Book Review: ‘The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11’

(C) 2019 Avid Readers Press/Simon & Schuster

Rating: 5 out of 5.

We have some planes. Mohammad Atta, Hijacker

I look at the clock, and every time I look at the clock, it seems to be 9:11. I’m like, “Oh, 9:11 again.” It just happens, something so simple like that. – Sharon Miller, Officer, Port Authority Police Department (PAPD)

The World Trade Center dominated the Lower Manhattan skyline for 30 years, I went into World Trade Center One once, in 1987, Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

On September 10, 2019, Avid Reader Press – an imprint of Simon & Schuster – published The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11. This 512-page fully illustrated hardcover book was written by journalist/historian Garrett M. Graff, and it hit bookstores on the eve of the 18th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed 2,996 people – 2,977 victims and 19 Al-Qaeda terrorists who committed murder-suicide in New York City, Washington DC, and on a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Every orbit, we kept trying to see more of what was happening. One of the most startling effects was that within about two orbits, all the contrails normally crisscrossing the United States had disappeared because they had grounded all the airplanes and there was nobody else flying in U.S. airspace except for one airplane that was leaving a contrail from the central U.S. toward Washington. That was Air Force One heading back to D.C. with President Bush. – Commander Frank Culbertson, astronaut, NASA, in the prologue (Aboard the International Space Station)

(C) 2022 Simon & Schuster Books

Graff, who also wrote this year’s Watergate: A New History, writes in his introduction that he “spent three years collecting the stories of those who lived through and experienced 9/11 – where they were, what they remember, and how their lives changed. The book that follows is based on more than 500 oral histories, conducted by me as well as dozens of other historians and journalists over the last seventeen years.”

From the Publisher

The Kindle edition has the same maps, charts, and graphics as the hardcover edition. (C) 2019 Avid Reader/Simon & Schuster.

Over the past eighteen years, monumental literature has been published about 9/11, from Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower to The 9/11 Commission Report. But one perspective has been missing up to this point—a 360-degree account of the day told through firsthand.

Now, in The Only Plane in the Sky, Garrett Graff tells the story of the day as it was lived—in the words of those who lived it. Drawing on never-before-published transcripts, declassified documents, original interviews, and oral histories from nearly five hundred government officials, first responders, witnesses, survivors, friends, and family members, he paints the most vivid and human portrait of the September 11 attacks yet.

Beginning in the predawn hours of airports in the Northeast, we meet the ticket agents who unknowingly usher terrorists onto their flights, and the flight attendants inside the hijacked planes. In New York, first responders confront a scene of unimaginable horror at the Twin Towers. From a secret bunker under the White House, officials watch for incoming planes on radar. Aboard unarmed fighter jets in the air, pilots make a pact to fly into a hijacked airliner if necessary to bring it down. In the skies above Pennsylvania, civilians aboard United 93 make the ultimate sacrifice in their place. Then, as the day moves forward and flights are grounded nationwide, Air Force One circles the country alone, its passengers isolated and afraid.

More than simply a collection of eyewitness testimonies, The Only Plane in the Sky is the historic narrative of how ordinary people grappled with extraordinary events in real-time: the father and son caught on different ends of the impact zone; the firefighter searching for his wife who works at the World Trade Center; the operator of in-flight telephone calls who promises to share a passenger’s last words with his family; the beloved FDNY chaplain who bravely performs last rites for the dying, losing his own life when the Towers collapse; and the generals at the Pentagon who break down and weep when they are barred from trying to rescue their colleagues.

At once a powerful tribute to the courage of everyday Americans and essential addition to the literature of 9/11, The Only Plane in the Sky weaves together the unforgettable personal experiences of the men and women who found themselves caught at the center of an unprecedented human drama. The result is a unique, profound, and searing exploration of humanity on a day that changed the course of history, and all of our lives. – From the dust jacket, The Only Plane in the Sky

My Take

The aftermath of American Airlines Flight 77’s crash into Wedge 1 of the Pentagon. Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

Father Mychal Judge, chaplain, FDNY (at the rededication of a Bronx firehouse on Monday, September 10,2001): Good days. Bad days. Up days. Down days. Sad days. Happy days. But never a boring day on this job. You do what God has called you to do. You show up. You put one foot in front of another. You get on the rig and you go out and you do the job. Which is a mystery. And a surprise. You have no idea when you get on that rig. No matter how big the call. No matter how small. You have no idea what God is calling you to. But he needs you. He needs me. He needs all of us.

The Only Plane in the Sky is presented as a series of personal recollections of people – some, like former President George W. Bush and retired NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, prominent personages known by millions of Americans; others, such as Lyzbeth Glick, wife of United Flight 93 passenger Jeremy Glick, ordinary Americans who were leading ordinary lives on September 10, 2001, the starting point of The Only Plane in the Sky.

 Um, the cockpit is not answering. Someone’s stabbed in business class, and, um, I think there is Mace – that we can’t breathe. I don’t know, I think we’re being hijacked.

Betty Ong, Flight attendant aboard American airlines flight 11
Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan, Fall of 2001. Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

Except for some brief paragraphs to set up the scene – as it were – or to add context or provide more details, The Only Plane in the Sky tells the story of the “day when the world stopped turning” through the recollections of eyewitnesses at the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, the Pentagon in Arlington, VA, and Shanksville, PA, as well as the various command posts, military bases, and key government offices as America grappled with the most serious attack on its soil since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor nearly 70 years before.

(C) 2019 Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster;

Additionally, as in the case of New York Fire Department chaplain Father Mychal Judge – known to the firefighters and paramedics as “Father Mike” – quotes from those who died on 9/11 are transcribed verbatim from recordings made at the time, including emergency calls and final messages sent to loved ones’ voicemail by passengers and flight attendants aboard the four hijacked airliners – American Airlines Flight 11, United Flight 175, American Flight 77, and United Flight 93:

Betty Ong: Um, the cockpit is not answering. Someone’s stabbed in business class, and, um, I think there is Mace – that we can’t breathe. I don’t know, I think we’re being hijacked.

Winston Sadler: Which flight are you on?

Betty Ong: Flight 12.[1]

Winston Sadler: And what seat are you in? [Silence] Ma’am, are you there?

Betty Ong: Yes.

Winston Sadler: What seat are you in? [Silence] Ma’am, what seat are you in?

Betty Ong: We just left Boston, we’re up in the air.

Winston Sadler: I know.

Betty Ong: We’re supposed to go to L.A. and the cockpit’s not answering their phone….

“Had me turning each page with my heart in my throat…There’s been a lot written about 9/11, but nothing like this. I urge you to read it.” —Katie Couric

Image by Armelion from Pixabay 

Like millions of Americans who were alive on 9/11 and old enough to make informed observations and have vivid memories of “red letter days,” I remember where I was and what I was doing when I found out about the attacks on that fateful Tuesday, now 21 years in the past.

Good days. Bad days. Up days. Down days. Sad days. Happy days. But never a boring day on this job. You do what God has called you to do. You show up. You put one foot in front of another. You get on the rig and you go out and you do the job. Which is a mystery. And a surprise. You have no idea when you get on that rig.

Father MychAl “Father Mike” Judge, CHaplain, new york Fire Dept., on September 10, 2001

I also remember that life in America is now referred to as “before 9/11” and “after 9/11.” You know, as in, “Before September 11, no one worried about whether or not your fellow passengers carried knives or box cutters.” Those bladed items were allowed on planes and no one even thought they might be used to hijack a jetliner. Now, try getting one past Transportation Safety Administration agents at preflight security checkpoints and see what happens. (The TSA and preflight inspections are only a tiny part of 9/11’s legacy regarding air travel in the U.S. and abroad.)

It’s no exaggeration when folks like me say that the world was vastly different on September 10, 2001, from that which emerged after Al-Qaeda’s spectacular strike at America’s two centers of gravity – New York City and Washington, D.C.

