When I first met Donald Rumsfeld in his offices in Washington, D.C., one of the things I said to him was that if we could provide an answer to the American public about why we went to war in Iraq, we would be rendering an important service. He agreed. Unfortunately, after having spent 33 hours over the course of a year interviewing Mr. Rumsfeld, I fear I know less about the origins of the Iraq war than when I started. A question presents itself: How could that be? How could I know less rather than more? Was he hiding something? Or was there really little more than met the eye?
The Unknown Known has been referred to as a sequel of sorts to The Fog of War, but from this it seems more like its opposite. Morris got some substantive and honest answers to important questions from McNamara, whereas it sounds like he got bupkiss from Rumsfeld.
Among the many enduring mysteries of this period is the fate of the world's most famous painting. It seems that Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa was among the paintings found in the Altaussee salt mine in the Austrian alps, which was converted by the Nazis into their secret stolen-art warehouse.
The painting only "seems" to have been found there because contradictory information has come down through history, and the Mona Lisa is not mentioned in any wartime document, Nazi or allied, as having been in the mine. Whether it may have been at Altaussee was a question only raised when scholars examined the postwar Special Operations Executive report on the activities of Austrian double agents working for the allies to secure the mine. This report states that the team "saved such priceless objects as the Louvre's Mona Lisa". A second document, from an Austrian museum near Altaussee dated 12 December 1945, states that "the Mona Lisa from Paris" was among "80 wagons of art and cultural objects from across Europe" taken into the mine.
The only crew that volunteered, of course, was Jay Zeamer and the Eager Beavers. One of the crew, bombardier Joseph Sarnovski, had absolutely no reason to volunteer. He'd already been in combat for 18 months and was scheduled to go home in 3 days. Being a photo mission, there was no need for a bombardier. But if his friends were going, he wanted to go, and one of the bombardier's battle stations was to man the forward machine guns. They might need him, so he went.
They suspected the airstrip at Buka had been expanded and reinforced, but weren't sure until they got close. As soon as the airfield came in sight, they saw numerous fighters taking off and heading their way. The logical thing to do would have been to turn right and head for home. They would be able to tell the intelligence officers about the increased number of planes at Buka even if they didn't get photos.
But Zeamer and photographer William Kendrick knew that photos would be invaluable for subsequent planes attacking the base, and for Marines who were planning to invade the island later. Zeamer held the plane level (tilting the wings even one degree at that altitude could put the photograph half a mile off target) and Kendrick took his photos, which gave plenty of time for over 20 enemy fighters to get up to the altitude Old 666 was flying at.
Every few months on the web, a new candidate emerges for the Bad-Ass Hall of Fame, a collection of amazing people who lived large, walked their own path, and left their mark on history with flair. Today's candidate is Mad Jack Churchill, a British Commando leader during World War II who died in 1996. Churchill fought in the war armed with a bow & arrows, a broadsword, and occasionally even bagpipes. Here's a photo of him (far right) during a training exercise in Scotland, sword in hand as he storms the beach:
What a sight he must have been, leading charges branishing a sword and sucking on his pipes. Churchill even killed a German soldier in France with an arrow, recording the only known kill by bow in the war for the British. From a profile in WWII History magazine:
During the BEF's fighting retreat, Churchill remained aggressive, unwilling to give up a yard of ground while extracting the maximum cost from the enemy. He was especially fond of raids and counterattacks, leading small groups of picked soldiers against the advancing Germans. He presented a strange, almost medieval figure at the head of his men, carrying not only his war bow and arrows, but his sword as well.
As befitted his love of things Scottish, Churchill carried the basket-hilted claymore (technically a claybeg, the true claymore being an enormous two-handed sword). Later on, asked by a general who awarded him a decoration why he carried a sword in action, Churchill is said to have answered: "In my opinion, sir, any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed."
The war-diary of 4th Infantry Brigade, to which Churchill's battalion belonged, commented on this extraordinary figure. "One of the most reassuring sights of the embarkation [from Dunkirk] was the sight of Captain Churchill passing down the beach with his bows and arrows. His high example and his great work ... were a great help to the 4th Infantry Brigade."
And this bit sounds totally made up:
Churchill himself was far in front of his troopers. Sword in hand, accompanied only by a corporal named Ruffell, he advanced into the town itself. Undiscovered by the enemy, he and Ruffell heard German soldiers digging in all around them in the gloom. The glow of a cigarette in the darkness told them the location of a German sentry post. What followed, even Churchill later admitted, was "a bit Errol Flynn-ish."
The first German sentry post, manned by two men, was taken in silence. Churchill, his sword blade gleaming in the night, appeared like a demon from the darkness, ordered "haende hoch!" and got results. He gave one German prisoner to Ruffell, then slipped his revolver lanyard around the second sentry's neck and led him off to make the rounds of the other guards. Each post, lulled into a sense of security by the voice of their captive comrade, surrendered to this fearsome apparition with the ferocious mustache and the naked sword.
Altogether, Churchill and Corporal Ruffell collected 42 prisoners, complete with their personal weapons and a mortar they were manning in the village. Churchill and his claymore took the surrender of ten men in a bunch around the mortar. He and his NCO then marched the whole lot back into the British lines.
As Churchill himself described the event, it all sounded rather routine: "I always bring my prisoners back with their weapons; it weighs them down. I just took their rifle bolts out and put them in a sack, which one of the prisoners carried. [They] also carried the mortar and all the bombs they could carry and also pulled a farm cart with five wounded in it....I maintain that, as long as you tell a German loudly and clearly what to do, if you are senior to him he will cry 'jawohl' and get on with it enthusiastically and efficiently whatever the ... situation. That's why they make such marvelous soldiers..."
Crazy! After the war, he took up boat refurbishing, river surfing, and freaking out train passengers:
In his last job he would sometimes stand up on a train journey from London to his home, open the window and hurl out his briefcase, then calmly resume his seat. Fellow passengers looked on aghast, unaware that he had flung the briefcase into his own back garden.
