Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Archive for November 10, 2013


Fritz Haber

Fritz Haber

Fritz Haber is the man responsible for these men having to wear masks. A brilliant scientist who saved countless lives by discovering how to synthesize ammonia which is used in fertilizers and has prevented millions of people from starving. He was also a patriotic German who developed the chlorine gases in WWI and is known as the father of chemical warfare.

It’s a fascinating story that I hope people will take time to learn about… his wife, after witnessing the atrocities that his gases caused, shot herself in the heart with a revolver. One of his sons also later committed suicide. A patriotic German who was also a Jew, he helped develop Zyklon A, not realizing it would someday be used to massacre millions of Jews.

Artillery tactics towards the end of World War One:

Most of the world left ww1 with the same artillery tactics. Defensive support fire, barrage fire, counter battery fire and harassing fire were the four kinds of fire artillery were supposed to deliver. And of those, defensive support fire was the hardest.

Defensive support fire

A front unit is under attack and requests support fire against the advancing enemy. This was one of the most important roles of artillery during both ww1 and ww2. Most nations had an artillery staff with an artillery commander and a number of forward observers and communication staff attached to the divisional staff or the artillery regiment of a division. When a unit occupied terrain and could expect enemy activity, the artillery staff would place a forward observer closeby and have the communication staff roll out a telegraph or phone line to the forward observer so he could communicate with the artillery batteries he would direct.

Things would happen like this.

  1. The commander of battalion Z would inform his regimental commander that his battalion is facing an enemy attack. The commander of Regiment A would request artillery support against this enemy attack either with the divisional commander or the artillery commander. They would coordinate that the enemy attack is happening at spot X on the map.
  2. The divisional commander or artillery commander would confirm that artillery resources are available and order defensive support fire to be delivered at spot X.
  3. The forward observer establishes contact with the battery that will provide support fire and confirms spot X and that the order is still relevant.
  4. The artillery battery calculates ballistic data for spot X – how much charge do they need? What elevation? These thins are affected by weather, height differences, distances between enemy and friendly troops, etc.
  5. The first gun in the battery fires. The forward observer notes where the grenade lands and reports back using distance and a clock to note how far from the target the shot landed. For example, 300 meters, 8 o’clock. This means the shot landed a little short and about 300 meters to the left of the target. The gun crew corrects and fires again. Within a few shots, they have zeroed in on the target.
  6. The process is repeated for the other guns in the battery.
  7. Once all guns are zeroed in on the enemy, they pour as many grenades as they can over the target until it has either retreated or is destroyed, as reported by the forward observer.

During ww1, balloons and airplanes were used for forward observing of targets far behind the front and destroying them (or protecting them) became a top priority for the fighters on each side.

As you can probably see, there’s a lot that can go wrong in this. If artillery command or the divisional HQ is out of contact, it gets hard to get artillery fire approved, or even to get through to the artillery. Telegraph and phone lines were often cut by enemy artillery fire and would need to be repaired.

But above all, this system took time. It could take everything between 10 minutes and 60 minutes to get fire from a single battery onto a desired spot. By that time, the enemy could have moved, their assault either having been repulsed or successful, a counter-attack might have happened and even moved into spot X, and many other things. This system worked decently well during ww1, when fronts moved slowly or not at all, but caused problems during ww2 when fronts and units could move very rapidly.

On the attack, infantry needed artillery fire to destroy MG and mortar nests, field fortifications and wooden bunkers that the enemy was using. They seldom had time to wait for artillery to zero in on these targets. Different nations took different aproaches to resolving this problem for ww2.

Most nations gave the infantry some small artillery to command and use themselves – mortars. Light and medium mortars, and in the case of the Soviets, Finns, Germans and Swedes, heavy (120mm) mortars. These weapons were fired directly in line of sight of the enemy, or with a forward observer integral to the mortar team and all under the command of the battalion or regimental commander, allowing the infantry to support themselves without having to go to divisional command or that much need to zero in (if firing within line of sight, the mortar team could correct their fire themselves).

Some nations (primarily the Germans and Soviets) gave the infantry regiment short-range infantry guns (the 7,5 leIG18 and the 76,2mm PP-27 respectively) that were meant to fire directly or at least within line of sight to support the infantry in their attack or defence.

