Ungentlemanly Warfare, Yup that’s a Real Term

Quite possibly one of the longest titles in history: “Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat,” was also one of the most fun books I’ve read in the last five or six years. Giles Milton managed to find and capture an aspect of World War II that I had never heard of, and I am a history buff.

In 1940 the Nazi’s were taking over Europe. Winston Churchill had just taken over in Britain and was pretty much the last man standing up to Germany. He recognized Britain was on Germany’s hit list and wanted a plan in place to resist once the Nazi’s invaded Britain.

Hence the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.

“Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” details how a secret ministry of sabotage started from scratch and became and industry unto itself. Milton does a great job of capturing the cultural, genuinely British, conflicts that were a constant between the regular military and Section D of the Secret Intelligence Service. The idea of saboteurs and assassins did not sit well with the right kind of English gentlemen. On the flip side Section D argued that dropping a hundred bombs on a target might accomplish the mission. But a group of highly trained and motivated saboteurs could guarantee a surgical strike at a fraction of the cost or the collateral damage bombs dropped from 30,000 feet apt to cause.

The book follows Colin Gubbins, who stood up and made Section D into a powerhouse. Gubbins created a factory for explosives, specifically designed for devious small unit raids. He organized a kill school run by two old British ex-pats tossed aside by the establishment when they came home to fight for Britain. And he inspired a world-wide intelligence network that facilitated acts of sabotage from a vital hydro-facility in Norway to an ancient aqueduct in Greece used to supply Rommel’s tanks in Africa. Not only does Milton take you through each of these adventures but he does it by capturing the wild spectrum of men and women who fought the secret war. Professional adventures, engineers, secretaries, and even a conscientious objector turned operative made Section D what it was. Of note among Section D and its saboteurs, Milton does a particular service to the contributions and the sacrifices women made to ungentlemanly war.

If you are a history buff and want to read about an important but forgotten part of World War II give Giles Milton’s “Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” a serious look.

Here is the back-cover blurb:

“Six gentlemen, one goal: the destruction of Hitler’s war machine

In the spring of 1939, a top-secret organization was founded in London: its purpose was to plot the destruction of Hitler’s war machine through spectacular acts of sabotage.

The guerrilla campaign that followed was every bit as extraordinary as the six men who directed it. One of them, Cecil Clarke, was a maverick engineer who had spent the 1930s inventing futuristic caravans. Now, his talents were put to more devious use: he built the dirty bomb used to assassinate Hitler’s favorite, Reinhard Heydrich. Another, William Fairbairn, was a portly pensioner with an unusual passion: he was the world’s leading expert in silent killing, hired to train the guerrillas being parachuted behind enemy lines. Led by dapper Scotsman Colin Gubbins, these men―along with three others―formed a secret inner circle that, aided by a group of formidable ladies, single-handedly changed the course Second World War: a cohort hand-picked by Winston Churchill, whom he called his Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.

Giles Milton’s Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is a gripping and vivid narrative of adventure and derring-do that is also, perhaps, the last great untold story of the Second World War.”

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So, the Norse won?

The other night I discovered something that Marvel and the creators behind Thor have missed: Thor is living proof of a deity.

I was cooking dinner when my five year old showed up slinging his Mjolnir (Thor’s Hammer). I asked,

“Hey Thor, want to help with dinner?” I got the usual response.

“No I’m just playing, Can I have Thor God of Thunder song?”

There is no greater pride a parent feels than when a child asks for classic rock. I am quick to respond, “Absolutely!”

Thor God of Thunder song is actually Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin. Let me be up front here and declare I have had this song in my workout playlist for a decade or more so I didn’t download it because of a movie. Although when you look at Marvel movie music there is an argument to be made that Led Zeppelin might be the new AC/DC. I would say with confidence that Iron Man would not have been quite as cool if is wasn’t for the judicious use of AC/DC throughout the series of movies. Though I thought Thor Ragnarok was a great movie, the same argument could be made that Ragnarok might not have been Ragnarok without Immigrant Song as the backdrop to Thor beating the crap out of a bunch of demons. Additionally, when was the last time you saw an action flick that didn’t have an AC/DC track somewhere in either the trailer or the film itself, just saying. Robert Plant and the boys might be seeing a boost in their royalties soon.

But I digress.

The point I had when I started this bit of word vomit was that I had an epiphany while cooking dinner and praying Thor’s hammer did not go through the tv. Thor is living proof of deity in the Marvel universe. Now if we allow that the Marvel universe is societally similar to our society then wouldn’t him showing up on the world’s stage fighting aliens in Avengers have been a bit disruptive to society. I mean not only do the big three religions all fight (literally) to convince the rest of us heathens that their dogma is “the way.” But how many other sects and systems are out there that think their own deity, whatever that may be is the only path to salvation? Then all of a sudden here comes a hero out of Norse mythology, Thor, the God of Thunder standing in the middle of New York City swinging a giant hammer.