Kevin Delaney, the head of Wayland High School's history department, gave his 11th grade students an interesting challenge: find out everything you can about the person who owned a dusty briefcase full of papers that Delaney had found in the storage room. The man, Martin Joyce, turned out to have a life that spanned many significant events in history and his story provided the students with a personal lens into history.
Inside were the assorted papers -- letters, military records, photos -- left behind by a man named Martin W. Joyce, a long-since deceased West Roxbury resident who began his military career as an infantryman in World War I and ended it as commanding officer of the liberated Dachau concentration camp. Delaney could have contacted a university or a librarian and handed the trove of primary sources over to a researcher skilled in sorting through this kind of thing. Instead, he applied for a grant, and asked an archivist to come teach his students how to handle fragile historical materials. Then, for the next two years, he and his 11th grade American history students read through the documents, organized and uploaded them to the web, and wrote the biography of a man whom history nearly forgot, but who nonetheless witnessed a great deal of it.
"Joyce became the thread that went through our general studies," Delaney says. "When we were studying World War I, we did the traditional World War I lessons and readings. And then stopped the clocks and thought, 'What's going on with Joyce in this period?'"
As the class repeatedly asked and answered that question, they slowly uncovered the life of a man who not only oversaw the liberated Dachau but also found himself a participant in an uncommon number of consequential events throughout Massachusetts and U.S. history. In a way Delaney couldn't have imagined when he first popped open the suitcase that day, Joyce would turn out to be something akin to Boston's own Forrest Gump -- a perfect set of eyes through which to visit America's past.
Fantastic, what a great story. My favorite tidbit is that after all the wars and stuff, he and his wife were on the Andrea Doria when it was struck by the Stockholm and sunk. Part of the students' project was building a web site pertaining to Joyce's life and includes scans of all the papers they discovered...it's well worth looking through. (via @SlateVault)
Marquis de Lafayette, 18
James Monroe, 18
Gilbert Stuart, 20
Aaron Burr, 20
Alexander Hamilton, 21
Betsy Ross, 24
James Madison, 25
This is kind of blowing my mind...because of the compression of history, I'd always assumed all these people were around the same age. But in thinking about it, all startups need young people...Hamilton, Lafayette, and Burr were perhaps the Gates, Jobs, and Zuckerberg of the War. Some more ages, just for reference:
Thomas Jefferson, 33
John Adams, 40
Paul Revere, 41
George Washington, 44
Samuel Adams, 53
The oldest prominent participant in the Revolution, by a wide margin, was Benjamin Franklin, who was 70 years old on July 4, 1776. Franklin was a full two generations removed from the likes of Madison and Hamilton. But the oldest participant in the war was Samuel Whittemore, who fought in an early skirmish at the age of 80. I'll let Wikipedia take it from here:
Whittemore was in his fields when he spotted an approaching British relief brigade under Earl Percy, sent to assist the retreat. Whittemore loaded his musket and ambushed the British from behind a nearby stone wall, killing one soldier. He then drew his dueling pistols and killed a grenadier and mortally wounded a second. By the time Whittemore had fired his third shot, a British detachment reached his position; Whittemore drew his sword and attacked. He was shot in the face, bayoneted thirteen times, and left for dead in a pool of blood. He was found alive, trying to load his musket to fight again. He was taken to Dr. Cotton Tufts of Medford, who perceived no hope for his survival. However, Whittemore lived another 18 years until dying of natural causes at the age of 98.
Smithsonian.com has a neat interactive map that shows how the Battle of Gettysburg played out in the Civil War. For best results, do one run through zoomed out a little and then another run-through to at a closer zoom level to see the details. (via digg)
Maybe the most depressing part of this threepartseries of photographs of Iraq from the past ten years is not the photos of all the horrible things people are capable of doing to each other, not the [God, I can't even think of the right set of rage-adjectives here] faces of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, but the fact that there is a part two to this series that starts in 2003, just after the fucking asinine MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner.
But maybe it was all worth it? To see these happy faces riding an amusement ride? Or these young people able to express themselves? Was it the right thing done the wrong way for the wrong reasons? I dunno. I just don't know.
A filibuster in the United States Senate usually refers to any dilatory or obstructive tactics used to prevent a measure from being brought to a vote. The most common form of filibuster occurs when a senator attempts to delay or entirely prevent a vote on a bill by extending the debate on the measure, but other dilatory tactics exist. The rules permit a senator, or a series of senators, to speak for as long as they wish and on any topic they choose, unless "three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn" (usually 60 out of 100 senators) brings debate to a close by invoking cloture under Senate Rule XXII.
Paul said that all presidents must honor the Fifth Amendment. "No American should ever be killed in their house without warrant and some kind of aggressive behavior by them," Paul said on the Senate floor. "To be bombed in your sleep? There's nothing American about that . . . [Obama] says trust him because he hasn't done it yet. He says he doesn't intend to do so, but he might. Mr. President, that's not good enough . . . so I've come here to speak for as long as I can to draw attention to something that I find to really be very disturbing."
"I will not sit quietly and let him shred the Constitution," Paul added."No person will be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process," he said, quoting the Fifth Amendment.
This Justice Department memo about when the US government, without hearing or trial or due process or whatever other "rights" we as a country hold dear, can kill US citizens is fucking bullshit.
A confidential Justice Department memo concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be "senior operational leaders" of al-Qaida or "an associated force" -- even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S.
The 16-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, provides new details about the legal reasoning behind one of the Obama administration's most secretive and controversial polices: its dramatically increased use of drone strikes against al-Qaida suspects abroad, including those aimed at American citizens, such as the September 2011 strike in Yemen that killed alleged al-Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both were U.S. citizens who had never been indicted by the U.S. government nor charged with any crimes.
Sure, we as a nation have always killed people. A lot of people. But no president has ever waged war by killing enemies one by one, targeting them individually for execution, wherever they are. The Obama administration has taken pains to tell us, over and over again, that they are careful, scrupulous of our laws, and determined to avoid the loss of collateral, innocent lives. They're careful because when it comes to waging war on individuals, the distinction between war and murder becomes a fine one. Especially when, on occasion, the individuals we target are Americans and when, in one instance, the collateral damage was an American boy.
