All military service members dread the ominous “knife hand” when being addressed by a superior as it usually means they are being corrected or some sort of discipline is soon to follow. Below are the 8 images designed to awaken your greatest fears:
1. Recruits discover them quickly
2. A loud verbal correction often maximizes the effect
3. The knife hand extends across all branches of service
4. What better way to correct a trainee’s salute?
5. They come in handy while testifying before Congress
6. A four-star version is exceptionally attention-getting
7. Even “poolies” can get a taste of the ominous gesture
8. There are knife hands and then there are the Merhle from ‘The Walking Dead’ version
We can all agree that the Nazi Party was a band of terrifyingly cruel, delusional sickos. What you may not know, however, is that Hitler’s SS minions were also sometimes really, really dumb. From failed propaganda campaigns to ridiculous assassination attempts, the Germans were not short on weird.
1. Operation Holy Hitler (aka let’s kill Pope Pius XXII)
In some ways, Hitler was kind of an understated guy. He was a vegetarian, didn’t like smoking, and wore pants like this. But mostly, as we know, he was an egotistical maniac.
One of the best examples of the Fuhrer’s self-love came about in the 1930s, when he decided that local Catholic schools had a shocking lack of Adolf Hitler memorabilia on their walls. This was quickly remedied by replacing the classroom crucifixes with pictures of his face. How no one thought this was insane is pretty damning of human intelligence as a whole, but maybe the kids were just really tired of having to look at a an emaciated Christ all day.
Once Hitler had figuratively substituted God for himself, he decided to take it a step further. And since literally pulling Christ from the sky wasn’t an option, he decided to take out the next best thing: The Pope. Did we mention this was part of a larger plan to abolish all religions and declare himself as God of Germany? Because that was also a thing.
Hitler didn’t want to nix the Pope purely for vanity’s sake, however. In 1943, Pope Pius XII started to publicly denounce the Nazi’s blatant abuses of human rights. This did not fly in Germany. Eventually, the Pope’s thinly-veiled condemnations of Hitler’s activities went too far, and it was at that point that a real plan was set into action. Hitler brought SS Gen. Karl Wolff into his office, beckoned him closer, and said “I want you and your troops to occupy Vatican City as soon as possible, secure its files and art treasures and take the Pope and curia to the North.”
So far this plan sounds like something a Bond villain would cook up: Flashy, intriguing, but not completely insane. Then phase two comes into play, and all of that goes out the window. Here’s the plan in a nutshell: Once Nazi soldiers had captured the Vatican and the Pope, a second group would infiltrate the Holy City, pretending to be a rescue party. But instead of rescuing the Pope, they would claim that the first group of Nazis were actually Italian assassins, slaughter them all and “accidentally” shoot the Pope amidst the chaos if he didn’t cooperate. If he kept his head down, they would drag Pius XII back to Germany and lock him in a castle. Then the Nazis would blame the Italians, and everything would be roses.
At least, that was the plan. Luckily, Wolff realized that this was completely psychotic and tipped off the Italians, who were rightfully pissed. He wasn’t very subtle about it either, going so far as to agree to an interview with a local Italian newspaper, the Avvenire, which is owned by the Catholic Church. The Guardian writes that in the newspaper Wolff reportedly announced, “I received from Hitler in person the order to kidnap Pope Pius XII.”
The weirdest part of this story, however, is that according to historian Robert Katz, assassinating Pope Pius XII wouldn’t have benefited Germany or the Axis powers at all. Hitler was prepared to screw up everything just out of spite. Or maybe he secretly wanted the Pope hat, who knows.
2. The “degenerate art” gallery that was actually a massive success
Before the Swastika flew over Deutschland, the soon-to-be Nazi nation was experiencing an incredible art renaissance. Dadaism and the Bauhaus movement were taking the world by storm, and the art community was looking to Germany for the best in cutting-edge modern art.
Then the book burnings began. Art now had to fit the “Nazi ideal,” upholding Aryan values and praising the brilliance and prestige of the Fuhrer. Movies and plays were censored, operas canceled, paintings confiscated. The German art scene was being completely dismantled, and people were not happy about it.
The Nazis knew that people were pissed about these new “creative restrictions,” but felt that they were just misguided. People don’t actually know what they want until you show it to them, right? This was the Nazi strategy. To redirect the poor, misguided art enthusiasts of Munich, they would first show them what they shouldn’t want — by organizing an art exhibit called “Entartete Kunst,” or “degenerate art.” The gallery was supposed to showcase why modern art was actually awful and not cool at all.
