It’s a commonly-held belief that bookshops are a dying breed, that ebooks and online bookshops (especially Amazon) are killing them. Many book lovers decry this turn of events, yet (in some cases) still continue to buy books online. Personally, I’m no more concerned by the closure of bookshops than I am by the closure of any other business. I am truly saddened, however, when I hear of libraries closing or being reduced in size.
Today is Remembrance Day in the UK. I have a red poppy, and I shall be observing the two minute silence at 11:00. I’ve read things recently that have prompted me to think about why I consider Remembrance Day to be so important.
I consider Remembrance Day to be a time to remember everyone that has been harmed by war. Any war, any nationality, civilian, military, whatever. It’s a time to remember not only those that died, but also those that survived. Some have injuries that are plain to see. Others have mental injuries like PTSD, which are much less visible but can be just as debilitating.
It’s important to remember that, when you go to war, people will die. It’s obvious, yet people seem to forget it all too easily. I wear a poppy to remind myself and others of that simple truth. It is my eternal (but almost certainly naive) hope that the more people understand what happens during war, the less likely they will be to call for it in future.
The following poem from Siegfried Sassoon was written during the Great War, but is sadly still relevant today.
Suicide in Trenches
I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.
Source: The War Poems of Siegfried Sassoon at Project Gutenberg.
My tag on the sculpture
On Saturday, my family and I joined 150-200 others at the unveiling of the new Unearthed sculpture, outside the Victoria Hall in Stoke on Trent, where the Lidice Shall Live campaign began in 1942.
It was a great event, featuring an aerial dance by EveryBODY Dance, a performance by Stoke Men’s Choir, and a poem about the story of Lidice, performed by the 6th form student that wrote it.
I was pleased to note that the mayor of Lidice had sent a representative, especially when she added her own personal thoughts to the official message from the mayor.
The sculpture itself is very impressive. Not only is it physically large and imposing, but the use of tags (based on miners’ tags) is a wonderfully inspired idea. They illustrate the people standing together, just as they did in 1942.
The Unearthed project has built a remarkable and important sculpture. They have also put a great deal of time, energy, and effort into spreading the story of Lidice and Stoke-on-Trent. The sculpture has 2,000 tags, each one representing a person that has promised to tell the story to at least two others. That’s at least six thousand people that now know the story.
It’s an amazing story which should be shared far and wide. If you don’t know it, see my previous blog post. If you do know it, tell others. Don’t let the atrocity be forgotten – it’s when we forget that we allow such things to happen again. But also, don’t let the miners’ generosity be forgotten – it can, and should, inspire future generations to be the best they can be.
For more information about the Unearthed project, see the project website, Facebook group or Twitter feed.
Update: my books are now available at Kobo once again. The KOBO75 discount code will remain valid until the end of Sunday (27 October).
Readers in the UK can’t currently buy my books at Kobo. Earlier this month, the Daily Mail ran a story accusing WHSmith of “profiting from the sale of vile books glorifying violent pornography, rape, incest and bestiality“. It concerned ebooks, which are supplied to WHSmith by Kobo. In response, WHSmith took its entire website offline while they sorted things out.
Kobo has made many books by indie authors and small presses unavailable to UK customers, though they are available to customers elsewhere. They will be made available again once Kobo has sorted through them, and removed any that violate their terms and conditions. Kobo have not given a firm timescale for when this issue will be resolved, but say that it should be within one or two weeks.
In the meantime, I apologise unreservedly for this mess. Note that even if you can’t buy my books from Kobo, you can still buy direct from my website. Purchasing direct gives you access to the ebooks in ePub, Mobi and PDF formats. The ePub files will work on any Kobo device. In addition, until my ebooks are available at Kobo, I am offering a 75% discount on all ebooks bought direct. Use discount code KOBO75 at checkout to get the discount.
I was sad to hear that Tom Clancy died earlier this month. I’ve read his first two published novels, The Hunt For Red October
and Red Storm Rising
, several times. I’ve read a lot of his other books too, but those are still my favourites.
The Hunt For Red October was the first Clancy book I read. It’s a good story, very well told, and the film was better than many films based on books.
Red Storm Rising was the first book I read set in a Cold War turned hot. I’ve read many since, of varying quality, but this is probably still my favourite. I recently bought the audio book – over 31 hours of it – for the bargain price of $19.50 (about £12.00).
On Tuesday, Amazon announced Kindle MatchBook, to be launched in October. The idea is a simple one: If you buy a paper book from Amazon that is enrolled into the program, you will be able to buy the corresponding Kindle book at a reduced price (maximum of $2.99) or for free. This also applies to any eligible books that you’ve already bought from Amazon.
I have enrolled all three of my paperbacks: A Fleet in Being, Red Steel, and The Bear Marches West. Once the program goes live, the Kindle versions of these books will be free if you buy the paperback. If you’ve already bought the paperback, you’ll be able to download the Kindle version for free.
