MIGHTY HISTORY

What it was really like to live through the Cold War in America

The Cold War was a terrifying time to be alive.

The war began in 1946 and ended in 1991 when the USSR collapsed. During this period, tensions between the United States and the USSR were extremely high. Proxy wars were fought around the world and there was a constant threat of nuclear warfare.

Reading about historical events and watching documentaries can tell us the facts, but it’s a different thing entirely to think about what it was like to experience it. Here are just a few things US citizens lived through during the cold war.


Children learned to do “duck and cover” school drills.

After the Soviet Union detonated its first known nuclear device somewhere in Kazakhstan on August 29, 1949, US anxieties about the threat of nuclear annihilation rose significantly.

Civil defense in the 1950s called for people to take what shelter they could.

(Wikimedia / Library of Congress)

President Harry S. Truman’s Federal Civil Defense Administration program began requiring schools to teach children how to dive under their desks in classrooms and take cover if bombs should drop, according to History. How protective such actions would be in an actual nuclear strike continues to be debated — and has thankfully never had any practical testing.

In any case, this led to the official commission of the 1951 educational film “Duck and Cover,” which you can stream online thanks to the Library of Congress.

There was a constant threat of nuclear annihilation.

The Cold War ebbed and flowed in terms of tension, but it lasted from the end of World War II until the early 1990s and the eventual fall of the Soviet Union. That’s a long time to brace for potential impact, both as individuals and as a society.

Many Americans thought nuclear war could break out at any moment.

(Public domain)

During this time, libraries helped to train and prepare people as best they could with available civil defense information. They showed educational films, offered first aid courses, and provided strategies to patrons on how best to survive in the event of nuclear war. These are valuable services in any time frame, but the tensions constantly playing in your mind as you participated must have been palpable.

As always, pop culture both reflected and refracted societal anxieties back at citizens as a way of processing them. This AV Club timeline offers several great examples, from “The Manchurian Candidate” to “Dr. Strangelove, Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb” and through the decades to the extremely on-the-nose ’80s film, “Red Dawn.”

Some families built fallout shelters in their backyards.

In the aftermath of the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the entire world learned exactly how decimating nuclear warfare could be.

As Cold War tensions escalated between the US and the Soviet Union following World War II, it’s not terribly surprising that the Department of Defense began issuing pamphlets like this one instructing American families on how best to protect themselves in the event of a nuclear attack.

Bomb shelters were not uncommon.

(United States National Archives)

Converting basements or submerging concrete bunkers in backyards that were built to recommended specifications became a family bonding activity — although in urban areas, buildings that generally welcomed the public including church and school basements and libraries were also designated fallout shelter locations.

There was a strict curtailing of civil liberties during the Red Scare.

While the Cold War was intensifying, one nickname used for communists was “Reds” because that was the predominant color of the flag of the Soviet Union. The House Un-American Activities Committee and infamous Joseph McCarthy hearings happened during this time period, which attempted to root out subversion in the entertainment industry and the federal government.

President Truman’s Executive Order no. 9835 — also known as the Loyalty Order — was issued for federal employees, but smaller businesses soon followed in the federal government’s footsteps. The Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations — effectively a blacklist — was also issued.

Many of the people accused of being communists by McCarthy lost their jobs when in reality there was no proof they belonged to the communist party.

This search for potential communists did not end with the downfall of McCarthy. During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, for instance, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover labeled Martin Luther King, Jr. a communist simply because he stood up against racism and oppression.

The US and USSR came close to all-out war because of the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Two events during the 1960s almost brought the world to an all-out war.

The first was in 1961 when 1,400 Cuban exiles were trained to overthrow the Fidel Castro’s Cuban government, which had made diplomatic dealings with the USSR. The exiles were sent on their mission by President Kennedy, who had been assured by the CIA that the plan would make it seem like a Cuban uprising rather than American intervention.

What became known as the Bay of Pigs had a disastrous outcome, with over a hundred Cuban exiles killed and the rest captured. Many Americans began bracing for war.

By 1962, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev bolstered Cuba’s defenses with nuclear missiles in case the US tried invading again. The arms race between the US and the Soviet Union was already in full swing, so tensions were steadily increasing.

When American spy planes gathered photographic evidence of these missiles, President Kennedy sent a naval blockade to “quarantine” Cuba, according to the JFK Presidential Library.

He also demanded removal of the missiles and total destruction of the sites that housed them. Khrushchev wasn’t anxious to go to war either, so he finally agreed after extracting a promise from Kennedy that the US wouldn’t invade Cuba.

People worried the space race could lead to nuclear war.

Through a modern lens, the space race led to scientific advancements across the world as countries rushed to be the first into outer space and to land on the moon.

But at the time, the prospect of the Soviet Union beating the US to the final frontier was more terrifying for Americans than we might realize today.

Dr. Wernher von Braun, the NASA Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, explains the Saturn rocket system to President John F. Kennedy at Cape Canaveral, Florida on Nov. 16, 1963.

(NASA)

CNN reports that regular Americans frequently worried that if the Soviet Union could get a human into space, it could also get nuclear warheads into space. The USSR became the first country to successfully launch a human being into space with Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961, and the US later landed on the moon in July of 1969 after heavily investing in its NASA program.

Proxy conflicts, including the Korean War and the Vietnam War, continue to affect the world today.

While the US and the USSR never engaged in armed conflict against each other, they did fight in and fund other conflicts, otherwise known as proxy wars.