Nostalgia aside, no way was life in the United States idyllic – Americans were still getting over a bitterly contested Presidential election less than a year before, and society was grappling with many of the issues we grapple with in the era of Trump and the “Make America Great Again” movement: wealth inequity, racial divisions, prejudice against LGBQTI folks, and the schism between two competing visions for America – that of conservatives, and that of liberals.

Still, on September 10, 2001, Americans by and large lived as if we were immune from the troubles of the outside world, even as jet travel and the Internet had made the world ever smaller since the 1960s…and American complacency about the threat from abroad, especially that posed by Islamic extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda…made the nation vulnerable to attacks from across the two oceans we believed protected us from any dangerous enemies who wished to do us harm.

After 9/11, of course, that mindset vanished, along with the Twin Towers, the original Wedge One of the Pentagon, and four jetliners registered to America’s two largest airlines, not to mention the 2,977 men, women, and children who died by the actions of 19 religious extremists from the Middle East.

We saw it live. As it rounded the corner, there were people in the studio pointing to monitors. You could see it coming. You could hear gasps throughout the studio. Then it exploded into that building. There was silence. We all looked at one another.   

Jane Clayson, anchor, The Early Show, CBS
By UA_Flight_175_hits_WTC_south_tower_9-11.jpeg: Flickr user TheMachineStops (Robert J. Fisch)derivative work: upstateNYer – UA_Flight_175_hits_WTC_south_tower_9-11.jpeg, CC BY-SA 2.0,

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 does not delve into the big picture of how and why Osama bin Laden successfully sent 19 Al-Qaeda jihadists – a 20th member of the terror group was prevented from entering the U.S. at Orlando International Airport – to commit the largest act of murder-suicide on U.S. soil.

It also does not cover in great detail the Global War on Terror, a war which has been going on for so long that babies born on the two-day period covered in The Only Plane in the Sky became old enough to enlist in the armed forces as early as 2018; 17-year-olds with a high school diploma or GED can enlist if they pass the ASVAB basic skills test and have signed permission from parents, And 2019, the year in which the book was published, was when the first post-9/11 generation’s kids became freshmen in college.

Jane Clayson, anchor, The Early Show, CBS: (referring to the crash of United Flight 175 into the South Tower at 9:03 AM) We saw it live. As it rounded the corner, there were people in the studio pointing to monitors. You could see it coming. You could hear gasps throughout the studio. Then it exploded into that building. There was silence. We all looked at one another.   

Remarkable…A priceless civic gift…On page after page, a reader will encounter words that startle, or make him angry, or heartbroken.” —The Wall Street Journal

The Only Plane in the Sky includes two inserts of color photographs taken on September 10 and 11, 2001 and at the scene of several memorial sites. Some are startling – if heartachingly – gorgeous shots of the pre-9/11 New York City skyline; others are horrifying photos of United Flight 175 flying directly on a collision course with the South Tower as the North Tower, struck minutes earlier by American Flight 11, burns. Included in the first insert is AP photographer Richard Drew’s “Falling Man” photo of an unidentified man who chose to jump to his death rather than die in the burning North Tower.

Clearly, this is not a book for the squeamish. It is a book about perhaps the most traumatic event in recent U.S. history, full of accounts of bravery, sacrifice, horror, and – on the part of the terrorists – unimaginable cruelty born out of religious fanaticism and intolerance toward other worldviews besides their own.

Mike Morell (aboard Air Force One, the “only plane in the sky”): The president’s mil aide, Tom Gould, was looking out the window on the left side of the plane. He motioned me over: “Look.” There was a fighter plane on the wingtip. In the distance, you could see the still-burning Pentagon. Throughout the day, all this is happening and you don’t really have a chance to feel the emotion. But that got to me. Tears filled my eyes for the first time that day.

Still, The Only Plane in the Sky gives readers – especially those who were either small kids on 9/11 or were born in the years that followed – a wide array of first-hand accounts of the events that took place on that cloudless September day when life changed – forever.

[1] In her panic, Ong gave the wrong flight number.

Musings & Thoughts for Saturday, September 24, 2022, or: A Quick & Dirty Weekend Update (No, Not That Kind of ‘Dirty’!)

Photo by Nextvoyage on

Hi, there, Dear Reader. It’s afternoon on Saturday, September 24, 2022, and even though it’s fall in the Tampa Bay area, you would not know it because of the summer-like heat. It’s not as hellishly hot as it was in August – the heat index is in the mid-90s rather than the low 100s (30s and 40s for those of you who use the Celsius scale) – but for someone with an aversion to high temperature and humidity, it’s not exactly “let’s go out for a walk” weather, even at this point in 2022.

Actual gameplay screengrab from last night’s session of Regiments. I love the richness of the details, right down to the UNITED STATES ARMY stenciled on the fuselage of the AH-1F Cobra on the right-hand side of the image. (All of the game design elements shown in these screenshots are (C) 2022 Bird’s Eye Games & MicroProse)
The results of an A-10A Thunderbolt II strafing run on a Soviet BMP unit. Note the dug-in soldiers with AK-47 assault rifles and the bodies of their dead comrades lying near the BMP in the foreground.

Today’s post will, yet again, be short-and-sweet because:

  • I have not done anything truly worthwhile recently – unless, of course, you include prowess at playing computer games such as Regiments as something “truly worthwhile,” that is
  • Although I did not have another bout of insomnia, I did get leg cramps that woke me up in the predawn hours. Boy did that hurt! It took a while for my calf muscles – on both legs, mind – to relax and for the pain to subside; at one point I thought I would not be able to fall asleep. Thankfully I did go back to sleep and woke up shortly before 8 AM, but I am still a bit tired even after consuming three cups of coffee and a breadstick
  • At one point this morning, I thought about writing a review of The Only Plane in the Sky, but I decided to hold off on that for a few days. I’ve already done two book reviews (The Third World War duology), and I don’t feel like devoting five or more hours to writing another one so soon. I think I’ll wait till next week before I tackle that oral history about the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda
  • The only thing I can think of that is worth mentioning is that there is a possibility that Hurricane Ian will affect the Tampa Bay area by this time next week. Right now, Ian is a tropical storm in the Caribbean Sea, but the latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center shows a track that has Ian coming toward this part of Florida by 8 AM Thursday. Ugh. I did not need this new development in my life
Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster;
I live in the “Cone of Uncertainty”! Image by the National Hurricane Center, National Weather Service, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

I need to go take a shower and change into clean street clothes, so I will go ahead and close this post here. Until next time, stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.  

Photo by u0415u0432u0433u0435u043du0438u044f u041au0430u0440u043fu043eu0432u0430 on

Musings & Thoughts for Friday, September 23, 2022, or: A Brief Update from the Subtropics

Photo by Nathan Rostampour on

Hi, there, Dear Reader. Today’s post is going to be another one of those short-and-sweet ones of little significance because I’m tired, moody, and uninspired.

I woke up today shortly after 8 in the morning; the Caregiver had already closed the room to the master bedroom, which doubles as her remote office for her job at the county courthouse, but my café con leche was still hot, so it was probably 8:05 AM or so when I shuffled into the kitchenette, bleary eyed and still wiping the last vestiges of sleep away with my hands. That’s all I had waiting for me at my place at the table – there wasn’t a plate with soda crackers or even toast; just one café con leche by its lonesome.

Photo by Chevanon Photography on

I could have prepared a packet of Quaker Instant Oatmeal if I had wanted one, but I wasn’t in the mood for oatmeal, so I have only eaten a handful of Sun Chips multi-grain snacks to supplement my café con leche. I am considering making some oatmeal for lunch, which I’ll have as soon as I publish this on WordPress.

