Castles moats didn't contain alligators, but one has bears - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

John A. asks: Are there any real examples of medieval castles having alligators in the moat to keep out intruders?

A common image in pop-culture is that of a castle moat filled to the brim with water and hungry crocodiles. So did anyone ever actually do this?

The short answer is that it doesn’t appear so. That said, while there’s no known documented instance of crocodiles intentionally being put into moats, we do know of at least one castle that had (and has, in fact) a moat full of bears…


Before we get to that and why crocodiles in moats are probably not the best idea in the world, or at least not a very efficient use of resources if your concern was really defense of a fortress, we should address the fact that the common image most people have in their heads of a moat isn’t exactly representative of what historical moats usually looked like.

To begin with, moats have been around seemingly as long as humans have had need of protecting a structure or area, with documented instances of them appearing everywhere from Ancient Egypt to slightly more modern times around certain Native American settlements. And, of course, there are countless examples of moats being used throughout European history. In many cases, however, these moats were little more than empty pits dug around a particular piece of land or property- water filled moats were something of a rarity.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

Bodiam Castle, a 14th-century castle near Robertsbridge in East Sussex, England.

(WyrdLight.com, CC BY-SA)

You see, unless a natural source of water was around, maintaining an artificial moat filled with water required a lot of resources to avoid the whole thing just turning into a stinking cesspool of algae and biting bugs, as is wont to happen in standing water. As with artificial ponds constructed on certain wealthy individuals’ estates, these would have to be regularly drained and cleaned, then filled back up to keep things from becoming putrid.

Of course, if one had a natural flowing water source nearby, some of these problems could be avoided. But, in the end, it turns out a water filled moat isn’t actually that much more effective than an empty one at accomplishing the goal of protecting a fortress.

And as for putting crocodiles (or alligators) in them, introducing such animals to a region, beyond being quite expensive if not their native habitat, is also potentially dangerous if the animals got out. Again, all this while not really making the act of conquering a fortress that much more difficult- so little payoff for the extra cost of maintaining crocodiles.

Unsurprisingly from this, outside of a legend we’ll get to shortly, there doesn’t appear to be any known documented cases of anyone intentionally putting crocodiles or alligators into their water filled moats.

It should also be mentioned here that while at first glance it would appear that the key purpose of a moat is to defend against soldiers attacking at the walls, they were often actually constructed with the idea of stopping soldiers under the ground. You see, a technique favoured since ancient times for breaching cities, fortresses and fortified positions was to simply dig tunnels below any walls surrounding the position and then intentionally let them collapse, bringing part of the wall above that section tumbling down. Eventually this was accomplished by use of explosives like gunpowder, but before this a more simple method was to cart a bunch of tinder into the tunnel at the appropriate point and set the whole thing ablaze. The idea here was, after all your diggers were out, to destroy the support beams used to keep the tunnel from collapsing while digging. If all went as planned, both the tunnel and the wall above it would then collapse.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

North view of the fortress of Buhen in Ancient Egypt.

To get around this very effective form of breaching fortifications, moats would be dug as deeply as possible around the fortification, sometimes until diggers reached bedrock. If a natural source of water was around, surrounding the fortress with water was a potential additional benefit over the dry pit at stopping such tunneling.

Either way, beyond making tunneling more difficult (or practically impossible), dry and wet moats, of course, helped dissuade above ground attacks as well thanks to moats being quite good at limiting an enemy’s use of siege weaponry. In particular, devices such as battering rams are rendered almost entirely useless in the presence of a large moat. Though the later advent of weapons such as trebuchets made moats less effective overall, they still proved to be formidable barrier capable of kneecapping a direct assault on a castle’s walls.

All this said, it wasn’t as if proud moat owners didn’t put anything in them. There are plenty of ways to beef up moat defences without the need for water and crocodiles. Pretty much anything that slows an enemy’s advance works well. And, better year, anything that is so daunting it deters an attack at all.

In fact, archaeological surveys of moats have found evidence of things like stinging bushes having once grown throughout some moats. Whether these were intentionally planted on the part of the moat owners or just a byproduct of having a patch of land they left unattended for years at a time isn’t entirely clear. But it doesn’t seem too farfetched to think this may have been intentional in some cases. As you might imagine, wading through stinging or thorny plants while arrows and rocks and the like are raining down at you from above wasn’t exactly tops on people’s lists of things to do.

As for moats that were filled with water, while filling them with crocodiles or alligators wasn’t seemingly something anyone did, some savvy castle owners did fill them with fish giving them a nice private fishery. (As mentioned, artificial ponds built for this purpose were also sometimes a thing for the ultra-wealthy, functioning both as a status symbol, given maintaining such was incredibly expensive, and a great source of food year round).

Moving back to the dry bed moats, when not just leaving them as a simple dug pit or planting things meant to slow enemy troops, it does appear at least in some rare instances fortress owners would put dangerous animals in them, though seemingly, again, more as a status symbol than actually being particularly effective at deterring enemy troops.

Most famously, at Krumlov Castle in the Czech Republic there exists something that is most aptly described as a “bear moat”, located between the castle’s first and second courtyard. When exactly this practice started and exactly why has been lost to history, with the earliest known documented reference to the bear moat going back to 1707.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

(Flickr photo by Soren Wolf)

Whether designed to serve as a stark warning to potential intruders, a status symbol, or both, the castle’s grizzliest residents were tended to by a designated bearkeeper until around the early 19th century when the practice ceased. This changed again in 1857 when the castle’s then resident noble, Karl zu Schwarzenberg, acquired a pair of bears from nearby Transylvania intent on reviving the tradition. From that moment onward, outside of a brief lapse in the late 19th century, the castle’s moat has almost always contained at least one bear.

Today the bears are most definitely completely for show, and each year bear-themed celebrations are held at Christmas and on the bears’ birthdays during which children bring the bears presents.

If bears aren’t you thing, Wilhelm V, the Prince Regent of Bavaria, in the late 16th century supposedly kept both lions and a leopard in the moat of Trausnitz Castle while he lived there. However, again, it appears that Prince Wilhelm kept the animals more for show and fun than he did for defence. Beyond dangerous creatures, his moat also contained pheasants and a rabbit run.

