The Nuclear Age: The 75th Anniversary of the Bombing of Hiroshima

Seventy-five years ago today, August 6th, 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The five ton uranium bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” detonated at an altitude of 2,000 feet with a force of fifteen kilotons of TNT. 70,000 people died in an instant, with over 200,000 total estimated casualties due to burns and lingering illnesses caused by radiation poisoning.

The city of Hiroshima had been chosen because of its importance to the Japanese war effort as a supply and logistics base, a major communications and weapons manufacturing center, and a key shipping port for the resupply of Japanese forces. Additionally, it had not been previously targeted during conventional bombing raids of the Japanese mainland, and was thought to be the best site to test the efficacy of the newly developed weapon.

Then President Harry S. Truman authorized the air strike to end the war and save American lives. The war in the Pacific had raged on for four years, and the Japanese Emperor in concert with his military leaders was preparing to mobilize the entire country to defend the home islands. Casualty projections for an invasion of the mainland were estimated at another half-million leaving Truman to deliberate prolonging the war and suffering or using a weapon that had the potential to bring about immediate unconditional surrender.

Ethical and legal debate over the use of the device is still being debated today. However, even with the unprecedented destruction and loss of lives at Hiroshima, Japan refused to surrender which led to the decision to drop a second bomb nicknamed “Fat Man” August 9th, 1945 on the city of Nagasaki.  Another 80,000 Japanese citizens perished.

Today, the skeletal remains of the former Hiroshima Industrial Promotion Hall houses the Peace Memorial Museum, “a stark and powerful symbol of the most destructive force ever created by mankind.” Aging survivors known as Hibakusha (now in their 80’s and fast disappearing from public consciousness) retell their stories to keep alive their memories of  unimaginable destruction and human suffering in the hope that nuclear weapons will never again be used.

The development of nuclear weapons and their proliferation around the world has significantly expanded since the Japanese surrender August 15th, 1945. There are an estimated 145,000 weapons in existence today with nine countries officially listed as possessing the ability to carry out a nuclear attack: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea.

Given that these weapons are far more powerful than those first two dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, let us hope and pray that the leaders of those governments resolve to negotiate and settle differences diplomatically, or worst case use conventional warfare, rather than relying on their nuclear arsenals.

Gone to Soldiers: My Review

Gone to Soldiers Book CoverI have read many novels of World War II, but none like Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy. Ambitious in scope, this sweeping epic not only immerses the reader into the events that took place during these tumultuous years, but connects them emotionally with the pain, suffering, tragedies and triumphs of ordinary people. Her lens into the horrors of this monumental conflict is unique. Told from a woman’s perspective, it emphasizes the struggles of the Jewish people and their resilience. In passages that are heartbreaking, compelling, and unsparing in their detail, she describes the horrors of the concentration camps… Hitler’s Final Solution. With the rise of antisemitism some seventy-five years after Germany’s surrender to Allied forces, it is both a somber reflection on the Holocaust and the survival of the human spirit in spite of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, as well as a sobering reminder that such discrimination and persecution continue today.

But Piercy goes way beyond the stories of those who perished or inexplicably survived the death camps, to give voice to those who waited for word of their loved ones. It took resilience to continue living without any information about fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, friends and lovers who were either fighting the Nazis across Europe or the Japanese in the South Pacific, or who found themselves caught in the middle between opposing armies. Piercy gives us flesh and blood characters whose strengths and flaws are given equal shrift, and whose hopes and dreams and daily realities mirror our own.

Just as life is not straight forward, Piercy’s story involves multiple characters whose different stories and experiences all converge or overlap in a sprawling 769 page narrative. It definitely took me awhile to wade through this voluminous novel, but I was engaged throughout and totally engrossed in the fate of each and every person regardless of how vile or good, their occupation or social status, wealth or impoverishment, ambitions or insecurities, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.  I was emotionally involved and genuinely cared about them.