While I did not have another night plagued by insomnia, I still feel as though I have a “sleep deficit.” I went to bed only a bit later than usual – 11:30 PM rather than 11 PM – and fell asleep watching the 4K UHD Director’s Cut of 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. I don’t think I slept soundly; I remember being nearly awake at least three times between last night and this morning, and I did not wake up ready to take on the day.

Photo by Pixabay on

Other than that, I don’t have much to write about. This morning, my other blog ­ – A Certain Point of View – over on Blogger passed the 800,000 pageviews mark. When I first checked my Statistics page around 8:30 AM, the stats hovered slightly above the 798,000-pageviews mark. As I write this in the early afternoon of Friday, September 23, 2022, the pageview count is at 800,604. Since the stats are synched to start a new day at 7 PM Eastern, or midnight in London (or Greenwich Mean Time), I am sure that by the time I log off my computer, the figure will be higher than 800,604.

I need to have some lunch – a packet of Quaker oatmeal being my choice – and after that, I will take a shower and change out of my pajamas and into some clean street clothes. It’s hot again in the Tampa Bay area, though, and there is rain in the forecast, so my chances of going out even for a brief walk are slim to none.

Photo by Ekaterina Nt on

So, with that, Dear Reader, I will take my leave of you. Until next time, stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.  

Musings & Thoughts for Thursday, September 22, 2022, or: Well, I Guess Blogging Isn’t a TOTAL Waste of Time…..

Photo by Pixabay on

Hi, there, Dear Reader. It’s late morning here in Lithia, Florida (a smallish city in the Tampa Bay area that is home to a sprawling planned community called Fish Hawk Ranches), and even though I’ve been up and about for almost two hours, I’m sleepy and tired. I had another restless night in which I couldn’t fall asleep at a decent time, and I woke up only slightly after my usual 6:30-7:00 AM window; I think I managed to get almost four hours’ worth of shuteye, so I’m not exactly at my best now.

I do have some good news, though!

After 11 years,1,404 blog posts, 795,670 pageviews (and counting), and even an unfair ban from Facebook, my challenging work on the original Blogger version of A Certain Point of View has finally borne fruit.

Yesterday, I noticed that Google AdSense had electronically deposited my first-ever payout of revenue generated from ads on my blog – $104.47, to be exact.

I had been keeping my eye on my AdSense account since the beginning of June, which is when I noticed that I was getting close to the $100 payout threshold (bloggers don’t get ad revenue until their AdSense balance is $100 or more). In August, it was hovering close to the $95 level, so I had a feeling in the back of my mind that I’d get paid – barring issues with Google – either this month or in October.

After I stared at my AdSense balance – it’s now back to $0.00 – for a while, I decided to check my bank account – thank the Force for online banking! – to make sure my eyes were not playing tricks on me.

Sure enough, I saw that the payment from Google was being processed, and even though the $104.47 was not in my account, it was included in my projected balance, so as I write this the transaction should be complete and the money I’ve worked hard to earn is there.

And even though I am not posting on A Certain Point of View as regularly as I do on this blog, I have noticed an uptick in my pageviews on Blogger. So far today, I’ve received 2,701 pageviews, which means that by 7 PM Eastern, which is when the “day” begins as far as pageview counts go, I’ll exceed yesterday’s “hit” count of 2,936.

Photo by Jess Bailey Designs on

Of course, pageviews aren’t the only criteria that determine ad revenue; people must click on ads on the posts to trigger some of the income. But the increase in traffic – most of it from the United States – is a welcome sight, especially since most of my hits came from Facebook until Trump supporters (taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic and Facebook’s overreliance on artificial intelligence to cope with “Community Standards” complaints) got the “Social Network” to ban A Certain Point of View in March of 2020.

I don’t know when I will see another payday from Blogger/Google AdSense. I started blogging in 2011, but I didn’t do it regularly until Epinions closed its doors in 2014 and my mother passed away in July 2015. And if it wasn’t for that stupid and arbitrary ban on Facebook…well, I would be writing a daily post on my original (and at one time, only) blog, and you would not be reading this here.

(C) 2018 Alex Diaz-Granados

Oh, and I also received a small royalty payment from Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. It has not been processed yet (KDP payments sometimes take a while to kick in, so to speak), so I don’t know how much I earned. It certainly is not a $1,000,000 Stephen King-type royalties check, but hey, I wrote something (Reunion: A Story) that someone found worth the time to buy (and hopefully enjoyed). Since that was my dream ever since I was 12 or so – to be an honest-to-goodness paid writer – I am happy.

(Of course, I would be over the moon if more people bought copies of Reunion, read it, liked it, and then told their friends about it, thus increasing the story’s popularity and adding a few bucks to my bank account. Ah, maybe it’s a pipe dream, but a fellow can dream, right?)

Photo by Ekaterina Nt on

I don’t have much else to share; I am still tired, foggy-brained, and a bit annoyed with myself for not being able to relax and go to sleep at a more decent time than 3 AM. I’m hoping that I’ll feel a bit better after I take a shower and get into “street clothes,” cos feeling exhausted at noon is not a pleasant experience.

So, until next time, Dear Reader, stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.

Book Review: ‘The Third World War: The Untold Story’

Two M-60A3 main battle tanks move along a road during Central Guardian, a phase of Exercise Reforger ’85. Location: Giessen, Germany. U.S. Army photo by Tech. Sgt. Boyd Belcher, taken on January 22, 1985.

Dies Irae: The Story Continues….

U.S. edition of The Third World War: The Untold Story (C) 1982 Macmillan Publishing

In early 1982, Sidgwick & Jackson of London and Macmillan Publishing of New York published The Third World War: The Untold Story, a war novel co-written by General Sir John Hackett and seven collaborators, many of whom had co-written The Third World War: August 1985, published four years earlier and, at the time, a best-selling book in Great Britain and the United States.

(C) 1978 Macmillan Publishing Company

The Third World War: The Untold Story, like the earlier book, is presented as a nonfiction account of the Third World War, a brief but violent global conflict between a Soviet Union beset by economic failure and unrest in the peripheral countries under its control and a slowly resurgent North Atlantic Treaty Organization that has, belatedly, awakened to the threat of Soviet Russian adventurism and modernized its defensive capabilities in Western Europe after decades of drawdowns and slashed defense budgets by many of NATO’s member nations.

A Book from Another Era

Cold Waters‘ 1984 campaign has a NATO victory ending (if you play well and win most of your missions) that is reminiscent of that in The Third World War novels. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games.

Written during President Ronald Reagan’s first term in office (1981-1985) and at a time when many Western militaries worried that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was becoming more bellicose in the last years of General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev’s tenure in the Kremlin as leader of the Communist Party and head of the Soviet government, The Third World War: The Untold Story was both a work of near-future speculative fiction and a call to arms for its Western readers, particularly conservatives who, like Reagan, thought America, Britain, and their NATO allies needed to deter a Third World War by improving the Atlantic alliance’s conventional military capabilities.

U.S. edition of The Third World War: The Untold Story (C) 1982 Macmillan Publishing

As the dust jacket blurb declares:

The full potentialities of World War III become more terrifyingly clear every day. It could begin anywhere, and by its seemingly conventional and innocuous start, could take us quite by surprise. But it need not, because The Third World War: The Untold Story lays out a detailed, comprehensive thesis of how, where, and why a worldwide confrontation could be waged. The Third World War: The Untold Story is fiction, but the premises on which it is based are factual.

The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword…

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

As was the case with 1978’s The Third World War: August 1985, this work – which in the 2020s would be categorized as either “retrofuturism” or “alternate history,” though Hackett is the top-billed author, the general – who was one of the brigade commanders at Arnhem during Operation Market-Garden in World War II and stayed in the postwar British Army until the late 1960s, when he simultaneously commanded Great Britain’s ground force in West Germany (the British Army on the Rhine) and NATO’s Northern Army Group (NORTHAG) – provided the overall scenario and helped edit the various chapters, but most of the writing was done by his co-authors.

