There are only two recruit depots where U.S. Marines are made, and one of them has a reputation for being “Hollywood.”
Due to their close proximity to Tinseltown, Marines who graduate from MCRD San Diego are usually called “Hollywood Marines” by their MCRD Parris Island, S.C. counterparts and often ridiculed as having an easier training and lifestyle.
Regardless of who you think has the tougher training, here are some things only ‘Hollywood’ Marines will always remember about their initial training.
1. The Yellow Hell
While standing on the yellow footprints is a tradition at both locations, MCRD San Diego takes it much further. The base is a sprawling 388 acres and every building on base is yellow. The renowned architect Bertram Goodhue designed the buildings in a Spanish colonial revival style, and while there are currently 28 of those buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, the only history recruits will remember is that they are in yellow hell.
2. Planes, planes, and more planes!
No matter how long or short your flight is from your home to MCRD, the drive from the airport to base is a mere five minutes. By checking out this Google satellite view you can see that the base is literally on the opposite side of the runway fence. At first the constant deafening noise of airplanes taking off and landing every few minutes is annoying, but recruits get used to it real quick. In fact, some use it to their advantage, by counting the planes as if they were sheep to go to sleep at night dreaming about their next flight home. Recruits endure the mental kick in the stomach while running along side the runway fence watching planes take off with happy newly graduated Marines and their families.
The planes also provide a symbolic sense of comfort. I went to MCRD in August 2001 and one month later the 9/11 attacks occurred. When first told of the attacks by our drill instructors, we felt it may have been some sort of trick. However, once they pointed out the airport was shut down and no planes were taking off, the sky all of a sudden seemed desolate with an eery silence. When the planes were allowed to fly again days later, a sense of relief was felt by all.
3. Perfect Weather
San Diego enjoys gorgeous weather year-round with an average temperature of 70.5 degrees and minimal humidity. However, recruits don’t go there for a vacation, they go to become Marines. Drill instructors are quick to remind recruits of the many beautiful women in bikinis sunbathing at one of the several beaches within a short distance from the base. No matter how difficult things may get, recruits can find comfort in knowing tomorrow will be another beautiful day with clear skies to train.
4. Bus Trips
Not all recruit training takes place at MCRD San Diego. To complete the second of three phases, they are moved 45 minutes north to Camp Pendleton. The ride takes recruits through San Diego’s beautiful north county and it’s the first time recruits are off base since arrival. They are supposed to keep their heads down but it’s common to sneak a glimpse at the beautiful landscape around them and think about home or what’s in store for them at Camp Pendleton. Similarly, on the way back to MCRD to finish the last phase, it gives recruits a time of reflection on completing the demanding training they just endured during second phase and realize they are that much closer to graduation.
5. Mountains, hills, and ridges
Second phase recruit training takes place at Edson Range, Camp Pendleton and includes marksmanship, rifle qualification, close combat, field training, and the gas chamber. But ask any recruit and the one memory that first comes to mind are the many hills they had to hike creating many feet blisters. Camp Pendleton is notorious for its mountains, hills, and ridges that are perfect for grueling hikes. The most famous of which is known as ‘The Reaper’, or ‘Grim Reaper’. With full packs on, it is the last and final monumental hill to climb during the 54 hour exercise known as The Crucible in which they have already climbed several with only eight hrs of sleep.
6. Padres Baseball
Although not every platoon or company at MCRD gets this luxury, those who do get a chance to be recognized by the local community for their newly committed service to this great nation. Although the seats are in the highest sections of the stadium and they are strictly guarded by their drill instructors, it’s a welcome change of pace from the intense and stressful daily training.
7. The San Diego Skyline
It’s hard to believe that just outside the gates of MCRD sits beautiful downtown San Diego. For three months, recruits have dreamt of exploring all the reasons why San Diego is called “America’s Finest City.” Now that they have graduated, it’s common for the nation’s newest Marines to proudly wear their dress uniforms as they eat and celebrate with friends and family throughout the city.
Bourbon is a liquor that has a place in your hand all-year round. Whether it’s sipping a mint julep on a hot summer’s day or spiking the egg nog (like George Washington might) to make Christmas with the family that much more fun (or bearable), there is just never a bad time for a bourbon beverage.
Despite being named for a house of French kings, there are myriad reasons why we should take a moment to take stock (literally and figuratively) of America’s distinctive, home-grown, and distilled liquor.
Bourbon’s all-American status goes well beyond the fact that it’s an American-born corn-fed whiskey created by a Baptist minister in Kentucky — although I can’t think of a more American birth for anything.
A 1964 act of Congress made bourbon the official spirit of the United States of America, or as they put it, “America’s Native Spirit.” Which says a lot, both about America and the U.S. Congress… and probably the people who voted for them.
It should be noted that many, many great bourbons are Kentucky-based but it isn’t necessary for a bourbon to be made in Kentucky for it to be considered a bourbon. This is not champagne we’re talking about. The necessary qualifications for a whiskey to be a bourbon are as follows:
It’s made with 51 percent corn.
It must be aged in a new white oak barrel, with the inside charred before adding liquor.
It can’t have any color or flavor additives
Bourbon must be between 80 and 160 proof (40-80 percent alcohol)
There are real reasons why bourbon is a product that could only have been American-made. So, put that vodka-soda down, comrade, and get a bottle of Evan Williams for the coming July 4th holiday. Your friends and family will thank you.
Now if you want to drink bourbon like a sailor, try the classic Whiskey Smash!
American Oak repels British cannonballs while making an excellent liquor flavor. Amerigasm.
1. Those oak barrels are only found in North America.
Bourbon must be aged in a new American White Oak barrel every time. These barrels are never reused by bourbon makers. I think they’re shipped off to Scotland so they can age scotch whisky in them with peat moss and haggis or whatever. No, America’s bourbon only uses them once — by law (no joke) — and they’re mostly found only in America.
When the U.S. Navy needs to patch up Old Ironsides, the USS Constitution, they use white oak from a grove specifically for the ship, called “Constitution Grove,” at a Naval timber reserve at Naval Weapons Support Center in Crane, Indiana.
Both of them always make faces that imply 120 gallons was not enough.
2. Bourbon fueled the exploration of the United States.
Lewis and Clark didn’t take water with them on the expedition to map the Louisiana Purchase, but you can be damn sure they remembered to bring 120 gallons of bourbon to fuel their two-year trek to the Pacific Ocean.
America runs in your veins, whether you like it or not.
3. American icons f*cking love bourbon.
What did Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Harry Truman, Walt Whitman, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, Jack London, Mark Twain, Anthony Bourdain, and John Wayne have in common? No, they weren’t all taken over by the reptile aliens and replaced: They loved American bourbon.
