Most historians of the war argue that poison gas on the battlefield was a failure and usually measure its effectiveness based on its lethality. But Tim Cook argues in No Place to Run that this may be true in that gas was not a “war-winning weapon,” but historians should remember that gas was a much more “complicated and nuanced weapon.” It was far more effective at removing men from combat and leaving fear and unrest among its survivors. One soldier wrote that “it is a terrible and hateful sensation to be choked and suffocated and unable to get breath: a casualty from gun fire may be dying from his wounds, but they don’t give him the sensation that his life is being strangled out of him.” Thus, gas was effective for many reasons other than its lethality.
One, it was a weapon of fear. There was no escape from gas on the battlefield, there was no way to tell if you were actually out of range of the gas cloud, or it would be trapped in the buried earth of an artillery shell blast, or even spending a night in a respirator because a sentry mistook fog for a phosgene gas cloud. As Cook’s title notes, there was “no place to run.”
Two, gas was primarily a casualty-causing agent rather than a killer. Cook notes that in 1918 when the Germans were using mustard gas, British gas casualties rose to from 7.2% in 1917 to 15% of total casualties. Yet, at the same fatality rates from gas dropped from 3.4% in 1917 to 2.4% in 1918. Gas wounded soldiers required their comrades to bring them off the battlefield, clogging up supply lines, aid stations and weakening the manpower available to actually continue an offensive. Or, imagine heading to the frontlines while passing the lines of gurgling, choking men who would never die from their wounds but would never recover either. The fear of gas was a far more important weapon than the casualties inflicted.
Even gas casualties statistics are misleading. The British army reports somewhere between 1.1 and 1.3 million gas casualties in the war, of which 91,000 died. This is not as large a number as you might think. Mostly it looks as if gas warfare was ineffective. For example, if the Germans released 600 canisters of chlorine gas and only caused 50 British casualties, this would be seen as a failure. Yet that attack would force the entire line of British soldiers to wear respirators for the duration of the battle – drastically changing the nature of the engagement even without the statistics to prove success.
Both armies on the Western Front (dont know much about other theatres) quickly adapted to the reality of gas warfare. Soldiers were trained to put on masks and protective gear quickly and without thinking – even a few seconds could save you from decades of agony or death. Intensive gas training was increasingly a part of an effective unit’s ability to fight on the battlefields of the Western Front, as there was always the fear of gas in any battle by the last years of the war. Soldiers had to act without thinking – the second the whistle blew that gas was spotted, or when a gas shell landed 5 metres in front of you, you had to immediately adjust your gear or put on your mask, and then keep fighting. Any hesitation could be lethal. Total gas warfare, when both sides began using choking gas, tear gas, and gas that burned any skin it came in contact with, meant that armies had to be trained at many levels. Small things like Doctors removing contaminated fabric from the wounded to avoid gas burns had to be “learned” in medical services dealing with gas casualties. Still, total preparation did not stop gas casualties. Hiding gas shells in the midst of a high explosive artillery barrage could catch soldiers unaware, or gas stuck in shell holes, or gas mixing with the mud and water of the trenches. Days after an attack, a soldier might be discovered dead after digging a hole to rest in during the night, or severely burned as water shifted in the muddy landscape onto a soldier as he slept.
Cook’s work on gas warfare stands out as one of the few historical studies that belie the established narrative in the Canadian literature on the war. I am not sure how other nations’ historians have treated it. Unlike other Canadian historians of the First World War, such as Duguid and Nicholson, Cook’s writing on gas warfare provides depth to the history of the weapon as more than simply an immoral tool of war. He argued that the “gas environment” where a soldier had to fear a gas attack at any moment, or endure fighting within the gas cloud, had had dramatic consequences for all the soldiers of the war. Cooks attempts to re-imagine the entire soldier experience of the trenches as one equally marked by toxic gas as by artillery shells and machine gun bullets. The image of the war he describes presents an important but subtle difference from what other historians have written. It is an atrocious world where the brief moments of courage do little to overcome the unending horrors of gas warfare. It was “like water rotting wood,” Cook writes, “not often immediately deadly, but … constant, insidious, and demoralizing.” His picture has little in common with the image of the successful, deadly, and honourable Canadian soldier. By the end of the war during the Hundred Days, Cook argues that “the Canadian way of war was steeped in poison gas.” Consider that 1 in 4 American casualties were from gas warfare, which demonstrates how the lack of proper gas protocols in the unbloodied American army severely affected their fighting capability. Gas warfare was a reality of the Western Front, one to which armies had to adapt or perish. So while most historians, and popular memory, acknowledge the pervasiveness of gas warfare in the First World War, few address its totality and its effects on tactics and operations.
