Despite the United States landing an impressive victory against Great Britain during the Revolutionary War, the British kept coming back for more. The Battle of 1812 would span years and multiple attacks but on December 1, 1814 – General Andrew Jackson was ready for them.
A British fleet had sailed into the Gulf of Mexico during the fall of 1814 in hopes of taking the territory of Louisiana, which was newly acquired by the United States. Jackson foiled their plans. As the commander of the 7th Military District, he was well prepared to prevent their attack with a surprise of his own. Knowing their intent to attack, he left Alabama and arrived in New Orleans to rally the city and establish his base on that fateful December day.
Not long after Andrew Jackson arrived, the British were sighted. After declaring martial law, he commissioned every man and weapon for use against the potential invaders. People rallied to support the cause, including military members, civilians, freed slaves, Choctaw people and a pirate by the name of Jean Lafitte. Supporters of the cause arrived from all over; many came in to join the fight from neighboring states.
After hearing of the landing of the British on December 23, 1914, Jackson led a nighttime surprise attack on the unsuspecting British troops. Although this fight was inconclusive, it left an obvious sting. Jackson retreated, making more strategic plans to foil further attempts to invade New Orleans. The United States militia of over 4,000 men were well poised to defend Louisiana and they dug in to build the barrier defense system known as ‘Line Jackson’. This wall of mud, logs, cotton and earth would be a key part in the success of the official Battle of New Orleans.
The pre-planned attack by the British on the western bank of Louisiana finally came in January, but the military and militia were well prepared to defend it. The Battle of New Orleans would last approximately two hours with the United States wounding over 2,000 British soldiers but only suffering 65 casualties themselves. It was this battle that would seal Jackson’s ability to be elected into the presidency later on in 1828.
What those fighting didn’t know was that a peace treaty had been signed weeks before in Belgium, officially ending the War of 1812. Although the Battle of New Orleans could have been avoided if word had reached those in charge, the victory over the British sent an undeniable message: the United States wouldn’t be taken, ever. Following the victory, it led to the ‘Era of Good Feelings’ or nationalism, in which Americans were united in their pride for their country.
Although the relationship between the two countries is now friendly, the road to getting there was paved with struggle and continued wars for power. In the end, despite overwhelming odds – Andrew Jackson and the United States prevailed and held steady. A young country with endless potential and possibilities, America has continually proven herself capable of demonstrating strength, conviction and the commitment to the endless pursuit of liberty for all.
As seen from space, the planet Earth is a peaceful, cloud-covered ball of blue and brown and green. When the sun sets beyond the horizon, the lights of humanity wink on across the globe. The serenity of the astronaut’s eye-view belies the ballistic fire and brimstone that made that view possible.
No shuttle pierces the atmosphere, no satellite orbits the globe, no man sets foot on the moon, no space station fosters international scientific cooperation, none of it is possible, if not for World War 2 and the fury of the Nazi war machine. None of it happens without the graduate work of a young German physicist named Wernher von Braun and the fruits of his youthful labors, the V-2 ballistic rocket.
At the time that von Braun was concluding his doctorate thesis, “Construction, Theoretical, and Experimental Solution to the Problem of the Liquid Propellant Rocket,” the Nazi Party was completing its rise to power under Adolf Hitler. Von Braun’s work caught the eye of Walter Dornberger, Assistant Examiner to the Ballistics Council of the German Army Weapons Department. Dornberger was tasked with the secret development of a liquid-fueled rocket, one that was ideally both producible on a mass scale and effective at a range that surpassed the standard artillery of the day.
As of the mid-1930’s, remote bombardment of military targets was only possible by either shelling them with large-caliber artillery from relatively close range, or by dropping bombs on them from airplanes. Both methods were fraught with difficulty. Artillery batteries were themselves vulnerable to air bombardment since they were fixed in place, and bombers were vulnerable to anti-aircraft artillery since safe altitudes made bombing less accurate. It was a bit of a mechanized warfare stalemate and there was much interest in breaking new technological ground ahead of the enemy. In the spring of 1932, the hot topic at the Weapons Department was the self-piloted rocket, theoretically capable of launching from a safe distance and guiding itself toward the destruction of a precision target.
Dornberger brought von Braun into the Nazi fold and, though the young man’s true passion was the entirely hypothetical concept of manned space travel, Dornberger put him straight to work building the world’s first liquid-fueled ballistic missile. It took him over a decade, but by late 1941, von Braun and company had perfected the four key technologies necessary to produce a viable, long-range rocket. Called the A-4, the rocket combined a large, liquid-fueled engine, supersonic aerodynamics, a gyroscopic guidance system and graphite rudders that could control the rocket’s ascent from within the jet stream. Together these elements allowed the rocket to ascend to a height of 50 miles before the engine quit, after which the rocket would descend toward its target in ballistic free fall, delivering 2000 lbs. of explosive warhead unto the enemies of the Third Reich.
The first successful test flight of the A-4 was on Oct. 3, 1942 and though the technology was far from maturity, Hitler signed the rocket into immediate mass production. By that time, Germany’s military might was beginning to bog down and the Allies, now bolstered by the United States, were challenging Nazi dominance on all fronts. Hitler was in dire need of a “wonder weapon” to boost morale. To that end, the A-4 was renamed the Vergeltungswaffe2, translating roughly as “Vengeance Weapon 2.” Fabrication of the V-2 fell to the prisoners of the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. Thousands of slave laborers died pushing V-2 rockets through accelerated production.
But when the V-2 offensive finally began in Sept. 1944, the rocket, though technologically intimidating, proved only marginally effective in the field. Early barrages suffered from accuracy issues due to underdeveloped guidance systems, not to mention canny misdirection by British intelligence officers who sowed false information about where the rockets were striking relative to London. Accuracy improved through early 1945 with a new radio guide beam system and a total of 3,172 V-2 rockets were fired at various targets, mainly in the UK and Antwerp, but casualties remained relatively low. Germany’s surrender to the Allied Forces ended the V-2 program before upgrades could be implemented sufficient for it to live up to its promise as Germany’s miracle weapon.
