Specialist 5 John C. McCloughan, a veteran of the Vietnam War and a retired teacher and sports coach, received the Medal of Honor in recognition of his actions during 48 hours of combat in Vietnam from May 13-15, 1969. He was the first to receive the Medal during the Trump administration, and the first to receive the award after an movement by former President Obama enabled waivers of the five-year time limit on Medal of Honor awards.
During this time, McCloughlan was wounded multiple times but continued to give aid to troops under fire and pull them to safety.
McCloughan was part of Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, 196th Light Brigade, in Vietnam in 1969 when Charlie Company was ordered to conduct a combat assault near Tam Ky and Nui Yon Hill.
It was one of those missions that seemingly everything went wrong from the start, as two American helicopters were shot down and there was too much incoming fire for another helicopter to rescue the downed air crews. A squad was sent to conduct the rescue and recovery instead.
The squad reached the perimeter of the crash site and McCloughan ran 100 meters across open ground raked by fire to recover a wounded soldier, moving forward even as a platoon of enemy soldiers charged in his direction. McCloughan threw the wounded man onto his shoulder and rushed back to friendly lines as rounds raced both directions past him.
Later that same day, the young medic spotted two soldiers huddled together in the open without weapons. He handed his own weapon to another soldier and rushed forward even as American airstrikes hit known North Vietnamese Army positions all around him, Army records say.
As he examined the two men in the field, a rocket-propelled grenade struck nearby and pelted McCloughan with shrapnel. Despite his wounds, he pulled the two men back into a trench. He went back into the field to save wounded comrades four more times that day despite a direct order not to.
He was offered a spot in the medical evacuation because of his own wounds, but refused it, worried that the American forces would need a medic to continue fighting while outnumbered.
Early the next day, the only other medic on the field was killed in an NVA ambush, making McCloughan’s decision seem prophetic. In the intense fighting during the ambush, he was wounded a second time with shrapnel from another rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire.
The Vietnamese then attempted to overwhelm the outnumbered Americans and launched a three-sided attack. McCloughan once again made trips into the crossfire to grab wounded soldiers and pull them back to safety. When American supplies ran low, he volunteered to move into the open with a blinking light to allow for a nighttime resupply drop.
On May 15, he distinguished himself once again by using a hand grenade to destroy an RPG position and treated wounded soldiers while engaging enemy forces.
McCloughan was credited with saving the lives of 10 members of his company throughout the 48-hour engagement.
Throughout a certain portion of history in the western world, getting a divorce was almost impossible. Even the royals had issues on this front, with perhaps the most famous example being the plight of King Henry 8th, a man whose desire to get an annulment famously led to him starting an entirely new branch of Christianity virtually identical to the old except that he was the ultimate authority and head instead of the Pope.
However, starting around the 14th century in certain parts of Europe, an avenue for a woman to divorce a man was to simply claim that her husband couldn’t consummate the marriage or, to put it more plainly — wasn’t able to shampoo the wookie.
While, yes, technically a man could also use this very excuse to get out of a marriage, the social stigma attached to not being able to successfully put a little Ranch in the Hidden Valley bottle was so great that we could find no examples of a man using this excuse to annul a marriage, despite that this was basically a free pass out of any marriage if the man wanted it, given he simply had to not get it up during the trial and he was free.
This all brings us to these so called “Impotence Trials”, at their peak with an estimated ten thousand or so taking place throughout Europe in the 17th century alone.
As you can probably imagine, the act of proving one’s innocence of this particular crime in court was naturally, quite hard, despite mostly all you needing to do was, well, get hard, with the occasional added requirement of showing you were capable of a little skeetshooting as well.
So how did this process actually go? It seems to have varied slightly from case to case and country to country, but generally the trials took place in the ecclesiastic courts, though we did find instances of ones that took place in a more normal court of law, one of which we’ll get into shortly.
Before such a trial, a rather lengthy waiting period was often required, up to three years, to see if at some point the man was able to violate the prime directive. If, after that time span, the woman still asserted her husband’s spelunker hadn’t ever explored her cave of wonders then a proper trial would commence.
During the trial, potential witnesses to any relevant acts in question, like servants and friends, would be questioned about any intimate details they knew of the couple.
For example, consider the case of one Nicholas Cantilupe. His wife, Katherine Paynel, gave this account to her friend, Thomas Waus, who, in turn, was a witness at the trial:
That she often tried to find the place of…Nicholas’ genitals with her hands when she lay in bed with… Nicholas and he was asleep, and that she could not stroke nor find anything there and that the place in which Nicholas’ genitals ought be is as flat as the hand of a man.
What was going on with Nicholas’ missing measuring stick isn’t known as the trial abruptly halted when Nick went into hiding. That is all history will ever remember of Nicholas Cantilupe.
The women could also potentially be subjected to numerous, sometimes rather invasive, tests, particularly if the man otherwise seemed to be able to hit the two ball in the middle pocket when he himself was examined. The most important test for the ladies was the court trying to determine if the woman making the accusations was still a virgin.
Various ways of testing this existed, but one of the most common was to insert a mirror into the woman-in-question’s snu-snu to try to see if the one eyed optometrist had ever showed up to give an examination of his own.
Naturally, this type of mirror examination was hardly conclusive, and even if it was determined the woman had at some point had her triangle bisected by something, some would simply claim her husband had used his hands when his flag couldn’t get past halfmast. Thus further casting doubt on the veracity of the results of that examination.
Not all just about being able to get it up, a man being able to impregnate the woman was also a key factor. Thus, other things women had to deal with during impotence trials included being grilled on their sexual proclivities, including how often they had sex and, critically, in what position. The latter was considered especially important because having sex in anything other than the missionary position was considered, if not a sin, at least uncouth, as that position was seen as the best way to get a woman pregnant. This should always, in the eyes of certain clergy, be the point of launching a heat seeking missile at the enemy base. Thus, if the man only ever was willing to put sour cream in his taco from an abnormal position, he was considered not to be doing his marital duties.
Beyond that, if the man had issues finishing the deed when the couple did have sex, the woman could potentially use her man’s inability to put a fresh coat of paint on her garden shed as evidence against him.
Now for the men. The tests men had to endure were equally as invasive and, from a social standpoint, potentially even more humiliating as it was their inadequacy as a man that was being challenged, and in an extremely public way, with trial notes from these proceedings being obscenely popular with the masses — humans gonna human, no matter what era.
Again, exactly what happened here seems to have varied a bit from trial to trial and region to region, but the first thing to be determined was if the man was physically capable of doing his best impression of a narwale.
One particularly amusing test, noted to have occurred frequently in Spain, involved alternately dunking Tiny Tim in cold and then hot water and then seeing if he would stand up after.
