These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral

The tiny mountainous country of Switzerland has been in a state of “perpetual neutrality” since the major European powers of the time declared it as such during the Congress of Vienna after the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815.

Why did they do this?

The French conquered Switzerland in 1798, establishing the Helvetic Republic in attempt to make Switzerland something of a strategically positioned French satellite state. Not long after, Austrian and Russian forces invaded the country in their war against France. The Swiss, rather than fighting alongside their French overlords, largely refused. This ultimately led to the Act of Mediation, giving the Swiss back much of their former independence. Twelve years later, they got the rest thanks to the aforementioned Congress of Vienna in which their neutrality in the wars of their neighbors was officially recognised.


Beyond the Swiss themselves having long tried to stay out of the conflicts of Europe (since the early 16th century after a devastating loss at the Battle of Marignano), part of the reason Switzerland was granted neutrality in perpetuity in 1815 is because the European powers of the time deemed that the country was ideally located to function as a “a valuable buffer zone between France and Austria.” Thus, granting their neutrality in wars, so long as they continued to stay out of them, would “contribute to stability in the region.”

Since that time, with a few minor exceptions, Switzerland has steadfastly refused to compromise its neutrality for any reason, though on the war-front they did suffer an exceptionally brief civil war in the mid-19th century resulting in only a handful of casualties. While minor in its scale, this civil war drastically changed the political landscape of the Swiss government, including the establishment of a constitution partially borrowing from the then less than a century old United States constitution.

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral

Swiss officer barracks in the Umbrail Pass during World War I.

In any event, as for those aforementioned “minor exceptions”, Switzerland has occasionally taken part in some global peacekeeping missions and prior to 1860 Swiss troops did sometimes take part in various skirmishes, despite their neutrality.

In more modern times, Switzerland needed to defend its borders from both Allied and Axis (see: How Did the Axis and Allies Get Their Names) air incursions during WW2. For instance, they shot down nearly a dozen German planes in the spring of 1940 alone, as well as shot down some American bombers and forced down countless others on both sides. This included grounding and detaining the crews of over a hundred Allied bombers that tried to fly over the country. When Hitler tried to counter Swiss measures at keeping the Luftwaffe from their skies by sending a sabotage team to destroy Swiss airfields, the Swiss successfully captured the saboteurs before they could carry out any bombings.

You might think it a bit silly for the Swiss to risk war with both sides by shooting or forcing down foreign aircraft from their skies, but on several occasions Allied bombers accidentally attacked Swiss cities, mistaking them for German ones. For instance, on April 1, 1944, American bombers, thinking they were bombing Ludwigshafen am Rhein, bombed Schaffhausen, killing 40 Swiss citizens and destroying over fifty buildings. This was not an isolated incident.

So how exactly did Switzerland, surrounded on all sides by Axis (or Central in WW1) and Allied powers during the wars to end all wars, manage to keep enemy troops at bay without much in the way of any fighting?

Officially Switzerland maintains a policy of “Aggressive Neutrality” meaning that although it actively avoids taking part in conflicts, as evidenced by their air-force activities during WW2, it will defend its own interests with vigour. How vigorous? To ensure other countries respect its neutral stance, Switzerland has long put itself into a terrifyingly over prepared position to fight, and made sure every country around them was, and is, well aware of this fact.

As for specifics, to begin with, a common misconception about Switzerland is that because it doesn’t actively take part in global military conflicts, that it doesn’t have a strong or well prepared military. In reality the Swiss military is a highly trained and competent fighting force, and due to the country’s policy of compulsory conscription of males (today women may volunteer for any position in the military, but are not required to serve) is surprisingly large for a country of only around eight million people.

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral

Swiss border patrol in the Alps during World War II.

In fact, approximately two-thirds of all males are ultimately deemed mentally and physically fit enough to serve in the Swiss military, meaning a huge percentage of their population is ultimately military trained. (Those who are not, and aren’t exempt because of a disability, are required to pay additional taxes until they are 30 to make up for not serving.)

As for what fighting force is actively maintained, the Swiss military today is only around 140,000 men strong and just this year it has been voted to reduce that to 100,000. This is a major downsize from just two decades ago when it was estimated the Swiss military had some 750,000 soldiers. For reference, this latter total is about half the size of the United States military today, despite Switzerland having only about eight million people vs. the United States’ three hundred million.

In addition to this, Switzerland has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world and many Swiss people are highly competent in handling said firearms due to both compulsory military service and a strong culture of recreational shooting (half a million Swiss children are said to be part of a gun club of some kind).

This said, in recent years the rate of gun ownership has declined somewhat after a series of gun related incidents, such as one where a man shot his estranged wife with his old military issued rifle. Prior to the shooting, military conscripts would take their rifle home with them after their service ended and were expected to keep it ready for use in defending the country should the need arise.

After these incidents, the military curbed this and implemented a new policy stating that any conscript wishing to keep their gun after service must buy it and apply for a permit. As part of this new policy, the Swiss military also no longer provides ammunition with the guns, instead keeping it in secure locations that citizens must get to in the event of an emergency.

Speaking of emergencies, generally speaking, Switzerland is prepared for near any global catastrophe from nuclear fallout to a surprise invasion from an enemy force thanks to a defensive plan it has been implementing since 1880, but which was doubled-down upon during WW2 and later during the Cold War.

Dubbed the Swiss National Redoubt, in a nutshell Switzerland has taken advantage of it unique natural geography, which includes mountains that surround it on nearly all sides, to build countless bunkers, fortifications and warehouses across the country that can be accessed at a moment’s notice. The full scale of the fortifications is a closely guarded secret, but some of them are kept in plain view as part of a comprehensive campaign of deterrence.

Initially the National Redoubt consisted of tunnels bored into the many mountains of Switzerland in key strategic positions for retreating troops and citizens to take shelter in, but over the years these have evolved to encompass a host of ingenious defensive and offensive structures. Along with tunnels and bunkers (which are fully stocked and contain everything from bakeries and hospitals to dormitories), the mountains of Switzerland also hide countless tanks, aircraft, and hidden artillery guns (some of which are pointed directly at Switzerland’s own roads to destroy them in the event of invasion).

Oddly for a landlocked country, Switzerland does maintain an active navy of sorts, though they don’t store any boats in its mountains as far as we could find. The naval branch of the Swiss forces’ primary role is in patrolling the country’s lakes on the border and providing aid in search and rescue operations.

As for more specifically how they kept themselves out of the world wars, during WW1, the Swiss military, under freshly appointed General Ulrich Wille, mobilised well over 200,000 Swiss soldiers and deployed them across its major entry points to deter any outside forces from considering waging war on the country. After it became apparent that Switzerland’s neutrality would be recognised by all powers in the first Great War, the vast majority of the Swiss troops were sent home. (In fact, in the final year of the war, the Swiss military had shrunk its numbers to just 12,000.) Nothing further was required to keep the Swiss out of WW1.

WW2 was a different beast altogether with Switzerland not banking on Hitler respecting their long-held neutral stance in European conflicts. Thus, newly appointed Swiss General Henri Guisan was given the unenviable task of trying to figure out a way to defend the small country from their neighbors, Hitler and his allies, despite that said powers drastically outmatched the Swiss army in a variety of ways.

Towards this end, leading up to the war, the Swiss withdrew from the League of Nations to help ensure their neutrality, began to re-build their military (bringing the number up to 430,000 combat troops within three days of the start of the war), and strongly encouraged its citizens to keep at minimum two months’ worth of supplies on hand at any given time. On top of that, they also began secret negotiations with France to join forces against Germany, should Germany attack Switzerland (a risky move that was discovered by the Germans after France fell to them).

But even with all that, knowing the Swiss couldn’t win if Hitler really wanted to invade, Guisan and co. made the decision to drastically ramp up their WW1 era strategy of making invading Switzerland as unsavory an option as possible. Guisan noted that by utilizing Switzerland’s harsh terrain, a comparatively small amount of Swiss soldiers in a secure defensive position could fight off a massive fighting force if the need ever arose. So the plan was essentially to perpetually defend and retreat to some fortified position over and over again, ultimately conceding the less defensible populated areas of the country once the government and citizens had managed a retreat into secret fortified positions in the Alps. They’d then use the Alps as a base from which to both launch guerrilla attacks to make life miserable for any successful invasion force and to use highly defensible positions there to keep crucial supply lines from the invaders.

