sadat was not altruistic in his actions. He wanted a legacy of greatness and peace with Israel might be the key to greatness.

Each chapter of the book covers a day of the conference and gives a biography of one of the participants. This was the surprising part of the book for me. I knew Carter’s biography, but Moshe Dayan’s impressed me and perhaps did the most to change the opinion I had of him in a positive way. Begin’s biography was just the opposite. He was a man who had more in common with terrorists than any other member at the conference. His semiautobiographical book The Revolt written about the struggle against the British Mandate has been found in Al Qaeda camps. Begin attacked civilian targets and was the first to use simultaneous attacks as a regular tactic. His policies influenced modern terrorists. Begin, however, claimed not to be a terrorist but the opposite of terrorist, but it’s hard to call someone a freedom fighter when they target civilians. Begin played with words. He was a very intelligent person and bickered about nearly every word in the treaty at Camp David much to the ire of everyone present.

Sadat was willing to bend. Begin was not. Sadat saw the summit as a positive and Begen saw it as a trap. Sadat knew that being willing to compromise, even if no treaty would come forth, would win the goodwill of the United States. Egypt recently shocked the world when it broke away from the Soviet camp. Sadat was looking for better relations with the United States and he would get it, treaty or not. Begin, however, could quickly bring out the anger in Carter, which seemed liked a difficult task considering Carter’s reputation.

An interesting aspect of the summit was the Palestinian question. There was no Palestinian representation. Egypt was overcome with other difficulties during the thirteen days and was not an able representative of the cause. Israel did what it could to avoid the Palestinian issue. If this issue could have been properly addressed at the summit the Middle East would be different today. Since the treaty, there have been no more wars between Israel and Egypt or other nations of the Middle East. The problems have been between the stateless Palestinian groups and Israel. If peace or a responsible solution for the Palestinians could have been found the Middle East would be much different. That may have been too much to ask. Begin did not want to discuss the issue and Sadat was in enough trouble with other Middle East countries as well as with his own people. Mohammed Kamel, Sadat’s Foreign Minister, resigned during Camp David. Egypt was shunned by the Arab League until 1989 and two years later, Sadat was killed by members of his own military.

The Camp David Summit is well known for bringing Israel and Egypt together and negotiating peace between the two countries. It also helped establish Israel as a nation in the eyes of the Middle East. For the leader of the Arab world to meet with and sign a treaty with the enemy of the Arabs, did much to establish the legitimacy of Israel in the region.

Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David gives a very detailed look in the Camp David Summit and the major players in the summit. As mentioned above, I listened to the audio version read by Mark Bramhall. The reading was very good and Bramhall used a different voice for Carter, Sadat, and Begin. I did have difficulty distinguishing between Bramhall’s version of Carter’s Southern drawl and Begin’s accented English in the reading. A first class educational experience.

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Book Review — Castle Lake: Grave Reckoning

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I read the original Castle Lake almost two years ago and I enjoyed the story.  Castle Lake: Grave Reckoning picks up right after the original with a prologue and then jumps about seventy years in the future to the 1890s.  The story revolves around Alicia Murdock and a curse that she is unaware of.  The Murdock’s own a horse ranch on the grounds of Castle Lake including the land that once belonged to the rival family, the Ficks.  Alicia is a smart, active, and interesting girl quickly approaching here seventeenth birthday.

 

The story is one of witchcraft, a ghost, and historical fiction.  Ryerson likes to concentrate on history, or historical fiction as the case may be here.  A regional history is invented and detailed.  Although, the actual area or state is not mentioned it seems to be on the American North coast, maybe Massachusetts.  The descriptions of the towns had me searching for them on Google Maps without any luck.  The details and the descriptions were done well enough that I thought they may be real places.  The characters dialog is more for the reader to gather information than actual communications between the characters.  The conversations are filled with details that would likely not happen in ordinary informal conversation but are useful to the reader.