Over 650 sculptures, paintings, prints and books were confiscated from public German museums to be “shamefully” displayed in the gallery. The Nazis arranged the art pieces haphazardly to make them appear less attractive, and wrote up explanations of why they were inferior, undesirable contributions to the art world and the Nazi regime in general.
Then the Nazis simultaneously opened their own art exhibit, the “Great German Art Exhibition,” one with Aryan-approved art only. This way it would be clear to the public which was the superior art genre, and settle the matter once and for all.
This did not go well.
Unimpressed with the perfectly sculpted, tasteful bronze nudes that filled the “superior” art gallery, the German art lovers ditched the stuffy exhibit and headed to — you guessed it — the degenerate art gallery. In the end, five times as many people visited the Entartete Kunst, thrilled to finally have legitimate art on display. In only one day, 36,000 visitors flooded the taboo gallery, completing ignoring the “Great German Art Exhibition” taking place just a few minutes away. After the degenerate art gallery was closed, the featured pieces were either burned, confiscated by Nazi officials or sold to museums at auction. The pieces that were saved can be found in museums all over the world today, and the Entartete Kunst is considered by many to be one of the most culturally significant art exhibits of all time.
3. That time Hitler’s “Perfect Aryan Baby” ended up being Jewish
When you establish yourself as an extremist war-mongering regime, you need to make sure you have some killer PR to, you know, convince people that you aren’t actually an extremist war-mongering regime.
Joseph Goebbels, the head of Nazi propaganda, learned this fairly early on. So, in order to make the Third Reich appear a little more cuddly (which is ironic, since the dude looked like Dracula), he began a national campaign in 1935 to find the “perfect Aryan baby” — a child so pale and Germanic it could be the measuring stick for all infant beauty.
You would think the chosen Nazi baby would fit the white-blonde, blue-eyed ideal, but for whatever reason Goebbels selected a brunette, brown-eyed baby. Mistake number one if you’re the head of Nazi propaganda.
Goebbels then set about plastering the Nazi-Gerber baby’s picture over all of Germany. She showed up in flyers, newspapers, postcards, and propaganda posters of all kinds. Most people were pretty unfazed by the doll-faced baby that was suddenly appearing everywhere, accepting her as an unusually cute edition to the militaristic landscape of Nazi Germany.
Jacob and Pauline Levinson, on the other hand, were terrified to see the soon-to-be famous photo on the cover of “Sonne in Hause,” a Nazi family magazine. Why? The Master Race baby was their daughter — and she was Jewish.
Let’s rewind six months. The Levinsons had taken their young daughter, Hessy, to get her picture taken by photographer Hans Ballin, a prominent Berlin photographer. After the quick photo shoot they thanked Ballin, paid for their prints, and headed home, thinking that was the end of it. For Ballin, it was just the beginning. What the Levinsons didn’t know was that the talented photographer secretly hated the Nazis — a lot. Like Brad Pitt in Inglorious Basterds a lot.
So when Ballin found out that Goebbels had created a photo contest designed to find the perfect Aryan child — a child that Goebbels would personally select — he couldn’t resist the opportunity to undermine the entire thing.
“I wanted to make the Nazis ridiculous,” Ballin confessed, according to The Telegraph.
So, like the rebel artist he was, Ballin submitted the photo of little Hessy to the contest, hoping that Goebbels would bite. And as luck would have it, he did.
Unfortunately, this put the Levinsons in a lot of danger, and they ended up having to flee to Latvia. The Nazis later learned of their mistake, but never who Hessy was or where her family was hidden. In an interview with Death and Taxes Magazine last year, the 80-year-old Hessy (who now lives in the United States) confessed: “I can laugh about it now. But if the Nazis had known who I really was, I wouldn’t be alive.”
And who wouldn’t laugh? With Hessy’s picture, Ballin had effectively trolled the Nazis on an international scale. The Third Reich didn’t learn from its mistake, either: They would later choose a half-Jewish man as the premiere example of what a full-blooded Aryan soldier should be.
And people wonder why they didn’t win the war.
4. The “Lebensborn” Nazi baby factory
The Nazis really had a weird thing for babies. During Hitler’s rise to power, thousands of babies were born into “Lebensborn” programs, which were basically Nazi baby breeding factories created under Heinrich Himmler. The children were raised to be in peak physical condition and were groomed to emulate the Nazi standard of beauty. They were given a strict diet, were indoctrinated into the Nazi way of thinking and even had their hair treated with ultraviolet light if the nurses suspected it was starting to turn anything but Nazi-approved white-blonde. Seriously.