Individual targetting isn't exclusively done by military drones, but they are the favored method. Junod notes that even as Obama said that "a decade of war is now ending" in his inauguration speech, a drone strike killed three suspected Al Qaeda members in Yemen.
President Obama's second inaugural was supposed to sound something like Lincoln's: the speech of a man tired of war, and eager to move the nation beyond its bloody reach. In truth, it was the speech of a man who has perfected a form of war that can be written off as a kind of peace. He was able to put the pain of war in the past because his efforts to expand painless war have come to fruition.
An American drone strike on Monday on a car east of Sana, the capital, killed three people suspected of being members of Al Qaeda, said Yemeni security officials. On Saturday, two American drone strikes killed eight people in Marib Province. Yemen, aided by the United States, has been battling the local branch of Al Qaeda. The United States rarely comments on its military role in Yemen but has acknowledged targeting Qaeda militants in the past.
Dangerous dangerous precedent here. If George W. Bush were doing this sort of thing, we'd be marching in the streets about it. Why does Obama get a free pass? (And on Bradley Manning? And on Guantanamo?) Anyone in the press want to ask the President about the legality & moral stickiness of drone strikes at his next press conference?
There are only a handful of engines that allow a combination of high thrust and low mass ratio. The most promising are Orion nuclear pulse propulsion and the nuclear salt water rocket. Some nuclear thermal designs also have thrust high enough to possibly be useful, although only for a small ship. The user "RJP" on Spacebattles also suggested something called a fission fragment drive which works by throwing high-velocity fuel fragments out the back of the ship, but other sites I've researched suggest it would be a low-thrust high-ISP [in-space propulsion] system more suitable to an explorer than a warship. Orion works by the (seemingly insane, but actually quite effective) method of throwing nuclear bombs behind the spacecraft and having it ride the blasts. The hot gasses from the detonations hit a heavy pusher plate at the back of the ship and drive it forward. NSWR [nuclear salt water rocket] is similar, but it instead uses a solution of fissionables in salt water that spontaneously explodes as it leaves the rocket nozzle. Both systems cleverly shift the propulsive reaction outside the spacecraft, eliminating the need to deal with most of the heat it produces and allowing it to be made much more energetic.
For the same reason that we have Space Shuttle launch delays, we'll be able to tell exactly what trajectories our enemies could take between planets: the launch window. At any given point in time, there are only so many routes from here to Mars that will leave our imperialist forces enough fuel and energy to put down the colonists' revolt.
If you've got a hankering to go hands on, the video games EVE and FTL approach realistic space battles in their own ways.
During the war, the mails were brought for free from the front to home. It could not have been differently, because probably the postage stamps would have been the last item the halting logistic support would have delivered to the front. Even so, postcards and envelopes were shortages. The soldiers' genius has thus created, right in the first months of the war, the format that was a letter and its own envelope in one. The folding process is very similar to how we, in our childhood, folded our soldier's shako, knowing nothing about the triangular soldier's letters.
In a letter sent nine days after the battle George Neville, the then chancellor of England, wrote that 28,000 men died that day, a figure in accord with a letter sent by Edward to his mother. England's total population at the time is thought not to have exceeded 3m people. George Goodwin, who has written a book on Towton to coincide with the battle's 550th anniversary in 2011, reckons as many as 75,000 men, perhaps 10% of the country's fighting-age population, took the field that day.
Disunion is a new NY Times blog that will be covering the events of the Civil War in "real-time" as it happened 150 years ago. From one of the first posts about the last ordinary day:
[November 1, 1860] was an ordinary day in America: one of the last such days for a very long time to come.
In dusty San Antonio, Colonel Robert E. Lee of the U.S. Army had just submitted a long report to Washington about recent skirmishes against marauding Comanches and Mexican banditti. In Louisiana, William Tecumseh Sherman was in the midst of a tedious week interviewing teenage applicants to the military academy where he served as superintendent. In Galena, Ill., passers-by might have seen a man in a shabby military greatcoat and slouch hat trudging to work that Thursday morning, as he did every weekday. He was Ulysses Grant, a middle-aged shop clerk in his family's leather-goods store.
Great idea. The Times started publishing in 1851 so their archives should have a ton of stuff related to the war. (via df)
Richard Rhodes recently gave a Long Now talk called The Twilight of the Bombs about the future obsolescence of nuclear weaponry. From Stewart Brand's summary of the talk:
How much did the Cold War cost everyone from 1948 to 1991, and how much of that was for nuclear weapons? The total cost has been estimated at $18.5 trillion, with $7.8 trillion for nuclear. At the peak the Soviet Union had 95,000 weapons and the US had 20 to 40,000. America's current seriously degraded infrastructure would cost about $2.2 trillion to fix -- all the gas lines and water lines and schools and bridges. We spent that money on bombs we never intended to use -- all of the Cold War players, major and minor, told Rhodes that everyone knew that the bombs must not and could not be used. Much of the nuclear expansion was for domestic consumption: one must appear "ahead," even though numbers past a couple dozen warheads were functionally meaningless.
It did not take long for word of the downed officer to make its way to German intelligence agents in the region. Spain was a neutral country, but much of its military was pro-German, and the Nazis found an officer in the Spanish general staff who was willing to help. A thin metal rod was inserted into the envelope; the documents were then wound around it and slid out through a gap, without disturbing the envelope's seals. What the officer discovered was astounding. Major Martin was a courier, carrying a personal letter from Lieutenant General Archibald Nye, the vice-chief of the Imperial General Staff, in London, to General Harold Alexander, the senior British officer under Eisenhower in Tunisia. Nye's letter spelled out what Allied intentions were in southern Europe. American and British forces planned to cross the Mediterranean from their positions in North Africa, and launch an attack on German-held Greece and Sardinia. Hitler transferred a Panzer division from France to the Peloponnese, in Greece, and the German military command sent an urgent message to the head of its forces in the region: "The measures to be taken in Sardinia and the Peloponnese have priority over any others."
