A Roguish sale

The ebook edition of Dictator's Ransom - where the Rogue Warrior ventures to North Korea and beyond - is now on sale for $2.99. You can get it from the Tor/MacMillan site here (scroll toward the bottom of the page), or at your favorite ebook provider.

We had a lot of fun with that one, writing about what "the loathsome dwarf" would do in his last days. Or as Dick would put it: Was it fiction, or prediction?

You be the judge.

Through the worst, love has and will still endure. That's a lot to be thankful for.

The 'deal' with Iran

Skepticism is only the start

There’s no way not to be skeptical about the deal with Iran to “freeze” its nuclear weapons program. Even aside from recent history and the character of the people involved, the stakes are so high that any deal must be viewed with deep skepticism.

Keeping nuclear weapons from the region is a worthwhile goal. But even if this deal leads to an agreement to do that, the impact is likely to be less clear cut than it seems.

First and most importantly, the present deal presents a clear timeline for action by the West. If suitable disarmament is not achieved in six months, then clearly the proper move by the West is to force that disarmament. And sanctions aren’t going to do it; only an attack on Iran’s facilities will.

A real agreement to disband the program would include abandonment of the nuclear weapons program and work on the delivery systems – no missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads should be allowed to exist in Iran. The country’s ongoing missile program has always been a clear sign of its leaders’ true intentions to build and deploy nuclear weapons; if it remains in place, there can be no doubt about what it really is up to.

But what if Iran is sincere and does freeze or completely disband its nuclear weapons program?

Iran will benefit simply by being able to sell its oil openly, but the up side is far greater than that. To the extent that an agreement leads to a rapprochement or even just an easing of relations with Western nations and China – not the U.S. – it will have a major impact on the current war between Shia and Sunni Islam.

The leaders of Iran have not only exported weapons and fighters in that conflict but have proselytized for a Shia-dominated Islam and Middle East; if Iran has more resources to use in that quest, it surely will. From a long-term point of view, stopping the nuclear program now allows Iran to deal with its immediate goals of dealing with the Sunnis. This is especially important if the leaders have concluded that they cannot use nuclear weapons against co-religionists, a belief that seems to be evident in many of their pronouncements. (You'll have to ask them why that doesn’t extend to other Children of Abraham.)

None of that changes the equation for Israel, which surely must see Iran as a constant threat, even without nukes. Allowing Iran to keep material that is only a few stages away from a bomb may never be acceptable. But what of the store of knowledge and experience that might be tapped secretly to restart a program in the future? That has to be considered a threat as well. The problem is how to neutralize that threat without weakening the nation in the long term. If a single attack on a nuclear plant would have guaranteed success, it would have been launched a long time ago.

Finally, as is already clear, any agreement will unsettle Iran’s Sunni neighbors, Egypt and Saudi Arabia especially. Ironically, their natural ally against Iran is  . . . Israel, which alone in the Middle East has a force strong enough to challenge it.

Iran's actual and verifiable abandonment of its nuclear weapons program would be a good thing. An agreement that stops short of that commitment is no agreement at all. But even if such a real deal to ban nukes completely is reached and fulfilled, it may ironically be the precursor to more conflict in the region.

Look closely . . .

. . .  that's a MiG-21 dressed in U.S. colors.

Part of an early '60s Cold War project to test the aircraft and other Soviet Union fighters. And guess what - it turned out to be pretty damn good.

More information and links at The Aviationist.

China vs. Japan

Things escalate

China continues to lurch toward a more aggressive foreign policies in Asia, as show here:

HONG KONG — The Chinese government warned on Saturday that it claimed the right to identify, monitor and possibly take military action against aircraft that enter a newly declared “air defense identification zone,” which covers sea and islands also claimed by Japan. The declaration appeared to be a step in China’s efforts to intensify pressure on Japan over the disputed islands in the East China Sea.

NY Times story.

Another story, with maps, from the BBC.

