Many of us will collectively roll our eyes as we scroll our social media in January. Between the “New Year, New Me” posts and detailed resolutions our friends and family will be sharing, you may be over it. But rather than approaching your feed with a pessimistic and hardened heart, maybe a little bit of history will help you understand why people flock to do this every year.
New Year’s resolutions have been around a long time. Research has shown that the first resolutions can be traced 4,000 years past, to the ancient Babylonians. Back then they were said to have 12-day celebrations in honor of the new year, making promises to the gods in hopes that they would grant them favor throughout that year. These promises were serious too! The Babylonians felt that if they didn’t keep their promises and pay debts, they could fall out of favor. Much more serious than our failed commitments to going to the gym more often.
Julius Caesar was known for a lot of things but you may not be aware that it was he who constructed our traditionally recognized calendar, making January 1 the first day of the new year. He did this around 43 B.C. and felt like it made sense, with the word January coming from Janus, a two-faced God. The Romans believed that Janus looked backwards to the previous year and forward for the new. The Romans also began celebrating the New Year with promises to the gods along with some questionable sacrifices. Thankfully that practice went away, to the excitement of livestock everywhere.
Fast forward to 1740, the new year began to have some implications for Christians. The beginning of the year began to evolve into a way to think about ones past mistakes and resolving to do better in the future. There was even a special ceremony or service for this practice, something that many modern churches still do.
Although the root making resolutions have a strong religious foundation, it is definitely something now practiced widely by everyone in modern society. Around 45 percent of Americans make resolutions but only around 8 percent will actually follow through with them. Don’t let those odds discourage you, however. After the year-which-shall-not-be-named we all just experienced, a little hope and positivity is absolutely needed. Here are three simple ideas for obtainable resolutions to aspire to reach in 2021.
Give more grace
Do this not only for others but for yourself as well. The stressors of life and the ongoing pandemic didn’t go away with the flip of the calendar month, but how you approach them can. Instead of striving for perfection or certain hard-line expectations, look for ways to give grace when you or others come up short instead. We all deserve it.
Increase your generosity
This doesn’t mean to open your wallet – it refers to opening your heart instead. Look for ways to be kind or give your time to those in need. It will create moments of joy in your life and has been proven to support better overall health and well-being.
Don’t make crazy health resolutions
Add two more glasses of water to your day and resolve to spend 15 minutes outside moving in some way. If you decide to take this resolution further, that’s great! But if this is all you do – it’s huge. As a society we are notorious for too many lattes and not enough water, this is an obtainable goal to improve your health. Being outside and moving is attacking your physical and mental health at the same time. Doable!
History has taught us so many things. Although we no longer make resolutions to ensure our crops are successful, the intent and hope behind the New Year resolution hasn’t changed. Even when you see cringe-worthy resolutions on your social media feed, hope is still at the root. As we approach 2021 with the knowledge of that “other year” burned in our brains, let us do it with nothing but good vibes. We’ve had enough bad ones to last a lifetime.
It’s not every day a commander is faced with the decision of whether to court-martial someone or to put them in for the Medal of Honor. Such was the situation of a daring pilot of the 354th Fighter Squadron, 355th Fighter Group, Eighth Air Force after a harrowing, unprecedented rescue behind enemy lines on August 18, 1944.
The airman was Lt. Royce “Deacon” Priest, a newly-minted pilot who had just arrived at the 354th in early June. Prior to becoming a full-fledged pilot, Priest trained to fly gliders. He was sent to flight school when it was realized no more Airborne divisions were going to be created. He was also offered admission to West Point but he turned it down to realize his dream of being a fighter pilot.
The 354th was led by a daring but new-to-combat pilot, Maj. Bert Marshall. He just arrived in the squadron in early June after a long stint as a pilot trainer stateside. D-Day was his second mission ever. It was there Marshall scored his first aerial victory, but he would already be an ace by August of that year. He also gained a reputation, as Lt. Priest put it, “for not matching wheels down landings with take-offs.” His aggressive flying style earned him the respect of his men and a promotion to Operations Officer and then Squadron Commander in a very short time.
On August 18th Maj. Marshall was leading a flight of four P-51 Mustangs on a bombing and strafing mission against German marshaling areas that supplied forces battling the Americans breaking out of Normandy. As they came upon their primary target, they noticed railway cars marked with red crosses and moved on to a better target. About twenty miles away, they found it.
As the fighters swept in to attack, their target of opportunity turned into an ambush. The sides of a rail car fell away exposing a German anti-aircraft battery hidden within. 20mm and 40mm anti-aircraft rounds ripped through the formation. Maj. Marshall’s plane took the worst of it and pulled away smoking badly and fatally crippled. Lt. Priest, flying beside him, saw the whole thing and reported the damage to Marshall. While Marshall looked for a place to belly land his plane Priest pointed out a field nearby and suggested that he would land and pick up Marshall. Marshall was adamant that he take the rest of the flight and get out of there.
However, Priest idolized Marshall, having known of him from his high school and college football days. He couldn’t believe his luck when they were assigned to the same squadron. He wasn’t just going to let him fall into German hands. He radioed the others in his flight to let them know his intention of landing to rescue the commander. When Marshall heard the chatter over the radio he told Lt. Priest he was ordering him not to land and to return to base.
