S. Martin Shelton

Retired U.S.Navy Captain, Novelist

Book Review- King Tut and the Plagues of Egypt (The Adventures Through Time Series Book 1)

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Rating – Five Stars

Derrer sets the fantasy scenario for this manuscript in the 25th century. He weaves an intriguing and thoughtfully designed narrative that successfully integrates quantum physics, time travel, and family adventure. The patriarch of the family is Max Planck, who designed a quantum-physics time machine—controlled by the mastermind “Jeeves,” the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-intelligent android computer. Of note, the patriarch is a direct descendant of the Max Planck—German theoretical physicist, who developed the fundamentals of quantum mechanics in the early 20th century.

The Planck family’s goal is to visit Egypt during the 18th Dynasty in Thebes (about 1310 BC) during the co-regency of the ailing Amenhotep III and his young son Amenhotep IV, King Tutankhamun’s father. Historians aver that this time was one of the most turbulent and complex periods of ancient Egypt, exacerbated by holding the Israelites in slavery and their demands for freedom laced with horrific threats from their God.

At the time, the volcano Thera on the island Santorini was erupting violently. A monstrous Plinian column rose thousands of feet. Northwest winds battered Egypt with gale force tempests containing acid rain, toxic gasses, and tephra from the volcano. Subsonic eruptions periodically racked the kingdom. These calamities were the precursor of the 10 plagues that lacerated Egypt. The family wanted to observe (unseen) how the co-regency dealt with these vexing problems.

Using invisibility suits, they plant telecommunicative bugs in various temples and in the royal palace. They witnessed religious rites of human sacrifice, revelry, and drunken orgies to placate the god of war, Sekhmet, who was believed to be responsible for the plagues, but to no avail. The bugs transmitted images of the strikingly beautiful Nefertiti, wife of Amenhotep IV, and Moses and Arron demanding that Amenhotep IV release the Children of Israel from slavery. Moses delivered his ultimatum, “Let my people go. If you do not, the angel of death will strike down all the first-born of Egypt, man and animal, in a night.”

I was particularly impressed with Derrer’s scientific explanations of the cause of the plagues. No giveaway here.

They also witnessed the Israelis crossing the Sea of Reeds (usually and erroneously referred to as the Red Sea), and the pursuing Egyptian army destroyed by a tsunami wave.

I’m not an avid fan of science fiction. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this narrative, and I enthusiastically recommend it.

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Book Review- The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech

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Rating – Five Stars

Kristen Powers, a self-acknowledged Democrat and liberal, expounds the political incorrect truism that illiberal left (her term) suppresses speech that does not kowtow to anarchist/socialist orthodoxy. She cites numerous instances where the illiberal left violated a person’s Second Amendment rights by intimidation, threats, and violence. And such suppression prevents audiences from exercising their Second Amendment right to hear.

I’ll not summarize Power’s musings. Rather, I’ll post a number of her quotes and writings that will extol her theme far better than I.

  1. “[It’s the] liberal Supreme Court Justices who argued for an expansion of views of the First Amendment and treated free speech as a precious commodity to be guarded jealously.”
  2. “For example, liberal Justice William Brennan, Jr. said, ‘…debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.’”
  3. “Laws that limit what a person can say, even when what they say is depraved, are authoritarian. For example, at a press conference on 5 December 2015, the Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, said, ‘[I’m] incredibly disturbed by the rise of anti-Muslim rhetoric in America and [I] pledge to combat this trend and prosecute those responsible…’”
  4. The illiberal left philosophy is “…in favor of government power to curtail freedom of thought, speech and conscience.”
  5. The illiberal left is “…robbing [our] culture of the diversity of thought that is so central to learning and discovery.”
  6. “Any person who dissents from the illiberal left’s settle dogma is viewed as an enemy to be delegitimized, demonized, and dismissed.”
  7. When the illiberal left “…can’t win an argument on the merits, [they] attack to cast doubt on their opponent’s abilities, intentions, and even their value as a person.”
  8. The illiberal left dehumanizes individuals they do not like or with whom they disagree. They “…attack the very core their enemies’ human identities.”
  9. The illiberal left accuse opponents [unrepentant bigots] as being racist, sexist, misogynist, rape apologists, traitors, and homophobes. They hurl such attacks against those they wish to delegitimize in the public square.” For example, they prefer to smear people as racists rather than debating them on the merits of the arguments.
  10. The Illiberal left uses character assassination to destroy their opponents. They don’t desire debate, they fight for a monologue that extols their beliefs and silences all others.
  11. “Anyone who opposes abortion out of concern for the unborn is part of the War on Women.”
  12. The “War on Women” is a catchall to label conservatives misogynistic.