More controversially, Switzerland continued to trade with Nazi Germany during the war in order to further de-incentivise Hitler from invading. (There is some speculation that some of the Allies’ “accidental” attacks on Switzerland were really not accidents at all, given that some of the buildings that were blown up were factories supplying the Axis powers.)

The multi-pronged plan worked and, while Hitler did have a detailed plan in place to invade Switzerland eventually, the cost of doing so was always too high given the Axis power’s troubles both on the Eastern and Western fronts. Thus, Switzerland was largely ignored by both Allies and the Axis throughout WW2, despite its amazingly well placed location right next to Germany, Italy, France, and Austria.

Switzerland stepped up their level of defence during the Cold War, again mostly out of a desire to deter any potential invaders. This time, however, the focus was on “aggressively” defending Switzerland’s borders instead of defending them only long enough to cover a retreat into the well fortified mountains.

Towards this end, Switzerland’s roads, bridges and train lines were rigged with explosives that could be detonated at any time. In many cases, the engineers who designed the bridges were required to come up with the most efficient way, using explosives, to ensure the complete destruction of those same bridges. Once the destruction plan was developed, hidden explosives were installed at the appropriate locations in the bridges. On top of that, the military also lined hundreds of mountains flanking major roads with explosives to create artificial rockslides. All total, over three thousand points of demolition are publicly known to have been implemented throughout the small country.

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral

Large-scale construction of hangers were conducted by the Swiss military in the 1950s.

With ground attacks covered, the Swiss looked to the skies. Unfortunately for them, attack by air is much harder to defend against for a country so small that enemy air forces could penetrate anywhere within its borders before an adequate defence could be mustered to defend its cities. To protect against this, the Swiss government constructed thousands of bomb shelters in homes, towns and cities to such a degree that it’s estimated that anywhere between 80 to 120 percent of the country’s population could hide in them for extended periods. Many of these shelters also included small hospitals and the necessary equipment to set up independent command centers. In fact, homes built after WW2 were often made with over 40 cm (16 in.) thick concrete ceilings to help them survive aerial bombings. If your home didn’t accommodate such a shelter, you had to pay a tax to support places that did.

It’s also rumoured that much of Switzerland’s gold supply as well as vast supplies of food stores have been similarly squirreled away somewhere in the Alps, which comprise just over half of the country’s total land area.

As a further example of how ridiculously well prepared the Swiss are for any and all threats, there are things like hidden hydroelectric dams built inside of unmarked mountains so that in the event of mass bombings, they’ll still have electricity from these secret facilities. And, remember, these are the things the Swiss government has let us know about. It is thought that there are probably more fortifications and hidden goodies scattered about the country’s landscape.

Since the end of the Cold War (see How Did the Cold War Start and End), similar to how the Swiss government has been slowly disarming its population and reducing its standing army, decommissioning some of these fortifications has begun in order to reduce government spending. The Swiss government is somewhat coy about the extent of this disarming, but it has been reported that many of the more extreme defenses, such as the explosives that used to be hidden inside the country’s bridges and along its road and railways, have been removed. As for the bunkers, unfortunately, simply abandoning many of these facilities is not an option, and it’s fairly expensive to decommission them.

As such, as the head of security policy for the federal Department of Defense, Christian Catrina, said “…in most cases we’d be glad if someone would take them off our hands for no price”.

In some cases, this has resulted in companies using the ridiculously well protected and secure mountain facilities as data repositories and server farms. In one such converted bunker, the servers inside are even completely protected from outside electromagnetic impulses that result from nuclear explosions.

In another, detailed instructions on how to build devices for reading all known data storage formats, even older formats like floppy disks, are kept, so that if that knowledge is otherwise lost, future generations can still decode our data storage devices to access the data within correctly. Essentially, the researchers involved in this particular project have attempted to create a “Rosetta Stone” of data formats and are using a ridiculously secure Swiss bunker as the storage point for that knowledge.

As a result of military downsizing, the fate of the rest of the fortifications is unclear and there are calls to decommission all of them, despite the estimated billion dollar price tag to do so. There is even a growing minority of the Swiss population who would like to see the entire military disbanded, including ceasing mandatory conscription.

But for now, at least, any country that wishes to ignore Switzerland’s long-held neutrality in military conflicts will find the tiny country an exceptionally difficult one to conquer and occupy. And presumably if war ever again threatens Swiss’ borders, regardless of how small they make their military today, they’ll likely keep themselves in a position to rapidly ramp back up their defences as they did for WW1 and WW2.

Bonus Facts:

  • Shortly before WW2, Switzerland passed the Swiss Banking Act, which allowed bank accounts to be created anonymously, in no small part to allow German Jews to squirrel their liquid assets away into accounts that the Third Reich would have difficulty finding out about or getting access to.
  • The term “Swiss Army Knife” was coined by United States soldiers after WWII. The soldiers had trouble pronouncing the original name of “Schweizer Offiziersmesser” (Swiss Officer’s Knife) and thus began calling the multi-tool a “Swiss Army Knife”. The company that makes Swiss Army Knives is Victorinox, named after the founder, Karl Elsener’s, deceased mother, Victoria. The “nox” part comes from the fact that stainless steel is also known as “inox”, which is short for the French term “inoxydable”.
  • Karl Elsener himself was originally the owner of a surgical equipment company. He later took over production of the original Modell 1890 knives, which were previously made in Germany. He moved the production to Switzerland and greatly improved the design of the original multi-tool. His big breakthrough came when he figured out a way to put blades on both sides of the handle using the same spring to hold both sides in place. This allowed him to put twice as many features into the multi-tool as was previously possible.
  • There has been a “fact” floating around that Switzerland has the highest number of guns per citizen and the lowest rate of people killed by firearms per year, but this isn’t correct. Switzerland is actually 4th in number of guns per 100 people (at 45.7 guns per 100), though does maintain a relatively low number of deaths per year due to firearms at just 3.84 per 100,000, which is good enough for 19th place overall. However, it should also be noted that 3.15 of those deaths per 100,000 are suicide. Their homicide rate (.52 per 100,000) is good enough for 31st place, with the rest of deaths from firearms (.17 per 100,000) being either accidental or undetermined.
  • While the United States has by far the most guns per capita at 94.3 guns per 100 residents, it is only 12th in firearm related deaths per capita at 10.3 per 100,000 people. 6.3 of those 10.3 firearm related deaths are suicides. This equates to the U.S. being in 14th place on the number of firearm related homicides per 100,000 and overall 103rd as far as total murders per 100,000 at 4.8. For reference, that’s four times the murders per 100,000 than the United Kingdom, which sits in 169th place in murders per 100,000.
  • Number 1 by far in firearm related deaths per 100,000 is Honduras with 64.8 deaths per 100,000 from firearms. Surprisingly, Honduras only has 6.2 guns for every 100 people in the country. Honduras also has the highest rate of murders per 100,000 overall at 91.6.
  • On average, more people commit crimes in Switzerland who aren’t Swiss citizens than who are every year, which has very recently led to harsher deportation laws. In fact, of the top 25 nationalities to commit crimes in Switzerland, 21 of them commit more crimes than the Swiss while on Swiss soil, with the average of all those immigrants being 390% more crimes than are committed by Swiss citizens. Immigrants specifically from Austria, France, and Germany to Switzerland, however, commit an average of only 70% of the crimes the Swiss do on Swiss soil.

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

Articles

If the battle of Thermopylae was fought today with 300 Marines

The legendary defense of the Spartans at the “hot gates” of Thermopylae has gone down in military history as one of the greatest last stands.


But what if 300 Marine infantrymen, along with a couple thousand other fighters, had to repeat what Leonidas, 300 Spartans, and their Greek allies did in 480 B.C. against a modern foe?