The aggression is part of an ongoing powerplay by China as it seeks to extend not only its influence but its access to natural resources in the region. A lot of this is about oil and gas, and because of that, it's unlikely the territorial disputes will be settled easily. The real question is what sort of reaction China will provoke in other countries, beginning with the U.S. and Japan, but just as importantly including smaller nations from Vietnam to the Philippines. The administration's so-called "pivot" to Asia in American foreign policy has not produced much in the way of counterbalances to China, nor has it had any noticeable effect on Chinese policy.

The news media remain fixated on the Middle East, but the conflicts in the Pacific are more critical to long-term U.S. interests, and potentially as difficult to resolve.

Chris Kyle & JFK

Whether or not every human being is connected by no more than six degrees of separation, I'm continually fascinated by the odd, weird and occasionally wonderful ways we seem to be related to each other. This being the anniversary of John F. Kennedy's death, I was reminded of my own very weak - very, very, very weak - connection to the event.

It came about this year, after the tragedy of Chris Kyle's murder. Stepping in to work on American Gun, I wanted to talk to some old-time police officers who swore by the .38 Special.* A friend put me in touch with a man who'd carried the gun for years and years - Jim Leavelle.

The same man who was walking Lee Harvey Oswald out of the police station when Jack Ruby appeared.

Chris had a lot of friends in the Dallas police department, and I know he heard the story of that day more than a few times. Here's the account from American Gun, in Chris's voice:
I started this chapter with a presidential assassination. It’s hard for a boy from Dallas to do that without thinking of Lee Harvey Oswald and that awful day back in 1963 when John F. Kennedy was shot down here. There are still plenty of folks around who were there and remember what all happened.
One of them is Jim Leavelle, who was walking Oswald down the ramp of the garage under police headquarters two days later when Jack Ruby shot him.
Jim, a friend of a friend, was a Dallas police officer for going on twenty-six years. If you’ve ever studied the JFK assassination, or even spent a bit of time looking at the photos, you’ve seen him at Oswald’s right in the light suit on the garage ramp as they walk down to take Oswald to court. Just as they come into view in the famous TV footage, Ruby ducks past an army of reporters and policemen. Leavelle starts to yank Oswald toward him out of the way, but Ruby’s too close. He fires into Oswald’s middle, then gets gang tackled.
Leavelle says he spotted Ruby’s pistol in the half-second after Ruby ducked around one of the other officers near the car. The retired officer is often asked by people why he didn’t shoot Ruby.
“It just happens so fast,” he tells them. “It always does. Sometimes you don’t have time to draw. You just react. That’s all you can do.”
That’s some hard-earned experience talking there. Training helps, good weapons help, but nothing beats fate, or dumb luck.
Leavelle was in a bunch of close scrapes over his career. He packed a number of weapons – a lot of .38s in just about every barrel length, a .45 Colt, a .38 Super, a .357 that he thought was a bit too heavy for an everyday carry. The day he escorted Oswald, he had two Colt .45s with him, but never had the chance to use them.
Ruby, by the way, killed Oswald with a .38 Special.

* I might have used my uncle, a former NYC policeman, but that seemed a little too close to nepotism, or maybe nephewism . ..
Patricia Cornwell's favorite book . . .

. . . is American Sniper.


Tell us about your favorite book of the year. 
Chris Kyle’s “American Sniper.” It’s an amazingly detailed account of fighting in Iraq — a humanizing, brave story that’s extremely readable. It will give you a much stronger appreciation of our troops, more awe for Navy SEALs and also insight into how wars are really fought today. 


Did I mention that she's my favorite crime/mystery writer?
Walking dog earns $100k

Clearly I walk the dog in the wrong place  . . .

Damn Van Damme

. . . how it might have gone.
Got health insurance?