Moving back to crocodiles being put in moats, the earliest reference to something like this (though seemingly just a legend), appears to be the legend of the Coccodrillo di Castelnuovo.

This story is recounted by the 19th and 20th century historian and politician Benedetto Croce in his “Neapolitan Stories and Legends“:

In that castle, there was a moat under the level of the sea, dark, humid, where the prisoners, who they want to more strictly castigate, were usually put. When, all of a sudden, they started to notice with astonishment that, from there, the prisoners disappeared. Did they escape? How? Put a tighter surveillance and a new guest inside there, one day they saw, unexpected and terrifying scene, from a hole hidden in the moat, a monster, a crocodile entering and, with its jaws, it grasped for the legs the prisoner, and dragged him to the sea to eat him.

Rather than kill the creature, the guards decided to make the fearsome creature an “executor of justice”, sending prisoners condemned to death to meet their end in its toothy maw. Exactly where the crocodile came from and when this supposedly happened depends on which version of the legend you consult, though our favourite version suggests that Queen Joanna II smuggled it over to Naples from Egypt sometime in the 15th century with the sole intention of feeding her many, many lovers to it.

A consistent element in most versions of the legend is that the beast bit off more than it could chew when it tried to eat a leg of a giant horse, ultimately choking on it.

Of course, this is generally thought to be nothing more than a legend, with no evidence that it actually occurred or even exactly when. At least the story does show that the idea of a crocodile in a moat isn’t just something found in modern pop culture.

Bonus Facts:

  • Moats are starting to make a bit of a comeback in modern times, such as used to protect certain embassies from car bombings. There’s also a concrete moat around the parts of Catawba Nuclear Station that isn’t bordered by a lake, again for the purposes of protecting against car bombings and the like.
  • On the note of poky plants planted in moats, there are variations of a popular Scottish legend that have the thistle playing a key role in foiling the attack of an invading force. In one such version of the legend, a nighttime raid on Slains castle in modern day Aberdeenshire was foiled when sneaking Norsemen stepped on the thistles and cried out in pain, alerting the guards that a surprise attack was eminent. It is sometimes further stated that this is how The Most Noble and Most Ancient Order of the Thistle of Scotland was established and how the national flower of Scotland was chosen. Of course, there isn’t any documented evidence that exists to support the various versions of this legend.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the 7 rules for fighting a ‘just war’

Countries go to war for a lot of reasons these days. Turkey invaded Syria to keep the Kurds from declaring it to be their homeland. The United States and The United Kingdom almost went to war over a pig. Some 2,000 people died in the fighting between two Italian states because someone stole a bucket. While those are all dumb, there are some good reasons to fight a war, and that’s what the “Just War” philosophers have been working on forever.


Over the years, a number of principles have been boiled down from the world of philosophy addressing the subject, as everyone from Saint Thomas Aquinas to NPR have produced their thoughts on the ethics of killing in uniforms. See if your favorite war fits the criteria!

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

Get in losers, we’re gonna go liberate Kuwait.

It has to be a last resort.

The only way to justify the use of force is to exhaust all other options. If the enemy could be talked down from doing whatever it is they’re doing instead of fighting them to stop them by force, the war can’t be justifiable. In Desert Storm, for example, President Bush gave Saddam Hussein a time limit to remove his forces from Kuwait before bringing down the thunder, that just didn’t persuade Hussein.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

It must be declared by a legitimate authority.

Some countries have very specific rules about this. A war cannot be declared by just anyone. What may be egregious to one person or group may not apply equally to the country as a whole, and the rest of the world needs to recognize the need and the legitimacy of the actions taken as well as the authority of those who send their people to war.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

A just war is fought to right a wrong.

If someone attacks you out of the blue, you are completely within your right to defend yourself by any means necessary. If a country is seeking to redress a wrong committed against it, then war is justifiable. When the Japanese Empire attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in 1941, it was sufficient enough to send the United States to war.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

You have to have a shot at winning it.

Even if one country sucker-punches another or has good intentions in its decision to go to war, it’s not a justified war if that country cannot win it. If fighting a war is a hopeless cause, and the country is just going to send men to their deaths for no end, it cannot be morally justified.

It’s also kind of dickish to do that to your population.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

The goal of the war should be to restore peace.

If you’re going to war, the postwar peace you seek has to be better than the peace your country is currently experiencing. Of course, Germany thought going to war in World War II was a just cause. The Treaty of Versailles was really unkind to them. Does it mean they were allowed to kill off the population of Eastern Europe for living space? Absolutely not.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

You should only be as violent as you have to be to right the wrongs.

Remember, if you’re going to start a just war, you’re fighting to right a wrong, to redress a grievance. If you start the wholesale slaughter of enemy troops, that’s not a just war by any means. The violence and force used by one country against another have to be equal.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

Only kill the combatants.

It seems like a foregone conclusion that an invading force shouldn’t murder enemy civilians, but looking at history – especially recent history – it looks like that’s what it’s come to. A legitimate warrior only kills those on the enemy’s forces who are lawful combatants.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Russia is making a rival to HBO’s ‘Chernobyl’

Russia is working on its own TV show about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster — but this version focuses on a conspiracy theory that a CIA agent sabotaged the reactor.

The Russian show, whose release date is not yet known, comes at the heels of HBO’s successful miniseries, “Chernobyl.”

The HBO show attributes the 1986 nuclear disaster to a combination of reckless decisions made by senior plant staff and Soviet state censorship, which resulted in the government hiding dangerous problems at the plant from the public, as well as other scientists and plant staff.


This portrayal is considered highly accurate. Many former Soviet, however, slammed it as inaccurate and slanderous of the Soviet Union.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

Donald Sumpter on HBO’s “Chernobyl” miniseries.

(HBO)

The nuclear disaster propelled radioactive particles over 1,000 square miles of Ukraine and Belarus. The death toll remains unknown, but some studies say tens of thousands of people died as a result of the leak.

Moscow’s version of “Chernobyl” — which is produced by NTV, an arm of Russia’s majority state-owned Gazprom Media — is premised on the theory that CIA agents sabotaged the nuclear reactor, which ultimately led to the accident, NTV said in April 2018.