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral
(Photo: flickr/Guillaume Cattiaux)

First, the battlefield at Thermopylae in 480 B.C. was very friendly to defenders. The mountains pressed close to the sea, leaving only a thin gap of land through which Xerxes could press his army. This gap was further constricted by the Spartans when they repaired a low wall.

For the modern Marines, the gap could instead be narrowed with fighting holes, barbed wire, machine gun positions, and mines. Similarly, the fatal back path that Xerxes marched his “Immortals” through to doom Leonidas and his men could be blocked the same way, forcing an attacker to pay for every yard in blood.

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral
U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Aaron S. Patterson

Unfortunately for the Marines, their enemy can afford a few bloody engagements. While the Marines would boast 300 infantrymen and 6,000 other combat arms Marines, their enemy would number somewhere around 100,000.

The first thing the Marines would want to do against an enemy attack is copy the advantage that the Spartans used at Thermopylae, greater infantry range and stronger defenses. The Greek Hoplite carried a spear with slightly better range than the Immortal’s swords, and Hoplite armor was constructed of bronze strong enough to protect from Persian arrows.

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral
The M16 is bulkier than the M4, but boasts greater range. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Katelyn Hunter)

The Marines would need to reach back in their armories for a similar range advantage. While the M4 has an effective firing range of 500 meters, the same as the AK-74 and other common infantry weapons, the M16 has a 550-meter range against a point target, a 10 percent boost. And the Marines’ body armor and defensive fortifications would give them an advantage over attackers similar to the Hoplites’ bronze armor.

Unfortunately for the Marines, modern warfare isn’t limited to infantry fighting infantry, and so they would need to reckon with enemy artillery and air assets.

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral
(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Zachery C. Laning)

While the U.S. faces an artillery range gap in relation to Russia and China, the Marines defending the pass could use the mountains on their west to place their guns at greater altitude. This would give their guns greater range and force the enemy to come within the envelope of the U.S. cannon to try to take out Marine artillery positions.

Air defenders would also need to position themselves up the mountains to provide an effective screen to protect their troops from enemy air attacks.

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral
(Photo: U.S. Navy Seaman Levingston Lewis)

Luckily for the Marines, the Corps is one of the few military organizations that has invested heavily in short takeoff, vertical landing aircraft — meaning that Ospreys and Super Stallions can deliver supplies to the besieged Marines while F-35s and Harriers provide air support either from small, forward refueling and rearming points near the front or from a nearby ship.

All of this adds up to a Marine force enjoying much of the same successes during the early days of the battle as the Spartans did. Enemy infantry and cavalry would be forced to maneuver into a narrow gap and be cut down by Marine rifles and missiles.

Even better, their artillery could force the enemy guns to fire from afar and break up forces massing for an attack, advantages that the Spartans lacked.

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral
(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Akeel Austin)

But, like the Spartans before them, the Marines would eventually be overcome by their numerical limitations. Even with approximately 6,000 other Marines, the 300 infantrymen simply could not hold out forever.

Enemy assaults would make it deeper into the pass each time as engineers whittled away at the Marines’ defenses and artillery crews braved American guns to get rounds onto the defenders’ heads.

After a few days, the Marines would have amassed a stunning body count, possibly even as high as the 20,000 Persians credited to Leonidas and his forces, but they would be burned out of Thermopylae.

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral
(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Christopher Giannetti)

But if they could buy enough time, it’s unimaginable that the Navy and Marine Corps would not be able to get follow-on forces to Greece. And, using the Marine Corps’ amphibious capabilities, reinforcements could be rushed to the beaches just south of the battle.

Meanwhile, the Navy could press its jets into the fight, ensuring air superiority and providing a reprieve for the defenders.

Thanks to the mobility of America’s sea services and Thermopylae’s location on a coast, the battle could end much differently for the Marines standing where the Spartans once fell.

MIGHTY MOVIES

‘Midway’ movie takes war in the Pacific seriously

This Veterans Day, moviegoers everywhere can witness the most pivotal Pacific battle in World War II: “Midway.” The production reminds viewers just how precariously America’s future teetered in the early 1940s, and what cost, sacrifice and luck was required to achieve a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Patriot, White House Down, Independence Day: Resurgence) waited ten years before embarking on the heroic story, written by U.S. Navy veteran Wes Tooke. The ambitious storyline begins in earnest in Asia the 1930s, and follows the war in the Pacific through the Midway battle that ultimately changed the tide of war.


The narrative chiefly follows the experiences of two principal characters: Lt. Cmdr. Edwin Layton (the U.S. Pacific Fleet Intelligence Officer) and Lt. Dick Best (naval aviator and commanding officer of Bombing Six squadron). As with the actual war, numerous other characters help the story take shape. Historic figures like Nimitz, Doolittle, Halsey, McClusky and others played critical roles in the war, and resultantly in the movie.

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral

Actor Woody Harrelson observes flight operations with sailors aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, Aug. 11, 2018, as aircraft trap, or recover, while returning from a mission.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Joseph Miller)

The movie timeline has a fever-pitch parade of battles from the attack on Pearl Harbor through the the climactic fight at Midway a mere seven months later. Those portrayed are originally imperfect versions of themselves, who grow personally and professionally. Along the way they are confronted with unimaginable challenges and choices, often with historic consequences.

“I wanted to showcase the valor and immense courage of the men on both sides, and remain very sensitive to the human toll of the battles and war itself,” said Emmerich.

Hallowed grounds

Just as the project was being “green lighted,” Emmerich visited historic Pearl Harbor in June 2016. While there, he saw first-hand the historic bases, facilities and memorials that remain some 75 years on. Home to the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Oahu was the target of the infamous Dec. 7 attack. The island also hosted the headquarters where much of the early Pacific war planning occurred and where information warfare professionals partially broke the Japanese code. Ultimately, this was the location from which Adm. Chester Nimitz made the decision to risk what remained of the Pacific Fleet in the gamble at Midway in June 1942.

Emmerich personally toured the waterfront, including Battleship Row and the harbor where much of the fleet was anchored that fateful Sunday morning. He went on to visit the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island, which includes a dedicated Battle of Midway exhibit. His visit was curated by the facility’s historian and author Mr. Burl Burlingame, who has since passed away. Burlingame provided rich accounts of the opening months of the war, including the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway. Emmerich also got a behind-the-scenes look in the historic aircraft hangar there.

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral

More than 200 extras in period dress on location during the filming of the major motion picture “Midway.”

(U.S. Navy photo by Mr. Dave Werner)

The tour continued along Ford Island, which included stops at the original USS Arizona Memorial; a Navy seaplane ramp (with Pearl Harbor attack bomb and strafing scars); the Army seaplane ramps (also with strafing scars); and the USS Oklahoma and USS Utah Memorials.

Emmerich and his party then conducted windshield tours of the USS Missouri; the Pacific Fleet Headquarters compound at Makalapa – which included the historic Nimitz and Spruance homes; the temporary office space from which Adm. Kimmel watched the attack on Pearl Harbor unfold; and the famed Station HYPO, profiled throughout the movie Midway, where its operators broke enough of the Japanese code to enable the ambush at Midway.

The visitors were able to glimpse the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Dry Dock One. In the of Spring of 1942, a battered and bloodied USS Yorktown aircraft carrier limped back to Pearl Harbor following the Battle of Coral Sea. Despite extensive damage, the ship remained in dry dock only three days as shipyard works swarmed aboard to get her back in the fight. Initial repair estimates actually forecast three months to get her operational. The “Yorktown Miracle” resulted in the aircraft carrier being available to join the Midway fight a few days later.

After a full day of exposure to the places and legends who won Midway, the task of pulling it together for one movie might intimidate even the most seasoned directors. Not Emmerich.

“I was really impressed with his enthusiasm for the history and his determination to get it right. You could see the wheels turning in his head with each visit – it was like the movie was coming alive in his mind,” said Dave Werner, who escorted Emmerich and his group during the visit.

Script reviews

Once the Department of Defense approved a production support agreement with the movie’s producers, the writers got busy working to get the script as accurate as practicable. Multiple script drafts were provided to the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC). Those same historians viewed the rough and final movie productions.