In other cases, we found accounts of women who were, shall we say, experts on the male magic stick, thoroughly “examining” it and giving their accounts before the court. For example, in one such 1370 instance, we have this account of the results of three women’s examination of one John Sanderson. His wife, Tedia Lambhird, had accused him of being impotent:
that the member of the said John is like an empty intestine of mottled skin and it does not have any flesh in it, nor veins in the skin, and the middle of its front is totally black. And said witness stroked it with her hands and… put [it] in that place it neither expanded nor grew. Asked if he has a scrotum with testicles she says that he has the skin of a scrotum, but the testicles do not hang in the scrotum but are connected with the skin as is the case among young infants.
And, yes, this account of poor John’s Little Soldier is all history will ever remember of him. Rest in Peace John Sanderson. I bet even at the height of your shame, you never considered that 649 years later a description of your genitals would still be fodder for the amusement of the masses.
Moving swiftly on, in other cases, a (male) doctor might be hired to stimulate the man’s noodle to see if it could be cooked al-dente. Understandably, even men capable of normally rising to the occasion struggled to do so under these circumstances.
Physician makes an examination.
(15th century manuscript)
For example, in one famous account of the Marquis de Gesvres, it is noted, in his case he was able to achieve a partial erection while being examined, but the examiners felt the, to quote, “tension, hardness, and duration” were inadequate for the required cloning via boning.
Lucky for the men, many of the males who were a part of the trial were sympathetic to this plight, and so failing to release the Kraken wasn’t usually immediately seen as a definitive sign that the man wasn’t capable of having his corn dog battered under more normal circumstances.
Further, some men even stated their inability to perform during the trial was because the wife had hired a sorcerer to bewitch his giggle stick, such as the case of one Jacques de Sales. In 1603, de Sales was subjected to such a trial and, when he couldn’t salute the jurors, stated his wife herself had cast a spell on his penis to keep it from saying hi.
Given the uncertainty in all this and attempts to give the men in question every opportunity to show they could storm the pink fortress, these trials often drug out for some time, even months, or, in some cases, the ruling would be to tack on another duration of up to three years to see if things sorted themselves out, quite literally, in the end.
This all brings us to what was generally the final, and most definitive test — Trial by Congress, which, just so we all know what we’re talking about here, was loading the clown into the cannon with an audience nearby.
To give an idea of how potentially humiliating this could be for the man, especially given the trial notes would soon be public fodder, we’ll mention a particular one that occurred in Rheims, France, where it was noted:
The experts waited around a fire. Many a time did he call out: “Come! Come now!” but it was always a false alarm. The wife laughed and told them: “Do not hurry so, for I know him well.” The experts said after that never had they laughed as much nor slept as little as on that night.
After the deed was done, or at least the attempt at it, experts would then examine the couple intimately, as well as the sheets, to see if the doughnut had been properly glazed.
However, as you might imagine, doing the dipsy doodle with someone you probably hate at this point, as well as with an audience nearby and your marriage on the line, wasn’t exactly an ideal scenario for the man, especially for men that may have already genuinely had trouble saluting Sergent Furburger.
Case in point — one René de Cordouan, aka, the Marquis de Langey. In 1657, the Marquis had his man-handle were put on trial, not in the ecclesiastical courts, but by the High Court of Paris itself. His then 17 year old wife, Mademoiselle Marie de St Simon de Courtemer, had claimed in the four years they’d been together, she had only ever observed his pooch lying there, to quote her, “absolutely destitute of motion”.
This disdain for his ability to hold a joint session of congress was in stark contrast to their seemingly happy relationship in the early going given letters that were brought to account during the trial.
The Lock, Jean-Honore Fragonard, circa 1776-9.
Interestingly, in this case, eager to prove his abilities in the bedroom to the masses, Langey himself demanded the Trial by Congress, even though up to this point it had appeared the trial might go his way as he had otherwise demonstrated the necessary abilities and the lady herself was considered not to be a virgin by their examination.
Unfortunately for Langey, the pressure to pickle the prime meridian lest his reputation be besmirched forever, someday even recounted on the interwebs, was too much. After several hours of trying, he could not do the deed. It probably didn’t help that a fifteen person jury was hanging out nearby to observe the results.
Thus, the marriage was dissolved, he was forced to pay the legal fees for both he and his ex, he became the butt of jokes among the nobility and the masses, had to return his wife’s dowry, and was forbidden to ever marry again.
Critical to his tale is that, after the divorce, despite the court order against it, he went ahead and took another wife, Diana de Navailles. This time he had no such issues, managing to father a whopping seven kids with Diana. Once his virility was proved, he then appealed his former sentence successfully and his marriage to Diana was officially confirmed.
From this and other similar accounts, it does appear there were at least some men back then fully capable of using their schnoodlypooper who were charged with being impotent or otherwise incapable of getting a puck past the goalie.
To add insult to injury, as mentioned in the case of Langey, should the man lose the case, not only was his inability to Mickey a Minnie Mouse now known to the world, along with very explicit and detailed descriptions of his dud of a Weapon of Mass Destruction, he was also liable for the court and legal fees of both he and his former wife.
On this note, upper class women were far more likely to bring claims of impotence against their husbands as they both had the means to hire a lawyer in the first place, and pay if she lost, and also would typically have better prospects for a future husband more able to give her a proper root canal if she won.
As an idea of how much more likely this was, it is noted that in France approximately 20% of all known instances of Impotence Trials were between members of the nobility, despite that these individuals represented only about 3% of the general populace.
In the end, several famous cases where men supposedly proven to be impotent during a trial managed to father children after started to shift the tides against such trials proving anything. Eventually other avenues of divorce also opened up, which all saw impotence trials falling by the wayside by the 19th century. However, let us not forget that for a brief period in European history, men could literally be put on trial for not being able to take the bald-headed gnome for a stroll in the misty forest.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
So this guy is one of my favorite people ever. His life story sounds like a Dos Equis commercial. His full name is John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill, better known as Jack Churchill or “Mad Jack”. A few of my favorite qualities and accomplishments of his up front:
Officer in the British Army from 1926-1936 and 1939-1959. During WWII, he was a Lieutenant-Colonel.
Worked as a newspaper editor and male model in Nairobi, Kenya between 1936 and 1939.
His motto was, “Any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed.”
When the war in Europe ended, he was sent to Burma to fight the Japanese but by the time he arrived, the war was over. He really, really didn’t like this because he wanted to keep fighting.
After the war he served as an instructor at the land-air warfare school in Australia, he became an avid surfer.
After retiring from the army in 1959, he regularly scared train conductors and pedestrians by throwing his briefcase from the train. Why? He threw it into his own backyard because he didn’t want to carry it home from the train station.
