The popular Netflix show Love, Death & Robots lacks an Oxford comma in the title and gets some details of military service wrong (really wish people would stop having Marines call each other soldier), so you would think a former military journalist would spend the whole time nitpicking it. But it actually portrays vets so well as a whole, that that’s what you walk away thinking about.
Soviet soldiers even get an episode.
(Netflix’s Love, Death Robots)
To understand what’s going on here, you need to understand that the series is an anthology, mostly of science fiction stories but with some entries that would more neatly be classified as fantasy. Most of them are animated, and one of the live-action episodes stars Topher Grace, so you’re going to be rooting for the animated portions.
None of the stories directly feed into each other, and the animation styles are all over the place, but the stories that touch on military service are surprisingly good and come at military service with a real understanding of veterans and military lifestyle. The show isn’t about the military, by the way, but about four of the episodes in it are.
(Note, we’re going to avoid spoiling the ends of any of the stories here, but there are spoilers for the starts and second acts of multiple episodes after this disclaimer, like, literally in the next paragraph. If you want to watch the series and you want to see each episode completely fresh, click away.)
The mercenaries continue to make fun of each other even as a centuries-old evil hunts them. Anyone who has patrolled with combat arms soldiers will know this is realistic.
(Netflix’s Love, Death Robots)
Take the episode where Marines are bolstered by werewolves. The werewolves are part military working dog, part racially disparaged service members. A lot of the conflict comes from the tension between humans and werewolves, but the moments of bonding come when the Marines lose men and wolves to a Taliban attack and bond together because, regardless of blood, you do not mess with Marines.
Or there’s the story of accidentally freeing Dracula from a centuries-long imprisonment. At least one of the mercenaries guarding the archaeologists is a veteran. Likely, all three of them are. They make fun of the academics and each other, came to the fight well-prepared for conventional attacks, and quickly improvise while fighting Dracula. And no matter how dark their mission gets, they still work through it with a dark, dark sense of humor.
In episode Lucky Number 13, a dropship pilot bonds with an “unlucky” ship that, when treated right, saves the lives of the pilot, the co-pilot, and the Marines who ride aboard her. As the dropship performs better and better, the Marines love her more and more, and protect her as fiercely as she protects them.
Marines casually discuss just how haunted their dropship is as they fly into a hot LZ. “We’re gonna die, right?” “Probably.”
(Netflix’s Love, Death Robots)
As mentioned at the top, the series isn’t perfect. The werewolves are offended when senior Marines keep saying they aren’t “real soldiers.” Some of the tactics are sloppy, some of the discipline is nonsense.
But, as a whole, the writers clearly treated their military characters as full humans, worthy of a deep and real look at what fuels them, what lines they would and would not cross, and what motives may have driven them to cross otherwise uncrossable lines.
Even Soviet troops get a deep and respectful depiction as they brave frozen forests in hunt of an ancient evil summoned by the governments past mistakes. Again, there are great moments of dark humor and familiarity with death that are great.
If you have Netflix, there’s a 90 percent chance the service has already suggested the series for you, so just click on it if you want to see what we’re talking about. Just search “Love, Death…” if, somehow, it’s not in your suggested content. It’ll come up quick.
If you don’t have Netflix, well, make your own decisions. The episodes are short, so you can easily binge it in a day. You probably don’t want to buy a month-long subscription for a one-day series.
Another decade, another round of kick-tail movies that made it mainstream. The 90s, of course, made their mark on the population by introducing grunge, different genres of music — namely heavy metal and hip hop — and alternative media. No longer did people have to rely on mainstream sources to get their news or entertainment. Small indie brands began breaking out by the thousands, offering alternatives to big media outlets.
For movies, it was also a huge breakthrough for the war genre. Companies started putting BIG budgets on war films. Likely due to growing success in years past and focus on the Gulf War, studio execs began to take a chance on making big picture operations. This made way for some of the more memorable war movies to-date, including:
The Hunt for Red October, 1990
One of the decade’s first war epics came with The Hunt for Red October, based on Tom Clancey’s debut novel of the same name. The flick starred Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, and James Earl Jones. Set during the Cold War, the submarine spy thriller movie covers a Soviet Navy soldier who’s looking to defect to the U.S. Meanwhile, the CIA guesses this plan and has to prove it.
