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

Archive for December, 2014

Hindenburg disaster that occurred on May 6, 1937, New Jersey, United States – (Colorized Photo)


Most of the people onboard survived the Hindenburg disaster.

Hydrogen rises, burning hydrogen rises even faster. While it made one hell of a fireball, the people actually below the gas bags were in (relatively) little danger.

Also interestingly, the most deadly airship accident was the the loss of the helium using USS Akron four years earlier.

(Which raises the question of why does everyone know about the Hindenburg, but few know about the Akron? The Hindenburg disaster is not historic because of the disaster itself, what made it historic was that it is the beginning of the rise of news media ubiquity. It’s the first major disaster that was recorded as it happened and shown in both video and live(recorded for radio) commentary to the world.

Were it not for the film and commentary, it would just be another footnote in the question of why nobody uses zeppelins.)


Machine Gallery at the “Exposition Universelle”, Paris – France; ca. 1889


German soldier with Panzerkampfwagen VI “Tiger” in the background. Somewhere in the USSR; ca. 1943

He's just looked at the receipt for refueling.

He’s just looked at the receipt for refueling.

Selfie by Dutch photographer Frits Rotgans in a jet fighter; ca.1966

Fokker F-27 Friendships in the background.

Fokker F-27 Friendships in the background.


VIP observers are lit up by the light of an atomic bomb, Operation Greenhouse, Enewetak Atoll; ca. 1951


Who was a part of the “intelligentsia” and what did they achieve?

First of all, what is the Russian intelligentsia? The idea of an ‘intelligentsia’ is closely tied to the idea of the ‘intellectual’. The intellectual can be (and has been) roughly defined as a a certain social type: a scholar who participates in a public sphere independent from the political regime. The European intellectual (while having important forebears in the philosophes of the French Enlightenment), is usually seen as developing in the mid-to-late 19th c., and tied to the rise of mass society, the professionalization of scholarship the birth of a wide literary audience, and the growing commodification of culture.

Of course, when we transfer this standard definition to the Russian context, we immediately see some problems: the Russian intelligentsia is usually seen as coming into being in the late 18th and early 19th c., well before the development of a wide literary audience and any sort of mass society. Furthermore, it has been argued that there was no ‘true’, Habermas-ian Russian ‘public sphere’ until the February Revolution of 1917! So what, then, was this intelligentsia?

The term is incredibly slippery, and has been understood as everything from a “class”, to “an attitude” to “a body of declassé truth-seekers”. In fact, how one defines the Russian intelligentsia and where one locates its ‘birth’ is quite a political question, as it in many ways prefigures a certain reading of the Russian 19th century and the revolutions of 1917 (for example, Soviet historiography usually framed the question in terms of class and sought to legitimize their own thought through a teleological, hagiographical narrative connecting the USSR to the earliest days of the Russian intelligentsia, while Cold War western historians [and, to a certain extent, post-Soviet Russian historiography] usually told either a story of naive intellectuals unwittingly stumbling down the path to totalitarianism, or a tale of fledgling democratic thought that had been cruelly snuffed out by the October Revolution).

For a working definition, let’s call the Russian intelligentsia a varied group of educated individuals who were concerned with social justice, critical of the state, and sensitive to the contours and questions of Westernization and western European thought. However, this intelligentsia’s intellectual values, social makeup, burning questions, forms of organization, views on action, and ultimate goals varied widely overtime and even between ‘members’.

So, with all of these caveats in mind, here are some moments traditionally viewed as key stages of the Russian intelligentsia:

1) Birth

The conception of the intelligentsia is usually located in the late 18th century, during the reign of Catherine the Great. The spread of Enlightenment thought amongst the aristocracy led to a few isolated individuals attempting to interrogate Russian reality through the lens of rationalism, universal brotherhood, and humanism. The most famous of these was A.N. Radishchev, whose “Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow” (1790) was a sort of critical social travelogue, narrating the poverty and misery he witnessed on a trip between the two capitals. He thoroughly criticized Russia’s autocratic government and called for reform – Catherine the Great sentenced him to death (although the punishment was commuted to Siberian exile).

