Sparkler Z

Is anyone still here? (Also a narrative from an Iraq war veteran)

No posts since September of 2011! I wonder if anyone is still here.

In case there are, here is a narrative of an anonymous Iraq war veteran. I compiled this from a series of forum posts by the individual and while I should note that I made some changes to improve organization, grammar, and clarity of language, I kept as much of the writer's own words as possible. Likewise, my only additions were to explain terminology or for transitions between topics. As such, this does not read like Shakespeare, but it is honest and direct.

I tried to contact the veteran who made the posts that I compiled into this narrative but he did not respond. While I did not obtain his permission to repost them, the original posts were made on a public forum which required no log-in, and I feel his story is one that can only benefit others if heard. I make no claim of ownership over these words, and merely wish to share them.

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150th Anniversary Dinner and Dance in Salem, Massachusetts

Hi Folks!

I realize this is a bit of an "ad" but it comes with a historical flair.

This being the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War and all, it happens that a civil war reenacting unit (Salem Light Infantry) and a troupe that studies and performs historical dancing (Commonwealth Vintage Dance) will commemorate with a Levee Dinner and Ball at historic Hamilton Hall in Salem, Massachusetts

This will be the evening of Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 6PM

The historical Salem Light Infantry "Salem Zouaves" were among the first volunteer militias to come to Lincoln's call at the start of the Civil War in 1861, and served as Massachusetts Militia for 90 days, returning home in August 1861. Soldiers of the unit held a Levee and Ball at historic Hamilton Hall in Salem to celebrate their return.

The SLI hosted several dances and functions at Hamilton Hall for many years before and after the Civil War. Activities, demonstrations, dances and even the menu have been inspired by historical dances and events held at the hall by the SLI.

Pre-Registration is required. More information at the CVD website.

Liberty Ships

Liberty Ships

It’s remarkable what a nation can do when it puts its mind to something.

The story of the 2,710 “Liberty Ships” built by American shipyards during World War II is one of the most remarkable examples of industrial production in the history of awesome. Widely criticized, ugly, and using obsolete technology, they are an excellent example of why the allies won a war as big and challenging as WWII as quickly as they did.

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Sparkler Z

Catherine the Great (in bed)

The Civilization games have always been wonderfully addictive, so when Civilization V came out early this month, I snatched it up and have been playing it daily. In the course of the game, you interact with other leaders. Catherine the Great of Russia is portrayed quite flirtatiously.

You can see all her dialogue in this video, beginning at 4:02

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Battle for Québec

Did you know the French and Indian war was the North American manifestation of the Seven Years War, the "First World War"? I did not know that. I also did not know about one of its key battles, the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. (US grade school history curricula do not spend a whole lot of time on Canada sad to say.) I've been finding out about this stuff over the last few days reading Jack Mitchell's work in progress Plains of Abraham -- Mitchell is a professor of Classics at Dalhousie and has come up with the inspired idea of reviving epic verse performance; in service of this he is composing an utterly mesmerizing epic poem about Wolfe's successful engagement of Montcalm. Mitchell toured Canada giving performances of the verse in 2005; I don't know if he has plans to repeat the tour but if he does, I hope I am able to attend one of his shows -- reading this out loud to myself I can just imagine how great it must be to hear in performance.

Update: as purplezart points out in comments, I have heard of the battle before, via Hark, A Vagrant, and forgotten. Katie's Death of Montcalm comic is more meaningful to me now...
mitsu bishi, avatarbug, ambush bug

World War One and the Marne River Valley

World War One made a difference around here. Look:

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And now to tie it all together.

Why did World War Two happen? And why did France do so poorly? The information you need to figure it out is mostly here in this post, although there is one more detail that you may not be aware of. It is a very, very important detail:

After the war, after all the fine speeches were done, after the Treaty of Versailles had been signed, the Allies blockaded food shipments to Germany. FOOD.

Now, as we all know*, when a population is under stress, that population expands. Prosperity brings a birth rate down. Adversity causes it to rise.

*if you do not know this, please do us all a favor and disqualify yourself from any future participation in politics until you, ya know, read a book or something.

Consider this situation. On the left (using of course the north-centric mapping system) you have a victorious but utterly devastated population, on the right you have a differently devastated population that is suffering under grinding poverty, punitive embargoes, and a freaking food blockade.

The different devastations are important. The population on the left lost men, women, children, and animals, in the single greatest dealing of death that the world had yet seen. The population on the right, since it was never invaded, basically only lost men of fighting age.

The population on the left is of course going to get richer, because there are fewer ways to divide the pie. But they are going to grow very slowly.

The population on the right is of course going to grow quickly, and stay poor, because they have to split the nothing they have several zillion ways.

Very, very quickly....let's say twenty are going to have a giant population on the right. And twenty years of course is the prime age for war. On the left you will have a huge, empty, incredibly rich area...that points directly at Paris like the barrel of a gun.

In a situation like that wars can't help but happen. World War One caused World War Two. Discussing WWII without discussing WWI is like discussing murder without discussing motive, or a suicide without reading the suicide note.

Obvious parallels between this and the current situation in the middle east should only be drawn by people who are capable of adding two and two and getting...

who knows?

