14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times - We Are The Mighty
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14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times

The cacao seed was used as currency in pre-colonial times to trade for goods and services. It’s a little hard to imagine that the deceptively simple bean that comes out of the Theobroma Cacao tree could have a value greater than gold. Yet, when you consider the indigenous creation myth across various Mesoamerican cultures, you can see why it was held in high esteem.

Food of the Gods

Behind the fruit there are reasons that made it especially valuable at the time. In mythology “his arrival” is attributed to Quetzalcóatl. The story goes that he brought it to earth to show men a food that was not disdained by the gods.

Diego Perez, Editor, Dinero en Imagen

For the European settlers engaging in trade, nothing could be more advantageous: trade goods for chocolate and sell it across the Atlantic to the aristocracy at a high price. To the traders from Spain, England, Italy and the American colonies, cacao was in high demand, and since it was also a currency, money literally grew on trees.

The word cacao means “food of the gods.” At 50,000 years old, it is one of the oldest words in the world. Its origins stem from South America and travel into Central America up to Mexico. It was consumed as a drink by the Aztec nobility and was a universal currency across North, Central and South America. Theoretically, if you could travel in the Americas, the cacao would have been the Dollar of the ancient world.

14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times
You guys remember when Scrooge McDuck had so much gold he could dive into it like a pool? (Wikimedia Commons)

Inflation resistant

Growing cacao today is a challenge, but was even more so in pre-colonial times. Cacao plantations are small operations of up to five acres to prevent the spread of disease and pests. However, the plant is very sensitive and growers are mentally prepared to lose their whole crop yield – because it happens often. Hazards like too much wind or too much water can kill trees younger than two years old.

Many varieties of cacao exist, and they can be grouped into three general divisions: forastero, criollo, and trinitario. Forastero varieties are most commonly used in commercial production, whereas criollo varieties are very susceptible to disease and are not widely grown. Trinitario is a hybrid of the forastero and criollo varieties and produces a flavourful bean that is used in high-quality dark chocolate.

L. Russell Cook, President, Chocolate and Confectionery Division, W.R. Grace & Company, New York City, 1965–73. Author of Chocolate Production and Use

For the first five years of their lives, the flowers and budding cacao seeds are trimmed. This is done to ensure the most nutrients and energy are used to grow and strengthen the tree. It is at this five-year mark when the seed pods can be harvested. When harvesting the cacao pods workers cut them off instead of ripping them off. The pods will grow again during the next season in the same location, so harvesters are careful to cause as little damage to the branches as possible.

14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times
Sweet, high-maintenance, worth a lot of money… they’re basically J-Lo (Wikimedia Commons)

The tree is also susceptible to pests such as the broad mite, flower-eating caterpillars, helopeltis and the yellow peach moth. Growers must trim excess branches and leaves to make sure it is as healthy as possible and energy isn’t diverted from essential areas. All of this, frankly, is a pain in the a** even with today’s technology, so one can appreciate how valuable the seeds were before modern agricultural practices.

Another benefit of the cacao seed as currency was that since it was biodegradable, it prevented hyperinflation by disintegrating after one year or so. However, the seeds are bulky and can get destroyed by accident when transported over long distances.

What could you buy with cacao seeds?

1 bean equals one tamale, large sapote fruit, or 20 small tomatoes.

3 beans equals a turkey egg or an avocado

3 beans equals one fish in a maize husk

30 beans equals a small rabbit

100 beans equals a female turkey or a rabbit

120 beans for shrunken beans

200-300 beans a male turkey

Additionally, in Mayan civilization you could buy:

8 to 10 equal for the services of a prostitute

10 seeds equal a rabbit

100 to 500 seeds for a male slave

1000 seeds for a female slave

You could also pay your taxes in cacao seeds and your debts. I’m submitting 10 lbs of cacao seeds to the IRS in lieu of income tax. I’m sure that will go over well.

Feature image: photo by Stefan Kuhn from Pixabay

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SEAL Team 6 vet agrees to pay feds profit from bin Laden raid book

14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times


After a four-year legal battle, Matthew Bissonnette, a former member of the elite SEAL Team 6 who participated in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, has agreed to forfeit to the Justice Department all of the proceeds from “No Easy Day,” his first-person account of the raid written under the pen name “Mark Owen.”

“I acted on the advice of my former attorney, but I now fully recognize that his advice was wrong,” Bissonnette wrote in a formal apology, as reported by NPR. “It was a serious error that I urge others not to repeat.”

