This 10th edition of The Military History Carnival is dedicated to the late, lamented George MacDonald Fraser, who died on January 3rd. His passing leaves a great hole in the hearts of fans of the "Bawdy Romp" genre of extremely well-written historical fiction. Fraser was a masterful storyteller and a first rate historian, as well as a veteran of service in India and Burma during WWII. His greatest literary creation was Sir Harry Flashman - himself the bully of "Tom Brown's School Days - who manages to wriggle through some of the worst military debacles of the Victorian era with the undeserved reputation as a bluff and hearty hero, rather than the shirking, womanizing bully he was underneath. As entertaining (and scandalous) as the Flashman novels are, they are also very well researched and present fascinating periods of 19th-century history in vivid and accessible detail. Marking Fraser's passing at History News Network's Cliopatra Blog, Manan Ahmed quotes the author on the value of historical fiction:
"(T)here is no truer guide to the past than good historical fiction. There is nothing phoney about it; while I tend to distrust approaches to education which suggest that it is an enjoyable game (when we know it is just hard slogging), the good costume novel is telling no more than the truth when it suggests that real history is fun and excitement and glamour and suspense; when it has all the ingredients of a great adventure story. But of course, that is what history is."
It does not matter if the historical novel is pure, unashamed fiction, with plot and characters owing nothing to historic fact, so long as it is properly researched and reflects, as faithfully as the writer knows how, the period and its spirit."
A quick on-line search shows there are many historian bloggers who mourn the passing of Fraser and Flashman, whose story unfolds over 12 novels but with additional campaigns hinted at but never brought to print. We are left to imagine the rest, and why not? Fraser himself fleshed out the back story and even wrote a novel about Flashman's reprobate father as another of the rotten apples in the barrel from which he came. Who is to say there weren't other Flashman ancestors of dubious character skulking about the fringes of military events for centuries before him? Perhaps the contributors to this carnival may shed some light on the matter.
Jason at Executed Today brings us the tale of the execution of Clearchus of Sparta in 401 B.C.E . "Lured under the color of friendship", Clearchus was treacherously seized and summarily beheaded, stranding a Greek mercenary army in Persia before they fought their way out and stamped the template the Macedonians would use to roll the phalanx through Persia. [While there is no record of any Flashman ancestor among the Greek Hoplites, the actions of the Persians in this affair are very much in keeping with his craven character.]
Gary Smailes revisits and reviews John Gillingham's article William the Bastard at War which he attests has stood the test of time in the twenty years since it was written. According to Smailes, Gillingham argues that at the Battle of Hastings, Harold went against conventional tactics that avoided major engagements between armies and "forced William's hand engineering the situation to one which a risky pitch battle was unavoidable." [One would imagine that Flashman's purported Saxon ancestor, who earned the name Lígetræsc or "Lightning" for the way he "flashed" from the battle, would have be appalled at Harold's aggressive gamble at Hastings. Since he turns up in the Domesday Book and Harold does not, this may have been the wiser strategy.]
Gabrielle Campbell, a writer of Historical Fiction and Sword&Sorcery, blogs at The Lost Fort about Herzog Otto von Northeim, who King Heinrich declared outlaw and who fought a skirmish in September, 1070, with a troop of Thuringians lead by a count Routger or Rugger. Campbell also includes some gorgeous shots of the ruins of Castle Hanstein.
Still in the spirit of historical fiction, Lafayette C. Curtis (writing as l Clausewitz at LiveJournal) presents writers of fiction with a detailed analysis of tactical tricks based around the presence of rivers, placing river-crossing operations in a military context. Among the many historical examples he provides is an analysis of William Wallace's destruction of the English forces crossing Stirling Bridge in 1297. [He makes no mention, however, of an English knight reportedly called Harold Fusée de Détresse, who rode from Stirling in a panic waving a blazing torch or "distress flare" and didn't stop until he reached the Channel.]
Boston 1775's J.L. Bell has been reading the journal of Continental Artillery Colonel Jeduthan Baldwin, who noted on December 19th, 1775 that he "went in the afternoon to Dotchester point to see the mashine to blow up Shiping." Bell discusses the possibility that this was a prototype of an early submarine or another invention, but in any case it appears not to have worked. [There is no need to invent a Flashman ancestor for this period, as someone else has already done so.]
If you peel away the celebratory layers you will see that [the American Civil War] has a great deal in common with the way we view civil wars elsewhere. It is the celebration of the war which troubles me because it seems to me that our gut reaction to foreign civil wars is a much more appropriate stance. Where is the confusion, uncertainty, violence, and sadness in our Civil War? I see the Civil War as a humbling event that serves as a reminder of the fragility of governments and the depths of violence that we all too often reach. I agree with the late historian William Gienapp that the “outbreak of war in April 1861 represented the complete breakdown of the American political system. As such the Civil War constituted the greatest failure of American democracy.” I wish more people would approach the study of the Civil War from this perspective.