Ultimately, Hitler’s Vengeance Weapons program cost Nazi Germany far more than it delivered. In Reichsmarks, it cost the equivalent of $40 billion (2015 USD). In material resources, it tied up over a third of Germany’s entire production. And in the factories at Mittelbau-Dora, the slave labor that pushed 6,048 V-2 rockets off the assembly line, contributed heavily to the deaths of 12,000 to 20,000 prisoners. In the end, “more people died manufacturing the V-2 than were killed by its deployment.”
But in the coming decades, during the geopolitical reorganization that ensued, von Braun’s foundational work with the V-2 rocket would lead to Cold War proliferation of intercontinental ballistic missiles and to the Space Race. He would contribute to both programs directly from his new home in the United States. As much as World War 2 redirected the course of history, it was the V-2 that would most profoundly redefine life on Earth in the second millennium A.D. The advent of the V-2 helped create the state of mutually assured nuclear destruction through which the world now plots its careful course. But, perhaps most poignantly, the V-2 also made it possible for humanity to get a heaven’s-eye view of the planet we all keep fighting over.
You don’t get to be a person of Teddy Roosevelt’s stature in history by being lazy. The President who could barely breathe as a youngster never took his body for granted. He was an avid outdoorsman, athlete, and boxer. When he became President in 1901, he was appalled at the lack of fitness among Navy sailors at the time. As Commander-In-Chief, he set out to do something about it.
Roosevelt loved boxing, climbing, hiking, horseback riding, polo, rowing, tennis, swimming, weightlifting, and even jiu-jitsu. The President might have been the first potential MMA fighter in history, if he had so chosen. When he took the White House, he moved in all the equipment necessary to maintain his physical fitness regimen. By 1908, he told Secretary of the Navy Truman Newberry that the Navy should test its sailors to ensure they met the fitness standards of the U.S. military. Newberry and the Navy’s Chief of Medicine and Surgery developed a plan for the new Navy.
After being cleared to take the test by a Navy Medical Board, sailors had three options:
A fifty-mile walk within three consecutive days and in a total of twenty hours;
A ride on horseback at a distance of ninety miles within three consecutive days; or
A ride on a bicycle at a distance of 100 miles within three consecutive days.
For the first time, officer promotions became dependent on passing the PT test.
“This [order] will give the corpulent sea fighters who have long occupied swivel chairs an opportunity to get into fit condition for the ordeal,” said one newspaper. No joke.
He implemented standards for the Army as well and even led the Army General Staff in its first-ever “fun run” of sorts. In November 1908, after an address at the Army War College, the Commander-in-Chief led the Army’s top brass in an expedition through dense forests, deep streams, and even climbing a 200-foot pitch in what Roosevelt called a “bully walk.” The brass said it left officers “nursing their tired muscles…and wondering if they will escape pneumonia.”
At first, ranking members of the Navy pushed back, complaining that the test would cause depression and hurt general readiness. Instead, they thought golf courses, bowling alleys, and tennis courts were a better answer to fitness. Somewhere in the middle, the Navy decided to open gymnasiums for its sailors to exercise. In the end, the order was revised at almost the moment Roosevelt left office. The new orders applied to Marines as well, but only called for a 25-mile walk over two days. Two years later, it was modified to ten hours a month. By 1917, the order was suspended entirely.
In the early morning of Apr. 7, 1943, a Japanese attack fleet was preparing to bombard the island of Guadalcanal. That day, Swett had embarked on two standard flight patrols that resulted in nothing but clear skies.
But the third scheduled flight was about to turn very deadly. Swett received intel that 150 Japanese planes were en route to his position and he was prepared to defend it. Soon after making his very first enemy contact, Swett managed to shoot down a handful of enemy fighters.
After a several of defensive maneuvers, Swett took a few rounds to his starboard wing. Heading back to base, Swett discovered a series of enemy dive bombers headed toward him — so he engaged with short bursts, scoring additional kill shots.
Despite steadily mounting infections from the coronavirus in Russia, President Vladimir Putin has so far refused to cancel a massive parade celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Soviet triumph Nazi Germany.
The annual Victory Day parade on May 9 typically includes tens of thousands of troops, military equipment, and hundreds of thousands of spectators.
The event came under fire last week after social media footage showed thousands of re-enactors rehearsing for the event, despite a government ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.
One video, found by Rob Lee, an open source military researcher who focuses on former Soviet militaries, shows re-enactors at a military base in Alabino, outside of Moscow.
Video purportedly of Russian troops at the Victory Day Parade rehearsals in Alabino who aren’t quite meeting the 1.5 meter social distancing requirement instituted by local officials.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: “May 9th is a sacred date for millions upon millions in Russia and [ex-Soviet] countries. The Victory Day parade is scheduled (sanitary measures taken) and will march on Red Square,” according to the Guardian.
Alternative plans being considered for the parade, according to multiple Russian media outlets, include conducting the parade for TV cameras without a live audience, or postponing it until other historically significant anniversaries in September or November.
Kelly Johnson wasn’t the first man to build an airplane, nor was he the first to push the limits of what an airplane could do, but few men have played a more vital role in shaping mankind’s ascent into the skies.
According to the latest expert estimates, human beings just like you and I have been walking on earth for over 200,000 years. That figure gets even tougher to wrap your head around when you consider that a mere 200 years ago, mankind had yet to develop matches or typewriters. A century ago, we didn’t have antibiotics or movies with sound. These, along with countless other advancements, played a roll in a technological revolution that continues to this day, like a snowball rolling down hill, enveloping everything in its path.
Of course, mankind didn’t come by these incredible advancements by accident (most often, anyway) and behind each groundbreaking technology is a man or woman, dedicated to solving the problems of their day, and to getting out in front of those coming tomorrow. Nowhere is this human-driven rapid advancement of technology more prevalent than in one of our species most recent civilization-altering breakthroughs: aviation.