2) The Decembrists

Flash forward twenty five years or so. The invasion of Napoleon in 1812 and the pursuit of his Grand Armée back to Paris turned the earlier trickle of Western ideas in Russia into, if not a flood, then at least a steady stream. The mid-1810’s to mid-1820’s witnessed a rise in critical sentiment amongst the aristocracy, especially former officers of the Napoleonic Wars. This discontent with the autocracy reached a head on December 1st, 1825, when Emperor Alexander I died rather suddenly. A group of around 3,000 soldiers gathered at St. Petersburg’s senate square and refused to swear allegiance to the new emperor, Nicholas I. The demands of these soldiers, later dubbed ‘the Decembrists’, were not all that radical – they merely sought general reform and a constitutional monarchy helmed by Alexander’s uncle, the more progressive Grand Duke Constantine. However, the revolt was swiftly put down, with five of the leaders executed and the rest exiled to Siberia.

3) “The Remarkable Decade”

As can be expected, Nicholas I became one of the most conservative emperors in modern Russian history, stifling public organizations and imposing the strictest censorship upon the press. This, however, did not prevent the beginning of a vibrant period for the Russian intelligentsia. The years 1838-1848 have been called “the remarkable decade”, and are characterized by greater and greater exposure to western thought, the rise of (limited) public dialogue in literary journals, and the forming of clandestine intellectual circles amongst (mostly) the nobility(key examples being the Stankevich circle and the Petrashevsky circle). This decade is also marked by the popularity of German philosophical thought, especially that of early German idealism (Fichte, Schelling, etc.), Hegel, and Feuerbach. Intellectuals such as V.G. Belinksy (“the father of Russian literary criticism”), A. Herzen (“the father of Russian Socialism”) and M.A. Bakunin (quite the idealist before his shift to philosophical and political anarchism) grappled with questions such as the literary expression of the Russian spirit, and the role of the individual in world history. The later half of this period saw these figures moving away from the most abstract forms of philosophical idealism (perhaps exemplified in Belinsky’s period of Right Hegelian “reconciliation with reality”) and adopting ‘philosophies of the act’ – however, even this turn to a more engaged form of social criticism in the 1840s was still marked by a predilection for contemplation and idealist notions of organic spirit & historico-national development.

4) The 1860s

The decade of the 1860s saw a huge shift in the views of the intelligentsia. Gathering around the progressive journalSovremennik (‘The Contemporary’), a group of young intellectuals (most notably N.G. Chernyshevsky and N.A. Dobrolyubov) became advocates of radical materialism and forms of utopian socialism. Influenced by the latest French and German scientific empiricism and socialist thought, ‘the generation of the 1860s’ viewed their 1840s forebears as alienated, ‘superfluous’ idealists (a generational conflict brilliantly portrayed in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons and Dosteovsky’s Demons). Perhaps the most influential text of this period was Chernyshevsky’s What is to be Done?, a novel envisioning a utopian future marked by communal social arrangements, scientific ordering of labor and the economy, and rationalism guiding all human relations and interactions (This, incidentally, was one of V.I. Lenin’s favorite books, and the source for the title of his 1902 pamphlet “What is to be Done?”). This period is also notable for the rise in populism – unsatisfied with the exploitative terms of Alexander II’s emancipation of the serfs in 1861, greater and greater emphasis was put upon the plight of the peasantry. It is also important to note that the intelligentsia of the 1860s, besides being larger than at any point in its previous history, was also far more socially diverse. This is especially due to the rising popularity of radical views among university students, whose numbers were themselves swelled by Russia’s growing urban populations and the lifting of occupational restrictions for the sons of priests. Indeed, this generation is usually tied to raznochintsy, sons and daughters of the middle classes who made up the bulk of these radical social movements.