Other nations, like France added extensive staff and long-range heavy cannons to their divisional artillery units to pre-calculate any possible scenario and have all the information needed already when the call for artillery support came. This was a superb system – if the front was stable. If there was no time to pre-calculate ballistics and do test fire, like in mobile warfare in France 1940, the system fell apart.

Yet other nations, like the British standardised their artillery to a single piece (the 25pdr) and reduced industrial tolerance to the extent that calculated data for one battery was enough for another, so that several batteries could deliver fire on one fire order with one calculation.

Some, like the British, produced enough radios so that forward observers became independent on telephone and telegraph lines and could move about (forward observers and the men putting out cablöes were a favourite target for snipers, sharpshooters and mortar crews and be less vurnurable and much more flexible.

Other nations, like the Germans and especially the Soviets, stared putting artillery on turretless tanks so that he infantry could have protected mobile guns ackompanying them – the StuG and the SU vehicles started out as such, and turned out to be excellent tank destroyers too.

Yet others, like the Finns and the British, added mechanical calculation machines to the artillery staff to enable them to calculate ballistic data much, much faster.

Yet again, others, like the British, the Finns and to some extent the Germans decentralised artillery command – forward observers were permanently attached to infantry units and given the power to call down artillery fire on their own authority, shortening the command structure.

The Soviets started grouping their artillery extremely tightly together, so that data for a single gun could be used for the entire battery.

What the Americans did was completely unique. Not only did they produce radios in such an amount that every platoon of infantry could have their own, they also made them so small that they could be carried and operated easily (the walkie-talkie) by a single man. They also decentralised artillery support commands not to only forward observers, but directly to NCOs of the infantry unit and in many cases gave them some similar training.

But the biggest thing the Americans did was to improve the French system (the Americans since ww1 built their artillery on French designs and French doctrine) to not calculate any available scenario when the unit had deployed – but to calculate any scenario for any gun, at any place!

This is completely insane – the amount of data needed was unparalleled (ballistics data is hard to calculate) and a small army of mathematicians supported by female staff and mechanical calculation machines started the work over western Europe in the 30s. The ENIAC computer was developed to help calculate this data, and the US defence department helped pay for some land surveys in western Europe to get accurate maps down to extreme detail.

Thus, when a US artillery unit got a frantic call for support from an NCO under German fire in France autumn 1944, he would confirm the spot X on the map, pull out pre-calculated data for hus 105mm howitzers from spot Y (where they were lined up) to spot X, and start firing accurately in a matter of minutes.

The Soviets could need 30-60 minutes for accurate defensive support fire from several batteries.

The Germans could need 15-30 minutes for the same.

The British could do it in 3-10 minutes.

The Finns managed to get it to 5-12 minutes or so.

The US could, in perfect circumstances, get it down to 30 seconds, although normal was 2-5 minutes.

Lest we forget… every man in this picture has passed. WWI

It's important to remember the War and why it should not be repeated.

“It is sweet and right to die for your country.” How wrong they were…

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs And towards our distant rest began to trudge. Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; But someone still was yelling out and stumbling And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . . Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, As under I green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, — My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.

Soldiers wearing gas masks during World War I. The soldier at left, unable to get his mask on in time, clutches his throat as he breathes in the poisonous gas.

Aerial photograph of a gas attack on the Somme battlefield using metal canisters of liquid gas. When the canisters were opened in a stiff, favourable wind, the liquid cooled into a gas and blew outwards and over the enemy lines. Strong concentrations of gas could overwhelm respirators, but a change in wind direction could also reverse the cloud, which then gassed one's own troops.

Aerial photograph of a gas attack on the Somme battlefield using metal canisters of liquid gas. When the canisters were opened in a stiff, favourable wind, the liquid cooled into a gas and blew outwards and over the enemy lines. Strong concentrations of gas could overwhelm respirators, but a change in wind direction could also reverse the cloud, which then gassed one’s own troops.

German PoWs in American captivity forced to watch footage of concentration camps. Taken soon after the end of World War 2, location unknown.

The guy in the back right giving the "peace sign", at that time did it mean "fuck you" or what?

The majority of the German POWs sent to the US were captured later in the war and did not join in the German army by choice but rather by force. They were not supportive of Hitler’s agenda and only fought in fear of what the Nazis would do to their families in retaliation. So in this case, it is likely that they were genuinely appalled by what they were seeing or did not want their picture taken.