When Grant’s critics appealed to Lincoln to try and have him fired for his drinking, Lincoln offered to send Grant’s preferred brand to all his other generals — and you can still buy Grant’s favorite bourbon today. President Truman began every day of his life, even as President, with a glass of the hard stuff.
Even Winston Churchill loved American bourbon, which can be partly explained by the fact that the British bulldog’s mother was American born.
Fear of the President of the United States leading an Army into your hometown: keeping people from being tarred and feathered since 1794… Probably.
4. The young U.S. Army ran on booze, not its stomach.
An army still needs to eat, but how do you pay for the food that fuels that army — or, specifically, the U.S. Army? It was excising taxes on distilled spirits for the fledgling United States that bought the guns and grub that defeated the British and put down rebellions (including the rebellion against the taxes) in the country’s early years. Rum and whiskey can also take some claim for this, but it was bourbon that kept the country together in the war to come.
The face you make when you used to be a bartender but now you’re President during the Civil War.
5. It was the glue that saved the Union.
When the border state of Kentucky remained in the Union, it allowed Abraham Lincoln to use taxes on distilled spirits to pay for much of the Union war effort. The Confederacy prohibited bourbon production because it wanted to use the corn to feed troops and the copper stills to make cannon.
The British position at Stony Point, New York was really just an attempt to force George Washington out of the mountains and into a pitched battle – one the British could win. The American War of Independence had been going on for years, and by 1778, the British were languishing in New York City. To get things moving, General Sir Henry Clinton sent 8,000 men north to keep the Americans from using King’s Ferry to cross the Hudson.
But the Americans weren’t stupid. Assaulting a fortified position against overwhelming numbers was a bad call no matter how you try to justify it. So when the British Army left Stony Point with just a fraction of its troops as a garrison, that’s when Washington saw his opportunity.
If there’s anything Washington excelled at, it was picking his battles.
The setup was so grand and well-made, the British began to refer to their Stony Point position as the “Gibraltar of the West.” The fort used two lines of abatements, manned by roughly a third of the total force in each position. To top it all off, an armed sloop, the HMS Vulture, also roamed the Hudson to add to the artillery guns already defending Stony Point. It seemed like a suicide mission.
But when the bulk of the troops left to return to New York, Washington knew his odds were never going to get better than this. The British left only 600-700 troops at Stony Point. The defenses were intimidating, but Washington wasn’t fielding militia; he had battle-hardened Continental Soldiers, and a General they called “Mad Anthony” to lead them.
This is not some tiny stream.
The American plan seemed as Mad as Gen. Anthony Wayne. The Americans discovered that the British abatements didn’t extend into the river during low tide, so they could just go around the defenses if they timed their attack right. They created a three-pronged plan. Major Hardy Murfree would lead a very loud diversionary attack against the British center and create alarm in the enemy camp. Meanwhile, Gen. Wayne and Col. Richard Butler would assault either side of the defenses and flank the British. But they had to do it in total silence.
They unloaded their muskets and fixed bayonets to surprise the British.
They don’t call him “Mad” Anthony Wayne for nothing.
And the British were surprised. They were completely flanked on the sides of their abatements. As Murfree attacked the center, the other Americans completely rolled up the British defenses and cut off the regiments fighting Murfree in the center. They stormed the slopes of Stony Point and completely routed the British positions. They captured almost 500 enemy troops, and stores of food and weapons.
In a dispatch to Washington, Anthony wrote that the fort and its garrison were now theirs and that “Our officers men behaved like men who are determined to be free.”
If zeal could be weaponized in wartime, the Confederacy might have had a chance. Not everyone in the South was very confident about the Confederacy’s chances of winning the Civil War. As Rhett Butler pointed out in Gone With The Wind, there were just some things the South lacked that the North had in massive amounts — and it just so happened that all those things were the things you need to fight a war.
Cotton, slaves, and arrogance just wasn’t going to be enough to overcome everything else the Confederates lacked. Rhett Butler wasn’t far off in listing factories, coal mines, and shipyards as essential materials.
The fictional Rhett Butler only echoed statements made by prominent, prescient (and real) Southerners at the time, like Sam Houston.
“If you go to war with the United States, you will never conquer her, as she has the money and the men. If she does not whip you by guns, powder, and steel, she will starve you to death. It will take the flower of the country —the young men.”
The Confederacy never had a chance. The Civil War was just the death throes of an outmoded way of life that was incompatible with American ideals and the nail in its coffin was manufactured by Northern factories and foundries.
When it comes to actually fighting, there are some essentials that an army needs to be backed by — chief among them is the weapons of war. Southern historian Shelby Foote noted that the Industrial Revolution in the United States was in full swing at the time of the Civil War and much of that growing industrial strength was firmly in the North. Meanwhile, the South at the war’s onset was still chiefly an agrarian society which relied on material imported from outside the 11 would-be Confederate states.
It’s not that the Southern economy was poorly planned overall, it was just poorly planned for fighting a war.
Cotton awaiting transport in Arkansas.
Very closely related to industrial output is what the South could trade for those necessary war goods. When all is well, the South’s cotton-based economy was booming due to worldwide demand for the crop. The trouble was that the population density in the South was so low that much of the wealth of the United States (and the banks that go along with that money) were overwhelmingly located in the North.
When it came time to raise the money needed to fight a war, it was especially difficult for the South. Levying taxes on a small population didn’t raise the money necessary to fund the Confederate Army and, for other countries, investing in a country that may not exist in time for that investment to yield a return is a risky venture. And tariffs on imported goods only work if those goods make it to market, which brings us to…
Civil War sailors were some of the saltiest.
Although the Confederacy saw some success at sea, the Confederate Navy was largely outgunned by the Union Navy. One of the first things the Union did was implement a naval blockade of Southern ports to keep supplies from getting to the Confederate Army while keeping that valuable Southern cotton from making it to foreign ports. The South’s import-export capacity fell by as much as 80 percent during the war.
Earlier I noted the Southern economy was poorly planned for fighting any war. That situation becomes more and more dire when fighting the war on the South’s home turf. The North’s industrialization required means of transport for manufactured goods and that meant a heavy investment in the fastest means of overland commercial transport available at the time: railroads.
Northern states created significant rail networks to connect manufacturing centers in major cities while the South’s cotton-based economy mainly relied on connecting plantations to major ports for export elsewhere. Railroad development was minimal in the South and large shipments were primarily made from inland areas by river to ports like New Orleans and Charleston – rivers that would get patrolled by the Union Navy.
The port of Charleston in 1860.
People who live in a country are good for more than just paying taxes to fund a functional government and its armies, they also fuel the strength, reach, and capabilities of those armies. In the early battles of the Civil War, the South inflicted a lot more casualties on the North while keeping their numbers relatively low. But the North could handle those kinds of losses, they had more people to replace the multiple thousands killed on the battlefield.
