A Steampunk History of a World at War

Other steampunk

Lift Every Voice and Sing

Dieselpunk - July 4, 2020 - 6:31pm
Recently the NFL announced that they would play the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at the start of each game during Week 1 along with the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Many may not know that there is a strong Diesel Era connection with the song.

First, here's some background for those not familiar with the song. "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was originally a poem written by James Weldon Johnson in 1900. Later, in 1905, J. Rosamond Johnson, the brother of James Weldon Johnson, set it to music. The poem and song  “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” are written as a prayer of thanksgiving for freedom. “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” is found in numerous Christian hymnals across the US.

There are two Diesel Era connections to the song. The term “Black National Anthem” comes from when the NAACP dubbed it the “Negro National Anthem" in 1919. Later, in 1939, the African-American sculptor Augusta Savage received a commission from the New York World's Fair. She created a 16-foot plaster sculpture called “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which some called “The Harp.”  Unfortunately, because Savage lacked the funds to have it cast in bronze or to move it, the sculpture was destroyed when the fair closed.

Categories: Other steampunk

Postcards From The Past

Dieselpunk - June 27, 2020 - 9:09pm
As America of the 1930s came out of the dark ages of Prohibition, cocktails could finally be enjoyed legally again. With the return to legality, mixologists had greater access to quality spirits. The result was a boom in new and better cocktails for people to enjoy. With this renaissance in drinks came the growth of cocktail culture around the nation. 

The book Cocktails Across America by Diane Lapis and Anne Peck-Davis looks at the cocktail culture of the 1930s - 1950s. Not into cocktails? Don’t worry. Cocktails Across America is bursting full of images of postcards from that era on nearly every page. Each image of a postcard is of high quality and in full color. In the back of the book, there’s something extra. There are reproductions of several color postcards just as they were with both sides.

Cocktails Across America is a fun book that everyone can enjoy, even for the teetotalers. I highly recommend it.

Categories: Other steampunk

PMJ Pop-Up

Dieselpunk - June 14, 2020 - 9:04pm
Many of my readers are old enough to remember when MTV and its sister station VH1 used to play music. I remember one fun program that I enjoyed on VH1 was Pop-Up Videos. In VH1 Pop-Up Videos, while a popular music video played, little balloons would appear containing trivia and commentary about the song, the band, and the video.

I’m excited to report that Postmodern Jukebox has brought back the Pop-Up video. Their first pop-up video is Sweet Child O' Mine with the wonderful Miche Braden. Check it out:

Let’s hope that they make many more of these.
Categories: Other steampunk

D-Day Anniversary

Dieselpunk - June 7, 2020 - 8:29pm
"For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home." President Franklin D Roosevelt D-Day Prayer, June 6, 1944.

These are interesting times, both in real-world matters and in Dieselpunk. In the real world, we’ve seen people of all races join together in demands for racial justice. And in the Dieselpunk community, there have been conversations about the role of politics, if any, in the genre. As my readers know, I have my own thoughts on all of these topics and more. However, rather than write about such issues at this time, what’s needed is to step back and remember one of the pivotal moments in history: the D-Day invasion that took place on June 6, 1944.

Early in World War II, Germany invaded and occupied northwestern France. In 1941, the Allies planned for a cross-Channel invasion of the continent. The code name for the invasion was “Operation Overlord.” In November 1943, Adolf Hitler, who was aware of the threat of an invasion along France’s northern coast, charged Erwin Rommel with finishing the Atlantic Wall, a 2,400-mile fortification of bunkers, landmines, and beach and water obstacles

In January 1944, General Dwight Eisenhower was appointed commander of Operation Overlord. In the months and weeks before D-Day, the Allies carried out a massive deception operation intended to make the Germans think the main invasion target was Pas-de-Calais rather than Normandy. Also, they led the Germans to believe that Norway and other locations were also potential invasion targets. Many tactics were used to carry out the deception, including fake equipment, a phantom army commanded by George Patton and supposedly based in England, across from Pas-de-Calais, double agents, and fraudulent radio transmissions.