In 1903, the Wright Brothers first took flight in Kitty Hawk. Less than forty years later, the first B-29 took to the skies with a pressurized cabin and a wingspan that stretched further than the length of Orville Wright’s entire first flight. A mere 19 years after that, Yuri Gagarin flew in space.
There’s no doubt that countless hands, hearts, and minds played vital roles in our rapid progression from the steam engine to the SpaceX Starship, but even amid this sea of engineers and aviation pioneers, some names stick out. Because while millions may have helped mankind reach the sky, some men’s contributions stand head and shoulders above the rest; Men, like Kelly Johnson.
Forged in the fires of World War II
Clarence Leonard “Kelly” Johnson was born in 1910, seven years after the Wright Brothers changed the world in Kitty Hawk. The son of Swedish immigrants, Johnson would win his first prize for aircraft design at the age of 13. By the time he was 22 years old, he was working as an engineer at the legendary aviation firm Lockheed.
At 28, Kelly Johnson’s role at Lockheed would bring him to London, where the island nation was preparing for the onslaught of Nazi Luftwaffe fighters and bombers that were to come just three years later in the Battle of Britain. The British were unconvinced that such a young man could produce an aircraft that could turn the tides of an air war, but the fruit of Kelly Johnson’s labor, dubbed the P-38 Lightning, would go on to become one of the most iconic airframes of the entire war.
At the start of the fighting in Europe, many Allied air units were still operating bi-planes. By the end of World War II, Kelly Johnson and his team delivered the United States its first ever operational jet-powered fighter, the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star. Johnson had been tasked with building an aircraft around the new Halford H.1B turbojet engine that could compete with Germany’s Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe. In just an astonishing 143 days, Kelly had gone from the drawing board to delivering the first operational P-80s.
The original Skunk Works
It was during World War II that Kelly Johnson and fellow engineer Ben Rich first established what was to become the legendary Lockheed Skunk Works. Today, the Skunk Works name is synonymous with some of the most advanced aircraft ever to take to the skies, but its earliest iteration was nothing more than a walled-off portion of a factory in which Johnson and his team experimented with new technologies for the P-38, developing the first 400 mile-per-hour fighter in the world for their trouble, in the XP-38.
Later, Kelly’s secretive team again came through with the P-80, and again with the design and production of the C-130 Hercules, which remains in service for the U.S. and a number of other Air Forces around the world today. Then, in 1955, they received yet another seemingly impossible assignment: The United States needed an aircraft that could fly so high it could avoid being shot down, or potentially even detected.
Soviet Radar and intercept fighters of the era were limited to altitudes below 65,000 feet, and the highest any American aircraft could reach was just 48,000. In order to continue keeping tabs on the Soviets, the Air Force solicited requests for an airplane that could fly at an astonishing 70,000 feet with a long 1,500 mile fuel range.
Kelly Johnson’s Skunk Works responded with a design that they claimed could fly as high as 73,000 feet with a range of 1,600 miles, based on the Lockheed XF-104 Starfighter, a slender and supersonic intercept fighter. The Air Force rejected his design… but it caught the attention of America’s secretive spy agency, the CIA.
President Eisenhower wanted eyes on the Soviet nuclear program, and Johnson’s unusual aircraft design with long slender wings and no retractable landing gear seemed like it could do the job, despite its shortcomings. Johnson and his team were given a contract to design and build their high-flying spy plane, and in just eight months, they delivered the U-2 Dragon Lady.
In order to test this incredible new aircraft, Kelly Johnson needed a remote air strip, far from the prying eyes of the American public. He chose a dry lake bed in Nevada for the job, and it proved particularly well suited for testing classified aircraft. Eventually, that little airstrip and accompanying hangars and office buildings would come to be known popularly as Area 51.
Taking spy planes to the next level
The U-2 may have been an immense success, but just as aviation advancements were coming quickly, so too were air defenses. In 1960, Soviet surface-to-air missiles finally managed to get a piece of a CIA operated U-2 flown by pilot Gary Powers. The aircraft was flying at 70,000 feet, higher than the Americans thought could be spotted or targeted by Soviet radar, when it was struck by an SA-2 Guideline missile. Powers had to ride the Dragon Lady down from 70,000 feet to 30,000 feet before he could safely eject, and as the secretive spy plane plummeted to the ground, Kelly Johnson and his team at Skunk Works were already developing a platform to replace it.
With spy satellites still more than a decade away, the United States needed a new aircraft it could rely on to keep tabs on the Soviets. It would need to not only fly higher than the U-2, but faster–much faster, so even if it was detected, no missile could reach it.
Johnson and his team designed a twin-engine aircraft with astonishing capabilities in the A-12, which then led to the operational SR-71 Blackbird — an aircraft that retains the title of fastest operational plane in history to this very day. Lockheed’s SR-71 could sustain speeds in excess of Mach 3.2, flying at altitudes higher than 78,000 feet. During its 43 years in service, the SR-71 had over 4,000 missiles fired at it from ground assets and other aircraft. Not a single one ever found its target.
Another aviation revolution
Kelly Johnson and the team at Skunk Works were on the cutting edge of speed and power, but as the Cold War raged on, it was Johnson and his team that recognized how the battle space was shifting. For years, the United States had focused on developing aircraft that could fly ever faster and ever higher, but with the advent of computer-aided engineering, yet another technological leap was within Lockheed’s grasp.
Johnson and his team needed to develop an aircraft that could defeat detection from not only enemy radar, but also other common forms of detection and targeting, like infrared. Using the most advanced computers available at the time, Skunk Works first developed an unusual angular design they dubbed “the hopeless diamond,” as it seemed unlikely that such a shape could ever produce aerodynamic lift.
Undaunted, development continued and by 1976, they had built a flyable prototype. The aircraft was called Have Blue, and it would lead to the first operational stealth aircraft ever in service to any nation, the legendary F-117 Nighthawk.