For the South, time was not on their side. At the beginning of the war, the Union outnumbered the Confederates 2-to-1 and no matter how zealous Southerners were to defend the Confederacy, there simply wasn’t enough of them to be able to handle the kinds of losses the Union Army began to dish out by 1863. At Gettysburg, for example, Robert E. Lee’s army numbered as many as 75,000 men – but Lee lost a third of those men in the fighting. Those were hardened combat troops, not easily replaced.
Jefferson Davis was widely criticized by his own government, being called more of an Adams than a Washington.
Replacing troops was a contentious issue in the Confederate government. The Confederacy was staunchly a decentralized republic, dedicated to the supremacy of the states over the central government in Richmond. Political infighting hamstrung the Confederate war effort at times, most notably in the area of conscription. The Confederate draft was as unpopular in the South as it was in the North, but Southern governors called conscription the “essence of military despotism.”
In the end, the Confederate central government had to contend with the power of its own states along with the invading Union Army. In 1863, Texas’ governor wouldn’t even send Texan troops east for fears that they would be needed to fight Indians or Union troops invading his home state.
Early in June 2016, a German court found former SS sergeant Reinhold Hanning guilty of 170,000 counts of accessory to murder. He was sentenced to five years in prison for his time as a guard at Auschwitz, the notorious death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
“It is my dream to be in Germany, in a German court, with German judges acknowledging the Holocaust,” Hedy Bohm, an 88-year-old Auschwitz survivor, told the Associated Press. “I am grateful and pleased by this justice after 70 years.”
Bohm wasn’t the only death camp survivor present. There were three others and a total of twelve testified throughout Hanning’s trial. One 95-year-old survivor demanded Hanning tell more young people about what happened at Auschwitz, which Hanning did not do.
Hanning joined the Hitler Youth in 1935 and then volunteered for the Waffen SS at age 18. After suffering a grenade injury fighting the Red Army in Kiev, he was sent to Auschwitz.
Former SS sergeant Oskar Groening was convicted of 300,000 counts of accessory to murder while serving at Auschwitz. His job was particularly notorious: he was in charge of confiscating the personal property or arriving prisoners and quantifying it. Like Hanning, he may not have killed anyone, but he saw the mass killings and did nothing. Unlike Hanning, Groening has taken great pains to dispel any implications that the Holocaust did not happen, making public statements. It was his activism against Holocaust denial that led to his arrest and prosecution. Groening was 93 at the time of his 2015 trial.
In 2009, 88-year-old former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk was extradited to Germany to stand trial for 27,900 counts of the same crime, for being a prison guard at the Sobibor Death Camp. Sentenced to five years, Demjanjuk died before his appeal could be heard. That wasn’t the extent of it. Demjanjuk is thought to be “Ivan the Terrible,” a former Red Army soldier and POW who worked at the Treblinka extermination camp. He was sentenced to death in Jerusalem in 1988 but that was overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court for a lack of positive identification.
In 1995, Canada pushed for the deportation of Helmut Oberlander, a 92-year-old former translator for a Nazi death squad. In 2014, 89-year-old Johann Breyer was arrested in Philadelphia, charged with being a member of the SS’ “Death’s Head” Battalion, who were tasked with gassing prisoners at Auschwitz. 94-year-old Michael Karkoc was arrested in Minneapolis for his time as an officer in the SS Galician Division, which allegedly massacred Poles and Ukrainians in 1944.
Germany has a special prosecutor’s office for Nazi war crimes. There are still many more cases the office wants to go to trial. The LA-based Wiesenthal Center, founded by Mauthausen Concentration Camp survivor and famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, is dedicated to the arrest and conviction of the following fugitive Nazi war criminals, where they are thought to be and where they committed their crimes (in parentheses):
1. Helma Kissner – Germany (Poland) – served as a radio operator in the Auschwitz death camp from April to July 1944 – charged with accessory to murder in 260,000 cases.
2. Reinhold Hanning – Germany (Poland) – served in the Auschwitz death camp from January 1943 until June 1944 – charged with accessory to murder in 170,000 cases.
3. Helmut Oberlander – Canada (Ukraine) – served in Einsatzkommando 10A (part of Einstazgruppe D, which murdered an estimated 23,000 mostly Jewish civilians.
4. HubertZafke – Germany (Poland) – served as a medic in the Auschwitz death camp during the years 1943 and 1944 – charged with accessory to murder in 3,681 cases.
5. Alfred Stark – Germany (Greece) – participated in the September 1943 mass murder of 120 Italian officers on the Greek island of Kefalonia.
6. Helmut Rasbol – Denmark (Belarus) – during the years 1942-1943 served as a guard in the Judenlager established by the Nazis in Bobruisk, Belarus, during which almost all the Jewish inmates of the camp were executed or died of the horrible physical conditions.
7. Aksel Andersen – Sweden (Belarus) – during the years 1942-1943 served as a guard in the Judenlager established by the Nazis in Bobruisk, Belarus, during which almost all the Jewish inmates of the camp were executed or died of the horrible physical conditions.
8. Johann Robert Riss – Germany (Italy) – participated in the murder of 184 civilians in Padule di Fucecchio, Italy on August 23, 1944.
9. Algimantas Dailide – Germany (Lithuania) – served in the Saugumas (Lithuanian Security Police) in Vilnius – arrested Jews and Poles who were subsequently executed by the Nazis and Lithuanian collaborators.
10. Jakob Palij – USA (Poland) – served as a guard in the Trawniki concentration camp.
The 103rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command (ESC), the Syrian Logistics Cell (SLC), located in Erbil, Iraq, is composed of a small team of soldiers who pack a big punch when it comes to supporting the warfighters in Syria.
The 103rd ESC SLC team was directly involved in the recent withdrawal from Syria.
“The SLC was heavily involved in the materiel retrograde from Syria,” Sgt. Maj. Jason Palsma, SLC noncommissioned officer in charge, 103rd ESC, said. “Our team assisted in the deliberate withdrawal of US forces from several bases in Syria while simultaneously continuing the defeat of ISIS.”
Spc. Desmond Smith guides a forklift in loading a pallet of water at the Syrian Logistics Cell operations center, Erbil, Iraq, December 3, 2019.
(US Army Reserve/Spc. Dakota Vanidestine)
Spc. Desmond Smith guides a forklift with water pallets to storage at the Syrian Logistics Cell operations center, Erbil, Iraq, November 30, 2019.
(US Army Reserve photo by Spc. Dakota Vanidestine)
Staff Sgt. Victor Cardona loads a 120 mm motor grader onto a trailer at the Syrian Logistics Cell operations center, Erbil, Iraq, December 3, 2019.
