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Author, film researcher and member of the Swedish Military History Commission.

Monday, March 27, 2017

New Spanish Civil War Volunteer Biography

An International Brigade veteran from Germany is portrayed in this new book.

Having met and interviewed several Swedish veterans of the Spanish Civil War (see Swedes at War 1914-45) I have most books written by or about them. There is a strange gap among them that I have been thinking about lately, thanks to a new book.

Walter Struck was one of the many thousands of Germans who fought in Spain 1936-39. Most were in the German pro-Franco Condor Legion, but there were also rather large groups of Germans within the opposing International Brigades of the Comintern (Communist International). Struck was one of the Germans in the Brigades that joined up via Norway. His eventful life in Spain and afterwards in Sweden has now been documented by his son Rune Struck in the book Pappa ville aldrig prata om Ebro, which translates as "Dad never wanted to talk about Ebro". This is a book that attempts to, and succeeds, in painting a vivid portrait of a German Spanish Civil War volunteer. One gets to know the man behind the strong convictions and it is no simple hero portrait.

Rune Struck knows how to write and has had access both to good notes from his father and has searched for traces of him in today´s Spain. Like yours truly he found out that the memory of the war is still very much alive in Spain, in surprising ways and in spite of the fact that most war participants are now dead. I also recognize the author´s joy in actually finding places described so many decades ago, almost as they were. Those moments will never go away.

The book does not end with Ebro and the fall of the Spanish Republic but follows Walter Struck to his refugee life in Sweden, from which he took part in the information war (to use a more modern term) against the Third Reich. After 1945 he for a time considers returning to Germany, but opts for joining Swedish society together with his Norwegian wife and children.

Rune Struck´s quest for his father´s and also mother´s wartime past is a moving one. I suspect that I will many times look back at this book´s questions about Germany and the Germans. Reading the book I also came to think of the very small number of Swedish biographies about Spanish Civil War veterans. If one excludes a handful of autobiographies, I can only come up with two previous biographies in Swedish: Frisco-Per (1985) by Arvid Rundberg and Helmut Kirschey (1998) by Richard Jändel. Considering that over 550 Swedes took part in the Spanish Civil War, plus the Spain veterans from other countries (like Walter Struck and Helmut Kirschey), the number of biographies in Swedish is surprisingly low.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Building Lightsabers & Understanding The Force

Two Star Wars-related books that gave me a deeper understanding of not just SW.

OK, you have seen all the films more than once and want to understand them on a deeper level, and especially how their look came about, and what the Star Wars story (stories) are really about. Well, in that case these are the droi... books you are looking for.

Cinema Alchemist is a pretty good title, but the subtitle is even better: How I built the Lightsaber and Won an Oscar. I mean, that is just about the best subtitle I have ever come across. This is simply a terrific book if you want to understand how the look of both "Star Wars" and "Alien" was created, very often from pieces of junk - making Luke´s words about the Millenium Falcon ring even more true ("What a piece of junk!"). The thing is that this book is written not by some film researcher but the man that actually did very much of the actual designing/decorating on the sets, Roger Christian.

Simply put, Cinema Alchemist is a treasure trove if you are into Star Wars, and especially the first trilogy. Aside from learning about all the gadgets and spaceships you will find out what the filming was like, the drama (serious!) and sweat (lots!) behind the camera. I had seen and read quite a lot about the filming, but this book has loads of details I was not aware of, or had not fully understood.

Surprisingly, Cinema Alchemist is not only about the many droids, filming in Tunisia etc but also about the ideas behind the manuscripts, not least the ideas behind the Force and the Buddhist influence.

Now, if trying to understand the Force and the deeper ideas behind Star Wars is your cup of tea, then you should also considering getting The Gospel according to Star Wars by John C. McDowell. Like the subtitle says it is about Faith, Hope, and the Force. Unlike Roger Christian, however, John C. McDowell shows that also Christianity is a rather large part of the Star Wars story. Being a Christian myself I have long thought of Star Wars as not being in conflict with my faith, but in fact providing encouragement.

Now, a word of warning about The Gospel according to Star Wars. It is not an easy read and I found large parts simply too complicated. Had I been more into theology I would probably have appreciated also those parts. But, as this is the kind of book that allows you to skip pages - fine with me. The parts that I did like are really important to me, and I will return to them.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Manhattan Project´s Swedish Connections

Unofficial emblem of the Manhattan Project, circa 1946.

Seldom has a TV series about WWII begun with the same slow pace as "Manhattan". After having seen also the second episode I was not that keen to continue watching it, in spite of the terrific acting, look, atmosphere and the subject itself - the people who made the first atomic bomb. But then something happened.

From lukewarm feelings for the series I developed a real attachment, and after the introduction of the Dane Niels Bohr into the story I keep asking myself how it is possible that both Swedish historians, writers and film directors have been able to pay so little attention to the Swedish connections to the Manhattan Project. I mean, first we have the most crucial trip of Niels Bohr via Sweden, and then we have Arthur Adams, the Sweden-born Soviet spy (and former osnaz soldier) who was focused on the Manhattan project. For more about Adams - see my latest book.

Incidentally, Netflix right now show both "Manhattan" and "The Heavy Water War". So, the same media now has both the Allied and the German atomic bomb stories.

Well, Swedish film directors, read up on Niels Bohr and Arthur Adams...