Meet Tsu


A week and a half ago, I discovered a new social network,, which shows promise.  While it works a lot like Facebook, they don’t allow the worst nonsense, like spam and chain letters.  Also, any original content you post there (messages, pictures, etc.) is yours to keep, and they pay you a little money for your postings.  Check out Tsu and see if it is for you.  I look forward to seeing you there!

Here is your invitation.

Published in: on February 10, 2016 at 11:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

James Bond Got Started in Africa, During World War II


Today I added a story from World War II to Chapter 8 of the African history series.  It reads more like a spy story than a war story.  Here it is:

In the Gulf of Guinea, the Spanish-ruled island of Fernando Póo became the site for a secret mission. German submarines were refuelling somewhere in the rivers of the Vichy French-ruled colonies; the British Admiralty wanted to know where the sub base was, and what else the Axis was doing in West and Equatorial Africa. They figured the best way to get the intelligence they wanted was to steal the Axis ships currently anchored at Fernando Póo: an Italian merchant ship, the Duchessa d’Aosta, the German tugboat Likomba, and a yacht owned by a Spanish fascist, the Bibundi. To do this they sent a commando unit from the Special Operations Executive (SOE), an organization set up in 1940 to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance missions behind enemy lines. Few people at the time knew the SOE existed, and those who did gave it nicknames like "the Baker Street Irregulars," "Churchill’s Secret Army," and the "Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare." What made this mission tricky was that Spain was a neutral nation, and it might join the Axis if the agents committing the heist blew their cover.

The mission was called Operation Postmaster, and it began with the agents sailing from Lagos, Nigeria to Fernando Póo on two tugboats. On January 14, 1942, they sneaked into the Spanish harbor, making sure they arrived on a moonless night and that they came after the harbor lights were turned off. Other agents distracted the harbor guards and the officers of the ships by inviting them to a big party at the local casino, where lots of liquor was served. While the party went on, the commandoes boarded the ships, and surprised the crews so completely that they surrendered without a fight. Then they set off explosives to break the chains holding the ships to the docks, and the British tugboats took off, heading back to Lagos with their prizes in tow. Of course the folks at the party heard the explosions, but they were either too drunk or too shocked to keep the commandoes from escaping. The Spanish government was furious when Madrid got the news, and called it "an act of piracy," but there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that the British government had planned the caper — which is exactly how London wanted it.

For more on Operation Postmaster, here is a page about one of the agents involved. I wrote about it here in detail because this and other stories about the SOE inspired Ian Fleming, a British naval intelligence officer. After the war, when Fleming wrote his James Bond novels, he modeled the James Bond character after members of the SOE. A lot of today’s pop culture came from that, not to mention careers for actors like Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig.

Published in: on February 9, 2016 at 10:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

World War I in the Pacific


Since the latest comment sent this way asked how my current project is coming, here is a preview.  This will be the first section in the next (4th) chapter of my South Pacific history series:


Published in: on February 4, 2016 at 12:00 pm  Comments (1)  

About Those Donation Buttons


If you have visited The Xenophile Historian during the past three weeks, you may have noticed a new feature — on nearly every page is a Paypal link with the words “Support This Site!”

In the past when you read my work, I said, “Thank you for your support.”  That is still true, but now there is a way to financially support the website as well, for those who feel inclined to do so.

I got the idea for the donation buttons from the podcasts I have been listening to lately; they are supported by either donations or advertising.  The donation buttons will thus serve the same reason as the Google ads on my webpages.  I have been paying for server space since 2001, but the employment in my chosen field of work hasn’t been steady; it alternates between feast and famine, depending on the state of the economy.  And while the Google ads have helped, I need at least one check from Google every year to break even, when paying for the server space.  With competition from other websites containing history, especially Wikipedia, The Xenophile Historian hasn’t always gotten enough visits to earn those checks.

Rest assured, I plan to keep the content on the website free, except for what goes into any future books I write.  You may consider the donation buttons the online version of the jar near a piano player or sushi chef in a restaurant; if you like what you see and want to encourage me to produce more, feel free to leave a tip.

Currently I am trying to figure out a way to put one more donation button in the right-hand margin of this blog.  In the meantime thanks again, and keep on reading!