The press release doesn’t make it clear whether this will be US-only or if it will apply to all Amazon stores, but a query to Amazon confirmed that it is only available to US customers, so some of my readers won’t be able to take advantage of this. Hopefully it will be rolled out to other stores later, but in the meantime, my non-US readers need not despair. All my paperback titles at Wargame Vault can be bought as a paperback + ebook bundle for the same cost as the paperback. The ebooks come in Mobi (for Kindle), ePub (for other ereaders) and PDF. Unfortunately, due to technical issues, A Fleet in Being isn’t currently available in paperback at Wargame Vault. I hope to rectify that soon.
I’ve just heard that Donald Featherstone died yesterday. For those that don’t recognise the name, he served with the Royal Tank Regiment in WWII, but more importantly for wargamers of my age, he wrote over forty books on wargaming and military history. Many of the wargaming books are considered classics. When I was much younger, I borrowed his books (particularly the Tank Battles in Miniature series) from my local library over and over again. He was a significant influence on my early wargaming career, and I spent many happy hours reading his words.
My thoughts are with his family. I hope the knowledge of how much joy his writing brought to myself and many others will give them some little comfort.
Harvey Black is the author of the Devils With Wings series and The Red Effect, the first of a new series of novels set during a fictional Warsaw Pact invasion of West Germany in 1984. He is a qualified parachutist, and served with British Army intelligence for over ten years.
Russell Phillips: Can you give us a brief summary of your career in the army?
Harvey Black: Hi Russell
Thank you for the invite. I joined the Army in 1979, so my service was very much focussed around Northern Ireland and the Cold War. I cut my teeth in the Army with an Armoured Brigade in West Germany. I did three tours in NI, one conducting covert surveillance around Belfast and the other two as a Liaison Officer. For that I travelled around NI, visiting various Army units, coordinating the use of the Intelligence resources available, such as the RAF and Army Air Corps. I remember one tour I had a gold coloured Ford Capri (Except for going to Crossmaglen, that was by helicopter). I used to carry a Walther PPK, 9mm Browning and a Remington 7-shot shotgun (or alternately an MP-5) for protection.
The Cold War element consisted of Intelligence gathering in East Berlin during the 80s, where I was dragged from my vehicle and attacked by KGB soldiers, and covert surveillance in West Germany against KGB, Spetsnaz sleepers and the like.
By UK MOD (defenceimagery.mod.uk) [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons
Recently, there has been debate in the UK over the future of Trident, and the wider question of nuclear weapons. Some say they are no longer required, others say that the potential threat from states such as Iran and North Korea means that we need to keep some form of nuclear deterrence. It seems to me, however, that a nuclear deterrent is only useful if the entity to be deterred believes that it will be used. I’ve long doubted that any British prime minister would actually order a nuclear strike. I was therefore interested to hear a recent Radio 4 interview with Lord Kinnock. During the interview, he said that “I’ve actually never met anybody, with the possible exception of Mrs Thatcher, but maybe not even her, who behind their eyes, really acknowledged the reality that they would use the terminal weapon”.
During the Cold War, it was generally assumed that the scenario would be one of a massive Soviet strike, to be answered by a similarly huge retaliatory strike by the UK, France and USA. In this scenario, missiles are in the air and headed for the UK, the prime minister has maybe a few minutes to make the decision. In such a situation, where the UK is already doomed and the only thing that can be done at that point is to strike back, a prime minister might give the order to launch.
In the case of Iran and North Korea, however, a massive strike is unlikely. One scenario that has been suggested is a terrorist strike, supported by a rogue state. In this scenario, a single nuclear or chemical weapon is detonated, presumably without warning. The prime minister would then have some time to consider how to respond. I find it extremely unlikely that any British prime minister would decide that launching a nuclear weapon and killing tens of thousands of civilians would be a suitable response. Consequently, I don’t consider it to be a credible deterrent. I think the threat of a conventional, highly targeted strike, would be a much more credible deterrent, simply because it’s far more likely to actually be employed.
This article was originally published in the Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers‘ Journal
Related book: A Fleet in Being: Austro-Hungarian Warships of WW1
The Otranto Barrage was a naval blockade of the Otranto Straits between Brindisi and Corfu, intended to prevent the Austro-Hungarian navy gaining access to the Mediterranean Sea. Although it did keep Austro-Hungarian surface ships in the Adriatic, it had little effect on submarines, which routinely passed through the Barrage to conduct anti-shipping operations in the Mediterranean. The idea of the Barrage was first brought up by First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill at the May 1915 conference in Paris, on the eve of Italy’s entry into the war. Churchill offered to supply 50 fishing trawlers and 50 miles of submarine indicator nets, in return for the Italians providing crews and armament. The Italians declined, realising that manning and arming the craft would be a significant challenge. During the Dardanelles campaign, British trawlers proved very useful, and as the submarine war in the Mediterranean intensified, the Italians realised that they did not have enough small vessels for anti-submarine duties.