The Earliest BTRs

I remember reading through a coffee table book on armored vehicles when I was very young and being strangely intrigued by the BTR-40 and BTR-152 APCs. Yes, they were just armored trucks, but armored trucks still looked so much different and weird than the later purpose-built APCs on both sides of the inter-German border. The contrast between the advanced IFVs I’ve taken to amalgamating as “BMPradleys” couldn’t be any more different.

Perhaps because of their relative lack of capability, at least one field regulation document lists APCs and ordinary motor vehicles interchangeably. And that’s understandable, there’s only so much you can write about an armored truck with a machine gun on top. Yet compared to nothing, an armored truck with a machine gun on top is quite the advance.

Since then, there’s been no shortage of truck-chassis APCs from manufacturers around the world. I guess it’s the next step up from the basic technical/jeep.

The GWRBI

Baseball is a sport full of statistics, and there’s one weird footnote of a stat that was, from 1980 to 1988, elevated to prominence. This was the Game Winning Run Batted In. Defined simply as “The RBI that gives a club the lead it never relinquishes” , it existed but never felt that prominent. The career leader in GWRBIs during this period was Keith Hernandez.

“Normal” RBIs were one of the first stats that sabermetricians slammed, and with good reason. The stat is simply too context-dependent and reliant on how good at getting on base the players batting before the RBI hitter are. Rickey Henderson didn’t have that many RBIs because he was always a leadoff hitter, so the bases were either empty or he appeared after the team’s worst hitters. GWRBIs have that and the same “reliant on the other half off the inning” issue as pitcher wins. And while meant to embody the likes of Bill Mazeroski’s famous home run, the definition of a GWRBI means that a marginal player singling in the first run early in an 11-0 squash is also credited with it.

So few people mourned the stat when it was discontinued. Yet I have a strange affection for it, for while near-useless for evaluating players, it reveals a little about the paths of individual games.

Hanover The Key

One thing I’ve noticed in the admittedly small number of conventional/mostly conventional World War III stories is that the decisive make-or-break battle is fought in the vicinity of Hanover, West Germany. And I have to ponder how much of it is realistic, how much of it is a coincidence (since there’s only so much room and it is in the northern sector) and how much of it is literary license.

The Big Baseball Business What-If

There’s an underappreciated what-if concerning the business of baseball that I’ve considered worth exploring. Too much sports alternate history simply shuffles players, teams, and outcomes around. It feels both obvious and unsatisfying to me, the equivalent of the Red Sox unloading not just Babe Ruth but the entire core of what would become the 1923 champions on the Yankees or the A’s “Mustache Gang” all leaving in free agency when they got the chance. This is something different and could have changed the entire business model to be more like what’s in our time a vastly different type of sports.

In the 1950s, the Dodgers were intrigued by a company called Skiatron, offering pay-TV services. The technology did exist at the time but was very rudimentary. The possiblities were obvious. After all, even at a dollar per game, a six figure audience could translate to that much every home game, a huge sum at the time.

In OTL, this did not come to pass in this form. Besides the obvious ferocious opposition from the existing broadcasting industry, Skiatron’s technology and finances just weren’t viable at the time. But if something like that could be done (and I don’t know the exact plausibility-I’m not that kind of technical expert), it would be, no pun intended, a game changer. The obvious is that there’d be a big jolt of money, getting the historical broadcast windfall in earlier.

There are easy ramifications. There’d be more money in the sport, which would increase the pressure by players to get more of the growing pie for themselves. A historically unsuccessful team that used this to its advantage would result in the championship races being different. But there’s also more thoughtful ones.

One on-the-field change I could see resulting from this could be in pitcher usage. Here I’m kind of extrapolating from the “overworked for the sake of attendance” policy of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych (which may have contributed to his severe injury). I’m also extrapolating from boxing and MMA, which historically have leaned the most on PPVs. Put simply, more people have been willing to pay to see Connor McGregor than to see Valentina Shevchenko. And I’d bet more people would be more willing to see Sandy Koufax than Ned Garver.

Another, sleazier one is the notion of small-market/poor team owners simply giving up and advertising the players on the opposing team for the PPV spectacle. “Hey, [Small City], do you want to see the Yankees? The Dodgers? The [other good team with an exciting player]?” There are possibilities here.

The Thriller Genre Is Bigger Than I Thought

The raw scope of the “cheap thriller” is just something I legitimately did not understand when I started this blog. It’s gotten to the point where I’m still astounded by it. As I’ve said before, the huge number of reviews here labeled “action hero” speak for themselves.

So does me not recognizing many author names. And I’m not talking about has-beens, obscure internet writers, or people in genres I don’t really follow. Take Barry Eisler, a hugely successful author whose books even earned a film adaption-and yet I only found out about him recently. And he’s probably not alone.

Of course, the huge number of reviews here labeled “action hero” also indicate my continued enjoyment of such books…

You Can’t Have George Ruth Without George Smith

Yesterday 91 years ago, the first inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame were announced. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, and Christy Mathewson went in. While the Hall arguments have become rather… divisive, it’s hard to argue with any of those choices.

And then there’s George Smith, a pitcher in the 1920s who was a rare concrete example of a “replacement-level” player. Smith’s most notable career feat was giving up a really long home run to Babe Ruth in spring training. Then there’s another George Smith, another pitcher in the 1920s who was also replacement-level, although this George Smith was primarily a reliever (and a wild pitcher, as his walk rate even by the high standards of the time shows).

