President Donald Trump apparently wants a parade — a military parade.
“President Trump is incredibly supportive of America’s great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “He has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation.”
Inspired by a French military parade in honor of Bastille Day, Trump reportedly wants it complete with marching soldiers and rolling tanks.
While it’s still in the brainstorming stages, critics have called the idea troubling because of its potential authoritarian overtones, as well as noting how the infrastructure in Washington DC may not be able to support modern heavy equipment on the streets.
On May 1, 1945, the 5th Marine Regiment arrived at the Shuri line in Okinawa, Japan, to support the war-torn 27th Army Infantry Division. As the Marines patrolled the dangerous area, a Japanese machine gunner opened fire on the incoming grunts, killing three and wounding a few others.
After taking cover, Sgt. Romus “R.V.” Burgin decided that he needed to take action and bring the fight to the enemy.
“I was with some of those Marines out there for two and a half years, and whenever somebody gets hit it’s just like your family,” Burgin states in an interview. “That’s when I decided he needed knocking out right quick.”
At that moment, the Japanese machine gunner was completely hidden, and Burgin needed to locate the threat immediately. He knew what direction the incoming fire came from but he needed to acquire a proper distance to call in for support.
Burgin stepped out into the open and proceeded in the direction of the shooter, hoping to spot the enemy gunner’s muzzle flash — and making himself a target.
After a few steps, the brave Marine’s plan began to work, drawing the enemy’s fire once again. Burgin dodged the incoming fire, two rounds ripped through his dungarees — but the quick-footed Marine was safe.
Little did the Japanese gunner know, he’d just given away his position. Burgin spotted his target and called in the enemy’s coordinates for a mortar strike.
Even the band’s name is a reference to medieval knight’s armor – the Swedish metal band Sabaton makes music about war, history’s greatest battles, and daring feats of combat badassery. Their latest album, The Great War, features songs about just World War I. If you’ve never had an interest in military history, Sabaton might make the difference for you.
Also, their music videos are pretty great.
Their songs are poetic and thoughtful, about real historical events. From the Serbians fighting in World War I, to Poland’s legendary Winged Hussars, and even the Russians at Stalingrad – the heroes aren’t Swedish, they’re anyone who did something amazing for their comrades on the battlefield. Other songs are about the Night Witches (Russian female aviators who terrorized the Nazis), the Brazilian Expeditionary Force in World War II, and Audie Murphy’s postwar struggle with PTSD.
I know the video below looks like a broken link, but it’s really a music video for a Sabaton’s heavy metal song about the 101st Airborne at Bastogne, called “Screaming Eagles.” The music video begins with Gen. Anthony MacAuliffe’s now-famous reply to the German surrender demand – “Nuts.”
The band’s entire fourth album was inspired by Sun Tzu’s Art of War, another album is about World War II and the Finnish-Russian Winter War. They have released singles about the World War II-era battleship Bismarck and World War I’s Lost Battalion; nine companies of the United States 77th Infantry Division who lost more than half its manpower at the Argonne Forest in 1918.
Sabaton has won almost every metal award for which they were nominated, including Best Breakthrough Band, Best Live Band, and they were nominated for the 2012 “Metal as F*ck” Award for their album Carolus Rex, which actually was about the rise of the Swedish Empire under King Charles XII.
The song below is about 189 Swiss Guards who defended the Vatican during the Sack of Rome in 1527.
In the Battle of Fallujah, Marines swept in to take the city away from insurgent forces, only to have politicians pull them out — and send them right back in months later. The first and second Battles of Fallujah have entered Marine Corps lore, alongside Iwo Jima and Chapultepec.
But what many don’t know is what happened at the Battle of Najaf, which played out before the 2nd Battle of Fallujah kicked off.
An Najaf is another sacred city in Iraq. It has approximately seven square miles of cemeteries — as above, so below. Under the cemeteries are miles of catacombs, haunting places where enemy fighters could be hiding, concealed in the dark.
A major player in the battle was the insurgent leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shia cleric who brought disgruntled Iraqis together under the idea of an Islamic democracy. To enforce that idea, he created a military wing, Jaysh al-Mahdi, also known as the Mahdi Army. He suddenly turned on the coalition, demanding an immediate withdraw of all coalition forces from Iraq.
Though the mayor of An Najaf brokered a ceasefire between the coalition and the Mahdi Army in June 2004, this only lasted until the end of August. In July of that year, the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit took over operational command from Task Force Dragon. That’s when the fighting in the city started to escalate.
In August, the Mahdi Army attacked the 1st Battalion 4th Marines, starting a significant battle of the new Iraq War. The next days were long and drawn out, characterized by house-to-house fighting, open-street engagements, and fighting across open farm fields. For eight days, the battle raged through the city.
Much like what happened in Fallujah a few months earlier, Marines and soldiers were taking the fight to insurgents. American troops were surprised by incoming small arms fire and indirect fire. Though the enemy forces were not well trained, there was a lot of them, which compensated for their lack of real infantry tactics.
