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kottke.org posts about war

W.E.B. Du Bois on Robert E. Lee’s legacy

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2017

In 1928, the writer and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois wrote a short piece about the legacy of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

Each year on the 19th of January there is renewed effort to canonize Robert E. Lee, the greatest confederate general. His personal comeliness, his aristocratic birth and his military prowess all call for the verdict of greatness and genius. But one thing — one terrible fact — militates against this and that is the inescapable truth that Robert E. Lee led a bloody war to perpetuate slavery. Copperheads like the New York Times may magisterially declare: “of course, he never fought for slavery.” Well, for what did he fight? State rights? Nonsense. The South cared only for State Rights as a weapon to defend slavery. If nationalism had been a stronger defense of the slave system than particularism, the South would have been as nationalistic in 1861 as it had been in 1812.

No. People do not go to war for abstract theories of government. They fight for property and privilege and that was what Virginia fought for in the Civil War. And Lee followed Virginia. He followed Virginia not because he particularly loved slavery (although he certainly did not hate it), but because he did not have the moral courage to stand against his family and his clan. Lee hesitated and hung his head in shame because he was asked to lead armies against human progress and Christian decency and did not dare refuse. He surrendered not to Grant, but to Negro Emancipation.

See also W.E.B. Du Bois on Confederate Monuments.

French Resistance spy Jeannie de Clarens dies at 98

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 30, 2017

WWII spy Jeannie de Clarens died last week in western France at the age of 98. While working as an interpreter for a group of businessmen in occupied France during World War II, de Clarens passed information about German V1 & V2 rockets to the British government.

Getting wind of a secret weapons project, she made it her mission to be on hand when the topic was discussed by the Germans, coaxing information through charm and guile.

“I teased them, taunted them, looked at them wide-eyed, insisted that they must be mad when they spoke of the astounding new weapon that flew over vast distances, much faster than any airplane,” she told The Washington Post in 1998. “I kept saying, ‘What you are telling me cannot be true!’ I must have said that 100 times.”

One officer, eager to convince her, let her look at drawings of the rockets.

Most of what she heard was incomprehensible. But, blessed with a near-photographic memory, she repeated it in detail to her recruiter, Georges Lamarque, at a safe house on the Left Bank.

In London, intelligence analysts, led by Reginald V. Jones, marveled at the quality of the information they were receiving from Paris, notably a startling document called the Wachtel Report. Delivered in September 1943, it identified the German officer in charge of the rocket program, Col. Max Wachtel; gave precise details about operations at the testing plant in Peenemünde, on the Baltic coast in Pomerania; and showed planned launch locations along the coast from Brittany to the Netherlands.

Relying on this information, the British organized several bombing raids against the plant, which delayed development of the V-2 and spared untold thousands of lives in London.

As punishment for her resistance, de Clarens was held by the Germans in camps until near the end of the war. Total hero. (thx, kathryn)

The Vietnam War documentary series by Ken Burns

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 09, 2017

Together with Lynn Novick, filmmaker Ken Burns, who has previously made long documentary films on The Civil War and World War II, has made a film about perhaps the most controversial and contentious event in American history, The Vietnam War. The film runs for 18 hours across 10 installments and begins on September 17 on PBS.

David Kamp interviewed Novick and Burns for Vanity Fair and proclaims the film a triumph:

I watched the whole series in a marathon viewing session a few days before meeting with the filmmakers — a knock-you-sideways experience that was as enlightening as it was emotionally taxing. For all their unguarded anxiety about doing the war justice, Burns and Novick have pulled off a monumental achievement. Audiovisually, the documentary is like no other Burns-branded undertaking. Instead of folksy sepia and black-and-white, there are vivid jade-green jungles and horrific blooms of napalm that explode into orange and then gradually turn smoky black. The Vietnam War was the first and last American conflict to be filmed by news organizations with minimal governmental interference, and the filmmakers have drawn from more than 130 sources for motion-picture footage, including the U.S. networks, private home-movie collections, and several archives administered by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The series’s depiction of the Tet offensive, in which the North Vietnamese launched coordinated attacks on the South’s urban centers, is particularly and brutally immersive, approaching a 360-degree experience in its deft stitching together of footage from various sources.

The sound and music promises to thrill as well. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who did the scores for The Social Network, Gone Girl, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) provided original music to supplement popular music contemporary to the time. They even got The Beatles.