The F-117, or “stealth fighter” as it would come to be known, played a vital role in America’s combat operations over Iraq in Desert Storm and elsewhere, but this program produced more than battlefield engagements. The technology developed for the F-117 directly led to America’s premier stealth fighters of today: the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The latter of those two is expected to serve as the backbone of America’s air superiority strategy for decades to come.
“The damn Swede can actually see air.”
In total, Kelly Johnson had a hand in the design and development of some 40 aircraft for commercial and military purposes, with seemingly countless awards and credits to his name for his engineering prowess. The man had a genuine affection for his work, to the degree that he turned down the presidency of Lockheed on three separate occasions to retain his role within the Skunk Works he helped to found.
Kelly’s boss at Lockheed, Hall Hibbard, once exclaimed, “The damn Swede can actually see air,” as he tried to understand how one man managed to play such a pivotal role in so many aircraft, and in turn, in how the Cold War unfolded. Finally, Kelly retired in 1975, but remained a senior advisor to Skunk Works for years thereafter.
He passed away in 1990 at age 80, just one year before the United States, with all its incredible military technology, would emerge the victor of the Cold War.
Ancient Rome is credited with major contributions to modern day language, religion, law, art, and government. Indeed, the Roman Empire was filled with breathtaking architecture and an intricate and fascinating socio-economic culture. But it was also full of drama.
Most people know at least a few key facts about Julius Caesar and his infamous assassination on the Ides of March. But as the Roman Republic crumbled with him and the Roman Empire rose in its place, the rulers that came after him were no less controversial. Extravagance, executions, and extreme religious persecution stand at the forefront of many Roman emperor’s legacies. And that’s not mentioning the sex scandals.
So here’s a list of the absolute worst Roman emperors, in order from the mildly incompetent to the devastatingly unstable.
Diocletian, 284-305 CE
Emperor Diocletian deserves some credit, as his rule marked the end of the Crisis of the Third Century. His governmental reforms are cited as being one of the main contributors to the Roman Empire’s longevity for the next millennium. Diocletian regained control over a wild military force, suppressed enemy threats along the Empire’s borders, and revised the tax system in a broken economy.
However, he’s also credited with one of the most brutal attempts to purge Christianity in history, which definitely resides in the “cons” column. Diocletian revoked the legal rights of Christians, trying to encourage his citizens back to a more traditional worship of the old Roman gods. He razed churches and destroyed religious scriptures, and went even further to prohibit Christian’s from even gathering to worship. After a suspicious fire within the imperial palace, Diocletian’s belief in a Christian conspiracy led to a spree of scourging, torture, and beheading.
In 305 CE, after becoming greatly weakened by a severe illness, Diocletian resigned from his rule, passing the torch to someone with the strength to bear the Empire’s burdens. The first person to willingly abdicate from the role, the former Emperor spent the rest of his days tending a vegetable garden—sounds like a pretty fulfilling retirement.
Elagabalus, 218-222 CE
Elagabalus became Emperor at the tender age of 14, kicking off a reign that would be known for sex scandals and religious controversy—not exactly the sort of things you expect from someone fresh out of puberty.
Emperor Elagabalus started out in life as a high priest serving the Syrian sun god he shared a name with. When he came to rule over Rome, his devotion to the god drove him to try and elevate him to the same status as Jupiter, a move which greatly displeased the Empire. He even insisted upon marrying a Vestal Virgin, Aquilia Severa, which was in direct opposition to not only Roman tradition, but to the law.
On the more salacious side, it’s said that Elagabalus prostituted himself throughout the palace. He was married to five different women, and took on countless lovers of all sexes. He sent servants out into the city to procure lovers for him, and even opened the imperial baths up to the public to enjoy the spectacle of watching others bathe.
Some historians say that Elagabalus might have been one of the first transgender historical figures, offering large amounts of money to any physician who would be able to successfully administer gender reassignment surgery. This was regarded as wholly scandalous by the people of Rome, casting him in a negative light he couldn’t hope to overcome.
Elagabalus’s general incompetence on the throne led to the devaluation of the Roman currency. Showing his immaturity further, he began appointing lovers to crucial political positions. So while history tends to be unfavorable towards him for his personal choices, it does seem likely that he was unfit as an emperor mostly due to the fact that he was a literal child.
The Emperor’s youth did him no favors in the end, however. At 18 years old, Elagabalus and his eccentric behavior were brought to an end by the Praetorian Guard. After Elagabalus stripped his cousin’s titles and wealth, the Guard, who much preferred said cousin, rebelled against Elagabalus, killing both him and his mother in the violence.
Tiberius, 13-37 CE
There were plenty of things that Emperor Tiberius did right. He avoided needless and financially draining military campaigns and instead relied heavily on diplomacy. He reinforced the borders of the Empire. He even kept the Empire’s treasury generously stocked.
However, Tiberius never really wanted to rule as emperor, and that was very apparent. He left many responsibilities to the Senate and was otherwise distant and reclusive. He left Rome in the middle of his reign—a decision widely regarded as the worst one he could possibly make—and opened himself up to a reputation fully up to interpretation.
Whether these claims are rooted in truth or based fully in fabrication is impossible to know at this point, but either way, Tiberius was hated enough to get tongues wagging with the most vicious of talk. During his stay on the island of Capri, Tiberius was accused of flinging people off of cliffs for minor slights and engaging in disturbing sexual acts with very young boys. While that doesn’t have very much to do with governing an empire, it’s pretty much the last thing you want out of a ruler.
Tiberius earned a reputation as a bloodthirsty emperor after a mess grew out of a man named Sejanus making a grab for power. Sejanus tried to set himself up as Tiberius’s next heir by assassinating Tiberius’s son. Tiberius, of course, called for the death of not only Sejanus, but of those who were associated with him—including his children.