So now for my favorite part: he carried bagpipes, a Scottish broadsword, and a longbow with arrows into most battles. His unusual gear choices followed him into battle wherever he went, and even played a key role in the Battle of France.
When Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939, Mad Jack Churchill gave up his roles as a male model and newspaper editor in Kenya to resume his service in the British Army. As part of an expeditionary force to France, he led his unit – the Manchester Regiment – into battle in May 1940. Near the Belgian border, Churchill and his men set up an ambush on a German patrol, where he instructed his men to begin the ambush once they saw his arrow fly.
As a Nazi sergeant came into range, he fired an arrow from his traditional longbow and killed the German officer. In doing so, Churchill became the last known person to kill an enemy in battle using a longbow.
In 1941, Churchill was second in command for a raid on a German garrison on the west coast of Norway. As the landing craft hit the beaches and the ramp went down, Churchill was standing there blasting his bagpipes. When he finished his song, he launched a grenade toward the German fortifications and sprinted into battle.
Churchill’s bagpipe skills were on display again as the Allies invaded Sicily and also when they invaded the Italian peninsula near Salerno. At the latter, Churchill led an attack on a German observation post and captured 42 German soldiers with only the help of a Corporal.
In 1944, Churchill’s forces were tasked with assisting Tito’s Partisan forces in Yugoslavia. Here they were expected to retake the island of Brač. While the Partisan forces remained on the beach, Churchill and six others reached the objective alone. While he again played his bagpipes, his six fellow soldiers were killed by a mortar and he was knocked unconscious by a grenade and captured. He was then sent to Berlin for interrogation, after which he was sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp just north of Berlin.
You would think that was the end of his hilarious eccentricity, but it wasn’t. Being the badass he was, Churchill and another British officer escaped from the concentration camp and headed north to the Baltic coast. He was captured again just before he got to the coast and sent to an SS-guarded prison in Tyrol, Austria in April 1945. Once released, he walked over 90 miles to Verona, Italy, where he ran into an American armored group, who helped him get back to Britain.
That was the last action he’d see in World War II, as his arrival in the Pacific was too late. Churchill then went on to serve in British Palestine until 1948, after which he moved to Australia to be an instructor at the land-air warfare school. He eventually retired from the Army in 1959, and lived to the age of 89 in Surrey, England.
The Sherman tank was a powerful force to be reckoned with on the battlefields in WWII; it was fast and mobile and it shelled out plenty of firepower.
It provided just enough cover for American ground troops as it stomped through the German front lines. The Sherman was designed to patrol over enemy bridges and it was easily transported on railroad cars.
When the U.S. decided to invade Europe, General Patton selected the Sherman as his particular tank of choice and wanted as many to roll off the assembly lines as possible. Nearly fifty thousand were produced between 1942 and 1945.
Weighing in at 33 tons, it sustained a speed of 26 miles per hour and housed 2 inches of armor. Many saw the image of the Sherman tank to be invincible just like the American war effort, but the brave soldiers who served as tank crew members believed that it had too many engineering flaws and was far inferior compared to the German’s Tiger and Panther tanks.
The Sherman tank was equipped with a fully-transversing 75mm turret short barrelled gun that fired a high explosive shell 2,000 feet per second. Compared to the German tanks that shot accurately at 3,500 feet per second, the enemy’s armor piercing ammo was 2-3 times more effective.
It was recommended that to defeat the Germans, the tank crew had to speed up and flank around their battlefield rivalry and get within 600 yards range to be effective.
Captain Belton Y. Cooper, author of Death Traps and a member of the 3rd Armor Division maintenance unit, recounts knowing how inferior the Sherman was after seeing its physical destruction firsthand. He knew it was no match for the Nazi’s arsenal.
“We lost 648 tanks totally destroyed in combat, another 700 knocked out, repaired and put back into action,” Cooper says. “That’s 1,348 tanks knocked out in combat. I don’t think anyone took that kind of loss in the war.”
Few soldiers are as legendary as Finland’s Simo Häyhä. Known as the deadliest sniper in history, Häyhä served for just under 100 days during the 1939-1940 Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union.
In that short time, he is credited with killing over 500 men.
At long range Häyhä was lethal; his M28/30 sniper rifle (the Finnish version of Russia’s legendary Mosin-Nagant) accounted for half his estimated 500-542 kills. At close quarters, he was equally deadly with his Suomi KP-31 sub-machine gun, with some 250 Soviets falling victim to it. Not surprisingly, Soviet troops soon assigned Häyhä an appropriately sinister nickname: White Death.
Häyhä’s transformation into history’s most accomplished sniper traces back to 1925, when at twenty years old he served his mandatory year in Finland’s Army and afterward joined Finland’s volunteer militia known as the White Guard. Häyhä’s time with the militia sharpened what were already remarkable shooting abilities; a farmer and hunter, he was a natural marksman who regularly collected trophies at local shooting competitions.
When the Winter War broke out on November 30, 1939, Häyhä was nearly 34 years old. By the war’s end on March 13, 1940, he would become a legend. While most snipers used telescopic sights, Häyhä did without. Using a scope forced a sniper to lift their head a few inches higher than ordinary sights, making them an easier target for enemy snipers. Telescopic sights were also vulnerable to extreme cold. Häyhä’s solution was simple: Even in the poor light of a Finnish winter, he would rely on iron sights and the naked eye.
As the Soviets soon realized, the dim lighting didn’t affect his aim.
Finnish Army documents (as cited on Wikipedia) reveal just how deadly Häyhä was as a soldier. The war began on November 30, 1939. According to these documents, Häyhä had racked up his first 138 kills by December 22–only 22 days for 138 kills. The entry for January 26, 1940 ups his count to 199, an extra 61 in 35 days. By February 17, he was up to 219. In the 18 days after that, Häyhä killed another 40 enemy soldiers.
These stats reflect his sniping kills. Häyhä was just as deadly up close. His sub-machine gun accounted for another 250 kills. By March of 1940, he’d racked up an astonishing 500+ kills. Yet on March 6, his military career came to a sudden and near-fatal end.
Häyhä was a primary target of the Red Army; Soviets were keen to eliminate this seemingly unstoppable soldier who had spread so much fear, injury, and death among their ranks.
They’d tried everything, pummeling Häyhä’s presumed locations with artillery fire. Soviets also employed counter-sniping, flooding an area with snipers whose primary mission was to kill the White Death.
On March 6, 1940, the Red Army nearly succeeded. A Soviet sniper spotted Häyhä and shot at him with an explosive bullet, striking him in his lower left jaw.
The shot should have killed him. Häyhä, though severely wounded, somehow survived. Found by Finnish troops, he was brought into a field hospital. He wasn’t a pretty sight. One of the soldiers who brought him in bluntly described his injuries, saying “half his face was missing”. But once again, Häyhä had beaten the odds: permanently disfigured, but alive nonetheless.
