How the Vietnam draft wasn't as random as you think - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think

December 1969 was not a very merry Christmastime for many American families. The war in Vietnam was ramping up and the draft lottery was held for the first time. 366 blue capsules were drawn, each containing a day of the year. Each calendar date was assigned a number based on draw order. The lower the draft number, the higher the possibility was of being drafted.


soldiers who were chosen in the vietnam draft

Related: This is how to see if you would have been drafted for Vietnam

Conscription in the United States was a common practice, especially during wartime. It had been a part of American life since the Civil War. It wasn’t until 1975 that the draft disappeared and the U.S. military turned into an all-volunteer force.

But back in 1970, one Ph.D. student in computer planning saw the “random” Vietnam draft lottery as flawed — mathematically flawed. According to a New York Times article from the period, he wasn’t the only one.

Mathematicians and statisticians challenged the legality of the process, as it did not produce a truly random result. As the Times’ article points out, hundreds of thousands of men were already preparing for service in Vietnam.

The Nixon White House and the Selective Service System claimed they made a great effort to produce a random result, one that was as fair as possible. Pentagon experts, at the time, estimated that anyone with a number over 200 was unlikely to get drafted.

Soldiers from vietnam draft

Experts said the resulting monthly average number could have been predicted if the capsules containing the dates early in the months were on the bottom and the later days were at the top and the capsules were not adequately mixed — which is exactly what happened.

David Stodolosky, the aforementioned Ph.D. student, is the one who filed a suit against Selective Service, based on the findings that the drawing wasn’t truly random. His lawyers argued that President Nixon’s orders called for a random draft and that wasn’t what they got.

His argument was that later birthdates were drawn much earlier than others and, thus, were more likely to be drafted for wartime service.

The student tried to get an injunction against the government pressing men into service until the draft lottery process was truly randomized — a task as simple as attaching numbers to dates using a random number table and then sorting them.

A judge refused the injunction. Besides, a live lottery made for a much better show.

Articles

That time the US collected Soviet radar technology via the moon

A U-2 spyplane captured a strange photo in 1960; the Soviets had built a massive new antenna near a missile test range. The CIA and others immediately suspected that the array was part of a new radar system and wanted to figure out what its capabilities were, but it was deep in defended space.


So American intelligence decided to try a newly discovered option. In 1946, the U.S. Army Signal Corps had bounced communications signals off of the moon, proving that it had a suitable surface for relaying signals. The Navy spent the next decade building a system that would allow communications between far flung ships and bases by reflecting the signals off the moon.

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think

So the CIA, after they ruled out further collection by aircraft, decided for a literal moonshot. They would train highly sensitive antennas on the moon and wait for the Soviets to scan an object in front of the moon. When the radar energy that passed the target struck the moon and bounced back to the earth, the CIA could collect information from it to figure out how the new radar worked.

But the effort required truly massive receiving antennas. Most of the available antennas that would suffice were 150 feet wide and the best was a proposed 600-foot dish that was never completed. Even then, the CIA needed to get lucky and be looking at the same moment that the Soviet Union was using the radar in the direction of the moon.

They would get insanely lucky.

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think
Meanwhile, the Army and Air Force were just pissed that Russia was irradiating their future moon bases. (Illustration: U.S. Army Project Horizon)

The first break came in 1962 when the Soviet Union inadvertently reflected radar data out, not from the moon, but from their own atomic testing. The nuclear detonation created an ionized cloud that reflected signals and allowed some limited intercept.

In 1964, the CIA was able to start regularly collecting data from the Soviet site, dubbed the “Hen House Site,” after it reflected off the moon. A specially modified receiving station in Palo Alto, California, picked up the signals.

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think

To the surprise and delight of the CIA, the Russians began tracking the moon with the radar for practice, giving the U.S. up to 30 minutes at a time of continuous data. A CIA historical document detailing the effort said:

We expected to see a regular scanning, or “search” mode, and a tracking mode, where the beam follows a target. Both of these have been observed. In the latter, the Soviets, apparently just for practice, have set the radar to track the moon for as much as half an hour. This makes the intercept job much easier, as we then see the signal continuously rather than in short bursts as the beam swings by the moon.

The radar system was estimated to be quite sophisticated, capable of not only identifying and tracking individual targets but of tracking multiple targets and quickly switching focus between them. The system was so fast that the CIA felt confident it was controlled by a computer.

All in all, it made the system a serious threat to American efforts. It would later come to light that the system was designed to track and potentially defeat ballistic missiles. If successful, it could have negated the American nuclear deterrent.