The most famous proxy wars during this time are undoubtedly the Korean War and the Vietnam War, but there were numerous other proxy conflicts that happened during the Cold War. Many of these conflicts were extremely deadly for both soldiers and civilians, including the Angolan Civil War, the Cambodian Civil War, and the Congo Crisis, just to name a few.

These proxy conflicts also continue to have consequences for citizens and veterans, and have shaped the modern world as we know it.

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

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Articles

That time two countries went to war over soccer

Honduras won the first game (in Honduras). Then El Salvador won the second game (in El Salvador). When El Salvador won the third game in Mexico, all hell broke loose. Literally.


El Salvador was and is one of the most densely populated countries in the Americas. Honduras, in comparison, was and is sparsely populated. By the end of the 1960s, over 300,000 Salvadorians were living and working (often illegally) in Honduras.

The dilemma posed by these immigrants, many of whom cultivated previously unproductive land, was addressed through a series of bilateral agreements between the two Central American nations. The last of these agreements, conveniently, expired in 1969.

To make matters worse, the government in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, initiated land reform that effectively kicked Salvadorians off the land. Thousands fled back to El Salvador.

Then, El Salvador started claiming the land that had previously been held by its citizens in Honduras as El Salvador’s. It was in this climate that the two countries met on the soccer field to determine who would qualify for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.

The first game was played in Tegucigalpa. Hondurans made sure their rival team did not have a good night’s rest by creating as much noise as possible outside their hotel rooms. El Salvador lost. Then the media in San Salvador started reporting that a young woman, so distraught after the loss, had shot herself in the heart. 

El Nacional wrote, “The young girl could not bear to see her fatherland brought to its knees.” She was given a televised funeral and the President himself walked behind her casket. By the time the Honduran team got to San Salvador to play the second game, tensions were at an all-time high.

At the game, which El Salvador won, the Honduran flag was not flown during the opening ceremony. In its place, Salvadorian officials placed a rag.With the threat of all violence at the last game (it was to the best of three) a very real possibility, FIFA officials decided to hold the third game in Mexico City.

5,000 Mexican police officers kept both sides fairly under control. El Salvador went on to win the Mexico City game. Hours later, El Salvador severed all diplomatic ties with its northern neighbor. A mere two weeks later, the Salvadorian air force dropped bombs on Tegucigalpa.

La guerra del fútbol was obviously not fought over simply over soccer. But the games were used as incredible and very effective propaganda tools. The war lasted one hundred hours. Blocked by a U.S. arms embargo from directly purchasing weapons, both sides had to buy outdated military equipment from World War II. This war was the last time the world saw fighters armed with pistols dueling one another.

After the Organization of American States brokered a cease-fire, between 1,000 to 2,000 people were dead. 100,000 more were displaced. A formal peace treaty was not signed until 1980.

Although the war only lasted four days, the consequences for El Salvador were immense. Thousands of Salvadorians could no longer return to Honduras, straining an already fragile economy. Discontent spread, and just ten years later the country plunged into a twelve-year civil war that left 75,000 dead.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These letters home give a peek at life in Vietnam War

Letters are a very personal and specific method of communicating, filled with all the details about feelings and moments that would get left out of official reports and summaries. That’s why they’re so loved by historians.


Military police escort a captured Viet Cong fighter during the Tet Offensive.

(U.S. Army Don Hirst)

In these letters from the U.S. Army Heritage Education Center, a man identified as “Cofty” writes to his family about his experiences fighting in the jungles and front lines of Vietnam.

The first letter comes from Feb. 2, 1968, near the start of the Tet Offensive. The author and his unit were part of forces sent to counter the North Vietnamese attacks which had slammed into major U.S. posts at Long Binh and Bien Hoa. Saigon was also already under attack.

Though the writer couldn’t know it at the time, his unit was quite successful in driving the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong forces back, and attacks on Bien Hoa Air Base and Long Binh Post would cease the same day he wrote this letter.

(The author mistakenly put that his unit moved out on the 31st of December. The post-it notation on the letter is to amend “December” to “January.” The letter was written on February 2, 1968.)

The attack on the prisoner of war camp resulted in about 26 North Vietnamese dead and no U.S. or South Vietnamese casualties. There were at least two platoons involved in the fighting there, an infantry platoon and a cavalry platoon. It seems that the author was likely part of the cavalry platoon as, in an earlier letter available below, he refers to his squadron and his troop. Troops and squadrons are unit types predominantly used in cavalry organizations.

(A cavalry troop is roughly the same size as an infantry company, and a cavalry squadron is roughly the same size as an infantry battalion.)

While Bien Hoa Air Base and Long Binh Post would be relatively safe within hours of this letter being completed, attacks would continue across the front for months, including in Saigon where an embassy was partially overrun and then re-secured.

Marines push through the alleys of Hue City in February 1968, attempting to retake areas seized by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces during the Tet Offensive.

(U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. W. F. Dickman)

North Vietnamese forces launched approximately 120 attacks during the surprise offensive, greatly overstretching their forces and creating a situation where U.S. and South Vietnamese forces could quickly counterattack and retake the ground.

The offensive resulted in a large military defeat for the North Vietnamese, but early successes by the communist forces broke American morale at home, and the NVA achieved a major strategic victory despite their severe losses.