Gen. Sir John Winthrop Hackett, (1910-1997), sometime in the late Sixties before he retired.

These were:

  • Air Chief Marshal Sir John Barraclough, a retired Royal Air Force pilot and, at the time the book was written. President of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies in London
  • Sir Bernard Burrows, a retired diplomat and, from 1960 to 1970, British Permanent Representative on the NATO Council
  • Brigadier Kenneth Hunt, a retired British Army officer and a former Standing Group Representative to the NATO Council (1964-1967). At the time the book was published, Hunt was a Visiting Professor of International Relations at the University of Surrey
  • Vice-Admiral Sir Ian McGeogh, who, like Hackett, was a World War II veteran. His NATO career included several important submarine-related postings, as well as NATO Commander, North Atlantic between 1968 and 1970
  • Norman Macrae, the sole journalist in the group, and in 1982, the deputy editor of The Economist since 1965
  • Major-General John Strawson, a former Chief of Staff, United Kingdom Land Forces (1972-1975)
  • “Viktor Suvorov,” the pseudonym of Vladimir Bogdanovich Rezun, a former Soviet Army and GRU intelligence officer who defected to the West in 1978 and became a successful writer of nonfiction books about the Soviet army and intelligence services
A screengrab showing mid-1980s U.S. Army National Guard infantrymen as depicted in Regiments’ “Regipedia” reference section. Game design elements (C) 2022 Bird’s Eye Games & MicroProse

Other contributors include Vladimir Bukovsky, a Russian writer and dissident, and Hugh Foot, a respected British diplomat who is referred to by his life peerage title, Lord Caradon.

The Third World War: The Untold Story

U.S. edition of The Third World War: The Untold Story (C) 1982 Macmillan Publishing

Written four years after The Third World War: August 1985, the second book in the duology is, like the first, presented to us as a non-fiction book published – presumably – by Sidgwick & Jackson in late 1987, six months or so after the first book. According to the foreword, the same group of concerned Britons reunited to produce The Third World War: The Untold Story in a bid to expand the narrative of the original account of how, when, and why war broke out in August of 1985 and to add “newly revealed” perspectives from the Soviet participants in a war that had occurred only two years before.

In the broad strokes of the scenario that Hackett created for the Third World War duology, the book’s authors stick to the formula – and basic premise – of The Third World War: August 1985. The major trigger for the conflict – a series of crises in various parts of the world that began in 1984 around the same time that a Republican governor (the fictitious “Governor Thompson” of South Carolina) defeats the very real Democratic former Vice President Walter Mondale in the U.S. Presidential election reaches a climax when Soviet and American forces clash in Yugoslavia in July of 1985.

The Third World War: The Untold Story does not diverge – at least in the Big Picture of the world of 1984 presented by the authors in The Third World War: August 1985 – from the original novel. It does, of course, make some cosmetic changes made necessary by reality, such as rebooting the part about who was President of the U.S. in 1984 and not mentioning that the runup to war began at the end of Jimmy Carter’s second term, which was mentioned in the first book but conveniently – and pointedly – excised from the second.

Because Hackett could not change the basic scenario he and his collaborators had created in the first book, The Third World War: The Untold Story does not mess with the war in Germany much; the Warsaw Pact’s planned stop line – the French border – is the same, and the Pact’s eventual conquests (large parts of West Germany, all of Denmark, and huge chunks of the Netherlands find themselves under Soviet or Pact occupation before the fortunes of war go NATO’s way) are identical to those in the 1978 “faux history.”

Nevertheless, the authors – citing the recent finds of new revelations found in captured documents and interviews with Soviet participants that range from combat veterans to former senior Party officials in the Kremlin – have added new material that “sheds light” on topics that were overlooked in The Third World War: August 1985 due to the incompleteness of information available to them at “Eastertide, 1987.”

New models of tanks, such as Britain’s Challenger tanks, were being tested and placed into service when The Third World War: The Untold Story was published 40 years ago. Image credit: (C) 2022 Bird’s Eye Games & MicroProse

Again, let’s look at the book’s dust jacket to see what Hackett and his collaborators did to expand The Third World War: August 1985’s story without contradicting it:

Incorporating a wealth of new intelligence data, new analyses of the true gravity and urgency of the current world situation, newly declassified information, and stunning new perspectives on where we are headed, this superbly authoritative work is a completely reconstructed view of the conflict. General Sir John Hackett, aided by the insights of a Soviet defector, takes us within the Politburo and the ranks of the Russian army, exposing issues and probable trends that we can no longer afford to ignore:

  • Inside the Politburo as War and Peace Are Debated
  • The War Through the Eyes of a Red Army Soldier
  • China Invades Vietnam
  • The Far East is Convulsed
  • Central America: The U.S. Falls into the “Elephant Trap”
  • Norway and Sweden Fight to Repel the Russian Invasion
  • Air Battles and Superfighters
  • War in Space: Battle of the Satellites
  • Libya Smashed
  • Polish Troops Change Sides
  • Moscow Food Riots
  • How the Best Tanks Won
  • The Latest Assessment of Nuclear Weapons
  • Ireland’s Key Role
  • The Amazing Voyage of the Kiev
  • Collapse of the Soviet Union
U.S. edition of The Third World War: The Untold Story (C) 1982 Macmillan Publishing

My Take

The book conveyed images such as this (taken from a game session of Regiments) in my Cold War kid’s mind when I was in high school. (C) 2022 Bird’s Eye Games & MicroProse

As I mentioned in my recent review of The Third World War: August 1985, I was still a “Cold War kid” when the Third World War duology was published. The first book came out in 1978, when I was still an older-than-average student at Riviera Junior High and Mom, my older half-sister Vicky, and I were attempting to share a brand-new townhouse in the Miami-area neighborhood called Fontainebleau Park. I didn’t read it right away, but I eventually checked out the hardcover edition from the library two years later, and, shortly after that, I bought the paperback edition, which was billed as The Illustrated Edition because the publishers had added an insert of black-and-white photos purportedly taken between 4 and 22 August 1985.

The Third World War: The Untold Story was published either late in my junior year at South Miami High School (spring/summer 1982) or at the start of my senior year (fall of 1982). Either way, it came out one year or so into Reagan’s first term as the 40th President and not long before Leonid Brezhnev died that November.

As I recall – keep in mind that human memory, including mine, is fallible – I did not skim through The Third World War: The Untold Story like I had done with the earlier book. I suppose I could claim that I was a bit older and more patient about what I probably found “boring” at 17, but I think my motivation was curiosity about how the writers managed to fit Reagan’s election victory in 1980 into a scenario in which his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, had been portrayed as a two-term President, as well as recent tumultuous changes in the Middle East (namely, Qaddafi’s aggressiveness as Libya’s dictator and Anwar Sadat’s assassination by Islamic radicals in 1981) and Latin America.

Well, as I mentioned earlier, Hackett and his colleagues tweaked the story by not mentioning Carter’s fictitious second term at all. They kept “Governor Thompson” to maintain consistency in the narrative. In a similar vein, every single world leader mentioned in The Third World War: The Untold Story, including the leaders in the USSR, Cuba, Libya, Ethiopia, and Egypt, is fictional, although I recognize the personality traits of their real-life counterparts in the novel.

At the time – when many people, including me, worried to some degree or other about the possibility of nuclear war in what was then the near future – I found solace in The Third World War duology’s predictions that if a war broke out in Central Europe between the West and the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact, the West would prevail. I was young, of course, and back then I didn’t stop to think about whether the book’s scenario of a quick war ending without a total nuclear exchange was, well, overly optimistic, biased, and therefore unrealistic.

World War III-themed fiction – then and now – tends to have two extremes: on the pessimistic side of the scale, a conventional war between the NATO alliance and the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact always ends with a global thermonuclear war which destroys civilization as we know it (examples, Dr. Strangelove, The Bedford Incident, Alas Babylon, and On the Beach, not to mention the 1983 TV movie, The Day After).