Häyhä was lucky. Only days after he was shot, the Winter War ended on March 13, 1940 — the same day Häyhä regained consciousness. Finland honored the soldier for his service. Starting as a private in 1925, he’d only made ‘Alikersantti’ (corporal) when the Winter War started. After it ended, Corporal Häyhä was commissioned, becoming a “Vanrikki” (second lieutenant) with multiple decorations. He would spend the next few years recovering from the shot to his head, but Häyhä would eventually regain his health.
After the war, he became a successful moose hunter and dog breeder. Against him, the moose stood no chance. Finland’s President Urho Kekkinen was also a keen hunter and Häyhä, once a nobody from the Finnish border country, became one of the President’s regular hunting partners.
Entering a veteran’s nursing home in Hamina in his old age, Häyhä spent his remaining years quietly. He died on April 1, 2002 aged 96, a national hero in his native Finland and a legend in military history. Asked how he’d been so successful he answered simply: “Practice.”
One of the Allies’ most heroic spies was an amputee turned down by the State Department because of her leg amputation who served with both the British Special Operations Executive and the American Office of Strategic Services, coordinating resistance attacks and other operations in Nazi-occupied Europe.
Virginia Hall lost her left leg in a hunting accident while serving in the American embassy in Turkey. She ordered a wooden a prosthetic that she named “Cuthbert.” and practiced with it to ensure she could do nearly everything with it that she had done with two legs.
Despite her efforts, the State Department turned Hall down when she requested to take the oral exam needed for her to become a diplomat.
She then returned to France and, when Germany invaded Poland, joined the French Army as an ambulance driver and learned how the Nazis were treating Jewish people in Poland. When France fell to the Nazis in 1940, she escaped to London and was quickly recruited into the SOE.
The SOE sent her to France as its first female operative in the country. Hall worked from the city of Lyon as a spy posing as a writer for an American newspaper. While in Southern France, she helped establish safe drop zones for the insertion of British agents and supplies for resistance fighters.
The Gestapo began focusing on the region and had orders to hunt “La Dame Qui Boite,” the “Limping Lady.” Hall and her co-conspirators fled in 1942 over the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain. When she reported to the SOE that “Cuthbert” was giving her trouble in the mountains, headquarters told her, “If Cuthbert is giving you difficulty, have him eliminated.”
What was she supposed to do? Shoot her leg again?
Hall was arrested in Spain because she lacked papers, but a letter smuggled to the American consul there got her released six weeks later. She continued working for the SOE in Madrid but thought she was being coddled in such a safe mission.
She wrote to the headquarters, “I am living pleasantly and wasting time. It isn’t worthwhile and after all, my neck is my own. If I am willing to get a crick in it, I think that’s my prerogative.”
But in early 1944, Hall learned that America had stood up its own spy agency, the Office of Strategic Services. She immediately volunteered for OSS service in occupied France.
The Americans got her a ride into France on a British torpedo boat and she went undercover as an elderly milkmaid. She was probably the only elderly milkmaid in the country who coordinated parachute drops, reported German troop movements, and snuck across the country while transmitting Nazi military secrets via a suitcase radio.
Using supplies inserted into the drop zones she had selected, Hall trained and armed three battalions of French resistance fighters and prepared them for D-Day. When the Allies launched Operation Overlord and came across the channel, her forces launched a series of attacks to disrupt the Germans and help the liberators.
Fighters operating under Hall’s direction derailed trains, sabotaged bridges, destroyed rail and telephone lines, and killed and captured hundreds of Germans.
As the war in Europe wound to a close, Gen. Bill Donovan, head of the OSS approved the award of a Distinguished Service Cross to Hall and suggested to President Harry Truman that he pin it on her personally. Instead, Hall requested that the ceremony be kept private so that she could continue work in the clandestine service.
The administration agreed and Gen. Bill Donovan, head of the OSS, pinned the medal on her in September 1945. She was the first civilian and only American woman to receive the award in World War II.
Hall continued to serve in the OSS and then the Central Intelligence Agency until her mandatory retirement at the age of 60 in 1966.
Arms races usually take place in a tit-for-tat back and forth. Germany got flamethrowers, so America got trench guns. Russia has more tanks, so America gets the Apache. Sure, the balance of power shifts, but the weapons produced all make logical sense given the context.
Sometimes, however, someone thinks of a weapon or an upgrade that completely shifts the balance of power. These weapons are so out there that it sounds like the responsible nation downloaded some mods to get an edge that nobody could have ever planned for.
The Nest of Bees could fire dozens of rocket-powered arrows.
Nest of bees
The Nest of Bees was a Chinese weapon that worked like a Saturn Missile firework. A group of a couple dozen projectiles, basically arrows with rocket engines, were packed into tubes combined into a single block with one fuse. Warriors would aim at the body of the enemy army, set the fuse alight, and unleash hell.
I’m gonna be honest, I picked this particular furnace image because it looks like Thomas the Tank Engine’s brother died.
Pirate and navy games focus on just a couple of important weapons, none more so than the cannons that ships and forts used to inflict damage on one another. But forts had an advantage that game developers don’t often include — and we’re sure that many would pay for the DLC to get it: Hot shot.
Defenders in a fort would stack cannonballs on open grates or, after the year 1800, in large furnaces. The cannonballs would then be heated for less than an hour to reach red or white-hot heat. Then, they would be fired against enemy ships and siege engines. The heat would transfer into the wood and set the whole thing aflame.
Flaming ammo? Just type “Devil’s Balls” into the chat window and hit enter.
The reputed Claw of Archimedes toppled ships in the Siege of Syracuse, saving the city, according to ancient sources.
The Claw of Archimedes
Archimedes (yeah, the famous one) was tasked with creating defenses for the Carthaginian city of Syracuse. Syracuse was a coastal city with tall walls, but the leaders knew that Rome was building a huge fleet with massive ships to come get them. Archimedes came up with a few solutions, the most famous of which became known as the Claw of Archimedes.
Often described as “automatic crossbows,” the Zhuge Nu and similar designs required the operator to cock the weapon between each shot.
Zhuge Nu semi-automatic crossbow
When faced with enemy archers, wouldn’t it be nice if you could fire 15 shots without reloading while everyone else has to pull new arrows from a quiver like a chump? The Zhuge Nu crossbow carried 10-15 arrows in a wooden box and allowed the operator to quickly fire one arrow after another by simply cocking a wooden block.
Of course, there were trade offs — most importantly in terms of range and accuracy. The weapon was typically accurate to 65 yards. Only put in this cheat code if you’re going to be fighting lots of enemies at medium range.
During the days where most warriors were carrying swords and spears, a few Chinese warriors were lucky enough to get fire lances. These were weapons made of bamboo or iron and then packed with sand near the handle and gunpowder near the tip.