Traffic safety being taught in Swedish school, 1943

I don't understand why none of them are wearing shirts. Sweden is not renowned for its year-round warmth, and more importantly they are at school having a road safety lesson.  I cannot, for the life of me, work out why they are only half-clothed.

I don’t understand why none of them are wearing shirts. Sweden is not renowned for its year-round warmth, and more importantly they are at school having a road safety lesson. I cannot, for the life of me, work out why they are only half-clothed.



A hand reaches above the broken glass-covered top of the Berlin Wall, 1961

A hand reaches above the broken glass-covered top of the Berlin Wall, 1961 [687x493]


Birds on barbed wire strung atop the Berlin Wall, 1962


Kaiser Wilhelm wearing a Death’s Head Hussar’s mantle, 1910’s.

we really lost a lot when we gave up moustaches being a requirement for military uniform.

we really lost a lot when we gave up moustaches being a requirement for military uniform.

An American field hospital inside the ruins of a church in Neuvilly, France, 1918.

This shattered church in the ruins of Neuvilly furnished a temporary shelter for American wounded being treated by the 110th Sanitary Train, 4th Ambulance Corps.  France, September 20, 1918. Sgt. J. A. Marshall. (Army)

This shattered church in the ruins of Neuvilly furnished a temporary shelter for American wounded being treated by the 110th Sanitary Train, 4th Ambulance Corps. France, September 20, 1918. Sgt. J. A. Marshall. (Army)

A GI spraying a DDT/kerosene mixture on top of a bed and child, while smoking a pipe, in a southern Italy house, during post-WWII Mediterranean antimalarial campaign. 1945

DDT was safe enough to spray on our beds and rub in our hair, then it thins a couple of egg shells and everyone loses their minds.

A Comparison of Ancient Rome to the United States:


Okay, first off, many people incorrectly use the term “Roman Empire” to describe “Rome in general,” but that’s like calling the Germanic statesGermany.” The name is similar, but it’s wrong at its core. For most of its existence, Rome was not an Empire – Rome was the Roman Republic, and that’s what people usually compare the United States to. Probably because the United States has stolen SOOOO much from Rome. The Senate? Yeah, that’s a Roman thing. How about a Republic? Yeah, Rome started that too, right? How about ‘Murica’s favourite symbol? Yeah, Rome started that too! So Rome and the United States are SO similar! Right? Riiiiiight? Well screw you and your cherry picking of history. You know what? I want to compare Canada to China. They both have C starting their name and they both are countries with lots of land and they both have slanty eyed people. Anywhoozles, let’s go into detail on why the US, while similarish to Rome, is nothing like Rome.

First off, let’s put things in perspective. The United States is almost 250 years old. When Rome was 250 years old, it was nothing more than a city. A city embroiled in a conflict that spanned a century with the Veii, but still just a city. The United States started off as a republic, absorbing the ideals of classical nation states to uphold blah blah blah. Rome started out as a monarchy, because FUCK DA POLICE! Depending on what story you’re looking at, it could have been a dude raised by a wolf who decided “ROME BE HERE,” which is considered a legend by most sane people, or you could look at archaelogical evidence that shows that Rome was built over centuries due to it having a fantastic position, both defensively and for trade. Farmers in the area banded together, eventually creating the city.

  • First point against the similarities. Starting off, they were completely different.

Let’s look at some of the people Rome idolized – one in particular. His name was Cinncinnatus, and he’s commonly compared to the George Washington of Rome. To be fair, he didn’t have anything to do with Rome’s founding, didn’t save the country, didn’t fight in glorious wars or what have you. He fought one battle that he was famous for. But something that might differentiate him a bit from Washington….He was a dictator. To be fair, that word had a completely different connotation to the Romans of antiquity. Cinncinnatus was the model of a perfect Roman. He was conservative, he was an honest farmer who worked just like every man, he was called by his people to take over in time of need (dictator), and as soon as that need ended, he resigned and went back to his farm. He was only dictator for two weeks the first time, and one week the second. So comparable…ish to Washington? But then you realize that while Rome idolized a man known for poverty, Washington was one of the richest presidents of all time. Washington is frequently described as an unattractive man – even the flattering portraits don’t attempt to show him otherwise. He’s always depicted in his full dress clothes. Meanwhile, Cinncinnatus is rarely depicted in his full getup (toga), being more well known for his farming lifestyle – the only physical description we have of him is that he was hardy, but aging.