Gas warfare wasn’t technically banned until the 1925 Geneva Protocol, and even still chemical agents have been used since the First World War. The Italians used it against the Abyssinians in the 30s, Japan used it against the Chinese, there are unconfirmed reports that Egypt used it against Yemen in the 60s, the United States’ use of napalm in Vietnam, allegations of Soviet use in Afghanistan in the 80s, and of course Iraq using it against Iran also in the 80s. One of the biggest fears of the American Army as it entered Iraq in the First Gulf War was being confronted with chemical warfare.
Dagen H (H day), today usually called “Högertrafikomläggningen” (“The right-hand traffic diversion”), was the day on 3 September 1967, in which the traffic in Sweden switched from driving on the left-hand side of the road to the right. The “H” stands for “Högertrafik”, the Swedish word for “right traffic”. It was by far the largest logistical event in Sweden’s history.
There were various major arguments for the change:
- All of Sweden’s neighbours (including Norway and Finland, with which Sweden has land borders) drove on the right, with 5 million vehicles crossing those borders annually.
- Approximately 90 percent of Swedes drove left-hand drive (LHD) vehicles. This led to many head-on collisions when passing on narrow two-lane highways, which were common in Sweden due to the fact that the country’s low population density and traffic levels made road-building expensive in per capita terms. City buses were among the very few vehicles that conformed to the normal opposite-steering wheel rule, being left-hand drive.
However, the change was widely unpopular; in a 1955 referendum, 83 percent voted to keep driving on the left. Nevertheless, on May 10, 1963, the Swedish Parliament (Riksdagen) approved the Prime Minister Tage Erlander‘s government proposal of an introduction of right hand traffic in 1967, as the number of cars on the road tripled from 500,000 to 1.5 million, and was expected to reach 2.8 million by 1975. A body known as Statens Högertrafikkommission (HTK) (“the state right-hand traffic commission”) was established to oversee the changeover. It also began implementing a four-year education programme, with the advice of psychologists.
The campaign included displaying the Dagen H logo on various commemorative items, including milk cartons and underwear. Swedish television held a contest for songs about the change; the winning entry was “Håll dig till höger, Svensson” (‘Keep to the right, Svensson‘) written by Expressen journalist by Peter Himmelstrand and performed by The Telstars.
As Dagen H neared, every intersection was equipped with an extra set of poles and traffic signals wrapped in black plastic. Workers roamed the streets early in the morning on Dagen H to remove the plastic. Similarly, a parallel set of lines were painted on the roads with white paint, then covered with black tape. Before Dagen H, Swedish roads had used yellow lines.
On Dagen H, Sunday, 3 September, all non-essential traffic was banned from the roads from 01:00 to 06:00. Any vehicles on the roads during that time had to follow special rules. All vehicles had to come to a complete stop at 04:50, then carefully change to the right-hand side of the road and stop again (to give others time to switch sides of the road and avoid a head on collision) before being allowed to proceed at 05:00. In Stockholm and Malmö, however, the ban was longer — from 10:00 on Saturday until 15:00 on Sunday — to allow work crews to reconfigure intersections. Certain other towns also saw an extended ban, from 15:00 on Saturday until 15:00 on Sunday.
The relatively smooth changeover saw a reduction in the number of accidents. On the day of the change, only 157 minor accidents were reported, of which only 32 involved personal injuries, with only a handful serious. On the Monday following Dagen H, there were 125 reported traffic accidents, compared to a range of 130 to 198 for previous Mondays, none of them fatal. Experts suggested that changing to driving on the right reduced accidents while overtaking, as people already drove left-hand drive vehicles, thereby having a better view of the road ahead; additionally, the change made a marked surge in perceived risk that exceeded the target level and thus was followed by very cautious behaviour that caused a major decrease in road fatalities. Indeed, fatal car-to-car and car-to-pedestrian accidents dropped sharply as a result, and the number of motor insurance claims went down by 40%.