“No Easy Day,” co-written by military journalist Kevin Maurer, was the first public account from someone who actually participated in the high-profile raid to kill the al Qaeda leader. That impact was enhanced by the fact that not only did it deal with the killing of the terrorist mastermind, but it was written by a member of SEAL Team 6, the one of the nation’s top special operations units whose methods and techniques are highly classified and seldom written about.

The book was a bestseller, and that as much as anything is what got the author in trouble with the Pentagon. Officials claimed that Bissonnette had violated a non-disclosure agreement he’d signed as a Navy commando and also failed to have the book’s manuscript reviewed by proper authorities before it was published.

“Ironically, Matt didn’t want the book to be about him,” co-author Maurer said in an exclusive interview with WATM. “He always intended for it to be a tribute to his teammates and one that would allow readers to truly understand what SEALs do. It was also supposed to be a nod to the CIA, helicopter pilots, and Rangers — all the elements of these sorts of missions.”

14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times

Maurer, who sat down with Bissonnette in Virginia Beach five days a week for a month recording the story before writing it out, said the former SEAL was focused on security.

“He was never cavalier about the details,” Maurer said. “We talked a lot about things we weren’t going to include. It was a conscious decision.”

After experiencing firsthand the hew and cry from veterans — as well as members of the special operations community displeased that one of their own had broken ranks by socializing their tactical world on a grand scale — Maurer said he understood the Justice Department ruling. But he added that “the real travesty is that the money [estimated at more that $6 million according to court documents, as reported by NPR] is now going to the government instead of veteran charities as Matt had always intended.”

Bissonnette’s current lawyer, Robert Luskin, hinted that his client had been made a scapegoat by government officials embarrassed by the information that has come out about the bin Laden raid and other operations in the wake of “No Easy Day” landing on shelves.

“The government has a right to keep its secrets and to enforce procedures that are designed to protect them from inadvertent disclosure,” Luskin said in a statement. “But it is shameful that — of all the people who leaked, talked, whispered and backgrounded about the mission — Matt Bissonnette, who risked his life to make it a success, is the only one to pay a price.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

Bringing back the original meaning of Memorial Day – with flowers

For me, Memorial Day has always been about more than just picnics and barbecues. I have five members of my family buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The earliest served in the Spanish American War, and all the way to World War II. It’s important that their service be honored and remembered — especially on Memorial Day.

In early May 2011, I was looking for some way to give back to my country. I worked as a flower grower in Ecuador and I had an idea. Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day. After the Civil War, people would go to cemeteries and decorate gravesites with flowers.


I met with two other Ecuador-based American flower growers, and together we were able to coordinate a massive donation of fresh flowers. I called up the administration at Arlington National Cemetery and said, ‘We’ve got 10,000 roses for you, for Memorial Day.'” And they happily accepted the offer.

14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times

Memorial Day Flowers Foundation at Fort Logan National Cemetery.

And that was how the Memorial Day Flowers Foundation had its start. Scouts and other volunteers place a flower in front of each headstone. Volunteers quietly read every headstone and note the dates and circumstances. This moment of reflection and remembrance is important. It’s a very personal tribute.

What began at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day in 2011 with 10,000 roses, has expanded to dozens of cemeteries around the country. Last year, the foundation distributed 400,000 flowers at 41 cemeteries and other Memorial Day observances around the country.

That expansion would not have been possible without volunteers and broad-based partnerships and support. These days, the foundation sources flowers from 80 to 90 farms, including farms in California, Colombia, Ecuador, and Ethiopia.

Since 2013, we have worked with local groups to organize floral tributes for Memorial Day at National Cemeteries and Veterans Cemeteries across the U.S.

Our growth would not have been possible without the guidance and involvement of the National Cemetery Administration. Cemetery directors find our efforts provide a way for the general public to connect with their mission to honor our late veterans and instill an appreciation for the sacrifices they make.

14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times

Memorial Day Flowers Foundation volunteers prepare roses at the Houston National Cemetery.

We also distribute bouquets of flowers to gold star families attending the TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar over Memorial Day Weekend, organized by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.

In 2019, more than 100 cemeteries are participating in the Memorial Day Flowers Foundation’s efforts around the country.

The numbers amaze me every time I look at them. Now we talk about tens of thousands of flowers. We still have a long way to go, before every veteran’s gravesite is recognized on Memorial Day, but we are well on our way to reaching that goal.