Thanks to the efforts of the CIA, though, America was able to get a jump on the Russians and steal back the advantage.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships

The Alaska-class cruisers are often seen as a waste of resources. At first glance, it is easy to see why. The United States only completed two out of the six planned vessels. One more was launched, but never finished. All three that managed to reach the water were quickly in reserve and then scrapped. But these ships were quite an achievement – a mini-battleship that gave good service during their brief careers.

Much of the issue was timing. According to data in Volume Fifteen of Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, “Supplement and General Index,” the lead ship, USS Alaska (CB 1) was not commissioned until June 17, 1944, 11 days after the D-Day landings. The second ship, USS Guam (CB 2), was commissioned on Sept. 17, 1944. These ships didn’t have much left to fight by the time they got to the front lines.


Their primary purpose was to kill Japan’s heavy cruisers in a surface action. The Japanese had three classes of heavy cruiser intended for front-line service: The Myoko, Takao, and Mogami classes each packed ten eight-inch guns, and at least 12 610mm torpedo tubes for the Type 93 Long Lance torpedo.

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think

The large cruiser USS Alaska (CB 1) fighting off a Japanese air attack.

(US Navy photo)

According to Fleets of World War II, the Alaska-class cruisers were armed with nine 12-inch guns and 12 five-inch dual-purpose guns. NavWeaps.com notes that these guns, the 12″/50 Mark 8, had a maximum range of 38,573 yards. By comparison, the Long Lance torpedo had a maximum range of 32,800 yards.

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think

An Alaska-class large cruiser’s 12-inch guns could fire as many as three salvoes in a minute.

(US Navy photo)

That is a difference of three miles in favor of the Alaska-class cruisers. In essence, a Japanese heavy cruiser would be making a run of about three miles under fire before it could get within the maximum range of its torpedoes. In the roughly six minutes they would be making that run, an Alaska-class cruiser could get off anywhere from 15 to 18 salvoes.

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think

The incomplete large cruiser USS Hawaii (CB 3) being towed to the scrapyard.

(US Navy photo)

The Alaska-class cruisers ended up helping to defend the fleet against Japanese planes. Both vessels helped escort the stricken USS Franklin (CV 13) after she suffered horrific damage during the invasion of Okinawa, and later took part in Operation Magic Carpet, the return of American troops home after World War II. These ships were sold for scrap in the early 1960s, never carrying out their primary mission of killing enemy heavy cruisers, but these mini-battleships still did their share during the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the legacy of Sputnik 1, the world’s first satellite launched into orbit

Just 60 years ago, there were no man-made objects above the planet Earth. Now, there are nearly 500,000 objects circling over Earth in various orbits. These include debris, inactive, and active satellites.


The tiny Sputnik, which means “satellite” or “fellow traveler” in Russian, was the first man-made satellite to be launched into Earth’s orbit on Oct. 4, 1957, and it changed the course of human history.

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think
This handout October 1957 NASA image shows a technician putting the finishing touches on Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite. Photo from NASA.

The 58cm diameter, 83.6kg metallic orb, with four antennae that transmitted radio pulses, that was launched by the Soviet Union heralded the space race between the USSR and the US – ushering in an era of scientific advances, not only in military, but also in communications and navigation technologies.

There are approximately 1,500 active satellites currently orbiting the Earth. Modern society is heavily dependent on satellite technology, which is used for television and radio broadcasting, telephone calls, GPS navigation, mapping, weather forecasting, and other functions.

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think
A map of currently tracked satellite objects. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Class of satellite orbit

Class Altitude Orbital period Common usage
Low Earth Orbit 80km – 1,700km 2 hrs Communications, Earth observation, development (International Space Station, Hubble Space Telescope)
Medium Earth Orbit 1,700km – 35,700km 2 – 24 hrs Navigation (GPS, GLONASS, Galileo)
Geosynchronous Orbit 35,700km 24 hrs Broadcast, Weather
Elliptical Orbit Variable Variable Communications (Sirius Satellite Radio)

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think
The Hubble Space Telescope in orbit. Photo from NASA.

The US share of satellites

US government and private entities own over 40 percent of all satellites currently in orbit. Most operational satellites currently in orbit are for used for communications, Earth observation, technology development, navigation, and space science.

