War’s End

Libert Mem Armistice CentennialAt 11:00 AM on Sunday, November 11th, 2018, I stood with my family before the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri. Bells tolled to mark the Centennial of the Armistice, recalling the moment when the guns of the War to End All Wats fell silent. While the seeds of future wars were planted in the wake of that conflict, at least for a short while there was the hope of peace.

It was humbling to honor this momentous event, but I left slightly troubled. As I reflected on the relief and awe felt by the veterans of the trenches as their war ended, it occurred to me that my wars are not over.

One can argue that that Iraq War fizzled out; in my mind as long as ISIS, the spawn of the Iraq War, exists, that war continues. Whatever you think about Iraq, there can be no argument that the war in Afghanistan continues, SEVENTEEN years later. These wars just go on and on. They continue on the battlefields, and in the minds and souls of those who fought there. To make matters worse, the military will soon be sending soldiers to fight in Afghanistan who were not alive on 9/11. That will be a bitter milestone.

I have to admit it: I am a little jealous of the veterans of WWI and WWII. They won, their wars ended, and they came home. I sincerely wish I could say that we won my wars, and that they ended. Sadly, I may never know that sense of finality. I suppose I will have to settle for the knowledge that I did my duty, and that I had the absolute privilege of serving with some incredible human beings.

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A Bloody Day’s Work!

A Bloody Day's Work front cover SmallWhen I set out to write a novel about the American experience at Valley Forge, I thought I knew the basics of the story. I was wrong. Gideon Hawke #5 peels back some of the mythology about the encampment during the winter of 1778. What is left is no less impressive. The new Continental Army was no longer truly representative of American society: its soldiers were less prosperous and less educated than the average American, but they were by no means less committed to the American Cause. On the contrary, they more perfectly represented the revolutionary ideals of 1775-1776. The soldiers of Valley Forge endured inadequate food and pay and stayed with the Colors. When the weather improved, they trained hard, relearning the business of soldiering. In the process they became a professional army. At the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse they would meet the other professional army on the continent, the British Army, and prove themselves its equal.

Purchase A Bloody Day’s Work: Click Here!

Kansas’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology

There is a new anthology collection coming out…initially available for pre-order…of emerging Kansas writers. Guess who is one of the featured authors. (One hint: ME!)

Kansas’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology is the latest in Z Publishing House’s series of “sampler platters” of writers and genres, designed to help readers find new authors. This edition includes a short story of mine that started life as the Prologue to A Nest of Hornets;  I cut the Prologue from the book, but it has soldiered on and has finally found its way into print. With you will incredible works by some amazing new authors.

Click below to check out this fascinating collection of short stories.

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Props to the bad guys

ANH Awards cover 2Golden Box Books Publishing publishes a monthly online magazine. The May 2018 issue is focused on “Meet the Bad Guys.”  One of the featured “bad guys” is Dan Scott, who is featured in Gideon Hawke #3, A Nest of Hornets!

Dan was a lot of fun to write: he was rude, hot headed, violent, and generally awful to be around…that opens all sorts of literary options. He was also a key player in the mystery that unfolded over the course of the novel. It was almost too bad he had to die!

Check out page 14-15!

GBBPub May Issue

 

 

Moving On: Changes

A few months ago, I was talking to my daughter, discussing her plans for the future, and I made some brilliant, Dad-like statement along the lines of: “Whatever you do, it’s important to do what you love.” I was pleased with myself for offering such sage advice. Then my daughter asked me, “Do you love your job?” What ensued was a discussion of the pros and cons of enduring the job you have versus seeking one which has risks, but might be where your heart is. Upon reflection, it was much easier to follow my sage advice when I was 22 than it is at middle age with two college-bound kids and a mortgage.

Or is that just an excuse?

After much consultation and soul-searching, I decided to follow my own advice. Next week I begin a new chapter. I am hopeful that doing something I love will make me healthier and happier…and a better example for my kids. There will be risks and challenges, but I hope it is worth it.

At least I can say I followed my own advice.

And I should have more time to write!

