On July 31, 1917, the British guns in the Ypres salient roared to life, marking the opening of the Battle of Passchendaele. The battle would rage back and forth for over two months. Through the chaos, one amazing story emerged: A tank crew refused to give up or be captured and held out, on their own, stranded in No Man’s Land, for three days.
The reason was the unrelenting mud that created an incredibly difficult terrain for the crew.
Their story begins with 2nd Lt. Don Richardson, who was working in his family grocery business in Nottingham when the war broke out in 1914. He joined his local regiment, the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment – also known as the Sherwood Foresters – and shipped off the next year.
As Britain began incorporating tanks into its war plans, Richardson was promoted to captain and given command of a tank section. He named his own tank “Fray Bentos” after the canned meat sold in his family store.
The Fray Bentos was a British Mark IV tank. While these early incarnations of armored vehicles were slow moving behemoths capable of about four miles per hour at top speed, they were heavily armored and packed with weaponry.
The tank mounted two Ordnance QF 6-pounder guns, three Lewis guns, and had a crew of eight, each armed with their own personal weapons. On Aug. 22, 1917, the men in the Fray Bentos set off in support of an attack by the British 61st Division in the vicinity of St. Julien. Captain Richardson decided to walk alongside the tank during the advance.
After three weeks of near constant shelling and a heavy rainfall, the area literally became a muddy quagmire.
As the attack progressed, the tank took out a German machine gun position before encountering a fusillade of machine gun fire as it approached the objective. Richardson was hit in the leg and dove inside the tank.
The driver, Lt. George Hill, was then blown off his seat by a wound to the neck just as the tank got into what Sgt. Robert Missen said was “a very deep soft place” that they “went in sideways.” Richardson tried to regain control but he was too late and the Fray Bentos slid into a ditch. The Mark IV tank was prepared for such an instance however, and carried unditching beams on the roof to extract itself from these situations.
Missen and Lance Cpl. Braedy exited the tank to retrieve the unditching equipment but the Germans spotted them and unleashed a maelstrom of fire. Missen later recalled “I heard bullets hitting the tank and saw some Boche about 30 yards off firing at me, I got in again.”
Braedy wasn’t so lucky. In his attempt to attach the unditching gear, he was gunned down. His body sank into the relentless mud and was never found. The remaining men in the tank returned fire with their rifles and Lewis guns. They even managed to get some shots off from their cannons despite their awkward position.
Soon, the infantry attack stalled out ahead of the tank and British soldiers began falling back to their trenches. This left the men of the Fray Bentos completely alone and isolated in No Man’s Land. As Germans approached the tank using an old trench under the tank’s Lewis gun, the crew easily picked them off with their rifles through an opening in the cab.
Germans then tried to swarm over the tank and drop grenades inside to flush out or kill the occupants. The British tankers engaged them in close combat. One German soldier managed to get a grenade inside but one of the men retrieved it and threw it out before it exploded.
It wasn’t long before most of the crew had been wounded.
Their ordeal was far from over. For the next three days and two nights, they fought off the Germans. They even had to contend with British snipers targeting them, unsure if they were Germans trying to steal the tank.
As time wore on, the men drained the radiator and drank the filthy water in order to survive. Richardson decided it was time for them to make their escape. Missen would go first to alert the infantry to their impending return in the hopes of them not being killed by friendly fire. The rest of the crew dismantled the cannons, gathered their maps and weapons, and, despite painful wounds, prepared to crawl through the treacherous mud back to friendly lines.
Under the cover of darkness on the night of Aug. 24, more than 60 hours after they first embarked on their mission, the men exited the tank one-by-one and made their way back to British trenches. Once they encountered men from the 9th Battalion, the Black Watch, they handed over their machine guns and made their way towards the aid station.
The wounded men from Passchendaele.
Richardson was mentioned in dispatches and would later receive the Military Cross for his actions. He would return to action in a new tank, Fray Bentos II, and serve until the end of the war. Lieutenant Hill was also awarded the Military Cross for his actions during the fighting. Missen and one of the gunners, William Morrey, were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for their part in the action. The other surviving gunners, Ernest Hayton, Frederick Arthurs, Percy Budd, and James Binley, were all awarded the Military Medal.
The men of the Fray Bentos were the most decorated tank crew of the First World War.
It’s not surprising why. Not only did the general-turned-president ensure the survival of the Continental Army during the American Revolution, he also laid down a number of massively important precedents in his two terms as US president.
So how did he spend his days? Well, that likely varied a bit when he was commanding his army from 1775 to 1783. And, as it turns out, we know a bit more about the breakdown of his daily schedule when he resided at Mount Vernon, his estate on the banks of the Potomac River.
Here’s a breakdown of how a day in the life of George Washington unfolded at Mount Vernon:
In a letter to his grandson, Washington acknowledged that an early wake-up could be “irksome.”
During the Revolutionary War, Washington’s habits understandably varied a bit. If he had a free moment in the evening, he would relax with his aides, drinking Madeira wine and snacking on nuts, cheese, and bread.
Dubious signs boasting that “George Washington slept here” have long been a common occurrence at historical buildings throughout the East Coast. But when it came to the man’s sleeping habits, he seemed to adhere to the “early to bed, early to rise” advice of his fellow Founding Father Benjamin Franklin.