At one point, the battle swept over the city’s huge cemetery, which was the stage for some of the most intense fighting of the entire Iraq War. Surrounded by the resting dead, Marines fought against extreme numbers and both sides suffered heavy casualties. Fighting on the surface was so brutal that soldiers and Marines were also forced to fight in the catacombs below.
Fallujah was the biggest urban battle since Hue City and An Najaf saw the first tunnel fighting since Vietnam.
The end of the battle brought with it a final tally of dead and wounded. Twelve Americans were killed in action and 94 were wounded. Iraqi soldiers also saw significant losses. The numbers for the Mahdi Army, however, are far greater, with 1,500 killed in action and an unknown number wounded, estimated to be in the thousands.
The battle removed Al-Sadr and most of those loyal to him from the city. Marines began to secure their area of operations and returned to rebuilding Najaf and the surrounding region. However, some of the Mahdi Army’s militiamen stayed in the city, challenging the 1st battalion, 4th Marines at every opportunity.
Instead of their normal black militia uniforms, they now wore street clothing. This allowed them to blend into the local populace. Coalition troops could no longer differentiate between friend or foe when the streets turned to a battlefield.
Marines and soldiers at the Battle of Najaf should be proud of the accomplishment of securing the city. As time passes, they remain hopeful that Americans will know about the heroes that came out of the battle and the ones who fell there — that we never let this battle be lost to history.
It will be remembered, just as much as The Battles of Fallujah.
When considering music that we’d want to play as we ship out to a combat zone, very few of us would think of choosing a 19th century Australian folk song about a hobo who stole a sheep. And yet, that’s exactly what the Marines of the 1st Marine Division do en masse. It may seem odd that United States Marines choose to deploy using Australia’s unofficial national anthem, but a closer look at the history of the unit (and how the song ends) helps make sense of it all.
During World War II, the Marines of “the Old Breed,” the 1st Marine Division, famously began the first Allied offensive against Japan in the Pacific at Guadalcanal. Armed with old Springfield M1903 rifles and meager stores of food and ammunition, the Marines wrested control of the island from Japan in just over six months, earning them their first of three Presidential Unit Citations in WWII and a well-deserved rest in Australia.
Say “no” to Bull Halsey. See what happens.
After the months of fighting and privation, the Marines were looking worse for wear. Sick from dysentery and weak, the men were just worn out. When they first docked in Brisbane, they were housed in what amounted to a series of shacks in swampland.
When the Marines’ commander, General Alexander Vandegrift, ordered that the entire division be moved, the Navy told him there was no way to spare the number of ships needed — and they had nowhere to go, anyway. That’s where Admiral William “Bull” Halsey and the city of Melbourne came in. Australia’s second-largest city offered to take them with open arms and Halsey would get them there.
Camps of already-pitched tents and bunks were waiting for them as they landed in Melbourne. The sick and wounded were transferred to a newly-finished hospital in nearby Parkville and the rest were given unlimited liberty for the next 90 full days. One account says the citizens of Melbourne opened their homes to the Marines. It was a mutual love affair for the guys who left their homes in the U.S. to fight with and for the Aussies.
On George Washington’s birthday, Feb. 22, 1943, the Marines marched a parade through Melbourne. During this parade, the 1st Marine Division Band decided to play the Australian folk favorite, Waltzing Matilda. The Australian onlookers loved it and cheered loudly for the procession.
Thus began the love affair between the 1st Marine Division and Australia.
When winter came, the Australians even gave the Marines their winter jackets, which were soon adopted by the USMC uniform board (no small feat). This is also where 1st Marine Division’s now-famous blue diamond patch was designed. Aside from the the red “one” and “Guadalcanal” markings, the patch also features the constellation Southern Cross, which is a symbol of Australia.
Every camp set up by the 1st Marine Division is called “Matilda.”
Marines hit three feet of rough water as they leave their LST to take the beach at Cape Gloucester, New Britain.
The Australians were jubilant for the Marines’ victory on Guadalcanal. It was bad news for the Japanese who had invaded nearby Papua New Guinea, an Australian protectorate. After their rest, the Marines’ next move prevented the Imperial Japanese Navy from invading mainland Australia by taking the war to them yet again, invading New Guinea via Cape Gloucester.
As for the sheep thief in Waltzing Matilda, he was confronted by police for his theft and refused to surrender, instead throwing himself into the nearby body of water, a billabong, to evade capture.
It’s always brought up as a fun fact that, at one point in history, Australia sent troops on an “all-out” assault against emus that were destroying the Western Australian Outback. A while later, it was decided that the humans wouldn’t win and the history books marked a big ‘L’ for the Aussies in the Great Emu War of 1932.
When it’s put like that, it’s funny and makes a great fun fact that can be brought up whenever Australia’s military might is in question. But the thing is, Australia’s military kicks ass — and saying, “Australia lost a war against a bunch of flightless birds,” while sort of true, doesn’t really do what actually happened justice.
If there’s anyone who could actually be blamed for the perceived failure of the Great Emu War, it’s this guy, Sir George Pearce. The man who decided to set up the Australian Army for a lifetime of jokes.