The following two paragraphs are my editorials.

The suppression of free speech is the tyrant’s age-old technique to control the political, economic, and educational environment. For example, let’s visit Berlin and other German university cities on the night of 13 May 1936. The radicalized student of the German Student Union and the Sturmabteilung (Brown shirt stormtroopers)—the Nazi’s paramilitary organization—raided university libraries and burned in excess of twenty thousand books. Destroyed were those books deemed subversive to the National Socialist Party’s agenda. Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Propaganda Minister, shouted, “I consign to the flames the writings of anti-National Socialists German thought.”

One more. This time recently. Let’s review the afternoon of 13 May 2016 at the University of Illinois, Chicago. We are the Donald Trump rally in his quest for the Republican Presidential nomination. Radical students, socialists educators, and other anarchist hoodlums shouted loudly, screamed obstinacies, blocked entrances/exits, hassled attendees—some violently. A student cadre waved Red flags. The scene was close to a riot. Police and university officials were ineffective in restoring order. Accordingly, Donald Trump canceled the rally for the safety of all. Protesters were jubilant and celebrated in the streets of Chicago’s Near West Side.

I would ask, what is the difference between these two events? And I will answer, fascist-suppressed free speech is a violation of human rights and the United States of America’s constitution.

Significantly, this fascism is particularly rampant in education, media, and left-wing politics. Unfortunately, it’s in education where illiberal tyranny prevails. It’s in the university environment where all ideas and philosophies should be welcomed—an inclusive environment where students expand their minds by debating competing thought—where all are encouraged to express their opinions free of intimidation and violence. Not now, however. Universities have become the worst authoritarian regimes in history. Should speech, literature, or images flunk the doctrinaire creed and seep through the academic censorship, the “little darling” students rush to a “safe space” so they will not be offended. GADZOOKS!

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Book Review- Prof: Alan Turing Decoded

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Rating – Two Stars

I’m sorely disappointed with this biography of Alan Turing, one of the 20th century’s greatest mathematicians. He was the lead cryptographer at Bletchley Park and helped break the German’s Enigma codes, significantly hastening the end of the War in Europe. To this end, his intellect led to the development of the digital computer.

Within this manuscript is a plethora of eminent persons, important places, and critical events. The failure to include an index is unforgivable. Accordingly, this dereliction negates this work as a reference book.

The author jumps about chronically, fails to complete scenes—leaving us hanging, wanders off on tangents, and stuffs the text with copies of notes, scribblings, letters, memos, and telegrams, documents (official and other). Except for a few, he could have summarized those of major import and placed others of significance in Addenda.

So much of Turing’s life could have been brought forth with this biography to make it soar and do honor to this extraordinary man. Rather, the book is unremarkable in all measures and minimizes the memory of Alan Turning to a faretheewell. There is a surfeit of information available about Turning that the author should have explored.

To this day, we do not know definitively why Alan Turing committed suicide at the young age of forty-two in 1954. Some suggest that his felo-de-se resulted from his conviction in an English court of homosexual behavior. Others postured that he was murdered—for reasons unknown.

Unfortunately, the author bogged the text in incoherence and squandered far too much of the manuscript on irrelevance. For example, the first seventy pages discuss Turing’s early life in agonizing detail. Three pages would do. Alternately, he gives little mention of Turing’s accomplishments at Bletchley Park. Here was a golden opportunity to highlight the details of Alan’s endeavor and discoveries in this super-secret, code-breaking operation.

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Book Review: The Wright Brothers

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Rating – Five Stars

The Wright Brothers is an outstanding book. McCullough narrates an insightful, compelling, and empathetic account of Wilbur and Orville Wright—brothers and the inventors of the airplane (a manned craft that under its own power could take off, make turns, and return to its starting point without any assistance from the ground or air).