Where exactly did these babies come from, you ask? A few different places. Many of the children were the product of the government encouraging SS soldiers to “get to know” the prettiest girls in the European nations they conquered during Germany’s expansion. Then if the ladies were lucky enough to get pregnant, they would be sent to a Lebensborn house, which literally means “font of life” when translated. As in these babies would be the “font” that would kick start the Aryan population of Germany and its captured lands, ensuring a smiling, blue-eyed super race. The unwed mothers were free to stay and live with their children, so long as they complied with the home’s methods and adopted a proper Nazi lifestyle. Orphaned children were adopted out by upstanding German families.
Babies were also abducted from surrounding countries, so long as they were beautiful (Poland estimates that it lost as many as 100,000 children during the war). The darker, “less desirable” children would be sent to concentration camps with their parents. The same was true of children born in the homes; if a child was particularly non-Germanic looking, or resisted Nazi teachings once he or she was a little older, they would be sent to be gassed at a death camp. The babies that made the cut grew up to be some of an estimated 250,000 children who were Nazified under the Lebensborn program during the war.
Tragically, many parents would surrender their children to the Lebensborn program in an attempt to keep them from the horrors of the concentration camps. Most of them were simply taken, however, despite their Jewish ethnicity. Looking the part was enough for the program as long as you grew up to love Hitler and despise the Jewish race like the Nazi nurses who raised you, apparently.
When the war ended and the Allies invaded, they found several Lebensborn homes still full of children. Of the estimated hundreds of thousands of children who were part of the program, only about 25,000 were reconnected with their original families. Many of the parents had been killed during the war, but some children refused to be reunited with their real families, believing themselves to be superior and racially pure after the Nazis’ brainwashing.
Green Beret Lt. Col. Brian Decker led a unit in Iraq. Then he was assigned to run the Special Forces Assessment and Selection program in North Carolina. He decided to improve the Army’s selection process and reduce the washout rate for men who made it through the initial screening.
Decker wanted to develop tools that would allow the Army to identify soldiers who could make good decisions in chaotic situations and have the necessary devotion to teamwork. He overhauled a process that had been static since its launch in 1988 and introduced new standards that collected over 1,200 data points on each candidate, including physical and mental processes. After three years, Decker’s program had reduced the washout rate by 30%.
He met former Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski when the coach came to a Special Forces camp looking for training tips. That turned into an reciprocal invite to Browns camp. Team president Joe Banner was fascinated by Decker’s philosophy and convinced him to retire from the Army and join the team as a special advisor, in hopes that Decker’s analysis could help correct the NFL’s notorious 50% failure rate for first round draft picks.
He kept the job even after the Browns fired that management team. Their successors kept him on and he spent a couple of years advising the team on its draft. How did that turn out?
ESPN.com’s Seth Wickersham tells Decker’s story in a 3600-word profile that details Decker’s career and investigates how his football project has been going. It’s definitely worth a read.
Lieutenant General Ding Laihang said that as China becomes stronger and security challenges continue to emerge, the military is striving to ensure it can safeguard national interests anywhere in the world.
“In the past, our strategies and guidelines focused on territorial air defense. Now we have been shifting our attention to honing our ability in terms of long-range strategic projection and long-range strike,” he told China National Radio for an article published on Sept. 3.
Lieutenant General Ding Laihang. Photo from South China Morning Post.
“A strategic force must go out,” he said. “We will continue to carry out long-distance training over oceans.”
Ding’s predecessor, General Ma Xiaotian, who stepped down in late August, had earlier said the Air Force “cannot simply guard on land and not fly out” in response to questions on Japan’s concerns about the People’s Liberation Army’s “increasing activities” over the Sea of Japan.
Ma said it is normal for the PLA Air Force to conduct training exercises over the sea, adding that “the Sea of Japan is not Japan’s sea”.
Not long after Ma’s comments, six Chinese H-6K bombers flew through the Miyako Strait between the islands of Okinawa and Miyako in the East China Sea and approached the Kii Peninsula. This was the first time the PLA Air Force had flown that route, Japanese media reported.
In the Sept. 3 article, Ding pledged that the Air Force will intensify its realistic aerial combat drills and continue to carry out exercises with foreign militaries.