Then there’s all that popular music from the 60s and 70s: more than 120 songs by the artists who actually soundtracked the times, such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Animals, Janis Joplin, Wilson Pickett, Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, the Rolling Stones, and even the ordinarily permissions-averse and budget-breaking Beatles. Of the Beatles, Novick noted, “They basically said, We think this is an important part of history, we want to be part of what you’re doing, and we will take the same deal everybody else gets. That’s kind of unprecedented.”

I’m very much looking forward to this.

Why the mayor of New Orleans had Confederate statues torn down

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2017

New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu recently gave a speech about why the city chose to remove four Confederate monuments. Here’s a snippet from the transcript…it’s worth reading or watching in full.

The historic record is clear: the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.

First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy.

It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots.

These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.

After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city.

The presence of the monuments became something that was impossible for Landrieu and the city to ignore for any longer:

Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it?

Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are too?

George W. Bush’s book of paintings of US military veterans

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2017

Profiles In Courage

After leaving office in 2009, George W. Bush famously turned his attention to painting. That pursuit has now resulted in a book of portraits of post-9/11 US veterans painted by Bush called Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors.

Growing out of President Bush’s own outreach and the ongoing work of the George W. Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative, Portraits of Courage brings together sixty-six full-color portraits and a four-panel mural painted by President Bush of members of the United States military who have served our nation with honor since 9/11 — and whom he has come to know personally.

The author proceeds from the book will be donated to the George W. Bush Presidential Center, “a non-profit organization whose Military Service Initiative works to ensure that post-9/11 veterans and their families make successful transitions to civilian life with a focus on gaining meaningful employment and overcoming the invisible wounds of war”. There’s a certain — I don’t know, let’s call it irony — in Bush honoring those whom he personally caused to be put in the harm’s way in the first place, under false pretenses no less.

Meet America’s oldest living veteran

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 09, 2017

Richard Overton fought in the South Pacific in World War II, is 109 years old, still drives, sometimes drinks whiskey with breakfast, smokes 12 cigars a day (but doesn’t inhale), and still lives in the house he built himself in 1945. In this video from National Geographic, Overton talks about his military service, his faith, his long life, and soup. Overton’s short summary of World War II:

It wasn’t good, but we had to go.

I don’t really care to live to 100, but if I had Overton’s spirit and attitude, perhaps I’d consider it.

Update: Ryan Holiday recently visited with Overton and learned a thing or two about life.

The most animated Richard ever got was when he told me a story about the enormous pecan tree in his front yard. It seemed like an ordinary tree to me, until he told me his dog planted it seventy years ago. They had a pecan tree in the back, and the dog would grab the nuts and bury them in the front yard. With glee, Richard told me how eventually the tree grew and now it’s so big it’s nearly pushing up the foundation of his house. He loved the absurdity of it — a dog planting a tree! He was laughing at it still, seven decades later.

And then there’s this, about another instance of The Great Span:

It’s fascinating to think that when Richard was born Theodore Roosevelt was president. Overton is the oldest living American veteran now, but when he was born, Henry L. Riggs was still alive. Riggs was a veteran of the Black Hawk War (1832) and he was born in 1812…and Conrad Heyer, the Revolutionary War veteran and the oldest and earliest person to be photographed (born in 1749) was still alive when Riggs was born. Three overlapping lives, that’s all it took to get back to before even the idea of founding the United States. Richard’s brother fought in the first World War. He told me he remembered seeing Civil War veterans around when he was a kid. Not many, but they were there. It was Texas — those men fought to keep his mother in slavery. How long ago all that horribleness seems. How recent it is at the same time.

Timeless tips for “simple sabotage” from the CIA

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2016

Simple Sabotage Field Manual

In 1944, the OSS (the precursor to the CIA) produced a document called the Simple Sabotage Field Manual. It was designed to be used by agents in the field to hinder our WWII adversaries. The CIA recently highlighted five tips from the manual as timelessly relevant:

1. Managers and Supervisors: To lower morale and production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.

2. Employees: Work slowly. Think of ways to increase the number of movements needed to do your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one; try to make a small wrench do instead of a big one.

3. Organizations and Conferences: When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large and bureaucratic as possible. Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.

4. Telephone: At office, hotel and local telephone switchboards, delay putting calls through, give out wrong numbers, cut people off “accidentally,” or forget to disconnect them so that the line cannot be used again.