 

Robert Krenzel Facebook Author Page:  https://www.facebook.com/RobertKrenzelAuthor/

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The Sun and the Moon Part 2

Last week I talked about how the sun and moon shape the environment and how some of the reasons they can be important to a soldier. This week I’d like to explore another concept in which the sun and moon play critical parts: TIME.

In my cultural studies before deploying to the Balkans in the ‘90s, one difference that stood out was how different cultures perceive time. As an American who grew up in suburbia, for me time was strictly linear: one thing happens after another. Minutes tick by into infinity; what happened before is old news. I was surprised to learn that not all cultures understand time that way.

For many people, time is cyclic. The sun rises and sets, rises and sets. The moon moves through its phases over and over. Winter, spring, summer, fall, winter, spring, summer, fall. Crops are planted and harvested, planted and harvested. Generation after generation of people are born, grow up, have children, grow old, and die.

It took me a while to understand this concept. After all, time is linear, right? Things have a beginning and an end! As I have grown a little older, I have begun to notice the cycles more. To be honest, the lunar cycle is probably my favorite, and not just because of the moonlit military shenanigans I described in my last post. To me, the moon is an honest broker of time. A glance up at a moonlit sky grounds me, and reminds me of where and when I am. This was never truer than when I was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. I wrote my family often, and in particular when I wrote to my son I would make note of when the moon was full: this served as a sort of a countdown. “Hey buddy, it’s a full moon! Only eleven more to go before I come home!” For me the full moon was a shared point of reference for my family and me.

sundial-philadelphia

Now my son is in the last quarter of his senior year in high school. We have shared a lot of full moons. When I step back and look at his progress, I can clearly see the cycle in action: He was born, he has grown, and he is about ready to step out into the world on his own, to jump straight into this adventure called life. All is as it should be.

So, is time really linear? Yes and no. Yes, time marches on into infinity, but it also repeats itself in cycles. That is its nature, and it will continue to do so as long as the sun rises and sets, and the moon moves through its phases.

U.S. Naval Observatory Sun and Moon Data for One Day: http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/RS_OneDay.php

Robert Krenzel Facebook Author Page:  https://www.facebook.com/RobertKrenzelAuthor/

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The Sun and the Moon

If you have read any of the Gideon Hawke novels, you may have noticed that I pay attention to the physical environment. Like many authors I make sure I take into the account the time of year and the weather, but I probably invest more than most in the position of the sun and the phases of the moon. Why? Because to me it matters.

As a soldier I found it critical to take into account the sun and the moon. Try attacking into the sun, or stumbling around the desert at night…until a rising full moon clears the mountains and switches the lights back on! Details that are of little note in our daily lives can be of critical import for a soldier on operations, and knowing how to use the environment to advantage can give that soldier a winning edge.

In Kosovo in 2000, the locals had an elaborate lookout system: when they saw Humvee headlights coming down the road (Humvees have very distinctive headlights) they would spread the word by short wave radio, or by signaling with their porch lights. This made it hard for conventional U.S. forces to do anything covertly. Hard, but not impossible. I found that with a decent amount of moonlight, we could operate our Humvees quite safely on the roads of my sector with our lights OFF. It was a personal moment of triumph when we drove right up to the house of a local Serb family, and the man of the house came out and said, “We didn’t know you were coming!” I smiled and replied, “I know!” We didn’t catch a lot of people in the midst of shenanigans that way, but we certainly kept some people on their toes!

In the 1770s, before photographic mapping, GPS, and night vision, knowing the environment was even more critical. Soldiers like Gideon Hawke, who had learned to move silently at night, take advantage of precious starlight and moonlight, and maximize the advantages of day and night, were at a tremendous advantage. Native American warriors, being raised to live with the land, tended to excel in these areas. This allowed them to move quickly and quietly, to seemingly appear out of nowhere, and to seemingly vanish just as quickly. There were “European” troops on both sides of the War for Independence who had learned these skills: whether they were called riflemen, rangers, jaegers, or something else, they used their skills to snoop and surveil, and sometimes to strike swiftly and without warning. Occasionally generals of the time would dust off this playbook: perhaps most famously, George Washington used the cover of night to conceal his approach marches, enabling the stunning victories at Trenton and Princeton.