While the ceiling and the basement can draw interest, the most fascinating historical players for me are those in the so-called “Hall of Very Good”, the kind that make the Hall ballot, get single-digit support at best, yet still had excellent careers by “normal” standards. In some way it’s unfair to them, as some of them do, to actually make the Hall of Fame, as they go from “great player” to “bad Hall of Famers”.

Gulf War Anniversary

On the 30th anniversary of the 1991 Gulf War, I have these things to say.

  • The question of how successful the Iraqis could have been if they’d attacked into Saudi Arabia during the earlier part of Desert Shield is an open and disputed one. Even after the historical war, American commanders had different opinions.
  • While I believe it played a role in the decline of the technothriller, I don’t want to overstate it. According to the analysis of bestseller charts by Nader Elhefnawy, the technothriller was already on its way down significantly in 1990. My opinion is that it wasn’t the one-sided nature of the war so much as how it made high technology weapons look routine and normal.
  • Another part of this belief is that “big war thrillers” both continued to be published post-1991 (Cauldron, The Sixth Battle, etc…), and that they were always very rare to begin with.
  • Of course, I don’t think the Gulf War helped the technothriller either.
  • The very first time I used the word “Fuldapocalypse” was in a message board post on the Gulf War, where I mentioned the Americans were “revved up for a Fuldapocalypse“. It turned out to inspire the name of this blog.

The Beginning of Conventional WW3 Plans

I’ve talked sometimes about the “you’ve seen so many imitators that the original doesn’t seem so original” effect with regards to fiction. When reading this translated, declassified 1969 Soviet lecture on conventional operations after the monomanical focus on nuclear weapons earlier that decade, I’ve found it applied to history as well. Because a lot of it just seems like later pieces on how a large force would fight conventionally. And there’s more interesting things to it as well.

  • “A future world war is first and foremost a nuclear war.” Similar pieces illustrate that while the Soviets had made plans under the assumption that a World War III would start conventionally, they did not believe that it would end conventionally.
  • This is for front and army level operations, with one frequently replacing the other. This I’ve seen a lot of in translated Soviet field regulations, to include two unit names being used interchangeably, one an echelon below the other. The assumption I’ve always had is that it’s a concession to heavy casualties because your “front” will quickly be worn down to the size of a paper-strength army, your army worn to a paper-strength division, and so on. I could be wrong.
  • The stated rate of advance is 35-40 kilometers a day, a slightly lower one than their later 40-60.
  • Airborne forces are to be used.
  • The “going over to nuclear weapons” section specifically brings up the opponent pushing the button as soon as they start losing badly.
  • With typical Soviet precision, the article estimates “A fighter bomber division is capable, in one day of combat with two to three sorties, of inflicting destruction (up to 20 percent losses) on one to two enemy brigades.”
  • As always, there’s the boilerplate necessary propaganda statements and the obligatory (if quite understandable) reference to World War II.

Weird Wargaming: Artificial Humans

Ok, this is one of the weirdest Weird Wargamings yet, and it depends entirely on what ruleset is being used. Basically, one of my loves is “artificial humans“. The boring thing to do would be to treat them as either normal humans or robots. But there was one attempt at going beyond that.

Now in Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade, the morphs are treated just like normal units with one exception-all of them, even the strongest, have zero luck. Zero luck means that they have lower hit and dodge rates mixed with massive opponent critical rates. That can definitely be incorporated into various tabletop rules.

Of course, it can make some sense to give them higher stats in other categories to compensate for that. It all depends on what the theme of these artificial humans are. They can be everything from super to expendable, as the Fire Emblem morphs are.

The Most Prominent World War III Books

So what World War III novels have had the most effect on me? Let me see…

Red Storm Rising

Yes, this starts with Tom Clancy and Larry Bond’s epic. I shouldn’t have to explain it. However, there’s stuff I’ve noticed that I might as well share about it. It may be the most prominent book, but it really hasn’t made that many copycats. Hackett is the greater “template” in terms of the war’s conduct. RSR has the war stay conventional from start to finish, and most others have plotnukes of some kind. RSR has an invasion of Iceland that not a lot of other ones have. It’s a little strange that the more dry Hackett has had the most influence on future narratives while the more conventional book of RSR has had more on future wargames, but that’s how it went.

The Red Line

This has significance I totally missed when I first read it. I could understand that creating a weird backstory to have an 198X war in the “present” was there to make it more marketable. Yet it was only after seeing that alternate history WWIIIs have very few works and none by big names that I saw it was arguably necessary. This is why broad perspective is important!

Team Yankee

This I think put the first nail in the “litmus test” coffin. See, my pet peeves were “it has to be bad if it has lots of technical descriptions and lots of viewpoint characters.” Team Yankee had those. And it wasn’t bad at all. Which makes sense in hindsight because it’s still ultimately a star-spangled cheap thriller and cheap thrillers rely near-completely on execution.

Red Army

Oh, it’s just the best World War III novel of all time, in my opinion.

“Effect” series

By reading Harvey Black’s novels so soon after Red Storm Rising, they played a big role in convincing me that the conventional World War III field was bigger than it actually was. I guess it’s like watching two baseball games with knuckleball pitchers back to back, and not seeing any more games for a while after that.

Survivalist: Total War

See, Jerry Ahern’s massive opus technically counts as a World War III novel. And when I read it, I saw something so totally different, a ridiculous and amazing “Western Fist of the North Star”. This book basically made Fuldapocalypse what is now.

Kirov Series

What I found the most likeable about these books was that they worked (to me) while having everything I thought I’d dislike about everything. The pure audacity of the series, and how it uses wargaming sandboxes in a style I’m familiar with makes up for well, a lot of stuff. Even the most mundane and legitimately worst arc in the series is still the result of time travel shenanigans.