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kottke.org posts about war

The intellectual at war

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 10, 2015

Bernard-Henri Levy (known as BHL) is a French philosopher and public intellectual who seems to have come from central casting. Sixty-six, handsome, he wears gorgeous tailored shirts unbuttoned halfway down his chest, weighs in on any public dispute that catches his fancy (like when he argued that his good friend, the IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, could not have assaulted a hotel employee since, as everyone knows, the finest hotels always send in cleaning brigades of two people).

He is, in short, ridiculous, all the more so because he takes himself so seriously, and is taken seriously by others.

All this is background to explain what is absurd, charming, and inexplicably funny about this slideshow of photographs of BHL in various combat zones over the years.

BHL 1.jpg

BHL - Darfour 2007.jpg

BHL - Darfour 2.jpg

BHL poolside.jpg

The Civil War, remastered

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2015

Twenty-five years after its first airing on PBS, Ken Burns has remastered his epic documentary, The Civil War, and PBS will be airing the new version all this week, starting tonight. The remastered series will also be available on Blu-ray in October.

The thousands of bombs exploded on Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 17, 2015

From Orbital Mechanics, a visualization of the 2153 nuclear weapons exploded on Earth since 1945.

2153! I had no idea there had been that much testing. According to Wikipedia, the number is 2119 tests, with most of those coming from the US (1032) and the USSR (727). The largest device ever detonated was Tsar Bomba, a 50-megaton hydrogen bomb set off in the atmosphere above an island in the Barents Sea in 1961. Tsar Bomba had more than three times the yield of the largest bomb tested by the US. The result was spectacular.

The fireball reached nearly as high as the altitude of the release plane and was visible at almost 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) away from where it ascended. The subsequent mushroom cloud was about 64 kilometres (40 mi) high (over seven times the height of Mount Everest), which meant that the cloud was above the stratosphere and well inside the mesosphere when it peaked. The cap of the mushroom cloud had a peak width of 95 kilometres (59 mi) and its base was 40 kilometres (25 mi) wide.

All buildings in the village of Severny (both wooden and brick), located 55 kilometres (34 mi) from ground zero within the Sukhoy Nos test range, were destroyed. In districts hundreds of kilometers from ground zero wooden houses were destroyed, stone ones lost their roofs, windows and doors; and radio communications were interrupted for almost one hour. One participant in the test saw a bright flash through dark goggles and felt the effects of a thermal pulse even at a distance of 270 kilometres (170 mi). The heat from the explosion could have caused third-degree burns 100 km (62 mi) away from ground zero. A shock wave was observed in the air at Dikson settlement 700 kilometres (430 mi) away; windowpanes were partially broken to distances of 900 kilometres (560 mi). Atmospheric focusing caused blast damage at even greater distances, breaking windows in Norway and Finland. The seismic shock created by the detonation was measurable even on its third passage around the Earth.

The Soviets did not give a fuck, man…what are a few thousand destroyed homes compared to scaring the shit out of the capitalist Amerikanskis with a comically large explosion? Speaking of bonkers Communist dictatorships, the last nuclear test conducted on Earth was in 2013, by North Korea.

John Hersey’s Hiroshima

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 06, 2015

In August of 1946, the New Yorker dedicated an entire issue to a piece called Hiroshima by John Hersey. As an introduction, the editors wrote:

TO OUR READERS. The New Yorker this week devotes its entire editorial space to an article on the almost complete obliteration of a city by one atomic bomb, and what happened to the people of that city. It does so in the conviction that few of us have yet comprehended the all but incredible destructive power of this weapon, and that everyone might well take time to consider the terrible implications of its use. The Editors.

For the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, the New Yorker has digitized Hersey’s piece. The piece is quite long (30,000 words) so it can also be found in book form if that’s easier to read. Here’s the opening paragraph to get you going:

At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning, on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk. At that same moment, Dr. Masakazu Fujii was settling down cross-legged to read the Osaka Asahi on the porch of his private hospital, overhanging one of the seven deltaic rivers which divide Hiroshima; Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, a tailor’s widow, stood by the window of her kitchen, watching a neighbor tearing down his house because it lay in the path of an air-raid-defense fire lane; Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a German priest of the Society of Jesus, reclined in his underwear on a cot on the top floor of his order’s three-story mission house, reading a Jesuit magazine, Stimmen der Zeit; Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, a young member of the surgical staff of the city’s large, modern Red Cross Hospital, walked along one of the hospital corridors with a blood specimen for a Wassermann test in his hand; and the Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church, paused at the door of a rich man’s house in Koi, the city’s western suburb, and prepared to unload a handcart full of things he had evacuated from town in fear of the massive B-29 raid which everyone expected Hiroshima to suffer. A hundred thousand people were killed by the atomic bomb, and these six were among the survivors. They still wonder why they lived when so many others died. Each of them counts many small items of chance or volition — a step taken in time, a decision to go indoors, catching one streetcar instead of the next — that spared him. And now each knows that in the act of survival he lived a dozen lives and saw more death than he ever thought he would see. At the time, none of them knew anything.