The Australian government didn’t just decide to go on a mass Emu-killing spree out of the blue. It was in response to the destruction of farms caused by emus in their search for food and water. After WWI, Australia rewarded its returning veterans with farmland to call their own. The only stipulation was that this farmland was basically barren Outback that was plagued with native animals. The terrible soil didn’t leave farmers with many options in terms of crops, but wheat grew fairly well given the conditions. Unfortunately, wheat also attracted emus.
Of the nearly 5000 veterans who participated in the program, very few were able to grow crops without having them destroyed by hungry birds. Even fewer could afford to build fences to keep the emus at bay. The government, not willing to address the problem of terrible land quality, decided that the emu was entirely at fault for crops not growing.
It was declared by Western Australian Senator, Sir George Pearce, that veterans and troops should tackle the problem head-on and hunt the birds.
Good luck fighting an enemy too stupid to know it’s been shot four times with only enough ammo to take out half the population even if your aim is perfect.
The biggest misconception about the Emu War is that it was a massive assault staged by the Australian military. It wasn’t. It was literally just three men, a pick-up truck, two Lewis machine guns, and 10,000 rounds. There were veteran farmers who also took up arms, but only Major G.P.W. Meredith and his two gunners were officially at war.
That’s three men versus 20,000 massive birds.
Emus aren’t just large turkeys. They stand at an average height of six feet four inches, can run up to 31 mph, have the strongest legs of any animal, and can easily shred apart metal fences with their talons. As the three Aussie hunters found out, emus can take roughly five bullets before realizing they’ve been shot and ten rounds before they finally die.
Emus naturally flock in hordes of hundreds, which means that any time the hunters unloaded into the horde, the birds would quickly disperse into smaller mobs that scattered in different directions. With only so many guns, the hunters could only focus on those smaller mobs while the rest took off running.
If they aren’t in mobs, you’ll be searching for hours just to find one.
In that respect, the hunters were technically efficient. They managed to gun down a confirmed 986 emus over the span of a few weeks. Of the 9,900 rounds they used, they averaged out about one kill per ten or so rounds — the estimated number required to kill an emu. The three men also faced constant backlash from the news and local farmers during their hunt.
The media laughed at them for the absurdity of it all and dubbed it the “Great Emu War” to make light of the situation. It give readers a moment of levity during the otherwise-grim Great Depression. While the general population thought it was silly to send any troops after birds, the farmers were upset that the government sent only three guys to go solve a problem spanning an Australian state that’s twice the size of Alaska.
The hunters tried to give up several times because they knew how pointless it was — but each time, they were pushed back into hunting emus. Eventually, they gave up on December 9th, 1932, and everyone laughed at the three men for failing to do the impossible.
The only logical way to deal with the emus was what happened eventually. The government placed a bounty on the emus and let the farmers handle it — which they did very well. Over time, the farmers would collect a bounty on over 57,000 emus and the farms turned profitable again. It should also be noted that some farmers were smart enough to breed emus and collect a bounty on the birds they’d raised, but that was bound to happen.
All in all, the Aussies would eventually prevail over the emus. It just took more than three guys in a pick-up truck to do it.
For much of the Second World War, German engineers and scientists were at the top of their game in developing nuclear fission. As early as 1939, the best minds in Germany were put to work on splitting the atom. They were attempting to use heavy water to control the fission process. Their main source of heavy water production was in occupied Norway, which was a devastating mistake.
They would never get the chance to develop an atomic bomb because Norwegian resistance fighters would blow up the heavy water facilities rather than help the Nazis win World War II.
British commandos tried to destroy the Vemork heavy water facilities in 1942 but were unsuccessful. Operation Grouse planned for Norwegian scouts to recon the area and provide intelligence for British commandos, who would land in gliders and assault the facility under Operation Freshman. But the gliders carrying the Freshman commandos crashed in the local area. One hit a mountain, killing everyone aboard. The other crashed, and some of the commandos survived, but were summarily executed by the Gestapo.
But the Grouse Norwegians were still operating in the area, living off the land, waiting for further instructions.
With the Norwegians still in position, the plan was given a second go-ahead. The Grouse scouts were now called Operation Swallow and the second raid on Vemork was dubbed Operation Gunnerside. The Gunnerside assault team would be an all-Norwegian squad, parachuting in to rendezvous with the Swallow team. Gunnerside launched on Feb. 16, 1943 – and immediately, things went wrong.
Though not as catastrophic as the first raid on Vemork, these problems caused major delays. The infiltrating Norwegians were dropped into Norway under the cover of snowfall, but they were accidentally dropped miles away from their target. It took the team five days to get to Vemork. They made it, though, and were able to connect with the Swallow group.
Unfortunately for the new raiders, the failure of the previous raid on Vemork prompted the Nazis to improve the facilities defenses. All the direct routes into the facility were now heavily guarded or mined. The raiders were forced to climb down into a gorge, cross a frozen river, and then climb a 500-foot cliff wall to access the building. There was a piece of luck for the Norwegians, however. A railroad line in the gorge led to the facility and was relatively unguarded.