It seems likely, too, that much of his bad reputation comes from his connection to Caligula, who you’ll hear much more of later.
Caracalla, 211-217 CE
For the first 13 years of his reign, Caracalla ruled as a co-emperor alongside first his father, Septimius Severus, and then his brother, Geta. In 211 CE, he had his brother assassinated by the loyal members of his Praetorian Guard. Not satisfied, Caracalla went a step further to slaughter most of his brother’s supporters as well. In a further act of insult, Caracalla removed Geta’s image from paintings, coins, and statues, struck him from record, and made it an actual crime to utter his name.
On top of being generally regarded as a tyrannical and cruel emperor, Caracalla wasn’t all that effective in other aspects of his rule. He put into effect an edict which declared all free inhabitants of the Empire to be official citizens… so he could collect taxes from a wider base of people. He depleted much of the Empire’s funds trying to keep his army happy and often engaged in ruthless and unnecessary military campaigns.
Caracalla had an obsession with Alexander the Great, and in a fit of erratic behavior went on to persecute those philosophers of the Aristotelian school based solely off the legend that Aristotle poisoned Alexander. His behavior only got worse when, after discovering a play mocking him in the city of Alexandria, he dispatched his troops to massacre, loot, and plunder the city.
In 217 AD, Caracalla was stabbed to death by a defected soldier—an almost ironic end, considering his adoration for his own army.
Maximinus Thrax, 235-238 CE
Emperor Maximinus Thrax was a very large man, and he was also largely hated. In direct contrast to Emperor Diocletian, he’s often considered to be the ruler who caused the Crisis of the Third Century. He brought Rome to near ruin with his exhaustive military campaigns, overextending his soldiers by dispatching them to multiple fronts at once.
His distrust and distaste for anyone apart from his army did him no favors and caused social instability. Maximinus even had members of his own family put to death. He was a man who preferred to rule by conquest rather than favor and became known for wrecking public property and setting fires to any village he passed through.
His short three-year rule ended in 238 CE, when members of the Imperial Roman army assassinated him alongside his son and advisors.
Nero, 54-68 CE
Nero’s 14-year reign had some significant successes, including the negotiation of peace with the Parthian Empire and the quelling of Boudica’s revolt. While the upper class considered him overly extravagant and undignified, the lower classes of Rome actually had a strong positive opinion towards their ruler. This was true despite the fact that some of his methods leaned toward tyrannical madness. Seeing as he was only 16 years old when he took the throne, that’s not all that surprising—adolescence is hard.
In the beginning of his reign, Nero’s rule was closely guided by his mother, Agrippina the Younger, much as she had orchestrated Nero’s rise as emperor. Agrippina married his great-uncle and previous emperor, Claudius, and arranged for Nero to marry his new stepsister, Octavia. By 59 CE, an unexplained falling out caused Nero to order his troops to have her killed. This wouldn’t be the last time he organized a death.
In 62 CE, Nero divorced Octavia, citing that she was incapable of producing an heir. When his subjects looked negatively at this decision, he had Octavia exiled. Not long after that—either to further change public opinion or to solidify his claim to the throne—he accused her of adultery and had her put to death. His second wife, Poppaea Sabina, died in 65 CE. Some writers of ancient times say that Nero was responsible for this death, too, though others disagree.
Nero’s legacy as a madman is most closely tied to the Great Fire of Rome in 64 CE, which completely destroyed three of Rome’s 14 districts, leaving another seven heavily damaged. Many myths surround the terrible tragedy which killed hundreds of citizens, including the dramatically evil story of Nero fiddling as Rome fell to ashes.
In actuality, the fiddle wasn’t even in existence at the time. While some classical sources cite that Nero was on the roof of his palace singing from “The Sack of Ilium,” others place him dozens of miles away from the flames.
While it’s impossible to know the truth of the fire’s origins, many people blamed Nero directly for the destruction. It was believed that he was intentionally making way for a new city aesthetic. Whether out of genuine belief or a desperate attempt at scapegoating, Nero blamed the fire on followers of the growing Christian religion.
Nero set out to cruelly persecute the Christians, implementing an array of creative tortures and deaths, including wrapping them in animal skins to be torn apart by dogs.
After that, Nero’s rule started to crumble. Reconstruction efforts had stretched the Roman currency thin, and Nero’s indecision in dealing with further revolts caused widespread instability. In 68, his Praetorian Guard renounced their loyalty and declared Nero an enemy of the people. In one last dramatic flair, Nero committed suicide before he could be executed.
Caligula, 37-41 CE
There aren’t many reliable surviving accounts of Caligula’s reign. Even if the myriad stories surrounding him are fabrications, he’d have to be pretty unpopular to generate that kind of libel in the first place.
To be fair, Caligula had a bit of a rough start in life. He was the sole survivor after his entire family perished either in imprisonment or directly at the hands of Emperor Tiberius. He was then taken in by the emperor and indulged in all of his worst whims, until Tiberius passed and Caligula took to the throne at 25 years old.
In the first six months of his rule, things actually went pretty well. He cut unfair taxes, recalled those sentenced to exile, and granted military bonuses to soldiers. However, after a strange illness overtook him, his recovery was shrouded in a madness that gave way to sadistic and perverse tendencies. He became known for uttering the phrase, “Remember that I have the right to do anything to anybody.”
Any perceived mockery from his subjects was met with the punishment of death. In fact, in his infinite paranoia, Caligula began sending those closest to him off to exile or death—including his adopted son. His cruelty led to him gaining a sense of satisfaction out of making parents watch as their children were killed.
His arrogance rose to new heights as he declared that he was an actual living god. Caligula even had the heads of statues of gods and goddesses replaced with his own.
Further accounts of his insanity include throwing an entire section of a gladiatorial audience into the arena to be eaten by beasts for his own amusement, planning to appoint his horse as a consul, and turning the palace into a veritable brothel.
