Review: Outpost

Christopher Hill spent a lot of time in the world’s hotspots – Kosovo, Bosnia, North Korea, post-surge Iraq. If you have never heard of him, I’m not surprised. Diplomats are rarely household names.

Outpost: Life on the Frontlines of American Diplomacy is Christopher Hill’s memoir. He had many consequential jobs: working on the negotiations that ended the Balkan wars, leading diplomat in the Bush administration’s talks with North Korea, ambassador to Iraq. And yet he remained outside the nexus of power that fascinates the media and public alike: the president, the vice president, secretary of state, secretary of defense, even national security advisor.

This is a different sort of memoir, America’s foreign policy from a viewpoint I had never fully seen before. I found it very informative. I learned a great deal about the North Korean negotiations and America’s involvement in the Balkans, though I wish Ambassador Hill had dealt with Kosovo and Bosnia in even greater depth. He never explained why, exactly, America was invested in those conflicts to the point of bombing campaigns. If it was a matter of violence, or human rights violations – well, there’s a lot of that in the world, and the Serbs were hardly the leading villains. Saddam Hussein, to take one not-so-random example, certainly had them beat. And if it was a matter of American interests – I can’t think of any American interests, nor does the book provide any, except that our involvement was good for our “transatlantic relationships”.

In fact, reading Hill’s account, one is left with the impression that our military-level involvement just sort of happened. America was trying to negotiate an end to the war, and the Europeans had peacekeepers in blue helmets and white tanks there, and it was all very difficult, and since America would have to intervene militarily to help extract the Europeans, it might as well intervene militarily to enforce peace, and so we bombed the Serbs. And maybe it really was no more deliberate than that.

The Iraq section was informative, too, providing a closer and somewhat dreary look at Iraq. Hill portrays attitudes in Washington toward Iraq that ultimately contributed to the present debacle: disinterest, neglect, a hurry to get out with little attention paid to the consequences.

I learned lighter things from this book, things from the world of diplomacy. I learned, for example, that ambassadors may judge you on how many lunch options you need for a visit to their country. I learned that calling Macedonia “Macedonia” can be a minor act of rebellion. I learned that diplomats will not only lie in the course of duty, they will openly admit it in their memoirs.

Unfortunately, Ambassador Hill cheaply caricatures the “neocons” as warlike, aggressive, and imperialistic. The book’s only justifications for these insults are that neoconservatives opposed Hill’s negotiations with North Korea (oh, the aggression!) and urged the Iraq war. Hill also mentions “liberal war hawks”, though how he distinguishes them from the warlike neocons is entirely unexplained.

Along with its accounts of vital negotiations and ambassadorships in nations such as Poland and Macedonia, Outpost paints some very human portraits and some poignant moments. Recommended to anyone who is interested in diplomacy, history, or the controversies and conflicts of the past twenty years.

Blog Tour: A Different Kind of Courage

Who Was Dr. Joseph Warren?
A Guest Post by Sarah Holman

The early years of the American Revolution have been almost completely forgotten. Actually, the entire history of that war is often condensed down to these events: The Boston Tea Party, The Midnight Ride/Lexington and Concord, the Declaration of Independence, 1776, Americans win the War. Some of us know a few more details, but what do you know about the people who lived during those times? Don’t be too embarrassed. I am also describing myself a little over a year ago before I started working on A Different Kind of Courage.

It all started many years ago, when one of my favorite movies was Johnny Tremain. Being the child I was, my favorite character was the calm and kind Dr. Joseph Warren. I wanted to know more about him, but quickly found few people knew about him and there were virtually no resources on him. Years later, when reading a reference to a speech that Warren made, my interest was sparked again. This time, I had the World Wide Web at my disposal.

For the first time in years, I found myself spending hours researching. I found letters to Warren and by Warren. I found interesting facts, old books that told his story, and much more. I knew I just had to write a fictional account where Dr. Joseph Warren had a huge role.

So who was Joseph Warren? Here are a few facts:

  • He was a devoted father of four.
  • He was a writer. He drafted many documents that fueled the Revolution (just take a peek at the Suffolk Resolves or his Massacre Day speech).
  • He was a confidant of many.
  • He was a leader of the Sons of Liberty.
  • He was a man of faith (he makes many references to God and honoring Him in his letters).

To learn more about Dr. Joseph Warren, go to www.adifferentkindofcourage.blogspot.com – or you can read my historical fiction book, A Different Kind of Courage.


Sarah Holman is a not so typical mid-twenties girl: A homeschool graduate, sister to six awesome siblings, and author of five published books and counting. If there is anything adventuresome about her life, it is because she serves a God with a destiny bigger than anything she could have imagined.