I also know the difference just one flower can make. One year, as we gave out flowers on Memorial Day, I handed a rose to an older woman. She thanked me and said, “His father brought me roses the day he was born.” Then she invited me to walk with her to visit her son’s gravesite. And as we stood there together in the hot sun and she told me her son’s story, I knew one flower could mean everything to one person

Placing a flower for Memorial Day to honor a fallen service member or veteran is a quiet tribute; a heartfelt reminder of just what flowers can mean to people — and what it means to honor the sacrifices of U.S. military members and their families. It brings together people from all walks of life to honor those who have served our country and it helps all of us learn more about our history.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

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The step-by-step guide to how the US goes to war (and how it’s changed)

Going to war is never an easy choice, but the U.S. has a step-by-step guide that helps military and civilian leaders make that decision.


The sting of the Vietnam War affected America and its culture for a very long time. Not that we lost in Vietnam but it sure didn’t feel like a win, either. It was so devastating to the American psyche the public felt the stigma of the perceived loss until the success of Operation Desert Storm, almost two decades later.

The U.S. military’s failure to rescue the hostages in Iran only added to the problem — making American leaders significantly less cavalier about sending ground troops into combat. This continued even under President Ronald Reagan, whose campaign rhetoric in 1980 made voters fearful he might start World War III (but not fearful enough to keep him out of office).

14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times
Reagan’s Head Start policy was much different from other his predecessors. (photo via Ronald Reagan Library)

Contrary to what some may have thought, Reagan’s Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger — a veteran of the Pacific War in World War II — was a careful student of the lessons of Vietnam and was wary about civilian leaders with no military experience using troops as a policy tool. He devised his own doctrine to serve as a guide for policy makers who want to send the U.S. to war:

  1. The United States should not commit forces to combat unless the vital national interests of the United States or its allies are involved.
  2. U.S. troops should only be committed wholeheartedly and with the clear intention of winning. Otherwise, troops should not be committed.
  3. U.S. combat troops should be committed only with clearly defined political and military objectives and with the capacity to accomplish those objectives.
  4. The relationship between the objectives and the size and composition of the forces committed should be continually reassessed and adjusted if necessary.
  5. U.S. troops should not be committed to battle without a “reasonable assurance” of the support of U.S. public opinion and Congress.
  6. The commitment of U.S. troops should be considered only as a last resort.

Weinberger specifically advised Reagan not to send Marines to Beirut in 1983 and after the barracks bombing in October, successfully lobbied against a massive retaliation against Iran. According to Weinberger:

“You have to have a mission, you have to know what you want to do; you have to use force as a last resort after everything else has failed; that when you use it, you have to use it at overwhelming strength, and win your objective and get out.”

In 1983, Maj. Gen. Colin Powell was one of Weinberger’s assistants. In 1991, though Reagan had been succeeded by President George H.W. Bush, Colin Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Though in this role, he did not have operational command, he was the chief military advisor to the President and his Cabinet.

14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times
Fun Fact: Colin Powell and Dick Cheney have also shared the same pair of glasses for the last 30 years.

Powell updated the Weinberger Doctrine in 1992, based on lessons learned from the Gulf War, writing in a 1992 article in National Military Strategy:

  1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
  2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
  3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
  4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
  5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
  6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
  7. Is the action supported by the American people?
  8. Do we have genuine broad international support?

The idea is, if a policy maker can answer no to any of these questions, then U.S. forces should not be committed to a conflict. If the answer to all eight is yes, then U.S. troops can and should be committed. Further, Powell adds:

“Once a decision for military action has been made, half measures and confused objectives exact a severe price in the form of a protracted conflict which can cause needless waste of human lives and material resources, a divided nation at home, and defeat.  Therefore one of the essential elements of our national military strategy is the ability to rapidly assemble the forces needed to win—the concept of applying decisive force to overwhelm our adversaries and thereby terminate conflicts swiftly with minimum loss of life.”

14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times
Pictured: Decisive Force (Desert Storm Propaganda Leaflet)

In the years following Powell’s tenure as Chairman, the Powell Doctrine slowly lingered on in the new millennium, dying a slow death until a 2010 speech by Admiral Mike Mullen discussed how the use of U.S. troops is seen by policy makers in the post-9/11 era.

“We must not look upon the use of military forces only as a last resort, but as potentially the best, first option when combined with other instruments of national and international power.