5) Populism

Populism, or political concern for Russia’s peasantry, can be said to characterize all periods in the history of the intelligentsia. However, it is from the late-1860s to the 1880s that Russian populism really had its greatest impact. Questions of Russia’s political future revolved around the fate of the post-emancipation peasantry. Perhaps the most famous incident of the Populist (or Narodniki) movement during this period was their ‘going to the people’ (khozhdennie k narodu) – during the spring and summer of 1874, hundreds of young students and radicals traveled to the countryside to distribute literature, spread socialism, and generally reveal to the peasantry the facts of their exploitation and show them the path to a revolutionary new future. The movement was thoroughly unsuccessful (in fact, more than a few of these radical students were turned in to the police by the peasants themselves, who viewed them with suspicion). This did not, however, decrease the popularity of populist thought. A key populist organization in the 1870s was the group Zemlya i Volya (usually translated as ‘Land and Liberty’). Devoted to agitational work and educating the people, the group split in the late 1870s into Chernyi Peredel (‘Black Repartition’, which advocated for the gradual spread of socialist thought among the peasantry) and Narodnaya Volya (‘The People’s Will’, which advocated terrorism and was responsible for the assassination of Tsar Alexander in 1881). The social make-up of this generation of the intellgentsia was like the previous, and would generally remain so until 1917 – university students, disenfranchised raznochintsy from Russia’s urban centers, professional revolutionaries, and a scattering of individuals from the lower classes and the nobility.

6) Marxism

G.V. Plekhanov, the founder of Chernyi Peredel (the splinter group from Zemlya i Volya that opposed the use of terror), emmigrated to Switzerland in 1880 to avoid arrest. During the early 1880s, Plekhanov read works on political economy extensively, and became a convicted Marxist (he is usually referred to as ‘the father of Russian Marxism’). In 1883 Plekhanov and a group of co-revolutionaries formed Gruppa Osvobozhdennie Truda (‘Group for the Emancipation of Labor’) in Geneva, which was the first Russian Marxist organization. Plekhanov was known as an incredibly sophisticated theorist, and his works on Russia and Marxist theory, as well as the ability of Gruppa Osvobozhdennie Truda to establish networks for the transmission of texts inside Tsarist Russia, influenced a generation of the Russian intelligentsia to shift their focus from efforts with the peasantry and their belief in utopian socialism to agitation amongst the urban proletariat and study of Marxist political and economic theory. From here we see the growing rise of conspiratorial circles in Russia and emigre circles abroad, the crystallization of Marxist trends in the Iskra period and the founding of the RSDLP, the split of this group into Bolshevik and Menshevik factions at its second congress in 1903, the Russian Revolution of 1905, the First World War and the Revolutions of 1917.

phew. My apologies for treating the end of the 19th / early 20th c. in rather abridged fashion. The Russian intelligentsia is an absolutely fascinating subject, and I’ve only sketched out for you just the most basic outline of the Russian 19th century. Missing are Bakunin, Kropotkin and questions of anarchism, Herzen’s Kolokol and the radical emigre tradition, the role of literature and the press in spreading radical thought, Slavophile currents in politics and culture, Nihilism as a cultural/intellectual movement, the rise of liberalism at the turn of the 20th century, and a whole historiography of the October Revolution (not to mention questions of gender, ethnicity, economics, trans-imperial connections, etc etc etc). I would be more than happy to answer any questions you have regarding certain events, periods, and persons.


The two classic works on the Russian intelligentsia, which cover the intellectual, social, and political trajectories of the 19th century, are:

  • Franco Venturi, Roots of Revolution, translated by Francis Haskell (New York: George Wiedenfeld & Nicolson, 1960 [1952]).
  • Andrzej Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1979 [1973]).

A classic work on the development of the intelligentsia out of the 18th c. is also:

  • Marc Raeff, Origins of the Russian Intelligentsia: The Eighteenth-Century Nobility (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966).

Human chess, St. Petersburg, Russia; ca. 1924

“Humans are so weird.” – horses, probably


Failure of the Teton Dam near Rexburg, Idaho on Saturday June 5, 1976. At 350 feet, this is the tallest dam that has ever failed.


The Teton Dam was an earthen dam in Idaho, United States, built by the Bureau of Reclamation, one of eight federal agencies authorized to construct dams. Located on the Teton River in the eastern part of the state, between Fremont and Madison counties, it suffered a catastrophic failure on June 5, 1976, as it was filling for the first time. (Source)

Another view:


Even more impressive, you can watch it collapse:

(More info)

Soldiers posing with unexploded German shells exactly 100 years ago; December 16th, 1914


The raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby, which took place on 16 December 1914, was an attack by the Imperial German Navy on the British seaport towns of Scarborough, Hartlepool, West Hartlepool, and Whitby. The attack resulted in 137 fatalities and 592 casualties, many of whom were civilians. The attack resulted in public outrage towards the German navy for an attack against civilians, and against the Royal Navy for its failure to prevent the raid.