Wang Yanan, editor of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, said the Air Force will have two priorities as it moves toward becoming a capable strategic force.
“First, as a lot of new aircraft have been delivered, it must figure out how to make these new planes combat-ready as soon as possible and how to maintain them, as they are different from the old types,” he said.
“For instance, the Air Force now has Y-20 heavy-lift transport jets, but it needs to design methods and gain experience when it comes to airdropping armored vehicles,” he said. “Owning advanced weapons doesn’t equate to being able to use them well.”
The second priority is that the Air Force must improve its capabilities in coordinating different types of aircraft and air defense missiles in an operation, and also nurture joint operation capabilities with other services, like the PLA Navy and Rocket Force, Wang added.
Citing the new-generation strategic bomber that is under development, Wang suggested the Air Force start studying the plane’s usage in future warfare and work closely with designers to make sure the engine and flight-control system are good and reliable.
The beginning of World War II started with a brutal Nazi war crime.
On Sep. 1, 1939, German soldiers began their invasion of Poland, triggering the outbreak of World War II. The shelling of a Polish garrison at Westerplatte is commonly believed to be the first shot fired in the war, but the beginning actually happened five minutes prior, according to Deutsche Welle.
At 4:40 a.m., the town of Wieluń was bombed by the Luftwaffe as most of its 16,000 residents slept. There were no anti-aircraft, military, or economic targets of any importance, in the sleepy town just 13 miles from the German border. The target of the bombing was civilians.
Overall, 380 bombs fell on Wieluń, weighing a total of 46 tons. The first ones hit the All-Saints Hospital. 32 people died there – patients and staff. These were the first victims of the German air raids during World War II. The next target was the oldest parish church in Wieluń, St. Michael the Archangel, built in the beginning of the 14th Century. The Piarist building was the only surviving structure on the old square.
In total, as a result of the attack on Wieluń by the German air force, which lasted until 2pm, over 1200 people died. Certain sources note as many as 2,000 victims. Bombs dropped by the Stukas (Junkers Ju 87) destroyed 75% of the city. 90% of the city center was destroyed.
The people of Wieluń were the first to experience the German tactic of “blitzkrieg” (lightning) war, which was later used during the invasions of Belgium, North Africa, the Netherlands, and France. Just minutes after the bombing of the town began, the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein began its bombardment of Westerplatte.
Two days later, Britain and France declared war on Germany, and the conflict lasted for six years at the cost of millions of lives. When it was all over in 1945, it ended with the surrender of the Nazis, and the exposure of the most shocking and brutal war crime the world had ever seen.
Honorably discharged veterans who want to shop at the online exchanges could be given access early as part of a group of “beta testers” through a new veteran shopper verification system launched June 5th.
The Defense Department resale board last year approved a plan to open the exchange’s online stores to all veterans. Those who are verified through a new site will have access to all of the online exchange stores, including AAFES, the Coast Guard Exchange, the Marine Corps Exchange and the Navy Exchange.
The verification site, VetVerify.org, asks users to input their first and last names, last four digits of their Social Security number, birth date, email address, and service branch. Veterans will then be notified whether they are ineligible, are already eligible to shop, that they will be eligible on the official Nov. 11 launch date, or that they have been randomly selected to be a beta tester.
The new benefit is available to all honorably discharged veterans. The rule change does not allow the new veteran shoppers to use the exchange in person or shop at the commissary. It also does not include access to gasoline, tobacco, or uniform sales.
Officials with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service said early shoppers will be given access on a rolling basis in an effort to make sure the system is ready when the benefit fully opens on Veterans Day. Although verification and shopping should be seamless, they said it is possible that beta users could experience some hiccups.
“They don’t want to just open this thing on Veterans Day … when you can work the kinks out ahead of time,” said Chris Ward, an AAFES spokesman. “That is the point of doing this — to make sure there aren’t any hiccups or bugs in the system.”
Products purchased through the exchanges are tax free, and a percentage of revenue benefits Morale, Welfare, and Recreation programs.
About 13 million veterans qualify for the new benefit. Officials did not have an estimate for how many veterans are expected to shop the online exchanges after Veterans Day or how many will register early.
“We’re kind of just going in blind,” Ward said. “We’re rolling it out this early — I don’t anticipate everyone comes today.”
The legendary rock band Kiss is known for their makeup, over-the-top stage show, and hits like “Rock ‘n Roll All Night” and “Detroit Rock City.”