(US Army Reserve photo by Spc. Dakota Vanidestine)
A forklift is used to offload a pallet of water from the delivery truck at the Syrian Logistics Cell operations center, Erbil, Iraq, November 30, 2019.
(US Army Reserve photo by Spc. Dakota Vanidestine)
Spc. Desmond Smith guides a forklift with water pallets to storage at the Syrian Logistics Cell operations center, Erbil, Iraq, November 30, 2019.
(US Army Reserve photo by Spc. Dakota Vanidestine)
Trucks move supplies to Syria at the Syrian Logistics Cell operations center, Erbil, Iraq, November 29, 2019.
(US Army Reserve photo by Spc. Dakota Vanidestine)
Soldiers from the Syrian Logistics Cell, 103rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, in Erbil, Iraq, December 1, 2019.
(US Army Reserve photo by Spc. Dakota Vanidestine)
The Syrian Logistics Cell may be small in numbers but their support will continue making a huge difference in the fight against ISIS.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
In 2018, Navy veteran Anthony Price burned through more than 450 gallons of gasoline and three sets of tires. He spent more than 700 miles in the rain, many days in temperatures above 100 degrees, and at least one day in the snow. He did all of it to honor the families who lost a loved one to America’s wars. And he’s going to do it again in 2019, as he has for the past six years.
The Gold Star Ride of a lifetime.
Price began his ride for Gold Star families in 2013 as a means of calling attention to those families and saying thank you in his own way. Since then, he has been to more than 44 states, enduring extreme temperatures and conditions just to ensure the families of fallen service members are taken care of. As the Gold Star Ride website says, “We ride because they died… We do the work that our fallen heroes would do if they hadn’t fallen for all our freedom.”
Soon the Minnesota-based Price and his fellow riders were a full-fledged nonprofit, dedicated to the mission of helping those in need. Gold Star Riders actively support, comfort, and provide education benefits to Gold Star Families throughout the United States directly with personal visits via motorcycle. They also vow to partner with any group who actively helps these Gold Star families.
“The families themselves are not looking for any stardom or any fame or any glory,” Price says. “They’re just looking for someone to remember, to remember a huge sacrifice.”
The title of Price’s book is a reference to Abraham Lincoln’s “Bixby Letter,” a letter the 16th President penned to Mrs. Lydia Bixby, a widow believed to have lost five sons during the Civil War. In it, the President is said to have written his regret at her loss and his attempt to console her by reminding the mother of the Republic they died to save. He ends the letter with “Yours, Very Sincerely and Respectfully.”
Price in an interview with a Fox affiliate.
The letter is an apt reference, as Price describes on commercial producer Jordan Brady’s “Respect the Process” Podcast. Price mentions that he would talk to twenty or so people a day, on average, for two months straight. He found that 19 of those 20 didn’t know what a Gold Star Family was. In one case, even a Gold Star Family did not realize they were a Gold Star Family.
To be clear, a Gold Star Family member is the immediate family of any military member who lost their life in military service – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives, and children.
“One of the reasons we do this is because no one else was doing it,” says Price. “Every once in a while I hear someone say ‘you’re adding an element that makes [the loss] a little more palatable… the work you’re doing is helping me make sense of the tragedy I have to go through.'”
But North Korea does not sell, export, or use such nuclear devices on anyone because if they did, the consequences would be phenomenal.
“North Korea sells all kinds of weapons” to African countries, Cuba, and its Asian neighbors, according to Omar Lamrani, a senior military analyst at Stratfor, a geopolitical consulting firm.
“The most dangerous aspects of that trade has been with Syria and Iran in terms of missiles and nuclear reactors they helped the Syrians build before the Israelis knocked that out with an airstrike,” said Lamrani. “The most frightening is the potential sale of nuclear warheads.”
With some of the harshest sanctions on earth imposed on North Korea, it’s easy to imagine the nation attempting to raise money through illegal arms sales to the US’s enemies, which could even include non-state actors, like al Qaeda or ISIS.
While procuring the materials and manufacturing a nuclear weapon would represent an incredible technical and logistical hardships for a non-state actor, a single compact warhead could be in the range of capabilities for a non-state actor like Hezbollah, said Lamrani.
Furthermore, the US’s enemies would see a huge strategic benefit from having or demonstrating a nuclear capability, but with that benefit would come a burden.
If US intelligence caught wind of any plot to arm a terror group, it would make every possible effort to rip that weapon from the group’s hands before they could use it. News of a nuclear-armed terror group would fast-track a global response and steamroll whatever actor took on such a bold stance.
And not only would the terror group catch hell, North Korea would, too.
“North Korea understands if they do give nuclear weapons, it could backfire on them,” said Lamrani. “If a warhead explodes, through nuclear forensics and isotope analysts, you can definitely trace it back to North Korea.”
At that point, North Korea would go from being an adversarial state that developed nuclear weapons as a means of regime security to a state that has enabled and abetted nuclear terrorism or proliferation.
This would change the calculus of how the world deals with North Korea, and make a direct attack much more likely.
Right now, North Korea has achieved regime security with long-range nuclear arms. If they sold those arms to someone else, they would effectively risk it all.
This post is reprinted with permission from NationSwell, new digital media company focused on American innovation and renewal.
When Eli Williamson returned from two deployments to the Middle East, his hometown of Chicago felt at times like a foreign battleground, the memory of desert roads more familiar than Windy City central thoroughfares. As he relearned the city, Williamson noticed a strange similarity between veterans like himself and the young people growing up in tough parts of Chicago. Too many had witnessed violence, and they had little support to cope with the trauma.
Applying the timeworn principle of leaving no soldier, sailor, airman or marine behind, Williamson co-founded Leave No Veteran Behind (LNVB), a national nonprofit focused on securing education and employment for our warriors. Williamson formed the organization based on “just real stupid” and “crazy” idealism: “You know what?” he says. “I can make a difference.” Since work began in 2008, with a measly operating budget of $4,674 to help pay off student loans, LNVB has eliminated around $150,000 of school debt and provided 750 transitional jobs, Williamson says.
“Coming out of the military, every individual is going to have his or her challenges,” says Williamson, who served as a psychological operations specialist and an Arabic linguist in Iraq in 2004 and in Afghanistan in 2007. “We’ve seen veterans with substance abuse issues, homelessness issues.” Additionally, at least one in five veterans suffer from PTSD, and almost 50,000 are homeless and 573,000 are unemployed.
Williamson started the group with his childhood friend Roy Sartin. They first met in high school, when they joined choir and band together. “I think we’ve been arguing like old women every since,” Williamson says. Both joined the U.S. Army Reserves while at Iowa’s Luther College and were mobilized to active duty during their senior year after the Twin Towers fell. Williamson finished his education at the Special Warfare Training Center at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, while Sartin put his learning on hold.
