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.
A crowd gathers after Jumbo the elephant is struck and killed by a train in St. Thomas, Ontario; September 15th, 1885
Jumbo was 24 when he was killed on September 15, 1885, in the rail yards at St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada. It was about 9:30 p.m. The circus had just finished a performance. The elephants were being led along the main track in the rail yards to their boxcars. To their left was a steep bank; to their right was the circus train. An unscheduled freight train roared down upon them from the east. The engineer tried to stop the train, but failed. Animal keepers got most of the elephants to safety down the bank. Jumbo and a dwarf elephant called Tom Thumb were the last act on the circus programme and the last to leave the Big Top. Tom Thumb was behind Jumbo. The little elephant was hit by the train and thrown into a ditch. His left leg was broken, but he lived. Jumbo ran down the track away from the oncoming train with Scotty beside him. The locomotive struck Jumbo from behind. He roared in pain as the train carried him 300 feet (91 m) down the track. He was wedged partly above and partly below a flatcar. Jumbo’s skull was fractured in several places. He had serious internal injuries. Blood poured from his mouth and trunk. Jumbo reached for and held Scotty’s hand with his trunk. He died within minutes of the accident. The locomotive and the tender were thrown off the track. They were destroyed in the collision.
The Presidio Modelo was a “Panopticon”* design prison in Cuba. The design allowed all the inmates to be watched by a single watchman without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they were being watched; ca. 1926
The Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by the English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The concept of the design is to allow all (pan-) inmates of an institution to be observed (-opticon) by a single watchman without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. Although it is physically impossible for the single watchman to observe all cells at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that all inmates must act as though they are watched at all times, effectively controlling their own behaviour constantly. The name is also a reference to Panoptes from Greek mythology; he was a giant with a hundred eyes and thus was known to be a very effective watchman.
This prison is not a true Panopticon design.
No true Panopticon prisons to Bentham’s designs have ever been built. The closest are the buildings of the now abandoned Presidio Modelo in Cuba (constructed 1926–28). Although most prison designs have included elements of surveillance, the essential elements of Bentham’s design were not only that the custodians should be able to view the prisoners at all times (including times when they were in their cells), but also that the prisoners should be unable to see the custodians, and so could never be sure whether or not they were under surveillance.
“This objective was extremely difficult to achieve within the constraints of the available technology, which is why Bentham spent so many years reworking his plans. Subsequent 19th-century prison designs enabled the custodians to keep the doors of cells and the outsides of buildings under observation, but not to see the prisoners in their cells. Something close to a realization of Bentham’s vision only became possible through 20th-century technological developments—notably closed-circuit television (CCTV)—but these eliminated the need for a specific architectural framework.
“On May Day, just after leaving her fiancé, 23-year-old Evelyn McHale wrote a note. “He is much better off without me. . . . I wouldn’t make a good wife for anybody,” she wrote. Then she crossed it out. She went to the observation platform of the Empire State Building. Through the mist she gazed at the street, 86 floors below. Then she jumped. In her desperate determination she leaped clear of the setbacks and hit a United Nations limousine parked at the curb. Across the street photography student Robert Wiles heard an explosive crash. Just four minutes after Evelyn McHale’s death Wiles got this picture of death’s violence and its composure.”
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.
Nineteen year old Robert Wadlow (height 8 ft 7 in) the tallest person in recorded history, chatting with a friend after appearing at a charity event in Omaha, Nebraska; April 1, 1937
Robert Pershing Wadlow (February 22, 1918 – July 15, 1940) also known as the Alton Giant and the Giant of Illinois, is the tallest person in recorded history for whom there is irrefutable evidence. The Alton and Illinois monikers reflect the fact that he was born and grew up in Alton, Illinois.
Wadlow reached 8 ft 11.1 in (2.72 m) in height and weighed 439 lb (199 kg) at his death at age 22. His great size and his continued growth in adulthood were due to hyperplasia of his pituitary gland, which results in an abnormally high level of human growth hormone. He showed no indication of an end to his growth even at the time of his death. (Wikipedia)
Robert Wadlow with his family:
Five months before his death, an image of Robert Wadlow, taken February 23, 1940, in a St. Petersburg, FL, hotel lobby:
Pathe newsreel from 1935, when he was just 8′ 4″:
The Mexican president at the time was Lázaro Cárdenas, the most left-wing president in Mexican history, still very beloved by working class Mexicans for his nationalization of oil and agrarian reform programs. However, given his leftist policies at home and support for the Second Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War, Cárdenas was often under fire for being a puppet of Stalin’s Soviet Union. Well, what’s a good way to prove you’re not under Stalin’s control? Give asylum to Trotsky.
