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

Posts tagged “Power

Chemical Warfare in World War One

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.


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

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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.

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“The Mine Test” – Wehrmacht Soldiers Force a Soviet Civilian to Test the Waters, Soviet Union; ca.1942

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According to historian Christian Ingrao this technique was first used in Belarussia in 1943 by the infamous 36th SS division “Dirlewanger”, a penal SS unit composed of common law criminals, disgraced SS soldiers, poachers, feeble minded, sociopaths and pedophiles recruited among the inmates of concentration camps and used to hunt partisans in the East.

After they began losing men to mined roads, they took the habit of rounding up local villagers and make them march before them in staggered rows. The tactic was deemed very effective by SS Gruppenfuhrer for Central Russia Curt Von Gottberg who wrote a report on the practice in 1943 saying “The mines set on most road and paths necessitated the use of mine detectors, as per order. The mine detector developped by the Dirlewanger battalion successfully passed the test”. Soon after various non-penal units began using it too. Believe it or not it is far from the worst thing these guys did.

The archives of the 36th SS division stated that this practiced caused the death of about 3000 Belarussian civilians for year 1943 alone.


Original title from the back of the photograph is Die Minenprobe:

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Wounded Knee Massacre – Mass grave for the dead Lakota after the conflict at Wounded Knee Creek; December 29th, 1890

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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).

(Source)


Afro-German soldier of the Nazi Germany – Free Arabian Legion; ca. September 1943

"hahahaha, but seriously guys, can I get off the catapult now?"

The Wehrmacht was an equal opportunity employer.

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.

(More Info)


A little Russian girl touches her dead mother just after the liberation of the Ozarichi concentration camp in Belarus; ca. March 1944

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Information on the liberation of the Ozarichi death camps.


Crater from the “Sedan” underground nuclear test as part of Operation Plowshare in Nevada. The 104 kiloton blast displaced 12 million tons of earth and created a crater 320 feet deep and 1,280 feet wide; ca. 1962

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There’s an urban legend that says that this blast is responsible for John Wayne’s death (and most of the film crew) due to cancer:

Of the 220 persons who worked on The Conqueror on location in Utah in 1955, 91 had contracted cancer as of the early 1980s and 46 died of it, including stars John Wayne, Susan Hayward, and Agnes Moorehead, and director Dick Powell. Experts say under ordinary circumstances only 30 people out of a group of that size should have gotten cancer. The cause? No one can say for sure, but many attribute the cancers to radioactive fallout from U.S. atom bomb tests in nearby Nevada.

The Conqueror, a putative love story involving Genghis Khan’s lust for the beautiful princess Bortai (Hayward), was a classic Hollywood big budget fiasco, one of many financed by would-be movie mogul Howard Hughes. Originally director Powell wanted to get Marlon Brando for the lead, but John Wayne, then at the height of his popularity, happened to see the script one day and decided he and Genghis were meant for each other. Unfortunately, the script was written in a cornball style that was made even more ludicrous by the Duke’s wooden line readings. In the following sample, Wayne/Genghis has just been urged by his sidekick Jamuga not to attack the caravan carrying Princess Bortai: “There are moments fer wisdom, Juh-mooga, then I listen to you–and there are moments fer action — then I listen to my blood. I feel this Tartar wuh-man is fer me, and my blood says, ‘TAKE HER!'” In the words of one writer, it was the world’s “most improbable piece of casting unless Mickey Rooney were to play Jesus in The King of Kings.”

The movie was shot in the canyonlands around the Utah town of St. George. Filming was chaotic. The actors suffered in 120 degree heat, a black panther attempted to take a bite out of Susan Hayward, and a flash flood at one point just missed wiping out everybody. But the worst didn’t become apparent until long afterward. In 1953, the military had tested 11 atomic bombs at Yucca Flats, Nevada, which resulted in immense clouds of fallout floating downwind. Much of the deadly dust funneled into Snow Canyon, Utah, where a lot of The Conqueror was shot. The actors and crew were exposed to the stuff for 13 weeks, no doubt inhaling a fair amount of it in the process, and Hughes later shipped 60 tons of hot dirt back to Hollywood to use on a set for retakes, thus making things even worse.