No surprise here:

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress like to boast that they will have the same health care enrollment experience as constituents struggling with the balky federal website, because the law they wrote forced lawmakers to get coverage from the new insurance exchanges.
That is true. As long as their constituents have access to “in-person support sessions” like the ones being conducted at the Capitol and congressional office buildings by the local exchange and four major insurers. Or can log on to a special Blue Cross and Blue Shield website for members of Congress and use a special toll-free telephone number — a “dedicated congressional health insurance plan assistance line.”
And then there is the fact that lawmakers have a larger menu of “gold plan” insurance choices than most of their constituents have back home.

Meanwhile, my insurance premium has reached the point where I pay more for health care than my mortgage each month . . . and still have a fifty dollar a visit copay, no drug coverage, etc., etc. . . .

Maybe I'm the only one in the world that this has happened to, but my policy is more than the most expensive policy the same company offers through the NY Health Exchange. I can't switch due to the contract timing . . . yet.


I've always been fascinated with the family of high-speed sea planes and related aircraft, but I hadn't realized until recently that the Soviet Cold War designs were actually the work of an Italian. The original script for Ace Combat: Assault Horizon called for the descendant of one of these planes as a "boss" in the Black Sea sequences. alas, it didn't make it to the final cut.

St. Lo and our (mis)perception of history

One of the things that struck me while I was working on my biography of Omar Bradley* is how much misperception there is of the man. He’s not so much the blank slate of World War II but the punching bag.

Everyone from historians to political columnists have used him as a straw man for whatever sort of prejudice they have or point they want to make. Mostly that’s because:

a) readers don’t really know much about him, and
b) neither do historians.

There are a number of reasons for this, which I go into in the book. But it’s not just the fact that Bradley hasn’t had much attention. Much of what we focus on when looking at the history of World War II helps distort who he was.

Take, for example, the battle of St. Lo in Normandy. Capturing the city was an important accomplishment during the campaign that followed D-Day; it was an American victory. It was also a bloody mess that resulted in a pile of rubble and not much else. Because of the geography, lack of ammunition and a host of other factors, it was a slow, plodding affair, absolutely not what the Americans, or Bradley, wanted.

It happens, though, that because the battle lasted so long, we have a lot of specific information on it, which has allowed historians to focus on it. It’s often used as the last battle of the D-Day campaign – which of course it’s not. (That would be Cobra, a decidedly different affair, and the one plan completely drawn up by Bradley and followed to his specifications. And contrary to some historians’ contentions, there’s little evidence that Bradley saw St. Lo as the precursor to Cobra.)

There are a lot of things you can say about that battle. But if you look at it and think that it represents Bradley or American doctrine during the war, you’d be totally mistaken. Even if the historian writing about it doesn’t think that or say that, many readers will certainly get that impression if they spend a lot of time reading about it.

I should note that the documentary I’m in does end at that battle, and for that and many other reasons I don’t mean to exempt myself from the criticism of inappropriate context. But we do have to keep in mind that history, even at its most accurate, comes to us with many hidden strings. What we know is not always what we think we know, and what we think is often not what we know.

* which you can get here and here.

In Dutch:

Hello, Netherlands, and thanks.

(First time I've ever had a book translated into Dutch. I can't understand a word, but then that's not an unusual situation...)

Scanning books is fair use . . .

... says judge, dismissing what was a landmark case between authors and Google

Item from Reuters:

(Reuters) - Google Inc on Thursday won dismissal of a long-running lawsuit by authors who accused the Internet search company of digitally copying millions of books for an online library without permission.
U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin in Manhattan accepted Google's argument that its scanning of more than 20 million books, and making "snippets" of text available online, constituted "fair use" under U.S. copyright law.
Damn, Van Damme

It hurts just to watch this . . .

Speaking of Cobra . . .

. . .  this is the Army's official history of the attack.

There are a few things that'll make your eyes roll, but the footage of the troops and the terrain alone make it worth watching.

The visuals that always amaze me are the ones showing the sheer damage to St. Lo. The obliteration of French cities during the campaign is something quite often overlooked, even in the best books.