2. Schindler’s List, 1993
Schindler’s List has earned a title as one of the greatest films of all time. Based on the non-fiction novel, Schindler’s Ark, the movie follows a rescue mission of more than 1,000 people from Holocaust factories during World War II. Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Kingsley star and the film was directed by Steven Spielberg. It earned $322 million against a $22 million budget and was nominated for 12 Academy Awards, winning Best Picture, Best Director, and five additional categories. In 2004, the movie was named “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and was named as a preservation by the National Film Registry.
3. Forrest Gump, 1994
Another major box office success comes in Forrest Gump, which brought in more than $677 million — the second-most earning film for the year. Starring Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, and Sally Field, a portion of the movie follows the title character through basic training and during the Vietnam War. Gump fights his best friend, who is lost in the war, and his injured lieutenant. He saves the latter and the two become successful business owners, honoring their late friend. Forest Gump was also listed for preservation by the Library of Congress and the United States National Film Registry.
4. Braveheart, 1995
There’s no doubt that Braveheart was a box office hit, earning more than $200 million. The film is a fictionalized version of a Scottish warrior in the late 13th century fighting the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward I. Mel Gibson stars, directed, and co-produced the film. Braveheart was written after an epic poem by Blind Harry, which portrayed the life of the main character, William Wallace.
5. Operation Dumbo Drop, 1995
Taking place during Vietnam, comedy Operation Dumbo Drop stars Danny Glover and Ray Liotta on their mission to move an elephant to a South Vietnamese town. The film is based on a true story and depicts the U.S.’s ability to travel Viet Cong movement in the area. The film recouped its budget in movie theaters, but made little profit and earned negative reviews. However, that doesn’t stop it from being a household favorite.
6. The Thin Red Line, 1998
Based on a 1962 book of the same name, The Thin Red Line we all know and love is actually the second film adaptation of the title. The story follows the Battle of Mount Austen during World War II. Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Adrien Brody, George Clooney, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Jared Leto, John C. Reilly, and John Travola appear in this star-studded cast. The movie earned seven Academy Award nominations and was named “the greatest contemporary war film I’ve ever seen” by famous film critic Gene Siskel.
7. Mulan, 1998
Sure it’s a cartoon, but Mulan is still a favorite war flick — and it’s one the entire family can enjoy. In this Disney film, Mulan pretends to take her father’s place in the Imperial Chinese Army in order to fight the Huns. Released as part of the Disney Renaissance, Mulan is based off the Chinese folklore of Hua Mulan, who is said to have been a brave warrior and recognized by the Emperor. The film earned more than $300 million and remains a beloved classic from its time.
8. Saving Private Ryan, 1998
Another Steven Spielberg war film comes in Saving Private Ryan. The film takes place where a mission goes to save the last of four brothers, after the other three were killed in WWII. (It’s based on a true story of the Niland brothers.) Tom Hanks, Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, and Matt Damon star in the second-most earning film of the year, drawing in $482 million.
9. Three Kings, 1999
This movie takes place during the uprisings in Iraq after the end of the Gulf War. The satirical black comedy was written by famous screenwriter, John Ridley. Following four characters on a gold heist in 1991, the cast includes George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze. The movie was successful at the box office and remains a comedy war flick classic to this day.
Graham Roland always knew he wanted to be a writer. The problem out of high school was that he didn’t really know what he was going to write about. The answer would come when he joined the United States Marine Corps in November of 2000, becoming a Forward Observer. After nearly a year of training, he reported to his reserve unit.
Two months later, the 9/11 attacks occurred. For the next three years, he experienced a series of false alarms before finally deploying to Fallujah in 2005. He experienced what many service members do when transitioning out of the military, and certainly when returning home from a combat deployment: culture shock and heightened anxiousness, though he didn’t recognize it at the time.
Instead, he jumped right into film school — a fortuitous decision.