Picture yourself as some pastor, or Imam, or even the Pope himself sitting around watching Fox News as they interrupt a hoverround commercial to bring breaking news. “Alien Invasion: New York” is the headline and then whichever religious leader seems most entertaining in your head (for me it’s the Pope lounging in his robe lint rollering a massive hat but then again I’m Catholic so that makes sense) He leans forward in his big stuffy chair and sees a God standing with Captain America in the middle of Times Square. He doesn’t see the big alien dragon looking things flying around, he only sees the worlds first proof of deity fist bumping Cap and flying off screen under a swinging hammer. I can only think his first thought is, “Merda!” [“Shit!” in Italian].

World religious leaders around the globe are all realizing at the same time that their collection plates are about to run dry. All accept the Asatro (that’s right there is still a religion that believes in Odin and Thor) and those guys leap up and dance a jig, “I knew it!” they scream.

So then what?

Iron Man nukes the aliens and the dimensional gateway is closed, cool. But what about the 84% of people whose guiding life principles just went up in smoke, or more accurately, a lightning bolt?

Thor, chillin and eating falafel (the after the credits scene in Avengers [Spoiler, sorry]) is going to be a real problem for people. Here they were arguing about the bible and the koran, and the torah only to find that the Scandinavians had it all right. What the…? That effect on society is something overlooked by Marvel et al.

Good news though. In the event Thor was to show up and save the world, Santa might get a second look. As far as I know he was adopted by Christianity as a way of absorbing some of those “heathen” religions on their way to world domination.

Now all of a sudden the powers that be find out that Norse mythology was the one…and they missed it. I can only picture the Westboro Baptists protesting Thor’s hair while a bunch of ISIS guys try to blow up Avenger HQ.

What do you think the Asatro head honcho would do during his first press conference? I like to think he would play it really cool. Shrug his shoulders maybe and say, “Told ya,” drop the mike and walk off stage.

Anyway, that’s all I got for today. But hey Marvel, maybe something to look into.

As always don’t forget to check out my work on Amazon or any other bookstore. My newest novel Where Angels Sing is on sale now.


 

Detective X

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You remember the JJ Abrams show Fringe? I loved that show but I think what I loved the most about it was the crazy scientist Walter Bishop. The character was similar to other anchors of a good mystery series. The odd genius who can come up with a quick fix, or some obscure science that nobody understands to save the day. Kind of like a MacGyver without the mullet.

What if there was a real life genius who had a hand in almost a thousand criminal cases, laid the ground work for modern forensics, and was almost completely forgotten by history? I know, it sounds awesome. See below.

In 2014, a curator was searching the archives of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for a new exhibit. In a box, she found nine notebooks that belonged to a little known scientist who’d worked for the agency in the early 20th century.

Wilmer Souder was an everyday farm boy from southern Indiana. He went to college and earned his Ph.D. In 1916.  He then went to work at the National Bureau of Standards (now known as NIST).

Historically Souder is known for his work on materials used for dental fillings. When he’s mentioned in NIST historical records he’s described as the founder of the dental materials research program. His biography however also contains a seemingly random anecdote noting he was involved in investigating the murder and kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, son of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh.

Turns out that in addition to being an expert on dental fillings Wilmer Souder moonlighted as a sought-after forensic expert in handwriting analysis, typewriting analysis, and ballistics. His expertise and influence effected more than 800 cases throughout his career. Prior to the uncovering of his journals he was known to history only as Detective X.

How Souder came to be involved in forensic is not clear however at some point a request was made to develop a systematic way to do handwriting and typewriter analysis. Souder, whose specialty was taking exacting measurements and making precise comparisons, joined the project.

The nine notebooks found in the basement at NIST showed that during his career Souder was requested to lend his expertise to a variety of cases brought to the bureau by the Post Office, the Department of the Treasury, and various other government bodies. In addition to appearing in court as an expert witness, he helped pioneer some techniques still used in modern American Forensics.

He developed a method of projectile analysis in which he used a recent invention, the microscope, to compare expended bullets to see if they were fired from the same weapon. He advised the founder of the FBI’s forensic lab on policy and protocol. When he analyzed handwriting from ransom notes during the Lindbergh case he matched them to Bruno Hauptmann, who was eventually convicted and executed for the crime.

Souder brought the scientific method and statistics to law enforcement, a profession that was more art than science during that early era. The head of the New York Police Department at the time is reported to have said of Souder that he was, “the most outstanding expert [in forensics] on the continent in the last one hundred years.”

Somehow Souder’s work was lost to history, and Souder himself may have had a hand in that. While he actively published his dental work. Souder tended to downplay his work in the field of criminalistics. Some believe Souder feared criminals learning too much from his methods, or seeking him out for retribution. Souder had a wife and daughter, it’s understandable that he would not want his prosecutorial work to follow him home.

When Souder retired none of his contemporaries at NIST continued in the field of forensic research and eventually the agencies link, and Souder’s, to forensics was lost.

What a great story. One of those rare nuggets from history where an unsung hero finally gets the recognition he deserves. Kind of has a Sherlock Holmes vibe to it. And how cool would it have been to have the nickname “Detective X”?

Maybe I need to venture into the historical nonfiction genre for my next project.

John Stamp Author Page

References:
Greenwood, Veronique. “Secret Crime-Fighter Revealed to Be 1930s Physicist,” National Geographic, March 17, 2017. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/20…