We must not try to use force only in an overwhelming capacity, but in the proper capacity, and in a precise and principled manner. And we must not shrink from the tug of war — no pun intended — that inevitably plays out between policymaking and strategy execution. Such interplay is healthy for the republic and essential for ultimate success.”

NOW: 15 Unforgettable Photos from Operation Desert Storm

OR: This pilot earned his dream shot by tweaking a General

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America mourns the loss of last living WWII Medal of Honor recipient

Charles H. Coolidge was the last living recipient of the Medal of Honor from the European theater of World War II. On April 6, 2021 at 99 years old, he died peacefully surrounded by his family.

A Technical Sergeant who was drafted into the Army on June 16, 1942, the Medal of Honor wasn’t his only recognition. His unit was shipped overseas to support the North Africa campaign in 1943. While serving as a sergeant and a machine gun leader during a battle in Italy, he was awarded the Bronze and Silver Star for his actions above the call of duty. The sense of honor and devotion appears to have been ingrained in him from his own father who continued paying his workers despite hardship to his own family during the Great Depression.

The qualities of servant leadership and kindness to others would follow Coolidge in his next fight.

In 1944, he found himself in a leadership position with the 36th Infantry Division, guiding a group of 12 machine gunners and rifleman platoon soldiers in France. Charged with the mission of covering the right flank of the 3rd Battalion, his platoon ran into Germans in the woods. With no officer in charge, Coolidge steadily took command. Reports indicated he attempted to bluff his way through it by demanding their surrender by inflating their numbers and force capability. 

One of his men spoke German, so he had him communicate and attempt to negotiate their surrender. Coolidge saw one of them line up his rifle to shoot his soldier, so he pulled out his own weapon and shot him, saving the soldier’s life. When another German managed to wound that soldier in the arm, Coolidge dragged him to safety. Following that heroic rescue, it was on. 

After four days of fighting in the cold and rain, on October 27, 1944, Coolidge not only held command but his leadership and calm throughout the relentless battle saved lives. Though he continued to try to radio the battalion for help, none came. Then, the Germans showed up with their tanks. 

Not only did he walk the line with no regard for his own safety, but on that final day, he armed himself with a bazooka and went toward the enemy and their tanks. When his bazooka failed, he threw it aside and used his grenades, crawling on his stomach alone and launching them at the enemy. Reports indicate that he recognized that the enemy force was too much for his company and would soon overtake it. With that same calmness, he coordinated an organized withdrawal. Coolidge was the last to leave, with no man left behind and all of them alive. 

14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times

On June 18, 1945, Coolidge was awarded the Medal of Honor for his leadership and bravery to go above and beyond the call of duty. “My first concern when I was a platoon sergeant was my men,” he told the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. “I didn’t care what happened to me, but I wanted to protect my men, under any circumstances. I always referred to them as my men — not anybody [else’s], not the company’s. “They were strictly my men, and I’d do anything for them.”

“As a result of TSgt. Coolidge’s heroic and superior leadership,” the citation concluded, “the mission of his combat group was accomplished throughout four days of continuous fighting against numerically superior enemy troops in rain and cold and amid dense woods.”

It’s interesting how the world changes complexion,” he later told the Nashville Tennessean. “And what you do to survive.” After the war, he went home to Tennessee. He married and had three children, one who would go on to become a Lt. General in the Air Force. 

14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times
Charles Coolidge. Photo: Twitter @Tennessee Aquarium.

The loss of Coolidge is felt deeply throughout the country and military community. His death leaves one remaining World War II Medal of Honor recipient, Hershel W. Williams, 97, who was recognized for his bravery as a Marine Corps Corporal on Iwo Jima. To honor them and others, we must continue to share their stories of heroism and devotion to duty. For without them, we wouldn’t be here. Never forget.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why car bombs are a terrorist go-to

A car is easily converted to a bomb.


Though the latest explosive ordnance tech may trace an innovation curve toward tiny/powerful similar to that of the smartphone, for the purposes of terrorism, a few sacks of the right garden-variety chemicals packed in a vehicle is all it takes to cause mass destruction and appalling casualties. A car bomber doesn’t even necessarily need to die behind the wheel to detonate it. He or she can live to attack again.

That was certainly Timothy McVeigh’s thinking on Apr. 19, 1995, when he lit timed fuses to a massive homemade explosive device in the yellow Ryder truck he’d parked in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The ensuing detonation, registered by seismometers at the nearby Omniplex Science Museum at approximately 3.0 on the Richter scale, destroyed one third of the building, killed 168 people (including 19 children) and wounded over 680 others.