Disobeying those orders, Lt. Priest spotted a wheat field nearby that would do nicely as an improvised landing strip. Just before landing, he spotted Marshall tossing a thermite grenade into his plane and then heading toward the field he was landing in.
Once Priest had landed and positioned his plane for a quick take-off he surveyed the area looking for his commander. Instead, he saw a truckload of German infantry approaching. He immediately called the remaining two airborne pilots. They responded that they were inbound and made quick work of the truck and its occupants with the Mustang’s four .50 caliber machine guns but also alerted Priest that more Germans were heading his way. He was running out of time and there was still no sign of his commander.
As he started to consider his options, he saw Marshall come into the field, visibly angry that Priest was even there. Marshall refused to get into the airplane and told Priest to get out of there. Not knowing what else to do, Priest exited the airplane and took off his chute and dinghy signaling that he was not leaving without his commander. Marshall climbed in first followed by Priest. There was barely enough room to close the canopy but the cramped couple managed to take off just in time to avoid the second German patrol.
Once they returned to England and Marshall was less angry, he expressed his thanks for the rescue. Priest told Marshall he was too important to the squadron to allow him to be lost to the Germans.
“I must admit I was very concerned regarding my own fate, having disobeyed a direct order, in combat – twice,” Priest wrote in a letter to Bert Marshall’s son. “I wondered if I would be transferred out, taken off combat operations, etc. I did not expect to be decorated.”
But that was what happened. Despite his seemingly reckless rescue of his commander, Lt. Priest was put in for the Medal of Honor. Gen. James Doolittle said he struggled with the decision and ultimately gave Priest the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions because he did not want to encourage other pilots to risk themselves and their aircraft in similar attempts. When presenting the award to Priest, Gen. Doolittle told him he “had never thought about issuing a regulation to ‘not land behind enemy lines to attempt a rescue,’ who would be that stupid? Because what you just did was just crazy to even think about!”
Both Priest and Marshall would finish the war and have long careers in what became the U.S. Air Force. Marshall was awarded the Silver Star for his leadership of the 354th Fighter Squadron in Europe. His son would later write two books about his father’s squadron during World War II.
The Douglas Aircraft Company was responsible for two legends in World War II: The SBD Dauntless dive bomber, famous for turning the tide in the Pacific in a span of roughly five minutes, and the C-47 Skytrain, a version of the DC-3. That same company was responsible for the lesser-known, but no less important, A-20 Havoc.
When the plane first flew, it didn’t even get an order from the United States. In fact, what kept this design afloat, according to aviation historian Joe Baugher, was the French. France ordered a total of 270, and received some of the planes before the country fell to the Nazis.
The Royal Air Force took on the undelivered planes, calling them, instead, “Bostons.” Then, they bought more of these planes. The United States, seeing the efficacy of this plane in action, then began to buy the plane as well, calling it the A-20 Havoc. When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the United States sent A-20s there.
The plane saw action in the European, Mediterranean, and Pacific Theaters of Operation. According to MilitaryFactory.com, the plane had a top speed of 339 miles per hour and could fly just under 1,100 miles, carrying up to two tons of bombs.
The A-20 really made its mark in the Southwest Pacific. There, Paul Irvin “Pappy” Gunn began to modify the planes. These bombers started to get as many as six M2 .50-caliber machine guns in their nose. It was here, low-level tactics helped the A-20 live up to its name — “Havoc.”
Eventually, word of Gunn’s field modifications made their way back to Douglas Aircraft Company, which began building the A-20s with the nose guns already installed. The A-20 was eventually replaced by the A-26 near the end of the war, but it had held the line against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Learn more about this very aptly-named bomber in the video below:
The bald eagle is a North American national treasure and the symbol of United States. Before the ink had dried on the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress issued the order to create an official seal for the nation.
This task of creating a suitable design was entrusted to Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and (in true congressional fashion), two other subsequent committees. Their work was judged and ratified by Charles Thomson, the Secretary of Congress at the time. A final decision wouldn’t come for years.
Thomson selected the best elements from several drafts and combined them. One draft of the seal featured a small, white eagle as designed by William Barton. Thomson switched out the small bird with the American bald eagle we know today and the result officially became our National Symbol on June 20th, 1782.
But the eagle that came to symbolize the American Dream almost died out before its time.
It was identified after World War II runoff from farms treated with pesticides were poisoning the environment. A colorless, tasteless, and almost-odorless chemical pesticide known as DDT seeped into waters and contaminated local fish. Tainting the food source of the bald eagle lead to the laying of eggs with weakened shells. The shells were so fragile that they would break if the parent attempted to incubate them.
Amendments to the 1940 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act were made protect the bald eagle from anyone possessing (dead or alive), taking, transporting, killing, harming, or even bothering one. Any interaction required a strict permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
If a freedom bird bald eagle decides to build a nest on your property, it is illegal to motivate it to move. Disturbing the nest in any capacity — even when empty — is also illegal. The only thing you’re allowed to do with a bald eagle is take a picture. That’s not a joke.
For your first offense, expect a fine of $100,000 to $200,000, a one-year imprisonment, or both. The second offense is a felony with increasing penalties.
