Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

Ancient Rome is credited with major contributions to modern day language, religion, law, art, and government. Indeed, the Roman Empire was filled with breathtaking architecture and an intricate and fascinating socio-economic culture. But it was also full of drama.

Most people know at least a few key facts about Julius Caesar and his infamous assassination on the Ides of March. But as the Roman Republic crumbled with him and the Roman Empire rose in its place, the rulers that came after him were no less controversial. Extravagance, executions, and extreme religious persecution stand at the forefront of many Roman emperor’s legacies. And that’s not mentioning the sex scandals.

So here’s a list of the absolute worst Roman emperors, in order from the mildly incompetent to the devastatingly unstable.

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

Diocletian, 284-305 CE

Emperor Diocletian deserves some credit, as his rule marked the end of the Crisis of the Third Century. His governmental reforms are cited as being one of the main contributors to the Roman Empire’s longevity for the next millennium. Diocletian regained control over a wild military force, suppressed enemy threats along the Empire’s borders, and revised the tax system in a broken economy.

However, he’s also credited with one of the most brutal attempts to purge Christianity in history, which definitely resides in the “cons” column. Diocletian revoked the legal rights of Christians, trying to encourage his citizens back to a more traditional worship of the old Roman gods. He razed churches and destroyed religious scriptures, and went even further to prohibit Christian’s from even gathering to worship. After a suspicious fire within the imperial palace, Diocletian’s belief in a Christian conspiracy led to a spree of scourging, torture, and beheading.

In 305 CE, after becoming greatly weakened by a severe illness, Diocletian resigned from his rule, passing the torch to someone with the strength to bear the Empire’s burdens. The first person to willingly abdicate from the role, the former Emperor spent the rest of his days tending a vegetable garden—sounds like a pretty fulfilling retirement.

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

Elagabalus, 218-222 CE

Elagabalus became Emperor at the tender age of 14, kicking off a reign that would be known for sex scandals and religious controversy—not exactly the sort of things you expect from someone fresh out of puberty.

Emperor Elagabalus started out in life as a high priest serving the Syrian sun god he shared a name with. When he came to rule over Rome, his devotion to the god drove him to try and elevate him to the same status as Jupiter, a move which greatly displeased the Empire. He even insisted upon marrying a Vestal Virgin, Aquilia Severa, which was in direct opposition to not only Roman tradition, but to the law.

On the more salacious side, it’s said that Elagabalus prostituted himself throughout the palace. He was married to five different women, and took on countless lovers of all sexes. He sent servants out into the city to procure lovers for him, and even opened the imperial baths up to the public to enjoy the spectacle of watching others bathe.

Some historians say that Elagabalus might have been one of the first transgender historical figures, offering large amounts of money to any physician who would be able to successfully administer gender reassignment surgery. This was regarded as wholly scandalous by the people of Rome, casting him in a negative light he couldn’t hope to overcome.

Elagabalus’s general incompetence on the throne led to the devaluation of the Roman currency. Showing his immaturity further, he began appointing lovers to crucial political positions. So while history tends to be unfavorable towards him for his personal choices, it does seem likely that he was unfit as an emperor mostly due to the fact that he was a literal child.

The Emperor’s youth did him no favors in the end, however. At 18 years old, Elagabalus and his eccentric behavior were brought to an end by the Praetorian Guard. After Elagabalus stripped his cousin’s titles and wealth, the Guard, who much preferred said cousin, rebelled against Elagabalus, killing both him and his mother in the violence.

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

Tiberius, 13-37 CE

There were plenty of things that Emperor Tiberius did right. He avoided needless and financially draining military campaigns and instead relied heavily on diplomacy. He reinforced the borders of the Empire. He even kept the Empire’s treasury generously stocked.

However, Tiberius never really wanted to rule as emperor, and that was very apparent. He left many responsibilities to the Senate and was otherwise distant and reclusive. He left Rome in the middle of his reign—a decision widely regarded as the worst one he could possibly make—and opened himself up to a reputation fully up to interpretation.

Whether these claims are rooted in truth or based fully in fabrication is impossible to know at this point, but either way, Tiberius was hated enough to get tongues wagging with the most vicious of talk. During his stay on the island of Capri, Tiberius was accused of flinging people off of cliffs for minor slights and engaging in disturbing sexual acts with very young boys. While that doesn’t have very much to do with governing an empire, it’s pretty much the last thing you want out of a ruler.

Tiberius earned a reputation as a bloodthirsty emperor after a mess grew out of a man named Sejanus making a grab for power. Sejanus tried to set himself up as Tiberius’s next heir by assassinating Tiberius’s son. Tiberius, of course, called for the death of not only Sejanus, but of those who were associated with him—including his children.

It seems likely, too, that much of his bad reputation comes from his connection to Caligula, who you’ll hear much more of later.

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

Caracalla, 211-217 CE

For the first 13 years of his reign, Caracalla ruled as a co-emperor alongside first his father, Septimius Severus, and then his brother, Geta. In 211 CE, he had his brother assassinated by the loyal members of his Praetorian Guard. Not satisfied, Caracalla went a step further to slaughter most of his brother’s supporters as well. In a further act of insult, Caracalla removed Geta’s image from paintings, coins, and statues, struck him from record, and made it an actual crime to utter his name.

On top of being generally regarded as a tyrannical and cruel emperor, Caracalla wasn’t all that effective in other aspects of his rule. He put into effect an edict which declared all free inhabitants of the Empire to be official citizens… so he could collect taxes from a wider base of people. He depleted much of the Empire’s funds trying to keep his army happy and often engaged in ruthless and unnecessary military campaigns.

Caracalla had an obsession with Alexander the Great, and in a fit of erratic behavior went on to persecute those philosophers of the Aristotelian school based solely off the legend that Aristotle poisoned Alexander. His behavior only got worse when, after discovering a play mocking him in the city of Alexandria, he dispatched his troops to massacre, loot, and plunder the city.

In 217 AD, Caracalla was stabbed to death by a defected soldier—an almost ironic end, considering his adoration for his own army.

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

Maximinus Thrax, 235-238 CE

Emperor Maximinus Thrax was a very large man, and he was also largely hated. In direct contrast to Emperor Diocletian, he’s often considered to be the ruler who caused the Crisis of the Third Century. He brought Rome to near ruin with his exhaustive military campaigns, overextending his soldiers by dispatching them to multiple fronts at once.

His distrust and distaste for anyone apart from his army did him no favors and caused social instability. Maximinus even had members of his own family put to death. He was a man who preferred to rule by conquest rather than favor and became known for wrecking public property and setting fires to any village he passed through.

His short three-year rule ended in 238 CE, when members of the Imperial Roman army assassinated him alongside his son and advisors.

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

Nero, 54-68 CE

Nero’s 14-year reign had some significant successes, including the negotiation of peace with the Parthian Empire and the quelling of Boudica’s revolt. While the upper class considered him overly extravagant and undignified, the lower classes of Rome actually had a strong positive opinion towards their ruler. This was true despite the fact that some of his methods leaned toward tyrannical madness. Seeing as he was only 16 years old when he took the throne, that’s not all that surprising—adolescence is hard.

In the beginning of his reign, Nero’s rule was closely guided by his mother, Agrippina the Younger, much as she had orchestrated Nero’s rise as emperor. Agrippina married his great-uncle and previous emperor, Claudius, and arranged for Nero to marry his new stepsister, Octavia. By 59 CE, an unexplained falling out caused Nero to order his troops to have her killed. This wouldn’t be the last time he organized a death.