Upon return, both struggled with crippling interest rates on their student loans. Sartin received a call from the loan company saying that he needed to make a $20,000 payment. “Although I had the funds, it was just enough to get myself back together. So, for me, the transition wasn’t as tough, but I was one of the lucky ones.” Williamson got a bill for $2,200 only 22 days before the balance was due. Desperate, he took to the streets playing music to cover the costs.
After talking with other vets, the two realized that many didn’t qualify for the military’s debt repayment programs. That’s when they started going out to financial sources for “retroactive scholarships” for our country’s defenders. And they sought employment opportunities for former military members to help cover the rest.
Jobs and debt relief for our nation’s warriors are the main focus of LNVB, but the group oversees several initiatives, including S.T.E.A.M. Corps, which pairs vets with science, technology, engineering, arts, and math experience with at-risk youth. More than 200 students have graduated from S.T.E.A.M., but Williamson, director of veteran affairs at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, points to a more intangible benefit of his non-profit’s work: the ability for veterans “to articulate a larger vision of themselves … is our advocacy mission,” he says.
“Veterans can paint a vision for where our country needs to be, and the only reason we can do that is because you realize that you are part of something larger than yourself,” Williamson adds. “That’s a fundamental value that veterans can share, as they leave military, with the communities that they come back to.” For those who’ve just returned home from Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, in other words, service is just beginning.
The Battalion Executive Officer, Maj. Kevin Gonzalez, along with the Career Retention Specialist Staff Sgt. Chandrash Malapaka, and several others crammed into the tiny room for the ceremony.
“We’re going to do the short version of this,” said the Executive Officer.
Raising his right hand, Hawkins took the oath of enlistment by 1st Lt. Warren A. Frank, his platoon commander. With no time for the usual formalities of backslaps and handshakes, Hawkins was immediately carried out via litter and evacuated.
This damage control sailor who loves his job so much that he re-upped in full gear while being deployed to the Red Sea aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS James E. Williams (DDG 95):
These soldiers taking their oath at CenturyLink Field before a Seahawks football game against the Baltimore Ravens:
This Belgian Malinois, Sgt. 1st Class Freida, who reenlisted with her human partner:
And this PAO serving with the U.S. Navy’s “Leap Frogs” who jumped out of a perfectly good airplane to take her reenlistment oath thousands of feet above Earth:
Today, the Transformers IP has a world-wide presence in toys, comic books, video games, TV shows, movies and even amusement park rides. Just hearing the name cues the iconic jingle or robotic transforming noise in the heads of even the most casual fans. It’s incredible to think that this franchise that dominates the globe owes its existence to the Second World War, G.I. Joe action figures and one very special Marine.
Transformers is still going strong with a new Netflix original series (Netflix)
Following the end of WWII, American troops occupied the Japanese islands as the nation entered into the process of reconstruction. A key element in reviving the Japanese economy was its once prominent toy industry. However, with few raw materials available after the war, toy makers were forced to resort to unconventional sources.
American GIs occupying Japan were fed heavily with canned rations. It was the metal from these cans that was recycled and used to craft Japanese robot toys. To highlight Japanese craftsmanship, these toys were often motorized with clock mechanisms that allowed them to walk and roll.
The popularity of Japanese robot toys increased through the 1960s and 1970s. With the expansion of television, the robot toys were paired with manga comics and anime cartoons that engaged children and promoted toy sales. Japanese robot-based entertainment like Astroboy, Ultraman, Shogun Warriors and Gigantor became increasingly popular in America.
Robot shows like Gigantor were also successful in Australia (Eiken/TCJ)
However, even the robots from the east couldn’t compete with “A Real American Hero” like G.I. Joe. High sales of the action figure in the states were enough to convince Japanese toy maker Takara to license G.I. Joe for the Japanese market.
Having gained respect in the Japanese toy world for their toy dolls, Takara wanted to branch out and make a toy line for boys. However, G.I. Joe’s iconic scar and grimacing expression were a bit too harsh and aggressive for post-war Japan. To market the toy to Japanese boys, Takara decided to make G.I. Joe into a superhero with superpowers. When the designers realized that G.I. Joe’s body wasn’t conducive to a superhero build, they resorted to type and made him into a robot. With a clear plastic body displaying his metal computer-like internals, G.I. Joe became Henshin Cyborg. Henshin meaning “transformation”, this was the first step towards what we know today as Transformers.
Following the 1973 oil crisis, the 11.5″ tall toy and all of its accessories became prohibitively expensive to produce. Like G.I. Joe in the states, Takara introduced the 3.75″ tall Microman. A mini version of Henshin Cyborg, the Microman toy line focused even more on transforming toys with robots that could change into sci-fi spaceships. Microman was so popular that it was marketed in the US under the name Micronauts.
By the 1980s, robot toys that transformed into exotic spaceships were losing popularity. To rejuvenate the robot toy concept, Takara introduced the Diaclone Car Robo and Microman Micro Change lines. Diaclone toys transformed from robots into 1:60 scale vehicles like cars and trucks while Microman toys transformed into 1:1 replicas of household items like cameras, cassette players and toy guns.
At the Tokyo Toy Show, Hasbro executives took notice of Diaclone, Microman Micro Change and the plethora of other Japanese transforming robot toys and wanted to develop their own toy line. A deal was struck with Takara and Hasbro lifted almost every one of their toy lines for the US market, including Diaclone and Microman Micro Change.
To review, Hasbro licensed G.I. Joe to Takara in the 1970s. Takara turned G.I. Joe into Henshin Cyborg. Henshin Cyborg was shrunk down to Microman. Microman evolved into Diaclone and Microman Micro Change, both of which were licensed back to Hasbro. Things had really come full circle.
With all of these transforming robot toys, Hasbro turned to Marvel Comics to develop a backstory for the new toy line. Over a weekend, Marvel writers came up with the names and backstories for the first 26 Transformers as well as the plot for the first comic book issue.
Diaclone and Microman Micro Change robots were renamed and became Transformers as we know them today. Micro Car became Bumblebee, Cassette Man became Shockwave, Gun Robo became Megatron, Battle Convoy became Optimus Prime and the War for Cybertron between the just Autobots and the oppressive Decepticons was born. The first commercial for the Transformers toys introduced the now iconic jingle and the phrases, “Robots in disguise” and, “More than meets the eye.”
The 1984 release of Transformers was a huge success netting Hasbro 5 million in sales. The popularity of the franchise was due in large part to the Transformers cartoon, the star of which was the venerable Optimus Prime.