Wielders could use it in a few ways, but the end result was always lighting the fuse and allowing the flames to erupt in someone’s face — sometimes firing a poison dart or other projectile that was packed in the tip in the process. To be the only guy shooting flames and poisonous darts into people’s brain cavities, first create a warrior character and then bust out the Game Genie.
Carlsbad Army Air Force base after a bat bomb test went wrong. You have to admit that the bomb worked.
(U.S. Army Air Force)
Most people have heard about America’s plans to drop bombs filled with lots of live bats on Japanese cities. Now think about what that weapon would look like in a game. “You drop a bomb, and then all of the things inside the bomb fly to your targets and set them on fire.” That’s pretty sweet bomb upgrade — for humans, that is. It’s horrible for the bats.
Of course, the bat bomb project was famously abandoned after it proved too hard to control. So, no American aviators got to take advantage of the weapon in combat.
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.
So, it turns out there’s a reason your local medic wants to look at your body parts and fill you with pills, and it’s not because they’re a pervert — I mean, they probably are, but that’s not why they’re doing it. See, your ancestors fought in wars where it was fairly common their kidneys to swell up and burn, their genitals to start dripping pus, and their livers to grow holes and leak bile into their blood.
If you consider any of the descriptions above humorous or entertaining (sicko), then read on!
Soldiers undergo delousing on the Serbian front of World War I, an effort to reduce diseases like trench fever.
(Popular Science Magazine)
Trench fever was a fever characterized by skin lesions, sore muscles and joints, and headaches — yeah, not much fun. It was first recognized in 1915 as it spread through the trenches of World War I, but it also broke out in some German units in World War II.
It was spread through infected body lice and usually cleared up in a couple of months, but became chronic in rare cases. At least, with trench fever, the lesions were mostly confined to your skin and back… unlike the next entry.
Front and back cover of a truly disturbing book given to World War I troops headed back to the states, apparently filled to the brim will all sorts of disgusting genital bacteria.
(National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology)
After a regrettable Google search and lots of crying, this author can confirm that the ulcers look very painful, but nothing about the affected organs looks particularly blue.
Treatment for gonorrhea in 1911. Yes, the doctor is holding what you think he is, and that injection is going where you hoped it wouldn’t.
The clap and syphilis
While gonorrhea — also known as “the clap” — and syphilis are still common STDs, early detection on military bases and a lack of fraternization with locals has made it less of a problem in modern wars than when your grandparents fought. But for troops marching across Europe, hitting on as many French girls as they could, getting a series of sores on their genitals or seeing the dreaded discharge come out of their naughty bits was a real possibility.
And, back then, the only sure-fire test available for diagnoses was getting “rodded off the range,” a test where a doctor slid a cotton swab into a man’s “barrel” and swirled it around 5-10 times. Now, blood and urine tests are used instead. Big win for modern science.
Not today, tuberculosis. Not today.
Another disease that was a bigger problem for grandpa than it is for you, tuberculosis is a nasty infection that usually hits the lungs, causing bloody coughs, but can also wreck your liver, kidneys, and other organs. It causes chest pain, breathing troubles, fatigue, chills, and other issues that absolutely suck, especially while in a World War I trench.
It is spread through the air and infected surfaces, which is a big problem when thousands of dudes are sleeping on top of each other in crowded bunkers.
Typhoid Mary, famous for being imprisoned by New York authorities after she was found to be a carrier of typhoid fever.
In the Civil War, doctors hadn’t even figured out the disease yet, and treatment basically involved throwing a bunch of home remedies at the problem while continuing the study the disease’s spread. By World War I, we at least knew what caused it and had a vaccine, but still no cure. It wasn’t until after World War II that the disease became treatable.
Nephritis is inflammation of the kidneys. “War nephritis” was named by doctors in World War I who were looking into a sudden increase in cases with additional symptoms, like headaches, vertigo, and shallow breath.
While it’s still very possible to experience nephritis in war today, the worsened symptoms observed in World War I were thought to be tied to conditions in the trenches and along the front. Nephritis limits the kidneys’ ability to filter the blood, and exposure to the cold and wet conditions of wartime Europe made the problem much worse.
This is your intestines on dysentery.
Dysentery has a reputation for being a particularly bad case of diarrhea, but that’s not a full picture of the problem. It’s diarrhea that can last for months and include bloody stools. Even when treated, it could lead to secondary infections, like hepatitis and liver abscesses. The liver degradation leads to a buildup of toxins in the blood and body.
The American Civil War was a bloody affair, where many battles were fought with infantry tactics that had been around for 100 years. But some weapons designers pushed the envelope of technology during the violent conflict and developed arms that would revolutionize the way militaries fight for centuries.
1. The Repeating Rifle
Although the primary weapon on both sides of the war was the rifled musket, the repeating rifle made its combat debut during the Civil War. The introduction of the percussion cap and the cartridge allowed for the creation of breech-loading rifles, far superior in reloading speed than muzzle-loaders. The weapon truly came into its own though in the form of the Spencer repeating rifle. The rifle fired seven .56 caliber bullets from a tube magazine in the buttstock. A lever-action discharged and loaded the rounds.
The real revolution from the weapon came from a change in infantry tactics. The cartridge and ability to fire multiple rounds in quick secession meant soldiers no longer had to stand massed against each other. Instead, they could maneuver more and even take advantage of cover and concealment by kneeling and lying down while still being able to fire. Unfortunately, the generals of the time were worried that troops would waste too much ammunition so the rifles only saw limited use.
2. The Gatling Gun
Before John Gatling’s invention, there was no way to provide sustained high rates of fire. Although not a true automatic weapon, the hand-cranked, multi-barreled weapon could deliver rounds down range at upwards of 450 per minute. With no links or feed belts, the weapon was gravity fed. The use of multiple barrels limited overheating and allowed for longer sustained rates of fire.
The introduction of rapid fire weapons quickly changed the nature of warfare. No longer could mass infantry formations be used – they would be mowed down by the higher rates of fire. This was a lesson that would not be sufficiently learned until the brutal combat of World War I.
During the Civil War, Gatling guns saw limited action because, once again, the war department feared a waste of ammunition. Most guns used in combat were purchased personally by generals. The rotating barrels of the Gatling gun would later come to prominence in automatic weapons like the GAU-17 minigun and Vulcan 20mm cannon.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, warship design was just beginning to incorporate steam power. Most vessels were still wooden and powered by sail, but the British and French started to add armor-plating the sides of existing ship designs. From the beginning of the war, both the Union and the Confederacy sought to acquire ironclad warships. Their homegrown designs first met at the Battle of Hampton Roads in March 1862.