These initial improvements did not last, however. The number of motor insurance claims returned to ‘normal’ over the next six weeks and, by 1969, the accident rates were back to the levels seen before the change.
Henry Kissinger was the sole purveyor of American foreign policy, with the exception of presidents Nixon and Ford. While he was National Security Advisor, he essentially made the department of state irrelevant by taking over many of the tasks, like communicating with foreign officials and heading foreign policy task groups, typically reserved to the secretary of state. By Nixon’s second term, he was serving concurrently as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, and had pushed out most other foreign policy advisors from the policymaking process.
Kissinger was involved in Nixon’s conduct of the Vietnam War, the opening of China (essentially the establishment of relations with Mao was not a great triumph for human rights, but another triumph of realpolitik), the coup that brought Pinochet to power, etc. The human rights perspective of Kissinger’s detractors, everything Kissinger did was terrible. He was not bothered by this at all, as he was a firm member of the realist school of foreign policy, which holds that in the anarchic system of international relations, only power matters. Realists believe that international institutions such as the United Nations or international norms such as the concept of human rights are irrelevant. (In the Cold War, this became especially acute as Kissinger allied with brutal regimes, and conspired against democratic ones, in the name of anticommunism.)
Take this quote from Kissinger:
“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”
Remember that Kissinger is Jewish himself. That’s how much of a realist he is.
While Kissinger was in office, the world was undergoing significant upheaval. There were various international crises originating in the Third World, and there was also domestic unrest in every region of the world. The most important aspect of Kissinger’s foreign policy outlook was his overriding concern of maintaining international stability, particularly by maintaining the Cold War’s bipolar global order. Wars in Vietnam and the Middle East and domestic protests in the U.S. and Europe all threatened to upend the bipolar order. Kissinger believed that wars in the Third World might drag the two superpowers into military conflict or nuclear war, and domestic unrest in Western Europe could open that continent up to greater Soviet influence. Simultaneously, domestic unrest in the U.S., particularly protests against the Vietnam War, had the potential of leading the U.S. away from the global interventionism necessary to maintain its superpower status.
Furthermore, Kissinger was able to elevate himself to an unusual degree of celebrity in the 1973-1976 period because of Watergate and the elevation of the unelected Ford.
Kissinger was the only major public figure of the Nixon Administration to escape Watergate unscathed (because he didn’t know about it, as it was a domestic election thing. To clarify, Kissinger had no connection to Watergate), and Ford, who had no constituency other than the existing Administration, heavily relied on Kissinger. [As Saigon fell, Kissinger’s polling dwarfed Ford’s.]
Because of the unusual circumstances of this presidential term, Kissinger is now a symbol of everything realpolitik. (He’s a lightning rod for criticism from non-realists.) Many people adopted elements of this view of foreign policy, but none personified it like Kissinger.
There are four excellent biographies of Kissinger:
- Jeremi Suri, Henry Kissinger and the American Century (This book provides a more favorable view of Kissinger than most other biographers).
- Jussi Hahnimaki, The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy
- Mario del Pero, The Eccentric Realist: Henry Kissinger and the Shaping of American Foreign Policy
- Robert Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power
The following are excellent studies of U.S. foreign policy during the Nixon-Ford administrations:
- Daniel Sargent, A Superpower Transformed: The Remaking of American Foreign Relations in the 1970s
- Jeremi Suri, Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Detente
- Barbara Zanchetta, The Transformation of American International Power in the 1970s
- Paul Thomas Chamberlin, The Global Offensive: The United States, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Making of the Post-Cold War World
- Gary Bass, The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide
Fireball of Castle Bravo, the largest nuclear device ever detonated by the United States of America. The picture was taken from about 40,000 feet, Bikini Atoll; ca. 1954
A Japanese fishing boat, Daigo Fukuryu Maru, came in direct contact with the fallout. The fallout, fine white flaky dust of calcinated Bikini Island coral, had absorbed highly radioactive fission products, and fell on the ship for three hours. The fishermen scooped it into bags with their bare hands. The dust stuck to surfaces, bodies and hair; after the radiation sickness symptoms appeared, the fishermen called it shi no hai (死の灰?, death ash). The crew members, suffering from nausea, headaches, burns, pain in the eyes, bleeding from the gums, and other symptoms, were diagnosed with acute radiation syndrome and admitted to two Tokyo hospitals. Seven months after the test on September 23, chief radio operator Mr. Aikichi Kuboyama, 40, died — the first Japanese victim of a hydrogen bomb. He left these words: “I pray that I am the last victim of an atomic or hydrogen bomb.”