Initially, the date for Operation Overlord was June 5, 1944. However, bad weather on the days leading up to the operation caused it to be delayed. By dawn on June 6, as the meteorologists predicted, the weather had cleared. Thousands of paratroopers and glider troops were already on the ground behind enemy lines, securing bridges and exit roads. The amphibious invasions began at 6:30 a.m. The British and Canadians overcame light opposition to capture beaches codenamed Gold, Juno, and Sword, as did the Americans at Utah Beach. U.S. forces faced massive resistance at Omaha Beach, where there were over 2,000 American casualties. However, by day’s end, approximately 156,000 Allied troops had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches. According to some estimates, more than 4,000 Allied troops lost their lives in the D-Day invasion, with thousands more wounded or missing.

Less than a week later, on June 11, the beaches were fully secured, and over 326,000 troops, more than 50,000 vehicles, and some 100,000 tons of equipment had landed at Normandy.

By the end of August 1944, the Allies had reached the Seine River, Paris was liberated, and the Germans had been removed from northwestern France, effectively concluding the Battle of Normandy. The Allied forces then prepared to enter Germany, where they would meet up with Soviet troops moving in from the east.

On April 30, Hitler committed suicide while cowering in his bunker. A few days later, on May 8, 1945, the Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany.
Categories: Other steampunk

A Man Was Lynched Yesterday

Dieselpunk - May 30, 2020 - 7:00am
Jesse Washington was an African-American seventeen-year-old farmhand in Texas. In 1916, he was convicted of raping and murdering the wife of his white employer in rural Robinson, Texas. After the conviction, he was chained by his neck and dragged out of the county court by observers. He was then paraded through the street, all while being stabbed and beaten, before being held down and castrated. He was then lynched in front of Waco's city hall.

Over 10,000 spectators, including city officials and police, gathered to watch the attack. There was a celebratory atmosphere among whites at the spectacle of the murder. Many children attended during their lunch hour. Members of the mob cut off his fingers and hung him over a bonfire after saturating him with coal oil. He was repeatedly lowered and raised over the fire for about two hours. After the fire was extinguished, his charred torso was dragged through the town, and parts of his body were sold as souvenirs. A professional photographer took pictures as the event unfolded, providing rare imagery of a lynching in progress. The photographs were printed and sold as postcards in Waco.

In response to this horrific event, the NAACP developed a flag with white text, "A MAN WAS LYNCHED YESTERDAY" on a black background. This flag served as a means to protest the lynching of Washington and other African-Americans in the United States.

The NAACP flag exhibited by the Library of Congress
The flag was flown each day after news of a lynching reached the NAACP. It flew 73 times in the period for lynchings in the state of Georgia alone. The NAACP stopped the practice in 1938 after it was threatened with eviction by their landlords over the matter. The original flag survives and is now in the collection of the Library of Congress.
Categories: Other steampunk

Never Was Lounge

Dieselpunk - May 23, 2020 - 8:14pm

Dieselpunk owes its existence to certain individuals who not only helped spread the word of it during its early days but helped to hammer out what the genre would come to mean. We call them the Founding Fathers of Dieselpunk.

Nick Ottens is one of those Founding Fathers.

Nick Ottens continues to be active in Dieselpunk. His most recent project is a new online community named “Never Was Lounge.”

The Never Was Lounge has different rooms dedicated to various genre-punk topics such as Steampunk, Dieselpunk, and Atomicpunk. It also has rooms for discussions about Future (Cyberpunk, etc..)  and Creative Writing. There’s a room labeled Speakeasy where members can hang out and chat about whatever is on their minds.

Even though the world is starting to reopen, there will always be a need for online contact. That genie is out of the bottle and isn't going back in. The Never Was Lounge is a great opportunity for Dieselpunks to hang out online and share their thoughts with other retronauts.
Categories: Other steampunk

Hollywood Miniseries

Dieselpunk - May 16, 2020 - 7:00am
“What if you could rewrite the story?” - Hollywood miniseries slogan

The cornucopia of fresh small screen dieselpunk continues. One of the newest crops is the miniseries Hollywood on Netflix.

Set immediately after World War II, Hollywood follows the lives of several people hoping to make it big in the movies. The cast of characters consists of both fictional and real-life individuals.

Hollywood plays loose with history. Many critics have pointed out that Hollywood's portrayal of real-world individuals such as Rock Hudson and his agent Henry Wilson aren’t completely accurate.

However, Hollywood, while historical in setting, isn’t meant to be taken as history. It is, as one reviewer called it, “counterfactual.” Or as we would say, it’s Dieselpunk.

