The compelling ghost of an uncle who'd died in World War II 18 years before his birth planted the seeds of an interest in history in local bank executive Mike Haskew.
Today, the Hixson resident is president of Community Trust & Banking Co. but also a prolific chronicler of history.
Haskew's most recent book, "De Gaulle: Lessons in Leadership From the Defiant General," was released by Palgrave Macmillan last week.
In addition to numerous books on World War II, he also is editor of World War II History Magazine. He has written for Blade magazine for more than 20 years and is a frequent contributor to Chattanooga CityScope magazine and HealthScore magazine.
It was the portrait of Haskew's uncle, Sam, and his relatives' wistful mentions of the soldier killed at Anzio, Italy, though, that sparked his interest.
"He died at 19 years old at a place in Italy that I didn't know anything about," he said, "and that was very interesting to, over time, hear more about him and what he did."
Then, when Haskew was 8, his mother ordered for him "The World at Arms: The Reader's Digest Illustrated History of World War II." He still has the book, which he claims to have "used and abused for many, many years."
Of de Gaulle, he paints the picture of a brigadier general in the French army who served briefly in the French government but who escaped to Great Britain as France was falling to Nazi Germany.
He took with him only a little money from the French treasury and the country's honor, Haskew said. While in Great Britain, he said, he claimed power in a vacuum because no one else wanted it.
"De Gaulle felt his success and that of France were intertwined," he said. "Because of the way he conducted himself, France maintained a seat at the table during the war, more so after the war and was a member of the [United Nations] Security Council.
Later president of the country, he was pompous and difficult, Haskew said, but nevertheless shunned the trappings of wealth and did not want a funeral of pomp and circumstance.
"[De Gaulle's] monument was modern France," he said.
Q: What is not known about Charles de Gaulle that maybe should be?
A: ... Well, post-war France was shaped so clearly and so decisively by Charles de Gaulle that you cannot help but see the shadow in the way the French think and act today ... The reason for that, in my opinion, is very simple. ... He always felt the British gravitated too far to the United States, and he always had a bone to pick with the Americans because they had failed to give him the recognition that he felt like he deserved. Well, what did he do when he became president? Every time he had the opportunity to tweak the nose of the United States, he did it. He vetoed British entry into the Common Market. He refused to allow NATO troops in France. He didn't allow U.S. nuclear weapons in France; he said France would have its own nuclear arsenal, and, in fact, it did. ... Ten years after he died, [in a U.S. dust-up with Libya] the French government would not allow U.S. F-111s to fly across French air space. ... The French mentality is still one of single-minded independence.
Q: In the footsteps of which military figure would you like to have walked?
A: George Marshall. Marshall was really one of the unsung heroes of modern history because he not only was able to see a military situation from a strategic and a tactical perspective, [but] he was so valuable to President Roosevelt that Roosevelt would not let him leave Washington, D.C. He was Roosevelt's [Army] chief of staff. He wanted to command the invasion of Northwest Europe and D-Day himself, but Roosevelt said, "No, you're going to have to pick somebody else to do that job because you're going to have to stay here with me. And ... after World War II, Marshall became secretary of state and crafted the Marshall Plan, which saved a large portion of Western Europe from chaos and economic despair and communism. If it had not been for the Marshall Plan, post-war Europe and the post-war world would have been a very different place.
Q: Where do your banking career and your writing intersect?
A: The best tie, I think, is when you're in a situation where there's a strategic decision that needs to be made, you try to apply some principles to it that are logical. In other words, where are we now, where do we want to be and can we see the outcome of a certain action or a certain inaction? What are the likely results of a decision we make? When you evaluate a credit, you want to get repaid, and you want to get repaid on the terms under which that credit has been extended. What is the likelihood of that happening? How do you manage and mitigate risk? It's all about mitigating risk. Well, when you talk about a command decision about war, you've got to factor in risk, you've got to see the most logical and likely outcome of a decision that you make, or if you don't take action, what is the likely outcome?
Q: Why is it important to study history?
A: I think we can find ourselves in situations similar to what other people in history found themselves in [where] you have to make some type of decision. You have to decide one way or the other about something, and maybe you can find a guide or you can find some insight. ... So it's important, I think, to pull some lessons in how to be a leader.