This resulted in an international uproar and reignited Japanese concerns about radiation, especially in regard that Japanese citizens were once more adversely affected by U.S. nuclear weapons.
The Japanese and U.S. governments quickly reached a political settlement and paid out US$2 million to the surviving victims, each receiving about ¥ 2 million each ($5,550 in 1954, $47,400 in 2013). It was also agreed that the victims would not be given Hibakusha status.
American POW Paul Galanti unobtrusively gives the finger, to show his disdain for being used in a propaganda event filmed by an East German film crew in North Vietnam; ca. June 1967
After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1962, then-ENS Galanti reported to fighter jet training, learning to fly the A-4C Skyhawk. In November 1965, he deployed on the carrier USS Hancock to South East Asia. On his 98th combat mission in Vietnam, he was shot down and captured by the North Vietnamese. He spent almost seven years, from 17 June 1966 to 12 February 1973, interned in the infamous Vietnamese prison camp dubbed the “Hanoi Hilton.”
American prisoners of war have long been used as propaganda tools by the enemy — a weapon of war that has sometimes met with success, but has just as often left the enemy looking dim-witted and brutal.
When an East German camera crew arrived at his cell Navy Commander Paul Galanti was ordered to pose for photos.
A stencilled sign reading “Clean, Neat” had been painted on his wall and a makeshift bench, a luxury he did not normally have, was brought in.
“My interrogators wanted me to be interviewed by them and I said I’d be glad to speak with them because I speak German and I’d tell them all about the torture and bad treatment. They came back and said I was not to say anything to them,” Mr. Galanti said from his home in Richmond, Va., yesterday.
The captured aviator had no intention of being a propaganda tool for the enemy. As he sat with his hands resting between his knees he stared into the camera and had a flash of mischievous genius.
“I gave a catcher’s signal with both middle fingers extended and glared at the camera the whole time. I extended my middle finger on each hand to make certain that anybody who saw that picture didn’t think in any way, shape or form that I was doing it voluntarily.
“It was a message from me.”
Life Magazine published this image in October, 1967, but airbrushed his middle fingers so as not to offend its readers:
German soldiers on outpost duty near Antwerp, sharing their food with Belgian orphans, published in 1915.
The basic Pickelhaube, as seen in the photo, was made of hardened (boiled) leather, given a glossy-black finish, and reinforced with a metal trim. Starting in 1892, a light brown cloth helmet cover, the M1892 Überzug, was issued for use during manoeuvres and active service. The Überzug was intended to protect the helmet from dirt and reduce its combat visibility, as the metallic fittings were highly reflective. As you mentioned regimental numbers were then sewn or stencilled onto the front of the cover.
This photo was most likely staged to generate evidence that countered Great Britain’s aggressive propaganda campaign against the German occupation of Belgium. Given this assumption there would be little reason for these men to don their Überzug.
As the war progressed, and Britain’s blockade limited Germanys leather supply, the economic factors you mentioned drove the government to produce Pickelhauben from thin sheet steel. However by 1915, as demand rapidly outpaced supply, pressurized felt and even paper was used to construct pickelhauben
By 1916, the Pickelhaube was slowly replaced the the new Stahlhelm (steel helmet) which offered greater over-all head protection.
“Sniper At Work” road sign, referring to the infamous IRA South Armagh sniper team, notable for their use of .50 caliber Barrett sniper rifles, Northern Ireland; ca. 1990’s
The South Armagh Sniper is the generic name given to the members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army’s (IRA) South Armagh Brigade who conducted a sniping campaign against British security forces from 1990 to 1997. The campaign is notable for the snipers’ use of .50 BMG calibre Barrett M82 and M90 long-range rifles in some of the shootings.
The IRA sniping activities further restricted the freedom of movement of the British Army in South Armagh by hindering their patrols. The MoD issued a new type of body armour, which was both expensive (£4,000) and too heavy (32 lbs) for use on patrol. The morale of the troops was so low that some servicemen had to be disciplined for remaining in shelter while under orders to check vehicles.