Hollywood was created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan. It has an all-star cast including Jim Parsons and Queen Latifah and more.
Categories: Other steampunk

The Seeds of War

Dieselpunk - May 9, 2020 - 7:00am
As I write this blog entry it’s May 8th of 2020, which marks the 75th anniversary of the surrender of Germany in World War 2. While it’s a day of celebration we must never forget the events that led to the war.

We can’t overstate the role of the Treaty of Versaille. At the end of the Great War, under intense pressure from the Allies, Germany signed the treaty that required massive reparations and required that they largely disarm. The treaty severely hampered the German economy and was a source of humiliation for the German people, which radicals used to their political advantage.

This leads us to another major factor in the cause of the war: economics. The German economy was devastated by the war. As it rebuilt it was heavily dependent upon foreign investment. When the Great Depression hit the United States the German economy was unable to stand on its own. Communist and fascist parties took advantage of the German economic problems to gain followers.

Out of fear of the Communists, the German Conservative political leaders created an informal alliance with the Nazi party. They thought the Nazis could be controlled. They were very much mistaken. Hitler, who had been appointed Chancellor, took advantage of the Reichstag fire to become dictator of Germany in 1933.

Germany wasn’t the only dictatorship of the Diesel Era. Many don’t realize that Fascism actually arose first in Italy in 1922. And Japan entered the Shōwa period seven years before the Nazi party came to power. While the Soviet Union wasn’t fascist it was certainly a dictatorship under Stalin, who consolidated his power in 1927.

During the Great War, Czechoslovakia had become an independent nation. Hitler wanted to annex the Sudetenland, an area in western Czechoslovakia where many Germans lived. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain wanted to appease Hitler and agreed to his demands for the Sudetenland after Hitler promised he would not demand more territory.

However, Hitler had no intention of settling for just the Sudetenland. In March of 1939, he seized the rest of Czechoslovakia and then moved on to seize Poland. The UK responded with an ultimatum to Germany to cease military operations, and on September 3rd, after the ultimatum was ignored, France and Britain, along with their empires, declared war on Germany. 

Looking back it can seem easy to spot the errors that led to the war. However, rather than passing judgment, we should strive to learn from their mistakes so as to try to avoid making them ourselves in the future.
Categories: Other steampunk


Dieselpunk - May 2, 2020 - 7:56pm
Recently the school board of the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Borough School District in Palmer, Alaska, voted to remove five of the twelve books on the 11th grade English reading list because they were considered to contain “controversial” content.

While we all should be concerned about censorship this action hits close to home for Dieselpunks. Four of the five books removed are set during the Diesel Era. Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sing begins in the 1930s and goes through the 1950s, Heller’s Catch-22 is set during World War II, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was written and is set in the early 1920s, and Ellison’s Invisible Man is set in the 1930s. The one book that doesn’t have a Diesel Era connection is O’Brien’s Only The Things They Carried, which involves the Vietnam War. 

There were numerous cases of censorship during the Diesel Era. Most are familiar with the book burnings by the Nazi regime in the 1930s. However, censorship wasn’t limited to Germany for America banned several books during the Diesel Era. America just wasn't as theatrical as the Germans. One of the worst offenders in America was the city of Boston. Boston in the 1920s banned Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. In addition, in the 1920s Boston also banned Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis, An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover D.H. Lawrence.

Censorship didn’t end in America after the 1920s.  The following were all banned in America during the Diesel Era: The Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (1934), The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939), Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor (1944), and Memoirs of Hecate County by Edmund Wilson (1946).  

The National Coalition Against Censorship has written to the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Borough School board to protest the removal of these books. You can read more about the NCAC protest here.
Categories: Other steampunk

Perry Mason Miniseries

Dieselpunk - April 25, 2020 - 7:30pm
"The way I see it... there's what's legal, and there's what's right." - Perry Mason (HBO Miniseries)

This is a great time for dieselpunks when it comes to small screen entertainment. My readers know that this month we have the Dieselpunk series Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels. Soon we’ll have some more Diesel Era goodness: Perry Mason.

According to the HBO website:

Set in 1932 Los Angeles, the series will focus on the origin story of famed defense lawyer Perry Mason, based on characters from Erle Stanley Gardner’s novels. Living check-to-check as a low-rent private investigator, Mason is haunted by his wartime experiences in France and suffering the effects of a broken marriage.

L.A. is booming while the rest of the country recovers from the Great Depression — but a kidnapping gone very wrong leads to Mason exposing a fractured city as he uncovers the truth of the crime.