The Confederate CSS Virginia, a casemate ironclad, defeated three Union ships before encountering the Union’s USS Monitor. Though the battle ended in a draw with neither ship able to defeat the other, naval warfare was forever changed. In particular, the Monitor gave its name to a new type of warship.
These were low to the waterline and used rotating turrets to house their armament rather than the typical broadsides of a sailing ship. After news of the battle traveled abroad, many nations ceased production of wooden warships in favor of the new monitor-type. The turret has been a prominent design feature of warships ever since.
4. The Submarine
Though it was the Union that had superior industrial capabilities it was the Confederacy that launched the only submarine of the war. That submarine, the H.L. Hunley would be the first such ship to successfully attack and sink an enemy ship.
With a length of just 40 feet and a crew of eight using a hand-cranked shaft to propel her through the water, the Hunley was a far cry from the submarines that would appear in the early 20th century.
The Hunley was armed with just a single spar torpedo – an explosive charge attached to the end of a wooden pole – that was used to successfully sink the USS Housatonic on February 17, 1864.
Unfortunately, the Hunley was lost with all hands shortly after her attack but she opened the way for the future of underwater warfare.
5. The Hand grenade
While grenades were not a new invention to the American Civil War, improvements to their design and function radically changed the way they could be used. Prior to this time, grenades had fuses that had to be lit before being thrown and so were only used by special troops known as grenadiers. Other times grenades were closer to Molotov Cocktails than what would commonly be called a grenade.
William Ketchum designed a new grenade that would detonate on impact.
His design consisted of a metal cylinder with a plunger on the nose that would cause the explosives inside to detonate when it landed. To ensure that it landed nose down, he attached a wooden tailpiece with four fins to stabilize the grenade. With this type of fuse, individual soldiers of any type could carry the grenades.
This meant infantry assaulting trenches and other enemy positions could carry grenades while still carrying their rifles. By the 20th century, all major militaries adopted the hand grenade for standard infantry use.
The real-world exploits of this U.S. Marshal sound like the stuff of legend, up there with Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Except most of what you’ll hear about Bass Reeves is real. He escaped slavery in Texas by beating up his owner’s son. Then he lived among the natives in the Indian Territory of what is today Oklahoma. He memorized arrest warrants and always brought in the right criminal.
Bass Reeves was exactly what the Wild West needed.
While he could neither read nor write, Reeves knew the Indian Territory. He escaped there after beating up his master’s son in a dispute over a card game. The need to survive led him to the tribes of the Cherokee, Seminoles, and Creek Indians, whom he befriended and lived with until the end of the Civil War made him a free man. While he was illiterate, his mind was like a steel trap, and his heart was as brave as they come. When U.S. Marshal James Fagan was tasked with cleaning up the Indian Territory of its felons and outlaws, his first hire was Bass Reeves.
Reeves was now the first black lawman west of the Mississippi River and was perfectly suited for duty in the Indian Territory, speaking their language and knowing the terrain. For 32 years, Reeves would bring in the most dangerous of criminals without ever being wounded in action, despite having his hat and belt shot off on separate occasions.
Reeves and his Native American partner might have inspired “The Lone Ranger.”
At the end of his long, illustrious career, Reeves claimed to have arrested more than 3,000 felons and shot at least 14 outlaws dead during shootouts – he even had to arrest his own son for murder. Even though he claimed he’d never been hit by an outlaw’s bullet, there were times where they got the drop on the lawman. His favorite trick, one he used many times, was a letter ruse. When his quarry got the better of him, he would ask his captors to read him a letter from his wife before they shot him. Once the outlaws took the letter, Reeves used the distraction to draw his weapon and disarm or take down the bad guys.
His exploits were soon famous, and he earned the nickname “The Invincible Marshal” for all the times he’d escaped the jaws of death. Only at age 71 did death come for Bass Reeves – not in the form of an outlaw’s bullet, but rather kidney disease, in 1910.
On Dec. 20, 1860, the state of South Carolina seceded from the Union, leaving military personnel stationed there in a state of confusion. What belonged to the United States, what belonged to South Carolina, and who was going to be loyal to which side was all unclear. On Apr. 12, 1861, after a long siege, South Carolina Militia commander P.G.T. Beauregard fired the opening salvo of a barrage of cannon fire that would last 34 hours.
In return, Federal Captain Abner Doubleday ordered his men to fire on the South Carolinians. The exchange sparked four years of bloody Civil War in the United States — but not a single man died in combat that day.
When the state seceded, there were actually only two companies of federal U.S. troops in South Carolina. The decision for who would be loyal to who actually turned out to be fairly simple. The rest of the American troops defending South Carolina were actually state militiamen. That’s who Beauregard manned on Charleston’s 19 coastal defense batteries.
But the Federals weren’t actually stationed at Fort Sumter, they were land bound on nearby Fort Moultrie. It was only after the base commander Maj. Robert Anderson feared an attack from state militia via land that the Federals were moved into Charleston Harbor and the protection of Fort Sumter.
Anderson was right. South Carolina state forces began to seize federal buildings, arms, and fortifications almost immediately, and Fort Moultrie was among those buildings. That left the garrison at Fort Sumter as the sole remaining federal possession in South Carolina. And the Carolinians demanded their surrender. Some 3,000 rebel troops laid siege to the base and, by the time of Lincoln’s inauguration, it was one of the last remaining federal holdouts in the entire south.
President Lincoln announced in March, 1861, he would send three ships to resupply and relieve Fort Sumter, so the pressure on Beauregard to take the fort soon increased. On Apr. 11, Beauregard demanded the fort’s surrender and warned he would fire on the fort if the Federals did not comply. They didn’t. That’s when Beauregard fired a punishing barrage at the defenders.
Rebels poured 3,000 cannon shots into the fort over the next 34 hours. The Federals didn’t just take it, they returned fire with everything they had, literally. The U.S. troops were running low on powder and ammunition by mid-afternoon the next day. With their walls crumbling and the fort burning around them, Maj. Anderson reluctantly ordered Fort Sumter’s surrender.
Amazingly, no one was killed in the exchange on either side.
When the time came to lower the Stars and Stripes, Federal troops — soon to be known as Union troops — gave the flag a 100-gun salute as it came down on Apr. 14. But an accidental discharge from one of the fort’s cannons caused an explosion that killed Pvt. Daniel Hough of the 1st U.S. Artillery, the first death of hundreds of thousands to come.
In the days that followed, Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee also seceded from the Union and both sides of the conflict began to mobilize for the next meeting, which would come on July, 1861, in Manassas, Virginia.
Army Spc. Gabriel D. Conde’s short life spanned the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, from the euphoria over the fleeting early successes to the current doubts about the new strategy to break what U.S. commanders routinely call a “stalemate.”