Such a response to the written word is a testament to Marge Piercy’s ability as an author. Her strong female characters challenge traditional gender roles yet Gone to Soldiers is not just geared towards a female audience. The women give voice and unique perspective to World War II that isn’t found in other literary works.

These were extraordinary times experienced by extraordinary people, many of them women. Their stories are just as relevant as the men’s, and Piercy captures both.




Killing the SS – The Hunt for the Worst War Criminals in History: My Review

Killing the SS Book CoverThis is the eighth book in the Killing Series by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. Regardless of whether you are an avid history buff or simply interested in a particular era, circumstance, or individual from history, each entry into the series has been both educational and insightful. It also should not matter whether you are a fan of the famous journalist and cable news personality or agree with his political opinions, his historical perspective and writing style provide rare insights into each place, person, and event.

Most readers will be all too familiar with the Holocaust and the scale of man’s inhumanity to man; the barbarity of Hitler’s Final Solution is well documented. What the reader may not realize is the complicity of the U.S. Government, the International Red Cross, and the Catholic Church in spiriting known war criminals out of Germany after the war, hiding their atrocities, and settling them in the United States and South America. In 1947 alone, an estimated eight thousand members of the SS safely travel to Canada and the United States using false documents. Secret German support groups such as the Kamaradenwerk, ODESSA, and Die Spinne also smuggle eight-to-ten thousand Nazi fugitives into Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay.

Killing the SS focuses on the hunt for the four most wanted Nazis –  Adolf Eichmann, the mastermind behind the deportation of Jews to ghettos and concentration camps in Eastern Europe, Joseph Mengele, the “Angel of Death,” who carried out horrific experiments on detainees at Auschwitz, Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyon,” who tortured and killed countless victims in German-occupied France, and Martin Bormann, Hitler’s personal secretary, who signed the decree condemning all Jews to death.

It also looks at those dedicated to bringing these war criminals to justice – Zvi Aharoni, who led the Mossad team that kidnapped Adolf Eichmann, Serge and Beate Karsfeld, who relentlessly led the quest to bring Klaus Barbie to trial, and Simon Wiesenthal, the most famous of all the investigators who dedicated his life to solving the disappearance of Nazi fugitives, most notably Joseph Mengele and Martin Bormann.

Lesser known Nazis, Mossad intelligence agents, investigators and lawyers are woven into the narrative to illuminate the scope of the atrocities committed by the SS, the Gestapo, and the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and just how difficult it was to hold these criminal organizations accountable. Of the 9,600,000 Jews who lived in Nazi-dominated Europe, 60 percent are authoritatively estimated to have perished. Five million seven hundred thousand Jews are missing from countries in which they formally lived, and over 4,500,000 cannot be accounted for by the normal death rate nor by immigration; nor are they included among displaced persons. 

The term coined for these atrocities is genocide. Yet few receive justice and none ever express remorse for their actions. Benjamin Ferencz, chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, best sums up the frustration felt by both the survivors and their advocates. I had 3,000 Einsatzgruppen members who everyday went out and shot as many Jews as they could and Gypsies as well. I tried twenty-two, I convicted twenty-two, thirteen were sentenced to death, four were actually executed, the rest of them got out after a few years. The other 3,000 – nothing ever happened to them.

Killing the SS is an important addition to the volume of work documenting the Holocaust and a chilling reminder of the consequences of  anti-Semitism and extreme right-wing ideology, both of which are once again on the ascendancy today. It is also one of the more readable accounts of this horrific period in history.