In 62 CE, Nero divorced Octavia, citing that she was incapable of producing an heir. When his subjects looked negatively at this decision, he had Octavia exiled. Not long after that—either to further change public opinion or to solidify his claim to the throne—he accused her of adultery and had her put to death. His second wife, Poppaea Sabina, died in 65 CE. Some writers of ancient times say that Nero was responsible for this death, too, though others disagree.

Nero’s legacy as a madman is most closely tied to the Great Fire of Rome in 64 CE, which completely destroyed three of Rome’s 14 districts, leaving another seven heavily damaged. Many myths surround the terrible tragedy which killed hundreds of citizens, including the dramatically evil story of Nero fiddling as Rome fell to ashes.

In actuality, the fiddle wasn’t even in existence at the time. While some classical sources cite that Nero was on the roof of his palace singing from “The Sack of Ilium,” others place him dozens of miles away from the flames.

While it’s impossible to know the truth of the fire’s origins, many people blamed Nero directly for the destruction. It was believed that he was intentionally making way for a new city aesthetic. Whether out of genuine belief or a desperate attempt at scapegoating, Nero blamed the fire on followers of the growing Christian religion.

Nero set out to cruelly persecute the Christians, implementing an array of creative tortures and deaths, including wrapping them in animal skins to be torn apart by dogs.

After that, Nero’s rule started to crumble. Reconstruction efforts had stretched the Roman currency thin, and Nero’s indecision in dealing with further revolts caused widespread instability. In 68, his Praetorian Guard renounced their loyalty and declared Nero an enemy of the people. In one last dramatic flair, Nero committed suicide before he could be executed.

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

Caligula, 37-41 CE

There aren’t many reliable surviving accounts of Caligula’s reign. Even if the myriad stories surrounding him are fabrications, he’d have to be pretty unpopular to generate that kind of libel in the first place.

To be fair, Caligula had a bit of a rough start in life. He was the sole survivor after his entire family perished either in imprisonment or directly at the hands of Emperor Tiberius. He was then taken in by the emperor and indulged in all of his worst whims, until Tiberius passed and Caligula took to the throne at 25 years old.

In the first six months of his rule, things actually went pretty well. He cut unfair taxes, recalled those sentenced to exile, and granted military bonuses to soldiers. However, after a strange illness overtook him, his recovery was shrouded in a madness that gave way to sadistic and perverse tendencies. He became known for uttering the phrase, “Remember that I have the right to do anything to anybody.”

Any perceived mockery from his subjects was met with the punishment of death. In fact, in his infinite paranoia, Caligula began sending those closest to him off to exile or death—including his adopted son. His cruelty led to him gaining a sense of satisfaction out of making parents watch as their children were killed.

His arrogance rose to new heights as he declared that he was an actual living god. Caligula even had the heads of statues of gods and goddesses replaced with his own.

Further accounts of his insanity include throwing an entire section of a gladiatorial audience into the arena to be eaten by beasts for his own amusement, planning to appoint his horse as a consul, and turning the palace into a veritable brothel.

Caligula was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard after only four years as emperor. The man was so hated by the Senate that they even rallied to have him erased from the record of Roman history. Thanks to this campaign, it remains unclear to this day what is fact and what is fiction in the Caligulan reign.

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

Commodus, 180-192 CE

Commodus was appointed as a co-ruler by his father, Emperor Marcus Aurelius, in 177 CE. Marcus Aurelius died in 180 CE, leaving his narcissistic and self-indulgent son as the sole Emperor of Rome.

Because Caligula couldn’t be the only one to have all the fun, Commodus also thought himself to be a god, referring to himself as Hercules reborn and forcing others to follow suit. He swanned around the city in lion skins and participated in gladiatorial events—an act in which was considered scandalous for a ruler to partake.

What’s worse: He often chose to compete against weak soldiers who were sickly or maimed from the war, sometimes tying two of them together to club them to death with a single strike. To add insult to the already grave injury, he also exorbitantly charged Rome for his arena appearances.

Commodus’s self-love knew no bounds. He changed the calendar months to reflect his own self-bestowed epithets. He shamelessly exiled and executed his wife and proudly kept a harem of hundreds. He forced his advisors to take the fall for political blunders and had entire families slaughtered on suspicion of conspiracy.

This article originally appeared on Explore The Archive. Follow @explore_archive on Twitter.

Articles

These two veterans made one of the most iconic moments in music history

When Johnny Cash took the stage at California’s San Quentin State Prison on Feb. 24, 1969, one of the songs he would record there was destined to become one of Cash’s most iconic songs, as well as one of his biggest hits: “A Boy Named Sue.” It held the top spot on the country charts for five straight weeks and it was his biggest hit, climbing to the second slot on the Billboard 100 chart.


“The Man in Black” was a veteran of the United States Air Force, a morse code operator who spent much of his career spying on the Soviet Union. In fact, Cash was the first person in the West to learn that Stalin died in 1953. As a matter of fact, his distinctive facial scar was the result of good ol’ military medicine.

Related: Why Johnny Cash was the first Westerner to learn Stalin was dead

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane
Silverstein with Cash onstage years later.

“A Boy Named Sue” is the story of a boy who was abandoned by his dad at a young age — after giving the boy a female name. Sue finds his dad at a bar years later and gets into a pretty nasty brawl with the old man. That’s when his dad reveals he named the boy Sue so as to make Sue tough even when his dad wasn’t around to raise him.

The song about a boy trying to kill his father probably resonated with Cash’s audience that day.

The author of the song was also a veteran. Shel Silverstein, beloved around the world for his poetry, humor, and illustrations, was drafted by the U.S. Army to fight in Korea — but by the time he arrived the war was over. He was assigned to Stars and Stripes in the Pacific, part of the new peacetime Army. And thus a legendary military writer was born to the veteran community.

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane
Bobby Bare Sr. (left) and Shel Silverstein (right)

Now read: This famous author started his career drawing timeless cartoons as a drafted US troop

It was Silverstein who penned Cash’s now-famous song about the boy with a girl’s name, although Cash put his own twist on it. During the original San Quentin recording, Cash added the line, “I’m the son of a bitch that named you Sue!” In Silverstein’s original writing, there were no curse words used. Even so, the “son of a bitch” line was censored out of the album.

Cash was doing what was known as a “guitar pull” back then — where writers take turns singing each other’s songs. In fact, Silverstein recorded his own version of the song on his own 1969 album. Johnny Cash’s band at San Quentin didn’t even know it very well and did their best to improvise.

Silverstein notably worked with another fellow vet and country music superstar, Kris Kristofferson, on a few songs that were performed by country legends Chet Atkins and Loretta Lynn.
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the story of the last AC-130 lost in combat

Spirit 03 is a revered name in the AFSOC community, often spoken of in hushed and pained tones. It was the call sign of the last AC-130 gunship shot down in combat.

The story of Spirit 03, whilst sad, was also one of heroism — the kind you’d find in the US Air Force Special Operations Command community. It was a story of American airmen putting the lives of their brothers in arms engaged in grueling ground combat above their own.


Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

The city of Khafji before the battle

(Photograph by Charles G Crow)

On January 29, 1991, over 2000 Iraqi troops under the direction of Saddam Hussein streamed into the Saudi Arabian city of Khafji in an attempt to draw American, British, and Saudi forces into a costly urban battle which would tie up Coalition troops until the Iraqi military had time to reorganize and get themselves back in the fight.