Austro-Hungarian machine gun nest in the Alps; ca. 1915-18


Great Leap Forward: the biggest famine of all time?

The reason why the years during Great Leap Forward is considered to be a famine is because the events set off by said Great Leap led to a large number of deaths from starvation and overwork.

The Great Chinese Famine is linked to the Great Leap Forward for many reasons. There is no singular cause as to why it happened, as it was part of multiple events, including (in no particular order):

  1. the Three Red Banners, consisting of
    • the General Line, which encouraged “greater, faster, better, and more economical” and rash spending in an attempt to industrialize quickly and beat the US and the UK with regards to steel production within 15 years,
    • the Great Leap Forward, which was essentially the General Line in action, and
    • the people’s communes, which was intended to abolish families as the primary production unit, dismantle private property, and otherwise allow the state to have more control over the economy and people’s lives
  2. rather violent (and often deadly) anti-rightest campaigns that discouraged people from speaking the truth lest they be the direct victims of “struggle”,
  3. the development of commune kitchens,
  4. the Exaggeration Wind, which led people to overestimate production totals and production quotas to an absurd degree,
  5. the over-extension of manpower towards building projects that were often badly mismanaged and/or abandoned,
  6. the over-confidence of cadres, who in at least one case ignored geography and planted crops that were not suitable for that particular area to that province’s peril, and
  7. a totalitarian system that kept the higher ups from recognizing their own wrong doings and which magnified problems down to the grassroots level.

Honestly, there’s probably more reasons than that, but I’m doing my best to focus on the bigger ideas, because it’s just a jumbled mess of events.

The Great Leap Forward, as the manifestation of the General Line in action, wanted to industrialize as quickly as possible, with the intention of becoming a great communistic country that can surpass the production power of Western powers within 15 years. Mao envisioned that with enough dedication and enthusiasm (and with the right kind of thinking), the country could join communistic paradise within a few years. There were some leaders within the party who opposed what they saw as “rash advance”, as the country was putting large sums of money into industry with very little benefit, and tried to slow it down in early 1958, prior to the introduction of the Great Leap Forward. However, Mao was not happy about this and reverted it, and those who had opposed it later gave self-criticism and otherwise followed Mao’s line, praising Mao’s genius and otherwise agreeing with whatever he said. Speaking up and saying “this is a bad idea” was political suicide. Disagreeing with Mao was seen as a counterrevolutionary act; with that, people who spoke out against Mao’s ideas were seen as “white flags” and capitalistic elements that needed to be rooted out and replaced with “red flags”. When something went wrong, it was the fault of counterrevolutionaries who were trying to sabotage the Great Leap and socialism in an attempt to go back to bourgeoisie ways. People who did not agree with Mao completely could be and were often violently struggled against, and in many cases it turned deadly. Under this type of environment, people who spoke up and told the truth were labeled right deviationists and punished. There was no incentive to tell the truth, so there was more incentive to lie. Lying became the means of self-preservation and survival.

In addition, the different provinces were in competition with one another. Because of the emphasis on “greater and faster”, provinces did not want to be the ones left in the dust. And with people overexaggerating their accomplishments to absurd amounts (like claiming that they were able to plant 1765 kilos per mu in a satellite testing field in Hunan), people were encouraged to exaggerate and make up higher and higher figures, which led to higher production targets, which led to even higher figures regarding crop yields.

Unfortunately for the peasants, these higher figures were used to calculate how much the state would procure as their share of the crop. In many cases, the procurement quota was set so high that even after every single grain was taken away (leaving nothing for the peasants to eat), it wasn’t enough to satisfy the quota. New campaigns started up, to fight against “false reporting and private withholding”. People were being beaten and tortured in the belief that they were hiding grain away from the state. When this turned up nothing, cadres from every level lied about how much they were able to procure from class enemies, which in turn just exasperated the problem and made it oh so much more violent than it was.