It was a classic naval deception move. In 1914, just after the outbreak of WWI, the German navy cruiser Cap Trafalgar hid its figure and flew under a false flag, pretending to be the British armed merchant HMS Carmania. The goal was to lay in wait for other British ships, lure them in close, then fly the German flag and wreak havoc.
It worked, she was soon face-to-face with… the actual HMS Carmania.
Admittedly, it would have been a great tactic if they pulled it off.
Cap Trafalgar and Carmania were both converted ocean liners with orders to raid enemy shipping. Carmania’s skipper knew the Cap Trafalgar was operating in the area, though he may not have known the German ship was disguised as his own. What can be certain is that once he encountered the fake Carmania, a ferocious naval battle ensued.
Ships’ guns in The Great War had a lot more range than in previous conflicts, especially those in the age of sail. These converted liners could have fought from a distance, and in fact the battle began with the two ships four miles apart. These two ocean liners were vicious.
But as each tried to gain the advantage on the other, they ended up much closer than they had to. Cap Trafalgar realized it fared much better at closer ranges as Carmania took more and more damage.
The German captain moved to close the gap.
Blasting into each other’s hull from distances more akin to cannon from the age of sail, Carmania and Cap Trafalgar went to work. Carmania took 79 shots, causing 304 holes, nine dead, and 26 wounded. Cap Trafalgar fared much worse, even though she took fewer hits. Hit by 73 shots and having 380 holes, the ship began to list to the starboard (right) and sank ten minutes after the captain gave the order to abandon ship.
The German cruiser lost 16 sailors, including her captain, and more than 270 were captured by the Royal Navy for the duration of the war.
Carmania lost use of her guns and, with her bow in flames, had to be escorted into a nearby Brazilian island by the HMS Cornawl.
In the days following the end of World War II, Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong described the United States as a “paper tiger,” borrowing a centuries old Chinese expression that means a “blustering but harmless” person. Chairman Mao actually used the term to describe a lot of things: the atomic bomb, Chinese nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek, and German Chancellor Adolf Hitler.
No matter how old the term is or where it came from, there are many examples of “paper tigers” throughout military history. It aptly describes a force that appears powerful on paper but falls apart in practice. Here are a few of history’s biggest.
1. 1940s France
France never deserved its reputation as the cheese-eating surrender monkeys many people incorrectly believe, even today. In 1940, the French Army was one of the world’s largest. France had fought a number of wars with great successes over the course of history. In 1940, it fielded the largest, most numerous, and most powerful artillery in the world. It had more tanks, more and better equipment and a better air force than Nazi Germany. It even had a string of carefully constructed fortifications designed to keep Germany out.
Despite all that and the French mobilization and preparation for war, the Nazis delivered a stunning defeat on the French in just six weeks, forever wrecking their reputation as formidable opponents, whether deserved or not.
2. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq
At the end of the 1980s the Iraqi Army had just ended a nearly ten-year war with Iran that completely transformed the Iraqis into a large force of battle-hardened veterans. Hussein fielded the world’s fourth-largest army, and overran neighboring Kuwait in just a few hours. With 900,000 men, more than 5,000 tanks and almost 4,000 artillery pieces, much of it some of the best Soviet-built equipment available.
Yet, when the United States and Coalition partners geared up for Operation Desert Storm, the result was a total rout. The Iraqis, who became veterans fighting Kurdish separatists and Iranian troops, were totally unprepared for the kind of mobile warfare the U.S. brought to bear. On top of that, the U.S. maintained complete air superiority, able to strike almost anywhere at any time. The large army Hussein fielded ended up surrendering en mass to Coalition troops. After 44 days of continuous bombing, the Iraqis were pushed out of Kuwait almost as fast as they had come in.
3. Egypt in the Six-Day War
By 1967, Israel was used to being the underdog in a rough neighborhood. It warned neighboring Egypt that closing the Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships would spark a war, but Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, with 240,000 men under arms wasn’t hearing it. He moved his troops in position to guard against Israeli aggression and closed the Straits anyway. He was still caught by surprise when Israeli launched a massive preemptive strike against Egypt that destroyed much of its air force on the ground.
Even when Syria and Jordan joined the war on Egypt’s side, the inferiority of the Arab armies was apparent. The Israel Defense Forces enjoyed complete air superiority and inflicted a punishing defeat on all three countries. The Israelis not only soundly defeated Egypt in six days, but captured the entire Sinai Peninsula.
4. Argentina in the Falklands War
Although not massive in terms of the numbers fielded by other armies on the list, the 60,000-strong army used to invade the British-held Falkland Islands in 1982 should have been more than enough to repel the UK task force sent by London to retake them. Reinforced by relatively large numbers of anti-aircraft guns, surface-to-air missiles, and Argentina’s not unsubstantial air forces should have been enough to repel the unprepared and incredibly distant British response.
It only took three days for the UK to dispatch its forces. Even so, when it arrived, US naval intelligence deemed its success an “impossibility.” The British were outnumbered, outgunned, and should have been facing a disparity in air power – at least, on paper. Instead, the task force retook the islands within 74 days and the military junta that governed Argentina eventually fell as a result.
The C-47 Skytrain is arguably one of the greatest planes of all time. When you look at the complete picture surrounding this aircraft — how many were built, how many still fly, and the effect they had on a war — one could argue that the C-47 is the best transport ever built (not to slight other fantastic planes, like the C-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster III, and the C-5 Galaxy).
But what’s a plane without a pilot? For every C-47 built, the US needed an able aviator — and there were many built. So, the US developed a massive pipeline to continually train pilots and keep those birds flying.
