Spinning tales on a war that never was
(Mar. 29, 1994)
When Michael Palmer completes a book-writing project, his usual practice is to throw his reference notes away. But for now, the ECU history professor is holding on to the notes and drafts from his newly published book “The War That Never Was.” There may be questions later, serious questions, about how a fiction writer knows so much about military strategies and the mechanics of war.
Palmer’s book, published in March by Vandamere Press, is a blow-by-blow description of a conventional weapons war between the United States and Russia in 1999. The book is fiction, of course, but the military strategies, machines and weapons, that Palmer describes, are real.
Some of the details, he said, came from a copy of “Jane’s Fighting Ships,” a reference book on naval ships and their weapons. But the rest of the information was gleaned from his first-hand observations and his eight years of research as a Naval historian in Washington, D.C.
The Navy job let him witness the Gulf War of 1991 from a near-Pentagon perspective. He also got access to the kinds of information about the nation’s defense systems that most military fiction writers only dream about. With these experiences, the author has produced a war story that one reviewer described as a “chillingly plausible and totally credible account of global war at sea.”
Like many writers, Palmer is pensive and soft-spoken. At times he seems hesitant to speak about his accomplishments. He says he prefers to let his wife and his publishers promote his books. Even so, he is one of ECU’s most prolific book authors. He has published a total of five books in as many years and has another novel ready for a publisher and still another in the works.
Two of his published books, “The War That Never Was” and “Arctic Strike” are in the style and literature genre of successful author Tom Clancy. The other three books, “Guardians of the Gulf,” “Origins of the Maritime Strategy” and “Stoddert’s War,” are non-fiction accounts of naval history.
While Palmer loves writing, he also enjoys his primary profession—teaching maritime history at ECU. He believes that both teaching and writing are complimentary to each other.
A native of Philadelphia, Palmer grew up with a fascination for military history. While in college and graduate school, he set his sights on learning as much about the subject as possible with hopes of becoming a teacher. After completing his formal studies in 1981, he discovered that college teaching jobs, even for those with Ph.Ds, were scare.
He managed a parking garage in Philadelphia until 1983 when he took a job doing writing and research at the Naval Historical Center. The job was perfect.
As a naval historian, he got the opportunity to dig through old and new records of the U.S. Navy. He found information about naval strategy and descriptions of weapons systems. Some of the material was classified. Most of it was not. He took notes. His imagination danced.
He said he made sure that the information in his novel came from “open” files that are no longer secret. But, even so, he said he is saving his notes just in case the government should ask about some of his war scenarios and the attack and defend strategies used in his book.
When he left the Navy in 1991 to accept a teaching position with the ECU Department of History, Palmer wrote a non-fiction book “Guardians of the Gulf: The Growth of Am