Caligula was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard after only four years as emperor. The man was so hated by the Senate that they even rallied to have him erased from the record of Roman history. Thanks to this campaign, it remains unclear to this day what is fact and what is fiction in the Caligulan reign.
Commodus, 180-192 CE
Commodus was appointed as a co-ruler by his father, Emperor Marcus Aurelius, in 177 CE. Marcus Aurelius died in 180 CE, leaving his narcissistic and self-indulgent son as the sole Emperor of Rome.
Because Caligula couldn’t be the only one to have all the fun, Commodus also thought himself to be a god, referring to himself as Hercules reborn and forcing others to follow suit. He swanned around the city in lion skins and participated in gladiatorial events—an act in which was considered scandalous for a ruler to partake.
What’s worse: He often chose to compete against weak soldiers who were sickly or maimed from the war, sometimes tying two of them together to club them to death with a single strike. To add insult to the already grave injury, he also exorbitantly charged Rome for his arena appearances.
Commodus’s self-love knew no bounds. He changed the calendar months to reflect his own self-bestowed epithets. He shamelessly exiled and executed his wife and proudly kept a harem of hundreds. He forced his advisors to take the fall for political blunders and had entire families slaughtered on suspicion of conspiracy.
The ground war of Desert Storm lasted all of 100 hours. After giving Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army the Noah’s Ark treatment and raining death on them for 40 days and 40 nights, the Army and Marines very swiftly moved in and expelled the entire army all the way out of Kuwait and deep into their own territory.
But it wasn’t all Iraqi troops surrendering to helicopters en masse.
On Feb. 22, 1991, the First Marine Division already had 3,000 Marines and Corpsmen 12 miles inside of Kuwait. The grunts were on foot, carrying heavy packs along with their weapons for all of those 12 miles since the wee hours of the morning. They crossed a minefield and evaded Iraqi armor to do it, and they had already stormed Iraqi positions and taken prisoners. That’s when the Marines were informed that President Bush called a halt to the invasion to give Saddam time to leave Kuwait on his own.
Up until this point, some of the 92,000 Marines in the area of responsibility had already seen action, defending Saudi Arabia from Iraqi border attacks, Iraqi artillery attacks, and even an Iraqi amphibious assault on the Saudi city of Khafji. In each of these encounters, Marines were left unimpressed with the performance of the Iraqis on the battlefield, so they changed their tactics to make the best use of their speed and armor while making up for their lack of supplies – but the new plan required new logistical plans in the middle of the Saudi desert, which Navy Seabees accomplished in a hurry. The stage was set.
By the 20th of February, the First Marine Division was staged along the minefields that protected the Kuwaiti border with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Marine engineers discovered a path through the mines by watching Iraqi defectors walk through the minefield. The Marines simply mimicked that path and within hours were miles inside Kuwait. The Marines, some carrying up to 100 pounds, walked for 30 miles and then crawled through a minefield. In chemical warfare gear.
Marines along the line began to break through the minefields so their heavy armor could roll through. At least three separate locations drove two lines through the mines under enemy fire. They did the same thing through an inner minefield. Once the Marines were through, they carried on to where the enemy was and began taking out the entrenched defenders immediately. Resistance was uncoordinated and incomplete. The First and Second Divisions invading Kuwait might have met more resistance, but Marines were landing all over the area.
Meanwhile, a Marine landing of reserve troops was going down in Saudi Arabia. For days before landing, these amphibious Marines had conducted training exercises throughout the Persian Gulf, making the Iraqis believe a large amphibious invasion of Kuwait was coming. Instead of that, the Americans moved that Marine force back to Saudi Arabia and replaced its force. That force held up 10 Iraqi divisions and 80,000 Iraqi troops who were just waiting to pounce on the invading Americans. All the while, their cities in Western Kuwait would fall.
Marine artillery was at work as well, destroying 9 APCs, along with some 34 tanks. By the time President Bush declared a cease-fire, Marines had defeated 11 Iraqi divisions, destroyed 1,600 tanks and armored vehicles, and taken 22,000 prisoners.
Shortly after the Marine advance, everything was over. Kuwait was liberated, and Iraqis were back in Iraq.
The story of Robert Prongay gets more confusing the more anyone retells it, but it all begins with prolific serial killer and alleged mafia hitman, Richard Kuklinski. Known as “The Iceman” for masking his victims’ times of death by freezing their corpses, Kuklinski claimed to have killed more than 100 people for the five families of the New York City mafia — and he claimed to have learned his skills from a Special Forces veteran.
Kuklinski was only ever convicted of five murders, but it was enough to put him away for the rest of his days. These victims were small-time drug and porn dealers in the mid-1980s. In one of those murders, he used a hamburger laced with cyanide, a murder technique he picked up from a man he described as a Special Force veteran-turned-ice cream man, Robert Prongay.
“He taught me a lot,” Kuklinski once said. “But he was extremely crazy… he’d go into these neighborhoods and sell ice cream to the kids, then maybe kill one of their fathers.“
Kuklinski was known as “The Iceman” to law enforcement and Prongay was called “Mister Softee.” According to Kuklinski, the two men met at a New Jersey motel while stalking the same mark. They summed each other up and realized they were both contract killers. Prongay told Kuklinski he was an Army Special Forces veteran, trained in using explosives and poisons.
In Kuklinski’s words, Prongay used his ice cream truck as a surveillance van to follow around his potential victims, whom he would kill using aerosol cyanide and remotely-detonated grenades. It was from Prongay that Kuklinski said he learned to freeze bodies to mask time of death.
Not much is really known about the real Prongay. Kuklinski claimed to have a very firm moral code when it came to killing. He could kill anyone without feeling anything at all, but he wouldn’t kill innocent women and children. The Iceman claimed that Mister Softee asked Kuklinski to kill his wife and young son for him, which Kuklinski declined. When Prongay began to talk about poisoning an entire reservoir just to kill one family, Kuklinski shot him.