It make look like a docile floater from afar, but flying a C-47 is a lot harder than you might think. Sure, you’re not pulling Gs and trying to blow away some Nazi in a dogfight. In fact, by comparison, flying materiel from point A to point B looks simple, but cargo planes have their own problems that make piloting them very hard work.
And by very hard work, we mean if you screw up, you’ll crash and burn.
C-47s performing a simple job — easy flying, right? Wrong. There was a lot that pilots had to keep in mind.
(U.S. Air Force)
Why is that? Well, the big reason is because transport planes haul cargo, which comes with its own hazards. When you load up a plane, it affects the center of gravity and, if the load shifts, the plane can end up in a very bad situation.
This is what happens when it goes wrong – this particular C-47 was hit by flak, but you could crash and burn from shifting cargo or just by messing up.
(Imperial War Museum)
The United States Army Air Force used films to give the thousands of trainees the information needed to fly the over 8,000 C-47s produced by Douglas — and this number doesn’t include at least 5,000 built by the Soviet Union under license.
Learn how to handle operations in the cockpit of a C-47 by watching the video below!
A bit of far off Irish-American-Mexican history brings to light a lesser-known chapter of Irish military service – the time that 265 Irish service members defected.
Some called them heroes; others called them traitors. The Irish immigrants who joined the Army in the 1840s decided when the war broke out between the US and Mexico that they wanted none of it.
Right after the US annexed Texas in 1845, both Mexico and America sent military members to the newly created and shared border.
1845 America was a tumultuous place – Florida was admitted as a state, the Great Fire of Pittsburg destroyed much of the city, and Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, was published.
Thoreau embarked on his two-year experiment to live in the woods at Walden Pond, a huge fire destroyed lots of New York, and the US Naval Academy officially opened its doors. Johnny Appleseed died in 1845, and Edmonia Lewis died.
A lot was going on, no more so evident than within the US Army. In 1845, the Army was a hodgepodge of service personnel, with diverse backgrounds, much like it is today. Service members were from all over the world, especially from western European countries, all of which had distinct and robust Catholic population groups. Many immigrant service members were blatantly disrespected and discriminated against by “native-born Americans,” which led to widespread unrest and low morale. Adding to that was most of the immigrant soldiers were Catholic, outliers in the very protestant America of the time.
So back to the Irish battalion. No one is quite sure exactly how it happened. Still, most historians agree that the widespread abuse of immigrant personnel coupled with the very low troop commitment levels led to a huge percentage of the Army feeling invisible, disenfranchised, and without appropriate ways to voice their frustrations.
Much of the American public felt that the annexation of Texas was useless – an expansionist war was nothing the young country needed. One of the most vocal about the uselessness of the expansion was Abraham Lincoln, who was quoted as not surprised that the Army saw so many deserters during this time.
While the Army was struggling to hold rank, the Mexican military saw an opportunity to infiltrate and spread propaganda, which is exactly what they did.
Several Mexican Army generals sent messages targeted toward immigrant personnel stationed at the Texas border. These messages crossed the Rio Grande River. All held one core focus – that immigrant service members should abandon their American Army posts and join their Catholic brothers in arms in the Mexican military. The messages offered Mexican citizenship and huge land grants – as much as 320 acres for privates.
More than 5,000 US soldiers would desert their posts throughout the war, and more than 40,000 simply disappeared in Mexico.
The Irish defectors were known as the St. Patrick’s Battalion, and their Mexican brothers-in-arms called them “The Red Company” because so many of them had red hair and ruddy complexions.
The battalion’s flag showed a winged harp, three-leaf clovers, and the motto, “Irish till the end of time,” written in Gaelic. The battalion fought alongside the Mexican Army as part of a rolling rearguard that worked to defend against as the US military advanced further into Mexico.
In the final days of the final battle, over 60 deserters were captured, and fifty of them were executed. The Mexican Army pleaded for mercy and leniency, but only a handful of the Irish deserters were actually pardoned.
But, of those who were pardoned, it wasn’t as easy as just walking away. The men had to receive 50 lashes on their backs while being tied to trees in the plaza at Churubusco, and their faces were branded with “D” for deserter. To this day, the Irish battalion is honored every year in festivals throughout Mexico and Ireland.
In the mid-1990s, U.S. oil company Unocal attempted to secure a gas-pipeline deal with the Taliban, which had seized control of the Afghan capital, Kabul, after a devastating civil war.
It was the United States’ first attempt to forge a partnership with the fundamentalist Taliban regime, which was not recognized by the international community.
Unocal even flew senior Taliban members to Texas in 1997 in an attempt to come to an agreement.
Zalmay Khalilzad, who had served as a State Department official when Ronald Reagan was president, worked as a consultant for the now-defunct company.
Khalilzad, who met with the Taliban members in the city of Houston, publicly voiced support for the radical Islamists at the time. The “Taliban does not practice the anti-U.S. style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran — it is closer to the Saudi model,” Khalilzad wrote in a 1996 op-ed for The Washington Post. “The group upholds a mix of traditional Pashtun values and an orthodox interpretation of Islam.”
Negotiations over the pipeline collapsed in 1998, when Al-Qaeda bombed two U.S. embassies in Africa. By then, the terrorist group, led by Osama bin Laden, had relocated from Sudan to Afghanistan, where it was offered safe harbor by the Taliban.