The Wrights’s invention of the airplane was not a fluke. Rather, the brothers were studious and careful inventors who assiduously followed the engineering principles of research, development, testing, and evaluation. Starting in 1899 in a room above their bicycle shop, the brothers built their first aircraft—a flying kite with a five-foot wingspan and their ingenious wing warping design that could turn the aircraft. Following were a series of large kites, unmanned and manned gliders

In 1902, they moved their flight test operations from Dayton to the outer banks of North Carolina at Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk. After numerous glider test flights and meticulous engineering, the brothers crafted the Wright Flyer I—the first self-powered airplane.

Finally, at 1035 hours, Thursday, 17 December 1903, Orville flew the Wright Flyer I about 120 feet and was airborne for twelve seconds. Later that day, Wilbur flew the Flyer 175 feet. At day’s end, the record flight was 852 feet in 59 seconds—about 10 miles per hour.

Following was a veritable cascade of awards, accolades, and honors for the brothers. France and Germany were particularly interested in their airplane and invited the brothers to demonstrate manned flight in their countries. Wilbur sailed to France and during his eighteen-month stay flew his Wright Flyer III to the amazement of massive crowds and government officials.  The French awarded the Wrights a contract and Wilbur left the Flyer in Le Harve.

On September 1909, Orville was demonstrating a Wright Flyer to the United States Army at Fort Myer, Virginia.  Onboard was Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge—the Army’s aviation specialist. Cruising at 40 miles per hour and about 75 feet, Orville guided the Flyer in several “neat” turns. On the fourth turn, part of the propeller broke away. Uncontrolled, the Flyer crashed—killing Selfridge and seriously injuring Orville.

I highly recommend this remarkable biography of Wilbur and Orville Wright.

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Book Review: Traveling the Silk Road

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Rating – 3 Stars

 

This is a heavy and beautiful book. Its design, execution, printing, and binding is extraordinary and professional. It is a “coffee table” travel book of startling heft in weight and content. Starting in Xi’an, China, the narrator leads us by the hand and we vicariously travel the Silk Road. We stop at Turfan, Samarkand, Bagdad, and Constantinople (Istanbul). At each stop we learn of the history of the place and its importance in sustaining the flourishing trade on the Silk Road. Though goods and all manner of merchandise (including slaves) traveled both ways, perhaps the most important commodity was the exchange of ideas, language, and learning.

The photographs are outstanding as are the reproductions of ancient artwork, scrolls, and porcelains. This is a book of learning for the ordinary folks.

Unfortunately, this tome has several major negatives:

  1. The failure to publish topographic maps in appropriate scale is unforgivable. Not once do we see the various tails of the Silk Road from Xi’an to Istanbul on one panoramic map. Throughout, the narrator describes a geological or man-made feature, and without a relevant map, we’ve no idea where it is or how it relates to the area. The maps included are art rather than functional information.
  1. All too often, the writing is pedestrian and at time is patronizing. For example, on page 141, “…whom we’ve already learned about.” On page 124, while telling about the Turfan area, the narrator discusses the clever method the folks captured water from the mountains’ snow and use it for irrigation: “…the water carried from the mountains is guaranteed to remain plentiful.” No water supply is “guaranteed” to remain plentiful indefinitely.

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Book Review: Particle Physics A Graphic Guide

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Rating – Three Stars

The authors make a valiant attempt to familiarize Quantum Field Theory to an educated public in 192 illustrated lesions in a small paperback book. Unfortunately, they fail. Their goal was unattainable. Such a manifold complicated subject is a serious challenge for doctoral candidates majoring in Quantum Mechanics Physics. Each page is presented clearly, has a picture of the physicist(s) who discovered or developed the quantum point discussed, and shows relevant graphics. That’s fine. The most educated of the general public would find this book an easy read but exceedingly difficult to understand. The problem is that the subject is just too complicated to be presented in such a miniature manner.

I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics—admittedly many years old. Nonetheless, I try to maintain minimum currency in Quantum Mechanics. I could understand, more or less, the concepts presented on most pages. The problem is the way the book is structured in headline tidbits. There’s no chance for an in-depth understanding or to tie concepts into a coherent understanding

To the author’s credit, they do cover the field—albeit superficially. They start with definitions of the atom, electron, proton, neutron; and proceed forthwith with the standard model, quarks, and the Higgs Boson; and conclude with supersymmetry, negative energy, dark matter, string theory, and a discussion of the solar neutrino.