(C) 2002 Berkley Books

On the other side, though, there is the “NATO prevails” scenarios in which the West wins without anyone popping a nuke (Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising, published four years after The Third World War: The Untold Story is perhaps the best example of a rosy, no-nukes conventional World War III) or, if there are nukes used, it’s limited to a one-for-one exchange or, in the case of Harold Coyle’s Sword Point, the Bomb is used by a third party to provoke the two superpowers to destroy each other.

In this context, then, are The Third World War duology in general and this book specifically, realistic?

That, Dear Reader, I do not know. I am not a former military man, and even though I took (and passed with good grades) several courses related to the book’s theme (namely, International Relations and two units of Russian History) in college, I am not by any means an expert on strategy, weapons systems, diplomacy, Russian foreign and military policy (then and now), or geopolitics. I can make educated deductions based on what I studied at Miami-Dade in the late 1980s and what I read or watch now, but I can’t claim expertise about any of the concepts that Hackett and his co-authors explore in the two Third World War books.

As a writer and reader, I imagine that if Hackett’s team had written the duology to truly terrify the readers of the late Cold War, they might have considered a darker scenario in which NATO loses the war and the Soviet Union achieves its war aims as stated in the novel. (In fact, in the Sidgwick & Jackson UK-only hardcover, the authors penned an alternative ending in which this is the outcome of their World War III. Perhaps with an eye for the American market and fearful of losing U.S. readers, Macmillan left out this alternative ending in the hardcover edition; the 1983 paperback does include it, perhaps because Macmillan saw how successful Berkeley Books’ Illustrated Edition of The Third World War: August 1985 had been in 1980.)

I suppose that if the original scenario was dark and full of woe and doom, it might not have done well with potential readers, so it makes sense that Hackett and Co. decided on a more hopeful ending, even though some critics would ding them for being too biased toward NATO and dismissing the notion that the Russians could win and win decisively.

On the flip side, since it was the good general’s intention – stated clearly in the forewords of both books as well as on the dustjacket blurbs – to call attention to the need for the West to have a modern, large, well-equipped, and – most importantly – coordinated conventional force in Central Europe, I believe he opted for the sunnier, “the Russians will lose” scenario not just to sell more books, but also to encourage the average British or American reader to support higher defense budgets at a time when most people were still sour about the Vietnam War and not keen about supporting their military.

Obviously, since respect for the military and the need for preparedness is a cornerstone of conservative ideology even now, it’s obvious that the authors are conservatives themselves. They do not vilify liberals in quite the same way that Brexit/Eurosceptic British right-wingers and American Trump supporters do now, but the authors do bemoan the reluctance of many Western leftists to admit that (a)  Russia was then a threat to world peace thanks to its adherence to Marxism-Leninism and (b) their insistence that lower defense budgets in Western democracies were more conducive for waging peace than having a well-equipped, well-manned conventional military force that was not 100% dependent on the U.S. nuclear arsenal to deter Soviet aggression.

Of course, reading The Third World War: The Untold Story in the 2020s is akin to reading science fiction novels that claimed that we would have colonies on the Moon and even in the Asteroid Belt or on some of the other planets’ multitude of moons by now. As fact-based as the novel might be, some of its notions – such as perennial archrivals China and Japan creating an economic union or that the South African Border Wars would lead to the breakup of the Union of South Africa – come across as overly fanciful, especially since we know it never happened.

The only major prediction in The Third World War duology that came to pass is that the Soviet Union collapsed. Naturally, not as the result of a major global clash of arms but due to the Soviet system’s total failure as a socio-economic model. The real thing occurred a bit later – sic years, to be precise – than it does in the novel, and without a Third World War to cause it, but it did occur, and within Hackett’s lifetime (the general died in 1997 at the age of 86, a few months shy of his 87th birthday).

Fans of the alternative history genre might enjoy this book, perhaps even a bit more than the original 1978 book. The Third World War: The Untold Story focuses far more on the Russian perspective of the war, and it does have one character, a young Red Army officer named Andrei Nekrassov, who has a complete story arc that is presented in several vignettes scattered throughout the novel.

The book is still told in the “this is an actual history book” style, so readers who are expecting a more traditional novel will likely be disoriented, especially if they come across this book at a used bookstore or buy it on eBay or an Amazon third-party store without reading the first “faux history” book in The Third World War duology.

(C) 2016 Casemate Publishing

(Readers who are seeking that kind of story can read reissued editions – published by Casemate Press – of ex-Armor branch officer and novelist Harold W. Coyle’s Team Yankee, a 1987 novel that is set squarely in Hackett’s scenario, although Coyle creates fictional locations and NATO units rather than use the real-life counterparts, except when Team Yankee must mention well-known cities such as divided Berlin or major geographic features like the Saale River in Germany. Some of the typos in the Casemate reissues are embarrassing – that company sorely messed up with the copy editing in the 2016 hardcover, which annoys me greatly – but the novel is well-written and rings true because it was written by a Virginia Military Institute alum with many years as an officer in the U.S. Army.)   

U.S. Air Force photo.

And even though Hackett and his team got a lot of things wrong – the Cold War did not go hot in the mid-1980s, after all – it did predict several things about Russia and how it conducts war that can be observed in the current war in Ukraine.

U.S. edition of The Third World War: The Untold Story (C) 1982 Macmillan Publishing

First, in both novels of The Third World War duology, the authors note that the Soviet Union/Russia use the specter of the Nazi era to justify starting a war in Europe and shattering the shaky peace that most of Europe had enjoyed since 1945. To keep the support from Marxist countries such as Cuba and African countries such as Angola, the Russians claim that West German is ruled by “neo-Nazi revanchists” who seek to reunite East and West Germany and destroy the Workers’ Paradise – the Soviet Union.

Photo by u0410u043bu0435u0441u044c u0423u0441u0446u0456u043du0430u045e on

In 2022, the real-life Putin regime that runs the Russian Federation claims that Ukraine never existed as a nation-state until 1991 and that neo-Nazis, aided by the U.S. and NATO, are building bio-labs to create weapons of mass destruction designed to kill only Russians in order to destroy the Russian people and its aspirations to be a great power again.

Another prediction came to pass: In the face of a well-trained, well-equipped defense, Russia’s large army will probably not do as well as the Kremlin’s leaders want it to. In 1982, this is because Soviet doctrine and practice made the military overly dependent on a detailed plan of action and total subservience to a central authority.

In 2022, we see that Russia’s vaunted post-Soviet armed forces are good when they are suppressing the many restive ethnic groups within the nation’s borders, but even then, in the two wars that Russia fought in Chechnya at the turn of the 21st Century, the army did not do all that well and won by resorting to harsh punitive tactics endorsed by ex-KGB agent Putin himself.

In Ukraine, where Russia is fighting a fiercely independent nation that does not want to be ruled again by Moscow, we see that Ukraine, the underdog in the current war, can beat a demoralized and heavily propagandized army that is not well-led, well-equipped, or even well-fed.

War comes to West Germany, and it is not a welcome “visitor”. (C) 2022 Bird’s Eye Games & MicroProse

This does not mean that Ukraine and the West can win a quick victory – there’s no feeling that the war will end by Christmas 2022, say – or that Russia will be so badly defeated that it will return to Kyiv all of the territories Moscow has stolen since 2014, but it does confirm The Third World War’s thesis that a poorly-led but larger force can be defeated by a smaller but more motivated one, especially if the latter is fighting on its home ground and for its nation’s existence.

As such, I do recommend The Third World War: The Untold Story, even though its 1982 “near future” perspective is, 40 years after its publication, “retrofuturism.”