Specifically, the plot will follow a Russian KGB agent in the town of Pripyat, near the plant, as he tries to track down US spies before they trigger the disaster, director Alexei Muradov told The Moscow Times on June 4, 2019.

Russia’s ministry of culture gave NTV 30 million rubles (2,000) to produce the Russian version of “Chernobyl,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The idea for Russia’s version of “Chernobyl” is based from a popular conspiracy theory in the country, Muradov told The Moscow Times.

“One theory holds that Americans had infiltrated the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and many historians do not deny that, on the day of the explosion, an agent of the enemy’s intelligence services was present at the station,” he said.

The US and Soviet Union were in the midst of the Cold War at the time of the explosion, and espionage and mutual mistrust were high.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

Digitalization of Chernobyl disaster.

Journalists from former Soviet countries have taken issue with HBO’s adaptation of the nuclear disaster.

One writer from Komsomolskaya Pravda, Russia’s most popular paper, said last month the series was designed to slander Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear energy company.

The same newspaper also ran the headline on a separate story, which said according to The Guardian: “Chernobyl did not show the most important part — our victory.”

Another journalist wrote in Kosovo’s Express Gazeta that HBO had wrongly depicted “ignobility, carelessness and petty tyranny.”

HBO’s “Chernobyl” is the highest-rated TV series of all time, Esquire cited IMDB as saying.

This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.

Articles

This is what happens when you try to invade and conquer Russia

For centuries, many civilizations have tried (for one reason or another) to subdue or kill the Russian Bear.


Most of them failed.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears
Those Mongols tho.

To successfully plant their flag atop the Kremlin, an invader must consider a few things that’ll certainly affect the outcome before mobilizing forces and gassing up the fleet.

1. The Russian Winter.

Pro Tip: Pack your woobie.

In 2014, Vice’s Oscar Rickett asked IHS Jane’s military expert Konrad Muzkya just what it would take to conquer Russia and just how a nation might go about it. His first question is one that sticks in the minds of any student of military history: How does anyone beat the Russian winter?

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears
In case you thought you could handle winter like a Russian, this is how they celebrate Epiphany in the Russian Orthodox Church.

With Napoleon and Hitler waiting with bated breath in the next world, Muzkya replies with his belief that guided munitions, nuclear weapons, and modern power projection capabilities nullify this historical advantage.

Related video:

www.youtube.com

“Any potential conflict with the West would most likely be fought in the air, space, and sea,” he told Vice. “Any use of land forces would be limited to capturing strategically important facilities — bridges, airfields, and the like.”

2. The size of Russia.

To give the failed invaders a little credit, the Russia conquered by the Mongols was a fraction of the size it was during the 19th and 20th centuries. But a little secret to the Mongols success might be preparation. The Khans took 17 years to finish off the Russians.

It wasn’t a lack of manpower, either. At the time of the French Invasion, Napoleon’s Grande Armée numbered 680,000 troops.

To give some perspective, that’s like deploying half of all the active U.S. military troops as riflemen. Which is a terrible idea.

Trying to conquer Russia is the equivalent of invading the U.S. twice, in terms of land mass. Just moving from St. Petersburg to Moscow is 400 miles. It took the Allies more than two months to reach Paris from the Normandy — which is just 167 miles away.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears
(Business Insider)

Related: How long the US military would last against the rest of the world

Russia is 6.6 million square miles of cold, cold, cold, nothing. Which presents another problem entirely.

3. There’s nothing there.

Everything after Moscow is flyover country. An invading country can’t just not go into the steppe. Once the Russian people figured out the occupiers won’t go into the wilderness, that’s exactly where the insurgency will take root.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears
This is what you’re fighting for. Are you prepared for that?

Even getting to all the nothing will take a Herculean effort. The Russian Army mans an estimated 280,000 effective fighting soldiers. When the going gets tough, it has to be assumed they will use the same human wave-style tactics used against the Nazis in WWII.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears
And there’s a lot of nothing in the Steppe, which is highlighted in light blue.

What was a problem in the past for armies who had to forage for food or move supplies by train is not a problem for a global power like the U.S. military. All the same, after Moscow, there isn’t much in the way of infrastructure for things like tanks or places suitable for airfields — all things insurgent partisans in the area will have a field day targeting.

4. One thing at a time.

Anyone who wants to invade Russia should probably clear their schedule. The Mongols drove through the country because it was on the way to where they were going anyway. The Nazis were still fighting in North Africa and preparing for the invasion of Britain when Hitler launched Barbarossa. Napoleon was fighting an insurgency of his own in Spain.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

The United States and NATO, if they were to invade Russia, should probably withdraw from all the other conflicts they have around the world and concentrate on the problem at hand. Once there, keeping a unified front would be of the utmost importance.

An invader shouldn’t expect to actually conquer anything. In almost every invasion of their motherland, the Russian people have resorted to scorched-earth tactics — burning or otherwise destroying everything that might be of use to an enemy. As Muzkya notes in the Vice article, the Russians still move troops using trains. That hasn’t changed since WWII. It’s likely not much else has either.

5. Bring some friends … and an Air Force.

Muzkya cites an estimate of a half-million troops being necessary to properly subdue Afghanistan. He also notes that Russia is 26 times the size of Afghanistan and has a population of 143 million. Afghanistan has just 30 million. Even the Chinese military with its massive available manpower would have a difficult time creating a sustainable drive across Russia.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

But a military campaign is more than just people these days. The Russian Navy can’t project power in the same way the U.S. can – or anyone else, really. The country has only one aircraft carrier, and that deploys with a tugboat in case it breaks down.

The Russian air force, however, is still on the relative cutting edge, even if that edge isn’t as sharp as it once was. It has a fighter that can compete with the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor. Russia’s bomber force isn’t relevant in a defensive war because it’s more likely they’d use a nuclear attack before a conventional bombing campaign on their own soil.

6. Be prepared to die.

As for the use of nuclear weapons, Muzkya says that Russia has the right to use them to defend itself and any invader needs to be prepared for that.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

“Russia possesses second-strike capability,” he says. “And unless you’re ready to take a nuclear hit from Russia — which no one can — you need to embrace the notion of a total annihilation of your country.”

He predicts that Russia – all 6.6 million square miles of it – would be turned into a nuclear wasteland in the event of an invasion from China or the West, so talking about who wins is irrelevant.