I have never used the cover of night to give me the advantage in a pitched battle, but I have assembled troops in the night and launched operations at dawn. I have welcomed the descent of night, and breathed a sigh of relief at the coming of dawn. I have looked up into the celestial spectacle of a moonless Iraqi night, and said a prayer of thanks for the two “stars” flying a holding pattern overheard at 30,000 feet (They were Marine Corps F-18s flying in my support. Semper Fi!)

1 sun

So, I suppose it is only natural that I make sure I take into account what the heavenly bodies are doing. Fortunately for me the U.S. Naval Observatory has a website that will tell you the solar and lunar data for a particular place and time, even back to the 1700s! So, if I happen to mention that Gideon assembles his men at Valley Forge in the pre-dawn hours of April 23rd, 1778, just as a crescent moon rises, or that there was a total solar eclipse a few days before the Battle of Monmouth, you can be fairly certain that I didn’t make that up. I use my imagination to fill in a lot of details in the Gideon Hawke novels, but I will never trifle with the sun and the moon.

 

U.S. Naval Observatory Sun and Moon Data for One Day: http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/RS_OneDay.php

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Bayonets

“…with zeal and with bayonets only, it was resolved to follow Greene’s army to the end of the world.” –Brigadier General Charles O’Hara, Commander of the Brigade of Guards, 1781.

In the combat zones of the 21st Century one can find a dizzying array of weaponry, from ballistic missiles to barrel bombs, assault rifles to rocket launchers, hand grenades to IEDs, drones to chemical agents. If you were to inspect the kit of a soldier in any one of the many conflicts scattered around the world, chances are that in the midst of the GPS units, radios, and high-capacity magazines you will find a relic from an earlier time: the bayonet.

The bayonet had its origin in the early days of firearms. Early muzzle-loading weapons were slow to fire and unreliable. Infantry formations in those days often consisted of musketeers and pikemen: the pikemen, wielding their long spears, would keep enemy infantry or cavalry from overrunning the musketeers after the first volley. While firearms technology improved, the musket’s rate of fire remained too low to prevent a determined enemy from closing to within arm’s reach. “If only there was a way to turn those long, sturdy muskets into spears!” Enter the bayonet.

Early bayonets had a plug the owner shoved in the muzzle of his firearm, making the weapon incapable of firing until the soldier could spend some quality time getting it out. The technology evolved to include rings and sockets. By the time of the American Revolution the state of the art bayonet had a socket to secure it securely to the muzzle of the firearm, and business end consisting of a spike-like blade, around a foot-and-a-half long. The weapon could be loaded and fired with bayonet fixed, although it tended to get in the way of loading, slowing the process down slightly.

Throughout history soldiers have found many household uses for the bayonet: tent peg, candlestick holder, cooking spit, probe (I have personally used a bayonet to search the occasional haystack-it can be used to search for landmines, but that is not recommended), etc. While it can be helpful around camp, the bayonet is, at its heart, a weapon. It arguably reached its zenith as a weapon of war during the American War for Independence.

The British forces in American were quick to take stock of their enemy once the war broke out. American troops, especially militia, were handy with firearms. Given a prepared defensive position, such as the breastwork on Breed’s Hill in the battle that became known as Bunker Hill, the Americans would stand their ground and pour devastating volleys into the best troops the British could muster. They were not so tenacious, however, when faced with the bayonet’s “cold steel.” Many of the American troops, particularly the militia, finished their own firearms, which they used for hunting and other household chores; hunting weapons did not come with bayonets. Thus, few of the militiamen on Breed’s Hill were so equipped; when American ammunition ran low, the British surged forward, leading with the tips of their bayonets, and the Americans ran for it. That lesson was certainly not lost on the British.