The other letter from this young soldier is dated January 19, a few weeks before the Tet Offensive began. It provides a little more “day-in-the-life” as the author details what search and destroy missions were, where his unit was located, and how hard it was to fight in the jungles near Cambodia.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Miss America 2011 just joined the Air Force

A former Miss America winner announced on June 12, 2018, that she enlisted in the US Air Force.

Teresa Scanlan, who won the Miss America pageant in 2011, is now an Airman First Class in the Air National Guard,
according to The Press of Atlantic City.

“I am beyond honored and humbled to announce that I am now officially an A1C in the Air National Guard and graduated Air Force Basic Training as an Honor Graduate (top 10%) last weekend,” Scanlan
wrote on Instagram.


“The title of “airman” is one I proudly hold and I hope to represent the Air Force well,” Scanlan wrote.

Scanlan, who is also a law student at UC Berkley, is no stranger to the military.

Since winning the pageant, she has done several USO tours, visited Walter Reed and Bethesda military hospitals and several military installations.

Scanlan isn’t the only Miss America to also be a service member. Deshauna Barber, the 2016 winner, was an Army Reserve officer during the competition.

Here’s some of what Scanlan did with the military before joining:

Scanlan signs autographs for sailors aboard the USS Cape St. George in 2012.

Scanlan signs autographs for sailors aboard the USS Cape St. George in 2012.

Scanlan speaks with a sailor in the USS Cape St. George’s general store in 2012.

Scanlan speaks with a sailor in the USS Cape St. George's general store in 2012.

Scanlan performs for the USS Abraham Lincoln crew in 2011.

Scanlan performs for the USS Abraham Lincoln crew in 2011.

Scanlan on the USS Abraham Lincoln’s flight deck in 2011.

Scanlan on the USS Abraham Lincoln's flight deck in 2011.

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



MIGHTY TACTICAL

Russia’s new hypersonic missiles already leaked to spies

Russia’s Federal Security Service reportedly suspects that plans for two of Russia’s new, game-changing hypersonic missiles have been leaked to Western spies.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense on July 19, 2018, released new footage of two of its most revolutionary weapons systems: a hypersonic Kh-47M2 “Kinzhal” nuclear-capable, anti-surface missile and the Avangard, a maneuverable ballistic missile reentry vehicle specifically made to outfox the US missile defenses arrayed around Europe.

Related video:

The Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, now suspects these systems, each of which cope with the challenges of flight at about 10 times the speed of sound, have been leaked to the West.

“It was established that the leak came from TsNIIMash employees,” a source close to the FSB investigation told Russia’s Kommersant newspaper, as the BBC noted. TsNIIMash is a Russian state-owned defense and space company.

“A lot of heads will roll, and for sure this case won’t end just with a few dismissals,” the source said.

A Boeing X-51 hypersonic cruise missile at Edwards Air Force Base in California in 2010.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

The hypersonic arms race

The US, China, and Russia are all locked in a heated arms race to create weapons that can travel many times the speed of sound, defeating today’s missile-defense systems.

China and Russia frequently test their weapons and have even fielded a few systems ahead of the US, but their focus is nuclear, while the US seeks a more technically difficult goal.

With nuclear weapons, like the kind Russia and China want on their hypersonics, accuracy doesn’t matter. But the US wants hypersonics for precision-strike missiles, meaning it has the added challenge of trying to train a missile raging at mach 10 to hit within a few feet of a target.

Given that nuclear weapons represent the highest level of conflict imaginable, believed in most cases to be a world-ending scenario, the US’s vision for precision-guided hypersonic conventional weapons that no missile defenses can block would seem to have more applications. The US’s proposed hypersonics could target specific people and buildings, making them useful for strikes like the recent ones in Syria.

But if Russia’s hypersonic know-how has somehow slipped into Western hands, as the FSB has reportedly indicated, then its comparative advantage could be even weaker.

Featured image: A MiG-31 firing a hypersonic Kh-47M2 “Kinzhal” nuclear-capable, anti-surface missile.

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

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This British sub hoisted its own Jolly Roger after sinking an Argentine cruiser

The HMS Conquerer is the only nuclear-powered submarine to engage an enemy with torpedoes. In a sea engagement during the Falklands War in the 1980s, two of the three shots fired at an Argentine cruiser hit home. Her hull pierces, the General Belgrano began listing and her captain called for the crew to abandon ship within 20 minutes.


In line with Royal Navy tradition, the Conquerer flew a Jolly Roger – a pirate flag – to note her victory at sea.

HMS Conqueror arriving back from the Falklands in 1982. (Reddit)

Submarines were considered “underhand, unfair and damned un-English,” by Sir Arthur Wilson, who was First Sea Lord when subs were introduced to the Royal Navy. Hs even threatened to hang all sub crews as pirates during wartime.

The insult stuck. When the HMS E9 sunk a German cruiser during WWI — the Royal Navy’s first submarine victory — its commander had a Jolly Roger made and it flew from the periscope as the sub sailed back to port.

The pirate flag soon became the official emblem of Britain’s silent service.

The British submarine HMS Utmost showing off their Jolly Roger in February 1942. The markings on the flag indicate the boat’s achievements: nine ships torpedoed (including one warship), eight ‘cloak and dagger’ operations, one target destroyed by gunfire, and one at-sea rescue. (Imperial War Museum)

The 1982 sinking of the Argentine General Belgrano was only the second instance of a submarine sinking a surface ship since the end of World War II.