In 1894 Alexander III died. As was usual on such occasions, the liberal hopes sought support from the heir to the throne. He replied with a kick. At the audience granted to the Zemstvo leaders, the young Czar described their aspirations for a constitution as “nonsensical dreams.” This speech was published in the press. The word-of-mouth report was that the paper from which the Czar had read his speech said “groundless dreams,” but in his agitation the Czar had expressed himself more harshly than he intended. I was fifteen at the time. I was unreservedly on the side of the nonsensical dreams, and not on that of the Czar. Vaguely I believed in a gradual development which would bring backward Russia nearer to advanced Europe. Beyond that my political ideas did not go.
Commercial, multi-racial, loudly colored and noisy Odessa remained, to an extraordinary degree, far behind other centres in a political sense. In St. Petersburg, in Moscow, in Kiev, there were already in existence at that time numerous socialist circles in the educational institutions. Odessa had none. In 1895 Friedrich Engels died. Secret reports were read at meetings held in his memory by student groups in the various cities of Russia. I was then in my sixteenth year. But I did not know even the name of Engels, and could hardly say anything definite about Marx. As a matter of fact, I probably had never heard of him.
My political frame of mind while at school was vaguely oppositionist, but no more than that. In my day, revolutionary questions were still unknown among the students. It was whispered that certain groups met at the private gymnasium maintained by the Czech, Novak; that there had been arrests; that Novak, who was our instructor in athletics, had been dismissed and replaced by an army officer. In the environment surrounding the home of the Schpentzers there was dissatisfaction, but the regime was held to be unshakable. The boldest dreamed of a constitution as possible only after several decades. As for Yanovka, the subject was unmentionable there. When I returned to the village after my graduation from school, bringing with me dim democratic ideas, Father, immediately alert, remarked with hostility: “This will not come to pass even in three hundred years.” He was convinced of the futility of all reformists’ efforts and was apprehensive for his son. In 1921, when he came to me in the Kremlin, after having escaped the Red and White perils with his life, I jestingly asked: “Do you remember what you used to say that the Czarist order was good for another three hundred years?” The old man smiled slyly and replied in Ukrainian: “This time, let your truth prevail.”
I faced the first crossroads on my path, poorly equipped politically even for a seventeen-year-old boy of that period. Too many questions confronted me all at once, without the necessary sequence and order. Restlessly I cast about me. One thing is certain: even then life had stored within my consciousness a considerable load of social protest. What did it consist of? Sympathy for the down-trodden and indignation over injustice the latter was perhaps the stronger feeling. Beginning with my earliest childhood, in all the impressions of my daily life human inequality stood out in exceptionally coarse and stark forms. Injustice often assumed the character of impudent license; human dignity was under heel at every step. It is enough for me to recall the flogging of peasants. Even before I had any theories, all these things imprinted themselves deeply on me and piled up a store of impressions of great explosive force. It was perhaps because of this that I seemed to hesitate for a while before reaching the great conclusions which I was impelled to draw from the observations of the first period of my life.
His great great-granddaughter is interesting. Her family suffered from severe alcoholism due to the obvious stress from the assassination attempts on Trotsky, and she became an expert on addiction.
Here’s the 60 minutes piece on her:
It’s important to note that nobody really hated the Nazi’s until around 1941, and really only intensely 1944. It wasn’t really until after the war that anti-Nazism went into full swing (as a result of discovering/confirming the horrible scope of the holocaust). It’s like everyone forgot that major industrialists in the US and western Europe praised the growth the Nazi’s brought German industry and focus it afforded their politics.
If they hadn’t committed the holocaust, I really wonder how different their legacy would have been. The neo-Nazi’s might have been a modern-day political party. Heck, if they hadn’t invaded Western Europe and focused on the Russians, they might still be around. …maybe they would have founded the European Union themselves – earlier, and included Russia.
Wounded Knee Massacre – Mass grave for the dead Lakota after the conflict at Wounded Knee Creek; December 29th, 1890
The Wounded Knee Massacre occurred on December 29, 1890, near Wounded Knee Creek (Lakota: Čhaŋkpé Ópi Wakpála) on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the U.S. state of South Dakota. On the day before, a detachment of the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment commanded by Major Samuel M. Whitsideintercepted Spotted Elk’s band of Miniconjou Lakota and 38 Hunkpapa Lakota near Porcupine Butte and escorted them five miles westward (8 km) to Wounded Knee Creek, where they made camp.
The remainder of the 7th Cavalry Regiment arrived, led by Colonel James W. Forsyth and surrounded the encampment supported by four Hotchkiss mountain guns.
