Deutschland 86

Deutschland 86

Babylon Berlin is said to be the best drama series to ever come out of Germany. I disagree. My vote goes to Deutschland 83 (review here), in which border guard Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay) is recruited by East German intelligence and thrust into the middle of a nuclear standoff.

The series wasn’t hugely popular in Germany, but it found enough viewers abroad to warrant a sequel. Deutschland 86 takes place three years later. Martin has been exiled to Angola. His aunt, Lenora (Maria Schrader), who is also a spy, is working on an operation in South Africa. Naturally they run into each other again.

The ten episodes masterfully weave together the events of the time in a compelling narrative: the slow collapse of apartheid in South Africa, the civil war in Angola, Muammar Gaddafi’s support for international terrorism, the La Belle disco bombing in Berlin — all against the backdrop of the American-Soviet Cold War.

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Cruise Missiles Cause Division in Europe

Two rounds of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) between the Soviet Union and the United States had managed to reduce tensions in the Cold War. But the talks did not cover tactical nuclear weapons delivered by midrange ballistic missiles, a loophole the Soviets exploited to deploy SS-20 mobile launch platforms in Central Europe.

When, in December 1979, the Soviet Union also invaded Afghanistan, the West felt it had to respond.

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Hollow Earth

The idea that the Earth is hollow has been disproven for centuries, yet, not unlike the Nazis who have made their home there in dieselpunk fiction, it refuses to die. It returns as myth, pseudohistory, fiction or hoax, most recently in the Hollywood movie Godzilla vs. Kong, where Hollow Earth is home to all sorts of monsters.

The Ancient Greeks and early Christians placed the underworld or Hell in the interior of the Earth. Ancient Tibetans imagined a much nicer place: they thought the spiritual kingdom of Shambhala could be found somewhere in the middle of the planet. Other civilizations had similar myths.

More recently, John Cleves Symmes Jr., an American Army officer, suggested in 1818 that the Earth’s interior could be accessed through holes at the North and South Poles. This isn’t true either (people have been there), but it has become a staple of Hollow Earth mythology.

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The Problem of Détente

The late 1960s were a time of upheaval in the transatlantic relationship. Charles de Gaulle had withdrawn from NATO’s integrated military structure and was seeking equidistance for France between the Soviet Union and the United States. Willy Brandt, West Germany’s first center-left chancellor, was pursuing Ostpolitik. Britain had finally been admitted to the European Economic Community, which — in Washington — raised fears of a united Europe challenging American primacy in the West.

Mired and later defeated in Vietnam, America’s prestige was at a postwar low. The oil-producing countries of the Middle East were starting to use their economic power for political gain. Japan was emerging as a global powerhouse in the East. The Atlantic alliance looked divided and exhausted.

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The Times of Scrooge McDuck: The Raider of the Copper Hill

Raider of the Copper Hill

By 1884, the heydays of the cattle trails were coming to an end. As accurately depicted by Ken Don Rosa in the fourth of the original twelve chapters of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, the American West was becoming less wild. Fenced-off farms were taking the place of the great open-range ranches of the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming.

In this volume, Scrooge quits the employ of cattle baron Murdo MacKenzie, who would go on to become mayor of Trinidad, Colorado in 1891 and later a member of President Theodore Roosevelt’s National Conservation Commission, to try his luck at silver mining.

There is little silver to be found in Montana, but the ground is rich in copper — just as demand for copper, to make electric wire, skyrockets.

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The Devil’s Alternative

The Devil's Alternative

Frederick Forsyth wrote the outstanding Cold War thrillers The Day of the Jackal (1971), which was made into one of the best spy movies of all time (our review here); The Odessa File (1972, our review of the film adaption here) featuring an underground organization of former Nazis; and The Fourth Protocol (1984, our review here), about a Soviet plot to kick Britain out of NATO.

He demonstrates his mastery of the genre again in The Devil’s Alternative.

The story begins in Turkey, where an Ukrainian nationalist recovering in hospital is recruited by Andrew Drake, an Anglo-Ukrainian determined to strike a blow against the Soviet empire. Drake’s machination will set in motion events that bring the superpowers to the brink of war.

He is aided by hardliners in the Politburo, who are pushing for war to avoid making concessions in negotiations to buy wheat from the United States. A fungicide has inadvertently poisoned the Soviet wheat crop. Without imports, millions will starve.

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