The people’s communes made it so much worse. These communes were rather large, with the average commune consisting of over five thousand households. They were also really inefficient, since many communes were spread out over vast tracts of land. People were required to sign up for a commune, lest they were labelled as white flags and targed for struggle. Once in the commune, their property was seized without compensation, and manpower was sent out en masse to work on large industrial projects (to the point that there were not workers available to plant or harvest crops). Fields were left fallow, peasants were ordered to work on other projects (and depleting manpower from agricultural pursuits), comrades were highly unrealistic with their demands and ignored geography, and it was really inefficient (to the point that over 100 peasants were sent to work one mu of land in one case). In addition, the people in the commune had to eat in the communal kitchen, which had its own set of problems.

The communal kitchens were part of Mao’s dream of free food for everyone, something that was important in his dream of Communist Paradise. In Mao’s mind, this would free up more people to work on building a communistic society, as there would be less people having to spend time focusing on cooking food. They offered a large variety of food for free, and everyone in the commune was able to get food from there so long as they did their work. The problem is, these communal kitchens were highly inefficient and led to large amounts of waste. The inefficiency comes from multiple factors:

  1. Previously, each household would cook as much food as they would need in their own homes. The people’s commune would just cook vast amounts of food for people to eat, ignoring individual needs.
  2. Cooking small amounts of food didn’t require that much fuel for heat. Cooking large amounts of food to feed an entire commune required people to cut down trees and burn the lumber to get enough heat to cook.
  3. People were encourage to eat as much as they wanted. So they tended to overeat. Food that was saved for entertaining special guests and holidays became standard daily fare, and the central leadership would constantly talk about “what to do with the extra food”, leading people to believe that there was vast stores of food stored somewhere. In Jiangxi’s Xiaogang Commune, there were no restrictions on how much rice one could eat, and some members would gorge themselves, bring excess amounts of food home, and feed leftovers to livestock — leading to villagers in that commune to devour “seven or eight months’ provisions in five months” (Yang, p. 189). Oops.
  4. Communal kitchens required large amount of manpower needed to prepare the food. This reduced work points, because so many people were dedicated to taking care of the kitchens, further depleting agricultural pursuits of workers.

In addition, commune members were required to eat at the kitchens (or at least collect their rations from the kitchens), which may be a rather long distance from home. Some people had to travel 15 kilometers to reach the kitchen, spending a good part of the day just traveling to get food. If you didn’t work your share (or pissed off a cadre), you could be denied food, leading people to starve. Quality of the food was abysmal, leading to inedible vegetables and dung in the congee, and inevitably people began to get sick. Rations were controlled by the kitchen; even though households technically owned these rations, the kitchen had the actual grain, so people had to go eat at the kitchens. As such, when communal kitchens ran out of food and had to shut down, people were left starving.

When the famine began to take place, cadres did their best to cover it up. Peasants were barred from going places (to keep them from running away or telling people about what was happening), letters were seized to keep word from going out, deaths were under-reported using various means, people were forbidden from telling the truth under political pressure, etc. Word would not reach the Central Committee until millions of people had already perished. Even when people were sent out to figure out how bad the famine was, officials were terrified of telling the truth, lest they earn Mao’s ire and be punished for telling the truth. Eventually, something was done, and the Great Leap Forward was abandoned, but by then, millions of people were dead from starvation.

I should note that this is a very brief summary of the story behind the numbers. The issues behind it are more complicated than this, and while I did my best to summarize and give highlights, this is woefully incomplete and will inevitably gloss over other related problems.

Source: Yang Jisheng’s Tombstone

“Lafayette, we are here.” US General John J. Pershing salutes the grave of the Marquis de Lafayette as he arrives in France during WWI.


The Marquis de Lafayette is an amazing and fascinating guy. Besides a hero of the American Revolution, he was also one of the few true “Good Guys” of the French Revolution. In France he fought both for representative democracy and preservation of stability and the monarchy. He was horrified by the chaos that that revolution became.

Fun Fact: Lafayette loved America so much he was buried with soil from Bunker Hill.


WWI: German “Krupp L/12” howitzer (419mm – 16.5in)


German infantry resting during street fighting in Rostov-on-Don; ca. July 1942.

That a LOT of grenades.

That a LOT of grenades.