On the morning of December 29, the troops went into the camp to disarm the Lakota. One version of events claims that during the process of disarming the Lakota, a deaf tribesman named Black Coyote was reluctant to give up his rifle, claiming he had paid a lot for it.A scuffle over Black Coyote’s rifle escalated and a shot was fired which resulted in the 7th Cavalry’s opening fire indiscriminately from all sides, killing men, women, and children, as well as some of their own fellow soldiers. The Lakota warriors who still had weapons began shooting back at the attacking soldiers, who quickly suppressed the Lakota fire. The surviving Lakota fled, but U.S. cavalrymen pursued and killed many who were unarmed.
By the time it was over, more than 200 men, women, and children of the Lakota had been killed and 51 were wounded (4 men, 47 women and children, some of whom died later); some estimates placed the number of dead at 300. Twenty-five soldiers also died, and 39 were wounded (6 of the wounded would later die).
A group of Lithuanians attempt to stop a Soviet tank from crushing a fellow protester during the assault on the television station in Vilnius; January 13th, 1991
At least 13 people have been killed and more than 140 injured by the Soviet military in the capital of Lithuania as Moscow continues its crackdown on the Baltic republic and its drive for independence.
Troops broke through the defences set up by more than 1,000 protesters who had gathered to protect a Lithuanian radio and television centre at about 0200 local time.
Soldiers then smashed through the glass windows of the station and overwhelmed defenders armed with sticks.
The broadcast facility was one of several buildings seized by Soviet troops in Vilnius since they began cracking down on 11 January. Yesterday, tanks ploughed into unarmed demonstrators in Vilnius before soldiers opened fire on a crowd attempting to defend a government building.
The assault represents a major escalation in the Soviet Government’s use of force against the republic.
It is the bloodiest military attack on peaceful citizens since troops killed nine nationalist demonstrators in Georgia in 1989. (BBC)
Original caption: A group of Lithuanians attempt to stop a Soviet Red Army tank from crushing a fellow protester during the assault on the Lithuanian Radio and Television station early 13 January 1991 in Vilnius. Soviet troops opened fire on unarmed civilians in Vilnius, killing 13 people and injuring 100 others. Lithuania declared unilaterally its independence from Soviet Union 11 March 1990.
The Free Arabian Legion provided an opportunity for German blacks who wanted to fight for the Reich. The unit’s founder was Haj Amin Al Husseini, an anti-Semite Muslim.
The Legion included Arab volunteers from the Middle East and North Africa, war prisoners who opted to fight instead of go to prison … and blacks. In the end, the Legion saw very little combat action—and most of that during the Allies’ Operation Torch in French North Africa.
Nazi racial ideology in practice could be very inconsistent:
- 57% of Soviet prisoners and millions of Soviet civilians die as a result of intentional Nazi policy. But a Russian volunteer battallion is raised to fight for Nazi Germany
- Several groups of Africans fighting for France are murdered upon capture by German troops. But some African volunteers are enlisted in the German armed forces
- Ethnic Germans in Poland are deemed superior to Poles. But these ethnic Germans, when found guilty of rape, are punished and declared as not being like “true” German men
- Non-white colonial POWs who fought for France are treated badly and suffer worse mortality rates than white French POWs. But yet the Germans collaborate with certain groups of non-whites.
The disaster at the 1955 Le Mans endurance race – “Eighty-three spectators and driver Pierre Levegh died at the scene, whilst 120 more were injured in the most catastrophic accident in motorsport history.”
The 1955 Le Mans disaster occurred during the 24 Hours of Le Mans motor race, when Pierre Levegh’s state of the art Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR ran into Lance Macklin’s Austin-Healey 100 and crashed into the audience, causing large fragments of racing car debris to fly into the crowd. Eighty-three spectators and driver Pierre Levegh perished at the scene with 120 more injured in the most catastrophic accident in motorsport history.
(Levegh’s car had a special magnesium alloy body that burned incredibly hot when it ignited and water obviously doesn’t help with magnesium fires.)
How the accident happened:
The 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans began on 11 June 1955, with Pierre Levegh behind the wheel of the #20 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR run by Daimler-Benz. American John Fitchwas Levegh’s assigned partner in the car, and he would take over driving duties later. Competition between Mercedes, Jaguar, Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin and Maseratiwas close, with all the marques fighting for the top positions early on. The race was extremely fast, with lap records being repeatedly broken.
