Tuesday, April 19, 2011

German Jackboots on Kentucky Bluegrass by Antonio Scott Thompson

I love reading about WWII!  In his book, German Jackboots on Kentucky Bluegrass, Antonio S. Thompson details  a time in our American history when we housed POW's from the war and  how the "growing influx of POW's throughout the war forced an expansion of department responsibilities resulting in frequent changes to these agencies."  This is probably one of the best, if not best book, I've read about this time in our history.
Today Antonio Thompson, author of German Jackboots on Kentucky Bluegrass, stops by for an author interview:

What inspired you to write this book?

When I was working on my Master’s Degree I needed a unique thesis topic.  One of my professors at Western Kentucky University made a comment in passing about German prisoners being transported through Kentucky during World War II.  I smiled, because there was my unique thesis topic.  That topic led me down the path to my MA Thesis, a Ph.D. dissertation on German POWs in the U.S., and my first two published books. German Jackboots on Kentucky Bluegrass:  Housing Prisoners of War In Kentucky, 1942-1946 is the first.
I should also mention that I was born in Kentucky, graduated high school in Kentucky, three of my four degrees are from Kentucky, and although I teach in Tennessee, Clarksville is really close to Kentucky.  

How did you come up with the title?

I like this question.  I have given a lot of talks to public groups, history groups, and classes.  No one has asked me this yet!  I wanted a catchy title, something other than the “dry” history titles that are suggested to us for your thesis and dissertation topics.  Yet, I didn’t want something too “flashy” either.  I found this title to be on topic and hopefully also compelling.  The book is about German prisoners of war, thus the “German Jackboots” and Kentucky is the Bluegrass State, so “German Jackboots on Kentucky Bluegrass” is born.  The subtitle clearly identifies the book “Housing German Prisoners of War in Kentucky, 1942-1946.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

In my monograph I push the thesis that when it comes to treating enemy prisoners, the United States went above and beyond our international requirements.  The U.S. made an example for others to follow, whether that was other nations during World War II, or in future conflicts. It was also an example for us to look back on when we are faced with handling prisoners in our future conflicts.  It was expensive, time consuming, and often frustrating.  Yet, it was also rewarding, and in many cases human compassion really came through.  Our handling of these men demonstrated how we hoped our soldiers would be treated when captured, and paid dividends for our own war effort as well.

How much of the book is realistic?

The book is based on extensive archival research, oral history interviews with Germans and Americans involved, newspaper articles and letters from the time, diaries, and also compiles a lot of secondary and published sources.

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

I conducted all the research myself.  My wife occasionally accompanied me and assisted with gathering material and certainly proofread, proofread, and then proofread again.  No one else helped.
I began working on this topic in my mid-20s and now that I am in my mid-30s I am still working on it and adding to my knowledge, and hopefully contributing to the field of history.
During the project, I had the pleasure to meet and interview so many great and interesting people.  So, while the book was not based on anyone I previously knew, I did get to know many of the individuals that I interviewed by the time I was done.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

I would love to find more time to work on these things and to find more money for the research.  When I was in graduate school I was married, my wife was also getting her Ph.D., and before I graduated I had two of my three children.  You work with what you have at the time. I wouldn’t change my academic, family, or scholarship experience otherwise.  To be fair, I am still wishing that I had more time and money!

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

I have always had an interest in writing.  As a young man I was in AP English; that really helped foster my love of writing.  I write short stories, fiction, and poetry.  I have published a few poems, but most of my writing has been on academic papers as a student or as a professor.  So, I guess we could really stretch this and say I have been writing professionally for the last 18 years—although I am not sure we should count every psychology, sociology, or literature paper.  :)

As a professional historian, I have been writing for the last few years.  I finished my degree in 2006, prior to that and after I was publishing some book reviews in journals. Since then I have published two history books and a couple of journal articles.

I do love to write, and still write poetry and fiction.  My history writing focuses on my interest in World War II, German and U.S. history, foreign policy, and military history,  although I do some work on immigration and civil liberties. 

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing this book?

Yes.  The entire thing was challenging.  From gathering materials, to organizing the chapters, to writing the first words, to the first draft, to the final draft, to the publishing process, it was all challenging.  
I hated it, but I loved it.  I would write a chapter, and then a professor, my wife, or a friend, would read it and tell me that they really liked 5 pages, but the other 25 simply had to go.  Of course, you put days, if not weeks, of work into the whole section.  

Yet, when you gather the material and meet the people and you learn so much.  You lay the foundation for the book and you watch it grow.  At the end you have created a piece of history.  A history for your state, for your nation, and for your world, and then you send it out into that world and hope that it does well.
Who designed the cover?

The publisher chose from a few pictures that I had in my collection and then designed the cover.  I really like the cover and we have talked about a second edition already, so I am looking forward to that.  My second book has a cover also chosen from some photos that I had, and I really like the way it turned out as well.  

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

I learned a lot about patience, listening to the advice of others, and editing skills.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

I tell my students that in order to produce a book you must pick a topic that you love, or at least one that holds your interest, or you won’t want to stay with the project.  I started on this topic in 1998 and I am still doing work on it.  I hope that my love for the topic translates into your enjoyment of the book.  History should be fun AND educational, and if this book holds your interest, then I hope that means I succeeded.
I would also like to thank everyone who helped me throughout the process.  Without your support, encouragement, and guidance, none of this would be possible.

Thanks for stopping by.  This is a great book....don't miss this incredible piece of history! 
*This book was provided by Diversion Press*


  1. Ordering this book! Thank you, Tammy!

  2. Tammy,
    Your site looks great. Thank you for hosting me, for the interview, and especially for the kind words about my book.

  3. Tammy,
    I have been following the Diversion Press blog tour and am exicted to read about German Jackboots on Kentucky Bluegrass on your blog. The housing of German POWs in the United States is such an interesting topic and one that I bet most people don't know about! Thank you for the information about Antonio Thompson's book!

  4. "German Jackboots on Kentucky Bluegrass" was the first Diversion Press book I ever read and I loved it. I'm not a big war buff but I love history and I'm obsessed with WW2 because my father fought in it. This was such a fun read! Many war books make me doze off, but Antonio does a great job of keeping the story moving. I'm glad the title was mentioned in an earlier post because it is a catchy one! My favorite thing about the book was learning that the park where I played softball as kid was once a Nazi prisoner camp! My Mom was a secretary for the War Dept,(I believe in Dayton AND Toledo, Ohio), and actually worked across from a Nazi camp. She and her secretary friends saw a many a naked Nazi. They liked to shock the women. My Dad fought in the South Pacific so Mom saw more Nazis than he did. Had no idea they were in my own home town though! Great book!

  5. It sounds like an intriguing book. I agree with you; writing does take a lot of patience. It wa worth it, wasn't it?

  6. You've made me aware of something I didn't know existed--German POW camps on US soil during WWII. And isn't that why we read, to learn something new? I've always heard of Japanese internment camps but never of German POW camps. Very interesting. Thank you.