They aren’t known as historians, although two of the band’s members — Gene Simmons and Tommy Thayer — have remarkable stories to tell about what their families went through during World War II. And equally remarkable is how these stories link the two members of Kiss to each other.
Backstage at a Kiss concert in northern Virginia in late July, lead guitarist Tommy Thayer talked about his father’s military service. James B. Thayer retired as a brigadier general in the mid-60s, but in 1945 he was an first lieutenant in charge of an anti-tank mine reconnaissance platoon that made its way across France into southern Germany. The unit saw a lot of action, including battles with Waffen SS troops – among the Third Reich’s most elite fighters – that involved bloody hand-to-hand combat.
As the platoon made its way farther south they stumbled upon the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. “The SS had just fled,” Tommy Thayer said. “They left behind 15,000 Hungarian-Jewish refugees who were in bad shape.”
Ironically enough, based on time and location, among the refugees that U.S. Army Lieutenant Thayer liberated was most likely a family from Budapest that included a teenage girl who would later give birth Gene Simmons, Kiss’ outspoken bassist and co-founder.
“My mother was 14-years-old when they took her to the camps of Nazi Germany,” Simmons explained. “If it wasn’t for America, for those who served during World War Two like James Thayer, I wouldn’t be here.”
As a result of this connection, the band has thrown its clout behind the Oregon Military Museum, which will be named in honor of the now 93-year-old Brigadier General Thayer. Tommy Thayer is on the museum’s board, and the band recently played at a private residence in the greater Portland area to raise money and awareness for the effort.
“The idea that Americans enjoy the kind of life that the rest of the world is envious of is made possible – not by politicians – but by the brave men and women of our military,” Simmons said. “The least we could do is have a museum.”
“There is evil being done all over the world,” Simmons said. “And the only thing that keeps the world from falling into complete chaos is our military.”
Beyond supporting the Oregon Military Museum, in the years since 9-11, Simmons has worked as a military veteran advocate. Among some of his more high-profile efforts is the band’s hiring of veterans to work as roadies for Kiss on tour.
While other celebrity vet charities could rightly be criticized as something between Boomer guilt and vanity projects, the bass guitarist’s desire to help vets is fueled by what his mother’s side of the family went through to make it to America a generation ago.
Simmons has a few things to say about national pride, something he thinks the country has lost a measure of.
“When I first came to America as an eight-year-old boy people were quiet when the flag was raised,” Simmons said. “We all stood still.”
To Simmons’ eye that respect is lacking in too many Americans now, particularly younger Americans who are surrounded by information and media but may not appreciate the relationship between history and their daily lives.
“Just stop yakking for at least one minute,” he said. “The rest of the day is all yours to enjoy all the benefits that the American flag gives you.”
The new Air Force Chief of Staff is a month into his command and is already known for “straight talk” to his airmen and the reporters who cover him.
This time, the decorated combat pilot had some strong words for Russia’s air force after several instances of dangerous fly-bys and aerial close encounters.
“I will tell you I am concerned, very concerned about recent Russian behavior in a couple of occasions,” he told reporters at a Pentagon press briefing on Aug. 10. “Low passes over our ships, aggressive acts over our aircraft. You know, my message to my counterpart is I’ve seen the Russian Air Force in action, it’s a professional force, and they’re far better than that.”
General Goldfein is an experienced pilot who flew combat sorties during Desert Storm, in the Balkans, and over Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 1999, he was shot down in an F-16C Fighting Falcon on a strike against Serbian forces near Belgrade, where he evaded capture until he was rescued by an HH-60G Pave Hawk aircrew.
During the Aug. 10 presser, a reporter asked Goldfein if he was surprised at the Russian air force’s performance during its yearlong deployment to Syria.
“For 50 years, we’ve been intercepting each other in international airspace. … Why in the world would we allow ourselves to do that?” Gen. Goldfein wondered. “It’s because we’ve had standard rules of behavior that we’ve adhered to over time, and so it’s not surprising at all that Russia has a capable air force.”
That’s when he winged over into his rhetorical bombing run on Russia’s recent fly-bys, calling into question the service’s professionalism and urging them to back off.
This was the first press conference Goldfein’s held as the 21st Air Force Chief of Staff. The former F-117 Nighthawk pilot also discussed his plans for meeting the challenges to American air supremacy.