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A Different Kind of Courage
by Sarah Holman

July 4, 2014
202 pages

“Why did my life have to be full of secrets?”

After three years in England, William Landor returns to Boston in 1774, little knowing the events that are about to unfold.

England has issued an ultimatum: Pay for the tea that was destroyed in the Boston Tea Party, or the Port of Boston will be closed. William knows that this will have a devastating effect on his hometown, which is so dependent on the sea. However, he finds himself in the middle of the political struggle he wanted to avoid.

William’s father is a merchant and loyal to the king and is furious at what the rebels of Boston have cost him. He would like nothing more than to rid the city of their poisonous influence. Meanwhile, William’s best friend, Dr. Joseph Warren, is one of the leaders of rebels, or Whigs as they call themselves.

As if his life was not complicated enough, he meets a fiery indentured servant who tugs at his heart as well as his loyalty. When he is confronted by the consequences of his many secrets, he has to make a choice whether or not to tell the truth. Does he have the kind of courage it will take?



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CSFF Blog Tour: Like a Crusader

“Crusader perched like a gargoyle on a second floor ledge …”

So begins Numb – with Crusaders and gargoyles, icons of the Middle Ages and the Catholic Church.

Although there are obvious and significant differences between the True Church of Numb and the medieval Catholic Church, there are also definite similarities. The power exercised in the state is one such commonality, and so is the persecution of heretics. In the True Church’s schemes to subjugate the heathen Praesidium there is some parallel to the Crusades. Yet the parallels are limited. The Crusaders had two motivations absent entirely from the True Church: the Turkish persecution of Christian pilgrims in the Middle East and the apprehension of that land as the Holy Land.

There is a story from the Crusades to which Numb bears a remarkable resemblance. The First Crusade succeeded in taking Jerusalem in 1099, but as the years went by, the power of the Crusaders in the Middle East declined. They lost territory and Jerusalem became threatened.

So it was time for the Second Crusade. Pope Eugenius III urged King Louis VII of France to take part in the new Crusade and commissioned Bernard of Clairvaux to preach it. As Urban did for the First Crusade, Eugenius III made participating in the Second Crusade a cleansing penance for sins. He wrote to King Louis: “[B]y the authority granted us by God we concede and confirm to those who decide out of devotion to take up and complete so holy and so necessary a task and labor … remission of sins.”

And Bernard declared to the crowd at Vezelay, with King Louis at his side, “The din of arms, the danger, the labors, the fatigues of war, are the penances that God now imposes upon you. Hasten then to expiate your sins by victories over the Infidels.”

Now the king’s sin, which he wanted to expiate, was this: While waging war in Champagne, Louis VII sacked the city of Vitry and caused its church to be set on fire. More than a thousand people who had taken refuge in the church died in the flames.

These cruel deaths plagued the young king with guilt and remorse. The Pope and Bernard showed him the way to expiate his guilt: a Crusade to the Holy Land.

That is the similarity to Numb. As the Ministrix directed Crusader, so did the Catholic Church direct King Louis: service to God for the remission of sins, absolving guilt for death by inflicting death.

CSFF Blog Tour: Apples and Barrels

Among the true-to-life complexities of Jill Williamson’s Safe Lands series is the diversity of the motley opposition against the Safe Lands government.

There are the people of Glenrock and Jack’s Peak, who were dragged into the city and fell into the war quite haplessly. If the Safe Lands had left them alone, they would have left it alone.

There is the Freedom for Families, comprised principally of Naturals – an underground society that has existed within the shadows almost from the beginning. Theirs is a quiet rebellion.

There is the Black Army – full of disgruntled Safe Landers who, born and bred in the system, now want out.

And there are those without organization, whose need drives them away from normal life in the Safe Lands.

There is an equal diversity of motivations. All Jordan and Levi really care about is taking care of their own. Anything and anybody else? Not their problem.

Mason, though also from Glenrock, has some concern for the Safe Landers themselves, some desire to help them – though it understandably receives a lot of impetus from the fact that he’s falling in love with a Safe Lander. So, too, with Omar: He looks beyond Glenrock to the Safe Lands, his altruism and his self-interest all mixed together. But what he is seeking for himself in these efforts is peace, a place to belong, his own identity.

Bender and Rewl, of the Black Army, seem primarily concerned for themselves – as does Red, who dismisses the government taking a woman’s baby with the words, “I don’t like the government telling me what to do. But babies aren’t my interest.”

Look, I found a libertarian in the Black Army!

Levi, by the way, disclaimed concern for the same baby and mother. He just didn’t bother to articulate his reasons so clearly.