German soldiers walk past fallen British soldiers, following heavy street fighting in the village of Moreuil; ca. 1918.


Troops of the eight allied nations during the Boxer Rebellion.

They are, from left to right: British, American, Russian, Indian, German, French, Austro-Hungarian, Italian and Japanese.

They are, from left to right: British, American, Russian, Indian, German, French, Austro-Hungarian, Italian and Japanese.

The Boxer Rebellion, Boxer Uprising or Yihetuan Movement was an anti-imperialist uprising which took place in China towards the end of the Qing dynasty between 1898 and 1900. It was initiated by the Militia United in Righteousness (Yihetuan), known in English as the “Boxers,” and was motivated by proto-nationalist sentiments and opposition to foreign imperialism and associated Christian missionary activity. The Great Powers intervened and defeated Chinese forces.

The uprising took place against a background of severe drought, and the disruption caused by the growth of foreign spheres of influence. After several months of growing violence against the foreign and Christian presence in Shandong and the North China plain, in June 1900 Boxer fighters, convinced they were invulnerable to foreign weapons, converged on Beijing with the slogan “Support Qing government and exterminate the foreigners.” Foreigners and Chinese Christians sought refuge in the Legation Quarter. In response to reports of an armed invasion to lift the siege, the initially hesitant Empress Dowager Cixi supported the Boxers and on June 21 declared war on foreign powers. Diplomats, foreign civilians and soldiers as well as Chinese Christians in the Legation Quarter were placed under siege by the Imperial Army of China and the Boxers for 55 days. Chinese officialdom was split between those supporting the Boxers and those favoring conciliation, led by Prince Qing. The supreme commander of the Chinese forces, the Manchu General Ronglu (Junglu), later claimed that he acted to protect the besieged foreigners. The Eight-Nation Alliance, after being initially turned back, brought 20,000 armed troops to China, defeated the Imperial Army, and captured Beijing on August 14, lifting the siege of the Legations. Uncontrolled plunder of the capital and the surrounding countryside ensued, along with the summary execution of those suspected of being Boxers.

The Boxer Protocol of September 7, 1901 provided for the execution of government officials who had supported the Boxers, provisions for foreign troops to be stationed in Beijing, and 450 million taels of silver—more than the government’s annual tax revenue—to be paid as indemnity over the course of the next thirty-nine years to the eight nations involved. (Source)

Sailors frantically jump overboard a sinking HMS Prince of Wales minutes after it was struck by Japanese bombers during the Battle off Malaya; December 10th, 1941.


835 sailors were lost and these were the first 2 battleships ever lost on the open sea solely through the use of air power.

The sinking of Prince of Wales and Repulse was a Second World Warnaval engagement that took place north of Singapore, off the east coast of Malaya, nearKuantan, Pahang, where the British Royal NavybattleshipHMS Prince of Wales and battlecruiserHMS Repulse were sunk by land-based bombers and torpedo bombers of the Imperial Japanese Navy on 10 December 1941. In Japanese, the engagement was referred to as the Naval Battle off Malaya.

The objective of Force Z, which consisted of one battleship, one battlecruiser and four destroyers, was to intercept the Japanese invasion fleet north of Malaya. However, the task force sailed without any air support, which had been declined by Admiral Sir Tom Phillips, the commander of Force Z, in favour of maintaining radio silence. Although the British had a close encounter with Japanese heavy surface units, the force failed to find and destroy the main convoy. On their return to Singapore they were attacked in open waters and sunk by long-range medium bombers.

Along with the attack on Pearl Harbor only a few days earlier, the Malaya engagement illustrated the effectiveness of aerial attacks against even the heaviest of naval assets if they were not protected by air cover, and led the Allies to place importance on their aircraft carriers over battleships. The sinking of the two ships severely weakened the Eastern Fleet in Singapore, and the Japanese invasion fleet was only engaged by submarines until the Battle off Endau on 27 January 1942. (Source)

After the battle a Japanese pilot flew over where the ships had been sunk and dropped two wreaths. One was for the Japanese pilots who died and the other was, according to the pilot, a mark of respect from his Air Corps to all ratings from Repulse and Prince of Wales that had perished in defence of their ships

An American soldier gazes out in company with a dead German soldier and a Moaning Minnie.

