The World of Christian Cameron

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On the first of April, 1990, I was in the back right seat of an S–3b Viking, flying a routine anti–submarine warfare flight off the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. But we were not just anywhere. We were off the coast of Turkey, and in one flight we passed Troy, or rather, Hisarlik, Anatolia. Later that afternoon, we passed down the coast of Lesbos and all along the coast of what Herodotus thought of as Asia. Back in my stateroom, on the top bunk (my bunk, as the most junior officer) was an open copy of the Iliad.

I will never forget that day, because there’s a picture on my wall of the Sovremennyy class destroyer Okrylennyy broadside on to the mock harpoon missile I fired on her from well over the horizon using our superb ISAR radar. Of course there was no Homeric deed of arms—the Cold War was dying, or even dead—but there was professional triumph in that hour and the photo of the ship, framed against the distant haze of the same coastline where Mykale and Troy were fought, will decorate my walls until my shade goes down to the underworld.

I think that Killer of Men was born there. I love the Greek and Turkish Aegean, and the history of it. Before Saddam Hussein wrecked it in August, my carrier battle group had a near perfect summer, cruising the wine–dark sea where the Greeks and Persians fought.

But it may have been born when talking to various Vietnam veterans, returning from that war—a war that may not have been worse than any other war, but loomed large in my young consciousness of conflict. My grandfather and my uncle—both veterans—said things, when they thought I wasn’t around, that led me to suspect that while many men can be brave, some men are far more dangerous in combat than others.

And still later, I was privileged to serve with various men from the Special Operations world, and I came to know that even among them—the snake eaters—there were only a few who were the killers. I listened to them talk, and I wondered what kind of a man Achilles really was. Or Hector. And I began to wonder what made them, and what kept them at it, and the thought stayed with me while I flew and served in Africa and saw various conflicts and the effects that those conflicts have on all the participants, from the first Gulf war to Rwanda and Zaire.

Killer of Men is my attempt to understand the inside of such men.

Killer of Men was both very easy and very hard to write. I have thought about this book since 1990 in some way or other; when I sat down to put my thoughts into the computer, the book seemed to write itself, and even now, when I type these final words, I am amazed at how much of it seemed to be waiting, pre–written, inside my head. But the devil is still in the details, and my acknowledgements are all about the investigation and research of those details.

The broad sweep of the history of the Ionian Revolt is really known to us only from Herodotus and to a vastly lesser extent from Thucydides. I have followed Herodotus in almost every respect, except for the details of how the tiny city–state of Plataea came to involve herself with Athens. That, to be frank, I made up—although it is based on a theory evolved over a hundred conversations with amateur and professional historians. First and foremost, I have to acknowledge the contribution of Nicolas Cioran, who cheerfully discussed Plataea’s odd status every day as we worked out in a gymnasium, and sometimes fought sword to sword. My trainer and constant sparring partner John Beck deserves my thanks—both for a vastly improved physique, and for helping give me to a sense of what real training for a life of violence might have been like in the ancient world. And my partner in the re–invention of ancient Greek xiphos fighting, Aurora Simmons, deserves at least equal thanks.

Among professional historians, I was assisted by Paul McDonnell–Staff and Paul Bardunias, by the entire brother and sisterhood of “Roman Army talk” and the web community there, and by the staff of the Royal Ontario Museum (who possess and cheerfully shared the only surviving helmet attributable to the Battle of Marathon) as well as the staff of the Antikenmuseum Basel und Sammlung Ludwig who possess the best preserved ancient aspis and provided me with superb photos to use in recreating it. I also received help from the library staff of the University of Toronto, where, when I’m rich enough, I’m a student, and from Toronto’s superb Metro Reference Library. Every novelist needs to live in a city where universal access to JSTOR is free and on his library card. Finally, the staff of the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, Maryland—just across the street from my mother’s apartment, conveniently—were cheerful and helpful, even when I came back to look at the same helmet for the sixth time.

