A Walk Through a Cemetery in France
After hearing the comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin to the UN in September of 2015 I realized it was time for me to try to write the book others have been telling me I needed to write since 1970, about my experiences in war.
Putin's speech said things no American politician would dare discuss. He talked about America's disastrous policies in the Middle East.
I did the book in three weeks. After all, I have been writing it in my head for 47 years. All I accomplished in three weeks was to finish typing it. I surprised myself; it was better than I thought it would be.
Then I tried to figure out how to get it into print. The natural publisher seemed to be the Naval Institute Press. After all I was the youngest Naval Aviator in the Vietnam era and flew some 832 missions in combat. I sent them the first twenty pages and a cover letter detailing my background at the first of November. I figured it would take them a week or so to get back to me and by then I'd be about finished. I completed the book and I'm still waiting to hear from them. Time passes at the speed of molasses in winter in the publishing business it seems.
A 321gold reader, who is also an editor, emailed me from Japan, and we polished the book and I figured I should self-publish, at least on iTunes and Kindle format. While I've been an Apple aficionado since Christ was a corporal, I found working with Apple to be far more work than it was worth. On the other hand, working with Amazon to put a book into Kindle format was about as hard as falling off a bike. Once the Kindle version was up, I thought I would give CreateSpace a shot at making a paperback version.
Much to my astonishment, Amazon can print one paperback book at a time through CreateSpace. There is no minimum order for books to be printed. That's handy. If you go to one of the many self-publishing houses and have to place an order for 1000-3000 books in order to get the price down for a hardback, you will find yourself waltzing around stacked boxes of books to get to your bed.
You can have the greatest book in the world and post it on Kindle and CreateSpace but before you do you need a cover. For the first printing of my book we used a picture of an F-4B with some napalm canisters in front of it. I put the book up, got some sales and a few people didn't like the cover.
Today you can make a major change to a book or its cover in a day. It took me longer. I went to a site that offers custom designs from hundreds of artists from all over the world. I wanted something that showed not only the tools of war but the cost as well. It was handy but the entire process took about two weeks to get and judge the potential cover.
The design I chose showed an F-4 dropping bombs over a jungle at the top and a military cemetery at the bottom. Neither the government nor the actual military ever want to show their citizens what the real costs of war are not only in gold but also in blood. So you never see a heroic war film set in a cemetery when they all should be. I was quite happy with the 2nd cover. The $399 I paid for the design was well spent.
In November I needed some peace and quiet to type the book so I called in a marker from a friend who had offered the use of his retreat in The Alps. I stayed in the snowy mountains for almost a month working. Somehow I managed to capture not only the end of fall but also the beginning of winter. It was pretty nice.
In early March I took a vehicle from England to my mountain hideaway. The trip was about 600 miles and even with the great roads in Europe it was too far for a one-day drive. So in advance I made up my mind to stop for the night near Reims east of Paris. I went to booking.com and fed in my location and asked for a nearby B&B. It found one, highly rated, near my location at a good price. I was driving down this tiny country road west of Reims when I came across a giant military cemetery.
Since I had only finished the 2nd cover of the book a week or so before and knew how easy it was to change the design, I stopped and took a lot of pictures. Then I walked through the well-tended cemetery. As I strolled I read each of the grave markers. The graves were of young men from 17 into their 30s. They all died in early September of 1914 at the start of WWI.
Most people will still remember what ignited WWI but they probably have forgotten or never knew the nuances of how the war actually began. Obviously there was the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his pregnant wife on June 28 of 1914. Austria-Hungary intended to use the incident as an excuse to attack Serbia. Russia supported the Serbs so they mobilized, then Germany mobilized, so France mobilized to support their ally by treaty, Russia. England made it clear that they would back France in case of war and they mobilized as well.
Germany believed they could end the pending war with a swift victory over the French and British troops in France. They invaded Belgium and bypassed the French forts guarding the border with Germany. All of a sudden the entire world was at war without anyone in particular to blame when in fact everyone in general was responsible.
If the stupidity of yesterday sounds a lot like the stupidity of today, perhaps there is a reason. Nato just launched a "missile defense shield" in Romania ostensibly to protect Europe from Iranian missiles fired at it. Unless Nato knows something utterly unknown to the rest of the world, Iran has no conflict of any sort with Europe. Not content with just infuriating Russia, the US seems determined to create as many powerful enemies as possible in the South China Sea where they continue to ignore Chinese warnings to avoid what China considers their territorial waters.
In 1648 to end the Thirty Years' War, the countries of Europe agreed to a new concept of sovereign nations in an agreement called the Treaty of Westphalia. That is, every nation had a right to self-defense and secure borders without outside interference. Later international doctrine such as the Nuremberg Trials determined that wars of aggression were the "supreme international crime."
Under the Bush Doctrine the concept of independent and secure states was turned on its head with the US claiming a new right of preemptive warfare against anyone who might ever be an enemy of America. Should Russia and/or China claim a similar right of preemptive self-defense, they could feel justified on a first strike against the US and be at least as legally justified as the US attacks on Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, and Libya.
It's hard to imagine the carnage involved in a World War. My walk through two French cemeteries from the opening days of WWI brought that home to me. The crosses lined up as far as the eye could see. As you walk down a row and inspect what are but forgotten names now, a hundred years later, you cannot help but wonder what life would have been like for those young French soldiers with the ribbon of their lives clipped all too early.
The Germans closed within 30 km of Paris. If only they could capture the city, the war would end. But a stupid German general, and are there really any other sort, disobeyed his orders and turned to the southeast to chase down a faltering French army on the verge of collapse. His actions opened a 30-mile gap in the German lines. The French were quick to take advantage. Meanwhile the British general in charge of the British forces needed a swift kick up the backside to rush his men into battle.
In what was called the Miracle of the Marne, the French put together a fleet of six hundred taxis to rush fresh soldiers to the battle. It was little more than a symbolic gesture but isn't war little more than a collection of symbolic gestures? The tide turned, the Germans retreated and began digging trenches for a new style of warfare unknown in history.
The battle was significant for a number of reasons. It ended the concept of cavalry charges across open ground since machine guns could slaughter hundreds of men in minutes. It began trench warfare that lasted another four years. In the first half of September 1914, the French lost over 100,000 soldiers. They [the French] lost 1.3 million during the entire four years of the war and lost 7.5% of that total in a two-week period.
One of the cemeteries I walked through was filled with some of those men. It was moving. War costs not only money but also blood. WWI bankrupted the UK, destroyed the Russian Empire and caused the Russian Revolution, ended the Ottoman Empire and the Austria-Hungary Empire. No one really won. No one wins any war. But everyone loses. All that matters is just how much damage you have done to your own country by participating in a stupid war.
Many scholars of war agree that the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles signed in 1919 directly led to the rise of Hitler and WWII. So a war begun over something as simple as an assassination of a minor royal figure ultimately led to the deaths of 17 million in WWI and 60 million in WWII.
I called my book The Art of Peace. It can be ordered from Amazon in either Kindle format or paperback for either $14.99 or $19.99.
It's the story of a young man going to war and his feelings about war in the hindsight of fifty years of history. It's a pretty good book. I'm proud of it. You don't need to read the book to understand just how I feel about stupid wars. Just go spend a day walking through a military cemetery and you will know exactly my feelings.