Showing posts with label Cold War. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cold War. Show all posts

14 June 2017

Michael R. Davidson's THE DOVE

by David Edgerley Gates




1987, the Cold War. Reagan is president, Gorbachev is General Secretary. The Russians are mired in Afghanistan, ground down by attrition, death by inches. What if there's a way to bleed them out faster?

CIA's chief of operations at the Paris station is approached by French security, We have a potential KGB defector, in Moscow, they tell him. But for us it's a Denied Area. We don't have the resources to operate there. You do. Harry Connolly, CIA operations, knows Rule One: There are friendly countries, but no such thing as friendly intelligence services. What do the French want in return?

It turns out the French want the product. They've just been beat out of the biggest arms deal in history by the British, a total of 20 billion pounds sterling, to the Saudis, and the French smell a rat. The defector in Moscow has inside information on the arms sale.

The defector has access to the material because his skill set is technology theft. KGB has a compromised asset inside the Saudi deal, but more to the point, CIA could use the defector's knowledge to map Soviet weaknesses. Where are the gaps, what's on their shopping list, which specific technology problems are they targeting? 

And we're off. Paris to Moscow, Paris to DC. London to Riyadh, London to Geneva. Harry has good tradecraft, and he begins to pull the threads together. Everybody's got a piece, from the fixer for a Saudi Prince, Mohammed Attar, to the British procurement minister James Abbott, to banker and bagman Wafiq al Salah, to the Novosti correspondent Nikolay Kozlov, a KGB spook under journalistic cover, and the hapless defector-in-place Stepan Barsikov, giving classified information to the West because he's defeated at love. The journey crosses personal landscapes as much as physical distance. And interestingly, not everybody learns everything. There are things left hidden, or unspoken.

And the last question, the historical one, about the end of the Soviet Union, did they fall or were they pushed? It's perfectly plausible, as The Dove suggests, that the Russians could be goaded into overreach and overspending. Imperial ambition, with an economy on the edge of collapse, and political hardening of the arteries, the Old Guard unable and unwilling to accept reform, meant the system was on life-support, and ready to collapse of its own weight. They were perched on a narrow ledge. Gravity did the rest. Oh, and maybe just a small thumb on the scale.

https://www.amazon.com/Dove-Michael-R-Davidson/dp/0692877142/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1497302186&sr=1-1&keywords=michael+r+davidson


This is a review I posted on Amazon for The Dove, with the tagline "authentic and thought-provoking." I've got a couple of things to add. They're in the nature of personal observations, what you might call editorial asides.

First off, it's probably obvious I have a weak spot for Cold War spy stories, having written a few myself, and Michael Davidson knows the territory. This is probably the place to note that Davidson is former career CIA.

Second, although I wouldn't presume to call us close friends, Michael and I are Facebook pals, and we've had the occasional private e-mail conversation. Fair disclosure.

Third, it should be said that Michael and I aren't entirely on the same page, politically. I think he's somewhere to the Right of Attila the Hun, he thinks I'm somewhere to the Left of W.E.B. Du Bois. (I'm exaggerating. A little.) The point here, specifically referencing The Dove, is that it's an article of faith among Reagan's admirers that he brought the USSR to its knees by forcing them to spend money they couldn't afford on advanced weapons systems, to keep pace with American technological developments. This isn't unfounded. I'd be likely to give some credit for the collapse of the Soviet Union to the Polish pope, or Lech Walesa, and fissures in the empire - the Causasus, the rise of radical Islam, falling oil prices - but let's be fair.

It's interesting to me that two guys with an intelligence background, Michael's far more extensive than mine, can agree to disagree on a fair number of things, yet not lose sight of certain homely truths. Neither one of us trusts the Russians worth a rat's ass, which is the inner unreconstructed Cold Warrior for you, in full plumage, and we both have an old-fashioned regard for keeping faith, for honorable service, for duty. There are worse things.