They have lifetimes ranging from months to 30-plus years after launch.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s a look at the bomber NASA flew over Afghanistan

The National Aeronautical and Space Administration has done very well with their small force of WB-57 Canberra reconnaissance planes. These planes have flown for nearly 60 years and they continue to serve today. With such a long, storied history, it’s easy to forget why the B-57 came to be in the first place. Let’s stroll down memory lane.

Originally, the B-57 Canberra was designed to be a light bomber that used high performance to avoid interception. The British started development of this plane in the latter years of World War II. While the American-produced versions did see some use as bombers during the Vietnam War, the Canberra truly hit its stride as a high-altitude reconnaissance asset for the Air Force.


How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think

The RB-57D Canberra variant was designed specifically for high-altitude recon missions.

(USAF)

The RB-57A was the first adaptation of the Canberra designed specifically for reconnaissance work, but the RB-57D was the first such plane intended to do so at high altitudes. Three versions of this recon jet were developed: One was for photo-reconnaissance, using advanced (for the time) camera, a second for electronic warfare, and a third that packed a powerful radar for mapping the ground.

The RB-57F, a much later version, which was created from re-manufacturing older Canberras. These souped-up planes featured more powerful engines and longer wings. They were able to operate at higher altitudes and were used for weather reconnaissance and to collect samples from nuclear tests.

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think

This RB-57 started its life in the Air Force, and now flies with NASA as plane number 926.

(DOD)

Today, NASA still operates three B-57 Canberras. Whiles Canberras have now retired, a few are still flying in civilian hands, undertaking mapping missions.

Watch to video below to learn how the RB-57D was introduced to the United States.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NII_IBplsdU

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the 8 reincarnations of General Patton

One of World War II’s legendary figures, Gen. George S. Patton, loomed largely in the narrative of the war for many reasons.


While no one would accuse the great general of being humble or unassuming, his ego and pride are well-deserved — to the betterment of mankind and the Allied cause. Patton, with his ivory-handled revolvers and propensity to quote the Hindu scripture of “The Bhagavad Gita,” was as eccentric in life as he was effective in combat.

No example of this was more telling than his belief in reincarnation and his own numerous past lives.

As a child, Patton believed he fought Turkish armies. As he grew into an adult, he still had visions of his death in past lives, from viking funerals to the Battle of Tyre. In 1991, Karl F. Hollenbach compiled Patton’s account of his past lives in a book called Patton: Many Lives, Many Battles. Though the man himself never completely expressed the entirety of his beliefs in reincarnation, he did describe numerous events in detail.

Maybe there was something to the idea. Patton’s prowess on the battlefields made him the most feared Allied general among the Nazi leadership, according the the German POW Lt. COl. Freiherr Von Wagenheim. General Patton’s own intelligence officer remarked that his sixth sense was often way ahead of the intelligence coming in. Perhaps this truly is a skill set acquired across lifetimes of military experience.

1. With Alexander the Great at the Siege of Tyre.

In a poem called “Through a Glass, Darkly,” which Patton wrote while commanding the Third Army in Europe, he described being a Greek Hoplite fighting the Persians under Darius. He helped smash the Persian navy and then laid siege to Tyre. The walls fell after five months as Patton and his fellow Hoplites stormed the city.

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think
Pictured: Patton with Alexander? Maybe? #wargasm.

2. Fighting Parthians for Rome.

Patton next talks about slaying Parthians with his Gladius, a sword approximately 25-32 inches long. Since the battle was said to have taken place in the first century B.C., Patton would have been fighting for what was then still the Roman Republic in the Middle East under any number of legendary Roman names: Crassus, Cassius, and Marc Antony to name a few.

In his vision, Patton was wounded and then killed by a number of arrows in his neck.

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think
How do you sleep at night after seeing this in your past life??

The general also remembered being stationed in Langres, France — as a Roman legionnaire in Caesar’s X Legion.

3. A Viking on his way to Valhalla.

When Patton was a young adult, he was kicked by a horse, who broke his leg in three places. Close to death from his wounds, Patton had a vision of his death as a Viking raider — where a vision appeared to him on the battlefield, offering to take him to the Viking afterlife.

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think
How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think
No room for cowards at Crecy.

As a child, Patton claimed to have fought alongside John the Blind of Bohemia, who also met his death at Crecy.

5. An Englishman at Agincourt

The afterlife knows no loyalty in the wars of men, apparently. Less than a century later, Patton was back in the Hundred Years’ War, this time on the side of the English. Patton claimed to have fought with King Henry V at Agincourt.

