The History of Riley and the Great War: Suggested Reading

Biplanes WWI via The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2014/04/world-war-i-in-photos-introduction/507185/

·         Churchill, Winston S. Great Contemporaries. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2012.

·         D’Este, Carlo. Patton: A Genius for War. New York: Harper Perennial, 1996.

·         Fischer, David Hackett. Albion’s Seed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

·         Frolich, Paul. Rosa Luxemburg. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2010.

·         Gilbert, Martin. The First World War. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1996.

·         McCullough, David. Truman. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1992.

·         McLynn, Frank. Villa and Zapata, A History of the Mexican Revolution. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

·         Salter, Anna C. Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists and Other Sex Offenders. New York: Basic Books, 2003.

·         Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1990.

·         Tuchman, Barbara W. The Guns of August. New York: Ballantine Books, 1994.

·         Warner, Philip. World War One, A Chronological Narrative. London: Arms and Armour Press, 1998.

·         Welsome, Eileen. The General & the Jaguar: Pershing’s Hunt for Pancho Villa. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2006.

·         Werner, Doug. Boxer’s Start-Up: A Beginner’s Guide to Boxing. San Diego, CA: Tracks Publishing, 1998.

The History of Riley and the Great War: Munich

German Howitzer WWI via Guns in the Great War http://www.worldwar1.com/pharc005.htm

Karl Eisner had actually lost an election shortly before Riley and Cornelius arrived in Munich, but he had not yet submitted his official resignation. He was assassinated on February 21, 1919, which must have been a very short time after the brawl at the Weissbräukeller.

Adolf Hitler was born in Linz, Austria on April 20, 1889. Following his service in the Great War, in which he was a soldier for the Kaiser, Hitler found many sympathetic ears in the charming Bavarian city of Munich for his racial hatreds, his authoritarian beliefs, and his fanatical embrace of Ludendorff’s “stab-in-the-back” theory. After service as a prison guard for a short time, he became fully immersed in fascist politics in Munich. He led the famous Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, at a Munich establishment called the Bürgerbräukeller. His plan was to put Ludendorff in charge of an armed force that would march on Berlin and seize the government. The failure of this plot caused Hitler to be sentenced to a term in Landsberg Prison, where he began to write Mein Kampf. It is noteworthy that Ludendorff and others of the Prussian old guard were willing to work with a ruffian from the lower class like Hitler. They thought they could control him. They were not the last to make that mistake.

The true identity of the mysterious Mr. Linz in the novel is, of course, unknown.

The History of Riley and the Great War: Berlin

German Soldiers at Christmas via The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2014/04/world-war-i-in-photos-introduction/507185/

By all accounts, Rosa Luxemburg was a warm, passionate, humorous woman with a lifelong dedication to the cause of Communism, the writings of Karl Marx, and the struggles of the working class. She inspired love and loyalty from her friends, intense hatred from her enemies. She loved children and animals. She was fearless in the face of the most extreme adversity. While her writings on economic theory appear dry to the modern reader, Rosa Luxemburg clearly had a vivid personality that long remained in the memories of her colleagues.

Luxemburg was born in 1871 in a small Polish town near the Russian border. Her family moved to Warsaw in 1873. At the age of five, Rosa suffered a hip ailment that left her with the permanent limp described in the novel. She came to liberal politics at a very young age, having helped organize a general strike at the age of fifteen. While at university in Zurich, Luxemburg met the fierce Russian ideologue Leo Jogiches, who became her lover for a time and her friend for life. With his help, Luxemburg spent her life mixing heavy intellectual labor with dangerous political activism. She did not hesitate to criticize Lenin when she disagreed with him, but she was a great admirer of his and, in turn, he respected her. Luxemburg, who moved to Germany in 1898, dreamed of creating a Marxist state there that would improve upon Lenin’s work in Russia.

Luxemburg and her fellow activists fiercely opposed Germany’s initiation of war in 1914. She, along with Karl Liebknecht and others, formed an organization to advocate for peace and for workers’ rights. It came to be called the Spartacist League, after the slave who rebelled against the Roman Empire. In 1916, Luxemburg and Liebnecht were imprisoned in “protective custody,” to keep them out of the way during the balance of the war. As the Armistice approached, Liebknecht was released on October 23, 1918 and Rosa on November 8.