A Highway Code-style sign saying “SNIPER AT WORK” was mounted by the IRA near Crossmaglen and became an icon of the republican cause.
Participants in the “Miss Besieged Sarajevo 1993” beauty pageant line up on stage in front of a packed audience in Sarajevo. The 13 contenders held a banner reading: “Don’t Let Them Kill Us”; May 29, 1993
U2 wrote a song about this and performed it with Luciano Pavarotti:
Today in 1918, Manfred von Richtofen, World War I’s greatest flying ace, was shot down in his Red Fokker Triplane by a single bullet through his heart. Here is the Red Baron in a sweater in happier times; ca. 1917
He landed in enemy territory, and the RAF gave him a funeral with full military honors, befitting a legendary military aviator such as himself. It’s strange how a sense of professional respect can transcend the hatred of enemies, especially in the case of an enemy who had personally killed so many RAF pilots.
He was a dangerous enemy, but he was truly admired.
Rudolph Hoss, the Commandant of Auschwitz, trying to avoid the noose, before being hanged on the grounds of Auschwitz; April 16, 1947
Höss introduced pesticide Zyklon B containing hydrogen cyanide to the killing process, thereby allowing soldiers at Auschwitz to murder 2,000 people every hour. He created the largest installation for the continuous annihilation of human beings ever known.
A little Russian girl touches her dead mother just after the liberation of the Ozarichi concentration camp in Belarus; ca. March 1944
Information on the liberation of the Ozarichi death camps.
Alan Shepard being recovered from the Freedom 7 capsule after the first American human spaceflight; May 5th, 1961
From a series of Great Purge-era mugshots.
Prior to the Mongol invasions, the Novgorodians had penetrated past the Urals. The Russians used northern routes to enter Siberia by land and sea, and by the mid-sixteenth century they had reached the mouth of the Enisei.
In the sixteenth century, the Stroganov family developed large-scale industries, including salt and fur extraction, in North-Eastern European Russia the Ustiug area (a bit right of the red area in this photo):
After the conquest of Kazan (see here), the Stroganovs obtained large holdings in the upper Kama region, where they maintained garrisons and encouraged colonists to settle. In 1582, the Stroganovs sent an expedition against the Siberian Khanate, consisting of around 1500 cossacks and some volunteers, and lead by a Cossack, Ermak. The Russians were massively outnumbered, but made good use of organisation, firearms and that famous Russian bravery to overcome the Khanate, and they ultimately seized the headquarters of the Siberian Khan. Ivan the Terrible realised the prospects of this, as Siberia was well known for the opportunities for fur trading, and sent reinforcements. Ermak died in 1584 however (before reinforcements arrived), and although they actually had to conquer the Siberian Khanate again, they began to consolidate their holdings.
In order to subjugate the natives and collect tributes of fur (iasak), which the natives were expected to pay, a series of forts were built at the confluences of major rivers and streams and important portages. The first among these were Tyumen and Tobolsk — the former built in 1586 by Vasilii Sukin and Ivan Miasnoi, and the latter the following year by Danilo Chulkov. Tobolsk would become the nerve center of the conquest. Essentially, from here on out, the Russians began to subdue minor tribes and further expand these forts and outposts. Of these, Mangazeya was the most prominent, becoming a base for further exploration eastward. It was a highly profitable undertaking for the Muscovite state, due to the furs extraction.
Following the khan’s death and the dissolution of any organized Siberian resistance, the Russians advanced first towards Lake Baikal and then the Sea of Okhotsk and the Amur River. Between 1610 and 1640, the Russian military and the Cossacks moved three hundred miles further into the southern steppe, in continuous conflict with the Crimean Tartars and other nomads. However, when they first reached the Chinese border they encountered people that were equipped with artillery pieces and here they halted. The treaty of Nerchinsk (1689) outlined the borders between the two countries and lasted until 1858. A small band of Cossacks, lead by Ivan Moskvitianin, reached the Pacific Ocean in 1639. After the conquest of the Siberian Khanate (1598) the whole of northern Asia – an area much larger than the old khanate – became known as Siberia and by 1640 the eastern borders of Russia had expanded more than several million square kilometers. In a sense, the khanate lived on in the subsidiary title “Tsar of Siberia” which became part of the full imperial style of the Russian Autocrats.