Because everyone dies.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the soldiers of Outpost Harry decimated an entire Chinese Division

By the summer of 1953, the Korean War had raged on for three years. The back and forth maneuvers up and down the peninsula had given way to a stalemate known as the Battle of the Outposts.


All along the 38th Parallel, the belligerents attacked one another’s outposts in the hopes of affecting a breakthrough. Blocking the Communist forces from driving straight on Seoul through the Cheorwon Valley, in an area known as the “Iron Triangle,” were three lonely outposts: Tom, Dick, and Harry.

Outpost Harry was situated on a hilltop in front of the Main Line of Resistance and opposite a Chinese position known as Star Hill. Being so far out in front meant that resupply was difficult and always under enemy observation. Harry’s 1,280-foot elevation did nothing to help matters.

On the night of June 10, 1953, as negotiations to end the war took place just over 50 miles away, elements of the Chinese 74th Division attacked in force. The task of defending the outpost that night fell on K Company, 15th Infantry Regiment. Having spent the previous days improving their defenses and sighting in weapons, they were given the order to hold at all costs.

The attack began with a bombardment by mortars, rockets, and artillery. Suddenly the outpost was illuminated by enemy flares. Bugles and whistles sounded and over 3,600 Chinese soldiers rushed toward the outpost. The Americans rained fire down on the advancing Chinese. They exploded 55 gallon drums of Napalm in the midst of the attackers and blasted them with artillery. They were able to repulse two determined waves before the Chinese made it to the trenches and engaged in hand-to-hand combat. The Chinese were overrunning the outpost.

Lt. Sam Buck, Forward Observer from the 39th Artillery Battalion, was in the Command Post on Harry when it was overrun by the Chinese. As Chinese grenades exploded in the bunker and his comrades were wounded, he continued to resist, dropping any Chinese that came through the door with a burst from his carbine. Eventually wounded and unable to continue firing, he played dead while the Chinese occupied the bunker. The fighting was so intense, one of his last actions before being evacuated later that night was to put the Company Commander’s eyeball back in its socket.

With the defense of the outpost in peril the defenders were rallied by Sgt. Ola Mize. Throughout the attack Mize moved about the outpost tending to wounded, resupplying ammunition, and killing numerous enemies. Three times he was knocked down by explosions and three times he continued his mission. For his actions he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Eventually artillery strikes called right on top of the outpost, along with reinforcements from C and E Companies, drove the Chinese out of the trenches. A diversionary attack by F Company, 65th Infantry Regiment also helped in clearing the area. The next morning only a handful of the original defenders were still in fighting shape. K Company was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for their gallantry at the outpost.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears
A United States Army artillery crew fires a 105-millimeter howitzer against North Korean Communist positions during a battle in the Republic of Korea. AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM

B Company, 15th Infantry Regiment relieved K Company and took up the defense of Harry on June 11. Again darkness fell, and the Chinese began bombarding the American positions. Advancing through their own artillery barrage, the Chinese were able to gain the trenches once again. The defenders threw back several attacks before being reinforced by B Company, 5th Regimental Combat Team. Together the two companies defeated a second Chinese regiment in as many nights. B Company, 15th Infantry was awarded the regiment’s second Presidential Unit Citation.

The next night it was A Company, 5th Regimental Combat Team’s turn on the outpost, and once again the Chinese sent a reinforced regiment against the American position. As before, the Chinese advanced through both their own artillery and the Americans’ before entering the trenches where bitter hand-to-hand combat took place. The 15th Infantry Regiment sent L Company to reinforce and drive out the Chinese while another unit of tanks and infantry assaulted through the valley in a diversionary attack. For their actions in the defense, A Company, 5th RCT was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.

The following night, June 13, was relatively quiet. The main action was against a Chinese screening force that attempted to recover their dead from the area around the outpost.

On the night of June 14, a small Chinese force was able to close in on the trenches through their own artillery barrage and attack G Company, 15th Infantry from the rear of the outpost. Reinforcements from E Company, 15th Infantry and a diversionary attack by elements of the 65th Infantry drove the Chinese from the outpost once again.

The next two nights were quiet on the outpost and allowed for some much needed repairs. Men from the Sparta Battalion of the Greek Expeditionary Force were also brought into the area to reinforce the depleted and beleaguered defenders. The Chinese used this time to cobble together what was left of the 74th Division for one more attack on the outpost.

That attack came on the night of June 17. The Chinese threw everything they had left in one last desperate attempt to dislodge the defenders of Outpost Harry. That night the men of P Company, Sparta Battalion, bore the brunt of the Chinese attack. Friendly artillery pounded the slopes around the trenches while the Greeks threw back wave after wave of communist attackers. N Company, Sparta Battalion reinforced their brothers and drove off the Chinese. The 74th Division retreated from the area, combat ineffective after the battle with U.N. Forces. P Company was awarded the American Presidential Unit Citation for holding Outpost Harry the final night.

In total there were five Presidential Unit Citations given for action at Outpost Harry, as well as one Medal of Honor and numerous other personal awards for valor. Just over a month later the armistice was signed, and the defense of Outpost Harry was crucial in ensuring a favorable agreement.

MIGHTY MONEY

The feds crack down on fake veteran charities

You may have seen them standing outside convenience stores, those guys dressed in camo that vaguely resembles a uniform. They have signs saying claiming they are charities that help veterans. Are they legit?

Well, not all of them are.


The Federal Trade Commission, along with law enforcement officials and regulators from offices in every state, DC, American Samoa, Guam and Puerto Rico, announced more than 100 actions and a consumer education initiative in “Operation Donate with Honor”.

The action was a crackdown on fraudulent charities that con consumers by falsely promising their donations will help veterans and service members.

“Americans are grateful for the sacrifices made by those who serve in the U.S. armed forces,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons. “Sadly, some con artists prey on that gratitude, using lies and deception to line their own pockets. In the process, they harm not only well-meaning donors, but also the many legitimate charities that actually do great work on behalf of veterans and service members.”

Two charities face federal charges

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

(Flickr photo by Keith Cooper)

Help the Vets

Neil G. “Paul” Paulson, Sr. and Help the Vets, Inc., (HTV) will be banned from soliciting charitable contributions under settlements with the FTC and the states of Florida, California, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio and Oregon, for falsely promising donors their contributions would help wounded and disabled veterans.

