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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Bloody Sunday

Bloody Sunday

Northern Ireland can feel far away from the rest of the United Kingdom. Its political party system is different from Great Britain’s. Its politics are intensely sectarian in a way that seems out of place in modern Europe. The level of violence it sustained in the twentieth century makes it an outlier in post-1945 Western Europe.

We tend to think of the United Kingdom as a peaceful Western democracy committed to the values of justice and peace. Those of us who have studied its history know that the truth is more muddled. That postwar period saw the birth of the National Health Service and other aspects of the welfare state, but it was also the time Britain left Palestine in civil war, employed a brutal system of concentration camps in Kenya and did much the same in Malaya.

But none of that violence was as old as the one that plagued Ireland.

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De Gaulle’s Cold War

European countries generally welcomed American involvement after the Second World War. From the Marshall Plan to NATO, the United States was seen as a benevolent influence.

But American help came with a price. European governments were expected to keep the far left out of power, accept the rehabilitation of West Germany and curtail trade and other relations with the Soviet Union.

France took exception to being treated as an instrument of American foreign policy. Charles de Gaulle famously blocked Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community, believing it would be a Trojan horse for America. He refused to give up France’s independent nuclear deterrent and even pulled out of NATO’s integrated military structure in 1966.

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Warhol: The American Dream Factory

Andy Warhol, the King of Pop Art, is one of the best-known artists of the twentieth century: an advertisement mogul, creator extraordinaire and mentor to equally famed and fabled artists Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Even if you’re not familiar with Warhol’s art, you will likely have heard of him and recognize his fabled soup can illustration.

The La Boverie museum in Liège, Belgium has delved deeper than soup cans and portraits of Marilyn Monroe and set up a marvelous expo covering all decades of Warhol’s life and the work he produced in those times. Making Warhol: The American Dream Factory a must-visit (in as far as possible) for fans of modern and midcentury art.

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Red Storm Rising

Red Storm Rising

Red Storm Rising (1986) is a classic of the World War III genre. Tom Clancy’s second book, coming on the heels of the enormously successful The Hunt for Red October (1984), depicts a NATO-Warsaw Pact war in the mid-1980s fought entirely with conventional weapons. (Although the risk of nuclear escalation is present.)

The book opens with Azerbaijani terrorists destroying the main Soviet oil refinery at Nizhnevartovsk. The Politburo, split between a war-wary general secretary and a warmongering defense chief, decides to seize the oil fields of the Persian Gulf to avoid economic collapse. Fearing that the West would intervene in such an attack, the Soviet leaders determine to eliminate NATO first.

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Everyday Fashions of the Fifties

Everyday Fashions of the Fifties as Pictured in Sears Catalogs

For the final installment in our catalogue book series, we are examining the pages of the era that is probably best known when people think about retro fashion: the 1950s.

When 50s fashion is mentioned, most will think of pin-up styles, sexy tops and pencil skirts, victory roll hairdos and big circle skirts. And greasers à la James Dean and Mutt Williams.

Or skirts with poodle appliqués and cute little cardigans, in soft pinks and whites and pastels of movies such as Grease.

If that is your view of the 50s, and you were hoping to find page after page of the such styles, you might find this book well, a little disappointing, because it will set you straight in no time.

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Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman 1984

I was looking forward to Wonder Woman 1984. The last movie was amazing. Gal Gadot is perfect for the role. And this one would be set in the 1980s!

Sadly, it disappoints on all fronts.

Unlike 2017’s Wonder Woman, the plot of this movie is discombobulated. The main villain, played by Pedro Pascal of The Mandalorian fame, is a cartoonish version of Donald Trump. His sidekick, played by Kristen Wiig, is even more predictable.

There is a detour to Egypt that is almost entirely irrelevant to the plot. As is the opening act on Woman Woman’s home island, Themyscira. Action scenes go on for too long. Wonder Woman attains not one, but two new powers. Dialogue is often puerile. Gadot is given little to work with.

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The World Set Free

In certain political science (or political shit-posting) circles there is a term “accelerationism”, referring to a belief that the problems of society should not be ameliorated but rather exacerbated in order to cause the collapse of a preexisting social order so that something else may be built on its ashes. The justification for this is simple: anarchy is a blank slate upon which any enterprising political elite can realize their dreams should they put the proper work into it and persuade the right people.

One such form of accelerationism comes forth in the writings of the Argentine Marxist writer J. Posadas, who advocated for nuclear war, which would destroy the capitalist order and, among the ruins, provide a way to build Marx’ classless utopia.

Posadas also believed in the necessity of contacting aliens who, by virtue of their technological advancement, must be more advanced according to Marx’ dialectical theory, a notion which has him painted as a loon by certain political science (or political shit-posting) circles on the internet.

However, he was not the first writer to put forth a similar idea.

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How the CIA Waged Cultural Cold War on Communism

Fear of communist infiltration in the United States preceded the Cold War. So-called “popular fronts” — anti-fascist and anti-imperialist — were active in the 1930s and attracted various well-meaning progressives. As Hugh Wilford puts it in The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (2008), everyone from the “Jewish fur-worker dismayed by the rise of anti-Semitism in Hitler’s Germany” to the “student inspired by the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War” to the “African American protesting Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia.” Support for the Soviet Union was usually far down their list of priorities, but Soviet influence, and Soviet money, nevertheless played a role.

After the Second World War, Moscow played up its efforts to spread communism abroad. It focused primarily on Europe (France and Italy had large Communist parties) and the Third World.

In the United States, the Central Intelligence Agency was created amid the Red Scare and tasked with countering Soviet subversion.

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