28 August 2007

And You Thought Your Town Was a Teenage Wasteland

From the way these posts are going, people are going to start assuming I'm a Polish nationalist or something. I swear, it is just the way that things have been distributing themselves. As far as I know, I have no Polish ancestry (the same could not be said of my wife and daughter).

A friend of mine sent me link to a new role-playing game (RPG) called Grey Ranks. The name is a reference to the members of the Polish Boy Scouts who became a very effective underground network and insurgent fighting force in WWII. The game is centered around the Warsaw Rising in 1944. Players take on the role of one of the child-soldiers of the Home Army as they try to take control of the Polish capital, removing the Nazis before the arrival of Soviet troops from the East. What was intended to 4-5 day operation instead stretched for 63 days as the Soviet advance stalled (some say deliberately stopped) outside the city. Help from the Western Allies was also minimal. The Polish Parachute Brigade, who had been training to help in the Uprising, were instead committed to Montgomery's over-reaching Operation Market Garden in Holland.

I haven't gotten a chance to play the new game from Bully Pulpit Games. It looks to have a large touch of soap-opera or anime high-school drama and tension layered on top of the military grimness. The result looks a bit like TFOS meets The Longest Day, only much less cheerful. One of the testimonials from a play-tester said:

"Grey Ranks ... was fun, if you can call driving yourself to madness and serial killing from the sewers of WWII-ravaged Poland after your girlfriend refuses to have your baby aborted, then gets killed fun. Which I do." - Rob Bohl
That sounds a little crass, or bloodthirsty, or something. But it also shows, once again, that these people, were real people. Real people in amazing, horrifying situations, but still just kids.
Could I do what they did? Could my children? I'd like to think they could if they had to. I truly hope they never come close to needing to find out.

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22 August 2007

Propaganda Posters -- Part Deux

I wrote before about my wife finding a book of WWI and WWII propaganda posters. It seems that I am not the only person to be enamored of these historical images. Keith Ball, online gamer extraordinaire, has compiled a collection focused on WWII that rivals and even surpasses that pulled together for the Dover Clip Art Book.

This collection definitely has a broader base, including posters from Nazi German, Imperial Japan, and Soviet Russia along with the well known British and American images. While I had heard the slogans before, this was my first look at propaganda posters from the Vichy French.

Thanks go out to the folks at Digg.com for pulling this one into the internet's communal consciousness.

read more digg story


17 August 2007

Go West, Old Country

I've written here before about the great finds published at Strange Maps. Today's entry covers the controversy over Poland's post-WWII borders. In short, Stalin insisted that the Soviet Union was not going to give up any of the territory it had gained through the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the 1939 partition of Poland. To compensate Poland for these loses, and to punish the Germans, the Polish western border was moved to the Oder-Neisse Line.

What Strange Maps has found and shared with us all is a map, marked in Stalin's hand-writing, marking the line along the more eastern "Glatzer Neisse, while the present-day border is composed of the Lausitzer (or Görlitzer) Neisse, 200 km to the west."

The more westerly border was eventually accepted which put Wroclaw (Breslau) fully within Polish territory. This may have helped lessen the loss of Lviv to Soviet Ukraine. An added bonus from Stalin's perspective is that a more westerly border would help keep Poland afraid of Germany and firmly within the Soviet orbit.

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14 August 2007

Tales From the Recently Read Stack...

I've been on a run of WWII-themed reading material of late. I'm going to have to take a break soon to fit in"The No-Cry Sleep Solution" so that my wife and I can sleep for longer than 2-3 hours at one time without having our toddler go ballistic on us. But in the meantime, here's some of the recent reading material that has been cluttering up our apartment.

Harry Turtledove continues on with his Great War or Southern Victory series. I can't bring myself to pay hardback prices for this series, so I've just finished The Grapple while In at the Death hits the bookstore shelves. These two represent books eleven and twelve in Turtledove's alternate timeline the separates from ours shortly before the battle of Antietam. Some eighty years later, North America is embroiled in a Second World War between the USA and CSA.

The many different point of view characters and lack of traditional narrative arcs makes epic alternative history books like these hard to follow at times. Turtledove fans have even spawned their own wiki to keep track of his works, timelines, and characters. I will never argue that Turtledove creates great literature, but I think it is good sometimes for Americans to imagine what life would have been like if the ravages of war had visited our shores as well as those of Europe.

The Foreign Correspondent by Alan Furst does aspire to be great literature. The story follows the life of an Italian emigre in Paris in 1939. Carlo Weisz splits his time between reporting on a Europe lurching towards war for Reuters and serving as editor for a clandestine Italian resistance newspaper. There is, of course, a romantic plot line thrown in as well. I really felt that the strongest portions of the book centered on Weisz serving as a witness to history, from the end of the Spanish Civil War to the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. These scenes of 'neutral' reporters rushing with and ahead of armies to get the scoop and the story were more compelling and tension-filled than the shadowing and counter-shadowing of Italian emigres by Mussolini's secret police.

Finally, I'm still working my way through a non-fiction entry, a biography of John Whitesides Parsons. Strange Angel covers Parsons' work as one of the pioneers of rocketry during the 30's and 40's in America. Parson's was central to the creation of modern solid-fueled rockets and the use of JATOs by the US Army Air Corps and US Navy. He was also a priest in Aleister Crowley's cultish Church of Thelema. Parson's was a renaissance man and all-around geek at a time in which membership in the American Communist Party, the Ordo Templi Orientis, the American Interplanetary Society, and the Los Angeles Science Fiction League were all technically legal, but looked down upon with equal disdain. All of these groups sought to change the world and open up new frontiers through learning, and Parsons moved in the circles of them all until his death in an explosion in 1952.

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03 August 2007

WWII Superheros Return

It sounds like Marvel is sorry for having killed-off Captain America. In recompense, they have dug through the company archives and revived twelve super-heroes from the last days of WWII. Like Steve Rogers, these heroes have been in frozen animation. Unlike Cap, it was no accident in the Arctic. Instead, the story is that all twelve were captured by the Nazis and placed in frozen stasis for later study. It is only new construction in Berlin that has located them, purely by accident.

Since none of these characters have seen print in over sixty years, it will be interesting to see what the Marvel writers are going to do with them. While we think of the superhero genre as well-defined, back in the forties there was a blurry line between supers of the four-color comics and grittier, less morally defined characters of the pulps, like The Shadow or Doc Savage.

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