(Ignore the comments at the bottom of the page. Apparently the commentators didn't know that Patton wasn't involved in Cobra, or realize that Bradley's in the film to tout the Army's history series (including, it should be said, historians whose interpretations he didn't agree with). Then again, it's always interesting to see how the Patton-Bradley myths are perpetuated.)

What would 007 say?


A spy whose naked, decomposing body was found in a padlocked gym bag at his apartment likely died in an accident with no one else involved, British police said Wednesday. 
Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt said the death of Gareth Williams, whose remains were found inside a bag in his bathtub in August 2010, was "most probably" an accident.
"I'm convinced that Gareth's death was in no way linked to his work," Hewitt told Reuters. 

People lock themselves in gym bags all the time, I'm sure . . .

More D-Day books

Reading D-Day

One of the questions that I wasn't asked for the History Channel documentary, and that surely would have taken hours and hours to answer, is probably the most basic:

What's a good book to read if you're interested in D-Day?

Stephen Ambrose's D-Day is usually mentioned as one of the best introductions for a general reader, and I still remember my first reading when I was . . . a few years younger than I am today. Anthony Beevor's one volume D-Day is another good survey of the battle - and I'm not just saying that because he's in the History Channel documentary, too. (You should see my dog-eared copy, still tagged with a mountain of Post-It notes.) Max Hastings' Overlord is another good introduction, a bit older than the others, but still an excellent read.

After a general introduction, you might want to dig in a little deeper with Carlo d'Este's Decision in Normandy and John Keegan's Six Armies in Normandy. Both books take you well beyond D-Day, and in fact past Cobra, the battle that broke the american army out and set the stage for the race across France. Speaking of Cobra, James Jay Carafano's After D-Day is the best one-volume account of the battle I've found.

There are literally thousands of other books to round out the picture. You won't agree with every interpretation, not even (or especially not) in the best-known books, but that's part of the fun of history.

Veterans Day

I've attended my share of moving Veterans Day ceremonies over the years, but for me the most memorable was the one I missed.

It was 2006, and I was working on Rangers at Dieppe, an account* of the American Army Rangers first battle during World War II. I was on research trip to Great Britain and France, and was supposed to arrive in Dieppe on November 11, just before dawn, which would have been roughly the time that the Rangers had landed - along, of course, with a much larger contingent of British Commandos and the main Canadian force.

Things didn't quite work out for various reasons, mostly the weather, and I ended up arriving the next night. In the morning as I walked through the small city, I saw flower arrangements everywhere, as well as red poppies, a universal symbol of remembrance for the fallen in the wars. They were left from services that had taken place all around the city, services held every year.

What we call Veterans Day in the U.S. began as a celebration of the end of World War I; while many of the ceremonies in Europe recalled that conflict, in Dieppe the remembrances were largely devoted to World War II and the valiant but failed effort to rout the Germans from the city in 1942. The Americans played a very, very small part in that battle, but their courage and their blood was remembered as prominently and properly as the others'. Not only were the memorials decorated (there are no remaining American graves from the invasion battle that we know of), but in the days that followed, many of the residents I spoke mentioned their sacrifices and thanked our country for their efforts to free France. America had long forgotten about the small contribution of a handful of men in the battle; they hadn't.

As you'd expect, the French have their own perspective on the war; it's a complicated and heart-rending perspective, one with contradictions and complications. A lot has changed - I don't think the lingering resentment toward Germans that I encountered on my first visit to France in the late 1980s is anywhere near as virulent, if it even still exists. But one thing that hasn't changed is the French appreciation of the sacrifices others made for them in World War II. When they honor their dead, they honor the men and women from America and the rest of the world who fought besides them. American graves are still tended with loving care, as their own.

There's a slogan many of us use: Never forget. For me, Dieppe proved the sentiment is more than just words. We owe a large debt not only to those who have served, but to those who have helped us remember the importance of their sacrifices.

* Actually, the account, as I believe it's the only book-length investigation.