The piece made quite an impression upon its release, which you can read about on Wikipedia.

Star Wars-style opening crawls of the day’s news

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2015

Every day, a program written by Julien Deswaef selects a war-related news item from the NY Times, formats it in the style of the infamous Star Wars opening crawl (complete with John Williams’ score), and posts the results to YouTube.

Published yesterday, the crawl for Episode XXVII was taken from a NY Times article about an Obama speech about the Iranian nuclear deal.

Here’s how the project was made and if you’d like to try it yourself, grab the source code. (via prosthetic knowledge)

The Freedmen’s Bureau Project

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2015

The Freedmen’s Bureau Project is a new initiative to digitize and make available online the records collected by the The Freedmen’s Bureau near the end of the Civil War. The records detail the lives of about 4 million African Americans and will be available by the end of 2016.

FamilySearch is working in collaboration with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society and the California African American Museum to make these records available and accessible by taking the raw records, extracting the information and indexing them to make them easily searchable online. Once indexed, finding an ancestor may be as easy as going to FamilySearch.org, entering a name and, with the touch of a button, discovering your family member.

The Freedmen’s Bureau was organized near the end of the American Civil War to assist newly freed slaves in 15 states and the District of Columbia. From 1865 to 1872, the Bureau opened schools, managed hospitals, rationed food and clothing and even solemnized marriages. In the process it gathered priceless handwritten, personal information including marriage and family information, military service, banking, school, hospital and property records on potentially million African Americans.

What an amazing resource this will be…many families out there will learn about the ancestors for the first time. The documents are currently 9% indexed and you can sign up to help at discoverfreedmen.org.

Tens of thousands of volunteers are needed to make these records searchable online. No specific time commitment is required, and anyone may participate. Volunteers simply log on, pull up as many scanned documents as they like, and enter the names and dates into the fields provided. Once published, information for millions of African Americans will be accessible, allowing families to build their family trees and connect with their ancestors.

(via open culture)

Bridge of Spies

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2015

Steven Spielberg is directing Tom Hanks in Bridge of Spies, a movie about the negotiation to release U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers from Soviet custody. Here’s the trailer:

The script was punched up by none other than the Coen brothers.

The Fallen of World War II

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2015

This is an amazing video visualization of military and civilian deaths in World War II. It’s 18 minutes long, but well worth your time.

There’s an interactive component as well, allowing you to explore the data. (via @garymross)

Berlin in 1945

posted by Jason Kottke   May 04, 2015

Seven minutes of color film footage of Berlin in 1945, right after the end of World War II. Lots of bombed out buildings, soldiers, bicycles, rebuilding, and people going about their daily business.

Be sure to watch all the way to the end…there’s an incredible aerial shot of the Brandenburg Gate and the Unter den Linden that shows the scale of damage done to the city’s buildings. More of that aerial footage here. (via devour)

Online exhibition of Sino-Japanese War prints

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 09, 2015

This collection of prints produced by artists about the Sino-Japanese War and housed in The British Library is great, but this particular print is just beyond:

Sino Japan Art

Fury end title sequence

posted by Susannah Breslin   Mar 16, 2015

I finally got a chance to watch “Fury” last weekend, and the part of the movie that was the most compelling to me was the end title sequence. The sequence terrifyingly captures the slamming chaos of war. (Contains graphic imagery.)

The main title sequence and the end title sequence were created by Greenhaus GFX.

1940 Nazi tourist map of Paris

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2015

Nazi Tourist Map Paris

In 1940, Germany published a tourist map of occupied Paris intended for use by German soldiers on leave.

The reimprisonment of homosexuals in Germany after WWII

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 10, 2015

After the end of World War II in Europe, homosexual prisoners of liberated concentration camps were refused reparations and some were even thrown into jail without credit for their time served in the camps. From the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

After the war, homosexual concentration camp prisoners were not acknowledged as victims of Nazi persecution, and reparations were refused. Under the Allied Military Government of Germany, some homosexuals were forced to serve out their terms of imprisonment, regardless of the time spent in concentration camps. The 1935 version of Paragraph 175 remained in effect in the Federal Republic (West Germany) until 1969, so that well after liberation, homosexuals continued to fear arrest and incarceration.