The General Belgrano listing as all hands abandon ship. (Imperial War Museum)

Argentinian sailors reported a “fireball” shooting up through the ship, which means it was not cleared for action. If the crew was ready for a fight, ideally, the ship’s doors and hatches would have been sealed to keep out fire and water, author Larry Bond wrote in his book “Crash Dive,” which covers the incident.

The Conqueror’s Jolly Roger, featuring an atom for being the only nuclear sub with a kill, crossed torpedoes for the torpedo kill, a dagger indicating a cloak-and-dagger operation, and the outline of a cruiser for what kind of ship was sunk. (Royal Navy Submarine Museum)

The Royal Navy’s Cmdr. Chris Wreford-Brown, the captain of the Conqueror, later said of the sinking:

“The Royal Navy spent 13 years preparing me for such an occasion. It would have been regarded as extremely dreary if I had fouled it up.”

Ships from Argentina and neighboring Chile rescued 772 men over the next two days. The attack killed 321 sailors and two civilians.

The Argentine Navy returned to port and was largely out of the rest of the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the RAF bombed a POW camp with an artificial leg

On August 19, 1941, a British bomber taking part in a raid against Germany flew over a prisoner of war camp in St. Omer, France and dropped its lightest — but possibly most historic — payload of the war: a wooden case filled with bandages, socks, straps, and an artificial leg.

The odd bombing mission was to support a particular pilot on the ground, Douglas Bader, a Battle of Britain hero and double-leg amputee.


Douglas Bader and other members of No. 242 Squadron pose in front of nose art depicting a quick kick to Hitler’s butt.

(Royal Air Force photo by S. A. Devon)

Bader’s heroic story starts in 1931 when he boldly asserted that he could fly a new aircraft but, while attempting a risky maneuver near the ground with it, crashed the plane and lost both of his legs. The Royal Air Force drummed him out as invalid, but he kept pressing to come back.

When World War II broke out, Bader finally got his chance and immediately made the best of it, getting re-certified to fly and an assignment to the No. 19 Squadron. He pushed for sending more planes up against the Germans more of the time, and was sent against the Luftwaffe over Dunkirk in 1940.

Success there led to his involvement in the Battle of France where he was given command of No. 242 Squadron and increasingly large air missions. Bader was credited with 20 confirmed aerial kills and two shared by August, 1941. He became something of a hero to the British public as wartime propaganda related the heroics of “Tin-Legs Bader” and other fliers of No. 242.

A Messerschmitt 109 like the one Bader shot down on the day that he was downed — August 9, 1941.

(Kogo, CC BY-SA 2.0)

But his last kill came at a cost. On August 9, he shot down a Messerschmidt-109F, but his own plane was damaged in the fight. Reports at the time indicated that he had collided with another German plane, but later investigations posit that he might have been a victim of friendly fire.

Either way, Bader bailed out of his plane, losing his right prosthetic in the process, and parachuted to the ground. He was knocked out upon landing, and woke up to German soldiers removing his parachute harness.

The German doctor assigned to check on him thought, at first, that Bader had suffered an amputation in the crash, but quickly realized both his mistake and the fact that he was treating a British war hero.

The Germans, to their credit, immediately tried to make him as comfortable as a full-bodied person in the prisoner of war camp, recovering and repairing his leg as best they could and letting Britain know that he had been captured and needed a replacement right leg.

Bader, to his credit, immediately attempted to use his repaired leg to escape, forcing the Germans to take his legs every night to prevent further escape attempts. Bader would try again three more times over the course of the war.

But, between the first escape attempt and the other three, the RAF put together a plan to get Bader a new leg. Germany made an offer of safe passage and landing for a single plane to deliver it, but Britain worried that the Germans would use it for a burst of positive publicity.

Instead, they put together a fairly genius plan. See, Bader had been shot down during a large bombing raid popular with the RAF at the time. Bombers flew towards their targets escorted by a large number of fighters. The German planes would take off to intercept, but would be forced to dogfight with the fighters.

This created a window where there was little or no real resistance in the air to smaller bomber formations. Typically, this was used to sneak a few bombers in on low-altitude runs against high-priority targets. But on August 19, 1941, the British aviators used this window to fly over the prisoner of war camp at St. Omer, France where Bader was being held.


The plane dropped its single package with the leg and other supplies into the town with a note attached:

To the German flight commander of the Luftwaffe at St. Omer. Please deliver to the undermentioned address this package for Wing Command Bader, RAF prisoner of war, St. Omer, containing artificial leg, bandages, socks, straps.

Bader was sent to the infamous Colditz Castle after his fourth escape attempt, but survived the war. He advocated for disabled rights the rest of his life, efforts for which he received a knighthood in 1976. He died in 1982 of an apparent heart attack.

Articles

We made the best fictional infantry squad ever

Managing an infantry squad is similar to a sports coach shifting players around to positions that best fit their strengths and talents. Since Marines aren’t created equal, capitalizing on those strengths and building up weakness is why the U.S. military is such a juggernaut today.


On special occasions, a Marine infantry squad patrol is comprised of a platoon leader (if he decides to go), a squad leader, three fire team leaders, three SAW gunners, and six riflemen.

This all, of course, depends on how your squad is made up — we’re even going to throw in a Company Gunny for sh*ts and giggles.

Related: 6 newbie boots you wouldn’t want in your infantry squad

So check out our list of who’d make up our infantry squad if we got to pick favorites.

Our Platoon Leader: Splinter

He’s been there, done that, and he’s missing half of an ear from fighting a fellow ninja.

(Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Our Company Gunny: Gunny Thomas Highway

He eats concertina wire and pisses napalm. What else do you look for in leadership?

(Source: WB/Screenshot)

Our Squad Leader: Sgt. Slaughter

He’s a career Sergeant and loves his country. That is all.

(Source: Twitter @_SgtSlaughter)

Three Fire Team Leaders:

1. John McClane

He’s a smart *ss and a pretty good detective, but can’t ever seem to pick up E-5 because of bad luck. Everywhere he goes a terrorist attack breaks out, but he knows how to handle that sh*t.

(Source: IMDb)

2. Indiana Jones

He never quits, plus he’s great at reading maps and studies the cultures of the countries he’s about to help invade.

(Source: Paramount/Screenshot)

3. Neo

He is the “chosen one” and we’re choosing him to be a fire team leader.

(Source: WB/Screenshot)

Saw Gunners

1. Animal Mother

He doesn’t give a sh*t about anything but killing the bad guys which is totally bad ass.

(Source: WB/Screenshot)

2. Rambo

He can carry all the gear and shoot from the hip; no doubt he’ll put accurate rounds down range.

(Source: TriStar/Screenshot)

3. Xander Cage

His hair is always in regs and he’s an adrenaline junky — we like that.

(Source: Sony/Screenshot)

Riflemen

1. Luke Skywalker

I mean, obviously, right?

(Source: Buena Vista/Screenshot)

2. Sloth

He’s strong as hell, but needs to be told what to do.

(Source: WB/Screenshot)

3. Deadpool

He’s an outstanding shot, but he’ll never get promoted to Corporal — not with that smart ass attitude.

(Source: Flickr)

4. Private Reiben

He’s a hard charger and fights ’til the very end.

(Source: Dream Works/Screenshot)

5. Frank Drebin

He’s comical as hell and Marines loved to be entertained while out in the sh*t. Plus he seems to always get the job done…somehow.

(Source: Paramount/Screenshot)

6. Wolverine

He’s always down to fight and can heal himself up, making the Corpsman’s life easier.

(Source: Fox/Screenshot)

The Comm Guy/ Radioman: Donatello

The one from the latest movies, not the cartoon version where he can’t get sh*t to work properly. Plus he’s a freakin’ ninja.

(Source: Paramount/Pinterest)

Corpsman: Dr. Doug Ross

He’s good looking and has good hair — so do all Corpsmen.

(Source: NBC/ The Ringer)

Bonus – The first infantrywoman: Imperator Furiosa

Just in case we get stuck in a firefight, she’d be good to have around.

(Source: WB/Screenshot)

Who would you put into your infantry squad? Comment below.

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

What happened to the dead bodies after big battles in history

Given we know that even Neanderthals would bury their dead (even including objects with the bodies) and various human hunter-gatherer groups likewise used to bury or cremate people at specific sites that functioned as sort of pilgrimage locations for these nomads, it should come as no surprise that since the dawn of known warfare soldiers have pondered the question of what to do with the bodies of their fallen comrades and enemies. So what did various groups actually do throughout history?


A thing to note before we continue is that there is a definite gap in the memory of history in regards to this one specific matter and historians only have sparse reports of what happened to the dead of many groups after battles. You might think solving this problem would be simply a matter of locating famous battle sites and doing some digging to glean a little more insight, but it turns out even this is notoriously difficult as we’ll get into shortly.

That caveat out of the way, on the more definitive front, it’s noted that the ancient Greeks made an effort to respect the usual burial customs of the dead after a battle and collecting the bodies of the fallen wasn’t uncommon. For example, following the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC between Philip II of Macedonia and the Athenians, both sides buried their dead in accordance with the religious customs of the period; this was seemingly done both out of respect for the valor the dead showed in battle and to appease the gods.

With the exception of the Spartans, most ancient Greek societies also made efforts to bury their dead near the city they hailed from if time allowed it, though for the sake of practicality, mass graves or the like were sometimes utilizedinstead. In this case, cenotaphs were sometimes erected near their home city in honor of the fallen.

As noted, an exception to this are the Spartans who often buried fallen soldiers on the battlefield they were killed. Also somewhat unique was that rather than stripping the dead of valuables, as per Spartan tradition, each fallen Spartan was buried with their weapons and armor and their final resting place was marked by a simple tombstone with their name and an inscription that read (translated) “In War”.

This was a special honor among the Spartans. If one were to die outside of battle, no such tombstone would be given and the person would simply be buried in an unmarked grave. The one exception to that was if a woman died in child birth, she too would be given the honor of a tombstone.

As for the Romans, most soldiers paid a small stipend each month to pay for funeral expenses should they fall in battle. As you might expect from this, the Romans made a conscious effort to recover the bodies of those who died and, if time allowed it, would bury or cremate them individually. If this wasn’t possible, the bodies of soldiers killed in battle would be collected and given a mass cremation or burial. In the event the bodies couldn’t be recovered, a cenotaph would be erected to serve as a monument to the individual.

The same cannot be said of later wars where there seems to have been an almost callous disregard for the fallen, and looting of the dead and dying was commonplace. For example, the Bayeux Tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings in 1066 shows soldiers piling up the bodies of the dead and stripping them of their valuables. It’s believed that following this the bodies were quickly cremated or buried in nearby mass graves.

It should be noted here, however, that with the rise of Christianity, mass cremation, at least for a time, seems to have gone the way of the dodo in some regions, in favor of mass graves.