The only verification that Prongay existed and may have known Kuklinski is that an ice-cream man by the name of Robert Prongay was killed in his ice cream truck, shot twice in the chest. On Aug. 9, 1984, his body was found hanging out the side of his ice cream truck. The real Prongay, it turns out, was facing trial in New Jersey for bombing the front house ex-wife and making terrorist threats against his ex-wife and son.
Before murdering Prongay, the Iceman and Mister Softee teamed up on a few occasions. An HBO Documentary in 2001 found old film reels of Prongay and called him an “Army demolitions expert,” a claim verified by Paul Smith of the New Jersey Organize Crime Bureau.
“It is our opinion,” Smith told HBO, “that friendship led to Richard Kuklinski learning a lot about killing with different types of chemicals, including cyanide.”
In reality, Kuklinski made a lot of claims about himself and his famous hits. He was convicted of killing the members of a small-time burglary gang he led in New Jersey, along with one of his cyanide suppliers. The claims of the people he worked for and murdered makes his resume sound like one of the most prolific hitmen in the history of the American mafia. If you believe Kuklinski, he was recruited by Gambino capo Roy DeMeo, who gave Kuklinski his death orders.
Kuklinski claimed the murder of NYPD detective Peter Calabro, a murder in which Gambino underboss Sammy “The Bull” Gravano was also charged. The Iceman also claimed the death of Roy DeMeo and claimed to be involved in John Gotti’s famous hit on Gambino boss Paul Castellano. The only mafia hit law enforcement really related to Kuklinski was that of Calabro.
Kuklinski claimed to have killed some 100-250 people between 1948 and 1986 but his claims varied wildly in later years, as some of them were unverifiable and others were found to be complete fabrications (he claimed to have killed famous disappearing act Jimmy Hoffa, for example). Renowned mafia writers and historians claim to never have heard of a hitman named Kuklinski.
If Kuklinski’s claims are true, he would be the most prolific serial killer/hitman in American history.
The rigors of combat and the expectations of a soldier on the front lines may directly conflict with a person’s religious or moral beliefs. If a person is firm in their convictions and they’ve proven they’re serious about their beliefs, they may apply to be recognized as a conscientious objector.
Being opposed to war is not a Get Out of War Freecard. Simply read the stories of Medal of Honor recipients Cpl. Desmond Doss, Cpl. Thomas W. Bennett, and Specialist Joseph G. LaPointe and you’ll learn that being a conscientious objector doesn’t even mean you’ll be taken off the front lines.
Additionally, conscientious objection is too often confused with pacifism and cowardice — but this is far from the case. Watch Hacksaw Ridge (if you don’t want to read the book it’s based off, The Conscientious Objector) and you’ll quickly see what we mean.
What the status actually does give a troop is a way to aid their country while remaining faithful to any beliefs that prevent a troop from personally engaging in combat.
The 1-A-0 status was the classification for the Medal of Honor recipients, like Cpl. Doss, who still saved the lives of countless men but were religiously opposed to fighting their enemy.
To be labeled as a conscientious objector, a troop must prove to the military that their convictions are firmly held and such beliefs are religious in nature. The status is not given for any political, sociological, or philosophical views or a personal moral code.
Potential recruits in today’s military cannot enlist with any conscientious objections. Such an issue is plainly addressed in a question presented to all recruits at MEPS. It asks,
“Do you have any religious or morale objections that would hold you back from participating during a time of war?”
In an all-volunteer military with many applicants who aren’t conscientious objectors, answering this to the affirmative could bar them from enlistment.
It’s also not entirely uncommon for troops who are already serving to become conscientious objectors, typically when faced with a combat deployment. Troops are then sent in front of a board to determine if their beliefs are genuine or not. If approved by the board, the troop is then classified as either a 1-0 Conscientious Objector, which honorably discharges them from service, or as a 1-A-0 Objector, which leads to a travel to non-combatant duties and prevents them from handling weapons.
Conscientious objectors could also opt to do Civilian Public Service — where they’d stay stateside and perform duties as firemen, park rangers, and hospital workers.
In the past, the U.S. military has needed men to fight and has employed conscription policies to fill out the ranks. If you were selected to serve, decided you didn’t agree with the war (on whatever grounds), but were not recognized as a conscientious objector, you faced fines or jail time for refusing to enter service. No conflict saw more applications for conscientious objector status than the Vietnam War.
Unfortunately for the many who were opposed to the war, a political footing doesn’t exempt you from service. While previous wars saw exemptions for Anabaptists, Quakers, Mennonites, Moravians, and various other churches, disagreeing with U.S. policy wasn’t going to keep you from the fight.
Those who think conscientious objectors are just afraid to fight may be surprised to learn that many folk with religious objections will often opt to be 1-A-0 objectors and enter the service as a non-combatant, like a construction or medical work, as was seen with most Amish men drafted during WWII.
We know the key facts of what happened on April 18, 1943. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was killed when his Mitsubishi G4M Betty attack bomber was shot down by a Lockheed P-38 Lightning flown by Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier Jr., marking the “Zero Dark Thirty” moment of World War II.
But it took a bit more training to get the most out of the P-38.
Lockheed helped out in this regard by making a training film, using expertise from their production pilots. The takeoff procedure was different, mostly in not using flaps. The plane also was very hard to stall.
The plane did have limitations: A pilot needed to have a lot of air under him, due to both the compressibility that early models suffered, and the speed the P-38 could pick up in a dive. The pilot couldn’t stay inverted for more than 10 seconds, either.
The film also showed some P-38s modified as trainers. The film shows one trainee being shown how to deal with propellers running wild. The pilots were also trained to feather props.
The P-38 was surprising easy to fly as a single-engine plane. The film shows Tony LeVier, a noted test pilot, simulating an engine failure during takeoff.
The P-38 was a superb fighter, even if the Mustang, Hellfire, and Thunderbolt got most of the press. Put it this way, America’s top two aces of all time, Maj. Richard Bong and Maj. Thomas McGuire, flew the P-38 plane in World War II and combined for 78 confirmed kills.