Book Review: The Decisive Campaigns of the Desert Air Force 1942 – 1945

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Rating  – Four Stars

Evans relates the large-scale accomplishments of the Royal Air Force in the Cyrenaica, Sicilian, and Italian campaigns in World War II. His matter-of-fact style, presents the Desert Air Force’s (DAF) campaigns in a chronological, military style order. I would suggest that this book is for the military aficionado—clearly not for the casual reader.  It’s a dry recitation, laced with a few personal tidbits. 

He offers several maps, however, not enough of them and not annotated in pertinent detail enough—making it nettlesome to follow his narrative. Such especially is the case in his narrative of the Eight Army’s campaign in southeastern Tunisia. For example, on page 73 he discusses the Army’s capture of the strategic Tebaga Gap in March 1943. Unfortunately, Tebaga Gap is not spotted on the relevant map.

The RAF’s command of the sky over Cyrenaica and its perfected close air support technique were the deciding factors in the Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s British Eight Army’s successful breakout at El’ Alamein in December in 1942. The key to victory was the DAF’s total quashing of supplies for Field Marshall Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps’ Panzeramee. In particular, it was the sinking of the two Italian supply ships in the harbor at Tobruk, Proserpina and the Tergestea that was the death knell for the retreating Afrika Korps. Allied air power had won the air war over El’ Alamein.

Following, it was the DAF’s supremacy of the air that enabled allied armies to crack the Nazi’s Gustav strategic defensive line at Monte Cassino in May 1943; and the Gothic Line in the Po Valley in April 1945.

Overall, I rate this book four stars and a fine addition to a military historian’s library.

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July 17, Anniversary of The Regicide

In the early hours of 17 July 1918, the Cheka firing squad (the Soviet secret police) fired volley after volley into Nicholas Romanov, Czar of all the Russias, and his family: Empress Alexandra, son Nikkei, and four daughters, Maria, Olga, Tatiana, and Anastasia.

In the March 1917 Revolution, the Bolsheviks successfully overthrew the Romanov’s régime of Russia. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Union of Socialist’s Republics. His clutch on power was tenuous—two White Armies were in revolt against his Communist dictatorial rule. Western armies had invaded Murmansk, the Caucasus, and the Japanese captured Vladivostok. And the large and well-armed Czech Legion had captured the Trans-Siberian Railroad and was fighting its way to the Pacific.

Lenin, fearful that Romanovs could rally the proletariat to fully support the White armies, had the royal family imprisoned in the Ipatiev House in the Siberia city Ekaterinburg. Lenin and his Bolsheviks cohorts dubbed this place “The House of Special Purpose.”

Around 0200 hours, Cheka guards awoke the royal family and told them to dress, and led them to the basement. The guards told the family that this move was for their protection—elements of Admiral’s Kolchak’s White Army were close by as were the Czech’s trains. In the upcoming fire-fights, this house would be in danger.

Yakov Yurovsky, the Bolshevik commanding officer, insured that the family was positioned correctly and ordered, “Fire.”

 

To those who have an interest in this topic, please enjoy the following short story from my book, Aviators, Adventurers, and Assassins, a conglomeration of 20th Century novellas, short stories, and flash fiction quips. Some of the characters are real (usually disguised in a nom de plume), some are fiction, some of the stories are based on real incidents, and some are figments of my imagination. Nonetheless, take none seriously—even though your empathy may be intense. Also, at the end of the story a free book offer! 

The Regicide

 

Kremlin, Moscow

16 July 1918

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin is writing at his desk with an intense focus. He wears a grey suit with a scarlet tie over his off-white shirt. It is a dark afternoon that matches the dull grey of his suit and office. On the walls are photographs and posters extolling the virtues of collectivism.

Lenin, the leader of the Russian Revolution, is now the Chairman of the People’s Commissars of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. He is fifty-eight-years old, bald, with a full mustache and a Van Dyke beard. His deep brown eyes are alive with passionate fervor.Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 9.53.57 AM

He writes with slow precision on a paper bearing the official seal of the Soviet government—the hammer and sickle in yellow on a red background—then he puts down the pen and leans back in his chair. As he reads the document, a faint smile spreads over his face.