The HBO miniseries will have some big names. The new Perry Mason series will star John Lithgow, Matthew Rhys, and Tatiana Maslany. Plus, one of the executive-producers will be Robert Downey Jr.

It's obvious that HBO’s Perry Mason is closer to the original novel than the long-running television series of the 1950s- 60s was. The first Perry Mason novel was The Case of the Velvet Claws published in 1933. In this novel Perry Mason describes himself:

You'll find that I'm a lawyer who has specialized in trial work, and in a lot of criminal work...I'm a specialist on getting people out of trouble. They come to me when they're in all sorts of trouble, and I work them out ... If you look me up through some family lawyer or some corporation lawyer, he'll probably tell you that I'm a shyster. If you look me up through some chap in the District Attorney's office, he'll tell you that I'm a dangerous antagonist but he doesn't know very much about me.

Perry Mason is scheduled to debut on HBO on June 21, 2020.
Categories: Other steampunk

Mint Julep Jazz Band

Dieselpunk - April 18, 2020 - 7:00am
You gotta love streaming media services. I’ve gotten in late on Spotify, which is free to download and play. I’m glad that I finally joined it because I’ve found some great Dieselpunk music.

One of my favorites is Spotify’s “Mint Julep Jazz Band Radio.” Just as the name implies, this Spotify ‘radio station’ plays tunes from not only the Mint Julep Jazz Band but by others of the same style. The result is a fantastic mix of tunes from bands such as Naomi and Her Handsome Devils, the California Feetwarmers, the Boilermaker Jazz Band, the Hot Sugar Band, and many more.  

Mint Julep Jazz Band in concert.For those unfamiliar with the Mint Julep Jazz Band, it’s a ‘little big band’ out of Durham, North Carolina consisting of just 4 horns, a rhythm section, and vocalist Laura Windley. They may be small but the Mint Julep Jazz Band carries a wallop with the sound of a full-size big band that successfully recreates the hot jazz sounds of the 1920′s, 1930's, and early 1940s. They play not only classic Jazz Age tunes but their own originals.

You ought to check out the Mint Julep Jazz Band Radio on Spotify. You’ll be glad that you did.
Categories: Other steampunk

Homefront Retro

Dieselpunk - April 11, 2020 - 10:45pm
“All art is propaganda; on the other hand, not all propaganda is art.” — George Orwell

Governments have long used propaganda posters. This is especially true during times of crisis. Sometimes they’re used to boost morale while others are used to motivate their people.

There are two examples that come to mind. One was “Keep Calm and Carry On” by the British government:

Another was “We Can Do It!” by the US government:

Today as nations around the world struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve seen several artists who’ve created retro art that reflect the great propaganda posters from World War II. Some of the most impressive are the retro posters by Touchwood Design, INC. You can see more retro posters at their web site.

Categories: Other steampunk

Dieselpunk Novel: In Plain Sight

Dieselpunk - April 5, 2020 - 9:21pm
“Dan Willis is an awesome writer and you should buy this book.” - NYT bestselling author Larry Correia.

If you combine pulp noir with magic the result is the dieselpunk novel In Plain Sight, which is book one of the Arcane Casebook series by Dan Willis. Set in an alternate 1930s where magic is real, the protagonist, Alex Lockerby, is a private eye who uses runes (magical sketches) along with old fashion detective skills to solve crimes.

According to Amazon,
“When a magical plague is released in a Depression-era New York soup kitchen, private detective Alex Lockerby finds himself in a desperate hunt to catch a madman before he can strike again.”

Dan Willis successfully blends the Jazz Age with magic to create a world that’s both familiar and magical. There are currently four books in the Arcane Casebook series with the most recent just released this year. I’ve been enjoying In Plain Sight and I very much look forward to reading the sequels. 
Categories: Other steampunk

Special Post - America In Crisis

Dieselpunk - March 28, 2020 - 8:44pm
Normally, I post every other week. However, as America responds to the Covid-19 pandemic I thought I would write an extra blog post to help understand the current crisis from a historical perspective.

The Spanish flu of 1918 - 1920 was one of the deadliest pandemics America has ever seen. An estimated 675,000 Americans are thought to have died. The Spanish flu was different than most in that the young were heavily impacted. Mortality was high in people younger than 5 years old and those who were 20-40 years old.

When the Spanish flu first appeared mid-September of 1918 it was thought to be simply the spread of the common flu. However, by late September it had begun to spread throughout the civilian population with devastating consequences.