Just days before Khafji fell, American surveillance jets had detected large columns of mechanized Iraqi units pouring through Kuwait’s border in a mad dash towards the city. Though the warning was passed on, Coalition commanders were far more focused on the aerial campaign, which had seen the virtual annihilation of the Iraqi Air Force.

Thus, Khafji fell… but it wouldn’t be long until Saudi forces scrambled to action, barreling towards their seized city to drive the occupiers out. American and British aerial units were soon called into the fight, and in record time, engines were turning and burning at airbases within reach of Khafji while ground crew rushed around arming jets for the impending fight.

Among the aerial order of battle was a group of US Air Force AC-130H Spectre gunships — converted C-130 tactical transport aircraft that were armed to the teeth with a pair of 20 mm M61Vulcan rotary cannons, an L60 Bofors 40 mm cannon, and a 105 mm M102 howitzer. These Spectres, based out of Florida, were eager to be turned loose, planning on adding any Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles they caught around Khafji to their kill tallies.

On the 29th, Iraqi mechanized units moved towards the city under the cover of night, repeatedly engaging Saudi elements set up to screen inbound enemy ground forces coming in from Kuwait. The Spectres were already in the air, racing towards the fight and running through checklists in preparation for the destruction they were about to dish out on Saddam’s armored column.

Within minutes of appearing on station, the AC-130s leapt into action, tearing into the Iraqi column with impunity. What the enemy forces had failed to realize was that Spectres — living up to their name — operated exclusively at night so that they were harder to visually identify and track, and the gunners aboard these aircraft were incredibly comfortable with that. Spectres began flying race track patterns in the sky, banking their left wing tip towards the ground as their cannons opened up.

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

An AC-130H Spectre in-flight with its guns visible towards the right side of the picture

(US Air Force photograph by TSgt. Lee Schading)

Despite the AC-130s inflicting casualty after casualty, the resilient Iraqi invasion force continued to advance to Khafji and managed to briefly take over and lay claim to the city. American and Saudi ground combat units, including Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces, and Marine artillery and infantry elements responded in kind, and launched a blistering offensive against the Iraqis as night turned to day and the AC-130s returned to base to rearm, refuel and wait for nightfall to resume hunting.

On January 30th, Spirit 03, one of the AC-130s, was loaded for bear and launched with the intent of providing Marine forces with heavy-duty close air support. Spirit 03 arrived on station and started hacking away at targets. In the hours around dawn on the 31st, the AC-130s were recalled to base when radios lit up with numerous calls for fire support from the beleaguered Marines on the ground.

An Iraqi rocket battery needed to be dealt with quickly.

The crew of Spirit 03 took charge of the situation immediately, judging that they had enough fuel and ammunition left for a few more passes. Not quite out of the combat zone, the aircraft turned around and pointed its nose towards its new target. It was then that all hell broke loose. A lone shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missile arced towards the AC-130, detonated and brought down the aircraft.

There were no survivors.

In the months and years that followed, the loss of Spirit 03 was investigated and then quickly hushed up. Some indicated that the official report blamed the crew for knowingly putting themselves in danger by continuing to fly in daylight, allowing themselves to be targeted.

Others knew that the story was vastly different—that the 14 men aboard the AC-130 knew that they were the only ones in the area able to provide the kind of fire support the Marines needed, and so paid the ultimate sacrifice while trying to aid their brothers in arms.

MIGHTY CULTURE

6 misconceptions boots have about an upcoming deployment

Any troop in today’s military will eventually, inevitably be deployed. Even before the announcement of the new, “deploy or get out” policy, you’d be hard-pressed to find an E-6 or above who doesn’t have a bit of time in the desert under their belt.

Everyone else is simply waiting for their time to come — and those in wait always have a few questions about their upcoming deployment. Unfortunately, it’s kind of hard to describe. You could be a commo guy in a signal unit, constantly dealing with threats up at your retrans site. Conversely, you could be an infantryman who spent years at the rifle range only to stay at a major base and train local forces on how to use their weapons. The fact is, you never know what it’ll actually be like until you’re there — and this is true regardless of rank, position, branch, or unit.

That being said, there are a few universal truths that stretch the spectrum of military service, for POGs, grunts, and special operators alike — and those truths are in direct conflict with what boots have on their mind.


Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

On the bright side, that usually means PT is on your own schedule — but that doesn’t mean you can slack off. You’re probably still going to have to take regular PT tests.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ed Galo)

“I’ll have plenty of downtime”

Deployments seem like the perfect time to try and knock out some online college courses so you can get a leg up on your peers and have an easier time finding a job after your service — oh man, you are mistaken.

Your work schedule will shift from the standard of PT in the morning, work call during the day, and time off at night to something that looks more like work 24/7 with maybe a single day off. Sure, you’ll have a few hours here and there between missions, but those will usually get eaten up by catching up on sleep or relaxing with the squad.

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

Just imagine all the dumb crap that would fill these tents if people had access to wasting their money while deployed.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Marie Cassetty)

“I’ll have so much money when I get back”

On paper, a deployment seems like the perfect way to get out of debt. You’re gone for somewhere between nine to eighteen months, you’ll have nothing to blow your money on, and you’ll get better pay — tax free. This could be just what you need to crawl out of debt. The operative words here are “could be.”

If you’ve got a family back home, that money is being spent on responsibilities. If you’ve got preexisting debt, that money you’re accumulating is going toward paying people back. You’ll be making more than you’re used to back stateside and you’re less likely to waste it on stupid crap, — that is if you can avoid blowing it all in one reckless weekend like so many have before you.

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

Also, with deployments shrinking down to nine months, units aren’t going to be required to give their troops RR, so… there’s that…

(U.S. Air Force)

“I’ll get R&R when I want to”

All the calculating in the world can’t help you outrun the reach of the Big Green Weenie. There’s no scheduled block leave when it comes to RR. If your deployment is around twelve months, you’re lucky if you’re able to take it somewhere near the mid-point.

Your unit must remain operational, however, and it can’t do that if everyone is gone — so they’re not sending everyone home at the half-way point. Your leave is more than likely going to fall somewhere between three and nine months in. Troops who are expecting the birth of kids get top priority, but it’s a free-for-all after that.

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

Do not get this twisted. Troops are still in harm’s way every day. The likelihood of an outright firefight, however, has dropped.

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Sean A. Foley)

“I’ll get that Combat Action Badge (or equivalent) soon”

If there’s one prized medal within the military, it’s the one that comes after a troop has experienced combat first-hand. There’s an undeniable badassery that comes with the badge, ribbon, medal, etc., but they aren’t just handed out like candy anymore.

These days, fewer and fewer troops are seeing direct combat as America’s responsibilities in the War on Terror shift to more advisory roles with local militaries. Armed conflicts still occur in the Middle East, definitely, but the numbers are shrinking with each passing year. Even if your unit is one of the few that goes outside the FOB, you’ll likely not see combat right away.

Which leads us directly into the next myth about deployments…

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

The “hearts and minds” part of counter-insurgency truly is a better strategy for the overall well-being of the region. The sooner you adapt, the better time you’ll have outside the wire.

(DoD photo by 1st Lt. Becky Bort)

“My sole mission is to fight the bad guy”

From the moment you enter basic training, you’re fed one purpose. You’re being groomed to become the biggest, baddest motherf*cker Uncle Sam has ever seen. You will shoot, move, and communicate better than anyone else ever has. For the most part, however, that’s just not going to be the case.

