Tag Archives: history

Spies in the night

I love spy stories. I especially love ones that are based on real events. That’s why I was fascinated by this news article about the only known Soviet agent to have infiltrated the CIA. The entire thing is a great read, but I especially liked this part:

In a psychological evaluation from that year, [the Czech intelligence service] described Koecher as “over-confident, hypersensitive, hostile towards people, money driven, showing a strong inclination to instability, emotionally unstable, possessing an anti-social almost psychopathic personality, touchy, intolerant of authoritarianism”.

In other words, just the man for the job.

The Commissar’s in Town

I kind of liked Total Eclipse, once I’d gotten over the gratuitous fanservice boobery, so of course I’m checking out the prequel series Schwarzesmarken. There’s definitely something worthwhile in this alternate history story of East Germany being invaded by aliens in the 1980s. I did also like Deutschland 83, after all.

However, let me call your attention to the introductory graphic explaining the Cold War to the viewers:

Cold War map of the world showing Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea as not being in the US camp

If you’ll notice, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines are very clearly not in the American sphere of influence on that map. Is this a stealth resurrection of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere?

Yes, it is. In this alternate history, Japan also lost the Second World War, but it kept its imperial regime and some of its territory. Of course, such a thing is utter bullshit. If Germany was beaten so badly that it was partitioned, then there was no way Japan would have gotten a negotiated peace. I’d originally assumed Article whatever of Japan’s pacifist constitution had been repealed in light of the alien invasion, not that pigs had been flying.

The type of Japanese military geek who would write a story set in East Germany is also the type of mildly right-wing jerk-off who views the Japanese Empire with nationalistic nostalgia. I mean, it’s at least entertaining, so it’s automatically better than GATE: Thus the JSDF Fought There.

Setting that aside, since this is an anime about East Germany fighting aliens in the 80’s. I of course had to make a fanvideo scored to Der Kommissar. What else was I going to do? I had to stick the video behind a password-protected Vimeo thing because of the zealousness of copyright protectors. It’s released under the auspices of that anime podcast I’m in.

Anyway, this music video is dedicated to those unsung heroes of the alien war – the Stasi. Password is “bundeswehr”.

Show those greedy capitalists what we think of their copyright regime, kameraden!

Able Archer ’83

I finally got around to watching the German miniseries Deutschland 83. I love spy stories and this show really scratched my itch. The premise is similar to The Americans, except it’s about an East German spy infiltrating the West German branch of NATO.

It’s a lot more devoted to the material aspects of historical fidelity, which is to say that it’s scrupulous in showing the knickknacks and gewgaws that signify the 1980s to audiences in the 21st century. Plus the spy stuff is more realistic, since a military attache to a highly-placed general in the Bundeswehr is more likely to find worthwhile secrets than a travel agent in DC. But like its US counterpart, this show is also devoted to having a contemporaneous musical soundtrack. At times the music can get rather on the nose and overbearing – I mean, yeah, I know this is the 80s, quit beating me over the head with it.

The personal stuff, more often than not, didn’t do it for me. I kind of got bored and sometimes a bit confused at the stuff dealing with the protagonist’s girlfriend and mother back in East Germany; similarly I got a tad annoyed with the West German general’s son. The amping up of the family drama near the end dragged down the climax for me, as I much preferred the spy versus spy stuff.

Overall, though, I enjoyed watching this show. I’m looking forward to the sequel series set in 1986, with a possible third part in ’89.

Captain America versus Cuba

Over on Space Battles some people have been discussing what the 20th century would have been like if the movie version of Captain America had been around – Vietnam, the Iran Mossadegh thing, the Bay of Pigs. Then someone posted a comic book treatment of what Cap would do during the Cuban Revolution:

[Captain America]’s going to kick open the door to Fidel Castro’s guerrilla hideout and give the strongman a speech on ethics, individual responsibility and freedom and the ideal that the Cuban people should strive for. Then the two of them are going to go out and fight evil Batista’s fascist dictatorship and Rogers will train his ragtag guerrillas into diet Special Forces. During the War in the Mountains, entire battalions of Batista’s troops will switch sides after being given an eye watering speech on freedom and American history. Then in the climactic issue, Captain America leads his… I mean Castro’s… Rebel band into Havana and they storm Batista’s palace and suddenly realize the power behind Batista’s dictatorship was HYDRA all along working with the evil Mafia Maggia. Using American Judo Boxing, Captain America defeats the Supreme Hydra before Batista takes Fidel Castro’s brother hostage and is like… I’ll kill you all unless you put down your weapons! So Captain America puts down his shield and then Batista shoves Raul Castro aside and then takes aim at Captain America and FIRES!