After 1945, it was no longer a crime to be Jewish in Germany, but homosexuality was another matter. Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code had been on the books since 1871. An English translation of the earliest version read simply:

Unnatural fornication, whether between persons of the male sex or of humans with beasts, is to be punished by imprisonment; a sentence of loss of civil rights may also be passed.

In Germany, homosexuality was considered a crime worthy of up to five years of imprisonment until Paragraph 175 was voided in 1994.

Update: I missed this while writing the post: Paragraph 175 was amended in 1969 to limit enforcement to engaging in homosexual acts with minors (under 21 years). (thx, eric)

Hell and Good Company

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 30, 2014

Richard Rhodes, who wrote two of my favorite nonfiction books ever (The Making of the Atomic Bomb and Dark Sun), is coming out with a new book in February. Hell and Good Company is a history of the Spanish Civil War.

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) inspired and haunted an extraordinary number of exceptional artists and writers, including Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Martha Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, and John Dos Passos. The idealism of the cause-defending democracy from fascism at a time when Europe was darkening toward another world war-and the brutality of the conflict drew from them some of their best work: Guernica, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Homage to Catalonia, The Spanish Earth.

The war spurred breakthroughs in military and medical technology as well. New aircraft, new weapons, new tactics and strategy all emerged in the intense Spanish conflict. Indiscriminate destruction raining from the sky became a dreaded reality for the first time. Progress also arose from the horror: the doctors and nurses who volunteered to serve with the Spanish defenders devised major advances in battlefield surgery and front-line blood transfusion. In those ways, and in many others, the Spanish Civil War served as a test bed for World War II, and for the entire twentieth century.

This War of Mine

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 18, 2014

This War Of Mine

From 11 bit Studios comes a game called This War of Mine which offers an unflinching view of war focusing on injury, suffering, and survival of the civilian population of a city besieged by civil war. Wired’s Matt Peckham has a good review.

This War of Mine imagines an endless civil war. Civilians are trapped in a besieged Stalingrad-like city, suffering from hunger and disease and shelling. Snipers roam the city, as apt to pick off civilians as they are insurgents. The phones don’t work. There isn’t enough food or medication. Your group operates out of a single structure, viewed from the side like a dollhouse, with apparatuses you can fiddle or upgrade to produce helpful goods or improve existing ones. Each survivor has a hierarchy of physical and mental needs equipoised against variably treacherous means of fulfilling them.

Your goal is simple: Survive. I’m not sure for how long, or if there’s even a “win” state, because the best I’ve managed so far is 25 days, and that felt interminable.

War photographer embeds himself inside a violent video game

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2014

Conflict photographer Ashley Gilbertson recently embedded himself in the video game The Last of Us Remastered and sent back a selection of war photos.

Last Of Us Gilbertson

Reminds me a bit of Jim Munroe’s My Trip to Liberty City, a film made from the perspective of a tourist visiting the city featured in Grand Theft Auto III:

(via @atotalmonet)

Update: New Gamer took photos of a road trip in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. (via @johnke)

World War II, the story of the 20th century

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2014

Wwii Rubble

World War II began 75 years ago today with Germany’s invasion of Poland. A few years back, Alan Taylor did a 20-part photographic retrospective of the war for In Focus, which is well worth the time to scroll through.

These images still give us glimpses into the experiences of our parents, grandparents and great grandparents, moments that shaped the world as it is today.

Life has a collection of color photos of the invasion of Poland. Time has a map dated Aug 28, 1939 that shows how Europe was preparing for war, including “Americans scuttle home”.

The scars of war

posted by Jason Kottke   May 27, 2014

Speaking of WWI, the landscape of the Western Front in Europe still shows the scars from the war 100 years on.

WWI trenches today

Aerial warfare in WWI

posted by Jason Kottke   May 27, 2014

The latest installment of the In Focus series on WWI is Aerial Warfare.

WWI aerial warfare

Great series so far, really enjoying it. Start from the beginning if you haven’t seen it yet.

The tech of WWI

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2014

In the latest installment of his ten-part series on WWI, Alan Taylor covers the technology used in the war.