Satisfied, he hands it to Felix Dzerzhinsky, the ruthless leader of Lenin’s secret police, the Cheka. He is exactly the kind of unbridled sociopath that Lenin wants as his lead henchman. Dzerzhinsky is a medium-sized man with a brown, stony face and a fixed expression. He wears a walrus mustache and a short, pointed Van Dyke beard. Lenin leans forward and dictates, “Read it, Felix. Read it out loud. I want to hear how it sounds. I want the world to hear it. Read it now!”

Dzerzhinsky looks mildly interested as he begins to read the short note. Now, seriously interested, he reads it again, then once again. He looks up from the document to Lenin and tentatively asks him, “You are positive that this is the correct action at this time?”

“Of course I’m sure.”

Dzerzhinsky, with a mild retort, suggests, “Comrade, my point is that I wonder if it would not be prudent to wait until we have consolidated more control over the country. Our political and military positions are still in flux.”

Lenin snaps, “Comrade Dzerzhinsky, you keep the Cheka working to eliminate the counter-revolutionaries and I will lead our socialist country.” Irritated, he shifts in his chair, then picks up a pen and taps it on his desk. He stares blankly out a window as the Kremlin glows scarlet in the dusk. Clearly, he is evaluating Dzerzhinsky’s comments because they have a ring of truth. The tap, tap, tap of the pen continues. Lenin puzzles over the scarlet sunset. Is it an omen—red for Red?

After a minute or so he shifts in his chair to face Grigory Zinoviev, the third man in the room. Lenin holds him in a thoughtful gaze for a few moments then says in a spirited voice, “Let us hear what Comrade Zinoviev has to say.”

Dzerzhinsky turns to Grigory Zinoviev, the Interior Minister, revolutionary, and close confidant to Lenin. Zinoviev is a big brute of a man with icy blue eyes and long midnight-black hair. His face is littered with smallpox scars, but he is clean shaven, almost proud of his disfigurement.

After a brief pause and in a gruff bass voice Zinoviev responds, “My respects, Comrade Lenin, but I ask you to reconsider. The majority of the proletariat still loves their Czar, who is also the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church. Such an audacious action will cause many loyal people to question your motives. I do not recommend this precipitous order. Over the next few months, let us reflect on some of the alternatives.”

Lenin shouts, “Stop! Stop it, Zinoviev. Am I surrounded by naysayers? The Communist Party and the Third International Congress of Soviets made me Party Chairman and Head of State. I know what is best for our Soviet Union. The peasants will do as the State directs.”

Zinoviev, who has remained standing, straightens his shoulders and responds deferentially, yet with conviction, “If you insist on this course of action, our socialist government will be in extreme peril and may well fall to the Western imperialists. We are fighting them on five fronts. The White Armies of General Denikin and Admiral Kolchak defeat our Red Army in every engagement. Our desertion rates are excessively high. The Northern Russian Expedition of fourteen battalions of British Commonwealth, American, and French colonial troops have occupied Murmansk and Archangel, and they are advancing into the interior.”

Lenin is clearly annoyed that his old friend should question his judgment. He rises from his chair, glares at Zinoviev, shakes his closed fist at him and snaps, “The Soviet Union will prevail over these Western interlopers. Our allies—the sharp winter and the vast steppes—ultimately will engulf and destroy them.”

Zinoviev, stunned by Lenin’s sharp rebuke, looks to Dzerzhinsky for support. Dzerzhinsky looks away and shakes his head from side to side. Then he says, “Comrade Lenin has made his decision. I manage the Cheka on his authority.”

Realizing that he is alone in this discussion, Zinoviev counters, “Comrade Lenin, we have been together for years. Please do not dismiss my report with such a cavalier comment, or underestimate the seriousness of these Westerners on our soil. Hear me out.”

Lenin, still irritated, returns to his chair, and says, “Speak your piece, Grigory.”

“There is more. American and Japanese troops have occupied Vladivostok, and the Japanese are moving up the peninsula and assembling at our border with Mongolia near Nomanhan. They have occupied all of Sakhalin Island. The Japanese are continuing the war of 1904 unopposed, in violation of the Treaty of Portsmouth. British and Indian troops have invaded the Southern Caucasus. And perhaps most important, the Czech Legion has control of the Trans-Siberian Railroad from Kazan to Novosibirsk.”