With a nearly 700 fighter pilot shortage and money woes that leave some squadrons without the funds to train, Goldfein says he’s trying to plug the gaps and bolster the force.
“Air superiority is not an American birthright. It’s actually something you have to fight for and maintain,” Goldfein said. “It is a crisis. … I do believe that quality of service will be equally important to everything we can do in quality of life.”
Secretary of Defense James Mattis officially started the U.S. Department of Defense’s review of the country’s nuclear arsenal Tuesday, according to the Pentagon.
President Donald Trump directed Mattis to conduct a review after taking office in January. The full-scope review comes as concerns over the aging nuclear arsenal are growing in both the White House and Congress.
“In National Security Presidential Memorandum 1, dated Jan. 27, the president directed the secretary of defense to conduct a Nuclear Posture Review to ensure the U.S. nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, effective, reliable and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies,” said Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana White in a statement.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work and Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will lead the review in cooperation with “interagency partners,” according to White. A final report will be issued at the end of the year.
The review comes at a time when the U.S. is facing increased nuclear threats. North Korea continues to advance its nuclear program and has increased missile testing in the last two years. Russia is believed to have violated a decades-old nuclear agreement banning the deployment of intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles. The Russian military is engaged in a military modernization program that includes both its strategic and tactical nuclear weapons.
A significant portion of the current U.S. nuclear arsenal is based on designs from the 1960s and 1970s. The Heritage Foundation’s 2017 Index of Military Strength rated the U.S. nuclear arsenal “strong,” just one step down from “very strong,” but leaders within the military, the White House and Congress are concerned over the aging arsenal.
“The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” said Trump tweeted in December.
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In today’s hi-tech age of drones and stealth and computer wizardry we might have a tendency to take military capabilities for granted. So here are nine military aviation firsts to remind us of how far we’ve come over the last 107 years or so:
1. First military flight
The Wright Brothers were contracted by the U.S. Army to conduct first-ever flight trials at Fort Meyer just outside of Washington, DC in 1908. Wilbur had a business commitment in Europe, so Orville had to do the Army flights by himself, the first time the brothers worked separately since their historic flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903.
2. First military aviation fatality
On September 17, about halfway into the Army flight program, with Army observer Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge on board, the airplane piloted by Orville Wright experienced a mechanical malfunction involving one of the propellers and crashed. Orville was severely injured and Selfridge died, making him the first military aviation fatality.
3. First aircraft carrier ops
Eugene Ely was the first pilot to launch from a stationary ship in November 1910. He took off from a structure fixed over the forecastle of the US armored cruiser USS Birmingham at Hampton Roads, Virginia and landed nearby on Willoughby Spit after some five minutes in the air. On 18 January 1911, he became the first pilot to land on a stationary ship. He took off from the Tanforan racetrack and landed on a similar temporary structure on the aft of the USS Pennsylvania anchored at the San Francisco waterfront—the improvised braking system of sandbags and ropes led directly to the arresting hook and wires. His aircraft was then turned around and he was able to take off again. (Source: Wikipedia)
4. First strike sortie
The first real world bombing mission was flown on November 1, 1911 by Sottotenente Giulio Gavotti, against Turkish troops in Libya. Gavotti was flying an early model of Etrich Taube aircraft. It’s also interesting to note that the Turks were the first to shoot down an aircraft (using rifle fire) during that same conflict.
5. First air-to-air kill
The first conventional air-to-air kill occured on October 5, 1914, during World War I, when a gunner on a French Voisin bagged a German Aviatik reconnaissance aircraft.
6. First ace
“Vut eez theez volleyball you speak uf?”
Adolphe Pégoud shot down his fifth German aircraft in April of 1915, making him the first military ace ever. On August 31 of that same year, Pégoud was shot down by one of his pre-war flight students, Unteroffizier Walter Kandulski, while intercepting a German reconnaissance aircraft. He died in the crash. Kandulski later dropped a funeral wreath over the French lines in tribute.
7. First military pilot to go supersonic
After Bell Aircraft test pilot “Slick” Goodlin demanded $150,000 ($1.6 million in 2015 dollars) to break the sound barrier, the USAAF selected Chuck Yeager to fly the rocket-powered Bell XS-1 in a NACA program to research high-speed flight. Yeager broke the sound barrier on October 14, 1947, flying the X-1 at Mach 1.07 at an altitude of 45,000 ft. over the Rogers Dry Lake in the Mojave Desert.