25 May 2017

The Paths of Glory...

by Eve Fisher

Graves at Arlington on Memorial Day.JPG
Arlington Cemetery,
Wikipedia
  • "Fear prophets and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, at times instead of them." -Umberto Eco 
  • “The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of much of our lives become apparent. Trivia dominates our conversations and increasingly our airwaves. And war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble. And those who have the least meaning in their lives, the impoverished refugees in Gaza, the disenfranchised North African immigrants in France, even the legions of young who live in the splendid indolence and safety of the industrialized world, are all susceptible to war's appeal.” Chris Hedges, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
Memorial Day is the United States' official holiday to remember all the people who have died serving in our armed forces.  It's also a good day to remember all who have died in war, period.  And not just in the United States.

Now, this may sound strange to you, but one thing I would like to see is happen is the United States reinstate the draft. Personally, I believe EVERYONE should have to serve in the military, men and women alike.  My reasons are many:

(1) When only 1% of the citizenry serve in the military, and all are "volunteer", then the citizenry as a whole seems to be remarkably unconcerned about what wars, "unofficial" wars, etc., we're in.  The Middle East conflicts have seen military personnel - often "part-time" National Guard - serving 3, 4, 5+  tours of duty, and nobody seems to care.  It's someone else's child, someone else's family, and they volunteered.  Let them go where they're told.  Especially since it's somewhere "over there".  I find this unhealthy.

(2) If everyone serves in the military, then maybe certain politicians won't talk patriotism out of one side of their mouth and then yank promised veterans' benefits away with both hands.  And other things...

(3)  If we're going to police the world, then by God I think we should draft everyone, and let everyone in on what it's like to serve.  Training, education, and a greater knowledge of the world around them.  Mark Twain:  “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

(4) Recurring statements from recurring politicians (who do not/ have not/ will not ever serve) that seem to openly want / long for/ plan for war.  Again, going back to #1 - we have to stop taking our military for granted.  We have to recognize that it's real blood that is shed, real lives that are lost, real minds / bodies that are damaged, sometimes irreparably.

(5) The other side of it is that we appear to be developing a certain (small?) percentage of the military that seems to be increasing in disdain, distrust, and dislike for the non-military majority. I've been told that American civilians in general are unfit, immoral, and slothful.  (From the Walrus and the Carpenter: "I deeply sympathize." Sometimes.) As one said to a judge once, "We throw these people over the fence."  The judge replied, "Welcome to the other side of the fence." And this important:  the military is there to defend the BOTH SIDES OF THE FENCE.

Bill O'Reilly at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia (cropped).jpg
Bill O'Reilly - Wikipedia
I do believe that we take war too casually in this country, mainly because (post 1812) our wars have always (with the exception of the Civil War, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11) been on someone else's soil.  (This includes the "American Indian Wars" which were all fought on what was, at the time, Native American land.)  There is an American tendency to downplay European distaste for war, European steady pursuit for diplomacy, as "liberal", if not downright cowardly. During the buildup to the Iraqi invasion, Richard Perle stated that European nations "do not have the most courageous of instincts," implying that America must intervene in inter-national affairs because Europeans are afraid to.  (Citation on NBC)  Back in December of 2005, Bill O'Reilly said "I understand Europe. They're cowards." He went on to add,
"...by and large, the European population is soft and afraid. ... They won't confront evil on any level. It is anything goes, just leave me alone. Give me my check from the government and leave me alone." (Citation on MMFA)  It's a fairly constant theme on Breitbart as they quote Neil Farage, Geert Wilders, and others among the alt-right.  

But as one response put it, "Europeans are not cowards - It's that we know war."  And they do.  The following is a list of European wars over the last 200 years:

1789-1795 - The French Revolution (the real beginning of the 19th century)
1802-1815 - The Napoleonic Wars (fought both in every country in Europe and around the world - the War of 1812 was a subset of these)
1819 - August 16 - Great Britain - "The Peterloo Massacre"
1820 - Revolts in Spain and Naples.  Crushed.
1825 - Decembrist Revolt in Moscow.  Crushed
1824-1830 - The Greek Revolt v. Ottoman Empire.  Won (because the Congress of Vienna backed it)
1830 - Serbian Revolt v. Ottoman Empire.  Won (because the Congress of Vienna backed it)
1848:  Europe went NUTS in 1848.  Some of the major armed conflicts were:
  • Revolt in France; king flees; Louis Napoleon Bonaparte is elected, then becomes Napoleon III in 1852, & launches a series of imperial wars on the continent...
  • Berlin revolt.  Crushed.
  • Viennese workers & students revolt in Austria.  Crushed.
  • Czechs revolt vs. Austrian Empire.  Crushed.
  • Milan & Venice revolt vs. Austrian Empire.  Crushed.
  • France invades & occupies Rome at the request of the Pope (they stay until 1870)
1849 - Magyars of Hungary revolt vs. Austrian Empire.  Crushed
1853-1856 - Crimean War.  Russia v. Ottoman Empire, France & Britain.
1854 - Spanish Revolution
1859 - Piedmont (Italy) v. Austrian Empire.  France joins Italy and beats Austria.
WWImontage.jpg
WW1 Montage - Wikipedia
1864 - Danish War (Prussia v. Denmark).  Prussia wins.
1866 - Austro-Prussian War (Austrian Empire v. Prussia).  Prussia wins.
1868 - Spanish Revolution (Italian king put on Spanish throne)
1870 - Franco-Prussian War (French lost; Napoleon III deposed)
1871 - Communard revolt in France.  Crushed.
1876-1878 - series of Serbian-Ottoman (Turkish) wars
1899-1902 - Boer War (Great Britain v. South African Boers).  Britain wins.
1905 - Bloody Sunday Massacre in Russia.
1912-1913 - Balkan Wars.  (sort of a preview of WW1)
1914-1918 - World War I ("The war to end all wars"...  but it wasn't).
1936-1939 - Spanish Civil War (a definite preview of WW2)
1939-1945 - World War II

Infobox collage for WWII.PNG
WW2 Montage - Wikipedia
There are reasons to pursue diplomacy when you have seen war on your home soil at least every decade for over 150 years.  There are reasons to want peace and unification when entire generations of young men have been wiped out time and again (see the list above). When cities have been bombed to rubble, and refugees have numbered in the tens of millions (WW2).  There are reasons to try to figure out what acceptable risks are when you have seen an entire continent explode, and 38 million people killed (civilian and military), over the shooting of one man in Sarajevo (WW1).  And to pursue civil accord, liberties, and responsibility when you've seen an entire continent almost drown in darkness, and almost get destroyed by war, after racist fanatics took over a government and then decided it was time to take over the earth (WW2).

Warsaw, post WW2
Wikipedia
And wars don't just end with everyone going home to a wonderful family reunion.  The scars last a long, long, long time. (Trust me on this: I lived in the South for years, and my mother was Southern.  The Civil War has not yet been forgotten and forgiven, on either side, and that was over 150 years ago. And don't even get me going on the Greeks and the Turks:  my grandfather was still furious at the Turkish invasion of Constantinople... Which happened in 1453...)

WW2 left 20 million military dead and 40 million civilian dead, and God only knows how many wounded.  There were also 60 million refugees.  Of those refugees, at least a million still hadn't found homes by 1951. And millions more weren't refugees, but were simply homeless, as whole cities were bombed into rubble, and much of the European industrial infrastructure destroyed.  And this brings up another unpleasant truth:

World War 2 is the reason why the United States became the leader of the free world and sailed into the 1950s on the biggest wave of prosperity we ever saw:  we hadn't been bombed into rubble, we hadn't lost our infrastructure, we didn't have a huge refugee population to resettle.  Our factories were at top production, when there were barely any left running anywhere else on the planet.  For years, we were the sole supplier of almost everything, and we grew very very rich.  That specific kind of economic boom will never happen again, no matter what any politician tells you, and thank God for it:   it was based on the absolute misery of most of the rest of the world.

Sadly, these lessons may have to be relearned, especially if certain parties in Europe and elsewhere have their way.  But maybe they will continue to remember, even if we do not.  They know how bad it can get.  We can only imagine.  Thank God. May it always stay that way.