If you do manage to get into a unit that will send you outside the wire, 98 percent of what you do are called “atmosphericals.” Basically, this means your unit rides through an area of operations, watching to see if anything goes down, being a show of force to both the civilians who need American aid and any potential threats watching from afar.

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

Case in point: There is a very specific reason I personally stopped mocking the French forces…

(ISAF photo by MC1 Michael E. Wagoner)

“My foreign counterparts are held to the same standards as me”

American troops are given very strict instruction on how to be professional and courteous while turning an area of operations “less hostile.” Our foreign counterparts do not have the same level of regimented training. Other NATO nations could be treating war like it’s a nine-to-five while the local military’s training curriculum probably doesn’t even cover “minor” things, like properly using a weapon.

But this misconception swings both ways. You might also be surprised to learn that certain allies don’t mess around — and train their “standard” infantry more like special operations.

MIGHTY HISTORY

VA Clinic renamed in honor of two World War II Veterans

The beat of the Native American drums reverberated through the halls of the clinic as Crow Nation drummers proudly sang a war song. The ceremony began with a Crow Nation prayer and the presentation of colors.

Hundreds were on hand to witness the long-awaited renaming ceremony of the Billings clinics for World War II Veterans Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, the last member of the Crow Tribe to become a war chief, and Benjamin Steele.

The Community Based Outpatient Clinic was renamed in honor of Medicine Crow and the Community Based Specialty Clinic was renamed in honor of Steele at the ceremony in February.


Honored heroes

Shirley Steele beamed with pride while talking about her late husband. He was born and raised in Roundup, Mont., and joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1940. He was a Bataan Death March survivor and prisoner of war for more than three years. He died in September 2016 at the age of 98.

Tiara Medicine Crow, granddaughter of Joseph Medicine Crow, a Bronze Star holder, talked about her love of her grandfather and all that he meant to the Crow Nation.

A.J. Not Afraid, grandson-in-law of Joseph Medicine Crow and chairman of the Crow Nation, spoke to his history and accomplishments.

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

A.J. Not Afraid and a child performer attended the ceremony in traditional Crow Nation dress.

www.blogs.va.gov

Joseph Medicine Crow was born on the Crow Indian Reservation in eastern Montana. He earned a master’s degree from the University of Southern California in 1939. Medicine Crow was the first member of his tribe to attain that level of education. Medicine Crow joined the U.S. Army in 1943. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his service. He died in April of 2016 at the age of 102.

The photo at the top of this story is of Not Afraid and Shirley Steele.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Sparta Science has its eye on serving the military

Sparta Science is movement diagnostic software which is used to reduce injury risk and increase readiness. Although originally created with athletes in mind, the military is now on their list of clients.

Dr. Phil Wagner is the founder and CEO of Sparta Science. His personal experiences with injury and inadequate support led him to creating the company. “This whole thing really started because I played high school and college football and I kept getting injured, finally being told I couldn’t play anymore. I moved to New Zealand to play rugby and the same thing happened. I finally said this is ridiculous…so I went to medical school,” Wagner said.


After graduating with his medical degree with a focus in biomechanics, Wagner dove into how science could target injury reduction and assess risk for possible future injuries. “I said let’s build this tech company that could gather data on how people move to better address rehab, performance and pain in general,” he said. Wagner continued, “Our mission is people’s movement as a vital sign. That’s where the company and the product came out of and it’s where we see ourselves fitting into, particularly in the military with the injuries we are seeing.”

This country relies on all of its soldiers, airmen, sailors, marines and coast guardsmen to be mission ready at all times.

But they aren’t.

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

Non-combat related musculoskeletal injuries account for a high percentage of why service members are undeployable, according to a study published in the Oxford Academic. In 2018, it was revealed that around 13-14% of the total force wasn’t deployable.

Although these injuries are negatively impacting mission readiness, they are also leading to lifelong complications. Musculoskeletal injuries are leading the cause of long-term disability for service members.

The impacts of no longer being able to serve due to injuries or suffering after retirement from the service are far reaching. “Mental health, movement and pain is so connected,” Wagner shared. He started working with the military after getting a call from Navy special forces asking if they could use it for their team.

“They had massive improvements the first year they did it, then they rolled it out to the other teams. I think for us, sports were our roots but our biggest growth and revenue comes from the government. It’s really satisfying because there’s so much more of a service and sacrifice approach that exists,” Wagner explained.

Statistics on nondeployable military personal with Major General Malcolm Frost

www.youtube.com

Major General Malcom Frost (Ret) served in the United States Army for 31 years. From 2017-2019 he led the Army’s Holistic and Fitness Revolution while he was the Commanding General of Initial Training for the Army. He was also responsible for developing the Army’s new fitness test, which launched in late 2020.

“Physical fitness and readiness drive everything…We are ground soldiers who must be on terrain in combat, therefore physical fitness is a huge part of what we do,” Frost said. He continued, “I would argue that we have neglected, in many ways, the most important weapon system in the United States Army and that is the soldier.”

Frost explained that by ignoring science, having outdated fitness training facilities, lack of professional support and long waits for medical care following injury – service members are suffering. “We have really injured and hurt a lot of our soldiers,” he said. He continued, “We were spending 500 million dollars a year just in musculoskeletal injuries alone for United States Army soldiers.”

Sparta Science approached Frost not long after he retired. “They said, ‘Hey, we would like to talk to you and understand the holistic fitness system better and show you what we [Sparta Science] can do,'” he said. So, Frost took a trip to California to visit their facility.

He was amazed at what he saw.

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

“Knowing how that could fit in, especially in the objective measurements side of the military, I thought it was the perfect match. So, I have been in the background helping them facilitate and move into the military channels to get Sparta on the map with leaders… I look at myself as the bridge,” Frost explained. He continued, “For me it’s exciting. I only get involved with organizations that I want to get involved with. They have to have a mission that I can get behind and where I can provide value. Sparta meets all of those in spades.”

Currently, you can find Sparta Science being used within the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

So how does Sparta Science work exactly? According to their website, the person has to go through The Sparta Scan™ on their “force palate” machine. It will assess stability, balance and movement. Data is compiled and an individualized Movement Signature™ created. Sparta software then compares the results to the database to identify risk and pinpoint strengths. Then the system creates an individualized training plan to reduce injury risk and improve physical performance.

On July 21, 2020, the United States House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2021. It includes provisions to create a commission to study the “force plate” technology and how it can increase the health and readiness of America’s military. That report will be due back to congress in September of 2021 to evaluate possibly implementing Sparta Science technology throughout all of the Department of Defense.

“Looking five years from now, I want to see the line graph [of injuries] going down on a global level,” Wagner shared. Frost agreed, “Sparta Science is a readiness multiplier”.

Sparta Science appears to have a deep commitment to bringing this technology to every branch of service to reduce injury and increase mission readiness. With the recent passage of the NDAA and their continuing education efforts, they are well on their way.

To learn more about Sparta Science, click here.

MIGHTY SPORTS

A college lacrosse team wants to raise money while helping troops

“Remember everyone deployed” isn’t just a catchphrase for the Maryville University Men’s Lacrosse Team. It might seem counterintuitive for a team that wants to raise money for its upcoming season to spend part of that money on another good cause, but that’s just one more reason Maryville University athletes are known as the Saints.