Washington also failed to see the potential of a campaign against the British in Virginia in 1780 and 1781, prompting Comte de Rochambeau, commander of the French Army in America, to write despairingly that the American general "did not conceive the affair of the south to be such urgency." Indeed, Rochambeau, who took action without Washington's knowledge, conceived the Virginia campaign that resulted in the war's decisive encounter, the siege of Yorktown in the autumn of 1781.
For the same reason that we have Space Shuttle launch delays, we'll be able to tell exactly what trajectories our enemies could take between planets: the launch window. At any given point in time, there are only so many routes from here to Mars that will leave our imperialist forces enough fuel and energy to put down the colonists' revolt.
Some unknown person got the idea that avalanches could make a highly effective weapon. The avalanche war had begun. Avalanches could be started and even directed by just bombing a mountain. History has not yet calculated the exact number of deaths. Deaths have been estimated as high as 40,000 on each fighting side.
As a follow-up to the excellent Band of Brothers, HBO, Steven Speilberg, and Tom Hanks have teamed up to make The Pacific, a 10-part miniseries about the fighting in the Pacific during WWII from the perspective of a group of US Marines. The first trailer for the series has been released:
Update: So of course HBO made YouTube remove the video of the trailer. But they put up a smaller crappier version on their own site so it's all ok, right? (Why do media companies not like people spreading their advertising around? That's the fucking goal, yes?) Anyway, in the meantime I changed the link to the video above with a new one that hasn't been removed yet. And if that one gets removed, you can probably find the newest ones here. (thx, greg)
Yesterday's Pictures of the Day at the WSJ were particularly fine, including a US soldier in Afghanistan who didn't have time to put on his uniform and gets caught by the camera taking up a defensive position in pink I [heart] NY boxers and flip flops.
11. Do you believe in a personal, loving God who really cares about us mortals down here...? Go to a few war zones and famine areas and watch all those innocent children die, then answer this question...........
61. Yes, those really are gruesome hacked-up snake parts in that big glass of homebrew you're expected to chug down, and YES, your hosts will be extremely dishonored and upset if you try to weasel out of it (or if they catch you dumping it under the table when they look away)... quit being such a pussy and just drink the damn thing.....
Soup from pets and domesticated animals Meat is ranked by taste in the following order: dog, guinea pig, cat, rat. Gut the carcass, wash well and place in cold water. Add salt. Cook for one to three hours. For aroma: bay leaf, pepper, any sort of herbs, and, if available, grain.
Burns, born ca. 1793, was a 70-year-old veteran of the War of 1812 when he was wounded in the Battle of Gettysburg, having volunteered his services as a sharpshooter to the Federal Army. He died of pneumonia in 1872.
And from the comments:
Mr Burns' flintlock is at half-cock with the frizzen down, ready to ready to fire.
A month after the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, the US government imposed a code of censorship in Japan, which means that photos of the effects of the nuclear device are somewhat difficult to come by. Enter diner owner Don Levy of Watertown, MA.
One rainy night eight years ago, in Watertown, Massachusetts, a man was taking his dog for a walk. On the curb, in front of a neighbor's house, he spotted a pile of trash: old mattresses, cardboard boxes, a few broken lamps. Amidst the garbage he caught sight of a battered suitcase. He bent down, turned the case on its side and popped the clasps.
He was surprised to discover that the suitcase was full of black-and-white photographs. He was even more astonished by their subject matter: devastated buildings, twisted girders, broken bridges -- snapshots from an annihilated city. He quickly closed the case and made his way back home.
"Nothing was ever really wrong. It just wasn't right. Going into the marriage? I'd never been married before. I think we were okay. The wedding - it was so planned. There was this thing... " He breaks off and gets up to retrieve the framed certificate. It's from the state of Illinois declaring his wedding a state holiday. "To call something like that off..." He sits back down.
Certainly, Zucca couldn't get the whole story: he photographed Jews wearing the star but couldn't show the roundups or the deportation to Auschwitz; he could show German soldiers but couldn't show the arrest, torture, and execution of resisters. He couldn't, but nobody could; the problem wasn't that he worked for a propaganda rag: photographers who actively worked for the Resistance couldn't do it either. But what he did do was to capture the paradoxes of the Occupation, where horror and pleasure coexisted in shockingly close proximity, where the active resistance to Nazi occupation was in fact far less prevalent than the feigned daily oblivion of those who kept their heads down and tried to cope.
A band of U.S. soldiers facing death by firing squad for their misdeeds are given a chance to redeem themselves by heading into the perilous no-man's lands of Nazi-occupied France on a suicide mission for the Allies.
Despite some criticism about the accuracy of translation, the series would be in my list of top ten documentaries of all time, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It unravels the mechanism of the sordid path of human conflict, from nationalism to genocide, like no other film before or since. It is the film that never was made about the holocaust.
Sounds like a candidate for True Films. All six parts are available on Google Video...start with part one.
Honestly I was getting a little burned out on Errol Morris. I've been reading his Times blog, reading and listening to interviews with him about Standard Operating Procedure, and went to see him at the Apple Store last night. (I was most intrigued by his observation that photographs both reveal and conceal at the same time.) But this (relatively) short interview with him on the AV Club site is worth reading and got me unburned out. One of the many choice quotes:
I wish they'd just get it over with and make [Iraq] the 51st state, because I think it's the perfect red state: religious fundamentalists, lots of weaponry. How could you go wrong? We're already spending a significant fraction of our gross national product on the infrastructure; such as it is, on Iraq. Make it the 51st state and get it over with.
The interviewer, Scott Tobias, makes an interesting observation toward the end.
It seems like there's been plenty of instances in which big guys [i.e. Bush, Cheney, etc.] could have and should have been held accountable. Yet it's not as if they've slipped a noose. It's as if they deny that there's even a noose to be slipped.
