Cyril West studied Arabic and International Relations at the University of Arizona, and grew up on Air Force bases ranging from Hickam A.F.B. to Lincoln A.F.B. He appreciates the work done by our veterans to keep America free and views the men and women who serve as the real heroes of our country. There is no freedom without the heroes who serve in our armed forces. He currently supports the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and the Wounded Warrior Project. If he is fortunate enough to be successful as an author, he plans to create a MIA Recovery Fund to help families of the missing find and bring loved ones home.
Cyril West lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and children.
Hello, Rob! Thank you for chatting with me today. It is an honor and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion for you book, The Thin Wall. I am intrigued by your choice of majors in college. How did you get from Arabic Studies and International Relations to writing about the military?
I am interested in global politics and history. When I was in high school. I was attracted to World War I history and the creation of the modern Middle East. I have always been fascinated by T.E. Lawrence aka Lawrence of Arabia.
I gather from your biography that you were an Air Force brat. Was that the basis for your interest in the military in general, and POW’s in particular?
I am a proud USAF brat! I grew up on Air Force bases and among military heroes. My father served for 20 years and most of his pals served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. The military culture is in my blood. One of my earliest childhood memories was in 1973 when American Prisoners of War returned home during Operation Homecoming. In writing about the POW/MIA Issue, I hope to spread awareness to the fact that many servicemen are still missing, as well, that the U.S. government has lied to families of the missing and to American citizens about the status of many heroes who were abandoned by the country they served.
Please tell me about your book?
The Thin Wall is a character-driven portrayal of the 1968 Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, brought to life through the conflict between an intriguingly cultured, yet conniving KGB colonel and the people of a small village who courageously (and sometimes timidly) try to resist oppression. It also tells the story of American Prisoners of War who were secretly transferred from Vietnam to the Soviet Union. The story is filled with tragedy, yet hope for the human spirit.
What was it about the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia that caught your attention?
In my research on the POW/MIA Issue, I uncovered little known information that suggests American Prisoners of War were taken from the battlefields of Vietnam in the late 1960s and secretly transferred to the Soviet Union – via Czechoslovakia. Once in the U.S.S.R., the POWs were interrogated, experimented on, punished and imprisoned in the Siberian Gulags. None of them ever came home. I felt the immediate weeks following the 1968 Soviet invasion would make for the perfect setting to tell my story because it was a time of turmoil and uncertainty. While The Thin Wall is a work of fiction, I believe the book’s premise — that the U.S. government was aware POWs were secretly transferred to the USSR (and not just during Vietnam, but after Korea, WWII and WWI) and did nothing to stop it. Most American people are not aware of this dark chapter in our history. Perhaps this is because certain bureaucrats in the U.S. government have conspired to cover up and erase the past.
How did you do your research for The Thin Wall? And in particular, how did you research such a secretive organization as the KGB?
Like most authors, I read a lot of books and articles online. I enjoy reading non-fiction more than fiction. My goal as an author is to write novels that make people think, as well include real moments in history. In The Thin Wall, readers will learn a lot about the political life of people living in Czechoslovakia under communism during the 1960s. In some ways, my novel is also a work of non-fiction.
What more can the U.S. Government and/or military do to determine the fate of the 83 thousand servicemen still missing from foreign wars?
Firstly, most of the 83,000 heroes who are still missing died on foreign lands fighting for our freedoms. For some, their deaths were met in a plane crash that has yet to be found, others went down at sea, still others were lost in a labyrinth jungle or a battlefield, or died in prison and were buried in unmarked graves. We must never stop searching for the remains of these heroes. We must bring them home to the country they loved and served.
Secondly, some of the 83,000 missing servicemen were POWs (by my estimate 9,000) who were never repatriated and ultimately were killed by their captors and buried in unmarked graves. It’s possible a few POWs from Vietnam could still be alive and incarcerated in Vietnam, Russia, North Korea or China. The bottom line is that all of these missing POWs were abandoned by the country they served. We owe it to them to not only recover their remains, and any hero who might still be alive, but to expose the crime the government has committed and kept secret from the American people.
Please tell me about Ayna and her role in this story.
Ayna is a single mother and an outcast of her remote mountain village because she is said to be cursed. In her late twenties, she has been in three serious relationships and all three of her lovers have died sudden and tragic deaths. As the story opens, she has given up any hope for love. When a egotistical and cruel Soviet KGB officer enters her village and begins to torment the local people, she rises up to defend the village while the villagers hide in cowardice. She soon attracts the KGB officer’s attention and he attempts to court her, but she refuses him. He grows angry that she has rejected him and begins to pick on her. Along the way, Ayna meets a mysterious doctor who arrives to the village and falls in love again. But the relationship is doomed. Or is it?