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think

6. A raiding sailor.

Three of Patton’s stanzas describe fighting on ships as he freed captured slaves or prisoners of war, fired into the enemy at point-blank range during a storm, or even was hanged as a pirate or privateer, describing feeling a rope around his neck as the red deck (presumably blood-stained) was set aflame.

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think
Better get that respawn ready.

7. Fighting for the House of Stuart

Again pitted against the English, though this time his loyalties were less to a nation than to the House of Stuart. Patton was a Scottish Highlander during the third English Civil War, supporting the Stuarts after the death of Charles I.

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think

8. An aide to a Napoleonic Marshal.

Patton describes “riding with Murat” in the poem. Joachim Murat was one of Napoleon’s marshals. Murat was one of the most capable cavalry officers and leaders in service to the French Emperor. He doesn’t specify his role with Murat, but the marshal was pivotal at battles like Jena and the invasion of Russia in 1812.

When the Allies left North Africa to invade Sicily, British General Sir Harold Alexander told Patton that if had been alive in the 19th Century, Napoleon would have made him a marshal — to which Patton replied: “But I did.”

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think

At the end of his epic poem, Patton wrote that he would “battle as of yore, dying to be a fighter, but to die again, once more.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

By the 1970’s, the Rhodesian Security Forces were facing a growing and determined insurgency in the civil war known as the “Rhodesian Bush War.” Faced with increased threats, manpower and equipment shortages, and a large territory to cover, they needed a new tactic to deal effectively with rebel groups. This led the Rhodesian Light Infantry to the development of the fireforce, a vertical envelopment technique involving light infantry, helicopters, and paratroopers in a rapidly deployable posture.


 

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think

A fireforce was equipped with four helicopters, one C-47 Dakota transport aircraft, and a light attack aircraft. The helicopters were of two types; the K-Car and the G-Car. The K-Car was so called because it was the ‘killer’ with its 20mm cannon and functioned as the command and control aircraft. The G-Cars served as gunships with machine guns and as transports for heliborne troops, though they were only capable of carrying four combat loaded troops at a time. The unit was also supported by vehicles, called the ‘Landtail’ that supported the deployment of the airborne component. Weapons were standard for Africa at the time – FN FALs and FN MAG machine guns.

A unit set to a fireforce mission was distinctly organized from standard infantry units. Instead of fire teams, squads, and platoons, the Fire Force was composed of ‘waves’ that were broken down into stops, also known as sticks, each consisting of four men, due to the space constraints on the G-Cars. Each stop had a stick leader, machine gunner, and two riflemen, one of which was also trained as a medic. The fireforce airborne component was composed of eight stops. Stops one through three were assigned to the G-Cars while stops four through eight were assigned as paratroopers. These forces, along with the light attack aircraft, constituted the first wave. The remaining men assigned to the fireforce were in vehicles as the ‘Landtail,’ or second wave.

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think

There were three main fireforce units located at three bases throughout the country, ready to respond to a contact or sighting of enemy forces by the Selous Scouts. That’s when the excitement began. Once contact was reported, a siren would sound alerting the fireforce. The first three stops would board helicopters while the rest would quickly don parachutes with the help of off-duty team members. The airborne component would rush to the objective where the fireforce commander would determine a drop zone and position the heliborne stops to encircle the rebels. Once on the ground, the stops would attempt to stop the enemy. They would act as blocking positions for the sweep element, usually paratroopers, creating the classic hammer and anvil movement. Combined with circling gunships and close-air support, this method proved deadly effective, resulting in a kill ratio of better than 80:1.

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think

The fireforce became the primary tactic of the Rhodesian security forces. By 1977, all infantrymen would be trained as paratroopers. While on a ‘bush trip’ – usually lasting about six weeks – the men on a fireforce would rotate between heliborne insertion, paratrooper, landtail, and off-duty. After a bush trip, the men were given ten days rest before returning to the field. This allowed for a very high ops tempo. As the fireforce was perfected and the insurgency gained strength, this meant that Rhodesian soldiers were called on more and more to conduct missions. In his book Fireforce: One Man’s War in the Rhodesian Light Infantry Chris Cocks tells of men making three combat jumps in a single day. This led to a truly staggering number of jumps for many members of the Rhodesian Light Infantry, unmatched by any other unit in the world.