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral

Rear Adm. Brian Fort, commander of Navy Region Hawaii, left, and actor Woody Harrelson discuss the life and career of Adm. Chester Nimitz, the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander during World War II.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Charles Oki)

The “Midway” movie writers and producers worked tirelessly with the Navy in script development and during production to keep the storyline consistent with the historic narrative. In a few small instances, some events portrayed were not completely consistent with the historical record. Revising them would have unnecessarily complicated an already ambitious retelling of a series of complicated military battles. The production was representative of what unfolded in the opening months of WWII in the Pacific and does justice to the integrity, accountably, initiative and toughness of the sailors involved.

The naval historians who reviewed the production were impressed.

“I’m glad they did a movie about real heroes and not comic book heroes. Despite some of the ‘Hollywood’ aspects, this is still the most realistic movie about naval combat ever made and does real credit to the courage and sacrifice of those who fought in the battle, on both sides,” said the director of NHHC, retired Rear Adm. Sam Cox, who personally supported each phase of the historical review.

The commitment to getting it right matriculated to the actors honored to represent American heroes.

Harrelson as Adm. Chester Nimitz

Woody Harrelson plays the role of Adm. Chester Nimitz, the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander who assumed command after the attack on Pearl Harbor, through Midway and remained in command until after the end of the war. Harrelson bears an uncanny resemblance to Nimitz in the movie.

In preparing for the role and while in Pearl Harbor, Harrelson called on Rear Adm. Brian Fort, who was (at the time) the commander of Navy Region Hawaii. Harrelson wanted to understand the decisions the fleet admiral took in those critical months, and also wanted to get a sense of the type of naval officer and man Nimitz was. Calm and understated, and renowned for his piercing blue eyes, Nimitz was a quiet, confident leader. And he demonstrated a remarkable threshold for taking calculated risks. Committing his remaining carriers to the Midway engagement was chief among them.

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral

Actor Woody Harrelson, second from left, poses for a photo with sailors aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) while observing flight operations with sailors.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Joseph Miller)

“Adm. Nimitz came in at an extremely difficult time for the Pacific Fleet. It was really important for Harrelson to understand not just the man, but the timing of his arrival and the urgency of the situation for the Navy and nation,” said Jim Neuman, the Navy Region Hawaii historian who arranged the meeting between Rear Adm. Fort and Harrelson. Neuman also served as the historical liaison representative on multiple sets during the filming.

Harrelson also got underway on the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis in August 2018 while the ship operated in the eastern Pacific Ocean. While embarked Harrelson got a close look at air operations at sea. He observed the launching and recovery of various naval aircraft, as well as seeing the navigation bridge and other areas critical in ensuring the ship operates safely. Harrelson was also exceedingly generous with his time to interact with sailors, stopping to talk with them, sign autographs and even played piano at an impromptu jam session.

During the visit, he saw first-hand what “Midway” depicts throughout: Navy teams work very closely together to make the impossible become possible.

The Midway battle pitted four Japanese aircraft carriers against three American carriers. Preparing, arming, launching and recovering aircraft from a ships at sea is no easy task. Adding the uncertainty and urgency of war only complicates an already highly complex operation.

Having credible combat power win the fight was only one aspect of winning Midway. Having them in the right location, at the right time, was the work of the information warfare professionals.

Wilson as Lt. Cmdr. Edwin Layton

Patrick Wilson, who serves in the role of Lt. Cmdr Edwin Layton, the U.S. Pacific Fleet intelligence officer, took great care in accurately portraying his character. He called on the Pacific Fleet’s intelligence officer, just-retired Navy Capt. Dale Rielage. The two toured an unclassified area outside of the still highly-classified offices at the Pacific Fleet. The outer office space is adorned with storyboards that remind the Navy information warfare professionals there just how critical their work was in winning Midway and the war in the Pacific. Also located there is the Pacific Fleet intelligence officer portrait board – with Layton’s picture being the first in a line of dozens of officers who have served in the 75 years since.

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral

Patrick Wilson, right, who portrays U.S. Pacific Fleet intelligence officer Lt. Cmdr. Edwin Layton in the upcoming movie “Midway,” tours U.S. Pacific Fleet headquarters. Here he tours an unclassified outer office dedicated to heritage of the World War II information warfare specialists who helped win the war in the Pacific.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mr. Dave Werner)

After the brief tour, the two sat down and compared notes about Layton’s education, his experiences in Japan and elsewhere before the war, his relationship to Nimitz, and what the relationship was like between the Pacific Fleet staff and the code breakers in Station HYPO. No detail was too small, including typical protocol concerning how staff might have reacted when a senior officer such as Adm. Nimitz entered the office. Wilson’s command of Layton’s history was impressive and exhaustive, and his portrayal in the movie reflects it.

In fact, the research he and others put into the script and portrayals made “Midway” a compelling and believable representation of how information warfare professionals literally helped save the world 75 years ago. In today’s connected 21st-century information landscape, the importance of naval information warfare professionals are even more important to today’s security.

“We were thoroughly impressed with the amount of research he had conducted on his own, and it’s evident he is committed to honoring Layton’s legacy. Besides that, he was a really just a good guy and earnestly interested in learning more about Layton and the history,” said Werner, who escorted Wilson during the visit to the staff.

“Midway” opens in theaters everywhere on Nov. 8, 2019.

This article originally appeared on United States Navy. Follow @USNavy on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Bill to compensate sailors exposed to Agent Orange fails

On Dec. 9, 2018, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand went to the floor of the Senate to ask her colleagues for unanimous consent to pass H.R. 299, known as the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act.

The act, which passed in the House of Representatives with a unanimous vote, would extend Veterans Affairs benefits to veterans who served in warships off the coast of Vietnam and were exposed to toxic Agent Orange.


If successful, Gillibrand’s request would have expedited the bill’s passage — but one senator, Republican Mike Enzi of Wyoming, objected, according to Stars Stripes.

“On this bill, many of us have been made aware of the potential cost growth and the budgetary and operational pressures that would happen at the VA,” he said. “They’re having a lot of problems, anyway.”

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral

Leaking Agent Orange barrels circa 1973.

The VA has estimated that the bill would cost the bureau .5 million over the course of 10 years. But the Congressional Budget Office has previously estimated it would cost a fraction of that amount — id=”listicle-2623193782″.1 million. Regardless of cost, some senators, backed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, view the bill as an obligation.

“If we can afford to send veterans to war, it’s unacceptable that we can’t afford to take care of them when they return home wounded,” B.J. Lawrence, national commander of the VFW, said in a statement.

Sen. Jon Tester, the ranking Democrat on the Senate veterans affairs committee, agreed.

“It is our obligation to meet the needs of the folks who have sacrificed for our country,” he said on the Senate floor.

Sens. Gillibrand and Tester held a press conference on Dec. 11, 2018, calling for more support for the struggling bill.

“Shame on the VA for trying to muddy the waters and say ‘but we don’t have enough money for these veterans,'” Gillibrand said in the press conference. “Is their sacrifice no less?”

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

Articles

These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War

Birkenhead, England, is an odd place for a discussion of the U.S. Civil War, but two ships built in the Laird and Sons Shipyard there nearly provided the seapower necessary for the South to break the blockade, get recognized as a sovereign nation, and win their war for independence.


These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral
The HMS Wivern was originally commissioned by the Confederate Navy and was expected to tip the Civil War for the Confederacy. (Photo: U.S. Naval Historical Center)

All that stood in the South’s way was a group of dedicated diplomats and spies who managed to get the ships seized, guaranteeing Union naval superiority and helping end the war.

The Laird shipyards had a strong preference for Confederates during the war and had constructed a number of ships ordered through Confederate Comdr. James D. Bulloch, an uncle to future-President Theodore Roosevelt.

The most famous Laird ship ordered by Bulloch for the Confederacy was the CSS Alabama. The Alabama was technically ordered as a British merchant ship but was outfitted with a Confederate crew and weapons after launch. It went on to destroy 67 Union vessels — mostly merchant ships — before it was sunk.

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral
Confederate officers aboard the CSS Alabama, 1863.