5. Transportation: Make train travel as inconvenient as possible for enemy personnel. Issue two tickets for the same seat on a train in order to set up an “interesting” argument.

Ha, some of these things are practically best practices in American business, not against enemies but against their employees, customers, and themselves. You can also find the manual in book or ebook format. (via @craigmod)

The biggest war in animal history

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2016

According to theoretical biologist Suzanne Sadedin, the biggest war in animal history (humans included) is happening right now.

Once upon a time there was a tiny brown ant who lived by a swamp at the end of the Paraná River in Argentina. Her name, Linepithema humile, literally means “humble” or “weak”. Some time during the late 1800s, an adventurous L. humile crept away from the swamp where giant river otter played and capybaras cavorted.

She stowed away on a boat that sailed to New Orleans. And she went to war.

Update: And bang, here’s the supporting science in the form of a 2010 study.

Here, we perform inter-continental behavioral analyses among supercolonies in North America, Europe, Asia, Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia and show that these far-flung supercolonies also recognize and accept each other as if members of a single, globally distributed supercolony. Furthermore, populations also possess similar genetic and chemical profiles. However, these ants do show aggression toward ants from South Africa and the smaller secondary colonies that occur in Hawaii and California. Thus, the largest and most dominant introduced populations are likely descended from the same ancestral colony and, despite having been established more than 100 years ago, have diverged very little. This apparent evolutionary stasis is surprising because, in other species, some of the most rapid rates of evolutionary change have occurred in introduced populations. Given the spatial extent of the Argentine ant society we report here, there can be little doubt that this intercontinental supercolony represents the most populous known animal society.

The “25 years and beyond” section of the Facebook product roadmap contains a single word, unlined twice in red ink: ants. Can ants be trained to look at ads though?

Update: Radiolab also did a segment on these ants. (via @minwoolee)

Update: Wow, the Argentine ant is having a bit of a moment…I didn’t expect this to be my most updated post of the week. Annalee Newitz just dropped a long article about their world domination: Meet the worst ants in the world.

UC Berkeley environmental scientist Neil Tsutsui helmed an effort to sequence the genome of L. humile, in part to find out where the invading group had originated. He and an international team of colleagues published the results of their analysis in 2011. They compared the genomes of Argentine ants in California to those of native populations, and Tsutsui told Ars that they were initially surprised by the results. “I was expecting Buenos Aires to be the source, but it was actually a city upstream called Rosario,” he said. “It turns out that in the late 19th century, when the ants were moving around, Rosario was actually a bigger shipping port than Buenos Aires. So it made more sense as a source for introduced populations.”

Genetic evidence supports the idea that the ants made their way from Port Rosario all across the globe. Subsequent sightings of the ants in the United States show that they also hitched rides on trains from New Orleans, ultimately arriving in California in 1904. Trucks probably transported them throughout the state. But how could such fragile creatures survive these journeys in giant machines and go on to found insectile empires? With their countless queens and nomadic lifestyle, they turned out to be the ultimate adapters.

Che Guevara and Lionel Messi are also from Rosario and have taken over the world in their own way. (via @tcarmody)

Teaser trailer for Christopher Nolan’s new film, Dunkirk

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2016

Christopher Nolan’s next film is a WWII action/thriller about the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk, France in 1940. The film comes out in July 2017 and if that last scene in the teaser trailer is any indication of the overall film, I will be there.

Update: The first full trailer has dropped. Yeah, this looks good.

The historical accuracy of Saving Private Ryan

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2016

Saving Private Ryan has been praised for its graphic and intense depiction of World War II, particularly the Normandy landing scene. History Buffs recently analyzed the film for its historical accuracy. How well does the film reflect the events of the actual D-Day landing and aftermath?

The video takes a bit to get going but is really good when it does. For instance, did you know that the Allies used inflatable tanks and Jeeps to make Germany believe Allied forces had strongholds in places they did not? Look at them inflating the tanks and bouncing Jeeps around:

The Industrial Revolution, climate change, and Brexit

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 24, 2016

Coalbrookdale

The Industrial Revolution began in the mid-18th century in Great Britain. To provide power for the wondrous new inventions producing marvelous new goods and services, coal (and later oil) was dug out of the ground and burned, releasing billions and billions of tons of carbon dioxide. In time, the speedy introduction of all this new carbon into the atmosphere caused the Earth’s climate to change.