Every war picture I see I always wonder what is going through their minds at the moment it's captured.

Every war picture I see I always wonder what is going through their minds at the moment it’s captured.

The Moaning Minnie  is the 10-tube rocket launcher on top of the vehicle. The vehicle itself is a German Maultier (Mule). When the rocket projectiles were launched they made a distinctive sound and were known among Western forces as “Screaming Mimis” or “Moaning Minnies.”

The Russian rocket launchers mounted on trucks (such as the BM-13) and known as Katyushas or Stalin’s Organs and the American application of the idea atop Sherman tanks known as the Calliope were named for the resemblance of the multiple launch tubes to church organs or similar instruments and not for the sound they made when firing.



Soldiers from the East German National People’s Army, man an unfinished part of the Berlin Wall; August 18, 1961



Pram on Sledge, St. Moritz Switzerland; ca. 1926.



A French soldier of the 151st Régiment d’Infanterie posing with his dog; ca. 1917.



People sliding down an icy snow-covered mound at the base of the American Falls in Niagara Falls, New York; ca. 1883.


Why Stalin allowed Finland to remain independent after WWII:


Stalin overestimated the efficacy of the Finnish Communist Party and underestimated the canniness of Finnish politicians. Starting in leverage high grade military equipment from the Germans which allowed the Finnish forces to stage a fighting retreat from Karelia in 1944. Thus in mid-1944, the Finns and the Soviets were fighting in the same ground as the Winter War. Both the Kremlin and the Red Army’s leadership were much more interested in maintaining the drive into Eastern Europe than refighting what had been a dark chapter in Soviet military history.

Urho Kekkonen, a Finnish parliamentarian and later Prime Minister, said in a 1944 radio broadcast “the Soviet Union must stand to gain a bigger advantage from an independent Finland clinging to life than from a broken Finland doomed to a dependent existence.” The cornerstone of Soviet-Finnish relations was the Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance signed with the USSR in April 1948. The Treaty guaranteed that Finland would aid the Soviets against “Germany or its allies” and fostered a series of networks and political connections between the Soviets and the Finns. The Soviets initially expected the Finnish Communist Party (SKP) to make electoral gains, but the existing Finnish political establishment adroitly managed to sideline them. The Treaty and the Finnish compliance with it did not give the SKP any major issues with which to attack the existing governments. Successive Soviet governments wanted the Treaty to be expanded and pull the Finns closer into the orbit of the Soviet sphere, but the Finns were able to strategically drag their feet. For example, the language “Germany or its allies” meant that Finns were able to justify not wanting to take defense steps against NATO Norway and Denmark. At the same time, the Finns also mastered the art of not appearing to be undermining the larger issue of Soviet security; they would give way over key debates like radar stations its early warning network.

The success of the Finns looks quite intelligent and unexpected from the vantage point of 2014, it’s important to keep in mind that during the Cold War the West was quite apprehensive the Finnish policies of accommodation. “Finlandization” became a pejorative term within Western Cold War discourse and a shorthand for making concessions to gain at best temporary freedoms from the USSR.


Jakobson, Max. Finnish Neutrality; A Study of Finnish Foreign Policy Since the Second World War. New York: Praeger, 1969.

Jussila, Osmo, Seppo Hentilä, and Jukka Nevakivi. From Grand Duchy to a Modern State: a Political History of Finland since 1809. London: Hurst & Company, 1999.

Luostarinen, Heikki. “Finnish Russophobia: The story of an enemy image.” Journal of Peace Research 26, no. 2 (1989): 123-137.

Rentola, Kimmo. “From half-adversary to half-ally: Finland in Soviet policy, 1953-58.” Cold War History 1, no. 1 (2000): 75-102.

Soviet tank crewmen washing up with snow; ca. 1943.

 In the west, Russians are often stereotyped as being dour and pessimistic, but I disagree. Anyone who can sunbathe during springtime in Siberia or wash using snow and still have a smile on their face is a true optimist.

In the west, Russians are often stereotyped as being dour and pessimistic, but I disagree. Anyone who can sunbathe during springtime in Siberia or wash using snow and still have a smile on their face is a true optimist.