Battle_of_bunker_hill_by_percy_moran

 

After the evacuation of Boston the British retrained and adjusted their tactics in response to the lessons of 1775. Starting in the summer of 1776 the British would attack in open order, with space between men. They would not stop to trade volleys with the Americans. Instead, the British infantry would minimize its exposure to American fire by jogging or running toward the American positions. They might stop once to fire a single volley, but then would charge in with bayonets. This played out in the Battle of Long Island with several American positions being quickly overwhelmed by British and Hessian bayonet charges.

Needless to say, this presented quite a problem for the Americans. The solution involved organization, logistics, training, and leadership.

George Washington quickly realized that the militia was a “broken reed,” and that he would have to rely on a long-service, regular army along European lines. This regular, “Continental” Army, would be as uniformly equipped as possible; ideally each regiment would be equipped with a single model of military-grade musket, each with a bayonet. Once equipped, troops were trained in bayonet combat, giving them the confidence to face down their adversaries. The final ingredient was tactical leaders who knew how and when to employ the cold steel.

Assault_on_Redoubt_10_at_YorktownThese reforms paid dividends. In the skirmish at Drake’s Farm, in February, 1777, (retold in my book A Nest of Hornets)Colonel Charles Scott and his 5th Regiment of Virginia Continentals were ambushed by a British Brigade.  Rather than stand fast and allow his men to be pounded by artillery and encircled by enemy infantry, Colonel Scott led his men in a bayonet charge that broke a British grenadier battalion. This threw his enemy into confusion and bought Scott time to conduct a fighting withdrawal.  At Saratoga, in September and October, 1777, Continental brigades not only held their ground against British regulars, but also launched several successful bayonet charges (A Constant Thunder). At Cowpens, in January, 1781, Brigadier General Daniel Morgan took advantage of British aggressiveness: he had his men feign retreat, and then turn, fire, and launch a bayonet charge against the exhausted British, winning the day and effectively destroying the entire British force. In the climactic act of the war, at Yorktown, In October, 1781, Redoubts 9 and 10 were carried by Franco-American nighttime bayonet charges.

When the British landed on Long Island in the summer of 1776, they were convinced that they prod the Americans back into obedience to the Crown with the tips of their bayonets. Five long years later, the drama would culminate with French and American bayonets hemming in a British army at Yorktown. In future American wars the bayonet would be put to use: it would be wielded to great effect at places like Chapultepec, Little Round Top, the Argonne forest, and Iwo Jima. But perhaps never before or since the American Revolution were a war and a weapon so inextricably linked.

 

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An Army of Young People

The events that unfolded after the tragedy at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been truly fascinating: the survivors of this shooting responded to tragedy by making their voices heard. It was amazing to watch these teenage students use their unwanted fame to jump start a political movement. They have had an impact across the country, if not the world. They have challenged norms and brought a new focus to the debate about gun control.

Sadly, we have also seen these young people harassed, threatened, and demeaned. A few such incidents stand out. Internet trolls accused some of them of being “crisis actors.” Some have dismissed them as the “Tide Pod” generation: somehow the weird internet fad of biting into laundry pods diminishes the legitimacy of the survivors’ voices. Just recently, Senator Marco Rubio lamented the “arrogance” we handed down to this next generation (apparently daring to question the senator’s allegiance to the NRA makes one arrogant).

It is not my intent to wade into the gun control debate, but rather to reflect on the importance of these young people who are making us all sit up and take notice.

I write historical fiction. My protagonist, his significant other, and much of the supporting cast of the Gideon Hawke Series, are teenagers. When, in A Glorious Cause, I introduced sixteen year old Gideon Hawke, and followed his adventures as he took up arms in rebellion, none of my readers protested that he was two young to fight for his freedom. I think that was partly because the story was believable, but more importantly because IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

When one reads accounts of the American Revolution, one is struck by the youth of many of the actors. Many of the foot soldiers were in their teens. While the Continental Army preferred the “men” toting muskets to be at least fifteen or sixteen, it accepted drummers as young as twelve or thirteen; some probably lied about their age to get in early. Many of the junior leaders were in their teens or early twenties. For example, Alexander Hamilton was only twenty in 1775 when he led New York volunteers in the capture of British guns at the Battery on Manhattan. Henry Knox was only twenty-six when he assumed command of Washington’s artillery.  The bottom line: the American Revolution was a young person’s war. It was young people who were the enforcers of the Declaration of Independence: they are the ones who fought for “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