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think

The fireforce was not enough to keep the Rhodesians from losing the war and the method was never adopted by other militaries. The French had used paratroopers extensively in Indochina while the Americans preferred to use only helicopters. With Rhodesia turning over to majority African control and becoming Zimbabwe, the Rhodesian Light Infantry and fireforces were disbanded. Though it would go down in history as one of the most effective counter-insurgency forces ever conceived.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was General Sherman’s real method of clearing minefields

Saying that General William T. Sherman was unforgiving to his enemies is the understatement of the 19th-Century. The man who burned Georgia to the ground was as tough as they come and in the South, he earned a reputation for being particularly evil, even though the truth is much further than the Confederates would have you believe.


There’s no doubt Sherman was as destructive as he could be as he burned Atlanta and then marched to the sea, as history puts it, but some of his methods were much more exaggerated than history remembers it.

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think

And some of it wasn’t exaggerated at all.

One such exaggeration is how Sherman used Confederate prisoners of war to clear a confederate minefield near Sandersville, Ga. during his infamous “March to the Sea.” Sherman is remembered to have seen one of his soldiers lose a leg to a land mine. In a rage, he tells a prisoner to deliver a message to Confederate leaders in Georgia: he is going to use POWs to clear every minefield in Georgia as he walked to Savannah, no matter how many it took to clear the mines.

To read this, one would think Sherman is going to send a mass of men into a minefield to clear mines by setting them off, killing and maiming the POWs in the process. After all, this is the man known for saying, “War is cruel. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think

This context would have you believe Sherman is the Confederacy’s Attila the Hun, relentlessly destroying everything in his path with zero compassion. And while Sherman may have destroyed a lot of what he found in Georgia, he also fed citizens from his army’s stores and allowed emancipated slaves to follow his army as it marched from Atlanta to Savannah. Sherman was very dedicated to the laws of war, even if he was pushing the envelope of those laws. He even challenged his critics to “see the books” of those laws for themselves.

As for the POWs clearing mines, he did use the Confederates to clear minefields. His order was more than rushing them into the middle of the field to be blown up, however. His logic was that those troops had buried those mines near Sandersville and they should be the ones to dig them up. He did the same thing outside of Savannah later in the campaign.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the US Army had a Camel Corps

Camels have been used as beasts of burden for millennia and the creature is, in many ways, vastly more suited to the task than even the sturdiest of equids. For example, a typical camel can carry in excess of 300 kilos (661 lbs) of supplies without issue, more than twice the weight an average horse or mule could carry with similar distances/speeds. In addition, camels are also largely indifferent to relatively extreme heat, can go for days without needing to take in additional water, and can happily chow down on many desert plants horses and mules wouldn’t eat if they were starving (meaning more of what they can carry can be cargo instead of food for the animals). When not under heavy load, camels can also run as fast as 40 mph in short bursts as well as sustain a speed of around 25 mph for even as much as an hour. They are also extremely sure footed and can travel in weather conditions that would make wagon use impractical.


For this reason a small, but nonetheless dedicated group within the American military in the mid 19th century was positively obsessed with the idea of using camels as pack animals, and even potentially as cavalry.

It’s noted that the largest proponent of camel power at the time was the then Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis — yes, THAT, Jefferson Davis. Davis particularly thought the camel would be useful in southern states where the army was having trouble transporting supplies owing to the desert-like conditions in some of the regions.

To solve the problem, Davis continually pushed for importing camels, including in a report to congress he wrote in 1854 where he stated, “I again invite attention to the advantages to be anticipated from the use of camels… for military and other purposes, and for reasons set forth in my last annual report, recommend that an appropriation be made to introduce a small number of the several varieties of this animal, to test their adaptation to our country…”

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think
Camel at Drum Barracks, San Pedro, California (1863 or earlier)

Finally, in early 1855, Congress listened, setting a $30,000 (about $800,000 today) budget for just such an experiment. One Major Henry C. Wayne was then tasked with travelling all the way across the world to buy several dozen camels to bring back to America, with Wayne setting out on this trip on June 4, 1855.

Besides going to places like Egypt and other such regions known for their camel stock, Wayne also took a detour through Europe where he grilled various camel aficionados and zoological experts on how to best take care of the animal.

After several months, Wayne returned to America with a few dozen camels and a fair amount of arrogance about his new endeavor. On that note, only about four months after taking a crash course in camel care, Wayne proudly boasted that Americans would “manage camels not only as well, but better than Arabs as they will do it with more humanity and with far greater intelligence.” Of course, when initial efforts on that front demonstrated a little more experience was needed, various Arab immigrants who had experience managing the beasts were hired to head up the task.

The newly formed United States Camel Corps quickly proved its worth, such as early on managing to carry supplies from San Antonio, Texas to Camp Verde, Arizona during a severe rainstorm that made using wagons practically impossible. In another expedition, the man in charge of the trip, Edward Fitzgerald Beale, afterwards reported back that just one camel was worth four of the best mules on that trip.

