When The North Wind Blows
Put Another Log On The Fire And A Book In Your Lap….
Running his pen over the 2013 schedule, Big Cheese Editor Jeff John paused—I thought, dramatically—tapped the paper and intoned, “So, you’re doing these book reviews kinda annually, huh?” Ever the articulate orator, I replied, “Yup.” His eyebrows arched, signaling, “Something epic this way comes.”
“So,” sez he, “Why don’tcha do ’em, like, mid-winter, when people actually have more time to read books?” Not wishing to appear less than intellectual, I tried to look thoughtful, quickly gave that up, and finally responded with, “Umm… Duh…” And here we are, snowbound bibliophiles!
This one’s going to be a little different, because first, I’m not gonna tell you what’s in the book. Second, you’ll have to hunt for it, because it was last printed in 1948. (Hint: I found copies available on Amazon and bought two for $4.95 and $9, one for a gift and one to keep.)
If you recognize the author’s name, it is probably as the man whose short stories became iconic John Ford movies including Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande, and as co-writer of the screenplay for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. But there’s a lot more.
Born in New York in 1899, young James Warner Bellah couldn’t wait for the US to enter World War I, running off to enlist in the Canadian Army. He wound up flying against the Boche as a pilot in Britain’s Royal Flying Corps. Fast forward to WWII, James kicks off as a lieutenant in the infantry, leaps to the General Staff Corps, then to the inner circle of Admiral Lord Mountbatten in Southeast Asia; fights in Burma with the legendary Orde Wingate and his Chindits, then serves with no less than General “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell and Phillip Cochran, the daring CO of the 1st Air Commando. James ended the war as a colonel and one of the most colorfully and eclectically experienced officers of any army.
Fourteen novels, innumerable short stories and articles tell only part of his tale. Throughout his life, he would take a world map, blindly stick a pin in it—and go there, by whatever means. Irregular Gentleman forms those chronicles, written by a master wordsmith whose scene-setting and character depictions rival the best work of Joseph Conrad. Find it!
The River War
Gordon of Khartoum. Kitchener at Omdurman. Dongola, Kordofan, Darfur and Berber; the confluence of the Blue Nile and the White, and the fabled cataracts beyond which lie its mysterious headwaters, running from the darkest, most impenetrable jungles to parched and forbiddingly desolate deserts. The names, the words alone stir the imagination and set a vast stage for death and glory.
The Sudan of the 1880s and ’90s, impoverished by and ravaged under brutal Ottoman and Egyptian overlords, boils up and rises around the failed and shoeless cleric Muhammad Ahmad, who declares himself to be the prophesied Mahdi, the redeemer of the Islamic world. Hunger and hate form a powerful fuel, and the hordes of the sword and spear-wielding Dervish Army appear unstoppable, killing all in their path.
If you read Churchill’s Story of the Malakand Field Force, you know at the conclusion of the Afghanistan mountain campaign, young Winston dashed off to England, having heard of an operation being mounted against the Dervishes, and to forge up the Nile. We find him on horseback in the sands of the Sudan as a young leftenant of the 21st Lancers, armed with a pen, a notebook, and a lance, which is anything but decorative.
From the machinations of major world powers to the tracking of an army-issue box of biscuits from Cairo to the Upper Nile, the depth and breadth of Churchill’s research and the dispassionately objective eye with which he views allies and enemies alike may astound you. If you want to understand Darfur and the Sudan today, you must read this tale of its yesterdays titled The River War.
On the same day in 2004 that the 9/11 Commission delivered its report on the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, another report, far more important, was released. It was a masterpiece of timing, and it worked: the full focus of the press and the attention of the world was riveted on the 9/11 Commission’s glance into the rear-view mirror of history. Many, if not most members of Congress and the hierarchy of the federal government heaved huge sighs of relief. That other document was the Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack. They didn’t want people to read it, and they haven’t.
Most people have heard of EMP but few really understand it, or appreciate the gravity of its threat. It is what nuclear scientists refer to as a “continent killer.” It does not require a sophisticated thermonuclear device or an advanced intercontinental ballistic missile delivery system. All it takes is the detonation of what you might call a garden-variety atomic bomb in the upper atmosphere over your target nation, lobbed skyward by a crude but sufficiently powerful rocket, and virtually every electronic device in line-of-sight from the detonation is permanently, irrevocably fried.
The more advanced and industrialized the targeted nation, the more cataclysmic the effect. Whose society does that sound like? Power grids go down, in effect, permanently. All modern aircraft, locomotives, vehicles made after the 1960s, generators, phones and other communications systems, medical devices, GPS, everything with microcircuitry or a microchip dies instantly.
No, your expensive shock suppressor won’t work. EMP doesn’t pack the power of lightning, but it achieves peak power several times faster than the shock from a lightning bolt, frying devices before a suppressor’s switch can close. The only effective shielding consists of tons of hard earth or yards of concrete.
EMP is the most cost-effective way to plunge a modern nation back into the Dark Ages, but without the skills, tools or knowledge to survive in that environment. What would the effect be, let’s say, on a small mountain community in North Carolina? One Second After answers that question. And while you’re turning the pages, bear in mind these words from retired Air Force General Eugene Habiger, former Commander-in-Chief of the US Strategic Command: “It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when.”
My thanks to the Big Cheese Editor Jeff John for loaning me his copy of Irregular Gentleman. Within 20 pages I knew I’d have to buy copies myself—it’s that good. Stay warm, friends! Connor OUT
Editor’s note: John Connor, Garry James and I have formed the loose association of “Those Who Read Bellah” and you can join by finding one of his books, reading it, and passing it to a friend. Our goal is to see his work reprinted and disseminated.
By John Connor