The defendants were charged with violating federal and state laws related to their actions. According to the FTC’s complaint, HTV did not help disabled veterans, and 95 percent of every donation was spent on fundraising, administrative expenses, and Paulson’s salary and benefits.

Operating under names such as American Disabled Veterans Foundation, Military Families of America, Veterans Emergency Blood Bank, Vets Fighting Breast Cancer, and Veterans Fighting Breast Cancer, HTV falsely claimed to fund medical care, a suicide prevention program, retreats for veterans recuperating from stress, and veterans fighting breast cancer.

In addition to the ban on soliciting charitable contributions, the proposed settlement order bans Paulson from charity management and oversight of charitable assets. To ensure that donors to HTV are not victimized again, HTV and Paulson must destroy all donor lists and notify their fundraisers to do so.

The order imposes a judgment of .4 million, which represents consumers’ donations from 2014 through 2017, when HTV stopped operating. The judgment will be partially suspended when the defendants have paid a charitable contribution to one or more legitimate veterans charities recommended by the states and approved by the court. Paulson must pay id=”listicle-2591219370″.75 million – more than double what he was paid by HTV – and HTV must pay all of its remaining funds, ,000.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

(Photo by Steven L. Shepard)

Veterans of America

The FTC charged Travis Deloy Peterson with using fake veterans’ charities and illegal robocalls to get people to donate cars, boats and other things of value, which he then sold for his own benefit.

The scheme used various names, including Veterans of America, Vehicles for Veterans LLC, Saving Our Soldiers, Donate Your Car, Donate That Car LLC, Act of Valor, and Medal of Honor. Peterson allegedly made millions of robocalls asking people to donate automobiles, watercraft, real estate, and timeshares, falsely claiming that donations would go to veterans charities and were tax deductible.

In fact, none of the names used in the robocalls is a real charity with tax exempt status. Peterson is charged with violating the FTC Act and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule.

At the FTC’s request, a federal court issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting Peterson from making unlawful robocalls or engaging in misrepresentations about charitable donations while the FTC’s enforcement action is proceeding.

State enforcement actions

States also identified and charged several charities and fundraisers who sought donations online and via telemarketing, direct mail, door-to-door contacts, and at retail stores. These groups falsely promised to help homeless and disabled veterans, to provide veterans with employment counseling, mental health counseling or other assistance, and to send care packages to deployed service members.

Some actions charged veterans charities with using deceptive prize promotion solicitations. Others targeted non-charities that falsely claimed that donations would be tax deductible. Some cases focused on veterans charities engaged in flagrant self-dealing to benefit individuals running the charity, and some alleged that fundraisers made misrepresentations on behalf of veterans charities or stole money solicited for a veterans charity.

Nationwide education campaign

As a result of these actions, the FTC and its state partners are launching an education campaign to help consumers avoid charity scams and donate wisely.

The FTC has new educational materials, including a video on how to research charities, and two new infographics. Donors and business owners can find information to help them donate wisely and make their donations count at FTC.gov/Charity.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia threatens countries that host U.S. missiles

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that, if the United States deploys intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Moscow will have to target the countries hosting them.

The Oct. 24, 2018 statement follows U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement that he intends to withdraw from a 1987 nuclear arms control pact over alleged Russian violations.

Putin spoke on Oct. 24, 2018, four days after U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty over alleged Russian violations.


The INF treaty prohibits the United States and Russia from possessing, producing, or deploying ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of between 500 kilometers and 5,500 kilometers.

Nearly 2,700 missiles were eliminated by the Soviet Union and the United States — most of the latter in Europe — under the treaty.

Trump and White House national security adviser John Bolton, who met with Putin and other top officials in Moscow on Oct. 22-23, 2018, cited U.S. concerns about what NATO allies say is a Russian missile that violates the pact and about weapons development by China, which is not a party to the treaty.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

Russian President Vladimir Putin and White House national security adviser John Bolton.

Putin said he hoped the United States wouldn’t follow up by positioning intermediate-range missiles in Europe.

“If they are deployed in Europe, we will naturally have to respond in kind,” Putin said at a news conference after talks with visiting Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

“The European nations that would agree to that should understand that they would expose their territory to the threat of a possible retaliatory strike. These are obvious things.”

He continued: “I don’t understand why we should put Europe in such serious danger.”

“I see no reason for that,” Putin said. “I would like to repeat that it’s not our choice. We don’t want it.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Oct. 24, 2018, that European members of the military alliance are unlikely to deploy new nuclear weapons on their soil in response to the alleged violations of the INF treaty.

“We will, of course, assess the implications for NATO allies, for our security of the new Russian missiles and the Russian behavior,” Stoltenberg said. “But I don’t foresee that [NATO] allies will station more nuclear weapons in Europe as a response to the new Russian missile.

Putin rejected Trump’s claim that Russia has violated the INF treaty, adding that he hoped to discuss the issue with Trump in Paris when they both attend Nov. 11, 2018 events marking the centennial of the armistice that ended World War I.

“We are ready to work together with our American partners without any hysteria,” he said. “The important thing is what decisions will come next.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

This Tom Selleck National Guard video is glorious

The Magnum P.I. and Blue Bloods star may be best known for Hawaiian shirts and the Gatling gun of mustaches, but did you know he also served in the Guard?

After he was drafted during the Vietnam War, Selleck joined the 160th infantry regiment of the California National Guard. “I am a veteran. I’m proud of it,” he said. “I was a sergeant in the U.S. Army infantry, National Guard, Vietnam era. We’re all brothers and sisters in that sense.”

Selleck served from 1967 to 1973, including six months of active duty. Before his military career, however, Selleck had already begun to pursue the entertainment industry, including commercial work and modeling, which makes it no surprise that he would later appear on California National Guard recruiting posters.