The comic opera foolishness of the Spartacist Revolution described in the novel is supported by history. Following its surrender to the Allies, Germany was a chaotic mess. Kaiser Wilhelm skulked out of the country, as did the prominent general Erich Ludendorff, who later was the chief promulgator of the “stab-in-the-back” theory which claimed that Germany only lost the war because it was betrayed by Marxists and Jews at home. In the vacuum, leadership of the German nation nominally fell to a Socialist named Frederich Ebert. Disgruntled and impoverished ex-soldiers banded into groups called Freikorps (“Free Corps”), pillaging and bullying throughout the country. As the novel indicates, one of the Freikorps leaders was Waldemar Pabst, a right-winger with an abiding hatred of Communists and Jews. Street fighting among Freikorps, Communists, Socialists, and miscellaneous mobs became common.

In this toxic mix, the short-lived Spartacist Revolution was born. After being released from prison, Karl Liebknecht proclaimed the creation of a Free Socialist Republic from the window of the Kaiser’s palace, the Berliner Stadtschloss, the same day that a representative of the Socialist party proclaimed a rival republic from a window at the Reichstag. Once Rosa arrived on the scene, she urged caution, knowing the Communists were in no way ready to mount a revolution and sustain a government. She, Liebknecht and others founded the Red Flag, a journal that published articles promoting their cause. Luxemburg was the journal’s dominant writer.

Then, in December, a group of dissident sailors from the German Navy took over the central Berlin post office, protesting the government’s failure to provide back pay to the military. Ebert ordered his troops to attack on Christmas Eve, 1918, but the sailors drove them back. This event came to be known as Bloody Christmas and enflamed the passions of the Communists, who called the first Congress of the German Communist party. Luxemburg was one of the main speakers and reportedly drew a strong response. Shortly afterward, again against Rosa’s advice, the party announced a rebellion, which came to be called the Spartacist Revolution, or Spartacist Uprising, since many of the leaders were in the Spartacist League.

As Luxemburg feared, the rebellion played into the hands of the Freikorps and the right-wing Prussian officers who wished to distance themselves from the recent defeat and return to power in Germany. The Freikorps made quick work of the rebels. Luxemburg and Liebknecht went into hiding, but were arrested at a residence in the Berlin suburb of Wilmersdorf. They were taken to the Eden Hotel, where Waldemar Pabst interrogated them. He later admitted that he also ordered their execution. Soldiers took them (some accounts say separately) to the Tiergarten, where Liebknecht was killed and his body taken as an “unknown person” to a morgue. Luxemburg was shot and her body thrown from the Liechtenstein Bridge into the Landwehr Canal. Two months later, her great friend Leo Jogiches was also killed.

Otto von Kleist is not mentioned in any account of these events other than that of Riley and Cornelius. Nor is there any mention of the tiger’s fate, although it is true that the Zoologischer Garten Berlin is located in the Tiergarten, not far from the Landwehr Canal.

The History Behind Riley and the Great War: France

Vive La France

One Hundred Years Ago Today (allegedly)

The 28th Infantry Regiment took the village of Cantigny on May 28, 1918 and then held it against seven fierce counterattacks over 72 hours. As a result, the regiment proudly bears the nickname “The Black Lions of Cantigny.” While the strategic importance of the victory has been questioned, this first successful offensive battle by American soldiers on European soil was important to Allied morale. Colonel Hanson Ely commanded the regiment.

The depictions of Clemenceau’s background, temperament, and importance to the war effort are consistent with historical descriptions. Winston Churchill made several visits to France during 1918 in his capacity as Minister of Munitions. He had earlier lost the post of First Lord of the Admiralty, having fairly or unfairly taken most of the blame for the failed campaign at Gallipoli.

Paris was indeed threatened by Operation Blücher and came close to being lost, with Clemenceau raging at Pershing to put more of his men into action. Codebreaker Henri Painvin is credited with a herculean and successful effort to break the Germans’ codes after they changed their system, although the extent to which his work contributed to saving Paris has been a subject of dispute.

I find no mention in history of Le Colibri. In some respects, though, his character is reminiscent of the life and legend of the famous gourmet Maurice Edmond Sailland (1872–1956), who used the pen name Curnonsky.

Magers & Quinn reading

I will be doing a reading/signing at Magers & Quinn Booksellers, 3038 Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, on Tuesday, June 19 at 7 pm. Hope to see you there.

More Events!

I will be doing readings from Riley and the Great War at the following terrific independent bookstores:

Subtext Books in St. Paul: Thursday, May 24 at 7 pm

Lake Country Booksellers in White Bear Lake: Saturday, May 26 at 10 am

Fair Trade Books in Red Wing: Saturday, June 2 at 2 pm.