At the end of Lap 35, Levegh was following Mike Hawthorn’s leading Jaguar D-type, just as they were entering the pit straight. Hawthorn had just passed Lance Macklin’s slower Austin-Healey 100 when he belatedly noticed a pit signal to stop for fuel. Hawthorn slowed suddenly in an effort to stop rather than make another lap. Hawthorn’s Jaguar, with the new disc brakes, could decelerate much faster than other cars using drum brakes, such as Levegh’s Mercedes. The sudden, unexpected braking by Hawthorn caused Macklin in the Healey to brake hard, throwing up a small cloud of dust in front of Levegh, who trailed close behind. Macklin then swerved across the centre of the track, attempting to re-pass the slowing Jaguar, but also apparently out of control. Macklin had not noticed Levegh nor Juan Manuel Fangio, in another 300 SLR, approaching rapidly from behind. Fangio was in second place at the time, but directly behind, and attempting to lap Levegh.
Levegh, ahead of Fangio on the track, did not have time to react. Levegh’s car made contact with the left rear of Macklin’s car as he closed rapidly (at about 240 km/h (150 mph)) upon the slowed car.
When Levegh’s 300 SLR hit Macklin’s Austin-Healey from behind, his car became airborne, soaring towards the left side of the track, where it landed atop the earthen embankment separating spectators from the track itself. The car struck the mound at such speed and angle that it was launched into a somersault, which caused some parts of the car, already damaged and loosened by the collision, to be flung from the vehicle at very great speeds. This included the bonnet and the front axle, both of which separated from the frame and flew through the crowd.
The bonnet decapitated tightly jammed spectators like a guillotine. With the front of the spaceframe chassis—and thus crucial engine mounts—destroyed, the car’s heavy engine block also broke free and hurtled into the crowd. Spectators who had climbed onto trestle tables to get a better view of the track found themselves in the direct path of the lethal debris. Levegh was thrown free of the tumbling car, and his skull was fatally crushed when he landed.
As the somersaulting remains of the 300 SLR decelerated, the rear-mounted fuel tank ruptured. The ensuing fuel fire raised the temperature of the remaining Elektron bodywork past its ignition temperature, which was lower than other metal alloys due to its high magnesium content. The alloy burst into white-hot flames, sending searing embers onto the track and into the crowd. Rescue workers, totally unfamiliar with magnesium fires, poured water on the inferno, greatly intensifying the fire. As a result, the car burned for several hours. Official accounts put the death total at 84 (83 spectators plus Levegh), either by flying debris or from the fire, with a further 120 injured. Other observers estimated the toll to be much higher.
Fangio, driving behind Levegh, narrowly escaped the heavily damaged Austin-Healey, which was now skidding to the right of the track, across his path. Macklin then hit the pit wall and bounced back to the left, crossing the track again. He struck the barrier near the location of the now burning 300 SLR, causing the death of a spectator, although Macklin survived the incident without serious injury.
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.
Photo from the Vestris Disaster shows crew and passengers trying to lower lifeboats from the port side; November 12, 1928
Vestris left New York bound for the River Plate on 10 November 1928 with 325 passengers and crew. A day after leaving New York, the ship ran into a severe storm and developed a starboard list. The following day, the list worsened as cargo and coal bunkers shifted and the ship took on water through numerous leaks.
Between 11 am and noon, while the ship was off Norfolk, Virginia, the order was given to man lifeboats and the ship was abandoned. Two hours later, at about 2pm, Vestris sank at Lat. 37° 38′ N, Long. 70° 23′ W.The rescue vessels arriving on the scene, late in the evening of 12 November and early in the morning of 13 November, were the steamships American Shipper, Myriam, Berlin and USS Wyoming.
- 68 dead or missing from a total 128 passengers. 60 passengers survived.
- 43 dead or missing from a total of 198 crew members. 155 crew survived.
None of the 13 children and only eight of the 33 women aboard the ship survived. The captain of Vestris, William J. Carey, went down with his ship. 22 bodies were recovered by rescue ships.
Press reports after the sinking were critical of the crew and management of Vestris. In the wake of the disaster, Lamport and Holt experienced a dramatic drop in bookings for the company’s other liners and their service to South America ceased at the end of 1929.
Many inquires and investigations were held into the sinking of Vestris. Criticism was made of:
- overloading of the vessel
- the conduct of the Master, officers and crew of the vessel
- delays in issuing an SOS call
- poor decisions made during deployment of the lifeboats, which led to the two of the first three lifeboats to be deployed (containing mostly women and children) sinking with Vestris and another swamping
- legal requirements governing lifeboats and out-dated life-preservers
- lack of radio sets in nearby vessels at the time
Lawsuits were brought after the sinking on behalf of 600 claimants totaling $5,000,000.