Dragonfly: Lone Star Book Blog Tour and Review

Genre: Historical / WWII / Espionage
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing 
Date of Publication: July 9, 2019
Number of Pages: 576
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From the New York Times bestselling author of Roses comes a gripping new novel about five young spies embedded among the highest Nazi ranks in occupied Paris
At the height of World War II, a handful of idealistic young Americans receive a mysterious letter from the government, asking them if they are willing to fight for their country. The men and women from very different backgrounds-a Texan athlete with German roots, an upper-crust son of a French mother and a wealthy businessman, a dirt-poor Midwestern fly fisherman, an orphaned fashion designer, and a ravishingly beautiful female fencer-all answer the call of duty, but each for a secret reason of her or his own. They bond immediately, in a group code-named Dragonfly. 
Thus begins a dramatic cat-and-mouse game, as the group seeks to stay under the radar until a fatal misstep leads to the capture and the firing-squad execution of one of their team. But…is everything as it seems, or is this one more elaborate act of spycraft?
“Meacham’s impeccable pacing and razor-wire tension evoke the daily drama of life under a Reich whose French reign might have lasted little more than four years but felt like the thousand years that it threatened to endure.” ―Bookpage
“Meacham’s nail-biting tale will please fans looking for an intricate story of spycraft and deception.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Meacham ratchets the suspense ever tighter, while providing fascinating backstory on the intrepid five [American spies] as well as delivering a detail-rich portrait of Paris during the Occupation.” ―Booklist
“Complex, epic, and rich in historical detail-an uplifting story of finding friendship behind enemy lines.” ― Kirkus
Amazon Barnes & Noble
To go forward… sometimes you have to go back.
     In 1962 a former OSS (Office of Strategic Services – the precursor to the CIA) officer reads an anthology entitled The Greatest Ruses of World War II. Included in the last chapter is an account of the clandestine activities by a five-agent team, code-name Dragonfly. Though some of the details of the mission inside German occupied Paris are incorrect, he is more than just a little curious about its inclusion in the anthology. As the real life mission coordinator, he not only recruited, trained, and supervised the team members, but developed a bond with each person that transcended his role as mentor and supervisor. He genuinely cared about their safety and well being.
     Haunted by the memory of one of the team members captured and executed by the Nazis, he’s intrigued by the author’s claim that the individual is alive and well! Could this be true?  The Nazis shot spies. They did not send them off to concentration facilities or labor camps; they lined them up against a wall and shot them. Three of the five team members actually witnessed the execution, and there has been no contact from the individual in almost eighteen years. Is there any reason to believe or hope that this person somehow survived?
     So begins Leila Meacham’s totally engaging and beautifully written story of bravery, sacrifice, friendship and love; the best historical fiction novel of 2019.
     Dragonfly’s plot is complex with multiple and overlapping stories, yet the author carefully crafts a rich emotional journey that will have readers spellbound. Concise prose, superb imagery, and richly drawn characters accurately evoke a time and place (1942-1944 Paris, France) and the dangerous world of espionage. The training and tradecraft ring true, and the friendships are exactly the type that would be formed under such circumstances. These are ordinary individuals asked to do extraordinary things to assist in the Allied war effort. Their backgrounds, motivations and secret agendas add to the nerve wracking suspense and make the book’s length immaterial. The pages simply fly by!
     And it isn’t just the team that must use cunning and wits to survive. Nothing and no one is what or whom it appears to be. French citizens resisting the German occupation of their homeland live under the constant threat of exposure, while Parisians aligned with the Vichy government or simply desperate and hungry are willing to expose their neighbors for a crust of bread or a slice of cheese.  No place and no one was safe. The most innocent actions could be reported to the Gestapo and French police. 
     Neither are all Germans the heinous monsters that willingly carry out the Fuhrer’s orders and commit atrocities to achieve Nazi domination of Europe and the world. Some high ranking officers within the SSchutzstaffel (the dreaded SS) and Abwehr (the German Intelligence Agency in Paris) secretly work to undermine Hitler’s Final Solution.
     Tension, fear, suspicion, subterfuge… all these elements are woven together so skillfully that Dragonfly transcends the historical fiction genre, and for me became the best novel I’ve read in a very long time. There are simply not enough superlatives to describe it. If you read just one book this year, make it Leila Meacham’s Dragonfly.

Leila Meacham is a writer and former teacher who lives in San Antonio, Texas. She is the author of the bestselling novels Roses, Tumbleweeds, Somerset, and Titans.

August 7-17, 2019


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