Lenin snaps, “Your point, Comrade? Make it. I have a country to run.”

Zinoviev responds forcefully, “Comrade Lenin, my point is critical. We cannot defeat them all. We are isolated from the rest of the world. If our socialist government is to survive we must have peace—peace at any cost. We do not need more armed hostility. We need Western recognition and wheat, lots of wheat, if we are to survive this winter. I implore you to reconsider.”

“Zinoviev, you were my loyal ally in our Bolshevik Revolution that overthrew the Czar and his imperialist lackeys. Remain loyal to me now. Read my telegram. Read it out loud.” demands Lenin.

With trepidation Zinoviev whispers, “Your telegram is headed Top Secret. It reads: ‘To: Comrade Major Vasili Yurovsky, Commanding Officer, Cheka, Ekaterinburg. No later than tomorrow evening, you are to execute the prisoners held in the Ipatiev House. Specifically, I name the Romanov royal family of Imperial Russia, the Czar Nicholas, Empress Alexandra, Czarevich Alexis, and the Grand Duchesses Marie, Olga, Tatiana, and Anastasia. Confirm results. Signed, Lenin.”

Lenin smirks and tells Zinoviev, “Give this telegram to Comrade Roman Malinovsky, our new Commissar of Posts and Telegraphs. Have him encrypt it in our Omega code for immediate transmission.”

Ipatiev House, Ekaterinburg, Siberia,

17 July 1918

The corner windows in the second story are lit in the Ipatiev House, an elegant two-story dacha on several hundred acres of well-tended gardens, fountains, ponds, and virgin birch forest. The Bolsheviks have dubbed this dacha “The House of Special Purpose.” It is shortly before midnight, but the house is astir with activity.

The imperial family has been prisoners of the Cheka in this house since April, closely confined and daily suffering the insults of their Red guards. Their only comfort is the fact that they are together. Rumors of impending rescue reach them periodically, but each time they wait in vain.

This evening the family calmly retired at the usual time. About an hour later, the sergeant of the guard aroused them and ordered them to dress and hurry downstairs to the cellar. He explains that the Czech Legion and a unit of the White Army are approaching Ekaterinburg, and the Regional Soviet has ordered that they be moved.

The family rushes to dress and pack a few personal belongings. “Put on your blue dress,” Alexandra whispers to Anastasia as they pass in the upstairs hallway. When the family arrives in the cellar, the sergeant tells them that their transportation will arrive shortly. A Cheka guard brings a chair for the Empress. For a moment, Alexandra’s heart fills with hope. If the Czech and White Army are so near, rescue might be imminent. Soon they might all be free, on their way to England. She was right, she thinks, not to send Anastasia away on her own. Now the family will be together. She puts an arm around her youngest daughter’s waist. Thanks be to God.

Suddenly a squad of Cheka soldiers with their rifles at port arms marches single file and at double time into the cellar. After the last soldier is in position, the first sergeant commands, “Squad, halt! Right face.” The soldiers turn to face the Romanovs. After a moment, the sergeant shouts, “Squad, ah-ten-hut!” The sound of rifle butts hitting the concrete floor reverberates throughout the cellar.

Several minutes later, Major Vasili Yurovsky enters. He is the senior Cheka office in the area. He wears the summer grey short-sleeved tunic uniform with red piping and his major’s pips on the shoulder boards.

“Present. Arms!” commands the first sergeant.

The soldiers bring their rifles to the present-arms position to salute their commanding officer.

In return, Major Yurovsky returns a snappy hand salute.

The Czarevich giggles in delight at the military prompt.

However, fear and concern race through the rest of the Romanov family. Alexandra knows exactly what is happening. The Czar, Anastasia, and her three sisters wonder what this military demonstration has to do with their rescue by the Whites or the Czech Legion.

“Order arms!” commands the sergeant. The soldiers return their rifles to their right side. The pounding of the rifle butts hitting the concrete floor sends chills through the Romanovs, causing them to wonder what is happening.