Suddenly, the Taliban went from a potential U.S. economic partner to an international pariah that was hit by U.S. sanctions and air strikes.
Three years later, the United States invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban regime after Al-Qaeda carried out the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania that killed nearly 3,000 people.
But now, after waging a deadly, nearly 19-year insurgency that has killed several thousand U.S. troops, the Taliban has regained its status as a potential U.S. partner.
On February 29, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement aimed at ending the United States’ longest military action. The deal lays out a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in return for various security commitments from the insurgents and a pledge to hold talks over a political settlement with the Afghan government — which it so far has refused to do.
The deal — signed before a bevy of international officials and diplomats in Doha, Qatar — has given the Taliban what it has craved for years: international legitimacy and recognition.
Meanwhile, the agreement has undermined the internationally recognized government in Kabul, which was not a party to the accord.
The architect of the deal was Khalilzad, the U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, who secured a deal following 18 months of grueling negotiations with the militants in Qatar. The Afghan-born Khalilzad had served as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq in the intervening years since working as a Unocal adviser.
“There’s a 20-year bell curve, from 1998 to 2018, when the Taliban went from partner to peak pariah and now back to partner,” says Ted Callahan, a security expert on Afghanistan. But the “changes that have occurred have been less within the Taliban movement and more based on U.S. instrumentalism and war fatigue.”
The extremist group’s transformation to a potential U.S. ally was considered unthinkable until recently.
During its brutal rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban oppressed women, massacred ethnic and religious minorities, and harbored Al-Qaeda.
Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the Taliban has killed tens of thousands of Afghan civilians, fueled the illicit opium trade, and sheltered several terrorist groups.
“U.S. officials are selling the Taliban as a partner when it is anything but,” says Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at a Washington-based think tank, the Foundation for Defense Of Democracies, and editor of the Long War Journal. “This is a fiction made up by U.S. officials who are desperate for a deal that will cover the military withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
Radicalized In Pakistan
The Taliban, which means “students” in Pashto, emerged in 1994 in northwestern Pakistan following the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
The predominantly ethnic Pashtun group first appeared in ultraconservative Islamic madrasahs, or religious schools, in Pakistan, where millions of Afghans had fled as refugees. Funded by Saudi Arabia, the madrasahs radicalized thousands of Afghans who joined the mujahedin, the U.S.-backed Islamist rebels who fought the Soviets.
The Taliban first appeared in the southern city of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, in 1994, two years after the mujahedin seized power in the country. Infighting among mujahedin factions fueled a devastating civil war that killed more than 100,000 people in Kabul.
The Taliban promised to restore security and enforce its ultraconservative brand of Islam. It captured Kabul in 1996 and two years later controlled some 90 percent of the country.
Neighboring Pakistan is widely credited with forming the Taliban, an allegation it has long denied. Islamabad was among only three countries — including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — to recognize the Taliban regime when it ruled Afghanistan.
The Taliban was led by its spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, the reclusive, one-eyed cleric who was a mujahedin. Omar died of natural causes at a hospital in Pakistan in 2013, with the group’s leadership covering up his death for two years. He was believed to be leading the Afghan Taliban insurgency from within Pakistan.
War-weary Afghans initially welcomed the Taliban, which cracked down on corruption and lawlessness and brought stability across much of the country.
But the welcome was short-lived. The religious zealots enforced strict edicts based on their extreme interpretation of Shari’a law — banning TV and music, forcing men to pray and grow beards, making women cover themselves from head to toe, and preventing women and girls from working or going to school.
The Taliban amputated the hands of thieves, publicly flogged people for drinking alcohol, and stoned to death those who engage in adultery. Executions were common.
Besides its notorious treatment of women, the Taliban also attracted international condemnation when in 2001 it demolished the 1,500-year-old Buddhas of Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan, a testament to the country’s pre-Islamic history and a treasured, unique world cultural monument.
‘We Were All Scared’
Orzala Nemat is a leading women’s rights activist in Afghanistan. Under Taliban rule, she risked her life by creating a network of underground girls schools across the country. Classes were held secretly in living rooms, tents, and abandoned buildings. The teachers were often older girls or educated women.
Girls attending the classes would often come in twos to avoid suspicion and carry a Koran, Islam’s holy book, in case they were stopped by the Taliban.
“We were all scared,” says Nemat, who now heads a leading Kabul think tank. “They would probably flog us, put us in prison, and punish us [if we were caught].”
Under the Taliban, Isaq Ahmadi earned a living by playing soccer for one of the dozen teams created and funded by various Taliban leaders in Kabul. While the Taliban banned many sports and other forms of public entertainment, soccer and cricket thrived.
“It was a very difficult and dark time,” he says. “There were no jobs, food shortages, and no public services.”
During Taliban rule, the United Nations said 7.5 million Afghans faced starvation. Even then, the Taliban restricted the presence of aid groups in Afghanistan.
The Taliban regime generated most of its money from Islamic taxes on citizens and handouts from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, its only allies. The Taliban failed to provide basic needs and Kabul lay in tatters after the brutal civil war of 1992-96.
The Taliban attracted the world’s attention after the September 11 attacks on the United States. The regime had harbored bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders responsible for the terrorist attacks. But the Taliban steadfastly refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders for prosecution and, in October 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan.
By December, the Taliban regime was toppled with help from the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. Most Taliban leaders, including Al-Qaeda founder bin Laden, evaded capture and resettled in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the southwestern city of Quetta, where its leadership is still based.