The training film is below. Now you have a sense of what it was like to fly the plane that killed Yamamoto.
The Fulda Gap is not well known outside military planners and wargamers. But if World War III happened, that would be where one of the first battles would be fought between the United States Army and the Soviet Red Army.
Who would come out on top?
Let’s go away from the big picture – and instead take a more tactical look at this scenario.
We’ll put a troop from the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (nine M1A2 SEP Abrams tanks, 13 M3A3 Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicles, two M1064 120mm mortars, and a M577 command track) against a battalion of Soviet mechanized infantry (42 BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles, plus 3 BRDM-2 reconnaissance vehicles and eight 120mm mortars).
The American cavalry troop’s nine M1A2 Abrams tanks feature the M256 120mm gun, and each tank carries 40 rounds for that weapon. While the M256 is able to fire a number of rounds, the primary two we will look at are the M830A1 High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) round and the M829A3 armor-piercing “sabot” round.
The HEAT round uses a shaped charge to create a jet of molten metal to penetrate armor. The latter is, essentially, a dart of depleted uranium weighing about 20 pounds.
But let’s not sell the weapons on the 13 M3A3 Bradleys short — the Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicle has the M242 Bushmaster, a 25mm chain gun with 1,500 rounds of ammunition and a two-round launcher for the BGM-71 Tube-Launched Optically Tracked Wire-guided missile, with a dozen rounds.
The M3A3 has a crew of three and can carry two cavalry scouts.
The primary opponent that the Americans will face is the BMP-2. BMP is short for Boyevaya Mashina Pekhoty, or “infantry combat vehicle.”
The BMP-2 has a 30mm 2A42 autocannon with 500 rounds, and a launcher for the AT-5 “Spandrel” anti-tank missile with five rounds. It has a crew of three and carries a squad of seven infantrymen.
The BRDM-2 is a four-wheeled armored car that has a 14.5mm KPV machine gun and carries a crew of four.
You may ask, why mechanized infantry and not tanks?
Believe it or not, it’s due to Soviet doctrine. As Viktor Suvarov pointed out in “Inside the Soviet Army,” the doctrine of the Red Army was “the maximum concentration of forces in the decisive sector.” The Soviets would not be sending their tanks first, but instead, mechanized infantry to probe and find a weak spot. Once found, then more and more reserves would be sent to punch through the hole.
So, these 42 BMP-2s and the three BRDM-2s make their way through their sector of the Fulda Gap, probing to find a weak point in American lines, they happen on the American cavalry troop.
So, how does this fight go down? The real answer depends on who sees whom first. Here, the Americans will have an advantage due to their thermal sights and their advanced fire-control systems. Furthermore, the BRDM-2 is not exactly what one would call “well-protected,” having less than half an inch of armor.
The Americans, on the other hand, would likely be fighting from positions that are somewhat prepared – providing both cover and concealment.
The BRDMs may find the Americans, but the announcement will likely be marked by the BRDMs turning into bonfires. That will give the Red Army battalion commander an idea of where the Americans are – but he won’t have much more information. He may send one of his companies (consisting of 12 of his BMP-2s) forward, at which point, the best he can hope for is to get some fragmentary information as that company is wiped out.
Meanwhile, the American cavalry troop is re-positioning itself for the next round. When the remainder of the Soviet battalion attacks, there will be a longer firefight.
This is where the Russian battalion finds itself in a world of hurt. The 30mm autocannons won’t be able to beat the armor on an Abrams tank, but in order to use the one weapon they have that can defeat an Abrams tank (the AT-5 missiles), they have to hold still – making them sitting ducks. The Soviet battalion will likely be quickly wiped out, even as it uses its mortars to try to suppress the American units.
After that engagement, the American cavalry troop would probably pull back to another set of positions. It will have suffered some losses – probably among its Bradley Fighting Vehicles — but it will likely have most of its strength, ready for the next attack.
Even though they won the skirmish, it is very likely that they would have needed to pull back anyhow – the Soviets would have used their numerical superiority to find a gap, and NATO would have had to adjust their lines to avoid a decisive breakthrough. But the Americans could take some small comfort in knowing that they gave the Soviets a very bloody nose in the first round.
No two innocent-sounding words can crush a troop’s morale quite like “Dear John.” In the military lexicon, a “Dear John” letter is a cute letter sent by a troop’s lady back home that lets him know she’s gone. These letters typical start with incoherent ramblings about how they miss their “John” before ultimately saying they’re moving on.
To the deployed John, time stands still, but the Earth still rotates. Even if a troop finds a good one that’s willing to wait, everyone knows someone who got a “Dear John.”
Despite the fact that these heartbreaking letters were undoubtedly sent with the near-12 million letters delivered per week during WWI, the phrase wasn’t popularized until WWII, when American GIs sent and received over one billion pieces of mail throughout the war.
When, exactly, troops started using it to refer to an actual letter is lost to time, but it’s been used as a popular saying as far back as 1944 in the St. Petersburg Times. However, the phrase originated many years prior, and was used extensively in Anthony Trollope’s 1864 novel, Can You Forgive Her? The immensely popular Victorian English novel that, honestly, does not hold up to the modern standards of bearable.
A CliffsNotes of the CliffsNotes is that the story centers around a woman named Alice who has two suitors. One is wild and exciting, but evil: George. The other is honest and a war hero, but boring: John. As it turns out, George is a psychopathic politician who tries to murder everyone and Alice’s cousin. Just throwing that out there. But, in the end, John finds out Alice is leaving him through a letter that starts with a phase repeated throughout the novel, “Dear John.”
Although we don’t know the exact origins of the phrase, as John was the most popular boys name of the time (see: John Doe), this our best guess. Either way, the phrase has had an undeniable impact — it’s since been referenced by Hank Williams Sr., Taylor Swift, a Nicholas Sparks novel that became a film, and television.