Musings & Thoughts for Tuesday, September 20, 2022, or: A Short, Sweet Post from a Sleep-Deprived Blogger

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“Insomnia is different,’ I said. It was hard to explain this to people. ‘You know the light that comes on when you open the refrigerator door? Just imagine it stays on all the time, even after you close the door. That’s what it’s like in my head. The light stays on.” ― Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

Photo by Soubhagya Maharana on

Today’s post is going to be short and sweet because I am exhausted after a mostly sleepless night; I had another bout of insomnia that kept me up until 6 AM, which is when I fell asleep after making one quick trip to the bathroom. I got some sleep – I woke up shortly before 10 AM – but not enough to turn in anything like the book review – I planned to write one about The Third World War: The Untold Story, the 1982 sequel to General Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War: August 1985 (1978, Sidgwick & Johnson/Macmillan Publishing) – I had in mind for today’s post.

“Not being able to sleep is a nightmare.” ― Mokokoma Mokhonoana

I’m getting good at Regiments. This was my first total victory in a Skirmish as a West German commander. This screenshot not only reveals my final overall score and the units I defeated, but it also shows part of the after-action report and my deadlier units’ “kills.” (I believe that the AAR only shows the “Top Five” platoons or sections.) Game design elements from Regiments are (C) 2022 Bird’s Eye Games and MicroProse.

I don’t know what I will do today after I take my shower, wash my hair, and get dressed; even though it’s meteorological fall and the temperature is in the high 80s rather than the low to mid-90s, it’s still too hot and humid to go out for a walk. And I’m too tired to play either Cold Waters or Regiments, so unless I feel re-energized after my shower, I do not think I’ll game this afternoon. I certainly don’t feel like writing anything beyond this post, so I’ll either read for a while or watch a movie on my bedroom TV set.

Photo by Marina Ryazantseva on

“The scary thing about having insomnia is not the hours lost for sleeping but the re-run of thoughts you’ve been trying to forget.” ― Anonymous

I hate insomnia. I hate feeling so tired that I don’t feel like doing anything productive.

On that note, Dear Reader, I’ll sign off here. Until next time, stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.

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“I only sleep with people I love, which is why I have insomnia.” ― Emilie Autumn, The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls

On Books & Reading: An Oral History of 9/11, and Observations About ‘The Third World War’ Duology

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The Growing TBR Stack

My copy of Garrett M. Graff’s The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 arrived yesterday at 4:56 PM. I retrieved it from our front porch where the Amazon Prime driver had dropped it off, and within a few minutes I had taken it out of its shipping packaging – which took some effort, cos that box was hard to open! – and started browsing through it.

(C) 2019 Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster

As Graff points out in his Author’s Note, The Only Plane in the Sky is not a complete, detailed, or analytical account about the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that killed 2,977 men, women, and children, an even higher tally than the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. There are other accounts that go into the history that led up to the awful horrors of that day, such as The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, and the details of the attack itself, such as the 9/11 Commission Report.

Photo by Lars Mulder on

Instead, The Only Plane in the Sky is a collection of eyewitness accounts from eyewitnesses, including astronauts in the International Space Station and survivors of the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan that range from first responders who managed to rescue people from the World Trade Center’s North and South towers before they collapsed. (Chillingly, because many of the calls from passengers and crew members aboard the four hijacked planes went to voicemail or were recorded by the call centers of American Airlines and United Airlines, their last phone conversations are part of the oral history as well.)

“We Have Some Planes….”

Photo by Camilla Draymarch on

I only started reading The Only Plane in the Sky last night, and because reading at night makes me drowsy (except on those horrible long nights in which I suffer from insomnia), I did not get far past the chapter about September 10, but I can tell you this much – this book is good but not for the faint-hearted. As I said earlier, the calls from the planes – including the hijackers’ instructions to the passengers to remain in their seats and not resist (the terrorists in the cockpit thought they were on the in-plane public address system and weren’t aware that the air traffic controllers in Boston and New York were hearing them) – are here.  

The 2019 book, which was published by the Avid Reader imprint of Simon & Schuster, also has two inserts of color photos, including the famous “Falling Man” image (taken by Associated Press photographer Richard Drew) of a man, who has never been positively identified, who chose to leap to his death rather than die in the burning North Tower. Also in the inserts are photos of then-President George W. Bush at Emma Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida as he is briefed on the phone about the attacks and Vice President Dick Cheney monitoring events from his desk in Washington DC, as well as screengrabs from security cameras showing the impact of American Flight 77 on Wedge 1 of the Pentagon – screengrabs that show that someone mistakenly set the date on the camera – the date on the images shows as September 12, 2001.

I am, of course, not ready to write a review yet, but so far, The Only Plane in the Sky looks like it’s a well-done if a perhaps heartbreaking snapshot of a day that shaped the world in which we live today in too many ways to contemplate. It’s not for the faint of heart or for conspiracy theorists, though. You have been warned.

Observations on (Conservative) Perceptions of the Future

(C) 1978 Macmillan Publishing Company

I have, as of late, been rereading The Third World War: August 1985, a “speculative fiction” book published in Great Britain and the United States in 1978 and written by several authors led by General Sir John Hackett, a World War II veteran and – in the postwar years – commander of the British Army of the Rhine, his country’s main force in Germany and a component of NATO’s Northern Army Group (NORTHAG).

I first came across The Third World War in 1980, when I checked the hardcover book out from either the Dade County Public Library system or the library at South Miami High. At the time, I had mixed feelings about the book; I liked the conceit that it was a book published in London in 1987 and that it was supposed to be a historical account of World War III rather than a novel a la Alas, Babylon or books that would come later, such as Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising or Harold Coyle’s Team Yankee.

However, when I read it as a high school sophomore, I usually skimmed through the “buildup to the war” chapters because – at the time, anyway – the political and economic elements of history (especially military history) did not have much appeal for me.

Now that I’m reading this at a time when I’m pushing 60[1] and I’m more educated than I was 42 years ago, I do read the chapters that examine how the authors, all of them Brits, all of them over the age of 50, and all either ex-military, government officials, or journalists who covered economic and political “beats” for the British press, perceived the world of 1984 when they conceived and wrote The Third World War in late 1977.

Of course, the biggest event in their vision of 1984-1985 – a major war in Europe started by Russia (then the cockpit of the larger Soviet Union) – never came to pass (at least, not in the way they imagined, nor at the time they predicted). Nor did President Jimmy Carter win re-election in 1980 and serve as President until noon on January 20, 1985, although he was replaced by a 40th President who was a former Republican governor with tough anti-Communist views as the book predicted.

Gen. Sir John Winthrop Hackett in the 1960s. (Image Credit: Goodreads)

I’m still shaking my head, though, at some of the notions that Sir John and his collaborators had about how countries in the Third World would interact with each other as well as the two superpowers between 1977 and 1984. In their scenario for The Third World War, by 1984:

  • India had broken apart into a bunch of separate nation states
  • Several countries in southern Africa united to make war against South Africa, which itself had broken into several quarreling nations
  • Jamaica went communist and replaced Cuba as the main threat of Communist expansion in Latin America and even Africa
  • China and Japan banded together in a powerful alliance
  • The Soviet Union retained its old guard of Marxist-Leninist leaders and became even more aggressive than during Stalin’s 29-year rule in the Kremlin

I’m a guy who, despite being more liberal than I used to be – thank you, post-1996 Republicans, for that! – is aware that having a strong and effective military is better than having a smaller, less capable one. I also believe that defense spending is important (if perhaps expensive), so I agree with the authors of The Third World War: August 1985 and its 1982 sequel, The Third World War: The Untold Story, when they argue that if you want peace, prepare for war.[2] And although it is true that deterrence fails in cases where one side – like Russia in Ukraine, for instance – thinks the opposition is weak and victory is therefore assured, having a well-equipped military force with good leadership, motivated personnel, and realistic training often wins wars, at least conventional ones.[3]

I bought the 1982 sequel when I was a junior (soon-to-be-senior) in high school. (C) 1982 Macmillan Publishing Co.