By 2005, the Taliban had reorganized and unleashed a deadly insurgency against foreign troops and the new democratically elected government in Kabul. Despite U.S.-led surges in troops and an escalation in air strikes, international and Afghan forces were unable to stop the Taliban from extending its influence in the vast countryside.
The Taliban enjoyed safe havens and backing from Pakistan, a claim Islamabad has denied. The insurgency was also funded by the billions of dollars the group made from the illicit opium trade.
Today, the militants control or contest more territory — around half of the country — than at any other time since 2001.
Meanwhile, the Kabul government is unpopular, corrupt, bitterly divided, and heavily dependent on foreign assistance. Government forces have suffered devastatingly high numbers of casualties against the Taliban.
Negotiating An End To War
In the fall of 2010, U.S. officials secretly met a young Taliban representative outside the southern German city of Munich. It was the first time the Taliban and the United States showed they were open to talks over a negotiated end to the war.
But in the intervening years, meaningful U.S.-Taliban talks failed to take off, hampered by mutual distrust, missed opportunities, protests by the Afghan government, and the deaths of two successive Taliban leaders.
For years, U.S. policy was to facilitate an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process between the Kabul government and the Taliban. But with the Taliban refusing to negotiate with state officials — whom they view as illegitimate — the peace process was deadlocked.
Controversially, U.S. policy changed in 2018 when Khalilzad was appointed as special envoy for peace and he opened direct negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar without the presence of the Afghan government. Eighteen months later, the sides signed the landmark deal aimed at ending the war.
“The U.S. has been sidelining the Afghan government for years, first by refusing to allow it to be involved with negotiations, then by signing the deal without the Afghan government as a partner,” Roggio says.
“The Taliban maintains the Afghan government is merely a ‘puppet’ of the U.S,” he adds. “The U.S. has done everything in its power to prove this point.”
Road Map For Afghanistan
The prospect of the Taliban returning to the fold as part of a future power-sharing agreement has fueled angst among Afghans, many of whom consider the militants to be terrorists and remember the strict, backward societal rules they enforced when they were in power.
More than 85 percent of Afghans have no sympathy for the Taliban, according to the Asia Foundation’s 2019 survey. Urban respondents (88.6 percent) were more inclined than rural respondents (83.9 percent) to have no sympathy for the militants.
But the Taliban’s adherence to ultraconservative Islam and the Pashtun tribal code has struck a chord with some currently living under the movement’s thumb in rural Afghanistan, which has borne the brunt of the war and where life has improved little. But those ideas are largely alien in major urban centers that have witnessed major social, economic, and democratic gains over the past 18 years.
“The main difference is that the Taliban of today, like Afghans generally, are more worldly in terms of their exposure to media, their increased engagement with various international actors and, at least for the leadership, the greater wealth they command, both individually and as a movement,” Callahan says.
But the Taliban’s “fundamental approach to governing, which is very maximalist and involves the imposition of a uniform moral order, stands in stark contrast to the more liberal norms that have evolved since 2001, mainly in urban areas.”
Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, millions of girls have gone to school and continue to study, women have joined the workforce in meaningful numbers, and dozens of women are members of parliament and work in the government or diplomatic corps.
Afghanistan also has a thriving independent media scene in an area of the world where press freedoms are severely limited. Under the Taliban, all forms of independently reported news were banned.
There was only state-owned radio, the Taliban’s Voice of Sharia, which was dominated by calls to prayer and religious teachings.
The independent media have come under constant attack and pressure from the Taliban and Islamic State militants, which have killed dozens of reporters. The attacks have made Afghanistan one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists.
The Taliban has been projecting itself as a more moderate force, pledging not to monopolize power in Afghanistan. But few believe that the militants have changed.
“There is little difference between the Taliban of 1994 and the Taliban of today,” Roggio says. “If anything, the group has become more sophisticated in its communications and negotiations. Its ideology has not changed. Its leadership has naturally changed with the deaths of its leaders [over the years], but this hasn’t changed how it operates.”
The Taliban has said it will protect women’s rights, but only if they don’t violate Islam or Afghan values, suggesting it will curtail some of the fragile freedoms gained by women in the past two decades.
Many Afghan women fear that their rights enshrined in the constitution will be given away as part of a peace settlement with the Taliban. The constitution guarantees the same rights to women as men, although in practice women still face heavy discrimination in society, particularly in rural areas.
But the Taliban has demanded a new constitution based on “Islamic principles,” prompting concern among Afghan rights campaigners. As an Islamic republic, Afghanistan’s laws and constitution are based on Islam, although there are more liberal and democratic elements within it.
Farahnaz Forotan launched an online campaign, #MyRedLine, in March 2018. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan women have joined the campaign to speak about the freedoms and rights they are not willing to give up in the name of peace with the Taliban.
Forotan, a journalist, says she wanted to let Afghan decision-makers know that peace cannot be achieved at the expense of the rights and freedoms of the country’s women.
“Almost everything has changed from that time,” she says, referring to Taliban rule. “We have made a lot of progress. We have a civil society, an independent press, and freedoms. People are more aware of their social and political rights.”
Many Afghans support a negotiated end to the decades-old war in Afghanistan, but not at any price.
“I support the peace process with the Taliban, but only if women’s freedoms are safeguarded,” says Ekram, a high-school student from the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, a relatively peaceful and prosperous region near the border with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.
