Necessary Background Info

When I was a teenager, I was close to my maternal grandfather, Milton M. Brown. I was fascinated by the time he spent as a "delegate" in Herbert Hoover's WWI Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB). He was one of only 185 American supervisors who ever worked for the CRB. After he died in 1979, I inherited all his diaries, correspondence and photographs from that period (1916-1917).

From 1986 through 1989, I worked full time researching the time period, WWI, the CRB, and numerous delegates. From those efforts, I wrote an 850-page historical novel, Honor Bound. I had a few nibbles -- agents and publishers who asked for the entire manuscript -- but no one offered a contract. In the late 1990s, I made a half-hearted attempt to rewrite the novel, but it didn't go far.

After my second book, Facing Your Fifties: Every Man's Reference to Mid-life Health came out in 2002 (and was included in Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2002), my agent looked at Honor Bound. He suggested the topic would do well -- and fit my writing strengths -- if it was a history book written in novel-like style.

At the end of 2012, as I turned 60 years old, I came to the conclusion that it was time to take up this incredible humanitarian story again and see if I could make it work.

After more than a year of researching and writing, and with the help of a talented book team, I published Behind the Lines: WWI's little-known story of German occupation, Belgian resistance, and the band of Yanks who helped save millions from starvation. 1914. It detailed the complex and chaotic beginnings of the CRB and CN during the critical first five months of the war (August to December, 1914). It was released in October 2014 in time for the 100-year anniversary of the start of WWI and the CRB.

Since then, I'm happy to report that Behind the Lines has garnered national recognitions and reviews that include a Kirkus Starred Review (only 750 out of 10,000 books annually reviewed by Kirkus are awarded a Starred Review) and inclusion in Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2014. The last sentence of the review states: "An excellent history that should catapult Miller to the top tier of popular historians." You can read all the reviews at the book's website, which can be reached by clicking here.

Below are my blog posts about re-immersing myself in this important humanitarian topic. The posts start in Dec. 2012 and come up to the present. The posts are laid out with the most recent first. A "List of All My Posts" is on the bottom right of this page. I start each post with a quick snippet of history. I used to call this item "A Spot of History," but now it's titled "Don't-Forget-WWI Project."

My main forcus now is to finish researching and writing WWI Crusaders, which tells the riveting full story of the American CRB delegates from August, 1914 to April, 1917, when America entered the war and the CRB delegates had to leave Belgium and Northern France.

I hope you find something of interest within this blog. For more information about Behind the Lines and/or WWI Crusaders, please go to the books' website by clicking here.


Post #13. "...their eyes punctured...their sexual organs mutilated" and Jeff Finally Finds Home Again...

 March 14, 2013
  
US Propaganda Poster
A Spot of History: Propaganda to sway public opinion was a major weapon in the arsenal of both sides.
                        
Much has been written describing the atrocities German soldiers committed during the invasion of Belgium. While it's true that some of those stories were exaggerated and/or fabricated, many of them were horrifying accurate.

World opinion became so strong against the Germans that the German government issued a "White Book" on May 10, 1915, to justify German acts in Belgium. Basically, it said that the whole country had secretly and officially risen up and attacked the German troops.

It should be mentioned, before reading the direct quote below, that before World War One, fighting was normally and usually left to professional soldiers. Non-combatants usually stayed just that. For a civilian to take up arms against a regular soldier was quite a shocking development (such as American colonists/farmers sniping at English troops during the Revolutionary War). In Belgium, during the German invasion, the word "franc-tireur" became quite well known. In the French army it meant sharpshooter, or sniper, while a more widely understood definition was civilian or guerrilla fighter.  Following is a direct quote from the "White Book":
 
German Soldiers from
  longstreet.typepad.com
"Men of all professions, workers, manufacturers, doctors, professors, even clergymen -- yes, even women and children -- were taken with weapons in their hands, in the regions from which the regular troops had retired. They were shooting from houses or from gardens, from roofs and from cellars, from fields and from forests, on the Germans. They used means that would never be by regular troops -- shot guns and led shot, old revolvers and old pistols -- and numerous were the men found mutilated or scalded with boiling tar or boiling water. In short, it is not to be doubted that the German wounded were struck and killed by the Belgium population, and also greatly mutilated; nor is it to be doubted that women and even girls participated in these shameful exploits. German wounded had their eyes punctured, their noses and ears and fingers and their sexual organs mutilated, their bodies ripped open; in other cases German soldiers were poisoned, sprayed with boiling liquid, or roasted, so that they suffered an atrocious death."

My Post: As I mentioned in my last post, I'm been struggling with keeping this blog up to date and doing actual work on the project. This blog is supposed to be about helping me focus, not taking me away from the work.

So, I'm going to try and write smaller posts, while still making them interesting (I hope) to others.

In that spirit of saving time and energy for the actual work, I recently wrote an email to my good friend, and fellow writer, Shelly [click here for her website], about what I was doing. After writing the email, I realized it would make a pretty good post. So, here it is:

"Things are going very well, although I have to say that the Italy glass slides [click here to seewhat that's about] are only a very small side project for me this year. The big effort -- where 95% of my time is going -- is toward the WWI history book.

I have to say that I'm having SO MUCH FUN! I had forgotten what a research geek I am! :) It's been amazing to reacquaint myself with all the work I did 25 years ago. And now with the Internet as a research tool, I can't believe what new stuff I'm finding.

As a small example, back in the 1980s during the two full-time years I spent researching and writing my WWI novel, I painstakingly collected more than 80 books about the topic, which I then read and took notes about. Many of the books were difficult to find and expensive to buy because they were so old and obscure.

Now, with the Internet as my navigator, I've found and bought 18 new books -- many "print on demand" that have cost only $5 to $15 each. Most of the books were first printed nearly 100 years ago and were all but lost until the big institutional scanning of books started a few years ago.

It's also been interesting to see how I'm approaching the research of this non-fiction history book vs. when I wrote my novel. In fact, I've decided NOT to re-read my 850-page novel, Honor Bound [click here to read thefirst few chapters] because it will only confuse me as to what was real and what was made up in the book.

Writing a history book (like my Stapleton book) puts so much more responsibility on me to make sure that everything is accurate. Surprisingly, I've found that feeling exciting rather than burdensome.

It's also been kind of funny that non-writing friends who know how big this project is to me, keep asking, "How's the writing going?"

I explain to them that I'm still in the research stage and I probably won't even begin to write anything until July or August. They can't seem to grasp that I'm going to take an entire year, full time, to research and write this book. To them that seems like an eternity, especially in a world where 140 characters -- tweeted in a heartbeat -- is a story! :)

Happily, all that doesn't matter to me. I am so focused and so centered around how great this story is, that I can hardly see or hear anything else. I'm totally confident that I'm in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing. After three and a half years of wandering since the throat cancer, I've finally found home again..."

End of email -- and end of this post. Thanks for reading it.

2 comments:

  1. Thank goodness it was only the Germans. I was afraid something had happened at the fish pond! Good to see a new post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wave, thanks so much for the very funny comment! You made my week! :) Hope all is well with you. And thanks for taking the time to read my blog. Regards, Jeff

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