Soldiers of Salamis

A book that the history_time community might find very much of interest: Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas (2001). It's Cercas' attempts to reconstruct one incident at the end of the Spanish Civil War, in which Rafael Sánchez Mazas (founder of Spain's Falangist party) was shot in a forest near Barcelona. Sánchez Mazas would go on to serve in Franco's government. The book is a mix of journalism, memoir and historical fiction -- Cercas leaves it intentionally unclear where the boundary is between the genres. The book is as much (or more) the story of his discovering and researching the life of Sánchez Mazas, as it is the history of this incident. For instance:

And so you see, what I'm reporting here is not what actually happened, but rather what it seems likely happened; I do not offer proven facts, but reasonable conjectures.

They are as follows:

In March of 1936, when Sánchez Mazas was in the Modelo prison in Madrid with his comrades from the Junta, his fourth son Máximo was born. Victoria Kent, who at the time was general director of prisons, allowed the prisoner a three days' pass to visit his wife as was specified by the legal code, with the condition that he give his word of honor not to leave Madrid and to return to the prison at the end of the agreed time. Sánchez Mazas accepted the deal, but according to another of his sons, Rafael, after he left the prison the warden called him over and told him under his breath, very bad times were coming, and suggested in so many words, "that it would be better for him not to come back; and that for his own part, he would not put any great effort into hunting him down and capturing him." It might make sense, since this justifies Sánchez Mazas' dubious behavior, to doubt the veracity of this version of events; but one can also imagine it is not false. What is certain is that Sánchez Mazas, forgetting the protests of gentility and heroism which had illustrated his pages of incendiary prose, broke his promise and fled to Portugal. But José Antonio, who took the words of his deputy seriously, who judged that not only his honor was in the balance but that of the Falange as a whole, gave the order from Alicante prison (he and his brother Miguel had been transferred here on the night of June 5th) to return to Madrid. Sánchez Mazas obeyed the order; but before he could again enter the Modelo, the revolution had begun in earnest.

(José Antonio would be executed in Alicante (and good riddance to bad fascists); you can pass your own judgement on whether it is better to keep your word in this sort of situation.) The above is my own, fairly rough, translation from Spanish; the book is available in an authorized translation to English. Also there is a movie based on the book, from 2003.

I just learned about this guy.

I am not Polish, but in light of recent events, Poland could use some love. This is one of the most incredibly heroic tales of resistance I have heard.

Witold Pilecki, an officer in the Polish Army at the outset of World War II commanded a cavalry unit which succeeded in destroying seven German tanks despite hopeless odds. With the invasion of Poland by the Soviet Union, the Polish Army disbanded, some of the army escaping to join the Allies, others remaining to fight as partisans. To that end, Pilecki and his commander returned to Warsaw to form the Polish Home Army.

A few months later in the summer of 1940, Pilecki designed a plan to infiltrate the Auchwitz concentration camp. He volunteered to be set up with a false Jewish identity and deliberately went out during one of the SS raids in which Jewish citizens were rounded up and taken prisoner.

On September 19th, 1940, Pilecki arrived at Auchwitz. There he would stay for over two years.

Official Nazi photos of Pilecki in Auchwitz.

In spite of the guards' scrutiny and horrifying brutality, pneumonia, and what may well have been the most soul-crushing environment in history, Pilecki managed to form numerous cells of resistance units among the inmates, collectively called Związek Organizacji Wojskowej. ZOW worked to bolster inmate morale, bring outside news into the camp, distribute extra food and clothing, gather intelligence, and prepare to aid in the liberation of the camp. The later was to work in tandem with an attack by Polish partisans or free Polish troops parachuting in from bases in Britain.

The intelligence gathered by Pilecki and ZOW was forwarded by the Polish Resistance to Allied leaders in Britain, providing the first definitive evidence of the Holocaust.

For over two years, Pilecki remained in Auchwitz, hoping the allies would drop weapons or troops into the camp. When several ZOW members were discovered by the SS, Pilecki, fearing his cover was blown, escaped from the camp on the night of April 26th, 1943 and rejoined the Home Army. He continued to press the Allies for an air assault on Auchwitz, but the Allies refused, believing such an operation impossible, and also that the death figures he reported were grossly exaggerated.

Pilecki remained undaunted. Aware of the inevitible Soviet advance through Poland as the war progressed, Pilecki and others planned the Warsaw uprising which began on August 1st 1944 as Soviet troops neared the city. It was intended to gain control of the city prior to the Soviet attack, serving as a bastion of Polish political control. When the uprising began, Pilecki felt there were more than enough officers for the job and fought on the front lines as a private, only revealing his rank when numerous fellow officers were killed. Though outnumbered and with no heavy weapons, he and his men held out for two weeks before their ultimate capture.

He remained a prisoner of war until July, 1945 and was liberated to discover that his fears of a Soviet occupation of Poland were becoming reality. Immediately after rejoining the Polish Army now stationed in northern Italy, Pilecki again volunteered to enter Poland to gather intelligence about the Soviets. In October of 1945, he, along with all Polish partisans, received orders to flee as the Polish government in exile felt there was no hope for Poland's liberation. Pilecki refused, continuing to report on soviet atrocities.

He continued tirelessly until May of 1947 when he was captured by the Communist Security Service. A drumhead trial convicted him of crimes against the state and he was executed ten days later. His body was never found, though it is believed his body was dumped along with others in a mass grave aside Warsaw's garbage dump.

Following the liberation of Poland in 1989, Pilecki was posthumously awarded the Order of Poland Reborn, and the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's highest civil and military decorations.