14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times
Rescue workers scramble to find survivors after the bombing of the Edward P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

McVeigh’s truck bombing was, to date, the deadliest act of domestic terror in U.S. history. It was the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil prior to the September 11th attacks, which would eclipse the memory of McVeigh’s villainy just three months after he was executed by lethal injection on June 11th, 2001.

Terrible as it was, the Oklahoma City bombing paled in comparison to the strength and lethality of the 1983 car bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks at Beirut International Airport. In that attack, a suicide bomber drove a truck packed with over 2,000 lbs. of explosives directly into the heart of the facility.

14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times
The barracks at Beirut International Airport, prior to bombing. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The blast, which FBI investigators later qualified as the largest non-nuclear detonation since WW2, killed 220 Marines, 18 sailors, and 3 soldiers. Estimated to have delivered an explosive force equivalent to 21,000 pounds of TNT, it was the largest car bomb ever detonated. Eyewitnesses reported seeing the building levitate off its support columns on a cloud of concussive fire before thundering down into a plinth of stratified rubble.

The 1st Battalion 8th Marines stationed there was part of a multinational peacekeeping force supervising the withdrawal of the Palestinian Liberation Organization from Beirut. Under the peacetime rules of engagement, security around the barracks was relatively light, with sentry’s weapons unloaded and on safe. However, given the size of the explosive device, investigators concluded that the barracks would have been destroyed even if the bomber had been stopped at the last checkpoint and detonated it there.

14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times
Search and rescue in the aftermath. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

 

Converting cars into mass-casualty weapons has been repeatedly demonstrated as an effective, go-to tactic for insurgent forces and terror organizations. It works to create chaos and inflict collateral damage and serves to erode the momentum of the mission wherever the U.S. deploys its armed forces.

Also read: This former commander says you can’t just ‘Delta Force’ your way out of terrorism

But the sowing of terror has as much to do with the conversion aspect as the deaths that result from the bombs. The psychological shock of a terrorist act is heightened in the imaginations of those left alive by the awareness that a common token of peaceful, everyday life — a yellow box truck, a commercial jet, some dude’s underwear — has been turned, by fanatical human creativity, into a weapon of mass destruction. It’s a move tailor-made to mess with the mind of comfortable society. And even though it’s been happening with increasing frequency since the turn of the 20th century, the shock of the vehicle bomb never seems blunted or dulled, and the dread of it, never fully absorbed.

We can’t get used to the horror of it. To the moral mind, it smacks of such desperation and depravity, we won’t allow it to become normal. And in that, there’s some small hope to be had.

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It’s the end of the road for the USS Enterprise

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) will be decommissioned on Feb. 3, marking the next step on her journey to the “Ship-Submarine Recycling Program” – what a 2012 National Review article dubbed a sanitized way of saying “the scrapyard.”


Her predecessor, the Yorktown-class carrier with the hull number CV 6, also was a victim of this alleged crime against naval history.

14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times
NORFOLK (Nov. 4, 2012) The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) arrives at Naval Station Norfolk. Enterprise’s return to Norfolk will be the 25th and final homecoming of her 51 years of distinguished service. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Rafael Martie/Released)

According to a report from the Virginian-Pilot, this sendoff will be a relatively private one, with about 100 people present. The 2012 “inactivation” ceremony saw over 12,000 people attend, according to a Navy release. At that ceremony, it was announced that CVN 80 would be the ninth U.S. Navy vessel to carry the name Enterprise. A CNN report this past April notes that construction of the new Enterprise, a Gerald R. Ford-class carrier, will begin in 2018.

14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times
ATLANTIC OCEAN (Oct. 23, 2012) An E-2C Hawkeye assigned to the Screwtops of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 123 flies past the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) during an air power demonstration. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Scott Pittman/Released)

According to the Navy’s command history of the Enterprise (so long that it took nine entries in the Navy’s online Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships), the ship saw her first action during the Cuban Missile Crisis – less than a year after she was commissioned. She then did Operation Sea Orbit in 1964, a cruise that circumnavigated the globe.

In 1965, the ship carried out the first of six combat deployments to the Vietnam War, carrying two squadrons of F-4 Phantoms, four squadrons of A-4 Skyhawks and assorted support planes.