It has been the same in all of our wars since. Fortunately by the Twentieth Century we got away from enlisting below the age of eighteen; in World War II the average age was twenty-six. In Vietnam it dropped again (there is debate as to whether the average age was nineteen or twenty-two). Nevertheless, fighting for freedom remained a young person’s activity.

Now, in the Twenty-First Century, we shield our children from the horrors of war. For nearly seventeen years we have been sending nineteen and twenty-year-olds to Afghanistan and Iraq—I had the incredible privilege of leading a few of them—but we keep our children out of the combat zone.

Until the combat zone comes to their school. When that happened in Florida, our children took action.

It was young people who gave legitimacy to the Declaration of Independence: when the British tried to crush the fledgling United States of America, the young people made their voices heard through the barrels of their muskets. Today the fight is different. These young people are, like their forebears, fighting for Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. The tools are different, but the spirit is the same. Do not discount them.

In the Eighteenth Century they ground down the most powerful military in the world for eight years until they secured Independence. In the Twenty-First Century they have their sights set on a safer, more peaceful future. And they have only just begun to fight. Gideon Hawke would be proud of them.

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Shifting Genres: My Protagonist is All Grown Up!

Gideon Hawke turned eighteen!

I mentioned this fact in my fourth novel, A Constant Thunder, but only as a waypoint in his developing relationship with Ruth Munroe (who also turned eighteen). For Gideon, turning eighteen had little tangible effect on his life: he was still an officer in the Continental Army, locked in a protracted war against the most powerful empire on the planet. Turning eighteen was just a barely noticed mile marker on the rugged road of life.

BirthdayFor Gideon’s author, however, his turning eighteen creates an emotional dilemma: changing genres! While I willfully ignored this milestone in the publishing process for A Constant Thunder (he was seventeen at the start of the novel), Gideon Hawke #5 is forcing me to look fact squarely in the eye: I am no longer a young adult author. You see, I always considered myself a YOUNG ADULT historical fiction author. Gideon was fifteen when we met him, after all. This worked out nicely because my kids were in the same age band: they were in the target audience. They, however, have grown older, as has Gideon. As my son fights his way through college scholarship applications, eighteen year-old Gideon shivers with his men at Valley Forge, and I struggle with the idea of being a “New Adult” historical fiction author.

I could take the easy way out: some people define young adult as involving protagonists twelve to TWENTY years of age. I could kick this can down the road, but unlike Gideon I know when the war will end, and how old he will be. I would only be delaying the inevitable. So, when I publish Gideon Hawke #5, I will select “NEW ADULT” (18-25) as the target audience.

Of course, it’s all rubbish! I’ve seen estimates that about 55% of the readers of young adult novels are adults (I would argue there a far more middle-aged Harry Potter fans than teenaged harry Potter fans); I’m sure the same can be said of new adult novels. Let’s be honest, very few of us have put a book down because “Whoops! This protagonist is not in my age group!” This brings us to the heart of the matter: people read books because they can relate, and because they are good reads. In a sense, I don’t think it really matters what I select from some drop-down menu. I think people enjoy reading about Gideon and Ruth because they are relatable: they are like your two good friends whom you are hoping will get together; and when they do get together you really hope it will work out. Gideon is a bit naïve, and he is constantly learning and growing. Ruth is growing too; it’s a good thing Gideon has her to keep him on the straight and narrow. No matter how old they get, as long as I do my job, there will be something compelling about their story. They will be two ordinary American kids growing up in the most extraordinary of times. Parts of their story will be intimately familiar to most of us, while some of their experiences will be both authentic and almost incomprehensible.

So, yes, maybe now Gideon and Ruth are “new adults.” But they are still very, very human: we can all relate to that.

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