 

The story is a good mix of supernatural and historical fiction.  Reading through the story I was reminded of the old British Hammer House movies or the American “Daughters of Satan” from the early 1970s.  The movies were not like modern movies of non-stop action and gore, but rather a deep story that happened to include witchcraft and maintains a slightly dark tone. The supernatural aspect moves under the surface of a complete story.  Something that might be called a classic ghost story. In Castle Lake  we see the Murdocks, mainly Alicia, in this type of situation.  The characters here do not take much stock in the supernatural, other than the Bible, but find themselves in the center of it.

 

The story itself is heavy in details that might seem a little much, but as the story continues it seems to work well and details come to be expected by the reader.  The details also fill the reader in allowing Castle Lake: Grave Reckoning to stand alone as a novel and also remind readers of the original novel of things they may have forgotten over the last two years.  The reader, however, may have to give the writing style a little time to appreciate its purpose, but it’s worth it.  All in all, a good classic supernatural story with a believable historical setting.

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Book Review — The Japan-South Korea Identity Clash: East Asian Security and the United States

The Japan-South Korea Identity Clash by Brad Glosserman, Scott Snyder

The Japan-South Korea Identity Clash: East Asian Security and the United States by Brad Glosserman and Scott A. Snyder is a study of the current East Asian international political environment. Glosserman is the executive director of Pacific Forum CSIS. Previously, he served on the editorial board of The Japan Times. His writing, commentary, and analysis on U.S. foreign policy and developments in Asia appear in publications around the world.Snyder is a senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the Program on US–Korea Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. He writes regularly on issues in US–Korea relations and Northeast Asian politics and security for CFR’s Asia Unbound blog and for Forbes.com.

For those old enough to remember, the Cold War was a simpler time. For the most part countries fell into one of the two major camps — democratic capitalists or authoritarian socialists. This is a bit over-simplified description of the bipolar world but is adequate for general discussion. Many deep-seated local problems were overshadowed by the larger struggle of so-called capitalism versus communism. When communism fell the predicted peaceful world order did not come into being. Instead, new problems arose. Yugoslavia collapsed into a collection of warring factions. The two hundred and fifty ethnic identities of the former Soviet Union began exerting their claims for recognition, most notably Chechnya. The black and white system the past turned into a system of infinite grays.

In East Asia, Japan, South Korea, and China suddenly became a sensitive area for American policy and international policy. Japan in the twentieth century had been the aggressor in the region for a good portion of the century occupying both Korea and portions of China. In China, Japan was remembered for it atrocities. Korea and China have also had their struggles in the past. In the new century, China is now the second largest economy in the world surpassing Japan and divided Korea is growing with a standard of living rivaling Japan in the south. Japan believing that it has earned its position of influence in the world has been petitioning for a permanent position on the UN Security Council. Divided Korea suffers from not only division but the thinking that it is the small country in the mix. Complicating matters more is (China’s ally) North Korea’s aggressive behavior to both South Korea and Japan.

The Japan-South Korea Identity Clash offers current polling data on the populations of both South Korea and Japan concerning a variety of current issues. For example, the younger Korean generation is not as concerned about reunification as the older generation. They grew up under the current system and tend to accept it, possibly viewing reunification as diluting their standard of living. Both Japan and South Korea support the United States for their international security, but Japan does not want to live in a US type system. It prefers a European social democracy. Interesting patterns emerge as some Koreans believe US presence is responsible for the North Korean nuclear program and that the US presence may be causing problems with its relations with China.

The Japan-South Korea Identity Clash provides a detailed study of the regions growing and changing concerns. Japan and Korea share historic problems between their nations some that Japan merely wishes to forget and the same that Korea demands an apology. In the region of three powerful economies, there are deep tensions under the surface. America has been the traditional protector and moderating effect as an ally to both Japan and Korea. With the rise of China, maturing democracies, a young voting generation that does not see or remember the Cold War, there are new trends in political and social behavior that are developing in this region. This is a timely and informative study involving the three largest economies in the world along with the eleventh largest or about half the entire world’s GDP.

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