Published in: on January 31, 2016 at 9:44 pm  Comments (3)  

The January 2016 Snowpocalypse


For the last few days, we’ve been digging ourselves out of the latest polar vortex to sweep the eastern US.  Because of it, I haven’t left the street I am living on since Thursday, January 21.

It started with an inch of snow on Wednesday.  My neighbors shoveled the snow out of their driveways , but I held off, knowing there was much more to come.  Besides, I was busy fixing a toilet in the house.  Because I’m no plumber, I got it to work eventually, but it took four days and six trips to Home Depot for parts – definitely a learning experience.

The main snowfall started around 7 AM on Friday, and lasted all day.  Here is the snow cake we got on our patio table.  When I stuck a tape measure in it, it went eleven inches, so I’m declaring that the amount of snow we got.  Elsewhere in the yard, measurements varied from 8 1/2 to 13 1/2 inches.  Notice also how the snow tapers on the railing as it piled up.


And here is a video of how the rest of the city looked on Friday.  There wasn’t any curfew imposed; you don’t see many cars because the city government told everyone, “If you don’t have to be out, stay indoors.”  I stayed in because I remembered very well how I got stuck when I drove in snow like this last year, and apparently that happened to a lot of folks on Interstate 75.  Don’t worry, Lexington got enough snow cleared away from the downtown area for Saturday’s basketball game to go on; they know where their priorities are!

Late on Saturday I went out and shoveled the snow out of the driveway.  At noon on Sunday I called for a snowplow to come to my street, and it showed up at 5 PM, followed by three salt trucks.  Since we weren’t running out of anything yet, I stayed home one more day.  Tomorrow I have an appointment, and Leive wants me to get a few groceries, so then I will see how the rest of the town is recovering.

Published in: on January 25, 2016 at 11:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

China Since 1949, Updated


One of the older sections on The Xenophile Historian, the Chinese history, has now been updated. If you count from the rough draft, this work is really twenty-seven years old. I first composed it in 1988, right after The Last Emperor was in the theaters, and uploaded it to the young website in 1998. Then I might have tweaked the last chapter a bit in 2000, but it’s hard to remember now. What I do remember is that after the new century began, all I did was make additions to the earlier chapters, leaving the last one virtually untouched. Well, in November and December I finally got around to rewriting the chapter covering Recent Chinese history, making the updates it needed.

Here are the topics now covered in Chapter 7, China Since 1949:


The Establishment of the People’s Republic


The Great Leap Forward


"Women Hold Up half of the Heavens"


The Cultural Revolution


The Lifting of the Bamboo Curtain


After Mao


Tragedy at Tiananmen


The Rise of the Mainland Technocracy – New!


China in the Twenty-First Century (so far) – New!


Today’s China Syndrome – Updated!


Taiwan: The Little Dragon – Updated!

To check it out, go to

Also, it occurred to me last week that The Xenophile Historian has just come of age. A visitor told me he enjoyed the site’s 1990s Geocities-type look, and I said that gives away the website’s age, because it spent its first two years hosted on Geocities, and in the name of keeping the HTML code and everything else simple (and accessible to all browsers), I haven’t radically changed the style since then. You can read the whole story here.

Since I started working on the site as soon as I had Internet access and had taught myself HTML, in December 1997, that means the site is now 18 years old. Congratulations, we now have a new adult in the family! Actually, it seems like more than that; in Internet time, 18 years is well over a century, right? And over the years, I have put enough work in the site to call it “my other child.”

Happy New Year and keep on reading!

Published in: on December 28, 2015 at 11:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Grey Christmas


To all my friends who observe this day, Merry Christmas!  We’ve been having weird weather this month, what with temperatures about twelve degrees above normal (50s and 60s most of the time), and heavy rain this week, with even a bit of lightning thrown in.  Thus, I call the resulting combination a “grey Christmas.”

This picture was taken here in Lexington yesterday.  It shows something I never expected to see in Kentucky, or even Florida – Santa Claus in a Speedo bathing suit!  I shared it on Facebook, and was told this is just plain wrong, LOL.


Published in: on December 25, 2015 at 3:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Real Reason Why Chinese Restaurants Are Open on Christmas Day


Aha!  Now if only I can find the commandment to patronize those restaurants.  Perhaps it is in the Talmud . . .


