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 #16: My Country 'Tis of Thee and the WWI German Rendition That's Kind of Chilling

May 10, 2013

A Spot of History: In August 1914, as Belgium's largest city waited, the invading German army approached like a giant subway train -- pushing ahead of it not a blast of air but a blast of human  

Refugees heading for Brussels,
Underwood & Underwood, Abbott, p. 19
refugees. With whatever little they could carry by hand, back or cart, these displaced people made their way toward the city that might provide shelter and protection.

In Brussels, war preparations were under way. Civilians in the Garde Civique took off their bowlers, business jackets and stiff collars and dug crude trenches across some of the city's broad avenues.
From A Journal from Our Legation
in Belgium by Hugh Gibson
With little or no military training, these men were prepared to take on one of the mightiest armies the world had ever seen.

Happily, that one-sided contest never took place. After tense days and nights of diplomatic negotiations, Brussels was declared an open city and thus spared the destructive force of the German military machine.

But it was a sad day for the city that had always been favorably compared to Paris, and it was made sadder still by an incredibly rare sunny day. The weather was all but forgotten, though, when the Germans finally began their entry into Brussels.
German Cavalry Soldier
Brand Whitlock, U.S. Minister, stood on the upstairs terrace of Ste. Gudule Church and saw "riding in column of twos, in...field-gray uniforms, their black-and-white pennants fluttering from their lances, a squadron of German hussars [cavalry]. And as they rode they chanted in rude chorus: 'Heil Dir im Siegeskranz'"

"It was very still," Whitlock continued, "the crowds sullen and silent, there in the glitter of the sunlight -- the horses' hoofs clattering on the stones of the uneven pavement, the lances swaying, the pennants fluttering and that deep-throated chant to the tune that the English know as 'God Save the King' and we as 'America,' and over us the gray facades of the stately old church. The scene had the aspect of medievalism; something terrible too, that almost savage chant and those gray horsemen pouring down out of the Middle Ages into modern civilization."

[For those who want to hear Heil Dir im Sigeskranz (it's kind of chilling to hear while thinking of a group of battle-hardened cavalrymen singing it as they enter a conquered city), click on ]

When no others came after the cavalry, Whitlock and his group thought they had seen it all and drove away. But suddenly, they rounded a corner and there was the main column of soldiers marching into Brussels.

"All we had seen was but an advance-guard, mere videttes, for there, up and down the boulevard, under the spreading branches of the trees, as far as we could see, were undulating, glinting fields of bayonets, and a mighty gray, grim horde, a thing of steel, that came thundering on with shrill fifes and throbbing drums and clanging cymbals, nervous horses and lumbering guns and wild songs.
                                         Germans moving through Place Rogier in Brussels

"And this was Germany! Not the stolid, good-natured, smiling German of the glass of beer and tasseled pipe, whiling away a Sunday afternoon in his peaceful beer-garden, while a band plays Strauss waltzes...this dread thing, this Frankenstein, this monstrous anachronism, modern science yoked to the chariot of the autocratic and cruel will of the pagan world." [Source: Everybody's Magazine, March 1918, No. 3, Vo. XXXVII, Belgium the Storm Breaks by Brand Whitlock] 

My Post: Sorry, it's been nearly a month since my last post. It's been a very busy month. I've been and returned from Princeton University, where I worked at both the Mudd Library and the Firestone Library on campus.

I had forgotten how pretty the campus is. Among the ivy, grand old trees and stately architecture, I felt as if my grandfather (Princeton, 1909-1913) was walking beside me and all I needed to do was turn and he would be there. There were actually 14 Princeton grads who became CRB delegates. The three I was researching were: Maurice Pate, Joe Green and Ridgley Lytle. A surprise came when I came across some great observational writing by another Princeton grad/CRB delegate, Earl Osborn.

Thanks to Christie at Mudd and Gabriel at Firestone for all their help. I found some material I had not seen when I had done research there 25 years ago.

Now, in a few days, it's on to the Hoover Institution for my final week of research. [Sorry, family who live nearby, I really need all my time to work, so I won't be seeing you.] The archives are considered the Big Kahuna of research for the CRB and I look forward to all the new/old things I'll be discovering. Currently I have more than four excel spreadsheets of specific items I want to review. Out of all that, I hope a few gems will appear.

I'm happy to report that during the two weeks I've been at home since Princeton, I've actually started the read/assimilate/index stage. I've already knocked out my first book. While I'm really proud of that, I have to remind myself that currently I have the following to review and/or read carefully:

1. My past research material from 25 years ago -- 79 books and lots of pages of diaries, letters and reports.
2. Twenty six new books that I've found and bought. -- Make that 27, the mail just arrived with another book I forgot I ordered!
3. More than 1,300 pages of unpublished diaries and/or dissertations and articles that have been kindly given to me to read. (Thank you to all those who have been so kind!)  
4. More than 2,000 pages of photocopies and/or digital images I've collected so far from my two library visits.   

Wow, I now have to forget about all that "stuff" or I'll get scared and stop working!

For big writing projects such as this, I've always been a firm believer in first establishing a clear-eyed vision of your ultimate goal and all that you need to do to achieve it.

THEN, while keeping the ultimate goal in sight, I need to somehow "forget" the total extent of work so I don't get overwhelmed. Once I've done that little mind trick, I can plod along, step by step, like the sure-footed Capricorn goat I am. And before I know it, I look up and I'm damn near at the top of my mountain!

Finally, I must end my post by congratulating Hanl Park for the GREAT job this New Jersey high school student has done in making a video documentary about the CRB for National History Day. He has successfully gotten through the regional and state competitions and will be going to Washington, D.C. in June for the national competition. His revised video can be found by clicking on  Featured on the video is famous historian/writer, George Nash, political commentator and great granddaughter of Hoover, Margaret Hoover, Utah History Professor, Branden Little, and myself. I'm honored that my voice starts the video and then there's an interview clip with me at around the 4 minute mark. I hope all who read this post will take the time to view this excellent video. Thanks!

End of post

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