Many people involved in the production knew about the radiation (there’s a picture of Wayne himself operating a Geiger counter during the filming), but no one took the threat seriously at the time. Thirty years later, however, half the residents of St. George had contracted cancer, and veterans of the production began to realize they were in trouble. Actor Pedro Armendariz developed cancer of the kidney only four years after the movie was completed, and later shot himself when he learned his condition was terminal.

Howard Hughes was said to have felt “guilty as hell” about the whole affair, although as far as I can tell it never occurred to anyone to sue him. For various reasons he withdrew The Conqueror from circulation, and for years thereafter the only person who saw it was Hughes himself, who screened it night after night during his paranoid last years.

(Source)


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A Race Education Class at a School for German Girls; ca.1943

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An American soldier demonstrates an M3 ‘Grease Gun’ that can shoot around corners; ca. 1953

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Hitler asking a frostbitten and snow ravaged soldier not to salute him, but to instead rest and recover; ca. 1941- 42

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Most likely taken sometime between November 1941 and March 1942. During the Winter Crisis, the majority of the Wehrmacht were still equipped with their worn out summer uniforms and summer boots (often stuffed with newspapers to try to make them warmer). This was a direct failure of the German High Command to properly equip their soldiers for winter combat in the inhospitable Russian terrain.

Additionally, across large portions of the front, the Germans were not able to successfully enter prepared defensive positions until late in the winter. As a result, the soldiers were literally lying in the snow in their summer uniforms while the temperature was regularly -40 degrees. For a German General’s view on this see Gotthard Heinrici’s recently published letters and diaries.


I don’t think this is a PR photo. At this point in time the German senior leadership was still trying to present events in the East in the most favorable light possible. Obviously, a photograph of this man’s injuries would shock anyone who saw it in a newspaper.

Also, this man’s injuries are directly attributable to Hitler himself. During the early autumn of 1941, he refused to ship adequate cold weather clothing to the front line as he perpetually believed that the Soviets would collapse in only a few weeks. Needless to say, this did not come to pass.


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Danish disabled soldiers from the Second Schleswig War; ca. 1864

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Adolf Hitler salutes a parade of his personal bodyguard regiment, the 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler; January 30th,1937

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President Lyndon B. Johnson holds his dog “Her” by the ears as his other dog “Him” looks on, the White House lawns; April 27, 1964

To be fair Lyndon Johnson wasn't all that nice to humans, either.

Him and Her, the most well known of the President Johnson’s dogs, were registered beagles born on June 27, 1963. The President frequently played with the dogs and was often photographed with them. In 1964, President Johnson raised the ire of many when he lifted Him by his ears while greeting a group on the White House lawn.

Her died at the White House in November 1964, after she swallowed a stone. Him died in June 1966, when he was hit by a car while chasing a squirrel on the White House. (Source)


Four-year-old Michael Finder of East Germany is tossed by his father into a net held by firemen across the border in West Berlin. The apartments were in East Berlin while their windows opened into West Berlin; October 7, 1961

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His father jumped after him:

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His mother had jumped before him:

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Escaping on Bernauer Strasse – video of the father jumping (at 00:46).


 

The soviet occupation zone in Germany (and Berlin) suffered from serious movements of educated individuals from their sectors toward the west throughout the 1950’s. This brain drain encouraged the Soviet Union to begin construction of a “Fascist Protection Wall” that would keep East Germans protected from “Fascism” that the Western Allies had “not eradicated in their sectors. ”

Of course, this wall was only really to keep East Germans from emigrating to the West. The wall later became the Berlin Wall.

These apartments were along Bernauer Straße (Bernauer Street) in Berlin. A line which saddled the border between East and West Berlin. After the wall was first constructed in 1961, many escape attempts were made through these apartment blocks. So much so, that the soviets had to brick up the windows and raid the apartments of the people who lived there. They evicted the people living in those apartments. So what you’re seeing when these people are jumping from the 4th floor are the people who are making a last ditch attempt at the West before all their (relatively safe) options out of East Berlin were gone for good.