Published in: on December 22, 2015 at 9:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Golden Age of Podcasts

Online learning has really come into its own during the past twenty years.  Back in the 1990s, webmasters with a message to share were pretty much limited to what they could do with text and pictures.  In others, reading something on the Internet was a lot like reading a book.  But now that broadband Internet service is widely available, our ability to transmit data is no longer severely limited, making it feasible to use audio and video tools as well.  One of those tools is the podcast.  The kind of lessons that we used to order on CDs, from organizations like The Teaching Company, can now be downloaded off websites.  And they come in a variety of subjects.  To give just one example, the church I used to attend in Florida has been posting sermons online since 2008, at least.

Call me a Johnny-come-lately.  I should have kept better track of history podcasts, inasmuch as I’m preoccupied with history and I was a teacher until 2006.  I did download and listen to one of the first history podcasts, 12 Byzantine Rulers by Lars Brownworth, back around 2007.  And since 2012 I have been keeping up with two of the most successful history podcasts, Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History” and Rob Monaco’s “The Podcast History of the World.”  Just two weeks ago, The Huffington Post ran a story on Dan Carlin, showing how far he has come.

But I have to admit it took me by surprise when a bunch of other podcasts, usually focusing on one aspect of history, started popping up like mushrooms on a wet lawn.  I just started hearing about most of them two months ago.  Here’s a list of what I have found so far:

Of course I haven’t listened to all of them yet.  Besides the ones I have already mentioned, I listened to “The Egyptian History Podcast” (because ancient Egypt is a perennial interest of mine), “History on Fire,” “Our Fake History,” and since my latest history papers covered Australia, I listened to “Rum, Rebels & Ratbags.”  Now I am working on “The Lesser Bonapartes,” Mike Duncan’s “History of Rome,” “The Eastern Border,” and “Angry History.”  When I am done with those I will probably tackle the Russian and Chinese history podcasts listed above, because those are favorite subjects of mine, too, but since they have more than a hundred episodes each, I’m sure they will be a big demand on my schedule.  So many podcasts, so little time!

Anyway, I shared the links so you can enjoy these discoveries as well, at least until I upload or update my next history paper.  Happy listening!

Published in: on November 30, 2015 at 8:45 pm  Comments (2)  

Due to Lack of Interest, World War III was Canceled

If you’re 35 years old or more, you remember those fear-filled times of the Cold War era, how we expected some incident would turn the Cold War into a hot war between the United States and the Soviet Union.  When do you think the two superpowers came closest to duking it out (or should I say “nuking it out”)?  Was it during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962?  Was it with a war involving proxies of the superpowers, like in Korea or Vietnam?

Early this year I learned that one of World War II’s biggest heroes, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, had a plan to launch World War III between VE Day and VJ Day; in other words, he wanted to start it before World War II was over!  Anyway, I did a little homework and composed a new section for Chapter 17 of my European history papers, to cover this crisis.  Here is what I wrote, it now begins the chapter:

The wartime partnership between the USSR and the other Allied nations had always been an uneasy one. Britain and the United States remembered Joseph Stalin’s prewar behavior, and were always suspicious of Soviet secrecy; they gave detailed data on strategy and weapons to Moscow, but got little information in return. Stalin didn’t trust the West either, and expected the USSR to become the target of a capitalist invasion once the Axis was out of the way. Thus, when an Allied victory became a certainty, East-West relations started unraveling. As early as the Tehran conference (September 1943), Winston Churchill confided to one of his staff that he considered Germany already finished; "the real problem now is Russia." At the February 1945 Yalta Conference, Stalin promised to allow free governments in the nations Soviet troops entered, but afterwards did not do so. On April 1, 1945, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a telegram to Stalin protesting the violation of Yalta pledges.

That was all Roosevelt did because of his death eleven days later. In London, Churchill was growing alarmed because as the war wound down, the USSR was much stronger, and the British Empire was weaker, than he had expected. The Red Army had already occupied seven East European countries and part of Austria, so Churchill thought the American decision to leave all of Germany east of the Elbe River to the Red Army was a mistake. He could also see what was happening in Poland, where all of the current Polish leaders and partisans were communists; the rest had just disappeared. Obviously, Stalin had his own view on what the postwar world should look like, and it was a different view from that of Roosevelt and Churchill. All this prompted Churchill to send a long message of protest to Stalin in May, which concluded with this comment:

"There is not much comfort in looking into a future where you and the countries you dominate . . . are all on one side, and those who rally to the English-speaking nations . . . are on the other . . . their quarrel would tear the world to pieces."