Maryville, a small, private university just 22 miles from St. Louis, Mo., is one of the best-run colleges financially, known for making their dollars go far. This frugality means the students in its athletic programs need to raise a little money on their own to make their seasons a reality.

This is no problem for the men’s lacrosse team. They started a crowdfunding project to get the money they need, but the reward for their hard work is more than just a third season in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. With money raised, they intend to send care packages to US troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. For every $100 raised, they will send out a gift to the men and women overseas.

As of this writing, the team has raised just shy of 20 percent of their ,000 goal. This means that, so far, they’re set t send out 19 care packages to U.S. troops with another just around the corner. And this isn’t the first year of their patriotic efforts. Last year’s crowdfunded lacrosse team-care package effort saw 52 care packages shipped overseas from the Maryville Saints.

The Saints are accepting donations in any amount – and look forward to doubling their output from last year. What’s really great about their efforts is that the Saints don’t just give when raising money, they can be found at the St. Louis VA year round, donating their time and effort to veterans.

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The Maryville University Saints Lacrosse team at the St. Louis, Mo. VA hospital on Veterans Day, 2018.

(Maryville University Lacrosse Twitter)

The NCAA Division II school crowdfunds many of its athletic programs. The Swimming and Diving team, the Women’s Bowling team, and even the Men’s Basketball team all crowdfund their programs through the Maryville University site — and the campaigns don’t require offering rewards to donors, like many crowdfunding websites.

Only the Men’s Lacrosse team gives something back in exchange for their good fortune — and it’s purely because they want to give to American troops. For some of these lacrosse players, playing university sports is akin to being part of a family, something to which deployed military members can certainly relate.

I enjoy being at Maryville University because it’s like my second home,” said lacrosse player Darrius Davenport. “We are brothers with an unbreakable bond.”

Donate to the Maryville Saints Men’s Lacrosse Team by clicking this link.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Army wants this new, heavily armed Stryker for Europe

The Army is fast-tracking newly configured Stryker vehicles armed with helicopter and drone-killing weapons to counter Russia in Europe and provide more support to maneuvering Brigade Combat Teams in combat.

“We are looking for a rapid solution for the near-term fight,” Maj. Gen. John Ferarri, Director, Program Analysis and Evaluation, told Warrior Maven in an interview.


The Strykers will fire a wide range of weapons to destroy close-in air threats attacking maneuvering ground units, to potentially include Hellfire or Stinger missiles. The program, which plans to deploy its first vehicles to Europe by 2020, is part of an Army effort called Short Range Air Defense (SHORAD).

Senior leaders say the service plans to build its first Stryker SHORAD prototype by 2019 as an step toward producing 144 initial systems.

Given that counterinsurgency tactics have taken center stage during the last 15 years of ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army now recognizes a need to better protect ground combat formations against more advanced, near-peer type enemy threats – such as drones, helicopters or low-flying aircraft.

“We are looking for an end to end system that is able to detect and defeat the rotary wing fixed wing and UAS (drone) threat to the maneuvering BCT (Brigade Combat Team),” Col. Charles Worshim, Project Manager for Cruise Missile Defense Systems, told Warrior Maven in an interview.

Worshim said the Army has sent a solicitation to a group of more than 500 weapons developers, looking for missiles, guns, and other weapons like a 30mm cannon able to integrate onto a Stryker vehicle.

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

Although drone threats have been rapidly escalating around the globe, US enemies such as the Taliban or ISIS have not presented air-attacking threats such as helicopters, aircraft, or large amounts of drones. However, as the Army evaluates it strategic calculus moving forward, there is widespread recognition that the service must be better equipped to face technically sophisticated enemies.

“We atrophied air defense if you think about it. With more near-peer major combat operations threats on the horizon, the need for SHORAD and high-tier weapons like THAAD and PATRIOT comes back to the forefront. This is a key notion of maneuverable SHORAD — if you are going to maneuver you need an air defense capability able to stay up with a formation,” the senior Army official said.

As part of its emerging fleet of SHORAD Stryker vehicles, the Army is exploring four different weapons areas to connect with on-board sensor and fire control, Worshim said; they include Hellfire missiles, Stinger missiles, gun capabilities, and 30mm cannons.


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An Avenger fires a Stinger missile during Artemis Strike, a live-fire exercise at the NATO Missile Firing Installation off the coast of Crete, Greece, on Nov. 6, 2017.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jason Epperson)

Also, it goes without saying that any kind of major enemy ground assault is likely to include long range fire, massive air support as well as closer in helicopters and drones to support an advancing mechanized attack.

As a result, ground infantry supported by armored vehicles, will need mobile air defenses to address these closer-in air threats. This is where the Stryker SHORAD comes in; infantry does not have the same fires or ground mobility as an armored Stryker, and hand held anti-aircraft weapons such as a hand-fired Stinger would not have the same defensive impact as a Hellfire or Stinger armed Stryker. In a large mechanized engagement, advancing infantry needs fortified armored support able to cross bridges and maneuver alongside foot soldiers.

Chinese or Russian helicopters and drones, for instance, are armed with rockets, missiles, and small arms fire. A concept with SHORAD would be to engage and hit these kinds of threats prior to or alongside any enemy attack. SHORAD brings an armored, mobile air defense in real-time, in a way that most larger, less-mobile ground missiles can. PATRIOT missile, for instance, is better suited to hit incoming mid-range ballistic missiles and other attacking threats. While mobile, a PATRIOT might have less of an ability to support infantry by attacking fast-moving enemy helicopters and drones.

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The Army is also developing a truck-mounted Multi-Mission Launcher designed to destroy drones and cruise missiles on the move in combat. The MML has already successfully fired Hellfire, AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles and other weapons as a mobile air-defense weapon. It is showing great promise in testing, fires multiple missiles, and brings something previous not there to Army forces. However, an Armed Stryker can fortify this mission — by moving faster in combat and providing additional armored vehicle support to infantry on the move in a high-threat combat environment.

The SHORAD effort has been under rapid development by the Army for several years now; in 2017, the service held a SHORAD “live-fire shooting demo” at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., where they fired a number of emerging platforms.

Some of the systems included in the demonstration included Israel’s well-known Iron Dome air defense system, a Korean-build Hanwha Defense Systems armored vehicle air defense platform and a General Dynamics Land Systems Stryker Maneuver SHORAD Launcher.

US military officials familiar with the demonstration said the Hanwha platform used was a South Korean K30 Biho, called the Flying Tiger; it is a 30mm self-propelled anti-aircraft weapon which combines an electro-optically guided 30mm gun system with surveillance radar on a K200 chassis.

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The South Korean K30 Biho (Flying Tiger) twin 30 mm self-propelled anti-aircraft weapon.

A General Dynamics Land Systems specially-armed Stryker vehicles were also among the systems which recently destroyed enemy drone targets during the demonstration at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. — according to Army officials familiar with the event.

One of the Strykers used was an infantry carrier armed with an Orbital ATK XM 81330mm 30mm cannon; this weapon can be fired from within the Stryker vehicle using a Remote Weapons Station, Army officials said.

An industry source familiar with the demonstration said Iron Dome hit its air targets but elected not to fire at surface targets, the Flying Tiger completely missed its targets, the Orbital ATK integrated gun failed to engage targets and General Dynamics Land Systems SHORAD hit all three targets out of three attempts.