That having been said, I must admit that I roll my eyes – in 2022 – at the book’s alarmist views regarding Jamaica and Africa. Apparently, the writers, who as I said earlier were all white men in their late 50s and early 60s and saw the world from the perspective of post-Imperial Brits who were probably still grieving for the days when the “sun never set on the British Empire” – thought that the Third World would be far more susceptible to anti-colonial resentments stoked by Soviet propaganda and start a lot of wars that would somehow lead to a Third World War.

This kind of thinking simply confirms my belief – based on my observations about how American right-wingers see life – that conservatism is basically a fear-based world view, and that many of its proponents and powerful supporters (such as Rupert Murdoch and his sons, Robert Mercer and his daughter, and Charles Koch, for instance) promote it because it allows them control large segments of the population by stoking fears, encouraging anger, and belittling liberals, minority groups, and – especially – squashing women’s aspirations for reproductive freedom and social equality.

I’m not a person of color, but I represent two minorities (Hispanics and disabled), so I am sensitive to the fears and prejudices many conservatives have. As such, I think that many of the wars predicted by The Third World War but that thankfully never occurred were conjured up partly because the authors, no matter how noble their intentions were when they wrote the duology, thought that many African and Asian nations might inadvertently contribute to global war because they’d be easily goaded into it by the Soviets and their Cuban allies.

Screengrab from the Regipedia reference section of Regiments. (C) 2022 Bird’s Eye Games and MicroProse

This doesn’t mean I hate The Third World War duology or its now-dead principal authors, but I do find it sad that I now detect more fearmongering than necessary within the covers of these two late Cold War works of speculative fiction. The military aspects of both volumes are still attractive, and if you’ve read any of my posts about M1 Tank Platoon, Cold Waters, or the more recent Regiments, you know I am fascinated with Cold War-turned-hot scenarios. It’s just a bit sad to see just how fear-based some of the conservative mindset was and still is.

[1] While I am glad that I will more than likely make it to 60 and even 65, I am saddened that this will be another “landmark birthday” – the first being my 55th birthday in 2018 – that I will observe without either my mom or my older half-sister present. I miss the former, but not the latter, yet I am vexed that my half-sibling’s mental health issues and Machiavellian ways led to our estrangement. Of course, she says similar things about me and refuses to admit that her personality – not to mention her actions over the past 50 years – caused the estrangement in the first place.

[2] Si vis Pacem, para bellum.

[3] Unconventional, asymmetric conflicts such as Vietnam and Afghanistan, show that even the best military forces can be defeated by a determined enemy fighting on its home ground and with more dedication than, say, the Americans and other Western nations who fought in Southwest and Southeast Asia in three different wars. Russia, of course, also experienced defeat in Afghanistan during the Cold War, and it is likely going to experience another defeat in Ukraine, at least in the long run.

Musings & Thoughts for Sunday, September 18, 2022, or: The First Hints of Autumn (Florida-Style), and My ‘Exciting’ Saturday Night

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Goodbye to Summer?

It’s beginning to feel like autumn.

No, the leaves on the trees aren’t changing color, at least not this far south, and not with most trees that grow in Florida.

And there is no chill – beyond that of an air conditioning unit set below 78 degrees – that nips the air like the ones I’ve felt in colder climates. I still remember arriving in Sevilla (Seville), Spain 34 years ago this week and although it was still warm during the day, it wasn’t as oppressively hot as it still was in Miami when I left on the evening of Wednesday, September 21, 1988 – and at night, it was cold enough to wear a light jacket if we were outdoors.  (And, of course, I used to live in Bogota, which is over a mile above sea level and the air is colder and thinner.)

Photo by Roberto Nickson on

But even though I have not stepped outside to see – and feel – for myself, the temperature here in Lithia is 80°F (27°C) under mostly cloudy skies. And even though the forecast high is 89°F (32°C), we expect to see light rain showers in our area, so I doubt it will be a scorching hot Sunday.

My “Exciting” Saturday Night

A-10A Thunderbolt II “tank busters” (center image with the blue “arc” symbol above them) make a strafing run against a Soviet unit (as I recall, it was a Russian fire support team equipped with BTR-70s) as several of my units capture one of the eight Objective Zones I ended up taking before the clock ran out at the end of 30 minutes of game time. You can see an M1 tank platoon and a headquarters section racing toward the not-yet conquered OZ in the foreground. Note the cross-shaped shadow of the A-10 on the ground (to the left of the HMMWV HQ section. (All game design elements in this and other screen grabs from Regiments are (C) 2022 Bird’s Eye Games & MicroProse.)

As for my Saturday night, the weather was bad for a while, but the thunderstorms that loomed in the area never made it to Fish Hawk and either dissipated or went elsewhere. As a result, I avoided an “electronics-free” night and was able to stay online and watch TV after 5:00 PM Eastern.

(C) 1977 Metro Goldwyn Mayer/United Artists

I didn’t watch A Bridge Too Far to commemorate the 78th Anniversary of Operation Market-Garden, an ill-fated attempt by the Anglo-American Allies to capture a bridgehead over the Lower Rhine River and hopefully end World War II in Europe by Christmas of 1944. Though it’s a movie with a not-so-happy ending based on the last book of Cornelius Ryan’s World War II trilogy – the other books being The Longest Day (1959) and The Last Battle (1966) – A Bridge Too Far is a movie I like, and before I moved to Lithia in 2016, I would try to watch it on September 17, the anniversary of Market-Garden’s D-Day.

But habits and traditions sometimes change, and my tradition of watching war movies on the anniversaries of the events they portray is, like my life in Miami, a thing of the past. Last December, I did not watch Tora! Tora! Tora! for the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack; and in June I didn’t watch either The Longest Day or Saving Private Ryan for the 78th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy.

I don’t speak German, but for some reason, I suspected that Der Sumpf means “The Swamp.” A quick Google search confirmed my hunch,
Most of the wargames I play rarely show corpses; here you can see a few dead Warsaw Pact soldiers near these burning BMPs, which are (I think) BMP-3s.
729 Victory Points out of a possible 1000. I’ve done better, but with 40 minutes on the clock, not 30.

I did spend a lot of time on Facebook, playing Regiments – I chose a Skirmish called Der Sumpf (German for “The Swamp”), and the unit I commanded was the 4th Brigade of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division – and keeping an eye on my order of The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11. I also downloaded some photos of attractive women for two of my computers’ lock screens – no, no nudes! – cos I’m tired of the images that Microsoft offers when I turn on either my desktop (the computer I am using now) or my newer laptop.

This gorgeous woman’s face graces the lock screen of my desktop computer.

Because I played Regiments after I finished off my leftovers from Friday night’s Outback dinner (I had most of my Bloomin’ Onion left), I lost track of the time and ended up staying at my desk longer than I’d planned. It was past 10:30 PM when I finally turned off my computer, so it’s not surprising that I fell asleep watching Star Trek V from its new 4K UHD Blu-ray disc.

That was my “exciting” Saturday night, Dear Reader. It wasn’t a bad night; it was okay if you leave out the “somewhat lonely” part of it, and at least there weren’t any thunderstorms around.

(C) 2019 Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster;

Today I will receive my copy of The Only Plane in the Sky; it arrived at Amazon’s Seffner distribution center in the wee hours of the morning, and the last time I checked, it was Out for Delivery and has a delivery window of between 3 and 7 PM.

Aside from that, there’s not much to tell. I might go watch Andor, the new Star Wars live-action TV series streaming on Disney+. I could watch it either from this PC or my 4K UHD TV, but I prefer the Roku-equipped TV out in the Florida room; the Roku device provides closed captions, while my own devices do not. If the Caregiver’s daughter is not watching her shows on that TV when I’m done with this post, that’s what I’ll do. If she is, well, then I’ll have to either wait till she goes to work at Target or goes into her room to study and do other college-related work.