These apartments were later torn down and the Berlin Wall that most of us picture in the news reels, and have chunks of in our museums all over the world, was erected.


 

Here are some historical photos for reference.

Mayor Willy Brandt taking a stroll along Bernauer St. You can clearly see the bricked up windows here; Winter 1963:

Berlin, Staatsbesuch Vizepräsident von Zypern

Comparison of the area 1963 vs 2011 – (the poles mark the location of the old apartment building that stood on the location in 1961):

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Wrecked military vehicles in front of Brandenburg Gate during the Battle of Berlin; ca. 1945

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“The Desolation of War” – Poelcapelle, Belgium; ca. 1917

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POW’s from the Hungarian Second Army, Russia; ca. 1942

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The Hungarian Second Army (Második Magyar Hadsereg) was one of three field armies (hadsereg) raised by the Kingdom of Hungary (Magyar Királyság) which saw action during World War II. All three armies were formed on March 1, 1940. The Second Army was the best-equipped Hungarian formation at the beginning of the war, but was virtually eliminated as an effective fighting unit by overwhelming Soviet force during the Battle of Stalingrad, suffering 84% casualties. Towards the end of the war, a reformed Second Army fought more successfully at the Battle of Debrecen, but, during the ensuing Siege of Budapest, it was destroyed completely and absorbed into the Hungarian Third Army.


Hiter, Speer and entourage mesmerized at the Schwerer Gustav. Largest and Heaviest artillery ever used in combat; ca. 1941

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Also know as Dora, Krupp was responsible for its development. It saw very little combat as the gun proved to be a logistical nightmare. Stands as the largest-calibre rifled weapon ever used in combat, the heaviest artillery piece ever built by weight and fired the heaviest shells of any artillery.

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The Schwerer Gustav could fire armor-piercing rounds weighing over 7,000kg (~15,000lb) with a muzzle velocity of ~700 m/s (~2,400 ft/s)

(Size compared with the OTR-21 Tochka.)


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The shells from an allied creeping bombardment spent in a single day on German lines; ca. 1916

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Canadian Soldiers take back a wounded from the front during the battle of Passchendaele; ca. November, 1917

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Douglas Haig’s chief of staff, Launcelot Kiggell, reportedly broke down and wept when he finally visited the Passchendaele battlefield in the autumn of 1917, saying “Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?”


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Tsar Nicholas II shoveling snow in a park while under captivity in Tsarskoye Selo, Russia; ca. 1917

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Polish concentration camp survivor weeping near charred corpse of a friend, in Leipzig, Germany; ca. 1945

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This photo was taken by Margaret Bourke-White (who  was the first female war correspondent in WWII. Also she’s also the photographer of the iconic Kentucky Flood photo.) She was a badass with a robotic heart. I could have never done what she did and maintained her love of life and compassionate nature.


Top scientists at ground zero soon after the world’s first nuclear explosion; ca. July 1945

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Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves inspect the melted remnants of the 100-foot steel tower that held the Trinity bomb. Ensuring that the testing of a bomb with unknown strength would remain completely secret, the government chose a location that was so remote they had to import their water from over 150 miles away.


A British soldier gives a “two-fingered salute” to German POWs captured at the Second Battle of El Alamein, Egypt; ca. 1942

The German POW on the left has a pretty clean haircut.

The German POW on the left has a pretty clean haircut.

The “two-fingered salute”, is commonly performed by flicking the V upwards from wrist or elbow. The V sign, when the palm is facing toward the person giving the sign, has long been an insulting gesture in England, and later in the rest of the United Kingdom; though the use of the V sign as an insulting gesture is largely restricted to the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia. It is frequently used to signify defiance (especially to authority), contempt, or derision. The gesture is not used in the United States, and archaic in Australia and New Zealand, where the finger tends to be used in such situations instead.

(Source)

Here’s a report on the behavior of British POWs during the war, hopefully making it the Britishest thing you’ve read today.