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think
Gwinn Heap’s illustration for Jefferson Davis’ (at that time Secretary of War) report to the U.S. Congress in 1857. The drawingu00a0illustrated the journey of the camels to the United States.

Robert E. Lee would later state after another expedition where conditions saw some of the mules die along the journey, the camels “endurance, docility and sagacity will not fail to attract attention of the Secretary of War, and but for whose reliable services the reconnaissance would have failed.”

Despite the glowing reviews, there were various complaints such as the camel’s legendary reputation for stubbornness and frequent temper tantrums and that horses were nervous around them. Of course, horses could be trained to put up with camels. The real issue seems to have been the human factor- soldiers just preferred to deal with more familiar horses and mules, despite the disadvantages compared to camels in certain situations. As Gen. David Twigg matter of factly stated: “I prefer mules for packing.”

Later, just as big of an issue was the fact that it was Jefferson Davis who championed the idea in the first place. As you might imagine, during and after the Civil War, ideas he’d previously prominently pushed for were not always viewed in the best light in the North.

Unsurprisingly from all this, the Camel Corps idea was quietly dropped within a year of the end of the Civil War and later, largely forgotten by history. However, some of the imported camels, including thousands imported by businesses around this same time that were rendered mostly useless with the establishment of the transcontinental railroad in the late 1860s, were simply set free, with sightings of wild camel still a thing in the South going all the way up to around the mid-20th century.

Bonus Facts:

  • Male Arabian camels begin courtship via more or less inflating a portion of his soft palate called a dulla with air to the point that it protrudes up to a foot out of his mouth. The result is something that looks somewhat akin to an inflated scrotum hanging out of its mouth. On top of this, they use their spit to then make a low gurgling sound, with the result being the camel also appearing to foam at the mouth at the same time. If this isn’t sexy enough for the lady camels, they also rub their necks (where they have poll glands that produce a foul, brown goo) anywhere they can and even pee on their own tails to increase their lady-attracting stench.
  • Even though today Camels can only naturally be found in parts of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, Camels are actually thought to have originated in the Americas around 40 million years ago. It’s thought that they migrated to Asia shortly before the last Ice Age, though there were still Camels in North America as recently as 15,000 years ago.
  • America isn’t the only place that imported camels. Australia also imported up to 20,000 camels from India in the 19th century to help with exploring the country, much of which is desert. Ultimately many camels were set free and, unlike in the US, the camel population in Australia flourished. Today, Australia is estimated to have one of the largest feral camel populations in the world (estimated at 750,000 camels in 2009), which has since been deemed something of an environmental problem. As such, the government has set up a program to cull the camels, with around a couple hundred thousand being killed in the last several years in an attempt to control the population.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch this: First nuclear reactor explosion took 4 milliseconds

The SL-1, short for Stationary Low-Power Reactor Number One, was a nuclear power reactor located about 40 miles from Idaho Falls, Idaho. SL-1 was just one of many experimental nuclear power plants the Army built. Most of the reactors were off in the middle of nowhere, away from people. Not the SL-1. In fact, it was just forty miles from a major town, Idaho Falls. A steam explosion and meltdown of the SL-1 tragically killed three of the plant operations. It’s the only nuclear reactor accident in the US to cause immediate fatalities. It ended so badly but it started out with high hopes. The first fatal nuclear reactor accident in America took just four milliseconds to happen.

How the SL-1 began

Shortly after the end of WWII, we started looking for ways to make more weapons (of course). We also started looking at ways nuclear reactors could help fuel the country. Everyone was doing it and Russia and the UK were leading the way. So we needed to catch up – and fast. The Army quickly assemlbed teams and we constructing nuclear power plants all over the place.

At the time, Arctic nuclear reactors used diesel generators for power. But the Army thought they had a more effective and efficient alternative. So, the idea was to create a low-power reactor that was simple, reliable, easy to build. Oh, and it also needed to be functional in the harsh climate of the Arctic.

Enter the SL-1.

On December 2, 1958, the plant officially opened. A protective 15-meter-high quarter-inch steel cylinder housed the reactor. Just to be safe, it was embedded in gravel at the ground-level.

Inside of a nuclear reactor without fuel
The inside of a nuclear reactor just *looks* dangerous.