Worshim emphasized that those vendors who participated in the demo will not necessarily be the technology chosen by the Army, however the event did greatly inform requirements development of the weapons systems. Also, while SHORAD has been integrated onto a Stryker, the Army only recently decided that it would be the ideal armored combat platform for the weapon.

At the same time, building similarly armed Bradleys or infantry carriers is by no means beyond the realm of the possible as the service rushes to adapt to new ground war threats.

“There could be an air and missile defense mission equipment package integrated onto other combat vehicles,” Worshim said.

This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why Microsoft employees want to reject this Army contract

A group of Microsoft employees are demanding that the company’s leadership abandon a contract with the US Army that they say makes them into “war profiteers” — a contract that relates to Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented-reality technology.

On Feb. 22, 2019, a group of workers at the Redmond, Washington-based tech giant released an open letter in which they slammed a $749 million contract the company holds to develop an “Integrated Visual Augmentation System” (IVAS) to build “a single platform that Soldiers can use to Fight, Rehearse, and Train that provides increased lethality, mobility, and situational awareness necessary to achieve overmatch against our current and future adversaries.”


“We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used,” the letter reads. “As employees and shareholders we do not want to become war profiteers. To that end, we believe that Microsoft must stop in its activities to empower the U.S. Army’s ability to cause harm and violence.”

Fifty employees have signed the letter so far, and organizers say that number is expected to grow.

The organized action comes just days before Microsoft is widely expected to unveil a new HoloLens headset at the Mobile World Congress technology conference in Europe and is a sign of the rising tide of labor activism in the American technology industry.

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HoloLens.

(Flickr photo by Franklin Heijnen)

“We are going public with the demand to cancel the Hololens DoD contract because we want our voices to be heard on this life or death matter,” a Microsoft worker who asked to remain anonymous told Business Insider. “We haven’t heard back from Microsoft officially, or from any execs at this point — we’re hoping this open letter will help get us a response.”

Microsoft employees have also protested company bids for other military contracts before. And multiple other tech companies have also been roiled by protests over military applications of their technology over the last year.

In June 2018, Google canceled a US military contract after internal uproar. Amazon has also faced protests over military contracts, though CEO Jeff Bezos has said the company has no plans to end them — even implicitly rebuking Google for its actions as unpatriotic. “If big tech companies are going to turn their back on the US Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble,” Bezos said in October 2018.

The same anonymous Microsoft worker challenged this argument, saying: “Jeff Bezos and other tech execs reap massive profits from military contracts. Patriotism is just a front. If we look at who benefits, it is certainly not the individual engineers working at these companies.”

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Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

In a statement, Microsoft spokesperson Liz Reisen said: “We gave this issue careful consideration and outlined our perspective in an October 2018 blog. We always appreciate feedback from employees and provide many avenues for their voices to be heard. In fact, we heard from many employees throughout the fall. As we said then, we’re committed to providing our technology to the U.S. Department of Defense, which includes the U.S. Army under this contract. As we’ve also said, we’ll remain engaged as an active corporate citizen in addressing the important ethical and public policy issues relating to AI and the military.”

Here’s the full letter:

“Dear Satya Nadella and Brad Smith,

“We are a global coalition of Microsoft workers, and we refuse to create technology for warfare and oppression. We are alarmed that Microsoft is working to provide weapons technology to the U.S. Military, helping one country’s government ‘increase lethality’ using tools we built. We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used.

“In November, Microsoft was awarded the 9 million Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) contract with the United States Department of the Army. The contract’s stated objective is to ‘rapidly develop, test, and manufacture a single platform that Soldiers can use to Fight, Rehearse, and Train that provides increased lethality, mobility, and situational awareness necessary to achieve overmatch against our current and future adversaries.’ Microsoft intends to apply its HoloLens augmented reality technology to this purpose. While the company has previously licensed tech to the U.S. Military, it has never crossed the line into weapons development. With this contract, it does. The application of HoloLens within the IVAS system is designed to help people kill. It will be deployed on the battlefield, and works by turning warfare into a simulated ‘video game,’ further distancing soldiers from the grim stakes of war and the reality of bloodshed.

“Intent to harm is not an acceptable use of our technology.

“We demand that Microsoft:

“1) Cancel the IVAS contract;

“2) Cease developing any and all weapons technologies, and draft a public-facing acceptable use policy clarifying this commitment;

“3) Appoint an independent, external ethics review board with the power to enforce and publicly validate compliance with its acceptable use policy.

“Although a review process exists for ethics in AI, AETHER, it is opaque to Microsoft workers, and clearly not robust enough to prevent weapons development, as the IVAS contract demonstrates. Without such a policy, Microsoft fails to inform its engineers on the intent of the software they are building. Such a policy would also enable workers and the public to hold Microsoft accountable.

“Brad Smith’s suggestion that employees concerned about working on unethical projects ‘would be allowed to move to other work within the company’ ignores the problem that workers are not properly informed of the use of their work. There are many engineers who contributed to HoloLens before this contract even existed, believing it would be used to help architects and engineers build buildings and cars, to help teach people how to perform surgery or play the piano, to push the boundaries of gaming, and to connect with the Mars Rover (RIP). These engineers have now lost their ability to make decisions about what they work on, instead finding themselves implicated as war profiteers.

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Mars Rover.

(NASA)

“Microsoft’s guidelines on accessibility and security go above and beyond because we care about our customers. We ask for the same approach to a policy on ethics and acceptable use of our technology. Making our products accessible to all audiences has required us to be proactive and unwavering about inclusion. If we don’t make the same commitment to be ethical, we won’t be. We must design against abuse and the potential to cause violence and harm.

“Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and organization on the planet to do more. But implicit in that statement, we believe it is also Microsoft’s mission to empower every person and organization on the planet to do good. We also need to be mindful of who we’re empowering and what we’re empowering them to do. Extending this core mission to encompass warfare and disempower Microsoft employees, is disingenuous, as ‘every person’ also means empowering us. As employees and shareholders we do not want to become war profiteers. To that end, we believe that Microsoft must stop in its activities to empower the U.S. Army’s ability to cause harm and violence.

“Microsoft Workers”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan

There aren’t many bucket list destinations in Afghanistan, but before 2001, there were at least two man-made wonders that were revered around the world.


Built in Bamyan around the 2nd century, they were some of the largest standing Buddha carvings in the world. The Buddhist Kingdom in the “Graveyard of Empires” withstood many attacks. That was until Afghanistan was controlled by the Taliban in 1996.

The region was a part of the Buddhist Kushan Empire. The Bamyan region was directly on the Silk Road and was a hub for Buddhism, with tens of thousands of monks worship at the site.

The valley was home to several monasteries. The intricate cave system throughout the cliffs were beautifully decorated and painted.

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The caves even hold some of the world’s oldest oil paintings. (Image via Digital Journal)

Many kingdoms seized control of the region, but it was the Huns who decimated the local population — but left the statues. The Mughal Empire would be the first to attack the statues in the 18th century. Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb and Persian King Nader Afshar would both order attacks to destroy the statues.

Afghan King Abdur Rahman Khan ordered the destruction of the faces and many of the cave oil paintings. This is how they remained for centuries. Although Islam became the dominant religion, most Afghan people loved the statues — not because of faith, but because they were iconic.

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A drawing by Alexander Burnes in 1832 sparked curiosity and travel to the region. (Image via Wikicommons)

Then the Taliban took over and declared them idols.