And Morris replies:
That's what's so bizarre. You know, there are smoking guns everywhere, and people are being constantly hit over the head with smoking guns, and people simply don't act on them.
For me, this is the central mystery of the Bush administration. There has been demonstrable legal wrongdoing on the part of this administration and through some magical process, they've charmed the country and managed to sidestep not only legal action (including impeachment) but even the threat of legal action and -- this is the best part -- get fucking reelected in the process. With Bush's disapproval rating at an all-time high (for any President since Gallup began polling), it's not like people aren't aware and the 2006 elections clearly show the country's disapproval with Bush et al. Maddening and fascinating at the same time.
Jared Diamond wrote a fascinating article in last week's New Yorker about vengeance. On one of his trips to Papua New Guinea, he met a man named Daniel who had been responsible for "organizing the revenge" against the man who killed his paternal uncle Soll. (Incidentally, Soll's killer was also an uncle of Daniel's.)
Among Highland clans, each killing demands a revenge killing, so that a war goes on and on, unless political considerations cause it to be settled, or unless one clan is wiped out or flees. When I asked Daniel how the war that claimed his uncle's life began, he answered, "The original cause of the wars between the Handa and Ombal clans was a pig that ruined a garden." Surprisingly to outsiders, most Highland wars start ostensibly as a dispute over either pigs or women. Anthropologists debate whether the wars really arise from some deeper lying ultimate cause, such as land or population pressure, but the participants, when they are asked to name a cause, usually point to a woman or a pig.
The process of vengeance is very important to the people living in this region of New Guinea; people there speak openly of revenge killings as Americans might speak of friendships and family. Diamond argues that the New Guineans' everyday open embrace of such a strong emotion is not necessarily a bad thing and that modern society can circumvent people's need for vengeance, resulting in feelings of dissatisfaction that can create unbalanced emotional lives. At the end of WWII, Diamond's father-in-law had a chance to take his revenge on someone who had killed his mother, sister, and niece but was persuaded to turn the man over to the new Polish government for punishment. The man was never charged with the crime and Diamond's father-in-law was never the same.
One day, he took out a sheaf of photographs and showed [his daughter] Marie a picture of three shallow excavations in a forest: the photo that he had taken of the graves of his mother, sister, and niece. Then, for the first time, he told Marie the story of how he discovered what had happened to them, and of his release of their killer. Once, when he was about ninety years old, he recounted the story to Marie and me together. I recall his talking in an emotionally flat, distant, storytelling way, as if he no longer attached feelings to the story. In fact, his distanced manner must have been a tightly controlled act, a way of preserving his sanity while living with his memories.
The flight was supposed be for stranded women and children but as soon as the plane landed in Da Nang, it was swamped by South Vietnamese soldiers attempting to flee the oncoming North Vietnamese forces.
There were 260 people aboard a plane which is designed to carry 105. The plane was overloaded by 20,000 pounds. The baggage compartments were loaded with people. Some of the problems during the flight included, the rear stairway remained partially extended for the entire flight, the main wheels would not retract, a hand grenade damage to one of the wings causing fuel loss, and the lower cargo doors were open. The plane had to fly at 10,000 feet because of lack of pressurization thus fuel consumption was three times greater than normal.
In the end, only 5 women and 2 or 3 children made it onboard. That's some powerful journalism. (thx, brandon)
In Arsenals of Folly, Richard Rhodes details the making of the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, with a particular focus on the roles of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. The book is fantastic and a full review is forthcoming, but I wanted to share a couple of passages that would be worthy of cinematic adaptation.
A pivotal event in the book is the 1986 summit meeting between the two leaders in Reykjavik, Iceland. For two full days, Gorbachev and Reagan discussed drastically reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the two countries' arsenals with the eventual goal of eliminating nuclear weapons altogether. Gorbachev proposed meeting in Iceland because it was halfway between the US and the Soviet Union, but the tiny country was unprepared in some ways for the number of people participating in the negotiations.
Back at the American Embassy, Shultz assembled Donald Regan, John Poindexter, Paul Nitze, Richard Perle, Max Kampelman, Kenneth Adelman, and Poindexter's military assistant, Robert Linhard, inside what Adelman calls "the smallest bubble ever built" -- the Plexiglas security chamber, specially coated to repel electromagnetic radiation and mounted on blocks to limit acoustic transmissions, that is a feature of every U.S. Embassy in the world. Since the State Department had seen no need for extensive security arrangements for negotiating U.S. relations with little Iceland, the Reykjavik Embassy bubble was designed to hold only eight people. When Reagan arrived, the air-lock-like door swooshed and everyone stood up, bumping into each other and knocking over chairs in the confusion. Reagan put people at ease with a joke. "We could fill this thing up with water," he said, gesturing, "and use it as a fish tank." Adelman gave up his chair to the president and sat on the floor leaning against the tailored presidential legs, a compass rose of shoes touching his at the center of the circle.
And later, the US team deliberated in an even tinier space:
Gorbachev and Reagan returned. The leaders retreated upstairs with their teams. Reagan's advisors briefed him in the only place where they could meet in private, Rowny recalled, "a little ten by twelve bathroom where about ten of us crowded in. Several stood in the bathtub, Reagan was on the throne. I was agitated, I was worried about the idea of giving up all nuclear weapons."
The metaphorical possibilities of these two scenes are endless. I hope someone working with a good cinematographer makes a movie out of the book.
It really was a perfect storm of bad judgment, malicious intent, a power structure out of balance, a weak Natl Sec Adviser, a marginalized secretary of state, an all-powerful veep, a lazy Congress, and outplayed British PM, a foolishly managed French foreign policy, an ignored military leadership, an Oedipal complex hall of fame President, and a media that focused on Rumsfeld's funny press conference delivery instead of highlighting the fact that he was wrong, horribly wrong, on just about any point that mattered.