The eagle’s astounding population recovery is a legislative success story. Over the last several decades, the bald eagle has endured challenges with determination and persevered. Here’s a short timeline:
1960: There were an estimated 400 mating pairs.
1972: The Environmental Protection Agency outlaws the use of DDT as a pesticide after studies determined it was weakening bald eagle eggshells.
1973: The bald eagle is added to the endangered species list.
1995: The bald eagle’s status is elevated from ‘endangered’ to ‘threatened.’
2007: The bald eagle is removed from the list entirely and thrives.
Present day: Bald eagle population is estimated at 70,000 strong.
There you have it. The story of how the bald eagle became the national bird… and how close we came to losing it.
On Dec. 16, 1944, Adolf Hitler launched an ambitious but badly planned counterattack meant to break the back of the Allied forces and allow the Nazis to dictate the peace terms that would end the war.
Instead, it guaranteed his defeat, but not before forcing hundreds of thousands of soldiers on each side to fight in bitter, near-Arctic levels of cold amidst driving winter storms and winds. Managing a surprise attack with dozens of divisions is no easy feat. Here’s how they did it at the Battle of the Bulge.
In France, German communications were more reliant on the use of radio waves, which could be intercepted. French citizens were also likely to report Nazi movements, providing near real-time intel. On the German side of the border, both of these advantages disappeared.
Despite these advantages, the German troop buildup was a logistical nightmare. Hitler’s plan required 30 divisions, including 12 panzer divisions, and over 1,000 planes be transported to the Ardennes using only trains and horses to limit fuel consumption. In addition to all supplies consumed, Hitler wanted to stage 4.5 million gallons of fuel and 50 trainloads of ammunition for the advance.
All of this buildup had to take place under Allied air attack without the Allies getting wise. Surprisingly, the Germans were mostly successful.
The troop buildup portion was actually more successful than planned with approximately 1,500 troop trains and 500 supply trains carrying 12 armored divisions and 29 infantry divisions to the staging areas for the offensive.
The aerial buildup was less successful. The Germans had 1,250 planes ready before Dec. 16 — 250 less than originally planned.
But the weather turned in the German’s favor in the days before the attack. The heavy fogs that limited reconnaissance flights also grounded most other planes, neutering the Allied air forces and eliminating that advantage.
So, on Dec. 16, the Germans launched their three-pronged attack against what were largely inexperienced and exhausted troops defending the forest. The most combat-ready troops had been moved to other areas to prepare for an Allied invasion across the German borders.
Infantrymen of the 3rd Armored Division advance under artillery fire in Pont-Le-Ban, Belgium. January 15, 1945. (Photo and cutline: U.S. Army)
The Germans further complicated the American’s situation by sending thousands of English-speaking German troops behind American lines in captured uniforms and jeeps to commit acts of sabotage and to spy on the American response.
Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s staff briefing was interrupted that night with word of the German advance, and he immediately pegged it as a massive counterattack with the goal of driving to the Atlantic. He ordered both the 7th and 10th Armored divisions to drive in to help.
Many American units were quickly surrounded and forced to fight against a siege by German units. The 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were ordered forward to relieve pressure on the American lines, arriving before the siege was complete.
The 101st was dedicated predominantly to the defense of Bastogne, a city where seven key highways met, making it crucial for the victory or defeat of the German attack. When the Germans requested the 101st’s surrender from Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe and his staff, the general famously responded with “NUTS!” and continued the defense.
For the first week, the Allies fought desperate defensive and delaying actions against the Nazi juggernaut, usually at a disadvantage in terms of numbers, supplies, and equipment.
But the weather cleared on Dec. 23, and Allied air forces surged into the sky to beat back the Luftwaffe and provide support to the beleaguered forces on the ground. Bombing runs broke up German forces in staging areas while strafing by fighters tore through attacking columns.
A few days later, Patton’s Third Army reached the German lines and cut a path through them. Hitler’s bold advance had fallen well short of its goal of the Belgian coast and German units, overextended and undersupplied, began to be rounded up and captured. By the end of January, the Allies had regained the lost ground and were once again marching towards Berlin.
Stanislav Petrov was a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Union’s Air Defense Forces, and his job was to monitor his country’s satellite system, which was looking for any possible nuclear weapons launches by the United States.
“The siren howled, but I just sat there for a few seconds, staring at the big, back-lit, red screen with the word ‘launch’ on it,” Petrov told the BBC in 2013.
It was already a moment of extreme tension in the Cold War. On Sept. 1 of that year, the Soviet Union shot down a Korean Air Lines plane that had drifted into Soviet airspace, killing all 269 people on board, including a US congressman. The episode led the US and the Soviets to exchange warnings and threats.
Petrov had to act quickly. US missiles could reach the Soviet Union in just over 20 minutes.
“There was no rule about how long we were allowed to think before we reported a strike,” Petrov told the BBC. “But we knew that every second of procrastination took away valuable time, that the Soviet Union’s military and political leadership needed to be informed without delay. All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders – but I couldn’t move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan.”
Petrov sensed something wasn’t adding up.
He had been trained to expect an all-out nuclear assault from the US, so it seemed strange that the satellite system was detecting only a few missiles being launched. And the system itself was fairly new. He didn’t completely trust it.
Arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis recalled the episode in an interview last December on NPR:
“[Petrov] just had this feeling in his gut that it wasn’t right. It was five missiles. It didn’t seem like enough. So even though by all of the protocols he had been trained to follow, he should absolutely have reported that up the chain of command and, you know, we should be talking about the great nuclear war of 1983 if any of us survived.”
After several nerve-jangling minutes, Petrov didn’t send the computer warning to his superiors. He checked to see if there had been a computer malfunction.
He had guessed correctly.
“Twenty-three minutes later I realized that nothing had happened,” he said in 2013. “If there had been a real strike, then I would already know about it. It was such a relief.”
That episode and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis are considered to be the closest the US and the Soviets came to a nuclear exchange. And while the Cuban Missile Crisis has been widely examined, Petrov’s actions have received much less attention.
Petrov died on May 19, at age 77, in a suburb outside Moscow, according to news reports Sept. 18. He had long since retired and was living alone. News of his death apparently went unrecognized at the time.
Karl Schumacher, a German political activist who had highlighted Petrov’s actions in recent years, tried to contact Petrov earlier this month to wish him a happy birthday. Instead, he reached Petrov’s son, Dmitri, who said his father had died in May.
Petrov said he received an official reprimand for making mistakes in his logbook on Sept. 26, 1983.
His story was not publicized at the time, but it did emerge after the Soviet Union collapsed. He received a number of international awards during the final years of his life. In 2015, a docudrama about him featuring Kevin Costner was called The Man Who Saved The World.
But he never considered himself a hero.
“That was my job,” he said. “But they were lucky it was me on shift that night.”
Witnesses reported seeing the 24 crates containing what has been called the “Eighth Wonder of the World” at a railroad station at Königsberg, Prussia in 1943. They had earlier been seen in the courtyard of Königsberg Castle.
They were never seen again.
Inside the crates, was an all-amber room that was built by Prussia’s Frederick I between 1701-1706 and later given by Frederick’s son, Frederick William I, to Peter the Great of Russia. The chamber, when assembled, was completely enclosed with amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors and garnished with mosaics, nymphs, cupids and angels, inlays, landscapes, and miniatures — all in amber.
Its construction nearly broke the Prussian economy when it was built, and its worth today, if it were ever found, is estimated to be near $200 million.
Peter accepted Frederick Wilhelm’s gift, something, he said in a letter, he had “dreamed of for a long time.” The Amber Room was disassembled and moved to Russia, but nothing was done about reassembling it there — largely because no one was able to figure out how the badly-marked pieces went together — until the woman who would become Catherine the Great ascended the Russian throne in 1767.
Catherine, who originally came from the amber-mining region near the Black Sea, added another 900 pounds of amber to the room and implemented the work done by an Italian sculptor who had worked on the reassembly problem. She also added large windows to the room and had it assembled at her Tsarskoye Selo palace.
The completed room was said to come alive in candlelight.
The room languished in the St. Petersburg — later Leningrad — Palace until June 1941, when Germany invaded Russia. Ten weeks after the invasion, Germany laid siege to Leningrad. As the siege continued, Russians in the city struggled to save what historic treasure they could, including the Amber Room. Because of the fragility of the amber and the resulting difficulty in removing and storing it, a false room was built inside the Amber Room that hid it from view. But when the Nazis took the palace in September, they discovered the room, disassembled it, and stored it in crates. Those crates were then moved to Königsberg, again reassembled, and displayed in the town’s castle, the former home of the Teutonic Knights.
As the war wound down, Königsberg became the target of frequent Allied bombing raids and the room was again disassembled, loaded in crates, and stored in the castle’s cellar. The crates containing the Amber Room were seen in the castle’s courtyard in January 1945 and later at the railroad depot in Königsberg.
From there, they disappeared.
Since the war, searches have all been unsuccessful in locating any trace of the missing crates and their contents. Numerous theories as to what happened to the famous Amber Room have also been broadcast — all unsubstantiated.
As recently as 2008, radar scans detected a large amount of metal believed to be too dense to be copper in an abandoned copper mine in Deutschneudorf, Saxony that some people, including Hans-Peter Haustein, mayor of Deutschneudorf, claim is the burial site of the Amber Room. Others believe the Amber Room was hidden 2,000 feet down in a salt mine near Gottingen, Germany that has since been flooded. Still other researchers have speculated that the Amber Room was loaded aboard the German liner Wilhelm Gustoloff, which was being used to move refugees across the Baltic Sea, and went down with the ship when it was sunk in January 1945.
Or — perhaps the most likely of all — it was simply destroyed during the Royal Air Force bombing raids in early 1945.
Fortunately, the curious can still get a glimpse of the room’s splendor.
A copy of the room has been created based on black and white photos that were taken of it. Russian President Vladimir Putin dedicated the room at a celebration of the 300-year anniversary of the city of Saint Petersburg in 2003. That copy is currently on display at the Tsarskoye Selo Palace.
In the 1950s, nuclear reactors and weapons were all the rage. Bombs were getting bigger, people were hosting nuclear parties, and reactors were enabling the Navy to launch submarines and ships that could go years without refueling.