27 July 2016

Giving Up The Ghost

by David Edgerley Gates
I happened on a thriller writer named Chris Morgan Jones, who has three books under his belt, all of them about a private security outfit that takes on corporate espionage - which generally means Follow The Money. I liked what I read, and checked out his website, where he lists a few of his influences, along with how and why. This then prompted me to send him a letter, as follows:

Dear Chris,

   I'm very much in agreement with your listed influences - although I might have chosen OUR MUTUAL FRIEND over BLEAK HOUSE - but I was brought up a little short by HARLOT'S GHOST. I have to say, with all due respect, that I think the novel strikes a false note from beginning to end.  It's only fair that I explain.

   This is awhile back, mind, but I lived in Provincetown at the same time as Norman Mailer, and we knew each other very slightly, friends of friends. The guy I knew better was Peter Manso, who was working on a Mailer biography, and had Mailer's confidence. (They had a bitter falling-out later on, but this was then.) Mailer asked Peter if he knew anybody who could recommend some reliable source material on CIA, and Peter said he did, meaning me. I suggested Thomas Powers' THE MAN WHO KEPT THE SECRETS, which is still the best go-to, and somewhat mischievously, Edward Jay Epstein's LEGEND, a speculation about whether Lee Oswald was ever under KGB discipline. As it happens, the Epstein book is fascinating, but you have to be pretty drenched in the literature to benefit, and it ain't for the fevered brow.

   The eventual result was HARLOT'S GHOST. There was a later Oswald book, but the point here is that Mailer simply didn't absorb the basics of what Powers and Epstein had to say, particularly about the character of the intelligence community. Mailer went off on his usual belligerent conceits, the voices in his head drowning out anything he might have learned from listening to someone else. I'm not pissed off that he didn't take my advice - strictly speaking, I didn't give him any - but it's aggravating that he paid no attention at all. His notions were too firmly fixed. CIA people, the received wisdom has it, can only be hollow men, without inner gravity. Spare me.

All the best,
DEG

*

A few years ago (and a few years later than the events above), I went to a reunion in San Antonio. It was personnel who'd been stationed in Berlin at the 6912th, my former outfit, but not necessarily all at the same time, so it was a grab-bag. Different ages, although mostly in their fifties and sixties. Probably a hundred or so people. By and large, they'd gone career military, a twenty-year hitch, and then quite a few of them had transitioned over to NSA, as intelligence analysts or instructors, for another twenty, so we're talking about a lifetime in the spook trade. Which got me thinking. Why a book about the morally exhausted, cynical and world-weary? Done to death. Why not a story about commitment, a duty to something larger than ourselves, pride of ownership?

During the reunion, we took a field trip out to Lackland AFB to watch a graduation ceremony, new recruits trooping the colors after completing Basic, and then we went to a less publicly-traveled part of the base, where ISR is housed - Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance, which is what they call the USAF Security Service nowadays. The event was a memorial. The commanding officer read a list of names - going back to the beginning, in 1948 - the officers and enlisted killed in the line of duty. There are more than you might think, but most of them flight status, killed in aircraft shoot-downs, the Baltic, the Black Sea, the Sea of Japan, off Vladivostok or Sakhalin Island, the coast of Viet Nam. Their families wouldn't have been told about the classified missions they were flying, or that they'd come under attack by Russian pilots. Too sensitive, at the time.

It was sunny and hot, noonish, but early October, so it isn't stifling. The air was still. Quiet corner of the base, not a lot of ambient noise. You can hear a couple of jets taking off from Kelly, the runways a mile or so away. The names are read, we have a moment of silence. The bagpipes start up, "Amazing Grace." And then, right overhead and coming in low, a formation of four fighters in a diamond pattern, the same planes we'd heard taking off. Just as they go over, the plane in the tail position does a flip-up, pulling sudden G's, out of the formation. This maneuver is called The Missing Man, signifying a flyer lost in action, and I'm not the only one starting to get weepy.

The experience reinforced something I already knew, which is that choosing to go career military is like it or not about duty, pride in the mission, accepting a larger responsibility. It's a concept that may have fallen out of fashion in some quarters, and of course it always smacked of self-aggrandizement or suspect sentimentality, if you happened to voice it aloud. I've never know a single lifer who'd own up to this, at least not without a knowing half-smile, and a degree of irony. That said, when I wrote THE BONE HARVEST, it turned out to be very much about the lifer community. Not in the same way as a novel like Sarah Bird's YOKOTA OFFICERS CLUB, but maybe its second cousin.

