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 #31: Another Tuesday 101 Years Ago Was Very Different for the World

Tuesday, August 4, 2015 

THIS DAY IN WWI HISTORY:  An excerpt from my WWI nonfiction book, Behind the Lines,
German uhlan (lance-carrying cavalry)
On that first day of the invasion, Tuesday, August 4, it was a hot and surprisingly clear summer day in the normally cool, cloudy, and wet country [of Belgium]. At 8 a.m. German uhlans (lance-carrying cavalry) thundered across the border, signaling the start of what became the deadliest war the world had ever seen, and what Pope Benedict XV called “the suicide of civilized Europe.” By evening six columns of German troops were two to three miles past the border.

Around noon the Germans entered the frontier village of Visé. Nestled on the right bank of the Meuse River, it boasted 3,800 people and 900houses. When the Germans arrived, the Belgian soldiers withdrew from the town, crossed the Meuse, blew up the bridge behind them and settled onto the left bank, where they shot at any German who came close to the river.

According to historian Jeff Lipkes, within ten minutes of entering Visé, the Germans shot their first civilian. He was “Monsieur Istas, a cashier at the railway station, [who was] gunned down as he returned to work after an early lunch. . . . By evening, more than a dozen corpses littered the streets. Most of the murders seemed wholly arbitrary. . . . The Brouhas, father and son, brewers, were dragged out of their basement and executed in front of their house.”

One of the town’s barbers, Louis Kinable, was shot in front of his shop because he had a pair of clippers in his hand—hence he was seen as a franc-tireur. One boy was battered so badly by rifle butts “that his body could only be identified thanks to a card from his middle school proclaiming him an honors student.” Meanwhile, a Berlin newspaper reported that a sixteen-year-old Belgian girl in Visé had been executed for mutilating German corpses.

On August 10 the Germans burned down Visé’s church in the center of town, claiming its Gothic spire was being used by Belgian artillery to sight their cannons. Then, on the evening of August 15, eleven days after the town had been taken—and after the residents and their homes had been thoroughly searched for arms—the German troops began firing their weapons in response to what they said they thought were attacks by franc-tireurs.

As terrified residents reacted to the guns, events escalated until the Germans were burning, looting, and killing. The destruction went on door-to-door for two days and nights. By August 18, the town was leveled, 631 citizens had been deported to Germany, twenty-three additional residents were dead, and more than 600 homes had been destroyed.

It was the “first systematic destruction of a Belgian town,” according to one history of German atrocities. Systematic or not, as one observer later described it, all that remained were “heaps of brick and mortar like a ruined Pompeii, the only difference being that the bricks of the walls which still stand look newer.” One German captain bluntly summed it up when he declared that Visé had simply “vanished from the map.”
German soldiers marching into Belgium.

My Post: I’ve surprised myself by writing this new post only 10 days after writing the previous post. As those of you who have followed this blog know, it usually takes me a month or so to get around to writing a new post.

I was motivated primarily by the fact that the start of WWI fell on a Tuesday exactly 101 years ago. I couldn’t let that sad anniversary go unnoticed. That day led to so many incredibly horrible things, such as the use of poison gas, aerial bombardments, and tanks. And as students of history know, WWI was the fertile killing field from which the seeds of WWII were planted and drew their bloody nourishment.

But alongside of such WWI horrors there were countless stories of heroism, courage, and self-sacrifice that somehow balance out much of the horrors of warfare – much, not all .  .  .
And, of course, there’s the old concept that you can’t have light without darkness, goodness without evil, ice cream without body fat. 

So even though the war brought out the worst in mankind, it also brought out a lot of good. I want to include some of the good that took place in German-occupied Belgium in Book Two of the Behind the Lines series. That’s a goal that will be beside me as I wade into the research and start the writing of Book Two.

Meantime, I want to report that the four scholar presentations at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library (mentioned in my previous post) were, in fact, aired by C-SPAN3 on American History TV last week. For those who missed it, or don’t get C-SPAN, you can watch it for free, with no sign in or registration at AmericanHistory TV. I’m speaker #2 and my presentation is about 25 minutes long. A special thanks to all who actually take the time to watch the video.

Author Appearances

Lastly, as a new item for each post, I’ll end by listing any appearances I’ll be making in the next few months. I’m grateful to each group for inviting me to participate.

August 8, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Poudre River Loves Reading Local Authors Book Fair
Fort Collins, CO, Old Town Public Library
Authors will be tables to talk about their
books and sign copies

October 17, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Rocky Mountain Literary Festival
Mount Vernon Country Club
Golden, CO  
I’ll be the last speaker of the day

End of Post

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