But all that nuclear activity had a dark consequence — and no, we’re not talking about the fun Super Mutants of Fallout.
We love them, too, Vault-Tec boy!
As most everyone knows, using radioactive materials to generate power also creates waste. Triggering the nuclear process in a material (which is what you need to do to create said power) is basically irreversible. Once activated, nuclear material is dangerous for thousands of years.
The Navy was still in the process of learning that fact in the 1950s as they tried to decide what to do with a newfound problem: dealing with nuclear waste.
Their initial solution, unsurprisingly, was similar to how they dealt with chemical waste and other debris at the time. They dumped it — usually in 6,000 to 12,000 feet of water.
At this point, Godzilla is your best-case scenario.
Sailors like George Albernaz, assigned to the USS Calhoun County in the ’50s, were left to decide how they’d go about their job dumping the materials, typically low-level nuclear waste.
They would take about 300 barrels per trip out into the ocean from docks on the Atlantic Coast and roll them to the edge of the ship. When the ship tipped just right on the waves, they would push the barrels over.
Most of them, filled with dense metals, salts, and tools encased in concrete inside the barrel, would sink right away. Barrels that bobbed back up were shot with a rifle by a man standing on the end of the ship, which usually sent it directly to the bottom of the sea.
But the rifle fire wasn’t always enough.
Navy aircraft take off after during operations in 1957.
In July 1957, two barrels bobbed back up during a dumping mission and simply would not sink. So, the Navy sent two aircraft to fire on them with machine guns until they finally sank to Poseidon’s depths.
While shooting radioactive barrels actually sounds sort-of fun, the sailors involved said that the Navy failed to properly inform them of the dangers of working with radiation, took shortcuts on safety and detection procedures, and failed to provide necessary safety gear.
That left men like Albernaz susceptible to a number of diseases and conditions associated with radiation, including cancer and other lifelong ailments.
A 1992 article in the New York Times detailed other shortcomings of the Navy’s programs, including instances where dumps occurred mere miles from major ports, like Boston, in only a few hundred feet of water, increasing the chances that radioactive particles could make their way into civilian population centers.
These days, Navy nuclear waste is taken to be stored on land, but the U.S. still lacks permanent storage for high-level nuclear waste. Instead, nearly all high-level nuclear waste in the U.S. is stored in temporary storage, often on the grounds of nuclear power generation facilities.
It’s not ideal, and a number of potential permanent sites have been proposed and debated, but at least barrels probably won’t come bobbing back up.
If they do, well, even the F-35 could probably sink them.
Wars are violent, brutal, and bloody. The Crusades were no exception, just one more in a long line of useless, stupid wars that people now romanticize for some reason.
The lasting legacy of the Crusades is used to support international terrorism against the West, to explain the relationship between the Christian and Muslim worlds in poorly-researched history papers, and is used as a meme on the internet by people who are “proud to be an infidel.”
With the Crusades, there was no good guy or bad guy. The truth is that European power was on the rise at the end of the first millennium. Christendom was finally able to respond to the Islamic wars of expansion that rose from the founding and spread of Islam in the Middle East.
But even with all that money and power, the Christian kings of Europe were still stupid, inbred products of the Middle Ages. The Islamic powers in the Middle East were struggling against each other for regional dominance.
The two were bound to butt heads.
Muslim armies and Christian armies could be equally brutal. I mean it when I say there is no good guy or bad guy. Between one and three million people died in the Crusades – one percent of the world’s population at the time. It doesn’t matter who started it, after nine crusades (only the first and sixth being anything close to a “success”), these wars were ridiculously destructive, even for medieval combat.
Eventually, the Crusaders were expelled from the Holy Land. And when you really read the history, it makes you wonder how they were able to stay so long.
1. Crusaders weren’t the best strategists.
In 1187, the Islamic leader, Saladin, tricked the Crusader Armies into leaving their fortified position (and their water source) in what is, today, the deserts of Israel by attacking an out-of-the-way fortress near Tiberias. After a brief war council, the Crusaders decided to march on Saladin’s army.
In an open field.
After crossing a desert.
Did I mention they left their water source to walk nine miles in full armor?
They were so thirsty, their lines broke as the knights made for the nearby springs. That’s where Saladin slaughtered them. He began his campaign to recapture Jerusalem the next day, which he did, three months later.
Arguably the greatest victory for the Crusaders came at Ascalon, after the fall of Jerusalem in 1099. The Crusaders caught the Muslims by surprise, but were still outflanked by an Egyptian army that was actually ready to fight. Luckily, the Crusaders had heavy cavalry the Muslims did not.
By 20th century standards, murdering six million Jewish people makes you history’s greatest monster, and rightfully so. To this day, no one can seriously name their child “Adolf” without subjecting it to a lifetime of sideways glances.
During the First Crusade, God supposedly sent German knights an “enchanted goose” to follow. That goose had a totally different agenda. It led them to a Jewish neighborhood, which the knights immediately slaughtered. There were anti-Jewish massacres at cities like Worms, Mainz, Metz, Prague, Ratisbon, and others. Confused about why these are still European cities? Me too. The Crusaders hadn’t even left Europe before they decided to murder Jews.