THE BONE HARVEST takes place in the early months of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, beginning on Christmas Day 1979, and the book is about mounting an intelligence operation in hostile territory. It's an educated guess that such an operation was in fact mounted on the ground in Pakistan, but I'd be very surprised if I'd guessed wrong. more than this, the book might be considered kind of a course correction to all the egregious eyewash that gets written about the spy biz. Not the James Bond stuff - there's nothing wrong with derring-do, even if it borders on the fantastical, and Bond after all isn't a spy, he's a hit man - but the tired drivel that keeps being trotted out as received wisdom, the opportunistic cubicle rats with no moral compass, or misguided zealots bent on jihad, field agents burned or corrupted or gone rogue, assets abandoned, the whole a Darwinian lottery, predator and prey.

It makes for good theater, no argument, but it's lazy. I wanted to come up with something more original, or maybe more retro - John Buchan, say - but with contemporary hardware, state-of-the-art for that period in the Cold War. On the other hand, you can't be a total gear freak. How much is enough, giving it the right feel, and how much is too much, when people's eyes start to glaze over? That one telling detail is often all you need.

I've quoted le Carré before, to the effect that it doesn'd have to be authentic, it has to be convincing. My point here isn't to disrespect anybody, my point is that far too often I'm left unconvinced. For me that's the kiss of death, getting something wrong that's easy to get right, or simply being wrong-headed. I could care less about your politics, or whether you set the table with the salad fork on the outside, but there's one inflexible rule. Don't play fast and loose with the reader's confidence. Once you lose it, you'll never win it back.



I began with Chris Morgan Jones, and took the long way around to get where I was going, so let me wrap this up by saying I enjoyed THE SEARCHER enormously, and have now gone back to read the first of his three novels, THE SILENT OLIGARCH, which came out in 2012. It's always a pleasure to happen on a new writer - or at least somebody new to us. This guy delivers. 
http://www.chrismorganjones.com/

27 January 2016

Tower Four

David Edgerley Gates


This is a Cold War story I hadn't heard before. Given that I'm a student of the history, and flatter myself that I'm reasonably well-informed, you gotta wonder, if I didn't know about it, it must have really fallen between the cracks - or had the lid put on tight. In either case, the story does some people credit, and although it's probably too late for others to suffer embarrassment, there's enough to go around.

In the late 1950's, the nuclear deterrent depended on the long-range strategic bomber fleet, before the emphasis shifted to ICBM's. Shore-based radar on the Eastern Seaboard covered coastal approaches, but Air Force planners needed to extend their reach, to increase the margin of warning time. They came up with the idea of building platforms at sea, like off-shore drilling rigs, but equipped with radar. They were called Texas Towers. The pilot program called for five platforms, overlapping coverage from Nova Scotia to New Jersey. Numbers One and Five were never built, but the other three were. Tower Four, the last commissioned, in 1959, was located seventy miles out, south of Long Island, near the continental shelf. Of the three towers, it was anchored in the deepest water, at 30 fathoms, and it was the least stable.

All the towers had structural issues. They rested on three legs - or caissons - which went down to the ocean floor. These were designed to be flexible, to absorb wave motion, and seas were often heavy. The platforms swayed in the wind, and shook with constant vibration from generators and other equipment. Victor Rioux, an electronics tech who served on Tower Two, says it was like living in a tin can. They worked twelve-on, twelve-off. Victor's longest single tour aboard lasted ninety days. The platforms had two floors for quarters, below the chopper deck.  You might be able to imagine the living conditions. Approximately sixty guys, with absolutely nowhere to go.

Tower Four took heavy damage from Hurricane Donna late in 1960, and it was decided to dismantle it.  It was being manned by a skeleton crew, fourteen military and fourteen civilian, when another storm bore down on them, January 15, 1961. Weather prevented helicopter evacuation from shore, but both the transport ship New Bedford and the USS Wasp tried to reach the tower. They got close enough to see the platform sink. They recovered no survivors.