After cutting into the facility’s fence, the group split into two teams: a four-man explosives unit and a five-man cover unit. The explosives team was accidentally split up after two men entered the facility through an access tunnel. The two others, presumably lost, broke in through a window. Each team set their explosives independently, cut their timing cord from two minutes to thirty seconds, and bolted.
The successful saboteurs fled on skis toward the town of Rjukan, where they split up. The four men in the explosive unit skied in full British uniforms the entire 200 miles to the border with Sweden. The cover team spread out to draw the Germans away. The Nazis launched a full search for their infiltrators, but none were captured or killed in their pursuit.
The commanding officer of all German forces stationed in Norway called the damage caused by Operation Gunnerside as “the most splendid coup.” The facility was up and running again soon after, but an American bombing raid would force the Germans to move their heavy water production to Germany. All the heavy water from the plant was moved to a ferry for safekeeping in Germany.
That ferry was sunk by Norwegian saboteurs on its way back to the Reich.
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) will be decommissioned on Feb. 3, marking the next step on her journey to the “Ship-Submarine Recycling Program” – what a 2012 National Review article dubbed a sanitized way of saying “the scrapyard.”
Her predecessor, the Yorktown-class carrier with the hull number CV 6, also was a victim of this alleged crime against naval history.
According to a report from the Virginian-Pilot, this sendoff will be a relatively private one, with about 100 people present. The 2012 “inactivation” ceremony saw over 12,000 people attend, according to a Navy release. At that ceremony, it was announced that CVN 80 would be the ninth U.S. Navy vessel to carry the name Enterprise. A CNN report this past April notes that construction of the new Enterprise, a Gerald R. Ford-class carrier, will begin in 2018.
According to the Navy’s command history of the Enterprise (so long that it took nine entries in the Navy’s online Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships), the ship saw her first action during the Cuban Missile Crisis – less than a year after she was commissioned. She then did Operation Sea Orbit in 1964, a cruise that circumnavigated the globe.
In 1965, the ship carried out the first of six combat deployments to the Vietnam War, carrying two squadrons of F-4 Phantoms, four squadrons of A-4 Skyhawks and assorted support planes.
In 1839, England went to war with China because it was upset that Chinese officials had shut down its drug trafficking racket and confiscated its dope.
Stating the historical record so plainly is shocking — but it’s true, and the consequences of that act are still being felt today.
The Qing Dynasty, founded by Manchurian clans in 1644, expanded China’s borders to their farthest reach, conquering Tibet, Taiwan and the Uighur Empire. However, the Qing then turned inward and isolationist, refusing to accept Western ambassadors because they were unwilling to proclaim the Qing Dynasty as supreme above their own heads of state.
Foreigners — even on trade ships — were prohibited entry into Chinese territory.
The exception to the rule was in Canton, the southeastern region centered on modern-day Guangdong Province, which adjoins Hong Kong and Macao. Foreigners were allowed to trade in the Thirteen Factories district in the city of Guangzhou, with payments made exclusively in silver.
The British gave the East India Company a monopoly on trade with China, and soon ships based in colonial India were vigorously exchanging silver for tea and porcelain. But the British had a limited supply of silver.
Starting in in the mid-1700s, the British began trading opium grown in India in exchange for silver from Chinese merchants. Opium — an addictive drug that today is refined into heroin — was illegal in England, but was used in Chinese traditional medicine.
However, recreational use was illegal and not widespread. That changed as the British began shipping in tons of the drug using a combination of commercial loopholes and outright smuggling to get around the ban.
Chinese officials taking their own cut abetted the practice. American ships carrying Turkish-grown opium joined in the narcotics bonanza in the early 1800s. Consumption of opium in China skyrocketed, as did profits.
The Daoguang Emperor became alarmed by the millions of drug addicts — and the flow of silver leaving China. As is often the case, the actions of a stubborn idealist brought the conflict to a head. In 1839 the newly appointed Imperial Commissioner Lin Zexu instituted laws banning opium throughout China.
He arrested 1,700 dealers, and seized the crates of the drug already in Chinese harbors and even on ships at sea. He then had them all destroyed. That amounted to 2.6 million pounds of opium thrown into the ocean. Lin even wrote a poem apologizing to the sea gods for the pollution.
Angry British traders got the British government to promise compensation for the lost drugs, but the treasury couldn’t afford it. War would resolve the debt.
But the first shots were fired when the Chinese objected to the British attacking one of their own merchant ships.
Chinese authorities had indicated they would allow trade to resume in non-opium goods. Lin Zexu even sent a letter to Queen Victoria pointing out that as England had a ban on the opium trade, they were justified in instituting one too.
It never reached her, but eventually did appear in the Sunday Times.
Instead, the Royal Navy established a blockade around Pearl Bay to protest the restriction of free trade … in drugs. Two British ships carrying cotton sought to run the blockade in November 1839. When the Royal Navy fired a warning shot at the second, The Royal Saxon, the Chinese sent a squadron of war junks and fire-rafts to escort the merchant.