But Bulloch and the Laird company had plans for two even more ambitious and imposing ships. The “El Tousson” and “El Monassir” were, on paper, destined for Egypt but were actually commissioned by Bulloch for the Confederacy.

The two ships are often described as the most powerful in the world at that time and they were custom-built for breaking the Union blockade of the South and with it the Union’s grand “Anaconda Plan” for the war. The Anaconda Plan rested entirely upon Union control of the seas and rivers.

The “Laird Rams” — as they were known — were nearly identical copies of one another. Each ship was 242 feet long and equipped with a seven-foot ram at the front that would allow them to punch holes in enemy ships below the waterline. Each ship also boasted iron armor and two turrets carrying 220-pounder Armstrong cannons.

For those unfamiliar with naval armaments, “220-pounder” doesn’t refer to the weight of the gun, it refers to the weight of each shell. And each gun was “rapidly firing” for the time.

And that iron armor was a game changer in the Civil War. Sufficient iron armor made a ship nearly invulnerable, as the navies learned after the first battle between ironclads took place in 1862. The three-hour battle on March 9, 1862, ended as a tie because neither ship could sufficiently damage the other.

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(Painting: J.O. Davidson)

The “Laird Rams” were so imposing that Assistant Secretary of the Navy G. V. Fox wrote to John M. Forbes, an American sent to England to either get the rams for the Union or else stop the delivery to the Confederates:

You must stop them at all hazards, as we have no defense against them … As to guns, we have not one in the whole country fit to fire at an ironclad…it is a question of life and death.

Early indications were that the British would allow the rams to launch and eventually join the Confederate cause, but diplomats pressuring Great Britain to follow its neutrality obligations slowly made headway.

At the start of the war, the British position was that it couldn’t allow its shipbuilders to sell any warships to a belligerent in war, but that they could sell unarmed merchant ships to anyone without concern as to whether the ship would be later outfitted with weapons.

This was how the Confederacy received many of its early ships. But the Union State Department pressured the English government to start blocking the launches of ships that were destined for wartime duty by basically threatening war if they didn’t.

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The HMS Scorpion was originally ordered by the Confederate Navy. (Engraving: U.S. Naval Historical Center)

But the British required a high threshold of proof that a ship was destined for the war before they would seize it from the shipyards. American consuls and spies in England gathered information on every ship as fast as they could.

Their first major target, the CSS Florida, was still able to reach the water because the evidence against the ship was improperly collected and documented and therefore inadmissible. The consuls and spies tried again with the Alabama and were successful, but not in time. The Alabama launched just before British forces could arrive to seize her.

When it came to the two Laird rams, though, the U.S. pulled out all the stops. They bribed dock officials, recruited spies and informants, and even promised a young mechanic help getting a job in America if he first worked in the Laird shipyards and collected information for them.

The mechanic agreed but was just a boy. When the child’s mother learned of the plan, she threatened to expose the spy operation and the U.S. backed off.

The first ram, the El Tousson, was launched into the water and was being equipped for sea while its sister ship was receiving final touches in the shipyard in October 1863. The U.S. made its final, last-ditch case to the British that the ships were destined for the Confederate war effort.

To add to the pressure, the U.S. ambassador promised war if the ships were allowed to launch, and the English government gave in.

The British Royal Navy deployed two warships, the HMS Liverpool and the HMS Goshawk, to prevent the rams leaving the docks. British sailors were deployed aboard each ship to ensure that no Confederate or allied crew could steal them from the docks. The ships were eventually purchased by the British as the HMS Scorpion and HMS Wivern.

This likely saved the war for the Union. While other Confederate ships made their names sailing the high seas and attacking Union merchant ships, the rams were designed to break the back of the Union ships enforcing the blockade.

Two nearly indestructible ships capable of sinking almost any ship in the blockade would have allowed the Confederacy to sweep it away, re-opening the smuggling trade that helped finance the land war early on. The Union Army would have been hard pressed to win with the two rams erasing the Union’s naval dominance.

MIGHTY CULTURE

You’ve never seen this many military discounts in one place

Every one who’s ever work the uniform loves that military discount. No matter how hard you try to deny it or blow off a small discount, that extra ten percent ain’t bad. In California, that’s like not paying sales tax. While we all love them and appreciate them when it happens, many of us don’t really go looking for them. Let’s be real: shopping purely for military discounts can be a lot of work. Now you can find everything you’ll ever need discounted in one place.

And what’s more, your shopping spree will go toward helping your fellow veterans.


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Then you can keep your savings in one place.

GovX has access to the products and brands everyone loves, not just veterans. From outdoor gear by The North Face to Ray-Ban accessories, this site covers most anything you can think of wanting or needing for work or play. Like the A-10 being a tough plane designed around a giant gun, GovX is a retailer designed around providing amazing discounts to military, veterans, and first responders.

The site is like the exclusive Costco for the military-veteran and uniformed community. A membership with GovX provides access to discounts on brands like 5.11 Tactical, Propper, Vortex Optical, Under Armour, and – amazingly – Yeti.

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If you’re unfamiliar with this miracle brand, I suggest you head to the Google posthaste.

But wait. That’s not what really makes GovX stand out. The real power of this site is that every month, the company selects a new nonprofit organization who does work related to first responders, military members, veterans, and their families and donates a portion of its revenues to the chosen groups. This is what GovX calls “Mission: Giveback.”

Previous Mission: Giveback recipients include the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Firefighter Aid, National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, the Semper Fi Fund, Team Rubicon, The Pat Tillman Foundation, and the Green Beret Foundation.

In 2019, GovX is supporting the Military Influencer Conference, a three-day event that brings together entrepreneurs and veterans from all walks of life to share knowledge, build one another up, and help mentor each other through the rigors of starting their own businesses. Learn more about it by visiting the website and look for a Military Influencer Conference near you.

Now feel free to splurge on those yoga shorts you were iffy about buying – and feel good about doing something for your brothers and sisters in arms.

MIGHTY MONEY

Everything you need for a secure financial future and when to start

The world would be a perfect place if everyone grew up with a financial advisor, someone who told them exactly what to do with their money and when. While the best rule of thumb is to start investing early and often, the benefits of compound interest just aren’t as interesting as spending your allowance on candy and Wiffle ball gear.

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It’s also not nearly as satisfying.

The rule that you should get started early still stands but it’s not necessary to get started quite that young. However, if being bullish on Wall Street is more appealing to you than playing ball in the street, go for it — your future, financial self will thank you.

Military members have experienced a lot of changes in the tried-and-true retirement and benefits packages we used to know. For new troops, guaranteed pensions by themselves are gone. This is true for some older members who decided to opt-in to the new system, too. And now, the military will match your contributions to your Thrift Savings Plan (a kind of military 401(k)). There are other variations in the blended retirement system that troops need to know, too.

Some will still wonder if they’re doing enough to save for retirement. This is a completely understandable feeling as a trade war with China grows and the stock market becomes more and more present in daily news cycles. After all, infantry troops and aircraft mechanics are not traditionally well-versed in financial products.

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If you don’t know if you’re doing all you can to promote a healthy financial future, you should turn to the financial advisors available on base or seek help elsewhere. But for starters, here are few general guidelines to let you know if you’re on the right track.


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Paying off your credit card feels like being awarded an achievement medal.

(U.S. Air Force)

Around age 22 — Get rid of credit cards and save some cash.

I know, every single financial advisor or personnel officer starts out with this advice, but it’s for a good reason: they’re right. Paying off your debt means you can use that cash and put it to work for you. When you have a lot of credit debt, you’re the creditor’s investment and they’re earning interest on your money instead of the other way around.

At about this age, you should also be saving a significant portion of your income, roughly 15 percent. While this sounds like a lot (and it very well might be, especially for military families), remember that every little bit helps. Setting aside an allotment of fifteen, ten, or even five percent of your pay is worth the time and effort.

How you do this is the (potentially) exciting part. Explore a 401(k) like the TSP, IRAs, and savings accounts — in that order. Just keep an eye on the management fees companies charge. Most charge a percentage of your overall portfolio and the difference between one percent and one and a half percent can be hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. Look into fiduciary firms to open these accounts. Most can even be managed on your smartphone, via tools like Wealthfront or Wealthsimple.