“Under no circumstances do we want a peace deal that sacrifices our freedoms and democracy,” Ekram says. “That wouldn’t be peace at all.”
When you think about Grumman fighters, the Wildcat, the Panther, and the Tomcat all spring to mind. And for good reason — these planes are all classics. But there is one Grumman fighter that didn’t quite get a chance to shine in World War II, but it did see some action in Southeast Asia.
Grumman F8F Bearcats line up on the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Valley Forge (CV 45)
During World War II, the Navy was deploying the F6F Hellcat and the F4U Corsair was operated by the Marine Corps. The Hellcat was a very tame plane, but the Corsair — known as the “Ensign Eliminator” and foisted on the Marines — simply had higher performance. The Navy wanted the best of both planes. They wanted the F8F Bearcat.
French F8F Bearcats prepare to take off to carry out a napalm strike in Southeast Asia.
At the heart of the Bearcat was the Pratt and Whitney R-2800. This was the powerplant used by both the Corsair and Hellcat, but the Bearcat was much lighter, which gave it extreme performance. The Bearcat also packed a significant punch — to the tune of four M2 .50-caliber machine guns. If that wasn’t enough, the Bearcat was also able to haul five-inch rockets or a 1,000-pound bomb.
The Bearcat’s primary mission was to intercept enemy planes. The plane had a “bubble” canopy (pretty much a standard feature on today’s fighters) to improve the situational awareness of pilots. The Bearcat had a top speed of 421 miles per hour and a maximum range of 1,105 miles. It stuck around long enough to see some upgrades, but was quickly replaced by the onset of fighter jets, like the F9F Panther.
The Constitution (Article II, Section 2, Clause 1) gives American presidents the power to grant full pardons. Throughout history, presidents have used this power, some more than others. Presidents Harrison and Garfield issued zero pardons, mostly because both of them died shortly after taking office. (Harrison died of pneumonia and Garfield was assassinated.) President Franklin Roosevelt issued 3,687 pardons, but a factor in that total is the fact he held office for 12 years. President Andrew Johnson either pardoned over 7,000 or just 654 people, depending on how you score it. (See below for details.)
The average number of pardons per president to date is just over 665.
Pardons have taken many forms. Some have been high-visibility because of their impact on politics and pop culture like when President Ford pardoned former President Nixon or when President Clinton pardoned publishing heir Patty Hearst following her stint as a domestic terrorist. Some have been personal like when President Clinton pardoned his brother Roger following a conviction on cocaine possession charges.
But presidents also being commanders-in-chief, naturally, some pardons in American history have had something to do with the military. Here are 5 of the most important among them:
1. James Buchanan pardons Brigham Young
In the mid-1800s the Buchanan administration grew concerned about the activities of the Latter Day Saints, led by Brigham Young. The president was afraid that Young was on the verge of creating a theocracy out west and so he sent the U.S. Army to intervene. The resulting “Utah War” was mostly without bloodshed, with the notable exception of the time some Mormons murdered 12o settlers from Arkansas. Young was accused of giving the order or, at least, not doing enough to prevent it. He was later able to prove that he’d actually sent a dispatch ordering his people to let the settlers pass in peace, but it got there two days after the massacre. As a result, Young was ultimately pardoned by President Buchanan.
2. Andrew Johnson let the Confederate military get off scot free
During the election seasons in the years immediately following the Civil War, it became politically expedient to get the conflict behind the country. In fact, the U.S. Senate was so disappointed in President Johnson’s Reconstruction progress that they impeached him. So on Christmas Day in 1868, Johnson offered amnesty to all Confederates. At about the same time he also pardoned Dr. Samuel Mudd, the Maryland doctor who patched up Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth. President Grant, who’d led the North to victory as a Union general, finished the process, later signing the Amnesty Act of 1872, which pardoned all but 500 of the top Confederate leaders.
3. Gerald Ford pardons ‘Tokyo Rose’
Iva Toguri D’Aquino was an LA native Japanese-American who had the misfortune of being in Tokyo when war broke out between the U.S. and Japan. She became the voice of Japanese propaganda aimed at American servicemembers across the Pacific Theater. She was frighteningly accurate with military details from time to time, which did cause GIs some concern, but she was also a source of entertainment for them because her broadcasts were equally campy as provocative.
When the war ended “Tokyo Rose,” as D’Aquino was popularly known, was charged with treason, convicted and imprisoned until 1956. In time the facts emerged that she had been pressed into service for the Japanese war machine under duress. She was pardoned by President Ford in 1976.
4. Richard Nixon lets William Calley off the hook
William Calley was a community college dropout who found himself in charge of a platoon fighting the Vietnam War. His weak leadership and lack of military skill led to the systematic murder of 500 Vietnamese civilians. Life magazine broke the story over a year and a half later with a graphic photo essay that shocked the nation and did much to shift public sentiment against the war once and for all.
Calley’s court-martial was a high-visibility event, and he was eventually found guilty of 22 counts (of the 109 he was charged with) of premeditated murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment at Leavenworth. President Nixon, reacting to another public sentiment that Calley had been made a scapegoat and that the punishments should have gone higher up the chain of command, ordered his sentence modified to house arrest. Eventually, his time was reduced from life to 20 years. He served three and a half years of that when Nixon pardoned him.
In 2009, while speaking a Kiwanis Club in Ohio, Calley issued the following apology for his role at My Lai:
There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai. I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry…. If you are asking why I did not stand up to them when I was given the orders, I will have to say that I was a 2nd Lieutenant getting orders from my commander and I followed them—foolishly, I guess.
