Practice makes.

 I try to see a challenge in everything. Whether I am reading, writing or out for a lonely walk in the yard during this pandemic – I try to apply my human behavior pattern recognition & analysis training to everything I encounter. As many movie channels are now offering free films to us shut-ins, I’ve included movies to my practice regimen.

Authors and Auteurs.

Xenophon of Athens was a soldier and a writer. Arguably the first warrior to use a feint in combat. Perhaps also the first to use a flanking maneuver. He lived four hundred years before the birth of Christ. While not authoring thrillers, his historical perspectives of war were required reading for soldiers two thousand years after his death and proved thrilling vicariously.

Shel Silverstein was a soldier, too. He was stationed in Japan and then Korea. A couple of Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination later, Silverstein, who died in 1999, has sold over 20 million copies of his works which have been translated into 30 languages.

Photo by Alice Ochs/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Silverstein’s work as a cartoonist also brought him fame, many of his works were featured in Stars and Stripes. I remember a cartoon representation of two emaciated prisoners in a dismal Castle Keep hanging by their wrists, bound in large chains.

One prisoner looks at the other and says, “Now, here’s my plan.”

It’s not hard to imagine that a soldier or marine could be an author, nor is it a stretch to imagine that someone who spent time in battle would be able to spin a yarn with action and adventure. Weaving a tight tale, a story certain to keep the readers attention. 

Just peachy.

Roald Dahl was a fighter pilot who saw a lot of action in the skies. He then took a role as an intelligence officer. Dahl wrote James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and a litany of strange and fanciful works, each featuring devious adults and ingenious child protagonists.

Dahl, who was shot down and almost killed in the deserts outside of Libya famously remarked,

Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.

The Gold Standard.

Gert Fröbe

The funny thing about being an artist is that you don’t get to choose how you are remembered. That’s true as long as you have produced more than one work. Your fans (or critics) get to choose which work epitomizes you.

Gert Fröbe died in 1988 in Munich. Fröbe left his mark everywhere he went. He was bigger than most kids his age. The Germans around him considered him a fellow Nazi, which was fitting as even as a young teen he was affiliated with the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.

Fröbe was an amazing violinist. He could recite pages of poetry from memory. He was a thespian and acted in street works and on stages across Germany even as a young man.

Then the Nazis came.

Fröbe wasn’t a violent man, but he lived in a violent world. Fröbe felt that he had to adapt to remain relevant. He assumed the identity of a National Socialist, joined the German Army, and did his best to ‘hide in plain sight’.

Fröbe played a variety of roles on screen and off. Many of his likenesses were “heavies” with threatening accents and gestures, but he had his share of lighter moments as well. And those were the roles he wished to be remembered for.

After years of establishing himself in a variety of film and stage roles after World War II, Fröbe found he couldn’t shake his association with the Nazi party. That is until a number of Jews came forward and told their stories. Stories of Fröbe’s bravery. Fröbe had hidden Jewish families from Nazi persecution right under the noses of his National Socialist colleagues.

Once a Marine.

Bob Ludlum enjoyed being a Marine. 

He liked the challenge, the rigor, and the routine. His closest friends say that the discipline he learned in the military carried over into his writing. That’s apparent as he wrote 27 novels and his works have been printed and reprinted 500 million times.

Ludlum’s most famous literary character was Jason Bourne. Bob Ludlum may have died in 2001, but Jason Bourne is apparently just getting started.


St. George and the dragon.

The story of St. George and the dragon is a good one. You can tell. It’s evidenced because virtually every culture on the planet between 300 AD and the fifteenth century claims the story as its own. Likenesses, carvings, pen, and ink drawings – all tell a simple tale of good versus evil with St. George as the noble victor.

Alongside love, if you add the theory of the Insider threat, you have the three strongest, most pervasive and longest-lived literary topics.

Insider threats are perhaps the worst form of betrayal. Someone close to you, from inside your organization ends up being the one who deceives you and your friends.

Insider threat purveyors are sometimes called “fifth columnists”.

This term traces back to the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Those activists who worked from within to undermine a much larger group (enemy force, nation) were called thusly. They engaged in clandestine operations from disinformation to sabotage and including mayhem and murder.

The fifth column.

Ian Fleming wrote about fifth columnists. He wrote about the dichotomy of writing about them and being one of them all at the same time.

Ian found himself cast into the work quite by accident. He was drafted into World War II and perhaps because he was a writer, he found himself working in the intelligence section of the British war machine.

Ian was well-liked and trusted. He was often seen shuffling top-secret memos between the SOE Special Operations Executive the JIC Joint Intelligence Committee on the Prime Minister’s staff.

The Trout Memo

Based loosely on fly fishing, hence the ‘trout’ in the name, Ian came up with a plan to lure German U-boats into mine infested channels by suggesting to their commanders that the shipping lanes were clear.

Ian contrived his plan by enlisting another author’s plot. One where the corpse of a supposed British soldier would wash up on the coast of an area controlled by German forces. In the pockets and satchel of this parachutist killed in action, the Germans would find maps and misinformation leading the Germans to believe that certain areas were safe to travel, in reality, it was a ruse and those areas were replete with explosive traps.

German code machine “Enigma”

Ian’s intellect was clearly established not only with the Trout Memo, but later with the plan dubbed Operation Ruthless. In it, Ian outlined plans for stealing the codes to the German ‘Enigma’ program, rendering it useless. During ‘Ruthless’, Ian became friends with British mathematicians and codebreakers Alan Turing and Peter Twinn.