Not all things nuclear follow with disaster, but some do…

Here’s the thing to keep in mind. The SL-1 was built as an experiment. It was supposed to be a prototype for America’s introduction to nuclear power. And it was also supposed to serve remove military facilities in cold weather conditions.

For a few years, everything went great. SL-1 hummed along, worked well, and even powered the town.

That all changed when it was shut down for routine maintenance on December 21, 1960.

Then, on January 3, 1961, a group of three operators, two Army Specialists and a Navy CB, prepared the nuclear reactor for its return to operation.

Well, we all know that anything involving nuclear power has the potential for disaster, and unfortunately, disaster struck that day. One of the Army Specialists withdrew the central control rod of the nuclear reactor much too far, resulting in a steam explosion that caused the reactor to lift over two meters into the air. The explosion impaled the supervising Navy CB to the ceiling, and a high-pressure spray of radioactive stream water hit the other two men. The impaled Navy CB and one Army Specialist were killed instantly, while the other died not long after.

This all happened within a matter of seconds after the withdrawal of the central control rod. Thankfully, the remote location of the nuclear reactor in the high desert of Idaho saved the accident from having a lot more serious radioactive consequences on surrounding communities.

The true cause of the accident will forever remain a mystery

While some suspected suicide or even suicide-murder because of possible bad blood between two crew members, the most likely cause of the disaster was much less dramatic. The reactor was known to have sticky control rods, so it is reasonable to assume the Army Specialist accidentally pulled the rod out too far, immediately triggering the explosion. These are just theories, however. The true cause we’ll never know.

After analyzing the incident, the Army made two very wise decisions. One was to abandon the reactor’s design. The other was to ensure that one small error with a control rod would not leave a nuclear reactor in critical condition ever again.

Related: This is why there’s no Cold War Medal

MIGHTY HISTORY

Tom Clancy used this wargame for ‘Red Storm Rising’

Tom Clancy’s 1986 novel Red Storm Rising is arguably his literary tour de force. Following on the heels of 1984’s The Hunt for Red October, it cemented Clancy’s status as the inventor of the techno-thriller genre. Despite being a massive best-seller, Clancy never won a Pulitzer Prize or Nobel Prize for his contributions to the field of literature.

In Red Storm Rising, “Dance of the Vampires” featured a Soviet attack on a NATO carrier force centered on USS Nimitz (CVN 68), USS Saratoga (CV 60), and the French carrier Foch (R99). In the book, the Nimitz was badly damaged by two AS-6 Kingfish missiles, while the Foch took three hits and was sunk.

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There was little understanding of how new technology like the Tu-22M Backfire would play into a war.

(DOD painting)

But how did Clancy manage to make that moment in the book so realistic? The answer lies in a wargame designed by Larry Bond called Harpoon. Bond is best known as a techno-thriller author of some repute himself, having written Red Phoenix, Cauldron, and Red Phoenix Burning, among others. But he designed the Harpoon wargame, which came in both a set of rules for miniatures and a computer game. (Full disclosure: The author is a long-time fan of the game, and owns both miniature and computer versions.)

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Alas, poor Foch, you were doomed from the start.

(U.S. Navy photo)

At WargameVault.com, Larry Bond explained that while the end result had been determined, what was lacking was an understand of two big areas: How would all these new systems interact, and what would the likely tactics be? As a result, they ran the game three times, and it was not a small affair: A number of others took part, resulting in each side’s “commander” having “staffs” who used written standard orders and after-action reports.

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A simulated massacre of Tu-22M Backfires off Iceland also shaped the plot of ‘Red Storm Rising.’

(U.S. Navy)

Each of the three games had very different results, but the gaming helped to make Red Storm Rising a literary masterpiece of the last 20th century. Incidentally, Harpoon further shaped Red Storm Rising through a scenario called the “Keflavik Turkey Shoot” – a gaming result that convinced Clancy to include the Soviet Union taking Iceland in the early portions of the book.

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While she sits in reserve today, at the time of ‘Red Storm Rising,’ USS Ticonderoga (CG 47) was the latest and greatest in naval technology.

(US Navy photo)

Bond released a collection of those scenarios, and some other material into an electronic publication called “Dance of the Vampires,” available for .00 at WargameVault.com. It is a chance to see how a wargame shaped what was arguably the best techno-thriller of all time.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets when he was shot

On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. with a .44-caliber single-shot derringer pistol to the back of the head. While Booth fled on horseback, the president was rushed to a boarding house across the street to await the surgeon general. Sadly, the 16th president of the United States died the next morning at the age of 56.