In order to procure new resources for manufacturing and gain access to new markets for finished goods, the British Empire expanded across the globe. At some point, Great Britain invaded nearly 90% of the world’s countries. The expansion fueled climate change and created avenues for immigration to Britain from their colonies. Their activities eventually bring them to the Middle East in search of oil.

Fast forward to 2006. Drought exacerbated by climate change is one of many factors that pushed Syria into a prolonged civil war. The war triggered a humanitarian crisis and millions flee the country, becoming refugees, and some are able to migrate to Europe and other countries around the world, including Britain. The Syrian immigration issue fueled British nationalism, racism, and xenophobia, triggering a vote about whether Britain should leave the European Union. Yesterday, more than 17 million Britons voted to leave, with strong support for Leave in areas with now-empty coalfields and declining industrialization.

Coincidence? Not even close. More than 250 years on, Britain is still dealing with the effects of the Industrial Revolution. (via @EricHolthaus, @johnupton, @MichaelEMann, @chucktodd)

Hussam and the Death Way

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2016

Hussam Death Way

From comic artist Toby Morris, a harrowing tale of Hussam and his family, who escaped the civil war in Syria to a refugee camp in Jordan.

Dorothea Lange’s photos of Japanese Americans’ imprisonment during WWII

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2016

Lange Japanese Internment

Lange Japanese Internment

In 1942, the US government hired Dorothea Lange (of Migrant Mother fame) to take photos of the removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Although Lange quit after a few months because government censors wouldn’t let her shoot images of barbed wire and the bayonets on guards’ guns, she took hundreds of photos documenting this shameful moment in American history.

Famous for her forlorn images of Dust Bowl America, this pioneering female photographer was hired by the War Relocation Authority in 1942 to document the removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans. Although her skill at candid portraiture was unparalleled, “Lange was an odd choice, given her leftist politics and strong sympathy for victims of racial discrimination,” writes scholar Megan Asaka. The position was a challenging one for Lange as well. “Appalled by the forced exile, she confided to a Quaker protestor that she was guilt stricken to be working for a federal government that could treat its citizens so unjustly.”

The WRA initially gave Lange little instruction about where and what to shoot, but controlled and censored her while she was at work. When documenting life inside the assembly centers and concentration camps, she was prohibited from taking shots of barbed wire and bayonets. Unable to tolerate this censorship and her own conflicted feelings about the work, Lange quit after just a few months of employment with the WRA.

Less ashamed at what they’d done and more worried about PR backlash, the government embargoed Lange’s photos until 1972.

If this all makes you think of some recent comments about Muslims from a certain Republican presidential candidate, history may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.

Update: Ansel Adams also took dozens of photos of the Japanese American interment camp at Manzanar.

Adams Japanese Internment Camp

So did photographer Toyo Miyatake, who was among the prisoners at Manzanar.

Miyatake Japanese Internment

The exclusion order forced Miyatake, his wife and four children, to the concentration camp at Manzanar. He was able to store his photographic equipment but managed to smuggle a camera lens and film plate holder into the camp against government orders. Miyatake told his son Archie that he felt it was his duty to document camp life. An Issei carpenter in camp constructed a box to house the lens, and Miyatake was able to get film into camp by way of a hardware salesman and former client. The photographer eventually asked camp director Ralph Merritt if he could set up a photo studio, and Merritt, who learned about Miyatake from Edward Weston, consented with the provision that Miyatake only load and set the camera, and a Caucasian assistant snap the shutter. Eventually, that restriction was lifted, and Miyatake was designated official camp photographer, and granted the freedom to take photos of everyday life at Manzanar.

Miyatake and Adams met at the camp and began a collaboration. Lange and Adams were friends — he printed Migrant Mother for her — and she was instrumental in convincing Adams to document Manzanar. But she was also critical of his detached approach:

In 1961, Lange said about Adams’s taking landscape pictures at the Manzanar Relocation Center: “It was shameful. That’s Ansel. He doesn’t have much sense about these things.”

(thx, @gen and samuel)

Update: Anchor Editions made a page with dozens of Lange’s photos paired with quotes from contemporary sources about the camps.

Daughter of Civil War vet still getting a pension

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 07, 2016

Private Mose Triplett was 19 when the Civil War ended in 1865. Later in life, he married a woman 50 years younger than him and, in 1930, they had a daughter Irene. Irene Triplett is now in her mid-eighties and gets a monthly benefit check from US Department of Veterans Affairs for her father’s service so many years before.