  • So Rome and America idolize two different caricatures. One is a wealthy aristocrat, fighting against impossible odds, despite his own imperfections. The other is a poor man, coming to his people’s aid in time of need, immediately dropping the power as soon as that time of need expired.

Next – on to the system of governments. They’re both Republics though, right? What could POSSIBLY be different there! Well uh, just about everything, really. Let’s start off with a quick description of the system in the US. We have three branches of government: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. They all have checks and balances on each other, and they all get along wonderfully, thanks to the framework of our constitution, etc etc etc.

Well, let’s check out Rome’s system of government. They had a Senate of 900 men, who were “elected” from the Senatorial class of Rome. In other words, you had to be born into the right family to get into the Senate. Now, I’ll know you’re thinking “Well, the US is a bit of an oligarchy too ’cause you have to have lots of money and contacts and stuff to run for office,” but the problem with that is that legally, anyone who meets the age and citizenship requirements can run for office. Not so in Rome. Heading the Senate, they had two consuls who were “elected” (again, mostly from the aristocratic patrician class – though plebians were allowed to run for consul), who were the equivalent of the President. They served one year terms, had the power of veto (including on each other, which made for fun politics, especially when they only served one year terms), they had administrative, legislative, judicial, religious, and military power. They would often lead the armies of Rome in battle, unlike US presidents – it was their duty to do so.

Rome had no “judicial” branch, per se. Heck, you couldn’t even pay someone else to defend you in court. However, someone COULD volunteer to defend you. So you could give them a gift for being such a good, close friend! Or you could give them a loan at 0% interest that they would never have to repay, just because they were in dire financial straits! So Rome had the best judiciary that money could buy – but for big cases (like the Good Goddess scandal), the Senate was the judge, jury, and executioner.

Taxes were also handled differently – I don’t believe the Roman tax system changed over much during the transition from a Republic to an Empire, (but I can tell you about how it was done during the Republic.) Simply put, the Romans used contractors.

There were quite a few different classes in Roman society – plebiansequestrians, the senatorial class, and the patricians.The ones that are involved with Rome’s tax system are the equestrians, who are sometimes called the “knight class” of Rome (The name hints at it a bit) They were also (generally) the businessmen of Rome – essentially the wealthy guys who know they have power, but prefer to remain a bit behind the scenes with it. They don’t need to be involved in political battles, risking their lives (and fortunes) to try to achieve a political position.

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way! There were a whole BUNCH of different kinds of taxes – and not all of them were money as we might think it (over 300,000 long tons of grain were shipped from Egypt and North Africa to Rome ANNUALLY). The United States has the tribitum capitis, which was a tax imposed on the population of certain provinces. The tax was not equal, and was a tax either from property that wasn’t land or a poll tax levied as acapitatio (taxes paid per head, or per animal – these taxes were only paid by the lower classes who were not wealthy enough to pay taxes on their whole property as assessed by the census. Only healthy men who could work – 14-65 – were assessed, but not in equal measure.) *Remember, this tax was only for the colonies!

So, in Rome the Contractors would hold “auctions.” They would put…say…Gaul or Hispania up on the table and say “Ok! We have Gaul here! Who’s going to get the most money from them?” And the bidding would start off. Whoever promised the most money to Rome from the province was granted tax collecting privileges in that province. As you can imagine, this system was rather corrupt, and people made their fortunes off of it. Tax collectors would take TONS more money than was required of them and pocket some before sending it higher up to the man in charge. He would pocket all the extra and send the required amount to Rome. Tax collectors were Roman officials, so they had the local garrisons of legions on their side – and the subjugated people had generally learned their lesson. These guys were known as the publicani.

The Republic actually made the claim that it raised fewer taxes in provinces than the preceding Hellenistic kingdoms and did not introduce new ones. To be fair, that’s almost true – the poll tax that was started by Augustus was the only significant new tax imposed before the late third century. Granted, that’s not to say that the taxes that were paid were INEXPENSIVE…but hey, you can’t have everything, right?