HMS Volage‘s Captain, unwilling to tolerate the Chinese “intimidation,” fired a broadside at the Chinese ships. HMS Hyacinth joined in. One of the Chinese ships exploded and three more were sunk. Their return fire wounded one British sailor.
Seven months later, a full-scale expeditionary force of 44 British ships launched an invasion of Canton. The British had steam ships, heavy cannon, Congreve rockets and infantry equipped with rifles capable of accurate long range fire. Chinese state troops — “bannermen” — were still equipped with matchlocks accurate only up to 50 yards and a rate of fire of one round per minute.
Antiquated Chinese warships were swiftly destroyed by the Royal Navy. British ships sailed up the Zhujiang and Yangtze rivers, occupying Shanghai along the way and seizing tax-collection barges, strangling the Qing government’s finances. Chinese armies suffered defeat after defeat.
When the Qing sued for peace in 1842, the British could set their own terms. The Treaty of Nanjing stipulated that Hong Kong would become a British territory, and that China would be forced to establish five treaty ports in which British traders could trade anything they wanted with anybody they wanted to. A later treaty forced the Chinese to formally recognize the British as equals and grant their traders favored status.
More war, more opium
Imperialism was on the upswing by the mid-1800s. France muscled into the treaty port business as well in 1843. The British soon wanted even more concessions from China — unrestricted trade at any port, embassies in Beijing and an end to bans on selling opium in the Chinese mainland.
One tactic the British used to further their influence was registering the ships of Chinese traders they dealt with as British ships.
The pretext for the second Opium War is comical in its absurdity. In October 1856, Chinese authorities seized a former pirate ship, the Arrow, with a Chinese crew and with an expired British registration. The captain told British authorities that the Chinese police had taken down the flag of a British ship.
The British demanded the Chinese governor release the crew. When only nine of the 14 returned, the British began a bombardment of the Chinese forts around Canton and eventually blasted open the city walls.
British Liberals, under William Gladstone, were upset at the rapid escalation and protested fighting a new war for the sake of the opium trade in parliament. However, they lost seats in an election to the Tories under Lord Palmerston. He secured the support needed to prosecute the war.
China was in no position to fight back, as it was then embroiled in the devastating Taiping Rebellion, a peasant uprising led by a failed civil-service examinee claiming to be the brother of Jesus Christ. The rebels had nearly seized Beijing and still controlled much of the country.
Once again, the Royal Navy demolished its Chinese opponents, sinking 23 junks in the opening engagement near Hong Kong and seizing Guangzhou. Over the next three years, British ships worked their way up the river, capturing several Chinese forts through a combination of naval bombardment and amphibious assault.
France joined in the war — its excuse was the execution of a French missionary who had defied the ban on foreigners in Guangxi province. Even the United States became briefly involved after a Chinese fort took pot shots at long distance at an American ship.
In the Battle of the Pearl River Forts, a U.S. Navy a force of three ships and 287 sailors and marines took four forts by storm, capturing 176 cannons and fighting off a counterattack of 3,000 Chinese infantry. The United States remained officially neutral.
Russia did not join in the fighting, but used the war to pressure China into ceding a large chunk of its northeastern territory, including the present-day city of Vladivostok.
When foreign envoys drew up the next treaty in 1858 the terms, were even more crushing to the Qing Dynasty’s authority. Ten more cities were designated as treaty ports, foreigners would have free access to the Yangtze river and the Chinese mainland, and Beijing would open embassies to England, France and Russia.
The Xianfeng Emperor at first agreed to the treaty, but then changed his mind, sending Mongolian general Sengge Rinchen to man the Taku Forts on the waterway leading to Beijing. The Chinese repelled a British attempt to take the forts by sea in June 1859, sinking four British ships. A year later, an overland assault by 11,000 British and 6,700 French troops succeeded.
When a British diplomatic mission came to insist on adherence to the treaty, the Chinese took the envoy hostage, and tortured many in the delegation to death. The British High Commissioner of Chinese Affairs, Lord Elgar, decided to assert dominance and sent the army into Beijing.
British and French rifles gunned down 10,000 charging Mongolian cavalrymen at the Battle of Eight Mile Bridge, leaving Beijing defenseless. Emperor Xianfeng fled. In order to wound the Emperor’s “pride as well as his feeling” in the words of Lord Elgar, British and French troops looted and destroyed the historic Summer Palace.
The new revised treaty imposed on China legalized both Christianity and opium, and added Tianjin — the major city close to Beijing — to the list of treaty ports. It allowed British ships to transport Chinese indentured laborers to the United States, and fined the Chinese government eight million silver dollars in indemnities.
The Western presence in China became so ubiquitous, and so widely detested, that an anti-Western popular revolt, the Boxer Rebellion, broke out in 1899. The hapless Qing Dynasty, under the stewardship of Dowager Empress Cixi, first tried to clamp down on the violence before throwing its support behind it — just in time for a multi-national military force of U.S., Russian, German, Austrian, Italian, French, Japanese and British troops to arrive and put down the rebellion.
It then spent an entire year looting Beijing, Tianjin and the surrounding countryside in reprisal.