Again, Ian’s plan involved Insider threats. Ian was going to get a team of highly trained British Commandos to lead Twinn, Turing, and select others into the heart of German-occupied territory so that they would have the best chance of attacking Nazi Wilhelm Canaris’s Abwehr from the inside.

The Abwehr was the German Intelligence Office responsible for creating Enigma, and it baffled the Allied Forces. The codes needed to be broken so Enigma could be destroyed.

So, Ian came up with a plan to put the elite fighters and geniuses on a stolen German Heinkel HE177 bomber that had been recently liberated by the British Army. They would crash land it near the Nazi-occupied coast knowing that the German forces would likely rescue the crew. This would allow the crew access to the heart of Nazi-occupied Europe with a great chance to attack and destroy the German military intelligence service.

In a joint US, British operation later in the war, Ian assisted US Army Colonel William Donovan in drafting what would become the US Office of the Coordinator of Information. This office soon became the OSS office of strategic service, what we now know as the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency).

Ian worked on a plan he dubbed Operation Goldeneye to control the intelligence operations in Spain even if the Germans took over the peninsula. Ian’s work helped create a specialized commando unit that would go in with or before liberating units with the task of capturing information, maps, and documents and turning them quickly into actionable intelligence to help the Allied forces defeat the Germans, Italians, and Japanese.

Ian’s plan led to the outfitting of every British military unit with an intelligence officer, at the front lines in order to help commanders on the ground determine which information would provide the best intelligence to exploit.

One of Ian’s most memorable ideas became the idea of the ‘Target Force’, a unit whose sole mandate was to embed with liberating units and capture the most secure maps and documents and to use the information contained within to weaken and defeat the German and Axis enemy forces.

Multi-decorated British Special Branch Lieutenant Commander Ian Fleming was finally retired from active service in 1952.

Goldeneye Actual.

Some would say that’s when Ian Fleming’s work truly began. Ian had fallen in love with Saint Mary’s Parish on the island of Jamaica during the war. He bought land there and had an estate built, naming it Goldeneye in memory of one of his wartime ruses. This would be the ‘base’, the font from which would spring Ian’s most well-remembered character James Bond

While there is a fascination with Bond and Bourne, their activities are those of fiction. Jumping from balcony to balcony on skyscrapers separated by major highways, being able to shoot, run, climb and fight faster and farther than any other human – and all without superhuman attributes. Being able to call on one’s resources (whether car, motorcycle, ink pen or shoe) which had been expertly modified and outfitted as a laser, compass, or firearm with which to provide them the last-minute technical and tactical advantage to overcome a cunning adversary.

So What?

Each of the people I have outlined in today’s Lessons Learned were truly noble and amazing in their own lives. They enriched the lives of others when they acted, drew, wrote, or related tales of folks even greater than themselves.  

Each also understood the sociological value of the tales they were contributing, the stories they were acting out. Rather than being jaded by their experiences and forwarding stories of hate, death, and fear, each of these artists took their demons and fashioned their experiences into great works of passion and bravery with simple storylines about good overcoming evil.

Shel Silverstein worked on children’s books. Fröbe, Dahl, and Ian Fleming too. The last three came together in an adapted work from one of Ian’s kids’ book. One about a car that had magic attributes.

Fröbe was recruited to be the heavy. The leader of ‘Vulgaria’, a European autocracy where children are illegal. Through Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming’s imagination, the car, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang flew and floated and helped defeat cunning enemies by assisting Professor Caractacus Potts and his crew.

Remember, though, PTSD and war trauma sometimes lie just beneath the surface. Sometimes it leaks out.

In the screen adaptation, Fröbe is a hapless boob leading a crew of barely disguised Nazis to steal the magic car. Ian Fleming was a fan of auto racing and back in his day, the cars sported engines modeled from decommissioned fighter aircraft. Some of his and Roald Dahl’s military knowledge found its way into the story; apparently, so did some of the atrocities.

While threatening the spies (again only loosely masqueraded German secret police), Fröbe’s character “Baron Bomburst” warns the spies that if they fail that he will behead them. Pretty weighty for a kid’s film!

Later, when Fröbe as Bomburst encounters Caractacus Potts (Dick Van Dyke’s) father (actor Lionel Jeffries portraying Bungie Potts), Bomburst warns him that if the magic car doesn’t work, Bomburst will cut off Bungie Pott’s head, fill it with sauerkraut and feed it to his dogs.

Ian even added a shoutout to his literary style by naming Caractacus Potts’ love interest with a ‘Bond girl’ (or villainess) name, Truly Scrumptious played by British actress Sally Ann Howes in a role originally set to go to Julie Andrews.

So, next time you are watching a free movie and you find yourself laughing at Christopher Walken as ‘Clem’ in Joe Dirt, remember Fröbe.

Walken’s character changes his name to Gert. B. Fröbe while in witness protection. The name of the German actor who began our Lessons Learned. A real-life veteran and hero who became not only Baron Bombast but also Auric Goldfinger in the James Bond film Goldfinger. 

Remember that many of your favorite authors, actors, artists have all served in the military. Take special care and see if you can discover some of the breadcrumbs that they left intentionally or unintentionally in their art.  

Training changes behavior.

–           Greg


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