It seems, in fact, very much a forgotten story. Here are a couple of links I found.  You may have to copy and paste.










12 June 2013

The Haunted Wood

by David Edgerley Gates

The hysteria of the Red Scare in the 1950's is a sad chapter in recent American history. Joe McCarthy was a blowhard and an opportunist, who targeted the innocent along with the merely suspect, and destroyed the careers of honorable people, inside the government and out.

To take one example, it was an article of faith on the Left for many years that the Rosenbergs were railroaded to the electric chair. And likewise, that Alger Hiss was the victim of a smear campaign by the despicable turncoat Whittaker Chambers. The fact that the Hiss case gave legs to Richard Nixon's early political career is only proof positive that the bottom-feeders of the Far Right have no shame, and are happy to use the basest of lies to promote a culture of fear.




Slight cognitive dissonance, here. What gets lost in the shuffle is that Stalin had in fact mounted an enormous clandestine espionage operation inside the United States in the postwar years. Not that McCarthy made a dent in it.

Which brings us to THE HAUNTED WOOD.  In 1995, the FBI began to release the declassified transcripts of the Venona intercepts. Venona was a U.S. counterintelligence program that decrypted cable traffic, specifically Soviet agents reporting back to Moscow. The authors of THE HAUNTED WOOD were given access to KGB archives, and cross-collateralized with Venona, they reconstruct a secret world.



There's an obvious question of provenance. To what degree are the KGB documents---or the FBI documents, for that matter---redacted, or sanitized, or doctored? No security service wittingly gives up material that makes them look bad. The answer seems to be that when both versions of the traffic are available---e.g., the original Russian in Moscow's archive, and the FBI translations---the content matches, with only minor differences such as wording, small errors in vocabulary or grammar that would naturally creep in. A non-native Russian speaker (like this writer, for instance) is bound to make some mistakes. In other words, the resulting analysis is trustworthy. The authors haven't been led down the garden path.

THE HAUNTED WOOD makes a hash of the apologists' case. Alger Hiss, for one, was alomst certainly recruited by GRU, Soviet military intelligence, in the 1930's. And the Russians, of course, found other sympathizers among the anti-Fascist Left, particularly after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. You could ascribe this to idealism, or naivete, or a thirst for social justice. There were a lot of people on the Left, in the '30's, who saw the rise of Hitler as the handwriting on the wall, nor were they far wrong. It took a willing blindness, though, to see Stalin as a champion of the oppressed, and as time passed, many of these former willing acolytes fell away from the faith. After the arrest of the Rosenbergs, the Moscow intelligence apparat discarded well-intentioned Old Lefties and turned to pros. Rudolph Abel established a spy network out of Brooklyn that lasted nine years before the FBI rolled him up. Soviet illegals, working under deep cover, weren't a fabrication of J. Edgar Hoover's fevered reptile brain.




None of this is meant to be an alibi for malignant windbags like McCarthy, or the moral cowardice of his enablers. It's widely accepted that the Red-hunters never exposed a single agent of Communist influence. It was all smoke and mirrors. What they did do was create an abiding climate of mistrust, and enshrine the habit of betrayal. It's not a stretch to say that the hearings themselves, with their odor of Stalin's purge trials, the posturing, the parade of friendly witnesses, the public disgrace of others, and the blacklist, the fruit of a corrupt bargain, did more to damage the American political fabric than any number of actual enemy subversives could have hoped for. It poisoned the well for a generation.

The war in the shadows went on. A long stalemate, between two adversaries who each recognized a genuine threat in the other, and found, it seems, their mirror image. This is not in any way to suggest a moral equivalency, but there's a lesson to be taken from the Cold War. We were looking into the past, and trying to see the future through the wrong end of the telescope.