That said, despite the countless battles that occurred throughout Medieval Europe, archaeologists have had an extraordinarily difficult time actually finding any of the bodies. As one paper published in the Journal of Conflict Archeology, aptly titled “Where are the dead of medieval battles?“, notes:

Only a handful of mass graves from late medieval battles in Western Europe have been subject to large scale excavation to modern standards. The principal reason is that these, and indeed even early modern battlefield graves, have proven extremely elusive, most being identified by chance. Despite a few successes, no combination of prospecting techniques yet provides a consistently effective method of locating such small archaeological features set almost anywhere within a site covering many square kilometres…

Looking at much better documented times, looting of the dead was also extraordinarily common during the extremely deadly Napoleonic Wars, with soldiers and locals alike pilfering what they could find after battles. For example, consider this account from a British general following the Battle of Heilsberg in 1807:

The ground between the wood and the Russian batteries, about a quarter of a mile, was a sheet of naked human bodies, which friends and foes had during the night mutually stripped, although numbers of these bodies still retained consciousness of their situation. It was a sight that the eye loathed, but from which it could not remove.

And yes, as noted there, the severely wounded weren’t spared the indignity of being robbed of their worldly possessions as they lay dying. And worst of all, this was done not just by their enemies, but comrades as well. In fact, there are firsthand accounts from wounded soldiers who went on to survive their injuries detailing the shock of waking up completely naked.

Illustration of Battle of Heilsberg.

Here’s a snippet of one such quote from a French soldier called Jean Baptiste de Marbot:

Stretched on the snow among the piles of dead and dying, unable to move in any way, I gradually and without pain lost consciousness…. I judge that my swoon lasted four hours, and when I came to my sense I found myself in this horrible position. I was completely naked, having nothing on but my hat and my right boot. A man of the transport corps, thinking me dead, had stripped me in the usual fashion, and wishing to pull off the only boot that remained, was dragging me by one leg with his foot against my body. The jerk which the man gave me no doubt had restored me to my senses. I succeeded in sitting up and spitting out the clots of blood from my throat. The shock caused by the wind of the ball had produced such an extravasation of blood, that my face, shoulders, and chest were black, while the rest of my body was stained red by the blood from my wound. My hat and my hair were full of bloodstained snow, and as I rolled my haggard eyes I must have been horrible to see. Anyhow, the transport man looked the other way, and went off with my property without my being able to say a single word to him, so utterly prostrate was I.

After being stripped of their belongings the dead, and occasionally still barely living, would often be buried in mass graves (sometimes with bodies from both sides unceremoniously thrown in). In general, this was either accomplished via the soldiers themselves doing it, or in many cases members of the local populace given the gruesome task. However, there are accounts of battles where thousands of bodies were simply left to the elements. For example, General Philippe de Ségur states in 1812:

After passing the Kologa, we marched on, absorbed in thought, when some of us, raising our eyes, uttered a cry of horror. Each one instantly looked about him, and there lay stretched before us a plain trampled, bare, and devastated, all the trees cut down within a few feet from the surface, and farther off craggy hills, the highest of which appeared misshapen, and bore a striking resemblance to an extinguished volcano. The ground around us was everywhere covered with fragments of helmets and cuirasses, with broken drums, gun-stocks, tatters of uniforms, and standards dyed with blood.
On this desolate spot lay thirty thousand half-devoured corpses…

It should also be noted here that beyond any possessions the bodies may have had on them before being stripped, the bodies themselves were also of value. For example, human scavengers would come through and rob the dead of their teeth, which would then be used to make dentures.

The Napoleonic Wars, and in particular the Battle of Waterloo, were such a boon to the British dental industry in this way that dentures were known as “Waterloo teeth” in the UK over a decade after it ended. Teeth from soldiers were highly sought after owing to predominately coming from relatively young men who still had reasonably good teeth, unlike many others that came from the more wizened dead.

In one account, one Astley Cooper met just such a tooth hunter and noted:

Upon asking this Butler, who appeared to be in a state of great destitution, what might be his object, he said it was to get teeth…but when I came to question him upon the means by which he was to obtain these teeth, he said, ‘Oh Sir, only let there be a battle, and there’ll be no want of teeth. I’ll draw them as fast as the men are knocked down.

Even more grimly, the bones of the dead of some of these battles were later collected and pulverized into fertilizer which was sold for a modest price across Europe. To quote an article from the The Observer written in 1822:

It is now ascertained beyond a doubt, by actual experiment on an extensive scale, that a dead soldier is a most valuable article of commerce; and, for aught known to the contrary, the good farmers of Yorkshire are, in a great measure, indebted to the bones of their children for their daily bread. It is certainly a singular fact, that Great Britain should have sent out such multitudes of soldiers to fight the battles of this country upon the continent of Europe, and should then import their bones as an article of commerce to fatten her soil!

The remains of soldiers were also sometimes collected for use in souvenirs of major battles. For example, poet Eaton Stannard Barrett wrote, “I know one honest gentleman, who has brought home a real Waterloo thumb, nail and all, which he preserves in a bottle of gin.”

Battle of Waterloo, 1815.

Moving across the pond and slightly more recently in history, markedly more respect was shown for the dead during the American Civil War where teams of soldiers were tasked with burying the dead of both sides in simple mass graves, with great care being taken to ensure most soldiers received a proper burial.