After the Vietnam War, the Enterprise was the first carrier to operate the F-14 Tomcat. In the 1980s, she would see combat by taking part in Operations El Dorado Canyon in Libya and Preying Mantis near Iran. The carrier missed Desert Storm due to receiving her complex overhaul and refueling, but she would have the honor of launching the first retaliatory strikes on al-Qaeda and the Taliban after the 9/11 attacks.

14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times
The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) transits the Arabian Sea on her last deployment. Enterprise was deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom. Even at 51, she could still kick ass. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jared King/Released)

The carrier would make numerous deployments during the War on Terror, until the decision was made in 2009 to retire the ship early.

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Watch actual footage from the first Apache strikes of Desert Storm

On January 17, 1991, seven months after Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded and tried to annex neighboring Kuwait, the world decided it had enough. Operation Desert Storm was launched that day, and Saddam was smacked down by a coalition of 39 countries.


Conducting this epic assault required bringing in Western airpower to destroy Hussein’s formidable armored corps of over 4,000 tanks. To open the way for other planes and choppers, eight Apaches and two Pave Low helicopters flew to Iraqi air defense sites and unleashed dozens of Hellfire missiles.

The sites and their operators were destroyed by the onslaught. See actual footage from the raid in this video from the Smithsonian Channel.

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This mysterious desert air base could be China’s new ‘Area-51’

What started out as a lone dusty airfield in the middle of a remote desert in China is being built up at a furious pace. The airstrip raised eyebrows when the Chinese government landed its first unmanned space aircraft there in 2020. Now intelligence analysts are wondering: is this the Chinese “Area 51?”

Somewhere near Nevada’s Groom Lake and the Nevada Test and Training Range is a top secret U.S. Air Force installation where the most advanced aviation and weapons testing takes place. It was where the U.S. Air Force built and tested the U-2 spy plane used to conduct photographic reconnaissance over the Soviet Union during the Cold War, as well as any number of other unheard-of technologies.

14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times
The U-2, one of many top secret projects developed at Area 51 (U.S. Air Force photo)

Because of its secretive nature and the wonder tech (likely) developed there, it acquired a reputation and mythology that involved conspiracy theories, UFO sightings, and of course, allegations of alien activity. How much of that is true is open for debate, but what is certain is that some of the greatest Air Force aircraft of the Cold War (and beyond) got their start at Area 51. 

The U-2, the SR-71 Blackbird, the B-2 Spirit and the F-117 Nighthawk were all developed at Area 51. Not a bad track record for any facility. It’s no wonder the area is so top secret the United States wouldn’t even officially admit it existed for around 70 years. 

When China landed a reuseable, unmanned spacecraft at a remote area in the Taklamakan Desert, in China’s Xinjiang province, it was the first notable activity anyone ever saw in the area. Now, reconnaissance satellites are detecting a frenzy of activity and new buildings at the site, leading many to believe that it’s a facility designed for China to create and build its own wonder weapons. 

14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times
Wikimedia Commons

The China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) outlined a plan to develop commercial satellite launch services and to perfect a reusable space plane at a conference in October 2020. The announcement included plans for lowering the costs and increasing the frequency of space launches.

The month before, China launched an experimental space aircraft with a two-stage Long March 2F launch vehicle that was successfully delivered into orbit. The concept is similar to the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space plane, which was currently in orbit at the time of the Chinese launch. Not much else was known about the mission until the aircraft landed in Xinjiang.

14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times
“Long March 2F” launch vehicle (Chinese News Service/ Wikimedia Commons)

Like the USAF’s X-37B, no one really knows what the aircraft did while in orbit, but some believe it may have launched a secret satellite or other spacecraft. When the aircraft landed, the Taklamakan Desert facility was little more than the landing strip, but more recent photographs provided to NPR show built up facilities in the form of an equilateral triangle. 

Once large hangars that could house experimental aircraft are built, the world may have a better idea of what’s going on in Xinjiang. Until then, everyone outside of the Chinese government is left to speculate. 

China has a lot of catching up to do in terms of military power and prowess – and it’s been working on it. On top of creating its own homegrown aircraft carrier and its own fifth-generation fighter, it’s rumored to be creating its own stealth bomber (dubbed the H-20). A remote desert airfield might be exactly what the Chinese Communist Party needs to keep its developments a secret.