Fraser, no stranger to war himself, knew that it was not all "fun and excitement and glamour and suspense", and Kevin reminds us not to grow too fond of it in the mists of memory. Though in fairness to Fraser, P. J. O'Rourke (a kindred literary spirit) puts it this way in Holidays in Hell;
"It will always be more fun to carry a gun around in the hills and sleep with ideology-addled college girls than spend life behind a water buffalo or rotting in a slum."
At J. David Peruzzi's Hoofbeats and Cold Steel, we learn that:
"History hardly remembers young Pvt. Norvell Churchill of the 1st Michigan Cavalry, one of Brig. Gen. George A. Custer’s orderlies. However, the actions of Churchill at the Hunterstown battlefield just outside Gettysburg early in the evening of July 2, 1863, literally changed history. There may have been no “Custer defeat” at the Little Big Horn thirteen years later… indeed, there may have been no George Custer at all after that warm July 2."
[Readers of Flashman and the Redskins know that Sir Harry Flashman survived a scalping and the slaughter at Greasy Grass where Custer's other men fell.]
Flashman's luck seems never to run out, but for many of the high ranking officers and other officials who survived the American Civil war, peace turned out to be more deadly. David Woodbury at the blog of Battlefields and Bibliophiles presents his unofficial survey of high commanders who were victims of murder, drowning, or other unhappy accidents after the war's end.
Fraser wrote several screenplays as well as historical novels - you can thank him for "Octopussy" - and his Hollywood History of the World is a loving tribute to the great costume flick. Great New Books That Are a Must Read recommends Phil Stewart's Battlefilm: U.S. Army Signal Corps Motion Pictures of the Great War. George Simmer of Great War Fiction takes issue with the widely-repeated claim that it took a decade after the Armistace for "well pondered" works on the Great War to be written.
"This seems to be wrong on almost all counts. There was indeed a 'spate of books' about the war in 1929-30, but the idea that writers had been sitting patiently waiting for a 'decent interval' seems unlikely...More importantly, though, the late twenties was a time when the War returned to people's minds. The treaty of Versailles had clearly not worked; Germany was re-arming; Europe was becoming unstable. The 'war to end all wars' had delivered on remarkably few of its promises, and hindsight made it seem futile. There was a ready response to books that proclaimed this futility (like remarque's) or presented the war's absurdity (like Graves's). I'm sometimes tempted to say that the books of 1929-30 tell us more about the mood of 1929-30 than they do about 1914-18. That would be stretching it a bit, but not by much."
Mackenzie J. Gregory at Ahoy - Mac's Web Log asks whether the Russian Arctic convoys of WWII were worth all the loss of life and ships "and could the equipment, a mere drop in the bucket compared to the vast quantity needed by Soviet forces, have been better used elsewhere by the Allies?"
David Lesjak's Toons at War shares the story behind this Disney-created insignia for the OSS, the Operational Groups of the Strategic Services which was the precurser to the C.I.A. Donald Duck creating some behind-the-lines mayhem is certainly a memorable image.
Paul Brewer of The War Reading Room recalls "an incident in my publishing career from twenty years ago...a flop called 'Battlefield'" which dealt with Operation Barbarossa in a taught, six page article, and draws parallels to an episode on the same campaign from a broadcast on UKTV History of The World at War.
Penny Richards at Disability Studies, Temple U. examines Leg Splints and Mid-century Modern Design created by Charles and Ray Eames, who during WWII were "part of a team of designers hired by the US government. (This wasn't unusual; my great-aunt Mimi was a shoe designer during the war; the government needed designs that could be mass-produced within the limits of wartime supplies, thus... canvas shoes.)"
"In the end America will follow its own unique path. All Republics end, and so do all Empires. There is, in human history, a series of cycles of renewal, decay and renewal. Each one ends in a crisis period, and each crisis must be overcome. It is never inevitable that you’ll fail – but it’s never guaranteed you’ll succeed either."
Flashman accumulated a chestfull of largely undeserved decorations in his military career, including a V.C., a Medal of Honor, and the San Serafino Order of Purity and Truth (Fourth Class). The UK National Inventory of War Memorials blog tells us of a recent service held to commemorate animal war heroes.
"An unusual memorial service took place yesterday at the PDSA animal cemetery in Ilford, Essex, which is the burial place of twelve recipients of the Dickin Medal (the animal’s Victoria Cross). Among them are Simon, ship’s cat on HMS Amethyst during the Yangtze Incident, whom we’ve written about before...The service was attended by living Dickin Medal winners, such as Sadie, a black labrador explosives search dog who worked in Afghanistan. The cemetery itself has recently been refurbished with the help of a lottery fund grant."
And now we must beat the retreat as this 10th edition of the Military History Carnival comes to a close. My thanks to all who contributed or those whose work was of such quality that I presumed to select it for inclusion even without nomination. Be sure to submit your best posts of January for the 11th Military History Carnival at Battlefield Biker at tj AT battlefieldbiker DOT com or by using the handy carnival submission form. And whether you belong to the Sandwich Islands Chapter of the Royal Flashman Society, or just hate to see an old soldier fade away, let us stand in the mess and toast Fraser and Flashy, for they both belong now to the ages.