But the Black Army has its noble ones, too. So does the Freedom for Families – people who are not content merely to hide and enjoy their escape, but who have compassion on those still caught in the dark web, whether the difficult elders of Glenrock or the lost souls of the Safe Lands.

I can’t name the bad apples among the FFF, but that’s only because we have seen little of them. As the human heart is always struggling between love and selfishness, and often wrapping them together in the most ingenuous of ways, so every community is made of bad and good. The purest causes draw impure votaries, and unworthy causes have been known to net worthy followers.

Because – for good and for bad, for better or for worse – that’s the way people are.

CSFF Blog Tour: Romans and Druids

In Sigmund Brouwer’s speculative series Merlin’s Immortals, Druids are the villains – lying, thieving, manipulative, murdering villains. This, of course, is only fiction. The real Druids were much worse.

The Druids regarded it as unlawful to commit their teachings to writing. The oldest accounts of them come to us through a third party – a culture with a written language, with historians and learned men, with absolutely no compunction about writing down Druid doctrines, a culture that came into contact with the Gauls and their Druids.

In other words, the Romans.

Julius Caesar waged the Gallic Wars for eight years, finally subduing Gaul and its Celtic tribes. He wrote what is the oldest description of the Druids on record, about fifty years before the birth of Christ. To quote his Gallic Wars:

[The Druids] are engaged in things sacred, conduct the public and the private sacrifices, and interpret all matters of religion. … [T]hey determine respecting almost all controversies, public and private; and if any crime has been perpetrated, if murder has been committed, if there be any dispute about an inheritance, if any about boundaries, these same persons decide it; they decree rewards and punishments; if any one, either in a private or public capacity, has not submitted to their decision, they interdict him from the sacrifices. This among them is the most heavy punishment. Those who have been thus interdicted are esteemed in the number of the impious and the criminal: all shun them, and avoid their society and conversation, lest they receive some evil from their contact; nor is justice administered to them when seeking it, nor is any dignity bestowed on them. …

The Druids do not go to war, nor pay tribute together with the rest; they have an exemption from military service and a dispensation in all matters. … They wish to inculcate this as one of their leading tenets, that souls do not become extinct, but pass after death from one body to another … They likewise discuss and impart to the youth many things respecting the stars and their motion, respecting the extent of the world and of our earth, respecting the nature of things, respecting the power and the majesty of the immortal gods.

Later Caesar got into their “superstitious rites”, writing that the Gauls would employ the Druids to “sacrifice men” to the gods – usually criminals, but when necessary, the innocent, too.

Other Romans rendered similar accounts of human sacrifice. Tacitus called the Druids’ sacrifices “inhuman rites” that involved spilling the blood of captives; Lucan, describing a sacred site of the Druids encountered by Julius Caesar, wrote: “Interlacing boughs enclosed a space of darkness and cold shade, and banished the sunlight from above. … Gods were worshipped there with savage rites, the altars were heaped with hideous offerings … On these boughs [of the trees in the sacred grove] birds feared to perch; in those coverts wild beasts would not lie down.”

The Romans – who, for all their evils, were clean at least of the evil of human sacrifice – were probably truly appalled by the rites of the Druids. But it was also, no doubt, their own self-interest that led them to attack Anglesey, an island off the coast of Wales long known as the center of the Druidic religion. After winning the battle of Anglesey, the Romans – showing the thoroughness that built the Roman Empire – destroyed the sacred groves on the island.

It was the Gospel, preached in Europe, that finally ended the influence and unceasing cruelty of the Druids. But it was the Romans who struck the first blow. And so, in such mysterious ways, does God work His will, judging righteously.

CSFF Blog Tour: Dystopian Dreaming

In the 1930s, civil war wracked Spain. Under the banner of the Republic, socialists and anarchists and Communists threw in their lot together; the Nationalists – granted force by the military and the Catholic Church – responded to the fears of the middle class.

Josef Stalin supported the Republic with arms – always for a price – and controlled the Spanish Communist Party through his agents. In 1937 he reached for even greater power over the Republic, and Caballero, their chosen leader, resisted him; that was the end of Caballero. In due time the Soviets arranged a coup, overthrowing Caballero as head of the Republic and replacing him with a puppet of their own choosing. Thus enabled, the Communists – themselves under the terror of Stalin’s brutal enforcers – took over the Republic of Spain.

And then – following the script Stalin had already written for Russia – the Communists began a purge, the slaughter of their erstwhile political allies. The Republic, while still in a civil war with the Nationalists, entered into a civil war with each other. The Communists tortured and murdered their fellow Leftists by the thousands. Many foreigners were marked for murder; some managed to escape.

George Orwell was among them. After fleeing the bloodbath, he attempted to expose it in print. One editor turned him down on the grounds that it would damage Western support for the Republic.