Who is Dr. Husak? What are his strengths and weaknesses?
Without giving away too much detail (and plot twists) Dr. Milan Husak is an American who fought alongside the Czech resistance during WWII. After the war he agreed to stay behind and spy for the U.S. government. However he became lost in the shuffle and was never contacted by anyone in the CIA, therefore, never spied. During WWII, he accidently killed 13 orphans. He has spent his entire life in Czechoslovakia as a pediatrician, helping children. In The Thin Wall, he moves to the village (where the story takes pace) to open a clinic. There he meets and falls in love with Ayna. He eventually discovers that the Soviets in town are holding an American POW. Suddenly his past has come back to haunt him. He is contacted by the CIA and asked to help rescue the American. It’s confusing for Dr. Husak because he no longer considers himself an American citizen. In the end, he must choose between his love for Ayna and attempting to rescue the American. Which will he do?
Were there any challenges in writing this story?
The book is very dark and doesn’t have a happy ending. There was a point where I stopped writing and thought about making substantial changes to the plot because I was so depressed about what I had written. But advisors, several of them Vietnam veterans who are close to the POW/MIA issue, encouraged me to finish. They reminded me that the POW/MIA issue is not a happy story and that my telling is entirely plausible. So I finished the novel.
Why did you chose to write a political conspiracy book?
I felt the truth about what happened to our missing POW heroes must be told. It’s been 40 years since the end of the Vietnam War. We can’t allow the government – at this point the few who are tasked with keeping POW secrets hidden from the public – to get away with a crime like this. We must expose the truth about what happened: that the government left servicemen behind in Vietnam, in Korea and after World War I and after World War II. Almost all of these POWs were hidden in communist countries, and except for a few, never came home. We must expose this little known fact to the American people so that it never happens again.
What are some of the response you’ve reviewed about your book besides the B.R.A.G. Medallion?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. In particular, I have been contacted by family members of missing servicemen. Like me, they wonder what happened to their loved ones. Their story of loss and tragedy is personal and very real. There is no greater reward than to be thanked by a reader who is missing a loved one.
What has your experience been like with self-publishing so far?
I absolutely love being in control of the entire project. A true joy!
How did you discover indieBRAG?
I did a search for self-published book honors
And now, I have Author Stuart S. Laing as a guest interviewer on Layered Pages today who has some questions political to ask you.
Stuart: Had Dubcek’s attempt to loosen central control of the Communist Party succeeded in 1968, do you think it would have created a domino effect across the Warsaw Pact 20 years earlier than the era of Perestroika and Gorbachev?
In theory, yes. However I can’t imagine that it would have occurred because Brezhnev and his supporting cast of iron-handed cronies would have never stood by and allowed the reforms to take root. Keep in mind, the key to the break-up of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact was having a reformer like Gorbachev at the top—someone who was looking to improve ties with the West. Like Dubcek, Gorbachev wanted to reform the political and social structure of what was defined as the communist nation; this included less government control over the lives of people and economic enterprises.
Do you think that Putin’s iron man image threatens to create a new Cold War?
It already has. Putin has nationalistic ambitions. He has secured Crimea and I expect before President Obama leaves office will make a move on the Baltics. If a major war breaks out in the Middle East with ISIS, or Iran, I expect the Russians to move quickly to secure their interests in Eastern Europe. As well, with the tanking Russian economy, Putin might do something desperate . . . like escalate the current hostilities in Syria. He has high approval ratings in Russia because he is seen by the Russian people as being a strong leader. He risks losing power by softening his image.
If so can you see a time when US service personnel risk being drawn into situations where they risk falling into the hands of Russian forces again, even if they are operating under the guise of anti-government rebels such as in eastern Ukraine?
We are possibly in the early stages of WWIII. If a large war breaks out in the Middle East, the Russians will likely side with Syria and Iran. If the war spirals out of control, and Russia invades the Baltics and also attempts to take over Ukraine, then yes.
And finally, does the situation in Ukraine have any parallels with the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia back in ’68?
Absolutely. The leadership and people of Ukraine wanted to align themselves with democracy and with Western society. Only this time, when the Russians attempted to invade, the United States and NATO (and to some degree the world) were ready. But have they done enough to thwart a full-scale invasion? I am not so sure. I suspect the Russians will not withdraw from their proxy control over Crimea and have ambitions for future expansion. Right now everything hinges on how things play out in the Middle East with ISIS and the growing shadow of Iran.
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview R. Cyril West, who is the author of, The Thin Wall, our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, The Thin Wall, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.