‘Century of Humiliation’
It’s hard to over-emphasize the impact of the Opium Wars on modern China. Domestically, it’s led to the ultimate collapse of the centuries-old Qing Dynasty, and with it more than two millennia of dynastic rule. It convinced China that it had to modernize and industrialize.
Today, the First Opium War is taught in Chinese schools as being the beginning of the “Century of Humiliation” — the end of that “century” coming in 1949 with the reunification of China under Mao. While Americans are routinely assured they are exceptional and the greatest country on Earth by their politicians, Chinese schools teach students that their country was humiliated by greedy and technologically superior Western imperialists.
The Opium Wars made it clear China had fallen gravely behind the West — not just militarily, but economically and politically. Every Chinese government since — even the ill-fated Qing Dynasty, which began the “Self-Strengthening Movement” after the Second Opium War — has made modernization an explicit goal, citing the need to catch up with the West.
The Japanese, observing events in China, instituted the same discourse and modernized more rapidly than China did during the Meiji Restoration.
Mainland Chinese citizens still frequently measure China in comparison to Western countries. Economic and quality of life issues are by far their main concern. But state media also holds military parity as a goal.
I once saw a news program on Chinese public television boasting about China’s new aircraft carrier Liaoning— before comparing it to an American carrier. “They’re saying ours is still a lot smaller,” a high school student pointed out to me. “And we have only one.”
Through most of Chinese history, China’s main threat came from nomadic horse-riding tribes along its long northern border. Even in the Cold War, hostility with the Soviet Union made its Mongolian border a security hot spot. But the Opium Wars — and even worse, the Japanese invasion in 1937 — demonstrated how China was vulnerable to naval power along its Pacific coast.
China’s aggressive naval expansion in the South China Sea can be seen as the acts of a nation that has succumbed repeatedly to naval invasions — and wishes to claims dominance of its side of the Pacific in the 21st century.
The history with opium also has led China to adopt a particularly harsh anti-narcotics policy with the death penalty applicable even to mid-level traffickers. Drug-trafficking and organized crime remain a problem, however. The explosion of celebrity culture in China has also led to punitive crackdowns on those caught partaking in “decadent lifestyles,” leading to prominent campaigns of public shaming.
For example, in 2014 police arrested Jaycee Chan, son of Jackie Chan, for possessing 100 grams of marijuana. His father stated he wouldn’t plead for his son to avoid imprisonment.
Past history does not always determine future actions. Chinese sentiments toward the United Kingdom today are generally positive despite the Opium Wars. The escalating military confrontation over the South China Sea is a reality of our times, but that doesn’t mean China’s leaders will forever be committed to a strategy of expansion and confrontation.
Nonetheless, fostering better relations requires that we understand how China’s current foreign policy has it roots in past encounters with the West.
By the 1970’s, the Rhodesian Security Forces were facing a growing and determined insurgency in the civil war known as the “Rhodesian Bush War.” Faced with increased threats, manpower and equipment shortages, and a large territory to cover, they needed a new tactic to deal effectively with rebel groups. This led the Rhodesian Light Infantry to the development of the fireforce, a vertical envelopment technique involving light infantry, helicopters, and paratroopers in a rapidly deployable posture.
A fireforce was equipped with four helicopters, one C-47 Dakota transport aircraft, and a light attack aircraft. The helicopters were of two types; the K-Car and the G-Car. The K-Car was so called because it was the ‘killer’ with its 20mm cannon and functioned as the command and control aircraft. The G-Cars served as gunships with machine guns and as transports for heliborne troops, though they were only capable of carrying four combat loaded troops at a time. The unit was also supported by vehicles, called the ‘Landtail’ that supported the deployment of the airborne component. Weapons were standard for Africa at the time – FN FALs and FN MAG machine guns.
A unit set to a fireforce mission was distinctly organized from standard infantry units. Instead of fire teams, squads, and platoons, the Fire Force was composed of ‘waves’ that were broken down into stops, also known as sticks, each consisting of four men, due to the space constraints on the G-Cars. Each stop had a stick leader, machine gunner, and two riflemen, one of which was also trained as a medic. The fireforce airborne component was composed of eight stops. Stops one through three were assigned to the G-Cars while stops four through eight were assigned as paratroopers. These forces, along with the light attack aircraft, constituted the first wave. The remaining men assigned to the fireforce were in vehicles as the ‘Landtail,’ or second wave.
There were three main fireforce units located at three bases throughout the country, ready to respond to a contact or sighting of enemy forces by the Selous Scouts. That’s when the excitement began. Once contact was reported, a siren would sound alerting the fireforce. The first three stops would board helicopters while the rest would quickly don parachutes with the help of off-duty team members. The airborne component would rush to the objective where the fireforce commander would determine a drop zone and position the heliborne stops to encircle the rebels. Once on the ground, the stops would attempt to stop the enemy. They would act as blocking positions for the sweep element, usually paratroopers, creating the classic hammer and anvil movement. Combined with circling gunships and close-air support, this method proved deadly effective, resulting in a kill ratio of better than 80:1.