Mirza Hussain was from the town of Bamyan and a prisoner of the Taliban at the time. He told the BBC of how they captured him.

They forced him at gun point to plant explosives in both of the Buddhas for three days straight. The statues were destroyed in March 2001 — leaving nothing but craters where they once stood.

The Taliban used the caves for arms and munitions until troops from the United States, New Zealand, and Afghanistan retook control in 2003.

Talks continue years later whether they should rebuild the statues using fragments of the old ones, to use holograms to project them as they were, or to leave them as a brutal reminder of the horrors of the Taliban regime.

(NATO, YouTube)

MIGHTY TRENDING

Drones will soon decide who to kill

The US Army recently announced that it is developing the first drones that can spot and target vehicles and people using artificial intelligence (AI). This is a big step forward. Whereas current military drones are still controlled by people, this new technology will decide who to kill with almost no human involvement.

Once complete, these drones will represent the ultimate militarisation of AI and trigger vast legal and ethical implications for wider society. There is a chance that warfare will move from fighting to extermination, losing any semblance of humanity in the process. At the same time, it could widen the sphere of warfare so that the companies, engineers and scientists building AI become valid military targets.


Existing lethal military drones like the MQ-9 Reaper are carefully controlled and piloted via satellite. If a pilot drops a bomb or fires a missile, a human sensor operator actively guides it onto the chosen target using a laser.

Ultimately, the crew has the final ethical, legal and operational responsibility for killing designated human targets. As one Reaper operator states: “I am very much of the mindset that I would allow an insurgent, however important a target, to get away rather than take a risky shot that might kill civilians.”

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An MQ-9 Reaper Pilot.

(US Air Force photo)

Even with these drone killings, human emotions, judgements and ethics have always remained at the centre of war. The existence of mental trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among drone operators shows the psychological impact of remote killing.

And this actually points to one possible military and ethical argument by Ronald Arkin, in support of autonomous killing drones. Perhaps if these drones drop the bombs, psychological problems among crew members can be avoided. The weakness in this argument is that you don’t have to be responsible for killing to be traumatised by it. Intelligence specialists and other military personnel regularly analyse graphic footage from drone strikes. Research shows that it is possible to suffer psychological harm by frequently viewing images of extreme violence.

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An MQ-9 Reaper.

(US Air Force photo)

When I interviewed over 100 Reaper crew members for an upcoming book, every person I spoke to who conducted lethal drone strikes believed that, ultimately, it should be a human who pulls the final trigger. Take out the human and you also take out the humanity of the decision to kill.

Grave consequences

The prospect of totally autonomous drones would radically alter the complex processes and decisions behind military killings. But legal and ethical responsibility does not somehow just disappear if you remove human oversight. Instead, responsibility will increasingly fall on other people, including artificial intelligence scientists.

The legal implications of these developments are already becoming evident. Under current international humanitarian law, “dual-use” facilities — those which develop products for both civilian and military application — can be attacked in the right circumstances. For example, in the 1999 Kosovo War, the Pancevo oil refinery was attacked because it could fuel Yugoslav tanks as well as fuel civilian cars.

With an autonomous drone weapon system, certain lines of computer code would almost certainly be classed as dual-use. Companies like Google, its employees or its systems, could become liable to attack from an enemy state. For example, if Google’s Project Maven image recognition AI software is incorporated into an American military autonomous drone, Google could find itself implicated in the drone “killing” business, as might every other civilian contributor to such lethal autonomous systems.

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Google’s New York headquarters.

(Scott Roy Atwood, CC BY-SA)

Ethically, there are even darker issues still. The whole point of the self-learning algorithms — programs that independently learn from whatever data they can collect — that the technology uses is that they become better at whatever task they are given. If a lethal autonomous drone is to get better at its job through self-learning, someone will need to decide on an acceptable stage of development — how much it still has to learn — at which it can be deployed. In militarised machine learning, that means political, military and industry leaders will have to specify how many civilian deaths will count as acceptable as the technology is refined.

Recent experiences of autonomous AI in society should serve as a warning. Uber and Tesla’s fatal experiments with self-driving cars suggest it is pretty much guaranteed that there will be unintended autonomous drone deaths as computer bugs are ironed out.

If machines are left to decide who dies, especially on a grand scale, then what we are witnessing is extermination. Any government or military that unleashed such forces would violate whatever values it claimed to be defending. In comparison, a drone pilot wrestling with a “kill or no kill” decision becomes the last vestige of humanity in the often inhuman business of war.

This article was amended to clarify that Uber and Tesla have both undertaken fatal experiments with self-driving cars, rather than Uber experimenting with a Tesla car as originally stated.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Follow @ConversationUS on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

8 even more incredible facts about ‘Rambo’

When We Are The Mighty sat down with Sylvester Stallone, Sly revealed some truly astonishing things about one of action movie history’s most beloved characters: John Rambo. Most of us blacked out when Stallone revealed that Rambo didn’t originally join the Army but came to in time to learn a few great things that make the character much deeper than we ever imagined.

That was just info from Stallone. It turns out there’s much more, so we dove a little deeper.


Read: Amazing behind the scenes facts about Rambo – from Stallone himself

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Rambo is almost a god in Papua New Guinea

Somehow, the character of John Rambo has entered the folklore of the Kamula people on the island nation of Papua New Guinea, despite limited access to film and television. The Rambo of folklore is said to be a gunrunner who fought in the 10-year civil war in nearby Bougainville, and will come back to defend Papua New Guinea in case of World War III. In Kamula culture, along with other tribes, Rambo is said to symbolize peak masculinity.

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

Rambo’s trademark knife wasn’t supposed to exist

In the book First Blood, on which the movie and character John Rambo is based, Rambo never had a survival knife of any kind, let alone a giant one to use to bring down the entire police force of Hope, Wash. Stallone added the knife for effect, hoping to make the weapon a character all on its own.

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Rambo wasn’t a killer – originally.

John Rambo never actually kills anyone in First Blood. There is only one death in the entire movie, and that happened as an accident when an overzealous cop falls from a helicopter while shooting at Rambo. In subsequent movies, that all changes of course. Rambo’s body count is 76 in First Blood: Part II, and 132 in Rambo III. In Rambo, he appears to kill the entire Burmese Army with one .50-cal.

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Stallone hated the first cut of First Blood.

The first time Stallone saw the edit for First Blood, he hated it. It was three and a half hours long, and Rambo’s dialogue was terrible. At first, Stallone wanted to buy the film so he could burn it. Instead of that, he re-cut the film to 93 minutes with most of his dialogue removed, which is what you see when you watch it today.

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Without ‘Rambo’ there would be no ‘Predator’

When Rocky Balboa took on Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, no one in Hollywood was quite sure who Rocky’s next opponent could possibly be. The joke was made that Rocky would have to fight some kind of Alien in Rocky V. After a while, Screenwriters Jim and John Thomas began to take the idea seriously and wrote a Rocky-Rambo Hybrid movie that we call Predator.

In Rocky V, Rocky fought a former student named Tommy Gunn. In the street. Outside a bar. In case you were wondering.

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John Rambo was almost played by John Travolta

Imagine how different action movie lore would be today if Sylvester Stallone hadn’t been in the writing and casting process. John Travolta was considered for the role of the former Green Beret and one-man wrecking crew before Stallone stepped in and nixed the idea.

Travolta also almost became Forrest Gump and Pete “Maverick” Mitchell of Top Gun fame.