The Crusade against the Cathars amounted to a genocide. The fun doesn’t stop there. During the Fourth Crusade, Crusaders hitched a ride to Palestine on Venetian ships but ended up not being able to pay Venice for the sealift. Instead of paying them, the Venetians used the Crusader armies to sack Zadar, a city in modern Croatia. They sacked the city and its Christian population fled to the countryside.
Then, they practically broke the seat of power held by Orthodox Christians in the Byzantine Empire, which brings me to…
4. Christianity lost a lot of power because of Crusaders.
When the Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Christian Byzantine Empire, the empire never recovered. By 1453, Ottoman Muslim armies were banging away at the walls and gates of the city.
Crusaders toppled the Byzantine Emperor Alexius III and when his brother tried to submit to the Pope, he was killed in a coup. It caused the Crusaders to declare war and sack the city — during Easter — murdering a lot of Christian inhabitants and destroying much of the fabled city. Which might have been Venice’s 95-year-old, blind leader’s plan the whole time.
When the Muslim Ottoman Turks took Constantinople, the last Christian empire in the Middle East was gone. Good job, Crusaders.
Muslim armies offered to give control of Jerusalem back to the Crusaders during the Fifth Crusade in exchange for the city of Damietta in Egypt. But the Crusaders refused, so the Muslims took both cities.
5. They lost a lot of important relics.
Legend says that when the Fatimid Caliph wanted to destroy Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the supposed site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, Christians hid the True Cross that held his body. The Crusaders, geniuses they were, carried it into battle.
And, of course, lost it to Saladin at the Battle of Hattin.
On top of that, Europeans, in general, were just obsessed with holy relics during the era. So, things like the buried remains of Catholic saints and items associated with those saints were stolen en masse, many never to be seen again.
6. A lot of them just gave up.
When Frederick Barbarossa died after marching his horse into a damn river (before he could even get to the Third Crusade), many of his knights committed suicide, believing God abandoned them. Others turned around and went home.
That’s not even the end of it.
When Mehmet II conquered Constantinople, Pope Pius II tried to buy him out instead of fighting him. In exchange for Mehmet converting to Christianity, the Pope offered to “appoint you the emperor of the Greeks and the Orient… All Christians will honor you and make you the arbiter of their quarrels… Many will submit to you voluntarily, appear before your judgment seat, and pay taxes to you. It will be given to you to quell tyrants, to support the good, and combat the wicked. And the Roman Church will not oppose you.”
But these weren’t the knights and heavy infantry we’ve come to know. These were people inspired by the idea of taking up the cross — mostly conscripted, illiterate peasants. By the time they reached the Middle East, Peter already abandoned them and Turkish spies lured them out of their camp, into a valley, where the Turks just massacred them.
8. Crusaders literally ate babies.
Not only were they bad at strategy, Crusaders (like most armies of the time, to be honest) were also bad at logistics — you know, the getting of stuff to the fight. Stuff like food.
A contingent of French knights pillaged, raped, murdered, and tortured people across the Byzantine lands, a decidedly Christian empire. In the countryside near Nicea, they turned to eating the peasants as well, reportedly roasting babies on spikes. When German knights found out, they started doing the same thing.
But they did the same thing to the Muslims, too. After capturing Maara in 1098, they discovered the city they just laid siege to for a few weeks had no food. Big surprise.
Brig. Gen. Walter McIlhenny is one of the greatest US Marine Corps war heroes that you’ve never heard of. The World War II officer of the 1st Marine Division received the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, and two Purple Hearts during the Guadalcanal campaign. After an intense battle, he even captured the same Japanese sword he’d been struck in the helmet with. But “Tabasco Mac” is most remembered as the driving force behind bringing tiny bottles of Tabasco hot sauce to every American GI’s C rations during the Vietnam War.
In 1949, the Marine took the reins of his family’s McIlhenny Co., producer of the world-famous Tabasco red pepper hot sauce, and remained in charge until his death in 1985. The spicy empire was the brainchild of his great-grandfather, Edmund A. McIlhenny, an amateur gardener and banker. When Edmund McIlhenny returned to his home on Avery Island in the Louisiana bayou country following the American Civil War, he discovered his crops of capsicum peppers had survived. He took three basic ingredients — peppers, salt from the island’s salt mines, and vinegar — and aged them together for 30 days to create the special potion that has been admired for generations.
McIlhenny’s red hot pepper sauce was first bottled into discarded cologne containers and referenced informally in conversation as “That Famous Sauce Mr. McIlhenny Makes.” His first commercial pepper crop emerged in 1868, and he sent 658 bottles at $1 apiece to grocery stores around the Gulf Coast, mainly in New Orleans. Two years later, McIlhenny secured a patent for Tabasco red pepper sauce — named in honor of the Mexican state where the peppers were sourced — and added a sprinkler fitment to ensure the concentrated sauce was sprinkled and not poured.
Walter McIlhenny, the World War II Marine general, received several handwritten letters mailed from American GIs in Vietnam requesting tasty recipes. His great-grandfather’s original resolve to add flavor to the boring and monotonous diets of those in the Reconstruction South inspired him to do the same with ground troops’ C rations. The obligation to produce a fun and easy-to-follow guide led to the 1966 publication of The Charlie Ration Cookbook, or No Food Is Too Good for the Man Up Front.