5. Jimmy Carter pardons the Vietnam draft dodgers
Although Gerald Ford had been the first to deal with letting draft dodgers off the hook, his version had been conditional and only affected one-third of the population. President Carter, elected on a progressive agenda, took it the rest of the way by issuing an unconditional pardon for all of those who’d evaded the draft, about 150,000 young American men — including a number of aspiring politicians who would go on to hold the highest offices in the land.
Flamma, Spartacus, and Carpophorus are just a few of the deadly gladiators that saw many victories while fighting in Rome’s famous arenas.
The vicious sport of gladiator fighting was just as popular back then as boxing and MMA are today. Gladiator combat was much more gangsta, though. Crowds would swarm to see mighty warriors beat the crap out of one another until only one man was left standing — or the match ended in a draw.
Most people believe that once you stepped foot into one of Rome’s great arenas, chances were, you weren’t coming out alive.
Some historians believe the gladiator games started as ceremonial offerings, as a way to provide entertainment at wealthy aristocrats’ funerals. It’s reported, that roughly only one in nine of the competitions ended in death. Many of the warriors who lost the bloody brawls were granted mercy — for financial reasons.
“If a gladiator was lost in the arena, that represented an enormous loss of an investment.” Professor Michael J. Carter explains.
If a rented gladiator was killed in the games, the sponsor was looking to forfeit nearly 50 times the cost of the rental.
There are many versions of All American’s journey — in some, the crew used “parts of the German fighter and their own parachute harnesses” to keep the B-17 Flying Fortress together. In others, she hobbles home to England from battle in Africa.
The legends circulate but the truth is just as mind-blowing — as the pictures can well attest.
The story begins, as all good war stories do, in the shit…
On Feb. 1, 1943, Lt. Kendrick R. Bragg and his crew from the 414th Bomb Squadron, 97th Bomb Group received orders to attack German-controlled seaports at Bizerte and Tunis, Tunisia from Biskra, Algeria. After a successful bombing run in spite of enemy flak, they proceeded to return to base when they were attacked by German Messerschmitt Me 109 fighters.
One of the fighters attacked the lead bomber while the other went for All American.Her crew fought off both attacks, firing at their own Me 109 with their nose turret and supporting the lead bomber with shots from the right side nose gun. The dual attack against the lead fighter took the enemy bird down, while the fighter attacking All American began evasive maneuvers.
According to the crew, they must have killed or incapacitated the pilot before he could complete his movement. The Messerschmitt tore through All American, ripping a jagged gash in the rear fuselage and tearing off the left horizontal stabilizer.
“I rammed the controls forward in a violent attempt to avoid collision… I flinched as the fighter passed inches over my head and then I felt a slight thud like a coughing engine. I checked the engines and controls. The trim tabs were not working. I tried to level All American but she insisted on climbing. It was only by the pressure from knees and hands that I was able to hold her in anything like a straight line,” recalled Bragg.
Miraculously, All American was still airborne.
Her wingmen remained aloft, slowing to escort the injured bird through enemy territory.
“As we neared the field we fired three emergency flares, then we circled at 2000 feet while the other planes in our formation made their landings and cleared the runways… I lowered the landing gear and flaps to test the reaction of All American. They seemed to go reasonably well, considering,” Bragg recounted. “I made a long, careful approach to the strip with partial power until the front wheels touched the leveled earth and I could feel the grating as she dragged without a tail wheel along the desert sands. She came to a stop and I ordered the co-pilot to cut the engines. We were home.”
War is brutal. It makes people do harsh things. Then, it makes the other side retaliate against those harsh things. But war is also a fight with rules and when sides don’t play by those rules, tempers flare, emotions run high, and that’s when the sh*t really starts to fly.
Now, the third Geneva Convention governs the treatment of POWs. No POW can be tried for fighting in war, though they can be tried for war crimes — but they certainly aren’t supposed to be executed immediately. Unfortunately, not everyone follows the laws of armed conflict like they should.
The following 7 troops would be executed immediately after capture.
7. Anyone with a trench gun.
During WWI, American troops used what came to be known as a “trench broom,” a Winchester model 1897, modified for trench warfare. The shotgun fired buckshot pellets and could be slamfired, meaning if the user holds the trigger as he pumps a new round in the chamber, the round will fire automatically. Needless to say, the trench broom killed a lot of Germans.
The Germans lodged a formal protest against the use of the weapon, saying it was illegal under the 1907 Hague Convention definition of any “arms, projections, or materials calculated to cause unnecessary suffering.” When the American continued using it, the German High Command threatened that any POW found with a trench gun or trench gun shells would be shot on site.
This one’s another Hitler order. The man was not a fan of Communism and so issued the “Commissar Order,” which stated that Soviet political officers captured on the Eastern Front would be separated from their units and executed. He believed their sole purposed was to spread “Judeo-Bolshevism” and that they needed to be eradicated.
The order extended to anyone in the Soviet service who either bought into Bolshevism or was there to spread the ideology.
Countries don’t like it when soldiers only fight for money. You at least need to have a flag to which you pledge your allegiance. It doesn’t matter if you’re an American — if you’re not fighting with the American army, you better not get captured.