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Arthur John Rambo of Lincoln County, Mont. gave his life to save his fellow soldiers in Tay Ninh, Vietnam.

There actually is a John Rambo on “The Wall.”

Arthur John Rambo was an artilleryman with the 11th Armored Cavalry in Vietnam. He was mortally wounded by multiple hits from rocket-propelled grenades on Nov. 26, 1969. As he and his fellow artillerymen came under heavy mortar fire, a nearby self-propelled howitzer took an RPG hit and caught fire. Rambo cleared his fellow soldiers out of the way and attempted to drive the vehicle, still burning, away from the area where it wouldn’t be a threat. He did so successfully, but the vehicle took two more RPGs. The last, killing Rambo in action. Arthur John Rambo was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.

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“Nothing is over!” Damn right.

Rambo commits suicide. In the book.

… and in the original cut of the movie. Remember when Sylvester Stallone re-edited the entire movie? Rambo killing himself didn’t make the final cut, even though that’s what happens in the book. Instead, Stallone asked a few Vietnam vets what troubles they face, and Stallone wrote a speech at the end of the movie to let the world know.

That original movie sounds awful. Thank god for Sylvester Stallone.

popular

AI wins flawless victory against human fighter pilot in DARPA dogfight

DARPA’s AlphaDogfight trials have officially come to a close with Heron Systems’ incredible artificial intelligence pilot system defeating not only its industry competitors, but going on to secure 5 straight victories against a highly trained U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot, without the human pilot scoring a single hit.


Eight teams were selected to create artificial intelligence (AI) “agents” that would be capable of simulating a real dogfight between fighters, referred to as within-visual-range air combat maneuvering, more formally. The first two rounds of this competition saw these virtual pilots engage with one another in simulated combat environments in November and again in January. This third round of AI dogfighting included similar competitions, with the four finalist firms squaring off in a round robin. The event then culminated with the hands-down victor, Heron Systems, taking on a real human fighter pilot in another simulated fight.

And Heron really brought the heat, with its artificial intelligence system ultimately securing the AI championship by defeating Lockheed Martin’s AI system.

Heron consistently proved to have the most accurate targeting apparatus of any AI agent, as it engaged opponents with laser-accurate gun strikes often in the first merge of the fight.

“It’s got to keep that opponent in that one degree cone to win the game,” Ben Bell, Heron’s Senior Machine Learning Engineer, told Sandboxx News.

“You saw that a lot with Lockheed, we’re both nose on, we’re both creating damage, but when their nose is off by that one degree, that’s where we were able to win a lot of these engagements.”

That superior aiming capability was on particular display when squaring off against the U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot representing humanity in this battle for what some consider to be the future of aviation. While the pilot’s name was not released due to OPSEC concerns, DARPA did provide his callsign: Banger. They also explained that Banger was not just a working fighter pilot, he’s a graduate of the Air Force’s Weapons Instructor Course, which could loosely be described as the Air Force’s “Top Gun” school, for the movie buffs out there. The real Top Gun, of course, is a Navy school called the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program.

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Heron’s AI system racked up the first four wins against Banger in quick succession, leveraging its incredibly precise aiming to whittle Banger’s aircraft “life” down in a series of looping merges. In the fifth and final bout, Banger changed approaches, sweeping his aircraft out away from Heron’s F-16 and creating separation with high-G turns.

However, the new tactics only seemed to delay the inevitable, with Heron managing to kill Banger’s F-16 once again, without the human pilot managing to get a single shot on target.

Heron’s AI pilot was widely described as “aggressive” by DARPA staff and the Air Force pilots on hand throughout the competition. Under control of Heron’s AI, the virtual F-16 would practically play chicken with its opposition — something the human pilots were quick to point out would be a violation of training regulations in a real simulated dogfight. Of course, in an actual dogfight, there are no such limitations… but Heron’s aggression may still have been turned up just a bit too high to serve as a reasonable wingman.

“It’s important to realize that a BFM (Basic Fighter Maneuvers) engagement can occur in any direction and any altitude. We’ll often begin with a basic starting parameter to develop a site picture to reference, but a real engagement doesn’t have those cuffs,” Major Justin “Hasard” Lee, an F-35 Pilot instructor and former F-16 pilot, tells Sandboxx News.
“The enemy always has a vote, meaning they always reserve the right to do something you’re not expecting. When that occurs you have to find a creative solution to counter the unexpected problem. “

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insaneF-16 Fighting Falcon (DoD Image)

According to Bell, their AI agent placed an equal emphasis on damaging the opponent and minimizing its own risk.

“If the agent sees a 51% chance of scoring a kill as it heads into a neutral merge, it’s going to take it,” Bell explained.

Of course, aside from some really exciting video game playing, this entire exercise had official purposes too. DARPA is not only seeking to improve drone aircraft systems, they’re also looking to increase the level of trust between human pilots and AI systems. In the future, these same sorts of artificial pilots will likely be flying alongside humans, and other similar systems will fly along with them in the cockpit of their own aircraft.

By outsourcing some tasks to a highly capable AI, pilots can focus more of their bandwidth on situational awareness and the task at hand. We’ve already seen this approach lead to data fusion capabilities in advanced platforms like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which automates simple tasks and provides the data to the pilot by way of helmet mounted and heads up displays.

Bell explained that the current AI agent used to secure this victory could be adjusted to prioritize its own safety to a higher degree, which might make pilots a bit more comfortable with its approach to combat. He also pointed out, however, that just because something’s scary to human pilots, doesn’t mean it isn’t effective.

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insaneA U.S. Navy Grumman F-14A Tomcat of Fighter Squadron 213 (VF-213) “Black Lions” flown by CDR Greg “Mullet” Gerard and LTJG Don “Coach” Husten engages a General Dynamics F-16N Viper aggressor aircraft flown by Lieutenant Commander George “Elwood” Dom during training at the Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) at Naval Air Station (NAS) Miramar, California. (US Navy Photo)

“Trust comes from being able to execute a mission with a high degree of success. There’s some point where you have to say you know that it works and in all the ways we tested it, it was superior to its opponent.”

He went on to clarify, however, that there will certainly be “some give and take” between their engineers and real pilots moving forward.

When asked about Heron’s ace in the hole, its incredibly accurate targeting system, Bell made sure to point out that the way in which this competition was executed was to the human pilot’s disadvantage. Banger was flying in a simulated environment using a VR headset, which doesn’t equate that well to a real fight in the real sky, and gives their computer pilot instant awareness of its surroundings.

Worst Roman emperors, from incompetent to insane

However, that VR environment may have also worked in Banger’s favor, as his final bout against Heron’s AI saw him executing a number of 9G maneuvers that would have taken a significant toll on a human pilot. Heron’s system, on the other hand, would not be physically affected by executing these maneuvers in a real aircraft.

“Dogfighting, or Basic Fighter Maneuvers as we call it, is an incredibly complex and dynamic environment. The most difficult part is perceiving what the adversary is doing,” Lee explains.
“You’re looking for minute changes in their lift-vector which foreshadows their next move. That’s why it’s important to have good vision (which can be corrected with glasses or surgery).”

While going undefeated against a highly trained human pilot is a great feather for Heron System’s cap, this doesn’t mean the end of human fighter pilots is near. DARPA’s goal isn’t to replace humans in the skies, but rather to supplement them with capable drone assets and an auto-pilot system that could conceivably make human pilots far more capable, by freeing up their mental bandwidth in a fight.

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