That’s all I the news I have to share with you today, Dear Reader, so I’ll close for now. Until next time, Dear Reader, stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.  

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Under the Shadow of the Mighty Cumulonimbus Clouds: Thoughts for a Gray, Cloudy Saturday in September

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Another weekend; another hot, humid, and potentially rainy day in Lithia, Florida.

It is, of course, still early in meteorological fall – traditional autumn doesn’t start until Friday, September 22 – and I live in the subtropics, so of course, it feels like summer here still.

Sure, the temperatures – the official ones, anyway – are starting to drop. As I began writing this post, the temperature here in Fish Hawk was 83˚F/28˚C under cloudy skies. Sounds nice, right?

Still, with a land breeze and high (80%) humidity, it feels like 93˚F/33˚C outside. And while that heat index is far better than the low 100s/the high 30s we experienced in August, it’s still too hot for my taste.

And since conditions are conducive for the creation of cumulonimbus clouds, the forecast for my little corner of the world calls for thunderstorms to pass through the area this afternoon.

So, basically, today is shaping up to be like yesterday, which was like the day before – sunny and hot in the morning, clouding up between noon and 2 PM, then rain showers and thunderstorms between 3 PM and 7 PM.

The view from our family room sliding glass door.

Yesterday, for instance, a boomer was overhead at 6:30 PM around the same time that I was online ordering a Bloomin’ Burger, Aussie Fries, and a Bloomin’ Onion from the nearby Outback Steakhouse. Luckily, I was able to complete my order before the lightning strikes and heavy rain began, but the poor Doordash driver got soaked making the dash from her car to the front door.

It’s a good thing that I like to read because I don’t use any plugged-to-wall socket electronics when thunderstorms are in the area. And it’s another good thing that the squall line that spawned the thunderstorm in question moved out of the Fish Hawk area quickly, leaving me to enjoy my delicious (but expensive) meal[1] and watch the extra features on my Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Blu-ray (the one from the 2022 six-movie box set that I recently received from Amazon).

Since today is the 78th anniversary of the start of Operation Market-Garden – a daring but badly-planned effort by the Allies to capture a bridge over the Lower Rhine River in Nazi-occupied Holland during the campaign in Northwest Europe, I might watch A Bridge Too Far later on the big TV out in the family room. The Caregiver is not here – she hardly ever is these days – so I don’t have anyone to compete with to watch stuff out here – I am writing this on my laptop in the kitchenette rather than in my room – and I can watch Richard Attenborough’s 1977 adaptation of Cornelius Ryan’s eponymous 1974 non-fiction book on the TV with a big screen and home theater sound system.

I would do that now, but the movie is a bit over three hours long and the skies are getting darker outside, so I will wait until the storms go away in the early evening hours.  

There isn’t much else to tell; as I said, my ex-girlfriend is over at her new boyfriend’s house, which means she won’t be around at dinner time tonight, either. I still have most of my Bloomin’ Onion, plus the complimentary bread and pat of butter Outback Steakhouse includes with every order, so I won’t go hungry later.

And on that note, Dear Reader, I’ll close this post now. It’s getting darker by the minute as I write this, which means that rain showers and thunderstorms are on my “BINGO card” for today. Until next time, stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the less rainy side of things.

[1] Even with a $5 Diner Rewards points-based discount, last night’s dinner cost $30.77, including the delivery charge, tip, and Florida sales tax.

Musings & Thoughts for Friday, September 16, 2022, or: A Whimsical New Action Figure for My Star Wars Collection

The stuntman playing “Stormtrooper #2” was sick, so George Lucas had to fill in for him….. Nah…I’m just kidding. Photo Credit: Hasbro, Inc. (C) 2021 Hasbro and Lucasfilm Ltd.

If you are a regular visitor to this space, you know that I collect Star Wars action figures and other collectibles – including books, soundtrack albums, posters, backpacks, and physical media releases (DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K UHD Blu-ray) of the various Star Wars films and TV shows.

Aside from reading and listening to music, which I’ve been doing since I was a small boy, collecting Star Wars stuff is perhaps my oldest hobby; I acquired my first two figures – the original Kenner 3 ¾-inch scale R2-D2 and C-3PO – on my 15th birthday in 1978. (Next year I’ll be 60, so I’ve been doing this for 45 years.)

Of course, I am not a completist when it comes to anything beyond the films that are legally available on disc, so I don’t buy every single book, soundtrack variant, prop replica (I only have one of those – a simulated pair of Han Solo’s “lucky” gold dice) or action figure. I can’t afford to – hardcover books now cost $26.99 on average, as do the 6-inch scale Star Wars The Black Series figures that I have been collecting since December of 2017.

I’m not as good a photographer as the Hasbro official lensman, but I must say, this shot came out nice. George Lucas (in Stormtrooper Disguise) can be seen on the extreme left.

And because I have the smallest of the five bedrooms here, I also don’t have a surfeit of either display or storage space. As it is, much of my pre-existing collectibles are neatly, safely, but rather unceremoniously stored in my closet, and I am running out of shelf space on my Billy shelves – which were originally purchased in Miami and set up in the townhouse that Mom, bless her heart, gave me as my inheritance when she died in July 2015 – so….

Still, every so often I see that one figure that I can’t resist, and on Tuesday I, on pure impulse, decided to get the whimsical Star Wars The Black Series George Lucas (in Stormtrooper Disguise) 6-inch collectible figure.

Here’s how Hasbro describes the figure based on the creator of both the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises on its Amazon product page:

Image Credit: Hasbro, Inc. (C) 2021 Hasbro and Lucasfilm Ltd.

GEORGE LUCAS (IN STORMTROOPER DISGUISE): We pay homage to George Lucas and his remarkable accomplishments in film with a likeness of the director clad in the distinctive armor of [an] Imperial stormtrooper.

Why did I get this figure?

Several years ago – I don’t remember the exact date – somebody (either Hasbro or a fan with the tools and skill set to make custom figures and packaging) created a John Williams (Composer) action figure. Don’t ask me which scale it was in; it might have been a 3 ¾-inch scale figure like most of the figures I own, but it could have been larger. I do remember that Maestro Williams – my favorite composer across the board – was dressed in a black tuxedo, white shirt and came with a little conductor’s baton. He also was shown in his “vintage Kenner” cardback, illustrated with a photo of Williams conducting an (unseen) orchestra and adorned with the Star Wars and “Kenner” logos.

Image Credit: Pinterest. Hasbro would have made a better sculpt of Maestro Williams’ head, but the idea behind this fan-made figure was good.

(Now that I have found the photo of the figure on Pinterest, I can say with a high degree of certainty that the figure is custom-made by a fan. It’s still cool, and maybe Hasbro needs to make one for Star Wars The Black Series.)

Anyway, since I can’t get a John Williams (Composer) figure, I decided that I would get one of George Lucas; I had run across one on Amazon a few months back when I bought my last figure, but I could only afford the one I had already ordered, so I filed it away in the Maybe Buy Later section of my brain.

I don’t feel like writing a super long post today; yesterday’s book review of Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War: August 1985 took me so long to complete that I published it after 5 PM, far later than my usual posting time on WordPress. Suffice it to say that I ordered it on Wednesday the 14th before noon and it arrived less than two hours later. (Thank you, Amazon Prime!)

I am also not the world’s greatest photographer, so even though I took a photo of the figure in its niche on the Billy shelves, I will supplement that with professional promo photos by Hasbro, Inc.

Without further ado – I am running out of ado – here he is, Dear Reader: George Lucas (in Stormtrooper Disguise)

Image Credit: Hasbro, Inc.
Darth Vader and friend. One of the better photos I snapped today.

 I don’t have much to add – I’m not in the mood to rant about politics, and I don’t have the time to write another post about playing Regiments right now, so I’ll take my leave of you.

Until next time, stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.

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