In talking about Bradley and D-Day, it occurs to me that the two battles where Bradley's armies had their worst problems came in terrain he probably didn't fully understand before his men fought there: the "boccage" or hedgerow country of Normandy, France, and the Hurtgen forest.

I realize it's way too simplistic to say that the Americans got bogged down in both places because their overall commander had never hunted in their fields. And Bradley did have intelligence and photos demonstrating what the terrain was like. (And ignorance is never a defense.) Still, neither he nor his army had fought in that kind of terrain before, his overall tactics and battle doctrine were ill-adapted to it, he didn't really have the right equipment for it (though who did), and the analogies an American would make upon hearing the area described are very misleading. Taken together with equipment shortages and everything else plaguing the allies, it shouldn't be surprising that it took the Americans a few weeks to figure it out.

I've often thought that the biggest problem of fighting in the hedgerow country began with semantics: when an American hears the word "hedges," he thinks of those cute little things in front of suburban houses. Everyone who's studied World War II and the aftermath of D-Day realizes that the boccage was difficult country to fight in, but I think it's hard to imagine exactly how hard it was unless you walk through it. Even the photos of long mounds of dirt with trees tangled in them don't really do the place justice. It's easy to get lost even on the roads; throw German machine guns (arguably the best ground weapon in the war) and mortars in there, and even an army that knew the ground it was fighting on would have trouble.

Americans would take one small Norman field, only to come under fire from the next and then the next. Rather than the rapid movement Bradley (and everyone else) had envisioned, the Germans threatened to tie them down in Normandy for months.

It didn't work out that way, mostly because of Cobra - but that's another story. (And another documentary - this one will end with the capture of St. Lo.)

Too timid to fight against the odds

Mentioning Balkoski's book, Beyond the Beachhead, reminds me of another great story he tells, that of one of the German commanders' assessment on St. Lo - a grueling battle that the 29th finally won after days of bloody and confused fighting.

According to the German, the 29th Division won because its soldiers weren't brave enough to fight unless they held a serious advantage in men and material.*

Guess you can say that when you get your butt kicked. "Neh, neh, now try and fight me with one hand tied behind your back . . ." Kind of makes you wonder how he would have fought the battle from the other side.

The Germans were great soldiers, and always did extremely well on the defensive. But obviously they were very sore losers.

* For once I'm not exaggerating - see page 217
Balkoski, Cota, and D-Day

I was recently filmed for an upcoming History Channel special on D-Day. (Details when we get closer.) Mostly I was there to talk about Omar Bradley because, well, I wrote a biography - the biography - of the important but largely neglected WWII general. But we ended up talking about a lot of things, most of which will probably never get into the show.

One of my great pleasures - besides visiting Portland, Maine - was reacquainting myself with some of the books about D-Day that I haven't read or thought about in quite some time.

One of my favorites is Beyond the Beachhead, by Joseph Balkoski. The book focuses on the 29th Infantry and its experiences in Normandy. It's a wonderfully written, extremely well researched account of the division's combat experiences. My version - an ebook for Android - was published by Stackpole in 2005. His terse but descriptive account of General Norman Cota on the beach has to rank as one of the more illuminating accounts of heroism in the war.

Cota was the assistant commander of the division. He was also, as they used to put it, a real piece of work. My favorite story has to do with him coming upon a small group of soldiers contemplating how they were going to get past a German position in a tree.

"Watch and learn,"* Cota said, and he ran to the building, threw in a couple of hand grenades and then went in with guns blazing. My kind of general.

* Not a direct quote. But close in spirit, if nothing else.

Moving at Mach 6

Bye-bye Blackbird


After years of silence on the subject, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works has revealed exclusively to AW&ST details of long-running plans for what it describes as an affordable hypersonic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike platform that could enter development in demonstrator form as soon as 2018. Dubbed the SR-72, the twin-engine aircraft is designed for a Mach 6 cruise, around twice the speed of its forebear, and will have the optional capability to strike targets.

Story in Aviation Week.
 (The SR-71, long-since retired, was called the Blackbird.)