That editor was wrong. When Orwell finally got his story printed, it affected the Republic very little. The 1930s intellectual elite were more entranced with Communism than the truth, more concerned about Stalin than about the cruelties engulfing life after life in Spain. They assured the victory of the brilliant Communist propaganda.

In a 1946 essay called “Why I write”, Orwell stated, “The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.”

Three years later, he published 1984, modeling his hero Emanuel Goldstein after Andres Nin, a Spanish political leader murdered by the Stalinists in the Republic’s fratricide.

Dystopias are the nightmares of their authors, which are in some measure the nightmares of their societies. They write what they see and what they fear. George Orwell, emerging from the horrors of the 1930s, wrote about totalitarian states, their cruelty and their conquest of truth.

In Captives, Jill Williamson builds a dystopia of our own phantoms – polluted earth, Big Brother, complete social collapse, the final scrapping of all traditional morality. Today Captives begins its CSFF blog tour; I’ll be along with my review later. You can begin your exploration of this twenty-first century dystopia here:

Captives on Amazon;

Jill Williamson’s website;

and, of course, the blog tour:

Julie Bihn
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Jeff Chapman
Pauline Creeden

Emma or Audrey Engel
Victor Gentile
Timothy Hicks
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Asha Marie Pena
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler
Rachel Wyant

Great Innovations

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “Great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities.” Which is pretty much what happened with the Constitution.

The Articles of Confederation had created a remarkably weak Continental Congress, lacking the power to carry through even what few decisions it had the authority to make. It could create an army but not fund it, borrow money but not repay it, make treaties but not fulfill them.

So the Founders – frustrated by the paralyzing weakness and afraid of its consequences – finally brought about the Constitution.

It began with a trade convention in Annapolis, where twelve delegates from five states met for three days. They found that “the power of regulating trade is of such comprehensive extent, and will enter so far into the general System of the federal government, that to give it efficacy, and to obviate questions and doubts concerning its precise nature and limits, may require a correspondent adjustment of other parts of the Federal System.”

This is a long way around to the point that, in order to amend the defects in commerce, they first needed to amend the defects in the scheme of government. They recommended a convention in Philadelphia the following May, to “render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union.”

The Congress took the suggestion and issued a call for the Philadelphia convention. Fifty-five delegates from twelve states* attended. Not only did they create a new Constitution for the country, they even created the terms by which it was to be accepted or rejected.

If you care to remember such details, the Continental Congress was the governing body of the American union. But the convention essentially cut them out. They put the Constitution before the states for ratification, with the regulation that when nine states had ratified, the new government would take effect.

To appreciate the boldness of this, you have to understand that the Articles of Confederation could be revised only by the approval of the Congress and the unanimous consent of all the state legislatures. You also have to remember that the Philadelphia convention met by the authority of the Continental Congress, and then arranged to supplant the Congress without ever getting their leave.

In a final stroke of audacity, the convention stated that – at such time as nine states ratified the Constitution – the Congress should fix the date for the elections of the new Congress and the takeover** of the new government. The Continental Congress was requested to manage its dissolution.***

The battle for ratification was closely and even bitterly fought. Massachusetts ratified by 187-168****, New York by 30-27. New Hampshire by 57-47, Virginia by 89-79, Rhode Island by 34-32 – all slender majorities, especially for so great an innovation.


* Rhode Island sent no delegation. The convention didn’t act like it mattered.

** They called it “commencing Proceedings”. To be an eighteenth-century legislator!

*** But not agree to it.

**** Of all the votes listed here, this was the Federalists’ widest margin of victory – and even here, ten votes would have changed it to defeat. The rest of the tallies may be found here.

Neat Website

Stephanie Whitson and Nancy Moser have started a blog called Footnotes. Both of them write historical fiction, and the blog is about facts and inspirations they’ve gleaned from history. Here is a sample:


To stray from the serious posts about the slums of New York… let’s talk about etiquette. Here are some gems from The Essential Handbook of Victorian Entertaining (adapted by Autumn Stephens) with a few asides from me:

• Do not dress above your station; it is a grievous mistake, and leads to great evils, besides being the proof of a complete lack of taste. So we’re to dress down? I hardly think “slovenly” would be appreciated.

Do not expose the neck and arms at a dinner party. These should be covered, if not by the dress itself, then by lace or muslin overwaist. How about a nice plaid stadium blanket?

Do not fail to try the effect of your dress by gaslight and daylight both. Many a color that may look well in daylight may look extremely ugly in gaslight. But facial lines and wrinkles look marvelous! …

(the rest is here)

I just found it. It looks like a fun site.