12 December 2012

Cold War Berlin: A Whiter Shade of Pale

by David Edgerley Gates

David Morrell's forthcoming new thriller, MURDER AS A FINE ART, takes place in Victorian London, and he remarks that his research and the writing itself so completely immersed him in the time and place that it became more real to him than the contemporary, so-called 'real' world. Anybody who's ever written period stories, whether in the distant past or more recent history, can relate. The language you use changes from modern usage– not so much "prithee, sirrah," as perhaps word order– and even the thoughts of your characters are different, because their view of themselves and the world are different from the present day. The easiest trap to fall into is anachronism, a modern viewpoint bleeding into the past, which could be something as simple as cause and effect: we know the Black Death was caused by a bacillus; the people it killed thought it was the hand of God. Specific details are simpler, as in, when did Lucky Strikes go to war? 1942, as it happens.

In both the bounty hunter stories, which take place in the years just before America's entry into World War I, and the Mickey Counihan stories, which take place immediately after World War II, I've found myself slipping into a habit of mind, not so much a slavish devotion to accuracy ('the smell of the lamp') as a mental device, or discipline, trying to think my way into the characters' heads, which is more than just the correct vocabulary. It's time travel.

I've had a much different experience e-formatting my Cold War spy novel, BLACK TRAFFIC, for upload to my website. I hadn't actually taken a close look at the book in over a year, so it came as a surprise to me how evocative, to my mind, the story-telling is, an era and a city that might as well be as distant and foreign as the Mexican Revolution, or postwar New York. It's time travel, but into living memory. The book takes place in Berlin, in the mid to late 60's, and I was in fact there. Much of BLACK TRAFFIC is based on my personal experience of both Berlin and the spook trade of the times. In other words, it's firsthand recollection, and the problem, often, wasn't a lack of specificity, but too much, an overwhelming flood of significant detail. How to pick and choose? Memory is a chancy thing, an unreliable guide to history. I found I second-guessed myself a lot, was such-and-such a thing for real, or something my subconscious overheard, a trick of the mind's eye? Authentic reconstruction is a false hope.

So what I was left with, after filtering out the generic and over-familiar, while keeping the untidy and simply bizarre---the story of the would-be U.S. defector to the Russians returning to West Berlin to feed his cat is based on fact, for example---was still an indigestible stew, underdone and lumpy, needing better seasoning and more time in the pot (which was true of the book as a whole), but in the end, I could only follow my own likes, and forgetting caution, there were a couple of things I cherished too much to discard.

Berlin had a soundtrack in those years, Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale." Actually, you heard it all over Europe in the spring and summer of '67, but I always associated it most closely with Berlin, and so did a lot of Berliners. It remains an anthem, even today, for that certain generation, both triumphal and melancholy. Why that particular theme song? I've got no idea. Germans can be a sentimental lot.

The other totemic association I have with Berlin is currywurst. All over town there were food stalls set up in the street, and wurst stands were the most popular. You got brats or a knock with potato salad and a hard roll, with a dab of mustard on the side, on a paper plate. The odder iteration was currywurst. Basically pork sausage slathered in ketchup mixed with curry powder, and served with French fries. An acquired taste, as you might imagine, but once acquired, not forgotten.

I saw a recent news article saying that landmarks which had been inaccessible when the Wall was up, the Brandenburg Gate, for instance, were now overrun with people, both native Berliners and a raft of tourists, and of course they were teeming with so-called Schnell-Imbiss, fast food. A new wrinkle is that they aren't even stalls, but guys with a hot-top rigged up to a shoulder harness, so they can work the crowd, and your wurst comes to you, not the other way around. Interestingly enough, this has generated some political controversy---not the serving method, but the perceived disrespect of public monuments. It's just part of the urban scene, in my opinion, but the politics of Left and Right in Germany often fixate on irrelevancies. The presence of all that cheap food is is seen as an insult to the historic significance of these symbolic places.

Germans are often accused of wanting to conveniently erase or reinvent the uglier passages of their own history, not just Hitler, say, but the Soviet occupation of the East, and the reinterpretations have a definite bias, Liberal or Conservative, depending on your sympathies. In other words, which history, and who appropriates it. Symbols mirror desired meanings, old wine in new bottles. It seems odd to me that currywurst has fallen afoul of politics and now wears a badge of dishonor, in some quarters. It's only sausage links and tomato paste, after all, and has no dog in the fight, so to speak. Then again, one man's relish is another man's distaste.