And videos:


Former National Guard member, Tom Selleck, shares Guard facts in this 1989 commercial

www.youtube.com

In the video, Selleck uses a mixture of voiceover and direct-to-camera dialogue interspersed with facts about the National Guard throughout modern conflicts and operations: “Some people think the National Guard is just an excuse for a bunch of guys to get together and have a good time. That they’re not as trained or committed as other branches of the military. That they’re weekend warriors — not real soldiers. And people wonder what business they have being in a foreign country. Well I can’t clear up all the misconceptions people have about the National Guard so let me leave you with one important fact: if you bring together all the ready forces of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Reserves, you still have only half the picture. The other half? The National Guard, skilled, capable, intelligent people. People like you and me. American’s at their best.”

The video is certainly different from what contemporary audiences are accustomed to. While modern recruiting videos show off assets and firepower, this one feels a little more solemn and defensive. This may be a reflection of the nation’s shift in National Guard duty rights during the 80s.

In 1986, Congress passed a Federal law known as the Montgomery Amendment, which removed state governors’ power to withhold consent for orders summoning National Guard units to active duty without a national emergency. The law was originally created in response to the decision made by several governors to withhold their consent to send units for training in Honduras. In 1989, a Federal appeals court upheld the law when it was challenged by the Massachusetts and Minnesota governors.

According to the 1989 Profile of the Army, additional missions were transferred to the National Guard and Army Reserve as the Army increased its focus as an integrated and cohesive “TOTAL FORCE” ready to respond to Soviet attacks on NATO or the Persian Gulf and defend U.S. interests abroad.

Selleck’s patriotism extended beyond his service to recruitment just in time to help boost numbers before the Persian Gulf War the following year.

Articles

4 things you may not know about USS Constitution

The sailing frigate USS Constitution (ex-IX 21) was re-floated on July 23 in an event overshadowed by the commissioning of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78).


The ship has been around for 220 years. But here are a few things you may not have known about this ship.

1. Paul Revere provided some crucial materials for the ship’s construction

According to the Copper Development Association, Paul Revere, best known for his midnight ride prior to the Battles of Lexington and Concord, provided a number of copper bolts and a copper bell for USS Constitution.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

2. The Constitution had a hull number

In 1941, the Constitution was given the hull number IX 21, along with a number of other vessels. According to Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, the list included the prize USS Reina Mercedes (IX 25), the sloop USS Constellation (IX 20), the cruiser USS Olympia (IX 40), and the training carriers USS Wolverine (IX 64) and USS Sable (IX 81).

The hull number was rescinded in 1975 at the suggestion of the ship’s commanding officer, Tyrone G. Martin, who instituted a number of traditions that carry on to this day.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

3. She is the only survivor of her class

Of the first six frigates, the Constitution is the only survivor. Sister ship USS Constellation was thought to have been converted to a sloop and preserved in Baltimore, but later research determined the Navy had scrapped the original vessel. The frigates USS Chesapeake and USS President were captured by the British. USS United States was captured by the Confederates, but eventually scuttled and scrapped.

USS Congress was scrapped in 1834.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

4. She was the battlecruiser of her era

The Constitution and her sisters were designed to be able to outgun enemy frigates and to out-run enemy ships of the line. She had a mix of 24-pound cannons and 32-pound cannons, compared to the 18-pound cannons used on the British Leda-class frigates, built around the same time as Constitution and her sisters.

In fact, late in the war of 1812, British frigate captains were ordered to avoid combat with the Constitution and her sisters.


MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is why Soviet cosmonauts carried a shotgun into space

Space is getting more and more dangerous these days, with Russia and China standing up to weaponize space. Of course, astronauts and other space travelers have carried weapons into orbit before, though they may never have carried anything like this triple-barreled shotgun-machete.

But American astronauts would have no use for such a thing. Soviet Cosmonauts, on the other hand, might need it very badly. Not to shoot American capitalists in low Earth orbit but rather for use against bears.


Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

Results may vary.

Before the days of the reusable Space Shuttle program, making re-entry required a capsule that would protect the crew of any spacecraft on re-entry. For this the Soviet Union developed the Soyuz, a spacecraft mounted on a Soyuz rocket. Its re-entry vehicle was (and still is) a capsule, similar to the ones the United States used during the Apollo Program. In Apollo, the capsules splashed down into the ocean and were retrieved by the U.S. Navy. The Russians’ capsule usually falls back down to Earth in Central Asia.

There’s a problem with that, however. Russia is a big country. The Soviet Union was an even bigger country. There’s a lot of space such a capsule could get lost in – and one eventually did.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

The Urals are in there somewhere.

It’s a terrible idea to fire a firearm inside an oxygen-rich kinetically weightless environment, and all astronauts and cosmonauts no doubt know this very well. But the triple-barreled TP-82 Survival Pistol was never designed to be shot aboard a ship or in the vacuum of space. It was included in the Soyuz survival kit for use on Earth. In 1965, one cosmonaut found out why.

Alexey Leonov – the first human to do a spacewalk – landed his capsule in forests of the snow-covered Ural mountains, some 600 miles off target. Luckily for him, he carried a 9mm pistol that would protect him from the beasts in the untamed wilderness. His fears of landing off-course caused him to lobby for a survival weapon that would be included in all Soyuz capsules. What he got was the TP-82, a weapon that could hunt, take down large predators, and fire off flares. But wait, there’s more: The weapon’s buttstock was also a large machete that could be used as another survival tool.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

Alexey Leonov in his cosmonaut days.

But the survival weapons didn’t show up overnight. Leonov and his partner in the Soyuz capsule that day, Pavel Belyayev, spent two nights on the ground in the Urals, cold and fearful of large predators. They weren’t able to be rescued for two full days before a ground crew could ski out to them in the deep snow and heavy forest canopy. Leonov’s fear of being stranded among brown bears never left him, however. Nearly 20 years after the rescue, he became second in command of the cosmonaut training program in 1981.

He used this influence to develop the three-barreled pistol and make it standard in Soyuz space capsules.

MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korea’s massive Air Force is a joke

North Korea has a massive air force that outnumbers the South Korean and US jets it’s meant to counter mostly with Russian-made fighters and bombers, but in reality the force is basically a joke.

According to a new International Institute for Strategic Studies report on North Korea’s conventional military, the air force has 110,000 officers and enlisted personnel taking care of approximately 1,650 aircraft. That force includes about 820 combat aircraft, 30 reconnaissance aircraft, and 330 transport aircraft.