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Paying off your student loan feels like a handshake from Chuck Norris.

(U.S. Air Force)

Your 20s — Don’t miss a chance to pay extra on your student loans.

They’re the goddamn worst.

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Crazy things happen.

Your 30s — Prepare for your home and family.

You are never going to be fully financially prepared to have kids — nobody is really. But if you’re finally up to saving that 15 percent of your income, you can open a 529 pre-tax college savings account for the little ones. You can also be open to other kinds of investments, like a real estate investment trust, which is a kind of managed fund that buys and manages income-generating real estate.

Another thing that needs to go at this point are excessive fees that take away your money without giving you much in return. The market is flooded with organizations that want your money and they want to take it without you noticing. You shouldn’t be paying a lot of bank fees, ATM fees, or any fee that seems excessive. Keep watch.

By this point, you should be building up a savings account of three to six month’s worth of expenses as a cash reserve and, in the case of any unexpected windfall of cash that comes to you in the form of bonuses or gross profits or lottery win (no judgement), you should always put half away before enjoying the other half.

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If you’d thought of this 30 years ago, DiCaprio would be your neighbor.

Your 40s — Expand your reach.

For the life of your mortgage, you should be trying to make an extra mortgage payment on your home at least once a year. If you have the means, you might even seek to buy a vacation home or investment property that you can make money from while working to pay off. Renting a house in New Mexico (or wherever) or putting it out on AirBnB for 15 years could turn into a fine place to retire later.

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No matter what Tom Selleck, Fred Thompson, or Henry Winkler tell you.

Your 50s — Slow your roll.

Move investments away from stocks and think about commodities through exchange-traded funds (ETFs). They aren’t as prone to market changes as stocks are but still allow for growth over the years. As you approach your 60s, consider getting half of your investments into securities, like corporate or municipal bonds.

If those kids have flown the coop, this also might be a good time to downsize your home to take advantage of any equity from making those extra payments all your life. A reverse mortgage is not a good way to take advantage of your home’s equity because, like credit cards, you’re spending money you haven’t made yet.

Your 60s — Live it up.

Find a new career that you love for the love of the job. By this time, any money you make will just be the money you throw around for fun, instead of using your savings. Try to stay active, get out, and maybe see some of the world.

Articles

This 1973 war is why the Air Force thinks the A-10 can’t survive in modern combat

In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Israeli Armed Forces successfully beat back a two-front invasion by Syria and Egypt. The war lasted only a few weeks, but its implications for air combat continue to reverberate — even helping make the case for ditching the iconic A-10 Warthog.


The Yom Kippur War raged from Oct. 6-25, 1973, and the Israeli forces initially suffered severe setbacks. It was a full, combined arms conflict where tanks, artillery, planes, infantrymen and air defense missiles all had their say.

But one string of events reaches forward in time from those weeks and threatens the A-10.

Israel’s air force, the Chel Ha’Avir, was able to slow and halt nearly all advances by tanks and other ground forces when it was safe to fly. But when the enemy forces stayed under the air defense umbrella, Israel’s pilots came under heavy attack.

In one instance, 55 missiles were flying at Israel’s pilots in a single, small strip of land occupied by Syrian forces.

This resulted in Israeli ground forces either quickly losing their air cover to battlefield losses or to pilots becoming so worried about enemy missiles that they couldn’t operate properly. In the first 3 days of fighting, the Chel Ha’Avir lost approximately 50 fighters and fighter-bombers — 14 percent of the air force’s entire frontline combat strength.

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The wreckage of an Israeli A-4 downed during the Yom Kippur War now rests in an Egyptian military museum. (Photo: Leclaire, Public Domain)

Israeli forces turned the tables with a few brilliant maneuvers. At one point, a pilot realized the enemy was firing too many missiles, so he led his men in quick passes as bait for the missileers, causing the enemy to expend all their ordnance while downing a relatively few number of planes. The survivors of this risky maneuver were then able to fly with near impunity.

On another front, artillerymen opened the way for the air force by striking the missile sites with long range guns. They moved forward of their established safe zones to do so, putting their forces at risk to save the planes above them.

Israel went on to win the war, allowing NATO and other Western militaries around the world to pat themselves on the back because their tactics and hardware defeated a coalition equipped with Soviet tactics and hardware.

But for the Chel Ha’Avir and aviation officers around the world, there was a lesson to be parsed out of the data.

Both the A-4 Skyhawk and the F-4 Phantom flew a high number of sorties against the Syrians, Egyptians and their allies. But the Skyhawk suffered a much worse rate of loss than the F-4s.

This was — at least in part — because the F-4 flew faster and higher and could escape surface-to-air missiles and radar-controlled machine guns more easily. Just a year after the A-10’s debut flight and over 3 years before it was introduced to the air fleet, the whole concept of low and slow close air support seemed dated.

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An Israeli A-4 similar to those which flew in the Yom Kippur War. (Photo: Oren Rozen CC BY-SA 3.0)

The resulting argument, that low and slow CAS is too risky, is part of the argument about whether the Air Force should ditch the low-and-slow A-10 Warthog for the fast-moving, stealthy F-35 Lightning II.

Of course, not everyone agrees that the Yom Kippur War is still a proper example of the close air support debate.

First, the A-10 has spent its entire service life in the post-Yom Kippur world. While it suffered six losses against the Iraqis during Desert Storm, it has been flying against more advanced air defenses than the A-4s faced in the Yom Kippur War and remained a lethal force throughout the flight. The A-10 has never needed a safe space.

Second, while the A-10’s speed and preferred altitudes may make it more vulnerable than fast movers to ground fire, it also makes the jet more capable when firing against ground targets. To modernize the old John A. Shedd saying about ships, “A ground-attack jet at high-altitude may be safe, but that’s not what they are designed for.”

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A-10s aren’t as safe as some other planes, but they save the bacon of the guys on the ground beneath them. (Photo: US Air Force)

Finally, the Yom Kippur War was a short conflict where the Chel Ha’Avir had to fly against a numerically superior enemy while that enemy was marching on its capital. This forced commanders to take additional risks, sending everything they had to slow the initial Syrian and Egyptian momentum.

The U.S. Air Force is much larger and has many more planes at its command. That means that it can field more specialized aircraft. F-35s and F-22s can support ground forces near enemy air defenses and go after missile sites and other fighters while A-10s or the proposed arsenal plane attack ground forces from behind the F-22 and F-35 shield.

This isn’t to say that the Air Force is necessarily wrong to divest out of the A-10 to bolster the F-35. The Warthog can’t stay on the battlefield forever. But if the A-10 has served its entire career in the post-Yom Kippur world, it seems like a shallow argument to say that it couldn’t possibly fight and win for another 5 or 10 years after nearly 40 successful ones.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

The US Postal Inspection Service: America’s first and oldest federal law enforcement agency

Before the FBI or any other federal law enforcement agency locked criminals behind bars in the United States, the most important crime fighting squad was the US Postal Inspection Service. From the 18th century to present day, surveyors, special agents, and inspectors investigated the nation’s most newsworthy crimes. They investigated mail train robberies committed by notorious outlaw “Billy the Kid,” were amongst the first federal law enforcement officers to carry the Thompson submachine gun (commonly known as the “Tommy Gun”) to fight 1920s mobsters, and even had an integral role in capturing Ted Kaczynski, sensationalized in the media as the “Unabomber,” bringing an end to one of the most sophisticated criminal manhunts in US history.

The US Postal Inspection Service is the most storied federal law enforcement agency in the country, and since widespread crime is often connected by mail, their jurisdiction to investigate any related crime from anywhere around the world is unrestricted. This freedom began from one of America’s Founding Fathers, and since its establishment, the agency has participated in the largest criminal investigations of each century.


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After the American Civil War, “snake oil salesmen” and “scalp tonic salesmen” used the mail to con unsuspecting victims. Screengrab from YouTube.

In 1737, Benjamin Franklin, the newspaper printer known for historic contributions to the nation, was also appointed by the British Crown as postmaster of Philadelphia. In addition to his day job, he had duties and responsibilities to regulate and survey post offices and post roads. As the first Postmaster General under continental Congress, Franklin abolished the British practice that determined which newspapers traveled freely in the mail and established foundational mandates of the “surveyor” position to ensure the organization could grow beyond a one-man show.