Most of them, like Colby, say they joined the military in part out of patriotism. "I thought Iraq had something to do with 9/11," Colby says, "that they were the bad guys that attacked our country." But unlike Hinzman, most did not apply for conscientious-objector status. They tend to say they aren't opposed to all wars in principle -- just to the one they were ordered to fight. It wasn't until Colby arrived in Iraq that he started to see the conflict as "a war of aggression, totally unprovoked," he says. "I was, like, 'This is what my buddies are dying for?'
The Canadian government will soon decide whether or not to let those soldiers apply for citizenship on the basis that the conflict in Iraq is "a war not sanctioned by the United Nations".
A German fighter ace has just learned that one of his 28 wartime 'kills' was his favourite author. Messerschmidt pilot Horst Rippert, 88, said he would have held his fire if he had known the man flying the Lightning fighter was renowned French novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
We started watching HBO's John Adams miniseries last night. Going in, I thought Paul Giamatti was going to be too familiar to play Adams; I'm happily wrong. He and Laura Linney are nearly perfect as America's first power couple. Guess we're going to hold off canceling that cable for a few weeks, at least until -- SPOILERS!!! -- the Americans win the Revolutionary War.
Later, when the photographs of crimes committed against Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib were made public, the blame focussed overwhelmingly on the Military Police officers who were assigned to guard duty in the Military Intelligence cellblock -- Tiers 1A and 1B -- of the hard site. The low-ranking reservist soldiers who took and appeared in the infamous images were singled out for opprobrium and punishment; they were represented, in government reports, in the press, and before courts-martial, as rogues who acted out of depravity. Yet the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was de facto United States policy. The authorization of torture and the decriminalization of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of captives in wartime have been among the defining legacies of the current Administration; and the rules of interrogation that produced the abuses documented on the M.I. block in the fall of 2003 were the direct expression of the hostility toward international law and military doctrine that was found in the White House, the Vice-President's office, and at the highest levels of the Justice and Defense Departments.
Never mind liberty, it would seem that we're giving up our humanity for security.
Update: Nuts, they took the article offline for some reason...
Update: Looks like the article is back up. For now.
The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. What the photograph didn't say was, "What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?"
Capa established a mode and the method of depicting war in these photographs, of the photographer not being an observer but being in the battle, and that became the standard that audiences and editors from then on demanded. Anything else, and it looked like you were just sitting on the sidelines. And that visual revolution he embodied took place right here, in these early pictures.
"In what will be history's largest gathering of U.S. veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Iraqi and Afghan survivors, eyewitnesses will share their experiences in a public investigation." Washington, D.C., March 13 - 16, 2008.
Cherry Blossoms is a backpack that uses a small microcontroller and a GPS unit. Recent news of bombings in Iraq are downloaded to the unit every night, and their relative location to the center of the city are superimposed on a map of Boston. If the wearer walks in a space in Boston that correlates to a site of violence in Baghdad, the backpack detonates and releases a compressed air cloud of confetti, looking for all the world like smoke and shrapnel. Each piece of confetti is inscribed with the name of a civilian who died in the war, and the circumstances of their death.
Video of Errol Morris talking with Philip Gourevitch about Abu Ghraib and Standard Operating Procedure at the 2007 New Yorker Festival. This was painful to watch at times -- Morris speaks very deliberately -- but worth leaving the audio on in the background. They showed a clip of the movie at the festival but it got cut from the video...rights issues, I imagine.
In fact, Mr. President, your initial pro-war arguments offer the best path toward understanding why the conflict has been such a disaster for U.S. interests and global security.
Following your lead, Iraq hawks argued that, in a post-9/11 world, we needed to take out rogue regimes lest they give nuclear or biological weapons to al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups. But each time the United States tries to do so and fails to restore order, it incurs a high -- albeit unseen -- opportunity cost in the future. Falling short makes it harder to take out, threaten or pressure a dangerous regime next time around.
Foreign governments, of course, drew the obvious lesson from our debacle -- and from our choice of target. The United States invaded hapless Iraq, not nuclear-armed North Korea. To the real rogues, the fall of Baghdad was proof positive that it's more important than ever to acquire nuclear weapons -- and if the last superpower is bogged down in Iraq while its foes slink toward getting the bomb, so much the better. Iran, among others, has taken this lesson to heart. The ironic legacy of the war to end all proliferation will be more proliferation.
The planned invasion will strike another blow at the structure of international law and treaties that has been laboriously constructed over the years, in an effort to reduce the use of violence in the world, which has had such horrifying consequences. Apart from other consequences, an invasion is likely to encourage other countries to develop WMD, including a successor Iraqi government, and to lower the barriers against resort to force by others to achieve their objectives, including Russia, India, and China.
Project Orcon was a WWII-era effort to find a non-jammable guidance system for missiles; pigeons were one of the things they tried. Loaded into a missile, the pigeons were to tap on the image of the target to correct the missile's trajectory.
Trainee pigeons were started out in the primary trainer pecking at slowly moving targets. They were rewarded with corn for each hit and quickly learned that good pecking meant more food. Eventually pigeons were able to track a target jumping back and forth at five inches per second for 80 seconds, without a break. Peck frequency turned out to be four per second, and more than 80 percent of the pecks were within a quarter inch of the target. The training conditions simulated missile-flight speeds of about 400 miles per hour.
Errol Morris has posted the third and final installment of his quest to find out which of two Roger Fenton photographs taken during the Crimean War came first. It is as excellent (and lengthy) as the first and second parts. Morris asks "How can the real world be recovered from the simulacrum?" and arrives at a compelling answer (which I won't give away here) via sun-maps, shadow experts, The Wisconsin Death-Trip Effect, and ultimately, the Dust-Plunging-Straight-Down Test.
It is insane, but I would like to make the claim that the meaning of photography is contained in these two images. By thinking about the Fenton photographs we are essentially thinking about some of the most vexing issues in photography -- about posing, about the intentions of the photographer, about the nature of photographic evidence -- about the relationship between photographs and reality.