“During wartime, the force likely has the capability to conduct a limited, short-term strategic and tactical bombing offensive and to launch a surprise attack,” IISS assesses.

Because the jets are spread out across a wide swath of the country, North Korea is most likely able to “conduct strike missions against command and-control facilities, air-defence assets, and industrial facilities without rearranging or relocating its aircraft,” the report says.


The IISS says North Korea’s best jets are its MiG-29 fighters, which it probably only has a few dozen of, its 46 MiG-23 fighters, and its roughly 30 Su-25 ground-attack aircraft. “The remaining aircraft are older, and less capable MiG-15s, MiG-17/J-5s, MiG-19/J-6s, MiG-21/J-7 fighters and Il-28/H-5 light bombers,” the report says.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears
A MiG-29 of the Serbian Air Force and Air Defence.
(Photo by Srđan Popović)

But all of those planes are from the 1980s, and IISS says they can’t hang in today’s environment of electronic warfare.

This is something the US would be sure to exploit, as almost all of its jets have jamming capabilities and its aircraft carriers can transport specialty electronic-warfare planes.

Additionally, the US and South Korea’s abilities to monitor North Korean planes via satellite and recon drones severely blunts any surprise attacks they could pull off.

Even worse for North Korea than the age of its planes, however, could be its pilots’ lack of training. Because North Korea relies on China for almost all of its jet fuel, and that item has long been under sanction, it has to preserve the precious little fuel it does have.

This means less flight time for pilots and less time training in the real world, and it almost certainly precludes realistic training against adversarial jets.

A video in 2015 showed North Korean pilots walking around with toy planes in front of Kim Jong Un, who observed their training. Another shot shows the pilots at flight simulators, a tool commonly used by air forces around the world.

For this reason, North Korea relies heavily on building hardened, bomb-resistant ground structures for its jets and using surface-to-air missiles to fight any prospective air wars.

North Korea’s air force actually has modest capability impressive for a country of its size and income, but it simply could not contend with South Korean and US jets.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Taliban constitution offers glimpse into militant group’s vision for Afghanistan

When most of Afghanistan was under Taliban rule in the late 1990s, the fundamentalist regime drafted a new constitution.

The document was never officially ratified, and it was unclear how much of it was ever implemented before the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the extremist Islamic group from power.


But the constitution offers a glimpse into what kind of government the militant organization envisages as it prepares to negotiate a future power-sharing arrangement with the current Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani.

A political settlement made by the disparate Afghan sides is a key component of the peace deal signed by the United States and the Taliban on February 29 that is aimed at ending the 18-year war.

Under the deal, foreign forces will leave Afghanistan in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which has agreed to launch direct negotiations with Afghan officials for a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing formula to rule the country.

Since 2001, the Taliban insurgency has vowed to drive out foreign forces and overthrow the Western-backed government in Kabul. But even as it seemingly pursues peace, it been vague about what kind of postwar government it envisions in Afghanistan.

Radical Islamic Seminaries

The Taliban emerged in 1994 following the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

The predominantly ethnic Pashtun group first surfaced in ultraconservative Islamic seminaries in Pakistan, where millions of Afghans had fled as refugees.

The seminaries radicalized thousands of Afghans who joined the mujahedin, the U.S.-backed Islamist rebels who fought against the occupying Soviet forces.

The Taliban appeared in the southern city of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest, 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 alone.

The Taliban promised to restore security and enforce their ultraconservative brand of Islam. They captured Kabul in 1996 and two years later controlled some 90 percent of the country.

In 1998, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar assembled some 500 Islamic scholars from across the country to draft a new constitution for the country.

After three days of deliberations, the scholars drafted a 14-page document — the first and only attempt by the Taliban to codify its views on power and governance.

‘Intensely Religious Roots’

In the document, power was centralized in the hands of an “Amir ul-Momineen,” or leader of the faithful. This supreme leader was the head of state and had ultimate authority. This was Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s spiritual leader and founder.

The constitution did not describe how such a leader would be selected or for how long he could serve. But it said the supreme leader must be male and a Sunni Muslim.

An Islamic council, handpicked by the supreme leader, would serve as the legislature and implement laws and policy. The government, headed by the head of the council of ministers — a quasi-prime ministerial position — would report to the Islamic council.

Under the constitution, Sunni Islam was to be the official state religion, even though some 15 percent of the population are Shi’ite Muslims.

The document stated that no law could be contrary to Islamic Shari’a law.

The constitution granted freedom of expression, women’s education, and the right of a fair trial, but all within the limits of the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Shari’a law.

It is unclear how the document shaped the Taliban’s draconian laws and brutal policies during its Islamic Emirate, the official name of the Taliban regime that ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001.

The Taliban banned TV and music, forced men to pray and grow beards, forced women to cover themselves from head to toe, and prevented 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 engaged in adultery. Executions were common.

Andrew Watkins, a senior analyst for Afghanistan at the International Crisis Group, said the draft constitution reflects the “Taliban’s intensely religious roots” and reveals the importance placed on a “centralized authority” for a group that was “founded on a mission of restoring order to the country.”

The document was littered with contradictions and was never ratified. It was republished in 2005, a year after Afghanistan adopted a new constitution. But the document has disappeared from Taliban discourse in recent years.

“That may have been due to internal debate over certain articles, or just reflective of the group’s inclination to remain flexible in its policies, in part perhaps to prevent internal divisions over policy differences,” said Watkins.

‘Monopoly On Power’

As an insurgent group, the Taliban has preserved some of its key principles since it was overthrown in 2001.

Power is still centralized in the hands of an all-powerful leader, who oversees a shadow Taliban government in Afghanistan. The Taliban still enforces its strict interpretation of Islam in areas under its control. And it still regards Shari’a as the supreme law.

But analysts say the past two decades have changed how the Taliban views power.

The Taliban overcame a succession crisis after the death of Mullah Omar, has fended off competition from the global appeal of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, and has remained a relatively coherent fighting force despite its 18-year war against foreign and Afghan government forces.

“The group now operates in a strange combination of increasingly centralizing its control over its own membership, while also allowing it to decentralize in other ways,” said Watkins.

The Taliban has claimed recently that it is not the same group that ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s.

In a public statement, the Taliban said it does not want to reestablish its Islamic Emirate and has attempted to project a more reconciliatory image.