8. First military pilot in space
On April 12, 1961, Senior Lieutenant Yuri Gagarin launched in the the Vostok 3KA-3 spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome, which made him the first human to travel into space and the first to orbit the earth.
9. First military pilot to walk on the moon
Most people assume that Neil Armstrong was an active duty military officer at the time of the Apollo 11 mission, but he was actually a civilian, which makes Col. “Buzz” Aldrin, the second man out of the lunar module, the first military pilot to walk on the moon.
Lieutenant Viktor Belenko decided he had had enough. Despite being considered an expert fighter pilot with one of the Soviet Union’s elite squadrons, with all the perks that went with it, Belenko was tired of the shortages and propaganda that defined much of life in the USSR. He feared that reports of plenty in the U.S. were also exaggerated, but he decided to take a chance. On September 6, 1976 during a routine training mission, he switched off his radio and bolted to Hakodate airport in Japan. After nearly running out of fuel, barely avoiding a civilian jetliner, and overshooting the runway, he set down in Japan with only a busted landing gear. It turned out to be one of the great intelligence coups of the Cold War.
Given this gift, including a flight manual that Belenko had helpfully brought along, Western intelligence agencies proceeded to tear the plane to bits analyzing the fighter whose capabilities up until now were only an assumption. When the Soviet Union demanded its return, Japan agreed on the condition that they recoup shipping costs. The plane showed up at a docked Soviet vessel in dozens of crates, and when the Soviets realized at least 20 key components were missing, they demanded $10 million in compensation. As befitted the Cold War, neither ever paid.
The MiG-25 “Foxbat” was the newest and most advanced fighter the Soviet Union possessed. The United States and its allied NATO countries were genuinely concerned over its capabilities, and it was generally assumed to be an advanced fighter bomber that could outfly anything NATO had. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Mig-25 was very cutting edge in its way. It was one of the fastest fighters ever produced, with a theoretical top speed of mach 3.2 at the risk of engine damage, putting it near the vaunted U.S. SR-71 spy plane. It’s radar was one of the most powerful ever put on a plane of its size.
But those strengths were where it ended. The MiG-25 was built around its extremely heavy engines, and it showed. It had a ridiculously short combat range, and even its unarmed cruising range was too short, as Belenko’s journey could attest. It was so specialized in high-altitude interception that flying it at low altitude and speed could be very difficult. It could not carry weapons for ground attack, did not have a integral cannon, and the large wings NATO interpreted as making it a formidable dogfighter were simply meant to keep its heavy airframe in the air. In reality, it was maneuverable and would be mincemeat in a conventional dogfight once it closed to short range. Its electronics were still vacuum tube technology, and its airframe would literally bend itself out of shape if the pilot was not careful. It was made to be a high speed missile carrier targeting bombers or U.S. high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft like the U-2 inside Soviet airspace, and not much more.
Despite its flaws, the Soviet Union built over a thousand of them, and it was widely exported to a number of countries, where its combat record in several wars was mixed at best. An updated version called the MiG-31 was later built that shared aspects with the original, including many of its shortcomings.
Belkov, for all his doubts, received a welcome beyond his skeptical hopes. In an old saw that applied to many Soviet visitors, he was flabbergasted by his first visit to an American supermarket, and wondered if it was a CIA hoax. He was granted citizenship by an act of Congress in 1980, and he co-wrote an autobiography called MiG Pilot that had some success. He reportedly works as an aerospace engineer to this day. His daring escape still stands as one of the defining moments of the Cold War.
Politicians hold important positions of power, but their job looks boring as hell. Politicians and political writers like to spice up their stories by using military language like “ambush” while describing a heated discussion at the country club, or “the nuclear option” to explain a change in procedural rules in Congress.
The language definitely spices up the stories, but it sounds ridiculous to people who have actually been ambushed or had to contemplate a true nuclear option. Here are 13 terms that make politicians sound melodramatic.
An ambush is a surprise attack launched from a concealed position against an unsuspecting enemy. Some politicians have been ambushed like Julias Caesar or Charles Sumner. But this term gets used to describe things like Republicans proposing a law the Democrats don’t like. That’s not an ambush. It’s just the legislative process.
2. Bite the bullet
Associated with battlefield medicine before anesthetic, to “bite the bullet” is to face down adversity without showing fear or pain. The term is thought to come from battlefield wounded biting bullets to make it through surgery while fully awake. Obviously, politicians on a committee finally doing their jobs shouldn’t be equated with soldiers enduring traumatic medical treatment without anesthesia.