When Conde was six years old, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the Taliban had been defeated and the Afghan people were now free “to create a better future.”
He was seven years old when then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, “We’re at a point where we clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability and stabilization and reconstruction activities.”
When Conde was 12, then-President George W. Bush was at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan to declare that “the Taliban is gone from power and it’s not coming back.”
In 2009, when Conde was 13, then-President Barack Obama said he would “make the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban the top priority that it should be. This is a war that we have to win.”
He sent 30,000 more U.S. troops into Afghanistan, with a timeline for their withdrawal.
Obama wanted the withdrawal to be complete by the time he left office, but he left behind about 8,500 U.S. troops to deal with a resurgent Taliban and a new enemy — an offshoot of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria called Islamic State-Khorasan Province, or IS-K.
August 2017, when Conde was 21, President Donald Trump announced a new strategy for Afghanistan that discarded “nation building” in favor of a plan to drive the Taliban into peace talks and a negotiated settlement.
Trump acknowledged that his initial impulse was to pull U.S. troops out completely, but he agreed to boost troop levels from 8,500 to about 14,000.
The presence of U.S. troops would now be conditions-based and not subject to artificial timelines. “We’re going to finish what we have to finish. What nobody else has been able to finish, we’re going to be able to do it,” Trump said.
Late April, 2018, the Taliban announced the start of its 16th annual spring offensive.
On May 1, 2018, when Conde was 22, he was killed by small-arms fire in the Tagab District of Kapisa province northeast of Kabul. A second U.S. soldier was wounded.
Conde, of Loveland, Colorado, served with the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), of 25th Infantry Division, based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska. His unit was expected to return to Alaska at the end of May 2018.
Also on May 1, 2018, the Trump administration took official note of the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan by granting political asylum to former Capt. Niloofar Rahmani, the first female fixed-wing pilot in the Afghan Air Force, who had been training in the U.S.
Through her lawyer, she had successfully argued to immigration authorities that the chaos in Afghanistan, and death threats against her and her family, made it impossible for her to return.
On the same day that Rahmani won asylum and Conde was killed, the latest in a wave of suicide bombings and terror attacks devastated the Shash Darak district of central Kabul in what Afghans call the “Green Zone.”
Two suicide bombers had slipped past the estimated 14 checkpoints surrounding the district, Afghanistan’s TOLOnews reported.
The first set off a blast and the second, reportedly disguised as a cameraman, joined a pack of reporters and photographers rushing to the scene and triggered a second explosion.
At least 30 people, including nine journalists, were killed. A 10th journalist was killed on the same day in an incident in Khost province. (Short biographies of the 10 journalists can be seen here.)
Mattis put on spot over attacks
In response to May 1, 2018’s events, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, echoed what other commanders and Pentagon officials have said so many times before during America’s longest war.
They mourned the loss of a valorous soldier and the victims of the bombings. They said the strategy of increased airpower and the buildup of Afghan special forces is showing progress. They pledged to stay the course.
At a session with Pentagon reporters May 1, 2018, Mattis said the Taliban are “on their back foot.”
The recent terror attacks show that they are desperate, he said.
“We anticipated they would do their best” to disrupt upcoming elections with a wave of bombings aimed at discouraging the Afghan people from voting, Mattis said.
“The Taliban realize the danger of the people being allowed to vote,” he added. “Their goal is to destabilize the elected government. This is the normal stuff by people who can’t win at the ballot box. They turn to bombs.”
At a welcoming ceremony on May 2, 2018, for the visiting Macedonian defense minister, Mattis was challenged on how he could point to progress amid the wave of bombings and a recent series of watchdog reports on widespread and continuing corruption in Afghanistan.
“The message from this building has consistently been that the situation is turning around, that things are improving there,” Mattis was told. “How do you reconcile this difference?”
“First, I don’t know that that’s been the message from this building. I would not subscribe to that,” Mattis said. “We said last August NATO is going to hold the line. We knew there would be tough fighting going forward.
“The murder of journalists and other innocent people is a great testimony to what it is we stand for and more importantly what we stand against,” he added.
“The Afghan military is being made more capable. You’ll notice that more of the forces are special forces, advised and assisted, accompanied by NATO mentors. And these are the most effective forces,” Mattis said.
“We anticipated and are doing our best and have been successful at blocking many of these attacks on innocent people but, unfortunately, once in a while they get through because any terrorist organization that realizes it can’t win by ballots and turns to bombs — this is simply what they do. They murder innocent people,” he said.
For the long run, “We’ll stand by the Afghan people, we’ll stand by the Afghan government and the NATO mission will continue as we drive them to a political settlement,” Mattis said.
Nicholson’s two-year plan to end the ‘Forever War’
“Actions like this only strengthen our steadfast commitment to the people of Afghanistan,” Nicholson, who doubles as commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said after the bombings May 1, 2018, and the death of Conde.
“We offer our sincere condolences to the families of those killed and wounded, and we stand with our Afghan partners in defeating those who would threaten the people of this country, whose cries for peace are being ignored,” he said.
Like many of his troops, the 60-year-old Nicholson, a West Point graduate, has served multiple tours in Afghanistan. When he was confirmed by the Senate in March 2016 to succeed Army Gen. John Campbell as commander, he would go back to Afghanistan for the sixth time.
Since 9/11, “the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan has largely defined my service” in 36 years in uniform, he told the Senate.
Nicholson is the son of Army Brig. Gen. John W. Nicholson, also a West Point graduate, and is distantly related the legendary British Brig. Gen. John Nicholson (1821-1857), who fought in the First Anglo-Afghan War.
Early on in his command, Nicholson was at the forefront on the military advisers who convinced Obama to approve the expansion of the air campaign against the Taliban and IS-K. In February 2017, he began arguing for more troops to partner with the Afghan National Defense Security Forces.
Mattis later signed off on what was essentially Nicholson’s plan. And Trump, in coordination with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, authorized it in an address to the nation in August 2017.
(DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)
In a video conference from Kabul to the Pentagon in November 2017, Nicholson said it would take about two years to bring 80 percent of Afghanistan under government control and drive the Taliban into peace talks.
“Why 80 percent? Because we think that gives them [the Afghans] a critical mass where they control 80. The Taliban are driven to less than 10 percent of the population; maybe the rest is contested,” Nicholson said.
“And this, we believe, is the critical mass necessary to drive the enemy to irrelevance, meaning they’re living in these remote, outlying areas, or they reconcile — or they die, of course, is the third choice,” he said.
Nicholson’s remarks contrasted with a simultaneous report from the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office.
In his foreword to the IG’s quarterly report, Acting IG Glenn Fine said, “During the quarter, Taliban insurgents continued to attack Afghan forces and fight for control of districts, and ISIS-K terrorists launched high-profile attacks across the country.”