Peter Cullen, the original voice of Optimus Prime, became so iconic that he was brought back to reprise the role of the Autobot leader in the 2007 Transformers film and its many sequels. Cullen, also known for voicing Eeyore in the Winnie the Pooh franchise, crafted the voice of Optimus Prime with inspiration from his older brother.
Marine Captain Henry Laurence Cullen, Jr., known as Larry, was a decorated veteran of the war in Vietnam. While serving with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Capt. Cullen was awarded a Bronze Star with a V device as well as two Purple Hearts for his actions during Operation Hastings in June 1966.
Capt. Cullen was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery (Cullen family)
When his younger brother told him he was going to audition for the role of a hero in a cartoon series, Capt. Cullen said, “Peter, if you’re gonna be a hero, be a real hero. Don’t be one of those Hollywood heroes pretending they’re tough guys when they’re not. Just be strong and real. Tell the truth. Be strong enough to be gentle.”
With his older brother’s words echoing in his mind, Peter Cullen delivered the strong yet gentle voice performance that Transformers fans today will always hail as the one, true Optimus.
“He had a lot of influence on me, you know, and especially coming back from Vietnam. I noticed somebody different,” Cullen remembered of his older brother. “Going into that audition, Larry was with me. I mean, he was right there beside me. When I read the script, Larry’s voice just came out. He was my hero.”
From recycled ration cans, to a classic American action figure and an inspirational leader of Marines, the Transformers franchise has had a lot of American military influence to get to where it is today.
The first 100 days of any new job is both exciting and potentially daunting. As the new executive director of Got Your 6, I’ve found this to be especially true as we work to empower veterans to lead a resurgence of community across the nation.
Here are six big lessons I have learned or have re-confirmed in my first 100 days:
1. Organizations are people (#OneTeamOneFight)
Over the past 100 days, I’ve assessed where Got Your 6 has been and where we’re headed. It’s clear that our success is the direct result of the people in our organization. The team is essential to achieving the goals we’ve set as we forge ahead in 2016. Having the right team is critical, and without the right people in the right places, it’s impossible to succeed. The Got Your 6 team is second to none and our success this year and beyond will be a direct result of their hard work and dedication. The team consists of three Post-9/11 combat veterans (Go Army!) and two amazing civilians who have participated in national service. Every member of the team believes in service over self and I couldn’t be more fired up to lead such a dedicated and talented team!
2. There is no substitute for victory (#BOOM)
With new leadership at the helm, it’s important to get early wins to build momentum. Simply put, everyone wants to succeed and success is contagious. Arguably the biggest honor for us early in 2016 was being presented with the Social Good Award from Cynopsis Media for best “Awareness Campaign or Initiative Category.” Matt Mabe, Senior Director of Impact, and I had the honor of attending the awards ceremony in New York City and when Got Your 6 was announced as the winner it crystallized the impact of our campaign. We beat out the likes of AE Networks, Discovery Communications, and Sony Pictures Television; giants in the awareness and perception shift causes. We also closed out the first quarter with a huge win coming out of our first Collaboratory of 2016 in Austin, Texas with our 30 non-profit partners where we created a roadmap to success for 2016 and beyond as a coalition and collective impact campaign.
3. Partnerships are Critical (#GenuineRelationships)
Got Your 6 has a world-class nonprofit coalition compiled of amazing people and inspiring organizations that empower veterans across the country. We have partnerships with the entertainment industry, a new area for me, that have inspired me in ways I didn’t think were possible. In one of the most competitive industries in the world, our entertainment partners have made supporting veterans a top priority. Effectively engaging the Got Your 6 coalition, along with remarkable supporters and partnerships, has been critical to settling into the role of executive director effectively. Likewise, exploring new partnerships in order to increase impact and effectiveness has been a key part of our “one team, one fight” strategy. And is needed to provide the team with necessary support as we move forward with our vision and goals for the year ahead. Without the right partners, with the right shared values, success isn’t possible.
4. Values-based leadership matters (#FollowMe)
Getting to know any new organization and a team can be a challenge. It’s important to understand the values of the organization you lead which is why the first thing we did as a team was gather offsite at The Bunker in Alexandria. We had an honest conversation about our personal values and how they translate to our organization. Together, we defined our values: Integrity, Positivity, Commitment, Courage, Trust. These values drive how we do business and act as our north star for every decision we make. Our team has gotten to know each other as individuals and now understand who we are as an organization and pride ourselves in choosing “the harder right over the easier wrong” in everything we do.
5. Where we’ve been is important; where we are going is critical (#CommunityMatters)
The history of an organization is important. We need to know where we’ve been and why. For Got Your 6, our founding was rooted in the spirit of service and pride in our nation. Got Your 6 is a campaign focused on bridging the civilian-military divide through perception shift and collective impact. Through the Got Your 6 coalition we’ve helped veterans get jobs, go back to school, find housing and many other critical areas. Now we are raising the stakes. Real problems exist across the nation that aren’t specific to the veteran community; suicide, unemployment, disconnected communities. These are American problems and Got Your Six is working to harness veteran skills to address these issues. Research shows our country is not as engaged as we used to be or could be. The Got Your 6 Veteran Civic Health Index shows us that vets are civic assets and more likely to be engaged. Given the decline in community and veterans as civic assets, our new focus will be empowering veterans to lead a resurgence of community across the nation. Veterans returning home aren’t the problem– we believe veterans and their unique skill sets are part of the solution. We can empower veterans to serve themselves by serving others; the nation we know and love.
6. If the work isn’t hard but fun and fulfilling, it’s not worth doing (#VetInspired)
I believe that improving the lives of others is not only fulfilling but also exhilarating. As a person and individual that is my purpose. I want to continue to improve the lives of others. When you can align your purpose in life with your purpose at work good things will happen. Enjoying what you do–and having fun while doing it–is important even when dealing with serious and life changing issues. When you meet a fellow veteran or hear their inspiring story you can’t help but smile (even if sometimes you’re smiling through a few tears). That’s why this work is so fulfilling. If you follow the work we do or see us around town we’ll always be working hard but having fun.
Now watch Chris Pratt and others in this GY6 video:
For more about Got Your 6’s mission and events check out their website here.
Marbleezy asks: How did the ancient Romans manage to build perfectly straight roads hundreds of miles long?
The ancient Romans were a people famed for their architectural prowess, something no better demonstrated than by their ability to build almost perfectly straight and incredibly durable roads spanning expansive distances. For example, in Britain alone, the Romans built well over 50,000 miles of roads with the longest ruler-straight stretch spanning over 50 miles. They did all of this in an era without modern surveying tools, construction equipment, or even very accurate maps of precisely where their destination was for many of the areas. So how did they do it?
To begin with, it’s important to note there were a few different types of roads that were made throughout the Roman Republic and Empire, and exact method and materials used for road construction varied somewhat from region to region and evolved slightly over the centuries.