3. Boots on the ground
Boots on the ground has a relatively short history that the BBC investigated. Surprise, it’s a military term. It is used by politicians and most senior military to refer to troops specifically deployed in a ground combat role. “Boots on the ground” numbers don’t generally count Marines guarding embassies or Special Forces advising foreign governments.
What’s surprising is that, though the term is used so narrowly when referring to military operations, it’s used so broadly when referring to political volunteers. Any group of college students knocking on doors or putting up pamphlets can be called “boots-on-the-ground,” even if the volunteers are all wearing tennis shoes and flip-flops.
Not every “D-Day” for the military is the Normandy landings of 1944, but D-Day is still a big deal. It’s the day an operation will kick off, when after months of planning some troops will assault an enemy village or begin a bombing campaign of hostile military bases. In politics, the terms is used to describe election day. This is weird to vets for two reasons. First, D-Day is the first day of an operation, while election day is the final day of an election campaign. But worse, D-Day is when friendly and enemy troops will meet in combat, killing each other. For politicians, it’s when they get a new job or find out they better update their resume.
5. Front lines
The forward most units of a military force, pressed as close to the enemy’s army as the commander will allow, form the frontline. This is typically a physically dangerous place to be, since that means they’re generally within enemy rifle and artillery range. Contrast that with politicians “on the front lines,” who may sit next to their “enemy” and exchange nothing more lethal than passive-aggressive banter.
6. In the crosshairs
Obvious to anyone who has used a rifle scope or watched a sniper movie, someone who is in the crosshairs is in peril of being shot very soon. Political parties who are sparring in the media do not typically find their leaders, “in the enemy’s crosshairs,” as Sarah Palin wrote in a Facebook post according to the Associated Press. Political parties generally fight through press releases and tweets, significantly less dangerous than using rifles.
7. In the trenches
Politicians love to describe themselves as veterans who have spent years in the trenches. Trenches aren’t used much in modern warfare, mostly because of just how horrible trenches are even for a winning army. Trenches fill with water, bugs, and rats. They’re claustrophobic and are easily targeted by enemy artillery and bombers, so they’re a dangerous defense to stay in. Politicians spend very little time in these. When politicians say they were “in the trenches,” they’re generally referring to fundraisers at local restaurants. Oh, the horror.
8. Line of fire
The Guardian once published an article titled “General in the line of fire,” which sounds bloody and dangerous, but is actually about a bunch of attorney generals experiencing harsh criticism, not incoming rounds. The line of fire is the area where all the bullets are flying as enemies try to kill someone. Political lines of fire are just where reporters are asking a lot of hard questions.
9. Nuclear option
Putin has a nuclear option. The U.S. Senate has some control over a nuclear option. However, when Congress changed the rules for a fillibuster, that wasn’t the nuclear option. That was a change in procedural bylaws. It’s easy to tell the difference. One destroys entire cities in moments. The other makes it harder to block a presidential nominee for office.
A scorched-earth political campaign is when a politician is willing to break alliances to win. True scorched earth though, comes when an army breaches the enemy border and starts destroying everything in their path. Atlanta suffered real scorched earth when Maj. Gen. William Sherman burnt the city nearly to the ground while destroying railroads on his way to Savannah.
11. Shock and awe
Like “blitzkrieg” and “all-out war” before it, “shock and awe” is now a popular phrase for describing a political struggle where one side has engaged every asset at their disposal. However, when political fights actually reach the level of blitzkriegs or Operation Shock and Awe, that’s called a civil war. When a politician is spending a bunch of money or smearing an opponent, that’s called campaigning. Completely different things.
12. Take no prisoners
Combat soldiers frequently have to decide whether to try and take prisoners or kill anyone who doesn’t immediately surrender. Politicians, however, should never be in a situation where they decide to take no prisoners. They have an office job. They should only be deciding whether to take a phone call, or whether to take a dump.
13. The War Room/The Situation Room
James Carville and George Stephanopoulos ran President Bill Clinton’s “War Room” for the 1992 elections while Wolf Blitzer anchors the news for CNN from The Situation Room, which CNN describes as “The command center for breaking news.” First, while Clinton’s 1992 run was tumultuous, nothing going into the War Room was on par with combat operations. Second, Wolf Blitzer is not the commander of anything. He’s a photogenic TV personality. Carville was in a political strategy room. Blitzer works in a newsroom.