Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Glimpse of History

(Science thriller writer Janet Greger is my guest today, commenting on a favorite subject, history, and offering some information on her latest novel.)

Wikipedia states the Vietnam War was a conflict in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos from November 1955 until the fall of Saigon in April 1975. The first date is debatable, and these facts don’t put this conflict into context so it can be understood.

After 40 years, a number of the combatants have died and many of the “little stories” about the war have been lost. That’s too bad because I suspect George Santayana was right: “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Thus, when a friend, who was a medic in the secret war in Laos in the early 1960s, offered me his notes, I was thrilled. But I’m no historian. I write modern thrillers and mysteries with a woman protagonist, Sara Almquist, who is too young to have first-hand knowledge of the Vietnam era.

I decided to set the novel, titled Riddled with Clues, mainly at the VA Center in Albuquerque because my dog Bug and I are a pet therapy team there. We’ve met Vietnam era veterans in the rehab programs at this large VA center. Many homeless veterans also roam the campus and its over seventy buildings. I realized the convoluted nature of the layout of buildings would be great for a chase scene, and the veterans in rehab units could be the basis of colorful supporting characters in the book.

Are you curious how I used the notes?  In chapter 1, Sara, a scientific consultant for the State Department, gets a mysterious summons to the VA in her hometown of Albuquerque. She discovers Xave Zack (her old friend from previous novels – Ignore the Pain and Malignancy) was seriously injured while tracking drug smugglers.  He hands her a note he received before his accident. The note is signed by “Red from Udon Thani.” However, he doesn’t know anyone called Red, and the last time he was in Udon Thani was during the Vietnam War. 

Xave proceeds to tell her potentially relevant details from his wartime experiences in Laos. (The experiences are all based on my real friend’s adventures). After Sara listens to his rambling tale of all the possibilities, both are assaulted. Xave is left comatose. Sara must determine whether the attacks were related to events during the war fifty years ago or to the modern-day drug trade. As she struggles to survive, she questions who to trust: the local cops, her absent best friend, the FBI, or a homeless veteran who leaves puzzling riddles as clues. 

Sound exciting? I hope so.

Now back to the history. As a medic, my friend treated men covered with hundreds of leeches, a baby monkey, and Hmong children with yaws and vitamin A deficiency besides lots of wounded soldiers. He also received survival training in the Philippines, served as a medic for the Hmong general Vang Pao, and was sent home after he earned his fourth Purple Heart. These “small events in history” are part of Xave’s stories. If you’re looking for military secrets, you’ll be disappointed. However, you will gain an appreciation of guerilla warfare in a jungle from these vignettes. For example, did you know a leech can swell to a couple inches in length with blood? Or that the medics of the Vietnam era were the prototypes for modern Physicians Assistants and EMTs?

The purpose of this blog is two-fold. I hope you’ll read Riddled with Clues and gain a different perspective on history. And I hope you’ll gather “historical” information from older friends and relatives and use the details in your writing. History can be fun.
Riddled with Clues (both paperback and Kindle versions) is available at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1938436237

Bio: J. L. Greger likes to include "sound bites" on science and on exotic locations in her Science Traveler Thriller/Mystery series, which includes: Riddled with Clues, Murder…A Way to Lose Weight (winner of 2016 Public Safety Writers [PSWA] annual contest and finalist for New Mexico–Arizona book award), I Saw You in Beirut, and Malignancy (winner of 2015 PSWA annual contest). To learn more, visit her website: http://www.jlgreger.com or her Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B008IFZSC4

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Horror of Reservation Life

The history of U.S. treatment of the Indian, or Native American as some now choose to call them, is replete with misjudgment and failure to keep promises.
As early as 1633 in Massachusetts there was a policy of assimilating the Indian into communities and inviting them to share equally in social and political privileges. Ironically, it was church people (who should by the tenets of their faith be the most tolerant of citizens) who rejected this plan and insisted on separate communities for the Indians.
As Manifest Destiny pushed westward, various treaties were adopted in which tribes ceded land in exchange for certain promises. These treaties were broken as promised lands were coveted by others for various reasons such as fertility, mineral richness or strategic placement. In 1824 the government created the Office of Indian Affairs to govern such issues. Under the administration of Andrew Jackson the Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole) off their ancestral lands and onto less desirable tracts on what became known as "Indian Territory." Many died in the mass migration rightly named the Trail of Tears.
The Indian Appropriations Act of 1851 formally established the reservation system which made the Indian both the ward and the victim of the government and its agents. Even after reservation lands were designated for the tribes, the possibility existed they might be appropriated if Americans found a reason to access the tract--as happened to the Dakota when the Custer expedition found gold on Indian land in the Black Hills.
U.S. Grant adopted a policy of assimilation in 1868, a primary focus of which aimed at converting Indians to Christianity, the primary religion of the country. Violent resistance led to its abandonment by the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes, though he retained the system of separating children from their parents for re-education in boarding schools.
The U.S. Congress replaced the reservation system with the Dawes Act in 1887, removing tribal governing councils, attempting to destroy communal traditions and parceling land into individual plots. Accepting and farming these plots opened a path to citizenship. President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered a "New Deal" in the 1930s, authorizing a return to tribal governments, ending the land allotment procedure and resurrecting the reservation system, which remains in effect today.
Throughout its existence, the reservation system has been one of poverty, malnutrition, dependency and limited opportunity for economic advancement.
The San Carlos reservation in Arizona is the setting for my novel Geronimo Must Die and the hardships the people endured in such places makes it plain why many rebelled. Here's the blurb for the novel:
Geronimo and rascally half-breed Indian scout Mickey Free have never been friends.
Yet, Mickey has already saved Geronimo's life twice (without acknowledgement) and is the only one who can keep the great Apache leader out of the sniper's sights now. The sniper has already murdered several tribal leaders and Mickey believes it's all a plot to prompt a great runaway from the hated San Carlos reservation.
Mickey's efforts are stymied by Al Sieber, head of scouts, and John Clum, reservation agent, as well as suspicion of other Indians. Adding to his problems, Mickey is in love with a girl whose name he keeps forgetting to ask and who may be allied to the plot.
Only perseverance, risk to his life and, eventually, Geronimo's help will enable Mickey to resolve this dangerous situation.