Yurovsky orders Alexandra to stand. The indignity of this crass Bolshevik officer ordering the Empress of All the Russias to comply with his command is unthinkable. She stares with smoldering hostility at Yurovsky. But, no longer enjoying the resources of royal status, she complies. After a moment or two she slowly moves a few paces to her left, next to Anastasia.

With his arms akimbo, Yurovsky walks down the line of the imperial family. He stops in front of each person and looks intently into their eyes. All but the Empress turn away from him. Summoning all her courage, she returns her most imperious glower of disdain. He smiles faintly at her feeble attempt at bravado.

The Czarevich is dressed in his sailor uniform. Maintaining proper military protocol, he salutes Yurovsky. The major stares at him contemptuously and does not return the salute.

This military display does not look like a rescue to the four daughters. Extreme apprehension engulfs Maria and Tatiana. Unsure of what is happening and fearing the worst, they cannot control their fear and sob softly.

Major Yurovsky turns to the first sergeant and snaps, “On my orders!”

“As you say. Sir!”

Yurovsky moves to the cement steps and climbs three. “Port arms!” he shouts. He surveys the scene to ensure that the Romanovs are positioned correctly and that his soldiers are ready.

Satisfied that the staging is correct, Yurovsky commands, “Fix bayonets!”

There is a loud clanging of metal as the soldiers snap their bayonets onto their rifles.

Anastasia now understands with crystal clarity the task that her mother assigned to her so long ago. They are not going to be rescued, and she and her family are going to be murdered by the Bolsheviks. An overwhelming fear of death engulfs her. Her family is in this cellar for an execution. She fights to be brave and to hold back her tears. Her mother cannot help her.

“Load!” The soldiers pull back the bolts of their rifles, then jam the bolts forward, loading a round into the rifles’ chambers. The metal-on-metal clicking sends a vibration of horror through the cellar.

The other three daughters begin to sob and make the sign of the cross as they realize their fate is death. Alexandra commands, “Be brave. You are Romanovs. St. Nicholas will guide you.”

The Czar has been standing silently, as if he were in a dream. Aroused by the loud clicking of metal, he exclaims, “What!”

“Aim!” The riflemen select the nearest target.

The Romanovs see the loaded rifles with bayonets pointed at them. Their fate is all too clear. Cries. Screams.

The deafening thunder of the first volley reverberates through the cellar. Agonized screams! Another volley. Another. And another. Silence.

Major Yurovsky, obeying Lenin’s orders, has assassinated the Romanov imperial family. He cannot see clearly in the small, smoke-filled cellar. He checks the mutilated human forms askew on the concrete floor. There are no heartbeats. There is no light in any of the eyes. He grimaces at the bloody corpses. Even for a hardened Cheka officer it is a gruesome scene. In a few minutes, the basement window goes dark.Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 9.55.51 AM

Satisfied that the regicide has been successfully executed, he orders his communications officer to send an encoded telegram to Lenin and Dzerzhinsky, in care of the Presidium of the Central Executive Council, Moscow: “The Romanovs are dead this night. Yurovsky.” In the upstairs lounge, he and his Cheka soldiers celebrate the foul deed well done, and toast frequently with shots of vodka.

 

Some believe that the youngest daughter, Anastasia escaped the assassins. My book, St. Catherine’s Crown tells the story of Anastasia making a perilous journey across Siberia via the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Starting today, the anniversary of the assassination of the royal family, my book, St. Catherine’s Crown will be available for free from Amazon. Enjoy this free download with my compliments from July 17-21.

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Book Review: Hell and Good Company by Richard Rhodes

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Rating – Three Stars

Rhodes writes an easy read, semi-informative book about the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939) that pitted the Fascists forces of General Francisco Franco against Spain’s “Republican” government. The Spanish government was far from a democracy—it was a pseudo-communist government that was suffused with Comintern agents of the Soviet Union. In May 1937, Spanish Communists took over the government.

Fighting with Franco were German and Italian air, artillery, and ground forces. Supporting the government were the military forces of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republic. About two million soldiers were involved in the war—200,000 killed and many thousands more wounded and missing.