But Che Guevara, the idealistic young man with a promising medical career who decided to become a freedom fighter and has become like a protege to Captain America suddenly leaps into the path of the bullet as Fidel Castro hoses Batista down with a burst of gunfire from his All-American ™ Tommy Gun. Che Guevara dies in Captain America’s arms, his last words being… “I would have liked to have seen the Washington Monument…”

Afterwards, Captain America makes another speech to Fidel Castro about some Latino dude he knew back in the Howling Commandos, because all brown people are kinda similar and then asks what Fidel Castro will do. And Fidel Castro is like I’m going to redistribute liberate the wealth stolen riches of the landowners fascist supervillains and foreign businesses Maggia criminal groups to help support the poor and working class Cuban people in order to build a better future by investing in infrastructure and education. And Captain America will be like, that sounds like the right thing to do! And Fidel Castro will respond… it’s the American way!

Fin

Genius at work

As I mentioned, I read The Count of Monte Cristo for that anime podcast I’m in. The novel was so long – 1200 pages – that I kind of had to take a break from reading for a while after. I don’t really have an analysis of the book so much as some scattered musings.

First of all, let me just mention that if anyone wants to read the unabridged English translation then I recommend the Penguin Classics Robin Buss version over the free Project Gutenberg ebook. It turns out that Project Gutenberg uses the first and original translation from back in the 19th century and so feels rather stiff and creaky. The Buss translation is from 1996 and it feels a lot more natural. The book was meant to be a sensationalist page turner when it was originally published and it’s the Buss version that made the story flow that way for me.

Overall I liked the novel but it’s clear that Dumas was being paid by the line. The story could have been a lot shorter and it’s striking how much of The Count of Monte Cristo isn’t actually about the count of Monte Cristo. That, and the story is full of garrulous characters and lengthy descriptions of people and places. Thankfully the book never goes full George R.R. Martin, though.

I find it interesting how short the chapters are, since most are only around ten or so pages. This is unlike a lot of modern novels, but it actually reminds me of the short instalments that are normal in really long fanfiction. This is an apt comparison since both this story and long fanfics are or were both released serially in sequential instalments.

The story itself is very cosmopolitan in outlook. Dumas shows off how au courant he is with contemporary theatre and literature, as besides the expected references to French texts, Dumas casually drops references to Shakespeare, James Fenimore Cooper, Walter Scott, Byron, and 1001 Nights. I wonder, was Dumas the Bourbon Restoration version of a movie nerd today making a film that drops allusions and references to a smorgasbord of modern pop culture?

Also, I did some very rough back of the envelope calculations to figure out how much the treasure at Monte Cristo was worth. I had to find out the exchange rate for livres to British pounds since the historical currency converter I use doesn’t have French currency. It turns out the exchange rate varied from place to place and the only one I could easily find was for Dover. I then had to convert the pounds to present money. With those caveats in mind and accounting for inflation, the count’s treasure amounts to $5 million US in 2015. It’s a decent number though not exactly fuck you money. Still, the economy was smaller back then and that fortune formed a greater percentage of the total amount of money floating around at the time.

As an amusing side note, the book mentions twice that Italian cuisine is the worst in the world, and it phrases it in a way that seems like a widely-held opinion. I wonder, would Dumas have been referring to Italian cooking as we think of it today? If so, what specifically did Dumas and his contemporaries have against it? Maybe it’s all the tomato sauces and the unfamiliar mouth-feel of pasta.

Finally, let me end in remarking that the novel contains more scenes than I expected of men trying to blow their brains out.

God and my right

Many faux-medieval fantasy stories willfully ignore the overarching influence of the Church on European society. Knights were specifically said to be soldiers of Christendom and Christianity permeated every level of society, from the beggars who depended on handouts from the charitable orders to kings who had to be wary of excommunication. Medieval economics was also shaped by the Church, for it was considered impious for Chistians to charge interest on loans, which left moneylending as a Jewish profession. All these things and more made medieval Europe the way it was.

The Red Knight by Miles Cameron avoids this ahistorical presentation. It’s essentially set in a parallel universe Middle Ages where magic exists. Sorcerers require a license from the Church to practise magic, dragons rule over large parts of the land, and the forces of Satan threaten humanity everyday.

The world, you see, is divided in a war between God and Satan. However, the forces of Satan are actually just the forces of Nature fighting back against human encroachment. Having legitimate grievances, though, does not preclude moral excess, and the intelligent creatures of the wild massacre entire villages in their fight.

The author is a re-enactor and a history freak, which shows in the level of detail he displays in his fictionalized medieval England. Fencing masters teach moves for fighting monsters, rebellious peasants bide their time in the shadows, and despite the state of total war people come to accommodations with their supposed adversaries.

Anyway, I liked the book. Read it if you want more history in your fantasy.