Fine added, “Internal political tensions increased in Afghanistan, and corruption remained a key challenge to governance despite positive steps by Afghanistan’s Anti-Corruption Justice Center.”
Fine also said that maintaining the accuracy of future IG reports made available to the public is becoming more difficult, since key statistical measures are now being classified.
“When producing this report, we were notified that information that was previously publicly released regarding attrition, casualties, readiness, and personnel strength of Afghan forces that we had included in prior Lead IG reports was now classified,” Fine said. “In addition, we were advised that ratings of Afghan government capabilities were now classified.”
The strategy — what strategy?
In announcing the strategy for Afghanistan in August 2017, Trump made clear that he was doing so with grave misgivings.
“Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But nobody knows if or when that will ever happen,” he said.
The skeptics are many. “Why would anybody call this a strategy? We declared we wanted to win, but we didn’t change anything fundamentally that we’re doing,” retired Army Lt. Col. Jason Dempsey, who served two tours in Afghanistan, told Military.com.
The focus now, as it has been for years, is on building up the Afghan military into a more effective force capable of holding and administering territory retaken from the Taliban, he said, “but that army assumes the existence of a functioning government.”
“We are creating a military that assumes the existence of a state that does not exist,” said Dempsey, an adjunct senior fellow of the Military, Veterans and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security.
“What it boils down to is that we can’t decide what we want,” Dempsey said. “The only consensus we have on Afghanistan is that we don’t want to lose.”
In her analysis of the Trump administration’s strategy, Brookings Institution scholar Vanda Felbab-Brown wrote that the president basically had three options — “full military withdrawal, limited counterterrorism engagement, and staying in the country with slightly increased military deployments and intense political engagement.”
“The option the Trump administration chose — staying in Afghanistan with a somewhat enlarged military capacity — is the least bad option,” Felbab-Brown said.
“Thus, the Trump administration’s announced approach to Afghanistan is not a strategy for victory,” she said.
“Staying on militarily buys the United States hope that eventually the Taliban may make enough mistakes to seriously undermine its power,” she said. “However, that is unlikely unless Washington starts explicitly insisting on better governance and political processes in the Afghan government.”
Watchdog reports contrast with claims of progress
The goal of better governance is dependent on an Afghan military as the enabler, but the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said May 2, 2018, that the number of Afghan soldiers and police has declined sharply in the past year.
In a report, SIGAR said that the combined strength of the military and police dropped nearly 11 percent over the past year, from about 331,700 in January 2017 to about 296,400 this January, well below the total authorized strength of 334,000.
“Building up the Afghan forces is a top priority for the U.S. and our international allies, so it is worrisome to see Afghan force strength decreasing,” John Sopko, the head of SIGAR, told reporters.
At the end of January 2018, insurgents controlled or had influence over 14 percent of the Afghanistan’s 407 districts, SIGAR said, while the Afghan government controlled or influenced 56 percent. The remaining districts were contested, SIGAR said.
The report also noted the significant increase in the air campaign: “The total of 1,186 munitions dropped in the first quarter of 2018 is the highest number recorded for this period since reporting began in 2013, and is over two and a half times the amount dropped in the first quarter of 2017.”
In addition, the report indicated that Nicholson’s plan to bomb drug production centers and have the Afghan military interdict shipments in an effort to cut off Taliban funding was having little effect.
“From 2008 through March 20, 2018, over 3,520 interdiction operations resulted in the seizure of 463,342 kilograms of opium. But the sum of these seizures over nearly a decade would account for less than 0.05% of the opium produced in Afghanistan in 2017 alone,” SIGAR said.
Since 9/11, the U.S. has invested more than $850 billion in the war and efforts to bolster the Afghan government, but a recent drumbeat of reports from SIGAR and the Pentagon Inspector General’s office have highlighted widespread and continuing corruption.
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in April 2018, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, called on Army Secretary Mark Esper to justify a $50 million contract that SIGAR charged was used to buy luxury cars such as Alfa Romeos and Bentleys for Afghan officials and pay for $400,000 salaries for no-show jobs.
“Please tell me that a senator 20 years from now is not going to be sitting here and going, ‘How in the world are taxpayers paying for Alfa Romeos and Bentleys?’ ” McCaskill said.
‘We’ve kind of been going about it wrong’
As of March 2018, there were roughly 14,000 U.S. military personnel serving in Afghanistan as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, according to U.S. officials.
Of the 14,000, about 7,800 of these troops were assigned to NATO’s Resolute Support mission to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces.
The 7,800 number reflects an increase of 400 personnel from the deployment of the Army’s first Security Force Assistance Brigade, or SFAB, to Afghanistan.
In February 2018, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a report on what those troops can be expected to accomplish this year that was at odds with the upbeat assessments of Mattis and Nicholson.
“The overall situation in Afghanistan probably will deteriorate modestly this year in the face of persistent political instability, sustained attacks by the Taliban-led insurgency” and the “unsteady” performance of the Afghan military performance, the DNI’s report said.
Afghan troops “probably will maintain control of most major population centers with coalition force support, but the intensity and geographic scope of Taliban activities will put those centers under continued strain,” the report said.
Mattis and Nicholson have singled out the SFAB as a key component in reforming and refining the operations of the Afghan security forces.
The SFAB concept takes specially selected non-commissioned and commissioned officers, preferably with experience in Afghanistan, and assigns them the train, advise and assist role in place of conventional Brigade Combat Team units.
Before the deployment, Army 1st Sgt. Shaun Morgan, a company senior enlisted leader with the SFAB, told Stars & Stripes that there were no illusions about the difficulty of the job ahead.
“So, we’ve been kind of going about it wrong for a while, I think,” Morgan said. “Maybe this is an opportunity to get on the right foot toward getting it right.”
Previously in Afghanistan, “we couldn’t get it through our heads that we weren’t the fighters,” Morgan told Stripes in a reference to the role of U.S. troops as partners and advisers to the Afghans who were to take the lead in combat.
“I think the bosses decided maybe this is the right shot, and it just makes sense to me,” Morgan said.
The Afghans also were under no illusions on the continuing threats posed by the Taliban and other insurgents, and the risks they take to go about their daily lives.
Shah Marai Faizi, the chief photographer for Agence France-Presse in the Kabul bureau, was among the nine journalists killed in May 1, 2018’s suicide bombings in Kabul. He was the father of six, including a newborn daughter.
In 2017, Shah Marai wrote an essay titled “When Hope Is Gone” that was read in part on the Democracy Now cable program.
“Life seems to be even more difficult than under the Taliban because of the insecurity,” he wrote. “I don’t dare to take my children for a walk. I have five, and they spend their time cooped up inside the house. I have never felt life to have so little prospects, and I don’t see a way out.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.