Franklin recognized the task was too much to handle alone and appointed William Goddard as the first surveyor of the new American Postal Service. His first day in office — Aug. 7, 1775 — became known as the birth of the Postal Inspection Service. The surveyors investigated thefts of mail or postal funds committed by writers, innkeepers, and others with access to the mail or post offices. The frequency of mail crimes became such a nuisance, Congress approved the death penalty as a viable punishment to enforce the serious offenses.

At the turn of the 19th century, surveyors became known as special agents, and among the first three was Noah Webster, the man responsible for compiling the dictionary. During the War of 1812, special agents observed and reported activities of the British Fleet along the Potomac River, and during the 1840s and 1850s, their roles magnified to coexist with western expansion in the United States. Special agents were needed across Texas, Oregon, and California to ensure new postal services were completed, as well as to keep order amongst mail carriers on horseback, railroads, or traveling by steamboats or stagecoaches.

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During World War II, 247 US Postal Inspection Service inspectors established a mailing system that is still in use to this day. Photo courtesy of worldwarphotos.info.

Following the American Civil War, Congress imposed two new statutes still in use today. The first was the Mail Fraud Statute of 1872, which enforced a crackdown against swindles including the infamous “snake oil salesman” or the “scalp tonic salesman.” The second was the Postal Obscenity Statute of 1873, which made it illegal for anyone to “to sell, give away, or possess an obscene book, pamphlet, picture, drawing, or advertisement.” Special agents assumed the name of “Post Office Inspectors” in 1880 to differentiate from other special agents privately employed by railroad and stagecoach companies.

During the 20th century is when the US Postal Inspection Service earned its reputation for bringing down the hammer on gangs, mobsters, and armed robbers. The most scandalous criminal outfit was the organized secret society operating in New York City known as the Black Hand. They terrorized the public, the police force, and especially Italian immigrants, all frequent targets of murder, extortion, assassination, child kidnapping, and bombings. The bombing attacks were so frequent that the police referred to the Italian neighborhood as “The Bomb Zone.” Police reports indicated that there were more than 100 bombings in 1913 alone.

The Black Hand wrote menacing letters to their victims. “De Camilli, from one of our secret spies, we have learned that you have informed the police, contrary to our warnings,” Salvatore Lima, the Black Hand’s leader wrote. “Therefore, it is time to die. And on the first occasion, you will feel a bullet in your stomach, coward. You have willed it, and you will die like a dog. The terrible Black Hand.”

History of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service

www.youtube.com

Post Office Inspector Frank Oldfield tracked 14 members of the Black Hand and nabbed and convicted the vicious and violent gang by targeting their paper trail through the mail. Elmer Irey, one of the great detectives of the 20th century and former post office inspector, used similar methods to nab Chicago Outfit’s Al Capone through tax fraud. Post office inspectors also captured and convicted Charles Ponzi — the mastermind and father behind the infamous pyramid “Ponzi Scheme” — and brought Gerald Chapman — America’s first “Public Enemy Number One” — to justice. After a three-year manhunt, forensic science put away the DeAutremont brothers, a trio who used dynamite to blow open mail train cars to scoop the cash inside.

Inspectors were also instrumental in the delivery and protection of over billion worth of gold transported along the “Yellow Brick Road” from New York City to Fort Knox, Kentucky, to establish the Fort Knox Bullion Depository in 1937. During World War II, 247 post office inspectors helped create Army Post Offices (APOs) and Fleet Post Offices (FPOs). Through their efforts, soldiers, airmen, sailors, and Marines could communicate with their loved ones back home. This system remains in effect to this day.

Later in the century, as their investigations adapted with the times, they received newer challenges through the security of commercial aircraft and the threats of mail package bombs aboard airplanes. In 1963, Postal Inspector Harry Holmes interviewed Lee Harvey Oswald to investigate the mail-order rifle he used to assassinate President John F. Kennedy. Only minutes after Oswald left Holmes’ office, he was gunned down — furthering the conspiracy theories of suspected involvement.

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A laboratory technician holds the anthrax-laced letter addressed to Senator Patrick Leahy after safely opening it at the US Army’s Fort Detrick bio-medical research laboratory in November 2001. Photo courtesy of FBI.gov.

The Postal Inspection Service remains just as important today as when it was created, and with the increase in funding in other federal agencies, their prestige has emboldened their legacy as more than what was once perceived as “The Silent Service.” Days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Silent Service investigated the Anthrax biohazard letter attack — the worst biological attack in US history — and has since increased their efforts against illegal drug trafficking, suspicious mail, mail and package theft, money laundering, cybercrime, and child exploitation.

In the 1920s, Charles Ponzi scammed his investors out of an estimated million during his time as a conman and swindler — some 90 years later, just as the Postal Inspector Service had before, they nabbed Allen Stanford, a fraudster who convinced investors to buy certificates of deposit from his offshore Stanford International Bank with the promise of high returns. Stanford’s two-decade-long, billion Ponzi scheme was discovered through exhaustive investigations by a task force comprised of the IRS, the FBI, and the Silent Service. Stanford was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to serve 110 years in prison.

As long as there is mail to be delivered, there are inspectors who stand ready to ensure the safety of the American citizens.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.


MIGHTY CULTURE

The military is the reason behind the ‘Amish Beard’

There’s no doubt that Amish communities in America have a distinctive look. Amish men wear a long, flowing, ZZ-Top-level beard that can make other hirsute pursuits just look pitiful in comparison. While they may not be the only ones sporting long, long whiskers these days, they’re likely the only bearded men you’ll see whose mustache areas are clean shaven — and the U.S. military is the reason why.


Among devoutly Christian Amish men, sporting a beard is like living the Bible. In the days and locales where the stories in the Christian Bible take place, beards were commonplace. When a young Amish boy gets married, he stops shaving his beard area and grows a facial homage to his biblical forebears, letting everyone in the community know this boy is now a man.

But they never stop shaving the mustache area. The Amish, a form of Mennonite, have many traditions and beliefs that separate them, not just from society, but also from other Mennonite and Christian groups. One such core beliefs is the growing of a beard.

Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard. – Leviticus 19:27

Another core tenet of Amish beliefs is pacifism and the rejection of military service – and the mustache is just one indicator of military service.

It used to be, anyway.

In the 1800s, British troops were actually required to wear some form of facial hair above the lip. This requirement lasted until warfare tech changed the game on the battlefields of World War I and a clean-shaven face was required to seal gas masks.

Related: How a change in warfare set men’s style for almost 100 years

In order to separate themselves physically from those who would engage in military service (while letting the world know they were married, because the Amish don’t exchange wedding rings), they decided to grow beards but shave their lips.

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British Army officers in the Crimean War.

It should be noted that the Amish prefer the term “nonresistance” as opposed to pacifism, because they are dedicated to avoiding confrontation in all areas of life, not just in military service.

Mustaches may not be as in vogue as they once were among military service members and regular troops are always clean shaven — almost everywhere in the western world — but still the old Amish tradition of keeping a clean upper lip lives on.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws

Do you want to stake your claim on something, make it truly yours, and let all of human history know that you’re a badass? Want to set out as an explorer despite the fact that the world has been pretty much figured out by this point? Ever feel like just sticking a flag in the ground and claiming it for yourself? Well, get ready to go island exploring!

Using plenty of technical loopholes in statutes created over one hundred and fifty years ago, you can actually lay claim to your very own island and do whatever you feel like on it.

There are many technicalities involved and several things to consider, but it’s still very much possible.


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Most of those purple areas in the Pacific, except, obviously, Hawaii, Guam, and the American Samoas, are Guano Islands that gave America much more control in the Pacific.

(NOAA)

The very first thing to have ready is the Guano Islands Act of 1856. This states that America will do everything in its power to defend an American’s claim on an island if there’s guano on it. Guano, as you probably know, is bird or bat poop. Back in the 1850s, guano was an excellent source of phosphates and could be used for fertilizer or sold at a high price. The act doesn’t stipulate how much guano was needed to be considered “claimable,” so that’s open for your interpretation.