Eric Shinseki, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, often cites President Abraham Lincoln’s call, in his second inaugural address, for Americans “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.”

“The promises of President Abraham Lincoln are being delivered, 150 years later, by President Barack Obama, ” Secretary Shinseki said in a speech last fall. “And the same will be true 100 years from now-the promises of this president will be delivered by a future president, as yet unborn.”

A declaration of war sets in motion expenditures that can span centuries, whether the veterans themselves were heroes, cowards or something in between.

This story is from 2014, but I looked for Triplett’s obituary and found nothing, so I’m assuming she’s still alive and collecting that pension. See also The Great Span. (via @mikekarlesky)

Drone footage of a Syrian city destroyed by war

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 03, 2016

Until recently, the Syrian city of Homs was the country’s third largest, with an estimated population of more than 800,000. As you can see from this drone footage, The Siege of Homs left much of the city destroyed and its population displaced.

If you scroll down in this Guardian piece, there’s a photo showing what a Homs street looked like before and after the siege. (via @alexismadrigal)

Update: A pair of newlyweds recently posed for some wedding portraits in war-ravaged Homs. Bad idea or the worst idea?

A brief history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 21, 2016

From Vox, a history of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. More here.

Horizontal history

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 21, 2016

At Wait But Why, Tim Urban turns history on its side by thinking about time-synchronized events around the world, as opposed to events through the progression of time in each part of the world.

Likewise, I might know that Copernicus began writing his seminal work On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres in Poland in the early 1510s, but by learning that right around that same time in Italy, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, I get a better picture of the times. By learning that it was right while both of these things were happening that Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon in England, the 1510s suddenly begins to take on a distinct personality. These three facts, when put together, allow me to see a more three-dimensional picture of the 1510s — it allows me to see the 1510s horizontally, like cutting out a complete segment of the vine tangle and examining it all together.

He does this mainly by charting and graphing the lifetimes of famous people, revealing hidden contemporaries.

Horizontal History Graph

I’ve been slowly making my way through Ken Burns’ remastered The Civil War.1 At a few points in the program, narrator David McCullough reminds the viewer of what was going on around the world at the same time as the war. In the US, 1863 brought the Battle of Gettysburg and The Emancipation Proclamation. But also:

In Paris that year, new paintings by Cezanne, Whistler, and Manet were shown at a special exhibit for outcasts. In Russia, Dostoevsky finished Notes from the Underground. And in London, Karl Marx labored to complete his masterpiece, Das Kapital.

And a year later, while the advantage in the war was turning towards the US:1

In 1864, a rebellion in China that cost 20 million lives finally came to an end. In 1864, the Tsar’s armies conquered Turkistan and Tolstoy finished War and Peace. In 1864, Louis Pasteur pasteurized wine, the Geneva Convention established the neutrality of battlefield hospitals, and Karl Marx founded the International Workingmen’s Association in London and in New York.

Urban explicitly references the war in his post:

People in the US associate the 1860s with Lincoln and the Civil War. But what we overlook is that the 1860s was one of history’s greatest literary decades. In the ten years between 1859 and 1869, Darwin published his world-changing On the Origin of Species (1859), Dickens published A Tale of Two Cities (1859) and Great Expectations (1861), Lewis Carroll published Alice in Wonderland (1865), Dostoyevsky published Crime and Punishment (1866), and Tolstoy capped things off with War and Peace (1869).

The Civil War. The Origin of Species. Alice in Wonderland. The infancy of Impressionism. Pasteurization. Das Kapital. Gregor Mendel’s laws of inheritance. All in an eight-year span. Dang.

  1. Which is simply excellent. I had forgotten how powerful the storytelling technique Burns devised for his documentaries is. Really really worth your time to watch or re-watch.

  2. In talking about the Civil War, I’ve been trying to use Michael Todd Landis’ new language…so, “labor camps” instead of “plantations” and “United States” instead of “Union”.

A 5-minute history of the war in Syria and the rise of ISIS

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 17, 2015

From Vox, a quick video summary of the war in Syria and the rise of ISIS.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which has claimed responsibility for Friday’s terror attacks in Paris, has its origins in Iraq, but the group as we know it today is in many ways a product of Syria’s civil war. That war is much bigger than ISIS, but it is crucial for understanding so much that has happened in the past year, from terror attacks to the refugee crisis. And to understand the war, you need to understand how it began and how it unfolded.

See also Syria’s civil war: a brief history.

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.