The fireforce became the primary tactic of the Rhodesian security forces. By 1977, all infantrymen would be trained as paratroopers. While on a ‘bush trip’ – usually lasting about six weeks – the men on a fireforce would rotate between heliborne insertion, paratrooper, landtail, and off-duty. After a bush trip, the men were given ten days rest before returning to the field. This allowed for a very high ops tempo. As the fireforce was perfected and the insurgency gained strength, this meant that Rhodesian soldiers were called on more and more to conduct missions. In his book Fireforce: One Man’s War in the Rhodesian Light Infantry Chris Cocks tells of men making three combat jumps in a single day. This led to a truly staggering number of jumps for many members of the Rhodesian Light Infantry, unmatched by any other unit in the world.
The fireforce was not enough to keep the Rhodesians from losing the war and the method was never adopted by other militaries. The French had used paratroopers extensively in Indochina while the Americans preferred to use only helicopters. With Rhodesia turning over to majority African control and becoming Zimbabwe, the Rhodesian Light Infantry and fireforces were disbanded. Though it would go down in history as one of the most effective counter-insurgency forces ever conceived.
Quick. Think of a ninja. If you imagined them as an honorable Feudal-Japanese assassin dressed entirely in black and throwing shuriken at their enemies, I’ve got some bad news for you.
This isn’t to say that they weren’t bad asses in their own right. They were definitely real and they definitely did many high-profile assassinations that continue to astound the world hundreds of years later. They just didn’t do things the way films, video games, and literature (in both the West and Japanese pop culture) depict them.
Much of their history is often shrouded in both mystery and myth, making actual facts about them sketchy at best and inaccurate at worst. What we do know about them comes from either the most high-profile, like Hattori Hanzo, or the very few verified sources.
1. They were never called “ninjas” in their time
The term “ninja” is actually a misreading of the Kanji for “Shinobi no Mono” or “the hidden person.” This was shortened when their legends grew to just “Shinobi” or “the hidden.”
“Ninja” became the more popular name for them after WWII for Westerners who found the word easier to pronounce than the actual name for them. Ninja eventually circled back and became the more used term in Japanese culture as well.
On a related note: This is also how the term “kunoichi” or “Female Shinobi” came about. There may not be historical evidence of women acting as deadly shinobi, but they could have been used for other ninja tasks. Which leads us to…
2. They would scout and collect intel more than kill
There were many tasks of a Shinobi. It is well-documented that high-ranking leaders hired Shinobi to assassinate their enemies, like Oda Nobunaga and everyone who tried to kill Nobunaga. But the most useful Shinobi were “monomi” or “ones who see.”
Their espionage skills were so revered that it’s said even Sun Tsu wrote about them in Art of War. Monomi would either hide in crowds or sneak into a meeting so they could eavesdrop on important conversations. Once they learned what they needed to know, they’d get out of there.
3. They never wore the all-black uniform
To nearly every other fighter in the history of war, a uniform has been an advantage. Shinobi, like everyone else doing undercover work in plain sight, would be stupid to wear anything that screams out “Hey everyone! I’m not actually a monk. I’m a deadly assassin!” They wore whatever they need to to fit in.
The uniform that everyone thinks of comes from kabuki theater. The crew who would work behind the stage dressed in the all-black uniforms to not distract from the performance while they were rearranging the sets or setting off the special effects. Fans in attendance would occasionally catch a glimpse of a stage hand and joke that they were shinobi. The “joke” part gained momentum and it just sort of stuck.
4. They used everything for weapons except throwing stars
Let’s be honest. Throwing stars aren’t that deadly? It’s just a sharp piece of metal. Want to know what they actually used? Bows, poison, primitive flamethrowers, and damn near everything else. This includes the least stealthy weapon in feudal Japan, guns.
They did use their iconic swords, but the most common weapon was an inconspicuous farming sickle attached to a chain. After Oda Nobunaga tried to ban swords in Japan, no one cared if a farmer still had a sharpened sickle, so it wouldn’t seem out of place.
In early 1942, the British had a severe fighter problem. The German Focke-Wulf 190 had been cutting up Royal Air Force planes for nearly a year, and when the new A-3 model took to the skies, it dominated.
So the British began looking at some crazy plans to steal one for study.
The British relied heavily on the Spitfire, a capable design, and the Typhoon, which was visually similar to the 190 but was still outclassed. Neither of the fighters could hold up in aerial combat against the new German plane.
After the British fighters engaged in heavy combat with a German formation, the Bf-109 and pilot would join the German forces headed home. He would land at a Fw-190 base and request a new plane so he could rejoin the fight. Since no Bf-109s would be available, he would accept an Fw-190 and then fly it low and fast back to England.
The plan glossed over a lot of potential problems. If the pilot screwed up any of his German or the base had a Bf-109 or it refused to let an emotional pilot take off in one of their cutting-edge machines, the pilot would’ve been stuck at a German base with a ticking clock counting until he was caught.
In the late February operation, a British radar tech went with a group of commandos to a coastal radar station. As the commandos protected him, he grabbed the parts they wanted and then the group exfiltrated.