Morris' posts make me a bit sad though. Yes, because the series is concluded but also for two other reasons:
1. Morris' investigation sticks out like a sore thumb, especially compared to most popular media (newspapers, magazines, blogs, TV news). Why isn't Morris' level of skepticism and doggedness the norm rather than the delightful exception? Choosing the easy answer or the first answer that seems right enough is certainly compelling, especially under limited time constraints. Once acquired, that easy answer often becomes tied up with the ego of the person holding the belief...i.e. "this answer is correct because I think it's right because I'm smart and not easily duped and it proves the point I'm trying to make and therefore this answer is correct". Morris encountered dozens of easy and plausibly correct answers and rejected them all based on a lack of evidence, which allowed him to finally arrive at a correct answer supported by compelling physical evidence.
2. At the same time, lessons in photography and philosophy aside, what did we really learn? In the course of this investigation, Morris spent dozens of hours, wrote thousands of words, flew to Ukraine, enlisted the help of several experts, and probably spent thousands of dollars. Based on seemingly insignificant details, he was able to determine that one photograph was taken slightly before another photograph. If so much energy was put into the discovery of that one small fact, how are we actually supposed to learn anything truthful about larger and more significant events like the Iraq War or global warming. Presumably there's more evidence to go on, but that's not always helpful. Does this completely bum anyone else the fuck out?
In a narrative that reads like a thriller, Rhodes reveals how the Reagan administration's unprecedented arms buildup in the early 1980s led ailing Soviet leader Yuri Andropov to conclude that Reagan must be preparing for a nuclear war. In the fall of 1983, when NATO staged a larger than usual series of field exercises that included, uniquely, a practice run-up to a nuclear attack, the Soviet military came very close to launching a defensive first strike on Europe and North America. With Soviet aircraft loaded with nuclear bombs warming up on East German runways, U.S. intelligence organizations finally realized the danger.
Random House has posted a portion of the first chapter from which I won't quote because Rhodes' storytelling style is nigh impossible to excerpt; he starts the story on page one and doesn't relent until the final paragraphs. Like the above quote says, his nonfiction reads like a novel...reminds me of Tom Clancy's books but meticulously researched and true.
Furthermore, what do the shadows on a cannonball, a Crimean cannonball, circa 1850, really look like -- not in a Fenton photograph but sitting alone, unadorned in the Valley of the Shadow of Death 150 years later? Olga seemed amused. I am not a great believer in certainty, but I am pretty certain the Duke of Edinburgh never asked to go to the Panorama Museum to borrow a Crimean War cannonball.
We're running a bit behind in watching The War; we stopped the other night right before D-Day. The series is quite good so far, even with all its flaws. The last section we watched dealt with the Battle of Monte Cassino and the related Battle of Anzio in Italy. With the Germans holding the high ground, these battles were some of toughest of the war for the Allies. During one particularly difficult moment, an American soldier yelled out a prayer (I'm paraphrasing slightly): "Oh God, where are you? We really could use your help down here. And don't send Jesus, come down here yourself. This ain't no place for children."
In a series of public statements in recent months, President Bush and members of his Administration have redefined the war in Iraq, to an increasing degree, as a strategic battle between the United States and Iran. "Shia extremists, backed by Iran, are training Iraqis to carry out attacks on our forces and the Iraqi people," Bush told the national convention of the American Legion in August. "The attacks on our bases and our troops by Iranian-supplied munitions have increased... The Iranian regime must halt these actions. And, until it does, I will take actions necessary to protect our troops." He then concluded, to applause, "I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran's murderous activities."
As I've said elsewhere: Nothing is so obvious that it's obvious. When someone says that something is obvious, it seems almost certain that it is anything but obvious - even to them. The use of the word "obvious" indicates the absence of a logical argument - an attempt to convince the reader by asserting the truth of something by saying it a little louder.
This might be the best blog post I've ever read. I can't wait to see Standard Operating Procedure, Morris' upcoming documentary on Abu Ghraib and, from what it sounds like, the culmination of his exploration of truth in photography.
They’ve taken a subject that is inexhaustible and made it merely exhausting. Scene by scene, interview by interview, the series doesn’t bore, if you are of the school that believes that everyone’s experiences are at least somewhat interesting, and that the experiences of those who went through the Second World War are more interesting than most.
Arecibo Observatory, the world's largest radio telescope, is in danger of being shut down due to budget cuts. Arecibo could run for almost two years for the cost of a single F-16 fighter jet...to say nothing of the small fraction of the cost of the War in Iraq required.
As those of you who love slow pans over black and white photography are already aware, Ken Burns has a new documentary coming out on PBS on Sept 23. The War "explores the history and horror of World War II from an American perspective by following the fortunes of so-called ordinary men and women who became caught up in one of the greatest cataclysms in human history" in 7 episodes spanning over 15 hours. A 26-minute video preview is available on the PBS site and the DVD is already available for pre-order on Amazon.
I think it's perfectly OK for John McCain and Barack Obama to say that the US is wasting the lives of the American troops that have been killed in Iraq. In the ignoble pursuit of politics, people are penalized for telling the truth, or at least for telling their honest opinions. Words are twisted by the media and opponents to take on other meanings. In this case, we're supposed to be outraged for McCain and Obama suggesting that those who have chosen to serve in the armed forces are wasting their lives. Does anyone honestly believe that either of these two guys really meant to say that?
Nina Berman won a prize in the 2007 World Press Photo contest for this heartbreaking photo of a badly wounded Iraqi war veteran and his childhood sweetheart on their wedding day. Their story is here. "One arm was a stump and his remaining hand had only two fingers. Later, his big toe was grafted on in place of a thumb. One eye was blind and milky, as if melted, and his ears had been burnt away. The top of his skull had been removed and inserted by doctors into the fatty tissue inside his torso to keep it viable and moist for future use." (thx, ayush)
Morris introduced us to his latest project about the Abu Ghraib, and the iconic images created from the prisoner torture. It's his hypothesis that it's a handful of those photos from that we'll remember a hundred years from now about the Iraq War. He explained that this project began with the mystery of two photos by Roger Fenton described by Susan Sontag in her book, Regarding the Pain of Others. During the Crimean War, Fenton took photos of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Two are of the same road, one with cannonballs littering the road, one with the cannonballs in the ravine. The Mystery being which photo was taken first, which was staged?