Finally, to discuss WW1 and WW2, individual units were largely responsible for the disposal of their own dead with both Axis and Allied forces having their own rules for how this should be handled. For example, during WW2 Colonel Walther Sonntag of the Wehrmacht’s Casualty Office issued a comprehensive guide for military graves officers detailing how mass graves should be constructed.

Amongst other things the guidelines indicated that mass graves should be made as close to railway lines as possible and feature pathways with the intention being that they’d eventually be turned into war cemeteries. As the war raged on, these guidelines were largely ignored for the sake of practicality, leading to, as Der Spiegel puts it, “a surfeit of grave steles”.

As for the Allies, during WW2 burying the dead largely fell to individual soldiers, but some units dedicated to the task did exist, for example the United States Quartermaster Graves Registration Service. Tasked with finding and burying every fallen American soldier, the Quartermaster Graves Registration Service have been hailed as some of the unsung heroes of the War due to the general lack of recognition they’ve received since it ended.

Graves Registration units were exceptionally committed to their task and undertook their duties with a solemn sense of duty and determination, going to extraordinary lengths to identify bodies and perform the appropriate burial rights depending on the fallen soldier’s religious affiliation. When appropriate, GRS units would bury civilian, allied and axis casualties they came across, making sure to bury them in well-marked graves, the locations of which would be passed onto the relevant authorities.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

Pigeons are one of the most annoying and disgusting parts of living in a city these days. But did you know that those winged rats were once well-decorated war heroes?


The World Wars had dramatically increased the pace of technological advancement and gave rise to early forms quick communication, such as radio and telephone. But radio was easily intercepted and telephone wires were obvious to the enemy. Pigeons, on the other hand, had a surprising 95 percent efficiency and could carry longer-form messages than those sent by telegraph.

Communications between squads and battalions were typically delivered by a runner — a troop that moved across the battlefield carrying a message. For higher level communications, signal troops would write messages on tiny pieces of paper that would then be rolled up and attached to pigeons. Pigeons have natural magnetoreceptors and an instinct to return home, both of which they use to send a message on its way.

These birds can travel great distances in a (relatively) short amount of time. Princess the Pigeon, for example, managed a 500-mile flight during World War II when she carried vital information about the British troops fighting in Crete to RAF in Alexandria, Egypt.

Not all pigeons in England are terrible.
(Imperial War Museum)

Pigeons weren’t just sent as messengers. As early as World War I, innovators attached cameras to the birds who would then fly about the battlefield as the camera automatically snapped photographs.

As you’d expect, most photos came out terribly but, on occasion, you’d get a photo that would prove the idea wasn’t as terrible as it sounds.

(Imperial War Museum)

The most well-known story of the war pigeons is that of Cher Ami (which translates to “dear friend” from French). On Oct. 3, 1918, 195 American troops of the Lost Battalion were trapped behind enemy lines. Their position was surrounded on every side by German forces. To make matters worse, American artillery had started raining down on their position. Maj. Whittlesey affixed a message to Cher Ami and let her lose.

The message read, “We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it.”

Cher Ami was spotted by the Germans and shot down. Despite her wounds, she managed to take flight again and complete her 25-mile journey in just 25 minutes. She did this after taking a bullet to the chest, being blinded in one eye, and nearly losing the leg to which her crucial message was attached. Thanks to Cher Ami, all 195 men survived.

She was patched up and sent back home to the U.S. by Gen. “Black Jack” Pershing himself.


MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of March 22nd

It was recently reported that, back in October, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit drank Reykjavík, the capital city of Iceland, dry when they pulled into port. That’s not an expression or an over exaggeration. They literally drank every last bit of alcohol in the city over the course of their liberty to the point where the town reportedly had troubles restocking for their own citizens.

The most astounding thing about this entire story is that only one young, dumb lance corporal got in trouble for disorderly conduct — and we can only assume they’ve since been Ninja Punched into oblivion. But seriously, I have strong reservations about there only being one drunken problem. You mean to tell me that we can’t throw a barracks party without the MPs getting involved and an entire MEU got sh*tfaced drunk and only a single idiot did anything wrong?

I’m not saying it’s completely impossible — maybe things happened and were simply kept in-house — but if it’s really true and everyone was that well-behaved… BZ. Color me impressed.


To all you troops out there that aren’t that one Marine in Reykjavík, you’ve earned yourselves some memes.

(Meme via Artillery Moments)

(Meme via Pop Smoke)

(Meme via Do You Even Comm, Bro?)

(Meme via Valhalla Wear)

(Meme via Lost in the Sauce)

(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)

(Photo via US Army WTF Moments)

(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)

(Meme via Air Force amn/nco/snco)

(Meme by Ranger Up)

(Meme via Sh*t My LPO Says)

(Meme via ASMDSS)

(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why this schoolteacher grew a beard for a decade

On May 2, 2011, a Seattle-based school teacher shaved his face for the first time in a decade. It was one of those beard-growing events you hear about athletes doing or when people grow facial hair for a good cause. But the only thing special about Gary Weddle’s beard was when he started growing it, and the day he cut it, which all began on Sept. 11, 2001.


The 9/11 attacks were the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil – and the whole country watched.

Gary Weddle was a 40-year-old middle school science teacher during the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. Though the teacher, based in Ephrata, Wash., was far from the tragic devastation of the attacks, he was still devastated by the loss of life and the destruction of some of America’s most iconic structures. He told the Seattle Times that he couldn’t eat, shower, or shave in the days that followed. So to work through his grief, he vowed that he wouldn’t – shave that is – until the architect of the attacks was killed or captured.