Airthief would work the same way but with a pilot instead of the radar tech.
Luckily for the British, the operation became unnecessary the same day it was supposed to be submitted for approval.
An aerial battle between Spitfires and Fw-190s ended with little damage to either side on June 23, but the Germans wanted another crack at the Brits before heading for home. The Fw-190 wing stalked the Spitfires back to Britain and then ambushed them from the clouds.
One of the pilots, Oberleutnant Arnim Faber, downed a Spitfire but became disoriented while maneuvering against him. As soon as he killed his enemy, he turned to follow what he thought was the English Channel south to France, but he was actually following the Bristol Channel north.
The destruction testing told the British the best vectors to attack the planes from and the flight testing told them where the Fw-190s’ weaknesses were. They found that the Fw-190’s performance suffered greatly at altitude, and so increased their operational heights to give some advantage back to the Spitfires.
They also incorporated elements of the Fw-190 design into future British planes, allowing later Spitfires and other planes to gain a quality edge.
In the first minutes of July 30, 1945, two torpedoes fired from Japanese submarine I-58 struck the starboard side of USS Indianapolis (CA 35). One ripped off the ship’s bow, followed by another that hit crew berthing areas and knocked out communications.
In the dead of night, chaos ensued. It took only 12 minutes for the decorated warship that had carried President Roosevelt in the interwar years and earned ten battle stars for its World War II service up to that point to begin a descent to the bottom of the Philippine Sea.
Around 300 crew died in the initial blasts and went down with the ship. Between 800 and 900 men went into the water.
Indianapolis had completed a top-secret delivery of atomic bomb components to Tinian, an island in the Northern Marianas, days earlier. Unbeknownst to crew at the time, this mission would in the weeks to come contribute to the end of the war.
At the time of its sinking, the ship was returning unescorted to the Philippines to prepare for the invasion of mainland Japan and to resume its role as flagship of Admiral Raymond Spruance and the Fifth Fleet. Damage prevented transmission of a distress signal and misunderstood directives led to the Navy not reporting the ship’s failure to arrive.
Shortly after completing a top-secret delivery of atomic bomb components to Tinian, the USS Indianapolis was struck by torpedo and sank 75 years ago today.
Surviving Sailors and Marines were adrift for four days before the pilot of a U.S. Navy Lockheed PV-1 twin-engine patrol bomber located them. It was by pure chance that, on the afternoon of August 2, that the bomber spotted an oil slick while adjusting an antenna.
A massive air and surface rescue operation ensued that night and through the following day. Out of 1,195 crew, 316 survived the ordeal; four additional Sailors died shortly after rescue.
The survivors faced incomprehensible misery. Some found themselves scattered miles apart in seven different groups. Some were fortunate to have gone in the water near rafts and floating rations. Others, including the largest group of around 400 men, had nothing but life vests and floater nets. Men suffered from exposure, dehydration, attacks by hallucinating shipmates, exhaustion, hypothermia, and sharks.
Hallucinations were contagious as many dived underwater thinking that they were entering their ship to drink ice cold milk, only to guzzle sea water and initiate a horrible death. Others swam off alone to reach hotels or imaginary islands. Crew supported each other as best they could, some at the expense of their own lives. The captain of the ship’s Marine detachment swam himself to death circling his group to keep them together. The crew’s beloved chaplain succumbed to exhaustion after providing days of last rites to dying shipmates. Rescue crews had to fire at sharks feeding on the dead with rifles in order to recover bThe crew that went down with the ship or died in the water are memorialized on the Walls of the Missing in the American Battle Monuments Commission’s Manila American Cemetery. At last count, fifty survivors rest at NCA locations. Interments at Riverside National Cemetery in California and Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minnesota contain the largest groups of these Veterans.
The few remaining Indianapolis survivors, now in their 90s, will be celebrated at a virtual 75th anniversary reunion this July. A Congressional Gold Medal has been struck for the event.
On this anniversary, we reflect on the service and experience of Indianapolis‘s final crew, give thanks to those still with us, and remember those who passed. Their ordeal compelled the Navy to make safety improvements, such as mandatory movement reports and improved lifesaving equipment and training – all of which undoubtedly saved the lives of countless Sailors and Marines. Additionally, their successful final mission hastened the end of World War II.odies for identification and a proper burial at sea.
The crew that went down with the ship or died in the water are memorialized on the Walls of the Missing in the American Battle Monuments Commission’s Manila American Cemetery. At last count, fifty survivors rest at NCA locations. Interments at Riverside National Cemetery in California and Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minnesota contain the largest groups of these Veterans.
The few remaining Indianapolis survivors, now in their 90s, will be celebrated at a virtual 75th anniversary reunion this July. A Congressional Gold Medal has been struck for the event.
On this anniversary, we reflect on the service and experience of Indianapolis‘s final crew, give thanks to those still with us, and remember those who passed. Their ordeal compelled the Navy to make safety improvements, such as mandatory movement reports and improved lifesaving equipment and training – all of which undoubtedly saved the lives of countless Sailors and Marines. Additionally, their successful final mission hastened the end of World War II.