But the Taliban’s ambiguity on women’s rights, free speech, and elections — key democratic tenets introduced in Afghanistan since 2001 — has raised fears among many Afghans that the extremist group will attempt to restore its severe regime.

The Taliban said in January 2019 that they are not seeking a “monopoly on power” in a future administration in Afghanistan but are looking for ways to coexist with Afghan institutions, in what was seen as the militants’ most conciliatory statement to date.

A month earlier, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said “if peace comes and the Taliban returns, then our return will not be in the same harsh way as it was in 1996.”

The Taliban said in February 2019 that it is committed to granting women their rights and allowing them to work and go to school, but only as long as they do not violate Islam or Afghan values.

But in the same statement, the Taliban also suggested it wants to curtail the fragile freedoms gained by women, prompting a wave of concern from rights campaigners.

Analysts said the Taliban’s great ambiguity on key issues reflects the divisions within the group.

The Taliban’s political leadership based in Pakistan is believed to be more open to an accommodation in assuming power under a peace deal.

Meanwhile, hard-line military commanders on the battlefield in Afghanistan are reluctant to budge on their demands for a full restoration of the Islamic Emirate.

“There is a cocktail of views among the Taliban on power and governance,” said Javid Ahmad, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council.

“More than anything, Taliban leaders need an intra-Taliban dialogue to settle their conflicting views about a future Afghan state,” Ahmad added.

There are also intense differences among the Afghan political elite.

Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, generally support a centralized state that guarantees their control of the government. But non-Pashtuns, which constitute a majority of the population, believe too much power of the state is left in the hands of one individual, and support decentralization because it would enshrine a more inclusive and equitable distribution of power.

‘Incredibly Difficult’

Direct talks between the Taliban and an Afghan negotiation team over a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing arrangement were expected to start on March 10.

But the launch of the negotiations has been delayed due to disputes over the release of Taliban prisoners and the formation of Kabul’s negotiating team.

Even when intra-Afghan negotiations begin, many expect them to be complex and protracted, possibly taking years, considering the gulf between the sides on policy and distributing power.

“It will be incredibly difficult to get the two parties to come up with compromises on every issue of governance,” Ahmad said, although he added that there were also reasons for hope.

Both the Taliban’s political vision and the Afghan political system are modeled on the centralization of power and the supreme role of Islam.

Afghanistan’s 2004 constitution prescribes that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam” and sometimes appears at odds with more liberal and democratic elements within it.

Power is in the hands of a heavily centralized government. The president has the right to appoint and fire governors, mayors, police chiefs, district governors, and senators and has a tight grip on the country’s finances and how funds are spent and distributed.

“There is much more common ground in the legal and governance systems of these two than many of their supporters, on either side, care to admit,” said Watkins.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Elite Japanese marines headed to disputed islands for exercise

Just a few months after activating its elite Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade for the first time since World War II, Japan plans to send the crisis-response force modeled off the US Marine Corps on its first naval exercise before the end of 2018.

Japan disbanded its military after World War II, but it has grown its armed forces in recent years and established the ARDB in late March 2018 as part of an effort to counter increasing Chinese activity in the East China Sea and around the region.


The new unit — tasked with defending Japan’s remote islands — carried out its first training exercise in early April 2018.

Tokyo has not said where the naval exercise will take place, but analysts have said that the Senkaku Islands — which Japan administers but are claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands and by Taiwan as the Diaoyutai Islands — may be an area of operations for the new, roughly 2,100-member ARDB, according to Taiwan News.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

Service members with the Japanese Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade show their capabilities during the ARDB’s unit-activation ceremony at Camp Ainoura, Japan, April 7, 2018.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Amy Phan)

It’s also not yet known what the exercise will entail, though it may include approaching and securing an island or islands.

The unit, which is based in southwest Japan, specializes in operations involving AAV-7 amphibious vehicles, MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, and Chinook helicopters.

The unit was reportedly modeled after US Marine Corps Marine Expeditionary Units, which are deployed abroad for extended periods for training and for rapid response to crises, whether it’s a natural disaster or a conflict. Japanese officials received advice from US advisers about the ARDB’s formation.

“The Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade will show to the international society our firm resolve to defend our islands,” a senior Japanese Defense Ministry official said in April 2018.

The expanding role and capabilities of Japan’s military are controversial subjects. The country adopted a pacifist constitution after World War II, eschewing offensive military operations. Recent years have seen a push to strengthen the military, led by the hawkish government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The decision to reactivate the ARDB was a contentious one, as it gave Japan’s Self-Defense Force the ability to land in enemy territory. Such concerns are balanced against worries over China’s increasingly assertive actions in the region.

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

Japan’s Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade takes part in a drill at Camp Ainoura in Sasebo, on the southwest island of Kyushu, April 7, 2018.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Amy Phan)

The ARDB’s first naval exercise appears to be a response to Beijing’s recent naval exercises around Taiwan, including drills in the Yellow Sea between August 10 and 13, 2018, a window that overlapped with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s departure for a trip to the US and Latin America.

The latter region is home to 10 of Taiwan’s remaining 18 formal allies — China has lured away two of Taipei’s Latin American allies over the past year.

The Chinese naval drills included air-defense and anti-missile live-fire exercises — meant to counter the capabilities of the US, Japan, and other militaries active in the region.

The formation of the ARDB is not the only move Japan has made to bolster its military or to counter China. The country has pursued external alliances and partnerships as part of that effort, but much of its focus has been on internal reforms.

It lifted a ban on military exports in 2014, and in 2015 the Japanese parliament approved a law allowing the country’s military to mobilize overseas under certain conditions. Japan’s 2017 military budget was its largest ever.

In March 2018, Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force carried out its largest reorganization since 1954, creating unified commands and launching the ARDB.

More recently, the government said it would raise the maximum age for military recruits from 26 to 32, hoping to expand the pool of potential soldiers that has shrunk due to low birth rates and an aging population.

“Other countries, like Japan, are really … reinvigorating their own military capability or reforming the constitution, like Abe has tried to do,” Hervé Lemahieu, a research fellow at Australian think tank the Lowy Institute, told Business Insider in May 2018. “That’s also been called internal rebalancing by the Japanese.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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