Feature image: satellite image of Taklamakan Desert/ Wikimedia Commons

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Army Black Knights are ranked for the first time in more than 10 years

Look out Navy, the tides are turning – the Army Black Knights are ranked #23 going into the 2018 Army-Navy Game. The AP Poll puts them at 23 while the Coaches Poll puts them at 24. The last time Navy was ranked going into the game was the 2017 game, where the Midshipmen were ranked 25. They lost that game, but the year prior, the Mids were ranked 21 and pulled out the W, topping Army 21-17.

A pre-game ranking seems to mean very little to Navy, but for the Black Knights, it could be a game-changer. The last time Army came in ranked was in 1996, when they were #23 — and won the game 28-24


Now, a #23 ranking may mean little to the NCAA powerhouse teams in Columbus, Tuscaloosa, or Norman, but at West Point, it’s a big deal. As the Plebes get ready to meet the Mids this year in Philadelphia, there’s a lot on the line for the Black Knights. After topping Air Force on Nov. 3, the Army is in a position to win its first back-to-back Commander-in-Chief trophy ever while beating Navy for the third year in a row.

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The last time Army extended a multi-year winning streak over Navy was in 1996 – which happens to be the last time they came into the contest as an AP Poll-ranked team. In their snowy 2017 win over the Naval Academy, the Black Knights secured their first Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy since — you guessed it — 1996.

The stars might be aligned once again for the Black Knights. Air Force took down Navy 35-7 on Oct. 6, which means Army can be the clear winner with a victory in Philadelphia on Dec. 8. If they lose and the trophy is shared, the previous winner retains the trophy but… c’mon. No one wants to win by default. That’s not the Army way.

Highlights: Army Football vs. Colgate 11-17-18

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This year’s Army team is playing without West Point standout Ahmad Bradshaw, whose collegiate career ended with last season’s incredible win over Navy. The quarterback left West Point as the academy’s number five all-time rushing leader. His replacement, Kelvin Hopkins, Jr., has stepped well out of Bradshaw’s shadow, leading the Black Knights to a 9-2 record and a #23 spot on the AP Poll.

Bradshaw is now a leader in the U.S. Army as Hopkins leads the Army West Point team to its third ranking season since 1963. This is Army’s third winning season since 1996, and the Plebes seek to make it their second 10-win season in two years. Their last L came on Sept. 22, in a crushing overtime loss to Oklahoma, 28-21.

No shame in that — especially because the Black Knights went on a 7-game winning streak afterward.

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It’s great preparation for the biggest game of the season – just look at last year’s Army-Navy Game.

The 2018 Army-Navy Game presented by USAA takes place on Dec. 8, 2018 in Philadelphia at noon Eastern.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a daredevil pilot escaped Germany and invented air warfare

World War I pilots began by simply waving at each other in flight, greeting their adversary as each pilot headed to his own reconnaissance mission. But as World War I quickly became brutal—and the pilots themselves saw friends die on the ground by the thousands and in the air by the dozens—they quickly sought out ways to kill each other.


And one of the pioneers who pulled it off was Roland Garros, a daredevil pilot who barely escaped Germany with a night flight into Switzerland at the war’s start.

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French Pilot Roland Garros in a plane with a canine.

(Public domain)

Garros was a French pilot who had already made a name for himself as a daredevil and aviation expert by flying across the Mediterranean in 1913. But when World War I broke out, he was in Germany and made his unscheduled night flight into Switzerland to get away, quickly joining the Storks Squadron, a group of aviators who would be the highest ranked French air-to-air combatants in the war.

And Garros led the way. Fighter combat in the air began with pilots carrying pistols to shoot at enemy aviators and darts to drop on hostile troops on the ground. But most pilots were looking for some way to mount machine guns on their planes.

But pilots usually looked through propeller blades while flying, and that was the most logical place to mount a gun for pilots to control. But, obviously, shooting through their own propeller would inevitably cause the pilot to shoot down himself. One of the early fixes was to mount the machine gun above the propeller blades, but that pointed the gun into a weird angle, and no one was able to shoot anyone down with that configuration.

Garros figured out another way. He mounted his gun right in front of his seat so he could look down the barrel to aim. To get around the problem of destroying his propeller, he simply armored the wooden blades with a metal sheath and trusted them to deflect those rounds that would’ve downed him while the rest of the rounds flew toward his target.

And it worked. On Aug. 25, 1914, Garros and Lt. de Bernis successfully engaged a German airplane and damaged it with gunfire, wounding one of the German pilots and forcing the plane to turn and run.