The events are centered around the 100th anniversary of critical battles in World War I, which are described in my book.

Hope you can attend!

Events!

Thanks to all who came to the launch party for Riley and the Great War. It was in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s old neighborhood in St. Paul, and it was well-attended and a lot of fun. Scott and Zelda couldn’t make it, but maybe they’ll be at the launch for Riley and the Roaring Twenties next fall.

On Saturday, June 2 at 2 p.m., I’ll be in Red Wing, Minnesota for a reading at Fair Trade Books, 320 Bush Street. It’s a beautiful drive and I’m sure it will be a fun event. Then, on June 20, I’m appearing at a book club that chose Riley and the Great War for its monthly selection. If you belong to a book club that would like to have authors attend, then as I used to say on Saturday nights in high school, I’M AVAILABLE!

History behind Riley and the Great War: Mexico

Mexico City by VV Nincic on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/FJaMuZ

The Mexican Revolution was as confusing as described by Riley and Cornelius. The roles of Villa, Zapata, Huerta, Carranza and Obregón were pretty much as stated. Patton was indeed Pershing’s brother-in-law and also his aide during the Punitive Expedition. Villa suffered a serious gunshot wound to his right leg at the battle of Guerrero on March 27, 1916.  Accounts of his whereabouts during his convalescence vary, but it is said that American soldiers led by Lieutenant Summer Williams almost captured him at the home of a supporter named Rodriguez. Williams became suspicious when he saw Yaquis near the home, as it was known that Villa’s men included Yaquis. There is also a legend that Villa recuperated from his wound in a desert cave.

Germany certainly plotted to start hostilities between the United States and Mexico, hoping to involve the United States in the Mexican Revolution and thereby delay its entry into World War I. This became known through the Zimmerman telegram, mentioned in passing in the novel, in which the German Foreign Secretary spoke of offering Mexico support for a war against the United States and promised the return to Mexico of land in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. British Intelligence obtained the telegram and its publication is said to have hastened America’s entry into the war.

I have found no mention in history of Otto von Kleist, which is perhaps not surprising given that he was a top-secret agent and a highly unsavory member of a distinguished family. Modern psychology would likely classify him as a sociopathic sexual sadist, but I expect Riley and Cornelius would have a different diagnosis: he was a monster.

Pershing never found Villa, but somebody finally did. He was cut down by rifle bullets from hidden assassins while riding in a car on July 20, 1923. The identities of his killers are unknown.

The History Behind Riley and the Great War: Independence

John Stark (Born in August 28th, 1728 – Died in May 8th, 1822) was a New Hampshire native who served as a major general in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. He became widely known as the "Hero of Bennington" for his exemplary service at the Battle of Bennington in 1777.

The events in the Independence section of the novel do not involve famous people or happenings, so history does not record them. Main and Maple Streets remain important thoroughfares in the bucolic town, while Blue Road long ago became Truman Road. In a reissue of an 1877 Illustrated Historical Atlas of Jackson County, Missouri, I found an eighty-acre parcel of land near the Little Blue River east of town that was registered to someone named J.G. Riley. The livestock in Kansas City’s West Bottoms area indeed burned to death in a major fire in 1917.

The History Behind Riley and the Great War: Prologue: The Columbus Raid

World War One Remembrance stained glass window by stainedglassartist on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/pNXDxb

The event that precipitated the 1916 Punitive Expedition led by General John “Black Jack” Pershing was indeed Pancho Villa’s raid on the New Mexico town of Columbus on March 9, 1916. This raid, which followed atrocities by Villa’s men at San Isabel and Aqua Prieta, forced Woodrow Wilson’s hand and made it inevitable that the United States would retaliate by sending a force after Villa, one of several pretenders to power in the long Mexican Revolution. The names of Villa’s commanders in the Columbus raid are as given in the novel. Susan and John Moore actually existed and ran a store outside of Columbus. John Moore was killed by Villistas after the Columbus raid, although history says he was shot by men led by Candelario Cervantes; no history book mentions a Spaniard or a boxing match. Susan Moore indeed hid in the desert after being wounded, and she was rescued by soldiers from the fort. Many years later, the Mexican government paid her the compensation described in the novel. Interestingly, according to a history by Eileen Welsome that is cited in the bibliography, another claimant who received a payment was named James O’Neal. I have no idea what to make of that, but perhaps Cornelius talked his way into some modest compensation for the ordeal in the cave.

To be continued…