Unfortunately, this book has no central theme—it has minimal coherence. Occasionally, Rhodes offers a snippet of the war about and who is doing what to whom, but mostly he focuses his narrative on the volunteer British medical personnel tending to wounded Republican soldiers: their heroism, dedication, and professionalism. Mostly, I reckon he discusses the Western expatriates that pontificated about the horrors of the war and the awful Fascists. Actually, this book is not about the Civil War in Spain, it’s about the expatriates in Spain during the Civil War. Here are a few of these people:

  • Ernest Hemingway. An American novelist. Whilst drinking, womanizing, and sending dispatches to the North American Alliance, he worked with Joris Ivens (Dutch artist and Communist) producing the agitprop film titled, The Spanish Earth.
  • Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway’s wife. American novelist, poet, political activist, and war correspondent. Worked trying to get Basque children evacuated to safety.
  • George Orwell, British leftist, novelist, and journalist. Volunteered to fight with the people’s militias “The Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification.” Wounded in the throat, he was medically discharged and returned to England. In the following years he wrote the satirical novels Animal Farm and 1984.
  • Muriel Rukeyser, American poet, war correspondent for the Daily Worker, and other far-left publications.
  • J.B.S. Haldane, British scientist and war correspondent.
  • Norman Bethune, thoracic surgeon and firebrand Communist, performed hundreds of operations, some in dire conditions. He was nonchalant about danger and would work in the front lines.
  • Man Ray, American Dada and surrealist artist, photographer, and filmmaker, documented the War.
  • Patience Darton, British nurse with keen initiative, gritty survival, and mental fortitude in tending to the wounded. Fell in love with an ardent Communist soldier—killed in action.
  • The International Brigades composed of Western volunteers.

Rhodes dedicates many pages to Pablo Picasso and his painting “Guernica.” Picasso was horrified by the German Condor Legion’s bombing and utter destruction of this Basque city on 26 April 1937. The commanding officer of the Condor Legion, Lieutenant Colonel Wolfram von Richthofen, said, “Guernica must be destroyed if we are to strike a blow against the enemy personnel and material.” Joan Mirό, the Catalan surrealist, painted a large mural titled “Catalan Peasant in Revolt.”

Rhodes does not include pictures of these artworks, and his only overall map of Spain is inadequate. Nonetheless, Hell and Good Company would have an appeal for the literati.

Read more by S. Martin Shelton!

 

Book Review: Stonehenge Decoded by Gerald S. Hawkins

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Rating – Five Stars

 

Hawkins weaves a compelling narrative as he decodes the mysteries of the monument dubbed Stonehenge—an astronomical observatory lying on the Salisbury Plain in southwestern England. It’s a monumental temple with intricate celestial alignments concealed in apparent simplicity and symmetry of design. He posits that Stonehenge is the eighth wonder of the world.

His writing style is easy—clearly written for the layman. His explanations of technical details of the site are readily understandable. However, some his astronomical conclusions are beyond my skill level. Nonetheless, one can skip these details without losing the thread of his narrative. Outstanding graphics are exceptionally well annotated as are relevant photographs with cogent captions.

Archeologists estimate that the British began building Stonehenge about 2000 B.C. and finished around 1500 B.C. It was built in three eras—each about 150 years apart. The building of this temple to the sun and moon required its creators to have absolutely extraordinary theoretical and planning abilities and superb transportation and engineering skills—far beyond what we would have imagined of these people.

Significantly, the latitude of Stonehenge is sited at the almost perfect optimum for sun-moon rectangular alignments. There is only one latitude in the northern climes at which the extreme declinations of the azimuths of the sun and moon are separated by exactly ninety degrees. Stonehenge’s placement and orientation is within a few miles of this position—an error of only 0.2 degrees. The odds are astronomical that the builders chose this location by chance. They computed it.

The positioning of the large stones (some of the sarsen stones weigh as much as 40 tons) in precise astronomic alignment demanded critical astronomical and engineering skills. Such skills are beyond those possessed by most 20th century men.

Hawkins asks why so much energy, time, and physical and sociological resources were expended to build Stonehenge. We do not know. He suggests that they created this astronomical calendar for two reasons:

  1. It was an agricultural calendar used to compute the beginning of the seasons to plant crops and for other sociological purposes.
  2. It was for religious purposes—to create and maintain priestly power. For example, to predict the summer and winter solstices, many moon phenomena, and eclipses.

Hawkins concludes, “There are doubtless many remarkable things yet to be discovered about Stonehenge.”

I highly recommend this book for aficionados of this megalithic monument.

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