It is sometimes counted as the first known aerial victory, though it’s important to note that “aerial victory” today is often used to refer to shooting down an enemy plane, not forcing it to run. That feat was first accomplished Oct. 5 by another French pilot.

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An illustration of aerial combat in World War I.

(Public domain)

But Garros would go on to down five enemy planes in March 1915, causing the American press to dub him an “ace,” one of the first times that term was used. He also may have been the first pilot to achieve five kills.

Either way, his bravery, and ingenuity helped put France at the forefront of the changing face of aerial warfare. Unfortunately, air combat was a risky business, and Garros would not survive the war. In April 1915, he was shot down and crashed behind German lines.

He quickly attempted to burn his plane to hide how the forward-firing machine gun worked, but he was captured before he could complete the coup. He would spend the next three years in a prisoner of war camp before escaping, achieving new aerial victories in 1918, but then dying in combat on Oct. 5,1918.

Articles

This SOCOM test determined the future of modular weapon rail systems

For nearly two decades, the Picatinny/NATO Accessory Rail Interface System handguards have adorned U.S. military rifles. These rails allow troops to attach accessories like lights, lasers, and grips to the fore-end of their weapon. However, although the omnipresent rails allow the end user to easily configure their accessories to suit their needs, the fully railed handguard is a large block of metal at the front of a weapon. Any unused rail estate is simply dead weight. The solution is new modular rail systems like the KeyMod and M-Lok weapon accessory attachment systems. These systems allow the end user to attach rail segments to their handguard as needed or attach accessories directly to the slick handguard. Since their introduction, the KeyMod vs. M-Lok war has been waged in gun stores, armories, and internet forums. However, like the HD DVD vs. Blu-ray war, there can only be one winner.

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NSWC Crane tested three examples of six different handguards (U.S. Navy)

In 2016, the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division conducted testing for USSOCOM to determine the best modular rail system. NSWC Crane evaluated handguards from manufacturers Aero Precision, Midwest Industries, and Seekins. Three KeyMod and three M-Lok handguards were tested from each manufacturer for a total of 18 handguards. They were tested for repeatability, endurance, rough handling, drop testing, and static failure load.

Although a resilient handguard is not entirely necessary for the mounting of grips and lights, it is vital for mounting lasers aiming devices. Under night vision, it can be difficult for a rifleman to aim through their optic. An infrared laser mounted to the handguard allows the end user to shoot accurately without needing a proper sight picture, especially in close quarters. However, this method of aiming only works if the laser is properly zeroed. Because bullets are affected by gravity, unlike lasers, shooters must know where there rounds will fall relative to their laser based on the distance they are shooting. If the handguard bends or the laser is knocked and shifts even a few millimeters, a 200 meter shot could be completely off. Clip-on thermal scopes mounted to the top of the handguard also need to be mounted without risk of shifting. A good rail attachment system has to not only be secure, but strong.

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SOCOM’s Suppressed Upper Receiver Group is based on SIG Sauer’s MCX and uses M-LOK (SIG Sauer)

During NSWC Crane’s testing, all handguards passed the full-auto fire endurance and rough handling testing. However, the repeatability, drop test, and failure load tests yielded distinct performance differences. Repeatability testing showed that “M-LOKTM allowed for the repeated installation of the same accessory rail in the same location on a handguard with an average point of aim (POA) shift of 1.3 MOA (minute of angle), as low as one quarter the average POA shift observed by other modular rail systems.” Drop testing showed that “M-LOKTM systems maintain securement of accessories to the handguard and sustain less damage from impact forces than some other modular rail systems.” Finally, failure load testing showed that “M-LOKTM systems support the highest load of all modular rail systems tested.” The study went on to note that the test equipment mounted to the M-Lok rails “repeatedly failed prior to failure of the M-LOKTM attachment system.” Overall, the failure load of M-Lok was over three times that of KeyMod.

Released in 2017, the results of the study were a clear win for M-Lok. As a result, NSWC Crane recommended the M-Lok rail system over any other to USSOCOM. In turn, USSOCOM incorporated M-Lok handguards into new acquisitions like the Upper Receiver Group – Improved, Suppressed Upper Receiver Group, and the Advanced Sniper Rifle. The study has also influenced the civilian market which has seen a marked increase in the popularity of M-Lok handguards and accessories over KeyMod. As with most Special Forces acquisitions, the M-Lok system is likely to trickle down to regular troops too.

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The Army’s new M110A1 Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System uses M-Lok (U.S. Army)

Feature image: U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kimberly Jenkins

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