Ah, but there’s another tax I hadn’t talked about! There’s the tributum soli, which is, in English, the land tax of Rome. They taxed all land, forests, croplands, ships, slaves, animals, and other moveable property. This tax was solid so long as the armies of Rome kept bringing in massive amounts of loot from their conquests, but it proved to be REALLY insufficient later on, when Rome stopped expanding. Later emperors increased taxes on the land, with the result being that farmers abandoned their less productive fields, slashing agricultural output. The emperors increased the frequency of collection, which eventually converted the tax into a sales tax.

Finally, you have another piece to the puzzle that The United States has nothing like. You have the tribunes. The tribunes are considered by some to be one of the major catalysts of the Fall of the Republic, and there are some good reasons for that. The tribunes had the power to veto anything (including each other, including each other’s vetoes), and they were elected by the people to one year terms. The well-known ones were either demagogues or puppets – sometimes they served the Senate’s interests, sometimes they served their own/the peoples’. They could propose laws directly to the people, whipping them up into a mob until the Senate was forced to submit. The most famous ones also had a knack for getting killed off.

  • So, their governmental system was ALSO nothing like the United States. On the surface, maybe. In action? Not so much.

Another thing I want to point out is that the military system for Rome was completely different from the system of the United States, especially after the Marian reforms. Before the reforms, Rome didn’t really have a standing army – it had citizen levies. In other words, a glorified militia. Probably the best militia the world has ever seen, but still… not a standing, trained army (like the United States.) When the Marian reforms happened and the army became a standing army, their loyalty was not to Rome or to the consuls – it was to their individual generals, who were the ones who gave the soldiers their pay, land, rewards, loot, and comforts. Hence the constant string of civil wars, when the generals decided to use that power to their advantage.

Finally…the Fall of Rome. Both the Republic and the Empire. First off, the fall of the Republic. You can analyze the last century of the Republic and point to all the dominoes that fell, and sometimes make comparisons (you can compare the US to the Mongols if you really want to.) However, the last fifty years of the Republic was like nothing the United States has ever seen. It was the equivalent of the US being at war with South America, Europe, and China all at the same time, while being devastated by constant civil war. And when I say constant, I mean that Rome went through six civil wars in about sixty years. Yeah, that’s fucking nuts! The US went through ONE and is still recovering. The people of Rome were GRATEFUL for the centralization of power, just because it was an end to the chaos. Oh right, and Rome was completely bankrupt too – something that the US isn’t anywhere close to.

Now, the Roman Empire’s fall. The Empire had a WHOLE lot more against it than the Republic. First off, it was split in half ’cause it was too damn big. So the Eastern half was too far away to help the Western half when it needed it. And the Western half was facing random civil wars every few years whenever a general felt like being Emperor, revolts all OVER the place by the “barbarians” in those provinces, they cut Briton off because they couldn’t afford to keep it any more, barbarians were invading and plundering everything throughout the nation, AND Rome was so far beyond bankrupt it wasn’t even funny. Oh right, and famines were happening too (on and off from 400 to 800; may have killed 20 percent of the empire’s population.) And plagues (in the 500’s.) And earthquakes.

Yeah, it was way worse than the fall of the Republic, and that was WAY worse than anything the US has ever faced. Ever.

I’m not saying that there were no important similarities between Rome and the United States. Blanket, all-encompassing statements like that are just as bad as people saying that the US is the reincarnation of Rome. However, what I’m saying is that Rome and the United States are not comparable. The thing is, there are comparisons that can be made with any country, time period, government, or situation. That doesn’t necessarily make them accurate so much as it makes them people trying to construct a straw man to prove their point. The reason I explained Rome’s governmental system as I did was because most of Rome’s problems were caused by its government. And that government, strangely enough, was so alien to us that it wouldn’t even be considered a modern democracy. Which debunks most of the points people make right there. One of the few points I can sort of agree with is that many of Rome’s troubles (and downfall) were caused by incessant infighting by their political factions – the Optimates (conservatives) and the Populares (liberals.) However, that comparison can also be debunked a hundred different ways. First off, you’ll note the fact that I said factions rather than parties – there were no political parties. Secondly, Rome had no police force, so gang warfare was a huge element in these political machinations. Thirdly, technology has changed so much that it’s impossible to compare these speakers who could whip a crowd into a mob with their passionate language to “Yes We Can.” And the mob was a HUGE force in Rome, whereas today, you can just get your news from the TV. Of course, who were the ones whipping up these mobs in the first place? Generally, it was the tribunes. A position that the United States does not have.