Saturday, May 24, 2014

My Amazon Review of David Downing's, "Jack of Spies"

Having read all six of David Downing’s “station series” about Germany in World War II, I was looking forward to his new series on World War I. Unfortunately I was disappointed. Simply put his lead characters, Jack McColl and Caitlin Hanley, lack the depth of John Russell and Effie Koenen. Perhaps it’s the times. The world of 1913-14 had yet to experience the horror of the trenches, the ideological struggles of the 1920s and 30s, the Great Depression and the rise of Hitler. It was a simpler time.

Downing’s protagonists are Jack McColl, an automobile salesman initially freelancing as an intelligence agent before moving on to that line of work full time and his romantic interest Caitlin Henry, a very attractive proto-feminist working as a journalist. Jack’s spying takes him to the German concession of Tsingtao, China, San Francisco, New York, Mexico during the U.S. occupation of Veracruz, Dublin and London. Quite a full itinerary, but he is far from operating on the high political level of Sidney Reilly, the “Ace of Spies”. It is more the day-to day stuff dealing with naval deployments, arms shipments and IRA terrorism. Through it all McColl and Henry find the time to frequently end up in bed.

There are appearances of the founding fathers of British Intelligence. We meet McColl’s boss, George Smith-Cumming the head of the Special Intelligence Service responsible for foreign activities, now MI-6, and Vernon Kell the domestic intelligence chief of the Secret Intelligence Bureau, now MI-5.

There is a lot of good stuff in this book and it is worth the read, but I only hope that in future volumes Downing will improve his character development under the strains of The Great War.

The Amazon URL is: 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Reliving the 1930s

According to aphorism attributed to Mark Twain, “history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.” I am afraid our generation is reliving some of the horrible experiences of the 1930s. The Great Recession of 2008-09 was our version of the Great Depression. The recent experience certainly was not as bad, but after many decades of plenty, it certainly felt that way.

As the 1930s progressed concerns shifted from the still depressed economy to the rise of fascism and a series of foreign policy crises in Europe and Asia. Instead of Hitler fascism we are now witnessing the rise of Vlad, “The Impaler,” Putin’s version of it. In the 1930s Germany was the revisionist power seeking to undo the strictures of the post- world War One settlements. Today Putin is attempting to revise the post-Cold War settlement established from 1991-1994. His seizure of the Crimea and his attempts to further dismember Ukraine are part and parcel with his strategy to restore the past greatness of Russia. Just like Hitler, he is succeeding.

Why? The West is doing its best to rhyme the failed policies of the 1930s of vacillation and appeasement. Both the United States and Europe want the world go away so they can hide in cocoon of isolation. This is true of factions of both the left and the right of the political spectrum. Unfortunately this policy is a luxury we cannot afford. To paraphrase the Russian revolutionary Trotsky, the U.S. and Europe might not be interested in the world, but the world is interested in them.

Instead of making speeches, our vacillating President should act by imposing real sanctions on Russia, providing direct military aid to the Ukrainian government, increasing rather than decreasing the military budget, moving NATO forces into the front line states on a more permanent basis and take the energy infrastructure steps necessary to wean Europe off of Russian gas. Will President Obama act? The stakes are high!