When Europe’s armies first marched to war in 1914, some were still carrying lances on horseback. By the end of the war, rapid-fire guns, aerial bombardment, armored vehicle attacks, and chemical weapon deployments were commonplace. Any romantic notion of warfare was bluntly shoved aside by the advent of chlorine gas, massive explosive shells that could have been fired from more than 20 miles away, and machine guns that spat out bullets like firehoses. Each side did its best to build on existing technology, or invent new methods, hoping to gain any advantage over the enemy.

It’s fascinating to observe both sides using trial and error with things like tanks, testing out what works and what doesn’t. Look at this kooky German cannon for instance:

Wwi German Cannon

Nothing about that looks efficient.

Sham Paris

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2014

Sham Paris

A fake Paris was partially constructed near the real Paris at the end of World War I in the hopes of confusing German planes who were looking to bomb the City of Lights.

The story of Sham Paris may have been “broken” in The Illustrated London News of 6 November 1920 in a remarkably titled photo essay, “A False Paris Outside Paris — a ‘City’ Created to be Bombed”. There were to be sham streets lined with electric lights, sham rail stations, sham industry, open to a sham population waiting to be bombed by real Germans. It is a perverse city, filled with the waiting-to-be-murdered in a civilian target.

Currahee

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2014

I watched the first episode of Band of Brothers last night to see if it held up (it does). The episode centers on the training and deployment to England of Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, led by Lt. Herbert Sobel. In the miniseries, Sobel is played by David Schwimmer and is depicted as a real hardass who earns the hatred of his men while pushing them to be the best company in the entire regiment.

In real life, Sobel rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, fought in the Korean War, was awarded the Bronze Star, married and had three children. The part of Sobel’s Wikipedia entry about his later years is among the saddest things I have ever read:

In the late 1960s, Sobel shot himself in the head with a small-caliber pistol. The bullet entered his left temple, passed behind his eyes, and exited out the other side of his head. This severed his optic nerves and left him blind. He was later moved to a VA assisted living facility in Waukegan, Illinois. Sobel resided there for his last seventeen years until his death due to malnutrition on September 30, 1987. No services were held for Sobel after his death.

Rest in peace, Lieutenant Colonel Sobel.

World War I in photos

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2014

Over at In Focus, Alan Taylor has posted the first part of a 10-part photographic retrospective of World War I.

Priest blesses airplane

Represented in this first installment is early color photography (many more of which can be found here), dazzle camouflage, and a photo I’ve never seen before of an aerial view of the trenches of the western front. Can’t wait to follow along with the rest of it.

Donald Rumsfeld: The Unknown Known

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2014

Errol Morris’ documentary about Donald Rumsfeld, The Unknown Known, comes out next month. The trailer:

In the first of a four-part companion series to the movie for the NY Times, Morris explores The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld.

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.

Update: Here’s part 2.

Did the Nazis steal the Mona Lisa?

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 19, 2013

Per Betteridge’s law of headlines, the answer to this is “no”, but it’s still an interesting yarn.

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 Mona Lisa was actually stolen in 1911, in one of the cleverest art heists ever pulled.

The Gettysburg Address turns 150

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 19, 2013

From the Google Cultural Institute, an engaging account of how Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address, which was delivered 150 years ago today. There are actually five surviving copies of the text of the speech written in Lincoln’s hand; they’re all different and we don’t know for sure which one he read from. You can easily compare the different versions or see the handwritten versions. Here’s the Bliss Copy of the Gettysburg Address, which Lincoln wrote down in 1864, a few months after the speech:

Gettysburg Address 1

Gettysburg Address 2

Gettysburg Address 3

The Bliss Copy hangs in The White House and is the canonical version of the speech that you learned in school, hear in movies, read on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial, etc.

The most honored photograph

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 30, 2013

Jay Zeamer and a group of fellow misfits collectively called the Eager Beavers were an American photoreconnaissance team in the Pacific theater during WWII. They flew their beat-up B-17 bomber into enemy territory to collection reconnaissance photographs. Roger Cicala shares the engaging story of their most noteworthy photo.

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.

(via petapixel)

World War II in 7 minutes

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2013

A 7-minute time lapse video of the European front line changes during World War II, from the invasion of Poland to (spoilers!) the surrender of Germany.

Surprising to me how much of the war involves no shifting front lines…the map view really emphasizes this in a way that other WWII narratives do not. (via open culture)

Mad Jack Churchill

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2013

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:

Mad Jack Churchill

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.

Rest in peace, Mad Jack. (via today i found out)

The mysterious briefcase of Martin Joyce

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2013

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)