This is an interesting topic for Morris considering he pioneered the use of "expressionistic reenactments" in documentary filmmaking with The Thin Blue Line.
Update: The film is called "S.O.P.: Standard Operating Procedure".
Wonderful interview with photographer Simon Norfolk on BLDGBLOG. Norfolk photographs landscapes of war, but not just battlefields. "Because quite soon there aren't going to be guys with guns shooting at each other. We're quite soon getting to the era of UAVs and stuff. People aren't even going to know what shot them - and there will be nothing to photograph."
Tyler Cowen takes a closer look at the recent "600,000 deaths in Iraq" claim. "We all know that the political world judges Iraq by the absolute badness of what is going on (which means Bush critics find a higher number to fit their priors), but that is an incorrect standard. We should judge the marginal product of U.S. action, relative to what else could have happened. In that latter and more accurate notion of a cost-benefit test, U.S. actions probably appear worst when deaths are rising over time, and hitting very high levels in the future."
An article in this week's New Yorker by Seymour Hersh suggests that the attack of Hezbollah in Lebanon by Israel was premeditated and approved by the US government, who viewed it as a chance to weaken both Hezbollah and Iran and as a template for similar attacks for an upcoming war with Iran.
Haven't read it yet, but New York magazine has a ginormous feature called What If 9/11 Never Happened? "Without 9/11, would the London plot have been foiled? Without 9/11, would there have been an Iraq war? Without the Iraq war, would there have been a London plot?"
We're back in the US, but here's one more post about our time in Vietnam.
1. On our way out to the Mekong Delta, we went through an industrial area, with machine shops, brick-making facilities, and the like. As we drove, we passed a three-wheeled bicycle that you see all over in Vietnam, with a cart in the front over two wheels and the driver over the rear wheel in the back. Lashed to the cart were several steel beams, probably 8-10 of them, each about 2 inches tall and 10 feet long, weight of the whole thing unknown, probably several hundred pounds on three bicycle wheels and a non-existant suspension system. And if that's not odd enough to imagine, the whole thing was moving at around 30 mph, pushed along by a motorcycle whose driver had his left foot on the bolt of the right front wheel, while the respective drivers of the combined conveyance chatted away with little attention to their Rube Goldberg machine. Wish I'd have gotten a photo of it...it's one of the craziest things I've ever seen.
2. Even though the streets of Saigon were packed with motorbikes, you saw very few people wearing helmets, and when they did, they tended to be construction helmets that weren't even strapped to their heads.
3. I got an email from a reader a few days ago wondering why I was referring to Saigon as Saigon rather than its official name of Ho Chi Minh City, the name given to the city 24 hours after it fell to the North Vietnamese. Most of the city's inhabitants still call it Saigon, so I was following suit. It's also quicker to say and to type.
4. Cao Dai is a homegrown Vietnamese religion (established in the 1920s) that is an amalgamation of several other religions. On our trip to the Mekong Delta, we visited a Cao Dai temple, which looked like it was designed by Liberace's interior decorator. Over the altar was a sculpture depicting Buddha, Confucious, Jesus, and Victor Hugo (!!), and I think they were all holding hands or something.
5. On one of the entry forms you need to fill out before arriving in Vietnam, it lists some things that are illegal to import into the country, including:
weapons, ammunition, explosives, military equipment and tools, narcotics, drugs, toxic chemicals, pornographic and subversive materials, firecrackers, children's toys that have "negative effects on personality development, social order and security," or cigarettes in excess of the stipulated allowance.
Children's toys? Negative effects on personality development, social order and security? Bwa?
6. I can't find too much about it online, but one of the more interesting things we saw in Saigon was the photography exhibit at The War Remnants Museum. The exhibit consists of hundreds of photographs of the Vietnam War (the Vietnamese call it the American War) taken by some of the best photojournalists who were working at the time, including Larry Burrows, Henri Huet, Horst Faas, Huynh Thanh My, Robert Capa, and Kyochi Sawada. A powerful and moving record of a tumultuous period in history.
7. Speaking of The War Remnants Museum (which was formerly called The War Crimes Museum and was a little more one-sided in the past), it wasn't until a couple days after I'd gone that I realized that remnants referred to all of the stuff that the US had left in Vietnam after the long conflict, literally the leftovers of war. Tanks, planes, cars, helicopters, guns, photography, children deformed from the effects of Agent Orange, a population depleted of young men, horrific memories, and, finally, a united Vietnam.
On our first night in Saigon, we ran across a little shop that offered for sale, among other things, lots of 60s/70s-era Zippo lighters.
Me: How do you suppose they came to have those?
Meg: I don't want to know.
I was born in 1973 and don't have much of a connection to the Vietnam War (it's referred to as the American War or the Resistance War Against America here)...my dad was in the Navy but served before the war really got going and was never sent to Vietnam. But for some Americans, I could see how being here would be difficult.
Update: I've been told that the Zippo lighters are fake, made especially for the tourist trade. We read about this in our guidebook, but these looked pretty authentic to me. Regardless, a sobering reminder. (thx adam)
flickrTagFight pits tag against tag in a folksonomic battle to the death. fTF has already started a conflict in my household...results of the kottke(145)/megnut(34) tag smackdown are being hotly disputed.
Google Maps hack: Iraq War casualty map. "This page shows the progession of US military casualties from the Iraq war. Each click displays 30 more casualties, starting from the beginning of the war. Each soldier is shown in at their home town. Click their icon for more details."
Rhodes' followup to The Making of the Atomic Bomb (for which he won a Pulitzer), while not as tight a narrative as its predecessor, was more interesting to me because I was less familiar with the story. In particular, the Soviet espionage effort during WWII was fascinating.