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*** Paranoia seems a vital personality trait for fascist dictators. Mussolini had his own son-in-law executed (just because he was plotting against Il Duce, who had no sense of humor) and now, it seems, Fransisco Franco was terrified that Hitler was going to have him kidnapped. At least, that’s the contention by Franco’s daughter in a new book, Franco, My Father by Carmen Franco Polo. The ‘plot’, if there was one, would have been for the Germans to kidnap Franco (one doubts that Hitler himself was going to do the dirty work) and force Spain into World War II. Aside from the fact that Spain was in even worse shape to help the Axis than Italy, and having Italy as an ally was equivalent to walking the streets with a boat anchor tied to your left foot, one can only wonder how many scarce resources Spain would have needed from Germany just to mount anything approaching an effective war effort.

But while I poke fun at this absurd notion, it should be remembered that when Hungary wanted to pull out of the war in 1944 as the Red Army poured over its eastern borders, Hitler did have Admiral Horthy’s family kidnapped to blackmail him into not surrendering. Could Franco have possibly been right?

Nah.

Did Franco hide in the closet?

*** Guam. Beautiful island in the Central Pacific, near Tinian. And yes, for the record, if you buy me a vacation there as a gift, I will happily accept.

Guam was an American possession when World War II began, a sleepy but vital backwater that few in the US had ever heard of, but the US Navy knew its important and so did the Japanese. They seized it immediately and spent the next almost 3 years exploiting the population. In a new book, Guam and Japanese, Makoto Yamaguchi details the history of this brutal occupation for the benefit of the nearly 1 million Japanese who visit Guam yearly for vacations.

One Japanese owns up to history

*** The name ‘Titanic’ inspires emotion even to this day, almost 97 years after the great ship went down. Much worse ship sinkings have happened since but you never hear about those. Titanic, on the other hand, is stamped on the culture.

On December 17th Sotheby’s will be auctioning a rare hand-written account of the tragedy. Archie Jewell, the watchman who was the first to be alerted to the danger of ice, wrote to his sister detailing his experiences. Expected to bring upwards of $35,000, I imagine that even in today’s economy it will sell for more than that. Historical ephemera is just as good of a long term investment as valuable books, if history is any guide.

Jewell, by the way, was also aboard Titanic’s sister ship, Britannic, when she sank. I’m betting they didn’t let him anywhere near the last of the three, Olympic.

*** Paradise wasn’t so much lost as it was displayed and digitized, and for that we may be grateful. If you’re a Milton fan, or if you love really great websites about really cool historical exhibitions, check this out:

A damned amazing library

One library in New York is hosting an exhibition of Paradise Lost and even if you cannot attend in person, viewing it online is still a profound experience.

*** Now come the lists. Timesonline is first with their list of the best History books of 2008. I don’t know if they are the best or not, I just know that I would love to read all but one of them.

Timesonline’s 10 best history books of 2008