FILM TREATMENT/HISTORICAL NOVEL — “VLASOV’S ARMY”
My principal current project is hammering out a film treatment/historical novel for my agent to pitch. The story line is a World War II thriller that is based on the true-to-life tragic story of the Russian Liberation Army. Tentatively titled “Vlasov’s Army,” the plot centers on a young Lithuanian-American, Luke Senkus, who returns to his former homeland to visit his grandfather just as World War II breaks out. Luke finds himself conscripted into the Soviet army and is ultimately assigned to the staff of Andrei Vlasov, a high-ranking Russian general and national hero. Vlasov and troops are captured by the Germans, and the general finds himself and thousands of other Soviet POWS into the uncomfortable position of opting to become Nazi collaborators or rotting away in a German POW camp. Vlasov hopes that he can persuade German commanders to use his army to topple Stalin, who Vlasov believes has betrayed the true ideals and goals of the communist movement. Luke, whose initial goal is to return home, does an about face and increasingly finds himself drawn into Vlasov’s Russian liberation movement. Though the persons, events, and basic story are based on fact, the film’s central character (Luke) is fictional. His adventures as an aide to general Vlasov as both men pursue their individual quests is the heart of the story.
FORTHCOMING BIOGRAPHY OF ALGER HISS!
The Lives of Alger Hiss: The Myths, the Masks, the Man. In 1948, Whittaker Chambers, a moon-faced Timemagazine editor and former courier for the Soviet underground, accused Alger Hiss, a distinguished former State Department official and at the time the patrician head of the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace, of having been a secret Communist in the 1930s. Chambers soon expanded his allegation to include espionage. The resulting two perjury trials of Alger Hiss and the emergence of the “Hiss-Chambers controversy,” as it came to be called, rocked America. The trails transfixed and eventually transformed the nation, and they became a symbol of the U.S. struggle with domestic and worldwide communism.
In what one advance reviewer claims will be “the most insightful and complete, full-scale biography of Alger Hiss since his death in 1996,” this book draws from once secret KGB files, the Hiss Family Papers, and previously untapped sources to provide telling insights into the life of one of the most important and enigmatic figures of the 20th century. Here also is a fresh interpretation of the celebrated Hiss-Chambers case. To this day, students of the Hiss-Chambers controversy argue over the fascinating twists and turns of the case: microfilm of State Department documents hidden in a pumpkin…a possibly forged typewriter…George Crosley’s twisted teeth…a revealing confession by a secret homosexual. Who was Alger Hiss? Was he a Soviet spy, as much evidence today suggests? And if so, what motivated him to engage in espionage? The book is currently in the hands of my agent and is under review by several commercial publishers.
A condensed version of chapters 2, 3 and 4 titled “The Apprenticeship of Alger Hiss” will be published in July 2013 by the NOW AND THEN READER, an online publication that makes available original nonfiction books and essays for Kindle, Nook, iPad, and other popular e-readers. Watch for an announcment on this webpage in coming weeks as to how you can order it!
OK, here is a book that I’ve been contemplating for a long time: I’ve long been fascinated by the act of betrayal and treason, and I’ve devoted considerable thought to the question of what motivates a person to betray his or her nation? Rebecca West, in her now classic work, The Meaning of Treason, advances a naïve and simplistic view (not to mention her offensive moral observations) about the motivations and actions of some of history’s most celebrated traitors. She suggests that a traitor’s action can often be explained through application of the time-tested MICE theory: that is, traitors do what they do because of the influence of Money, Ideology, Compromise, and/or Ego.
The decision to commit treason, however, is not always so simple, and rarely is taken lightly, or without considerable thought, by the person contemplating the act. History is replete with examples of brave, if not tortured, souls who are branded as traitors after taking an action that required great soul-searching and inward reflection. Men like John Brown, whose daring act of treason against the U.S. government served as the catalyst for the American Civil War. His so-called “treachery” brought the nation to the brink of war and set off a chain of events that helped to abolish the brutal institution of slavery. Was Brown really a traitor? Perhaps to the state of Virginia, but not in his fealty to a higher, moral authority.
The great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer provides another example of a man who both before and during World War II denounced his German countrymen for their acquiescence to the Fuhrer. Bonhoeffer declared that Hitler was corrupting and grossly misleading the nation. Bonhoeffer’s love of God and his belief in the inherent goodness of mankind enabled him to legitimize the actions he took against the Nazi state. Although Bonhoeffer’s treason resulted in his execution at a concentration camp just days before the collapse of the Nazi regime, certainly his higher loyalty to Christian principles reveals a legitimate justification for his betrayal of the Fatherland.
Other cases in a similar vein include the Christian martyrs of the English Reformation who put their loyalty to God above fealty to the secular authority of the British crown. And what of one’s own loyalty to friends and family? Are we to dismiss out of hand the bond of blood and family? Maybe there is some truth underlying Graham Greene’s question to his generation: “Who among us has not committed treason to something or someone more important than a country?”
In a series of case study essays, focusing on the lives of some well-known and some lesser known traitors, my book project (still untitled) will examine the lives and motives of a number of brave individuals whose decision to commit treason is not easily explained by the sophomoric MICE thesis. I will argue that West’s theory irresponsibly comingles legitimate dissent with disloyalty, and as a consequence, brands some patriots as traitors. The fact is that no simplistic explanation can answer why some people take action against what appears to be their own best interests. Are some following what the Quakers call the “Inner Light?” Is that “still, small voice” that came to Elijah, as recounted in the Old Testament, the force that may lead someone to pay homage to a more transcendent loyalty than that of one owed to a nation-state?
YET ANOTHER BOOK?
If those two projects are not enough to keep me busy, I would really like to set aside a few weeks to re-assess the case of Harry Dexter White and to update the case in light of new evidence derived from the KGB archives and elsewhere. Much new information has come to light since 1994 when the book was first published, and I’d like to clarify some of my earlier thoughts about the case, to make some corrections of relatively minor, factual errors that careful readers have pointed out, and to write a new conclusion in light of the new evidence. Perhaps an on-line e-book version would suffice, should the University Press of Kansas be willing.