Excellent as professional historians are—and my version of the Persian Wars owes a great deal to many of them, not least Hans Van Wees and Victor Davis Hanson—my greatest praise and thanks have to go to the amateur historians we call reenactors. Giannis Kadoglou of Thessoloniki volunteered to spend two full days driving around the Greek countryside, from Athens to Plataea and back, charming my five–year–old daughter and my wife while translating everything in sight and being as delighted with the ancient town of Plataea as I was myself. I met him on Roman Army talk, and this would be a very different book without his passion for the subject and relentless desire to correct my errors.

But Giannis is hardly alone, and there is—literally—a phalanx of Greek reenactors who helped me. Here in my part of North America, we have a group called the Plataeans—this is, trust me, not a coincidence—and we work hard on recreating the very time period and city–state so prominent in these books, from weapons, armor, and combat to cooking, crafts, and dance. If the reader feels that these books put flesh and blood on the bare bone of history–in as much as I’ve succeeded in doing that–it is due to the efforts of the men and women who reenact with me and show me every time we’re together all the things I haven’t thought of—who do their own research, their own kit–building, and their own training. Thanks to all of you, Plataeans. And to all the other Ancient Greek reenactors who helped me find things, make things, or build things.

Thanks are also due to the people of Lesvos and Athens and Plataea—I can’t name all of you, but I was entertained, informed, and supported constantly in three trips to Greece, and the person who I can name is Aliki Hamosfakidou of Dolphin Hellas Travel for her care, interest, and support through many hundreds of e–mails and some meetings.

In a professional line, I would like to acknowledge the debt I owe to Mr. Tim Waller, my copy–editor, whose knowledge of language—both this one and Ancient Greek—always makes me feel humble. He’s pretty good at east and west, too. Thanks to him, this book is better than it would ever have been without him.

Bill Massey, my editor at Orion, found the two biggest errors in this story and made me fix them, and again, it is a better book for his work. A much better book. Oh, and he found a lot of other errors, too, but let’s not mention them. I have had a few editors. Working with Bill is wonderful. Come on, authors—how many of you get to say that?

My agent, Shelley Power, contributed more directly to this book than to any other—first, as an agent, in all the usual ways, and then later, coming to Greece and taking part in all of the excitement of seeing Lesbos and Athens and taking us to Archaeon Gefsis, a restaurant that attempts to take the customer back to the ancient world. Thanks for everything, Shelley, and the dinner not the least!

Christine Szego and the staff and management of my local bookstore, Bakka–Phoenix of Toronto also deserve my thanks, as I tend to walk in a spout fifteen minutes worth of plot, character, dialogue, or just news—writing can be lonely work, and it is good to have people to talk to. And they throw a great book launch.

As usual, this book was written, almost every word, at the Luna Café in Toronto, where I sit at my table, take up another table with Barrington’s Classical Atlas, and despite that, get served superb coffee, good humor and excellent food all day.

It is odd, isn’t it, that authors always save their families for last? Really, it’s the done thing. So I’ll do it, too, even though my wife should get mentioned at every stage—after all, she’s a reenactor, too, she had useful observations on all kinds of things we both read (Athenian textiles is what really comes to mind, though) and in addition, more than even Ms. Szego, Sarah has to listen to the endless enthusiasms I develop about history while writing (the words “Did you know” probably cause her more horror than anything else you can think of). My daughter, Beatrice, is also a reenactor, and her ability to portray the life of a real child is amazing. My father, Kenneth Cameron, taught me most of what I know about writing, and continues to provide excellent advice—and to listen to my complaints about the process which may be the greater service.

Having said all that, it’s hard to say what exactly I can lay claim to, if you like this book. I had a great deal of help, and I appreciate it. Thanks. And when you find mis–spelled words, sailing directions reversed, and historical errors—why, then you’ll know that I, too, had something to add. Because all the errors are solely mine.

Toronto, March, 2010