In 1976, four mercenaries – including one American Vietnam veteran who was recruited in Soldier of Fortune Magazine — were captured fighting against the government in Angola’s civil war. When captured, then-President Agostinho Neto ordered their execution, ignoring clemency pleas from the Pope, Queen Elizabeth, and Henry Kissinger.
Yeah, it’s on here twice. The flamethrower was a nasty weapon. If I were a troop where facing a flamethrower was a possibility, I’d be scared sh*tless, too. But the flamethrower guy didn’t ask to be given the flamethrower. I mean, I assume… who’s going to ask to carry around a very shootable tank full of explosively flammable liquid that only gives you about six or seven seconds of firepower?
There’s no “stop drop and roll” when you’re covered in napalm. So, it was pretty well-known that every side hated you so much they would shoot you just for being the guy with the flamethrower. For the Nazis, this extended to flamethrower tank crews.
1. The Waffen SS.
It was not an official order, but among the Allied ground troops, there is a ton of anecdotal evidence that captured Waffen SS members were usually “shot while trying to escape.”
The Russians hated them because they found many of their Eastern Front POWs in concentration camps, shot or slowly worked to death. The Canadians hated the SS for the Ardennes Abbey Massacre. The SS slaughtered American POWs at Malmedy during the Battle of the Bulge. British and French POWs were massacred numerous times by Waffen SS troops.
While women made strides during World War II and Korea to be integrated into the military, Vietnam felt like a step backward as the military initially resisted sending women into any career field to Vietnam.
Then, when the military realized they needed to rely on women from the medical career field, it was still a slow process to add more women to the fight. But as the years passed more women were sent overseas. Many women chose not to serve in the military but were civilians supporting various humanitarian agencies and covering news. While the primary field of the women who served overseas was nursing, there were a number of women outside the medical career field who made an impact on the war and helped lead changes for women in the military.
US Army Women
The first Army nurses arrived in Vietnam in 1956. Their primary job was to train the South Vietnamese nursing skills. The nurses would remain and grow in strength with approximately 5,000 women serving from March 1962 to March 1973. Five Army nurses died during the conflict, including Lieutenant Colonel Annie Ruth Graham and First Lieutenant Sharon Ann Lane.
In 1964, Gen William Westmoreland asked the Pentagon to provide Women’s Army Corps (WAC) members to help the South Vietnamese train their own women’s Army corps. In 1970, when WAC was at its peak, there were 20 officers and 130 enlisted women serving in Vietnam.
US Air Force Women
The Air Force leadership resisted sending women overseas. When the first Air Force Nurses arrived in Vietnam in 1966, it was out of demand and lack of men in the nursing career field. Once the door opened for women to be overseas as nurses, the door for other career fields opened up as well. Women quickly began to take over the duties that their male counterparts had been assigned. In 1967, the first Women in the Air Force (WAF) members served at the headquarters in Saigon. One of the first women in the Air Force to reach the rank of General, Brig Gen Wilma Vaught, ret, was deployed for Vietnam and served in Saigon for a year.
One Air Force nurse died. Captain Mary Therese Klinger died in a C-5 crash that was supporting Operation Babylift which worked to transport babies from orphanages to America for asylum and adoption. She was the last nurse and the only U.S. Air Force Nurse to die in Vietnam.
US Navy Women
The U.S. Navy Nurse Corps began to play an important role during the Vietnam War in 1963. And then in 1964 five Navy Nurses were awarded Purple Hearts after being injured during a bombing on Christmas Eve. They were the first women to receive Purple Hearts during Vietnam.
Only nine women outside the Nurse career field served overseas during Vietnam. The first, in 1967, was Lieutenant Elizabeth G. Wylie. She worked in the Command Information Center as part of the staff of the Commander of Naval Forces in Saigon. She would spend three to six days each month in the field taking pictures and gathering information. She was never under hostile fire and loved, “the opportunity to see the heart of the Navy at work.” In 1972, Commander Elizabeth Barrett became the first female Naval Line Officer to hold command in a combat zone.
Many women volunteered to go overseas but were not given a chance. Women were used within the Navy to backfill positions both at home and in Europe to allow more men to go overseas. Without them directly supporting the war effort, the Navy would have struggled to continue on.
US Marine Corps Women
Women Marines had a small presence in Vietnam. It wasn’t until March 1967 that the first woman Marine arrived in Vietnam. Master Sergeant Barbara Dulinsky was the first to arrive in-country and worked at Military Assistance Command, which was headquartered in Saigon. In total, women Marines in Vietnam normally numbered between eight to 10 enlisted members with one to two officers. There were a total of 28 enlisted women and eight officers between 1967 to 1973.
Military women were not the only women who went overseas to support the war effort. Civilian women worked for a number of organizations to support the war. The Red Cross, USO, Army Special Service and Peace Corps all relied on women to meet their mission. Other women came to Vietnam as foreign correspondents for news organizations. Georgette “Dickey” Chappelle was a writer for the National Observer and was killed by a mine while on patrol with U.S. Marines outside of Chu Lai in November of 1965. In total, 59 civilian women died during the conflict.
One thing to note about the women who served in Vietnam was that all of the women who served overseas were volunteers. They ranged in age from freshly graduated college students in their 20s to seasoned career women in their 40s. Finding the service records and the history of military women and civilians in Vietnam is like trying to piece together a puzzle with lots of missing pieces. Women did not expect special recognition and were just looking for a way to be a part of the fight. They didn’t stand out or request to be excluded; instead they fought to be part of the effort and we can’t forget their contribution and the lives lost.