That caveat out of the way, the three main classification of Roman roads were viae terrenae, essentially dirt roads, often made by people walking and wagons riding over the same path over time; viae glareae, which would be a dirt road that was then graveled; and, finally much more interestingly, viae munita, which were more or less paved roads, some of which have survived through modern times.
Within these types of roads there were further classifications based on who could use them, such as viae publicae (public roads), viae militares (military or state use roads), and viae privatae (private roads, constructed at private expense and for the owners to decide who they allowed access, perhaps the general public or perhaps just a select few).
To help pay for them, roads of all types often had tolls, particularly at locations like bridges and city gates where it would be impractical to avoid the tolling location.
The Appian Way, a road connecting the city of Rome to the southern parts of Italy, remains usable even today.
This brings us to the road construction process itself. As dirt and gravel roads aren’t terribly interesting, we’re going to focus this article on the viae munita. So how did they make these incredibly durable and generally amazingly straight roads? After all, even with modern machinery, constructing and maintaining an expansive road system is an extremely time consuming and labor intensive process.
To start with, a group of surveyors would be sent out to figure out the precise direction connecting the two main points. At the same time, they’d attempt to plan the route as efficiently as possible while accounting for any major obstacles like tall mountains, rivers, etc. When possible, they may attempt to avoid such obstacles, but, particularly in some of the earliest Roman road construction, where it might result in having to take a large detour to get around, say, a mountain, if possible given the terrain, they tended to just build the road to go directly over it or directly through it. For example, the longest tunnel through such a mountain was the Grotta di Cocceio which was excavated from 38 to 36 BCE and is approximately 1 km (.62 miles) long and about 5 meters (5.4 yards) high and wide. Before WWII, it was also still a fully functional and safe to traverse tunnel despite standing about 2,000 years at that point, but was damaged during the war, though there are presently efforts to have it repaired and opened again to the public.
As for going over a mountain, it’s important to note here that we don’t mean they’d use switch backs as is the general method today. No, if at all possible, they’d just build roads straight up a mountain and down the other side, expecting the soldiers and mules and the like to just man up and traverse the steep slopes without complaint.
That said, as the empire matured, it did eventually become apparent that there were economic advantages to slightly longer roads that were easier for draught animals to pull carts over, and thus there was a shift to favoring longer distances but lesser gradients when talking roads for general public use.
A Roman street in Pompeii.
Either way, during the process, the surveyors would setup markers, often at very visible points like on hills, mapping out the optimal path, again trying to ensure the road would be as straight as possible between the start and end point to reduce needed labor, materials, and distance needed to traverse the road once it was complete.
This brings us to how they actually ensured perfectly straight roads between the markers. A key tool here was a device known as a groma. In a nutshell, this was nothing more than a sort of cross with four weights hanging from a string at each end of the cross to function as plumb lines. The whole thing could rotate with degree markers on top. Two of the plumb lines would then be lined up with a marker and then on the other side lined up with the previous marker. Where changes in direction would need to be made, the degrees were marked and ultimately the whole thing drawn up on a central document showing the entire route of the road with each segment.
Once the actual construction was to begin, the groma would once again be used, this time with rods pounded into the ground between markers using the groma to make sure every single rod was perfectly inline in between the markers.
Now, finally, construction of the road would start, usually first done via plows to loosen the soil, this would be followed by legionaries and/or slaves digging the ground out, with depth varying based on conditions. For instance, swampy land would need a lot thicker foundation if it was to have any staying power. For more typical ground, the trench needed would be somewhere in the realm of 3-6 feet (around 1-2 meters) deep. Once dug out, this would then be tamped down to a leveled, compact layer of earth.
From here, exact road composition varied based on available materials in a given region, land composition, and a variety of factors like this.
But typically large stones would be packed as tightly as possible together and into the earth base. Onto this layer would usually be placed smaller stones, sometimes comprising broken concrete or somewhat crushed rock, again packed and smoothed as best as possible. Depending on availability, they would also put a layer of sand on this foundation to make a genuinely perfectly smooth surface.
On top of all of this, at the minimum gravel would be added, packed, and leveled. In some cases, such as near big cities, as described in one manuscript on the construction of roads in Rome itself, paving stones, often flint, lava rock, or marble, would be embedded in cement for the top layer instead. When the road was complete, they are thought to have been quite smooth allowing for relatively bump free travel in carts and the like.
During this whole process, special attention was taken to making the center of the road higher than the sides so that any water would drain off, with the entire road surface itself also elevated above the ground on the sides where drainage ditches would generally be created to help rapidly move water away from the road in times of heavy rains.
Beside the roads were footpaths, sometimes graveled, which were particularly handy in the case of viae militares where only people with proper authorization could use the road itself. Finally, at the very outer edges of the roads, any nearby trees and bushes would be removed to help reduce areas for bandits to hide and surprise anyone with an attack, as well as to help ensure plant growth didn’t overtake the road or tree roots compromise it.
But this wasn’t the end of the construction process. They now needed to know exact distances along the road. It’s not fully clear how they did this, though a device known as the odometer of Vitruvius is mentioned starting around 27 BC and is often claimed to have been used for this purpose. However, whether it was actually ever used for road construction, or even made at all, is up for debate.
A depiction of Vitruvius presenting De Architectura to Augustus.
At a high level, this device used the spinning of a wheel to mark distance. In this case, it was the spinning of a wagon wheel which was in turn hooked up to gears that would drop a pebble into a container every Roman mile (4,841 feet, which is around 1,000 paces of an adult male, with the world “mile” deriving from the Latin milia, meaning, funny enough, 1,000 paces).
For whatever it’s worth, while Leonardo da Vinci tried and failed to make such a device as per outlined, in 1981 one Andre Sleeswyk was successful in building one exactly as described except, unlike da Vinci, he used triangular gear teeth instead of square ones. His justification for this modification being that these same type of gear teeth were used in the Antikythera mechanism, which was created sometime from around 250 BC to 70 BC, with the device itself used to predict various astronomical phenomenon like eclipses. Thus, perhaps if the odometer of Vitruvius was ever actually built and used, maybe it used these too.
There are, of course, many other much less technologically advanced ways they could have measure mile distances easy enough and with extreme accuracy. However they did it, at every mile mark, the law required they place an approximately two ton, 7 foot tall (2 feet in the ground) mile marker, called a miliarium. Helpfully, on this stone would be engraved the names of the locations the road connected and how many miles to each from that respective marker. A master marker, known as the Miliario Aureo or Golden Milestone was also created during Caesar Augustus’ rule and placed in the central Forum of Rome itself. This was the point at which all Roman roads were said to lead. It’s not actually clear what was on this master marker, but it’s been speculated it listed the distances from that point to all major cities under Roman rule.