Meanwhile, Churchill ordered Britain’s generals to prepare for the next war, immediately after World War II; they should now consider ways to "impose upon Russia the will of the United States and the British Empire" to secure "a square deal for Poland." This meant at a minimum, preemptive strikes on Red Army units in Germany and Poland, and a possible grand offensive to drive the Russians back to the USSR. July 1, 1945 was picked as the earliest date for the operation to begin.

The plan was called "Operation Unthinkable," and that turned out to be an appropriate name, for only Churchill thought it had any chance of succeeding. This was because the Soviets had a tremendous military advantage in Europe. In 1945 the Red Army numbered 11 million men, a 4:1 advantage over the troops of the Western Allies (the United States, Britain, France and Canada); Russian tanks also outnumbered Western tanks by 2 to 1, and to top it off, the Russians had more warplanes. To help even the odds, Churchill proposed re-arming 100,000 captured German soldiers, and enlisting them in a new pro-Western army; four Polish divisions were also available. In addition, Churchill knew the United States was researching nuclear weapons, and he figured that using them against the Soviet Union would give the Western Allies the firepower they needed to win.

Reality killed the plan before it got off the ground. To start with, Soviet spies informed Stalin that Churchill was up to something, and Stalin alerted his top general, Marshal Georgi Zhukov, so there was no way the attack could take the Soviets by surprise, like Hitler’s attack from four years earlier. Second, the British Chiefs of Staff told Churchill that they thought the numbers against them were too great to overcome, and they didn’t think the Germans, full of memories of eastern front battles like Stalingrad, would be willing to fight the Russians again. Third, on the other side of the world the United States was fighting the battle of Okinawa, and with a possible invasion of Japan coming up, the Americans didn’t want to keep their troops in Europe. As for the nukes, the Americans ended up building three atomic bombs; one was used for the July 16 test at Alamogordo, New Mexico, and the other two were dropped on Japan to make the Japanese surrender without invading their home islands. If any of those bombs had been used against the USSR instead, the end of the Pacific War would have come much later than it did.

Fourth, the Western generals had their doubts that even atomic bombs dropped on cities like Moscow would stop the Soviets. After all, the Red Army had taken everything the Germans had thrown at it, and like the Incredible Hulk, it came back stronger and more enraged than before. And if the Allies had to invade the USSR to teach the Russians a lesson, they would be up against Russia’s formidable natural defenses: winter, wide rivers that are only easy to cross when frozen over, and almost endless tracts of land, much of it mud. Nobody could guarantee that the Allies would fare better against those defenses than Charles XII of Sweden, Napoleon, and Hitler had done.

In all likelihood, if Operation Unthinkable had been launched, the Soviets would have taken their blows until they got a chance to inflict a crushing defeat on the Allies, and then they would charge across the European Continent, at least as far as France. The English Channel would stop them from invading the British Isles, but they could still hit Britain’s cities with fearsome bomber and rocket attacks. When the new US president, Harry Truman, heard about the plan, he made it clear that he would not allow American forces to take part in a new war against the Soviet Union. Without the Yanks on his side, even Churchill realized the plan was doomed to fail, and not long after that, he was voted out of office and replaced with a less hawkish prime minister, Clement Atlee. Operation Unthinkable was declared a military secret and filed away; it did not become common knowledge until it was declassified in 1998.

Throughout the period covered by this chapter, people feared that a politician or general would do something that would cause a devastating war between the world’s capitalist and communist nations, and that would be the end of Western civilization. Especially if nuclear weapons were used. Well, now we know there was a plan for World War III at the start, but it was immediately rejected as unwinnable, leaving bad East-West feelings that would last throughout the Cold War era.

Back in 1898, when Churchill was a young army officer and a colleague of his was fatally wounded, he said, "War, disguise it as you may, is but a dirty, shoddy business which only a fool would undertake." Nearly half a century later, those same words would apply to himself. He was one of the first to see that nothing good would come from the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, but now it would be the job of others to do something about it.


Published in: on October 12, 2015 at 11:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

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