The camouflaged cookbook with cartoon illustrations and clever recipes inside was wrapped around a 2-ounce bottle of Tabasco and placed in a waterproof container to be shipped overseas to Vietnam. Some of the more popular and humorous recipes included Fox Hole Dinner for Two (Turkey and Chicken Poulette), Cease Fire Casserole, and Fish with Frontline Stuffing.
The recipes spoke to the grunts and were a reminder of home. “The casserole can be elegant, but as most men know, women often use it as a camouflage for a hasty meal after a long bridge game,” reads the recipe for Tin Can Casserole. “Here’s a recipe to put the Old Lady’s Bridge Casserole to shame.” The Breast of Chicken Under Bullets recipe suggests “breast of chicken under glass was never intended for areas where glass and shrapnel fly.”
George Creighton, a veteran of two tours in Vietnam, put Tabasco on everything. “The rations get boring and you just need something to liven them up and Tabasco does that,” Creighton told the Baltimore Sun in 2003. He added Tabasco to his beef, to his peas, and to his spaghetti. A favorite, according to Creighton, was a mixture of water buffalo meat with C rations — “like a mulligan stew with rice and put in Tabasco sauce and add flavor to the whole mix.”
Tabasco continued the tradition into the 1980s and through Operation Desert Storm and published The Unofficial MRE Recipe Booklet providing creative alternatives for soldiers looking to please their palates. The innovative American family also collaborated with comic strip writer Mort Walker to illustrate it with the famous Beetle Bailey characters. Inside McIlhenny’s second cookbook he promised “Meals, Ready-to-Excite” with recipes of Paratrooper Pork and Beans, 40 MM Beanwiches, Chopper Chipped Beef in Cream Gravy, Ham Grenades, and Victory Pot Pie. The cookbook kept with tradition from Vietnam and came in a Tabasco quick-draw camouflaged holster with a 2-ounce bottle of Tabasco sauce.
The most famous hot sauce brand in the world is synonymous with flavorful and fun experiences for American service members from Vietnam to present day. “It’s a little touch of home in far-flung places,” said Paul McIlhenny, who was president of Tabasco from 1998 to 2012. “We want to defend the world against bland food, wherever it may be.” Thanks to Tabasco, and with help from the Charlie Ration Cookbook, GI Joe has gone gourmet.
Today, Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia supports more than 120,000 active duty military, family, Reserves, retired military, and employees every day. The Army Infantry School, Army Armor School and the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation call Fort Benning their home. The installation has the ability to deploy forces ready for combat by air, rail and highway. So, all in all pretty badass as far as installations go. But Fort Benning’s history is a little more complicated than it might seem.
Its story begins in WWI
However, Fort Benning hasn’t always been such a powerhouse. In fact, Fort Benning’s history were pretty darn modest. Originally it was called Camp Benning because it resembled a camp more than an installation. It also wasn’t supposed to be around for that long. Monterey, California, and then Fort Sill, Oklahoma, were the original homes of what eventually became Fort Benning. It moved from Oklahoma to the east side of Columbus, Georgia in 1918 because Fort Sill was too crowded. That’s because WWI was raging and the military needed to grow – fast.
You could call Benning a camp and be right
The Infantry needed its own home separate from the Artillery School. So here’s when Fort Benning’s history really started. Camp Benning was born. Forget barracks and a DFAC – the original Camp Benning was more like camping than being in the Army. It was dirty, muddy, and there were no paved roads. Most Soldiers even lived in tents. When their families moved in, they moved right into the same tents as the Soldiers. It even got to the point where some Soldiers decided to build their own quarters so they wouldn’t have to live in tents anymore.
The little camp that could
Yet even living with their families, the soldiers were in the middle of full-on combat training. Talk about having divided attention. And speaking of, the government wasn’t super interested in improving the conditions either. The installation was supposed to be temporary so it’s possible that the earliest Camp Benning soldiers were the first to coin the phrase, “Embrace the suck.” (Just kidding. No one really knows where that apt phrase came from.)
Eventually, the government got wise and decided to establish a permanent installation at Camp Benning. You could say this is where Fort Benning’s history was born.
As anyone who’s had the pleasure of PCSing to Benning, it’s muggy, buggy and in the middle of nowhere. Talk about an ideal location for an installation. Four years after WWI ended, Camp Benning became what we all know and love as Fort Benning and legions of Army Soldiers have grit their teeth through the Georgia climate.
Despite the weather (or maybe because of it?) Fort Benning’s Soldiers have gone on to do really amazing things, like Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served at Benning as an XO.
Related: Proof that the Army continues to produce some of the best service members in the world. Check out this former Ranger who was just recognized by the Guinness Book of Records for most pull ups in 24 hours.
Going to any bartender that knows their craft and ordering a “torpedo juice,” means you’ll get a cocktail that’s two parts alcohol (any alcohol) and three parts pineapple juice. It’s not a bad drink, but it’s not exactly refined.
Neither were the World War II sailors who created the concoction. These guys had to do something to mask the harsh kick of the liquor by any means necessary. It just so happened that juice was the most readily available.