The day he got to shave his beard came nearly a full ten years later, on May 1, 2011, when President Obama announced to the world that U.S. intelligence had found his hiding place in Pakistan and that U.S. Navy SEALs attacked it and killed the terrorist mastermind in a daring nighttime raid.

President Obama announced that U.S. Special Operators killed Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011.

After nearly ten years of nothing about Bin Laden, Weddle thought he might be buried with the beard. And he hated it. The facial hair only served as a reminder of the destruction of that day, and the justice left unserved to the man who planned the whole thing. So when he heard about the SEAL Team Six raid on Bin Laden’s hideout, he went straight for a pair of scissors.

The then-50-year-old had begun to look homeless in his long beard. Some even remarked that the graying beard resembled the one sported by Osama bin Laden himself. But after 3,454 days with the beard, having taught some 2,000 students, it took Gary Weddle 40 minutes to emerge from the bathroom clean-shaven. The students he currently taught at Ephrata Middle School were only two years old during the 9/11 attacks, and no one who worked with Weddle ever knew him without the beard.

When he walked into work the next day with his new look, few recognized him – and those who did say he looked ten years younger.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

5 planes that hope they can survive an F-22 assault

Air forces around the world have to wrestle with one simple but scary fact: Their fighters may have to go against the F-22 and, to maybe a lesser degree, the F-35, both fifth-generation stealth fighters equipped with modern, lethal air-to-air weapons and great sensors.

Here are five fighters that nations are hoping can hold their own against the kings of the skies, even if, so far, it doesn’t appear that any are up to the task:


Chengdu J-20s maneuver during a public airshow.

(Alert 5, CC BY-SA 5.0)

Chengdu J-20

China’s J-20 fighter is arguably the greatest actual threat to America’s fifth-generation fighters. China has a number of fighters in development, production, and early deployment, but the J-20 appears to be the crown jewel. It’s large, but appears to be stealthy at least from the front. It can carry lethal, extremely long-range missiles, and the Center for Strategic International Studies reported as late as 2017 that it could be a full fifth-generation stealth fighter.

Now, some fifth-generation traits have turned out to be absent from the J-20, most notably the super cruise feature. But while the J-20 can’t go above the speed of sound without afterburners, it’s still likely to be dangerous. Luckily, India has claimed that the J-20 isn’t as stealthy as advertised, saying its pilots have tracked the planes near the countries’ shared border from miles away.

The Russian Air Force flies its Sukhoi Su-57 fighters.

(Anna Zvereva, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Sukhoi Su-57 (formerly known as PAK FA)

The Russian Sukhoi Su-57 is one of the few rival fifth-generation fighters that currently exist, and its creators insist that it not only rivals the F-22, but some even claim it’s better in air-to-air and air-to-surface operations. Russia really hopes this fighter can dominate the F-22 and F-35 if it ever goes to war with the west.

But the plane doesn’t appear to be all that impressive. It’s woefully underpowered, according to most experts and the Indian leaders who backed out of buying the plane (more on that momentarily), it’s not all that stealthy, and its weapons capabilities are fine, but nothing to brag about. For it to approach anything like the speed of the F-22, it needs to use its afterburners which destroy what little stealth it does have.

Even worse, Russia can’t afford the plane, opting not to buy the it in significant numbers as sanctions and low oil prices continue to cripple its economy.

​TAI TFX

Turkey is chasing a fifth-generation fighter of its own called the TFX under the umbrella of Turkish Aerospace Industries. While Turkey is a NATO member and is slated to buy F-35s, its relationship with America and the west has become more tenuous and tense, and Turkey needs its own weapons to guarantee its security as it drifts closer to Russia.

The aircraft is under development with a first flight scheduled for 2023. It’s envisioned as having a stealthy fuselage, high speed, and a focus on air-to-air operations with air-to-surface capabilities. It is supposed to be capable of Mach 2 speeds and an almost 700-mile combat radius. If relations with the west hold, the TFX will fly with Turkish F-35s. Otherwise, it will work with Russian S-400s and older F-16s.

HAL Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) model

(Johnxxx9, CC BY-SA 3.0)

HAL AMCA

India was part of the PAK FA program that created the Sukhoi Su-57, but when it got its hands on the early planes, they were underpowered and failed to meet up to specs, according to Indian military leaders. So India proceeded from the Sukhoi program and ramped up their program for a homegrown fifth-generation fighter, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft.

The goal aircraft looks a lot like the F-22 with stealth, super cruise, dual engines, and all-weather capabilities. It’s getting high-end engines, radar, and long-range missiles. Oddly enough, those high-end engines might come from America. While India and the U.S. often have a tense relationship, the AMCA is even more likely to fly against China’s J-20 than it is against the F-22, so America wants the profit of selling engines while also increasing China’s risk.

And if F-22s do end up fighting the AMCA? Well, the F-22 is likely to win no matter what engines the AMCA gets.

HESA F-313 Qaher

Look, we’re only including this plane because the Iranian government claims that it exists and that it exceeds the F-22 and F-35, but no one who actually follows Iranian developments really believes the plane exists or that it would have fifth-generation traits if it did.

Iran unveiled the plane in 2013 and made its claims, but the plane appears to be just a mockup, it’s shape isn’t actually all that great for limiting radar cross section or for taking on enemy jets, and the plane hasn’t been seen since that first, high-profile debut. So, you know, our money is on the F-22.