Whatever the case, like the roads themselves, some of these mile markers are still standing giving archaeologists and historians a valuable snapshot of the past, since they tended to include not just basic geographic information, but information about when the road was built or repaired and by whom.
Next up, it was also required by law that regular way stations be built for official use, generally every 16 to 19 miles apart. These were more or less really nice resting areas providing food and drink and the like for officials. For the general public, inns known as cauponae would tend to pop up near these way stations. On that note, at particularly high trafficked way stations, many other businesses would pop up as well, sometimes leading to the creation of whole towns.
Along these roads you’d also find at similar intervals mutationes, or changing stations, where people could get the services of veterinarians, wheelwrights, etc., as well as potentially find new mounts.
To give you an idea of how fast one could move along these roads with its network of way stations and facilities, it’s noted that Emperor Tiberius once traversed about 200 miles in 24 hours after news that his brother, Drusus Germanicus was dying from gangrene after being seriously injured falling from a horse. A more typical time to traverse for, say, a government mail carrier was usually around 50 miles per day if not in a particular hurry.
But to sum up, it turns out that Roman road construction, amenities and all, wasn’t all that different from modern times, often featuring deep foundations, paved surfaces, proper drainage, landscaping around the roads, sidewalks, toll booths, rest areas, hotels, restaurants, the historic equivalent to gas stations and convenience stores, etc.
The infamous phrase — “Nero fiddled while Rome burned” — has come to mean a person who is neglecting their duties, probably by doing something frivolous. But did Nero actually sit around play music while Rome was burning around him in 64 AD?
To begin there was such a fire, though its extent is unknown. According to Tacitus, the fire lasted for six days and decimated Rome, with only four districts untouched (out of a total of fourteen). He goes on to state that ten of the eleven districts that burned were heavily damaged, with three of those completely destroyed. However, oddly, there is very little documented mention of the fire from those who actually lived through it. The only Roman historian during that period who even mentioned it at all was Pliny the Elder, and even he only briefly referenced it in passing.
Had it been as widespread as Tacitus claimed, one would think the likes of Plutarch, Epictetus, or other such famed Roman historians who lived through the fire would have mentioned such a significant event. And, indeed, we see that perhaps it wasn’t that great of a fire from the only other documented first hand account of the scope of the disaster — a letter from Seneca the Younger to Paul the Apostle, where he explicitly stated that only four blocks of insulae were burned (a type of apartment building), along with 132 private houses damaged (about 7% of the private houses in the city and .009% of the insulae). Not anywhere close to as widespread as Tacitus later claimed, though Seneca did say the fire lasted six days, as Tacitus stated.
As to Nero’s reaction to the fire, the first and biggest flaw in the fiddling story is that the fiddle, or violin, didn’t actually exist in Nero’s time. Historians aren’t able to give an exact date for the invention of the violin, but the viol class of instruments to which the violin belongs wasn’t developed until at least the 11th century. If Nero actually did play a stringed instrument—and there’s no evidence that he did, whether during the burning of Rome or otherwise—it was probably a lyre or cithara.
Okay, so some details can get muddled through history. But did Nero neglect Rome while it burned? Historians argue probably not. Reports do place Nero thirty-five miles away from Rome at the time of the fire, as he was staying in his villa at Antium. However, an account from Tacitus tells us that he returned to Rome immediately when word of the fire reached him in order to begin relief efforts. As the fire raged on, Nero even opened up his own gardens to provide a temporary home for those who were now homeless. He also ordered the construction of emergency accommodation and cut the price of corn, as well as provided food directly, so that people could eat. Besides this, he paid for much of these relief efforts out of his own pocket.
However, Tacitus also tells of the rumour that had spread among the masses: while the flames surged through the city, Nero stood on his private stage and sang about the destruction of Troy in a comparison of the two events. Whether or not the rumour had any evidence to back it up or was just something made up by the unhappy masses, we don’t know, but this and Suetonius’ account are the most likely source of the fiddle story we hear today. Unfortunately for Nero, at least in the context of this story, he did have a reputation for enjoying concerts and participating in music competitions, so the activity itself wasn’t entirely unlikely even if the timing of the act is highly questionable.
Bust of Nero at the Capitoline Museum, Rome.
While Tacitus claims the singing story was a rumour, Suetonius wrote about it with conviction. However, the story could have been an attempt to further mar Nero’s name. Nero faced problems during his reign from the very start, when it was reported that his own mother poisoned his predecessor, Claudius. He was also blamed for the death of Claudius’ son Brittanicus, who was being urged to take his proper place as Emperor by overthrowing Nero. Numerous other deaths were thought to have been committed by Nero’s hand, including one of his wives and his own mother.
As such, Nero was painted as a man who was difficult for the masses to trust. No one knew how the fire started, and many Romans believed that he had started the fire that burned their city. (It likely started in shops containing flammable goods, and was probably an accident rather than any one person’s intentional act.)
With the mob out for blood, Nero was forced to turn to a scapegoat and blamed Christians for starting the fire. There were only a small number of Christians in Rome at the time and they were considered a strange religious sect, so they were an easy target. As Tacitus stated:
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all [Christians] who pleaded guilty [to the fire]; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.
Even finding someone to blame for the fire didn’t help Nero’s plea of innocence. In the wake of the fire, he built a palace on top of some of the land cleared by the flames, which people argued he had been planning from the start, though this is highly unlikely as the place he built the new palace was over a half mile away from where the fire started. In addition to a new palace, Nero did provide for the reconstruction of the city, but rebuilding stretched the limits of Rome’s treasury at the time. He was forced to devalue Roman currency, which wasn’t a popular move.
Nero ended up committing suicide — or at least, begging his secretary to kill him when he lost the nerve to do it himself—four years after the fire. Accounts of his life and of the time of the fire are highly contradictory. Further, Suetonius and Tacitus wrote their histories fifty years after Nero died, and Cassius Dio wrote his 150 years later. Many historians also think it likely that Nero was more popular with the people of Rome than he was with the senators, and as all three of the main sources were from the senatorial class, it’s likely they carry more than a little bias against him, not unlike happened with the popular history of Marie Antoinette who popular history remembers very differently than who the actual woman appeared to be. That being said, Tacitus did state that while Nero’s death was welcomed by senators, the lower classes mourned his passing.
So in the end, the implication that “Nero fiddled while Rome burned” — or played the lyre, sang a song, or neglected his duty in any way — is likely the result of anti-Nero propaganda and an attempt to tarnish his name. The morality of many of his actions during his reign is open to debate, but the fiddling, or playing music, story is almost certainly a myth, unless he was playing to entertain the displaced masses he’d taken in.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.