The spread of the disease was helped by the fact that several governments failed to follow the advice given by the young science of pathogenic microorganisms. For example, according to John M. Barry, author of The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, the public health director for the city of Philadelphia, PA, Wilmer Krusen, thought people could lower their risk of catching Spanish Flu by staying warm, keeping their feet dry and their “bowels open.”

Even in 1918, it was understood that what today we call “social distancing” would help slow the spread of disease. However, as the rate of civilian cases grew, Krusen still refused to heed the warnings of infectious disease experts and ignored calls by the medical community to limit gatherings. Rather than cancel the upcoming Liberty Loan Parade that was to take place on September 28 Krusen decided that it should still take place.

The parade had horrifying consequences. The number of Spanish flu cases in Philadelphia exploded overnight. In less than three days after the parade, all of the hospitals in Philadelphia were full. And by the end of the week, 2,600 people were dead.

Another failure was San Francisco, CA. The city health officials claimed that gauze masks were “99 percent proof against influenza.” They weren’t alone in this belief. The governor of California declared that it was the “patriotic duty of every American citizen” to wear a mask. San Francisco took this to the next level and made it a law. Someone caught in San Francisco in public without a mask would be arrested on a charge of “disturbing the peace” and fined $5.

Sure, in the early days of the pandemic San Francisco had a low rate of infection. Later studies have shown that the reason wasn’t the masks but was likely due to the closing of the naval installations before the pandemic appeared, a city ban on social gatherings as well as the closing of all places of “public amusement.”

In November the city officials thought that the pandemic was over. As a result, they rescinded the order to wear masks and the various bans on social gatherings and entertainment. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

In January of 1919, a third wave of the Spanish flu struck San Francisco. When the city officials tried to reinstate the ban on social gatherings and public entertainment, the business community protested and the city caved. The result was San Francisco saw some of the highest death rates from the Spanish flu of any American city. An analysis in 2007 found that 90% of the deaths in San Francisco could have been prevented had the bans been maintained.

Not every American city handled the Spanish flu crisis as poorly as Philadelphia and San Francisco. There were some cities that got it right. One such city was St. Louis, MO.

Even before the first case in the city was reported St. Louis the city health commissioner, Dr. Max Starkloff, placed local physicians on high alert. He also wrote an editorial in a local newspaper (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) about the importance of avoiding crowds.

When the Spanish flu cases started to spread from nearby military barracks to the civilian population Starkloff took additional steps. He immediately closed schools, movie theaters, and pool halls. He also placed a ban on all public gatherings. Unlike San Francisco, when businesses balked he stood his ground. As the number of infections grew, Starkloff took the pressure off the hospitals by having the infected treated at home by volunteer nurses. The result was that the St Louis hospital system was never overwhelmed.

The same 2007 analysis of Spanish flu death records mentioned earlier shows how the response by the city of St. Louis' saved lives. At its peak, the mortality rate in St. Louis was only one-eighth of Philadelphia’s. While many lives were still lost, the city of St. Louis, to use modern terminology, “flattened the curve.”

George Santayana is credited with the aphorism that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Hopefully, we can learn from our ancestors and take the needed steps to save lives.
Categories: Other steampunk

Babylon Berlin

Dieselpunk - March 21, 2020 - 6:00am
During times like these Netflix is a blessing from the gods. One of the great series on it is the crime drama Babylon Berlin.

Babylon Berlin is a German neo-noir television series based on novels by author Volker Kutscher. The series takes place in Berlin during the Weimar Republic in the late 1920s. The central characters are Gereon Rath, a police inspector on assignment from Cologne who is on a secret mission to dismantle an extortion ring, and Charlotte Ritter, police clerk by day, flapper by night, who is aspiring to become a police inspector.

Babylon Berlin realistically captures Berlin during the Weimar Republic. It was a time when crime, drug abuse, and prostitution had largely taken over the city. In many ways, Berlin of the Twenties was the embodiment of the Dark Deco style of Dieselpunk. The only thing missing is retrofuture tech to make Babylon Berlin Dieselpunk.

Germany, of course, got to view season 3 back in January. For those of us here in the States Netflix recently loaded season 3 of Babylon Berlin just this month.

I’m a big fan of Babylon Berlin and I highly recommend it to any Dieselpunk.
Categories: Other steampunk
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