If it’s enough to reinvigorate the global guano market, awesome. If it’s literally just the product of the parrot you brought on your adventures because you thought it’d make you more like a pirate, that’s fine, too. The act was never repealed and, since it was enacted, America has prospered greatly from the islands it’s allowed to be claimed.

In the past, America has laid claim to 58 islands. Fifty of these bird-poop-filled islands have been used as bargaining chips with smaller nations nearby. America gave the seemingly worthless and uninhabited Kanton Island to the nation of Kiribati in exchange for the ability to build military bases there. The eight remaining islands that America has claimed in the middle of seemingly nowhere were made part of the unincorporated territories of the United States, which has greatly increased America’s exclusive economic zone in the oceans.

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral

Which leaves you searching all of that light blue. Good luck.

Exclusive economic zones are also a key factor. Whatever tiny claim you stake adds 200 nautical miles of America, meaning no other country can drill for oil or fish in those waters. In today’s marketplace, America will definitely back up your claims.

But this also means that whichever island you lay claim to cannot fall within another nation’s economic zone. So, if you find a tiny rock off the coast of Japan, you’re out of luck. That island still belongs to Japan, regardless of how much bird poop is on it.

What you need to instead is to look in International Waters, the areas of water far enough away from other nations’ claims. This limits your search area, excluding basically anywhere in the Mediterranean and most of the Caribbean, but you’re not entirely out of luck: Much of the South Pacific and South Atlantic remains open season.

You must also consider current and past claims. Islands that have been claimed before are highly contested and would be, likely, a waste of time. This means most of the current Terra Nullius, or “nobody’s land,” is likely so far off-course that nobody has a reason to visit.

You do, however, still have complete right to explore the Antarctic. Since you’re backing is the United States and the United States put a stipulation in the Antarctic Treaty to allow it to lay any claim in the future, you can search uninterrupted by other nations. This also gives you the ability to use penguins as your source of guano.

You could also search in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Since there is much volcanic activity going on there, new islands are sure to form — just waiting for you to arrive with an American flag. Here’s what that would sort of look like.

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral

Enjoy your new island, you modern-day explorer, you!

(Photo by Pedro Flores)

Once you’ve found your very own terra nullius island and you’ve ensured birds have pooped on it, it’s yours. You personally own a private island not beholden to any nation. That means you have you don’t have to go through the headache of paying millions to name your island. It’s your island, you can do with it and name it whatever you want. The only stipulation is that the name can’t already be taken.

You’re screwed if your surname is of English heritage because they kind of had a monopoly on island claiming for a few hundred years, but if you’ve got your own unique Eastern-European last name, like me, name it after yourself. There’s also no rule against naming it something awesome, like “Buttf*ck-Nowhere Island.” So, you do you.

Once you’ve got it. Head on over to the U.S. Department of the Interior and let them know that you’ve got a new piece to add to America and your stake of land is forever made an American territory that can never be taken away. Because it’d suck through all that trouble just to end up losing your claim after you pass away.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Taking the blame: Why fighter pilots have to own their mistakes

Even the best fighter pilots make mistakes.

One of the things that often shocks new pilots is how brutally honest our debriefs can be. After nearly a full day of planning, briefing, and flying a mission, we’ll gather in a room and spend hours picking apart everything that went wrong. Even if all our objectives were met and the mission was a success, we’ll still comb through a “god’s eye view” of the flight, along with the various recordings from inside our cockpit.


Rank comes off in the debrief, meaning the most senior officer, or the most senior pilot, are open to just as much criticism as the newest wingman. I’ve been in debriefs where a young Captain held the Wing Commander’s feet to the fire over mistakes he made in the air. This usually comes as a shock to many in the military who are typically required to follow a strict hierarchy.

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral

When is comes to mistakes, fighter pilots worry more about improvement than they do about rank. (USAF Photo)

As with all things related to flying, prioritization is key—we’ll start with the biggest things that went wrong and try to uncover their root causes. I was recently explaining to a civilian pilot that in the debrief we spend 90% of our time on the 10% that didn’t go according to plan. They were amazed that 10% doesn’t go according to plan. In reality though, it can often be much higher.

The type of flying we do has more in common with sports than a typical commercial flight. We are fighting a thinking adversary that is specifically targeting our weaknesses. We, in turn, are making decisions that are trying to exploit theirs. As we fight to seize the initiative inside this decision loop; dozens of potential outcomes can occur at each phase of the mission. A mission therefore almost never goes exactly according to plan. It’s a dynamic environment that forces the pilot to perceive, decide, and execute in a harsh environment, often with limited information and time.

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral

A three-ship formation of Air National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcons flies over Kunsan City, South Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Allen)

In training, if the bomber we were escorting was shot down, or if an enemy aircraft bombed the point we were defending, it’s usually multiple overlapping mistakes that led to the failure. In fact, everyone probably had an opportunity at some point to intervene and save the day. The fighter pilot debrief works because everyone is willing to take ownership of their mistakes.

Taking ownership is a skill. As fighter pilots, most of us are predisposed to win at all costs—within the rules and regulations. In the debrief though, with the mission already flown, the way to win is to accurately identify lessons that will make everyone better for the next flight. It’s a fragile environment that only works when everyone is willing to first look inward for failures to the mission.

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral

U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors fly in formation with F-35A Lightning IIs (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)

It only takes one person trying to pass the blame for the collaborative environment to fall apart. Because it’s not stable, it requires constant maintenance, especially by those who could use their status to get by. The mission commander must be the first person to call themselves out for a mistake they made. Likewise, the pilot with the most experience must be willing to say they made a basic error that even a new pilot shouldn’t have made. The officer with the highest rank must be willing to set the example that rank doesn’t shield mistakes.

By treating everyone equally in the debrief, the mission can be analyzed in a sterile environment. We can figure out what went wrong and capture those lessons for future flights. To the casual observer it’s a brutal environment, but to the pilots in the debrief it’s just a puzzle on how to get better.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.


MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is how Japan plans to hunt enemy subs

The P-3 Orion has served with the United States for a long time, but also saw wide export service. One of those export customers was Japan, which operated over 100 Orions built by Kawasaki.


Like the American Orions, these Japanese planes needed to be replaced – and for Japan, this was a very important program. In World War II, American submarines managed to choke off Japan’s maritime supply routes. This is a lesson that stuck with the island nation, and lead them to a focus on anti-submarine warfare.

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral
The Kawasaki P-1 maritime patrol aircraft. (Photo from Kawasaki)

So Japan didn’t decide to buy into the P-8 Poseidon Multi-Mission Aircraft program. Instead, it designed its own maritime patrol plane, dubbed the P-1.

Granted, that sounds like Japan is going backwards, but Tokyo has always numbered its post World War II indigenous aircraft designs in a separate sequence. This is why its Phantoms and Eagles are known as F-4EJs and F-15Js, respectively.

Now, the P-1 may look like a 707 with a big “stinger” on the tail (which is called a magnetic anomaly detector, or “MAD”), but the looks are deceiving. The P-1 was designed and built to be a sub-hunter.

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral
A P-8 Poseidon (left) and the P-1 (right). (US Navy photo)

According to company officials, the P-1 features a spacious fuselage and large wing. While the 737-based P-8 has two engines, the P-1 has four F7-10 engines designed for the maritime patrol mission.

It can carry lightweight anti-submarine torpedoes like the American-designed Mk46 or Japan’s Type 97 – as well as future designs. It also can carry mines, AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, ASM-1C anti-ship missiles, and AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missiles (which can hit either naval or land targets).

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral
The Kawasaki P-1 from below. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

MilitaryFactory.com reported that the P-1 has a top speed of 540 knots, a maximum range of 4,971 miles, and can operate at altitudes of almost 45,000 feet. The plane is also equipped with a number of systems to counter enemy air defenses, including chaff, flares, a “missile warning system,” self-defense electronic warfare capabilities, and it is also highly maneuverable.

In short, Japan has built an aircraft that could be very deadly for submarines.

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