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 #14: A Saber Totin' Prussian General, G-Gs and a Young Jersey Filmmaker

 April 7, 2013

A Spot of History: Elderly Baron Moritz Ferdinand von Bissing was a Prussian officer recalled to
von Bissing with saber
active duty as deputy commander of the VII Army Corps from August 1914 through November 1914. On Dec. 3, 1914, he was appointed Governor-General of occupied Belgium.

Brand Whitlock, the American Minister of the U.S. Legation in Belgium, described the 70-year-old von Bissing as thin, with graying black hair brushed straight back and "plastered down as with water or with oil." His face was "wrinkled, and old and weather-beaten" and "remorsefully shaved...leaving thick heavy moustaches...growing across his cheeks to bristle up fiercely by his ears." Constantly by his side was a "great heavy sabre" that "clanked against his thin legs as he walked stiffly." He wore the Iron Cross First Class and the enameled star of the Order of the Black Eagle fastened by a "cravat about his collar and dangling heavily out at his wrinkled old throat."
von Bissing with moustaches
As Governor-General of Belgium, von Bissing held god-like powers in his aged hands. He expected everyone -- from civilians to his own soldiers -- to adhere to Prussian military standards and to follow every dictate to the letter. It was nearly unthinkable that one of his soldiers would do otherwise. 

Many of the young, idealistic CRB delegates had little patience for German bureaucracy and authority. This was especially true when it came from lowly German sentries and soldiers who constantly harassed the Americans, even when they were carrying the required German passes, passierscheins, necessary for crisscrossing the country.  

One day -- in an incident related by Brand Whitlock -- a CRB man met von Bissing and boldly declared that the passes were often disregarded. Von Bissing would hear none of it. Of course his men honored any passes that were properly issued from his headquarters. The delegate must be wrong.

Thinking quickly, the CRBer suggested von Bissing send one of his staff, dressed in civilian clothes, to ride along on the American's next trip. The Governor-General agreed.

During that trip, near the Dutch frontier, the CRB car was stopped by soldiers who ordered them out of the car and began searching it. Von Bissing's representative protested, showing his passierschein. The German officer told him to shut up. The man protested more strongly. Tempers flared.  

In the end, the man was hit in the face by the officer, sent to the local Kommandantur (headquarters), then to Antwerp, then to Brussels before someone finally acknowledged who he was.  

From then on, CRB passierscheins were personally signed by von Bissing and treatment of the traveling delegates improved. The passes became fondly known as "G-Gs" (for Governor-General) and were, as Whitlock explained, "much sought after for the sedative effect they exercised on sentinels."

My post: I've stated in my earliest posts that this blog is primarily for me -- to keep me focused on continuing this important project. An ancillary benefit might be that like-minded people stumble across it and we can help support each other's interests and/or goals.  

Well, I'm happy to report that such serendipity occurred recently. New Jersey high school student Hanl Park decided he wanted to make a documentary on Hoover's CRB for the National History Day Student Competition. When he searched YouTube for any relevant videos, he came across my very amateur effort, which lead him to my blog.

We emailed back and forth and then he interviewed me over the phone. I'm honored that he used my voice to start his video and I speak again about half way through. He used a still photo of me that shows my very cluttered office in the background.

Park and his video have successfully passed through the regionals and are into the states competition. I wish him luck! For those who want to view the nine-minute video, the link is:  Noteworthy is the excellent commentary from renowned Hoover biographer, George Nash, and articulate Margaret Hoover, great granddaughter of the great humanitarian.

As for my blog and the deadlines I've imposed on myself, I'm going to have to rethink the concept. Right now it looks bad that I have not successfully completed the last few deadlines in the time allotted.

That's not to say I'm behind or have stopped working. Quite the contrary. I've very excited about what I've been doing and what I've accomplished. As I believe I've mentioned before, there are distinct stages to creating a book:

1. Gathering -- of research materials
2. Reading and Assimilating -- those materials
3. Conceptualizing -- the book and/or any articles I might produce along the way.
4. Writing -- the book
5. Marketing -- the book
6. Selling -- the book

I am still firmly in Stage 1. I've collected more than 25 new books on the subject, reached out to numerous historians who are working on CRB related projects and I've planned and organized three research trips:

April 8-April 12:  Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa
April 23-April 28: Princeton University's Mudd and Firestone libraries
May13-May 20: Herbert Hoover Institution, Stanford University campus

I leave tomorrow for West Branch. I'm looking forward to working with archivist Matt and his staff for three full days.

All of which means that my deadline chart in the upper right side of this blog is not accurate. But right now, I just don't want to take the time to try and think it through and re-arrange it.

Thanks, once again, for anyone who's taken the time to read this post. I'll end with what I posted the other day on Facebook:

"The following inspiration came to me at 2 a.m. this morning. I believe the first phrase should apply to everyone, then after the "BUT" each person should put in their own processes for whatever project, goal or ambition they have. For me, it's about my new book project for 2013. I know it's rather simple and obvious, but I certainly need an occasional reminder of the simple truths. Take it for what it's worth.
Dare to Dream Big,
1. Plan strategically
2. Research meticulously
3. Write movingly
4. Market honestly
5. Sell sincerely”

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