In Mike Ostlund’s 2011 book, “Find ‘Em, Chase ‘Em, Sink ‘Em: The Mysterious Loss of the WWII Submarine USS Gudgeon,” he details how sailors were able to drink the grain alcohol carried by submarines, even after the Navy tainted the supply.
Even during the best days of World War II, a good stiff drink was hard to find. For U.S. Navy submarine crews, it was next to impossible – to find one. So they would make their own, using the fuel that fed the submarine’s deadly torpedoes.
One might think Americans would be used to either having to distill their own booze or to go completely without. The United States had only emerged from Prohibition less than a decade before the start of the Second World War. But no, Americans enjoyed their drinks and sailors were already known for their love of the hard stuff.
Since there were no bars, pubs or stills aboard the submarines – and there wasn’t room for anything of the sort anyhow – they made the best of their situation. They converted to fuel used to drive their torpedoes into 180-proof alcohol.
At first, the sailors could just pop open the fuel and start drinking, but it wasn’t always that way. Torpedo fuel was made from pure grain alcohol back then and the Navy brass knew it. They also knew that once the sailors aboard ship realized it, there would soon be a significant lack of fuel for torpedoes.
Soon, Ostlund writed, Navy leadership began to add croton oil to the fuel stores. Drinking the alcohol with the oil additive gave sailors extreme stomach pains and diarrhea. Unlike the wood alcohol used by the government to poison industrial ethyl alcohol during Prohibition, the croton oil wouldn’t kill or blind sailors. They were still needed to fight the war, after all. The pain and suffering would soon pass.
The Navy thought its fuel troubles were over and its fuel stores safe from thirsty sailors. They were wrong. There’s nothing more resourceful than a sailor in need of a drink on long haul sea voyages.
Aboard the USS Gudgeon, sailors figured out how to separate the croton oil from the alcohol. The fuel was stored in five gallon cans and poured into a 50 gallon vat for use in the torpedoes. The sailors smuggled the fuel in their original five gallon containers back to anywhere they could set up a still, usually a hotel in a port city.
They then simply distilled the oil from the alcohol, using the same method used to make grain alcohol in the first place. The stuff was then mixed with any kind of juice the sailors could find.
Operating a still in a random hotel wasn’t entirely without risk. The makeshift still setups can – and did – explode, setting fire to the hotel, buildings, and whatever happened to be nearby. A small price to pay for a bit of relaxation away from one of the world’s deadliest jobs.
It’s often called the “Forgotten Campaign of the Second World War” — and there’s no secret as to why. The campaign lost out on fanfare mostly because it took place in a far off, remote territory that few Americans lived on or cared about. And it didn’t help that it happened at a time when Marines and soldiers were pushing onto the beaches at the Battle of Guadalcanal.
The truth is, however, that the sporadic fighting and eventual American victory on the frozen, barren islands of Alaska proved instrumental to an Allied victory in the the Pacific.
A bit of a fixer-upper, but nothing that can’t be buffed out.
Just six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese launched a two-day attack on Dutch Harbor, Alaska. On June 3rd and 4th, 1942, their targets were the Dutch Harbor Naval Operating Base and U.S. Army Fort Mears on Amaknak Island.
The Japanese attack was an attempt to establish a foothold in the Northern Pacific. From there, the Japanese could continue and advance towards either the Alaskan mainland or move toward the northwestern states of the United States. A few days later, on June 6th and 7th, the Japanese invaded and annexed the Alaskan islands of Kiska and Attu — along with the western-most Aleutian Islands.
It was a tactical victory for the Japanese but the Americans managed to shoot down a Zero during the Battle of Dutch Harbor, and it happened to land in relatively good condition.
Allied troops would move onto Kiska with over 34,000 troops… Just to find the island completely abandoned two weeks prior.
Meanwhile, Japan was busy moving the bulk of their naval forces toward Midway to aid in recovery from the burgeoning American victory there. Back in North America, the Americans had regrouped and gained the support of the Canadian military.
The bolstered Allied troops moved toward Japanese-occupied territories. They sporadically picked off enemy vessels one by one as they pushed through the island chain. Then, on March 27th, 1943, the American and Japanese fleets squared off at the Battle of Komandorski Islands. The Americans took more damage, but caused enough to make the Japanese abandon their Aleutian garrisons.
On May 11th, U.S. and Canadian soldiers landed on Attu Island to take it back. Japanese dug in and booby-trapped much of the surrounding island. The Americans suffered 3,929 casualties — 580 dead, 1,148 wounded, and over 1,200 cold-weather injuries — but the Japanese were overrun. In a last-ditch effort, the Japanese committed the single largest banzai charge — an attack in which every infantryman first accepted their death before charging charged into battle — in all of the Pacific campaign. The Japanese suffered 2,351 deaths with hundreds of more believed to be lost to the unforgiving weather.
The captured Zero from Dutch Harbor, dubbed the Akutan Zero, was studied and reverse engineered by American technicians. Test pilots were successfully able to determine the weak-points and vulnerabilities of the fighter aircraft, which were quickly relayed to the rest of the Army Air Force. This information proved vital in later battles.
In the end, America would retake the islands and force the Japanese Navy back south to deal with the brunt of the American military. With the Japanese gone, the only route into the continental U.S. was secure again.
To learn more about the Aleutian Campaign, check out the video below!