The assassination has maintained infamous throughout history for many reasons. First, the attack was public and led to a heated manhunt. Perhaps more significantly, after four years of civil war, Confederate General Robert E. Lee had just surrendered his army only five days before, effectively ending the conflict. Though Lincoln would not live to see his country recover, in death he kept the promise he made to the Union during his inaugural address “to preserve, protect and defend it.”

President Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, were at Ford’s Theater that night to attend Our American Cousin, a comedy. The Library of Congress has preserved the contents of the president’s pockets on his final night. Here’s what he had:

www.youtube.com

Watch the video above to see details of the items in his pockets, which include a pocket knife and two pairs of spectacles. The president also carried on his person a watch fob and a linen handkerchief, stenciled with “A. Lincoln” in red. While these feel very simple, there are some more curious items as well.

First, the president carried newspaper clippings, including, according to the Library of Congress, several favorable to the president and his policies. It’s almost like the 19th Century version of checking out what Twitter had to say about the administration.

Even more curious was the fact that the only currency Abraham Lincoln carried the night he died was a five-dollar Confederate note in a brown leather wallet. “We don’t know with one hundred percent certainty but just a few days earlier, Richmond had fallen, and Lincoln did actually travel to Richmond and this was likely passed onto him as a souvenir,” shared Clark Evans, Head of Reference Services in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress.

After his death, the contents of President Lincoln’s pockets were passed onto his son, Robert Todd, and they remained in the Lincoln family for more than seventy years. They were finally placed on display at the LIbrary of Congress in 1976, where they remain the most favored of all objects within the library’s collections.

MIGHTY HISTORY

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

Despite having two horses shot out from under him, history would have been much different if George Washington was born a 90-pound weakling. As it was, he was an abnormally large man, especially for the American Colonies. At 6’2″ and weighing more than 200 pounds, he was literally and figuratively a giant of a man. This might be why nine diseases, Indian snipers, and British cannon shot all failed to take the big man down.


It’s not just that the man was fearless in battle (even though he really was). Washington suffered from a number of otherwise debilitating, painful ailments and diseases throughout his life that would have taken a lesser man down — but not the man who founded the most powerful country ever to grace the Earth.

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“Let them take cover in the woods! We’ll fight the indians in straight lines, in tight formations. That’ll show them who’s boss.” It didn’t show them who’s boss.

He should have died at the Battle of the Monongahela

Near what we today call Pittsburgh,a British force under General Edward Braddock was soundly defeated by a force of French Canadians and Indians during the French and Indian War. Braddock died of wounds sustained in the fighting, but Washington survived despite having two horses shot out from under him. When all was said and done, he also found four musket-ball holes in his coat.

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“C’mon guys… let’s make this quick. Suuuuuper quick.”

He had dysentery the whole time

During much of the French and Indian War, Washington reported bouts of dysentery, an infection that causes (among other things) persistent diarrhea. He suffered from this while dodging bullets at the Monongahela River. The discomfort from it actually made him sit taller on his horse.

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“This is way easier when you don’t have dysentery!”

He trotted 30 yards from enemy lines

During the 1777 Battle of Princeton, Washington rode on his horse as bullets fired from British rifles 30 yards away whizzed around him. When troops worried about their leader getting shot, he simply said, “parade with me my fine fellows, we will have them soon!”

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America would get two more epic swings at German troops.

Trenton was cold as hell.

Crossing the Delaware was actually much more dangerous than the stories would have you believe. Giant chunks of ice were in the dark water that night and each threatened to overturn the longboats. Washington set out with three boats to make the crossing, and only his made it. Falling into the water likely meant a slow, freezing death for any Continental, even if they managed to get out of it.

Two Continental soldiers who survived the crossing stopped to rest by the side of the road and were frozen by morning.

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think

Paintings: the Presidential Snapchat filter.

He had six of the most lethal diseases of his time.

Normally, if you’re reading about someone in the 1700s contracting tuberculosis, dysentery, pneumonia, malaria, smallpox, or diphtheria, it’s because that’s how they died. Not only did Washington survive all of these conditions, he knew how to inoculate his army against smallpox, claiming the British tried using as an early form of biological warfare. It was the first mass military inoculation in history — and it worked.

In the end, Washington was felled by what modern doctors think was a case of epiglottitis, an acute bacterial inflammation of the little flap at the base of the tongue that covers the trachea.

Like the Rebel Alliance finding an exhaust port in the Death Star plans, life found a way to take down one of history’s greatest. It took 67 years and whole lot of trial and error.