Thanks to the mentorship of one of his professors, Robert Engels, Roland was encouraged to write a television script. In 2006, television was just beginning to morph into the epic storytelling platform it is today. With shows on the air like Dexter, The Sopranos, The Shield, Deadwood, and of course LOST, television was becoming a new beast for dramatic writing.
Roland’s script was strong enough to land him management with Gotham Group and a job as a staff writer for the final season of Prison Break in 2008.
For anyone unfamiliar with the writing industry, landing a high-caliber manager and a staff writing position are both extremely coveted and competitive accomplishments. Roland didn’t take the opportunity lightly.
“To this day, that was the longest single writing contract I’ve ever had. That was more my film school than actual film school,” he recalled. The showrunner, Matt Olmstead, made the effort to mentor his young writers, offering them the chance to write a script. It was up to them to excel.
After the series finale of Prison Break, Roland’s writing landed him another epic show: LOST. By joining the writers’ room in its final season, Roland was able to enter as a fan first, which he described as intimidating.
“It wasn’t just a phenomenon for everyone else; I was also a huge fan so it was also a very important show for me. When I came on board, it was like a peek behind the curtain. It’s a process of people going to work every day, only now I was writing these characters that I had loved,” he shared.
Roland’s role was a unique one because he was joining the team as a fan; he literally got to help share what he wanted to see based on watching the first five seasons along with the rest of us.
“I don’t know that there will ever be another LOST. There will never be another show that so many people watch live and then talk about it. Game of Thrones did it but so few people watch shows in real time. Especially now when there are hundreds of shows to watch, it’s rare for people to care enough to watch it live. TV is evolving.”
From LOST, Roland transitioned into another Bad Robot enterprise: Fringe. There, he was not only a writer — he received his first producer credit as well. He worked on seasons 3-5 of Fringe, which he described as the most imaginative writers’ room of his career.
“For me, this was the job where I actually got my confidence. I’m still learning to this day, but on my first two shows I really still felt like a student.” It was on Fringe that he had bosses who encouraged him to produce episodes, to go to set, and to take ownership of creative responsibilities. He was able to expand and grow in an environment where he was trusted and valued.
After the stream of successes, Roland experienced a few creative set-backs. In 2013, he was brought on to Almost Human to work on the show midway through the first season, which would ultimately also be the last. The show was cancelled after its first season.
“Sadly, by the time we were cancelled, we had just started to figure out what the show should be,” he reminisced.
Not one to sit still for long, Roland reunited with LOST’s Carlton Cuse to create The Returned, an experiment for AE that would prove to be a great experience for Roland as a producer, if not a success for a network built on an audience accustomed to reality television.
Though The Returned would also be cancelled after its first season, his working relationship with Cuse, however, was just beginning.
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan Season 1 – Official Trailer | Prime Video
In 2015, Roland took an open writing assignment from Paramount, who was looking for someone to bring a fresh take to the iconic character of Jack Ryan. They liked his take, but they were wary of hiring him as a first-time showrunner (“rightly so,” Roland generously stated).
So he teamed up with Carlton Cuse.
Together, they created the first two seasons for release on Amazon. It was an entirely new experience for Roland. By then, HBO and Netflix had significantly raised the bar for the production value of television, which Amazon was eager to reproduce. The first season took nearly three years to create, expanding over five continents.
“I will always be grateful for the opportunity it gave me to travel all over the world and make a TV show. I’m proud of how ambitious we were,” he said, looking back on the experience.
After the first two seasons, Roland decided to step aside and explore something closer to his own roots.
Graham Roland and director Morten Tyldum on the set of ‘Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan’ in Marrakech.
(Image courtesy of Graham Roland)
HBO and beyond
“The things I’m working on now are all things I’m really passionate about. Not that I wasn’t passionate about my previous jobs, but Jack Ryan has afforded me the opportunity to pick and choose what I want to work on,” he shared. One of the things he’s working on next is a show for HBO based on the Navajo Nation in the 1970s, which gives Roland a chance to reconnect with and explore his own Native American heritage.
Another project he has in the works is a film about the cartels in the 90s.
When I asked him for how his military service has informed his career, he shared that there’s a misconception that the military community isn’t necessarily artistic. “But that’s not correct,” he affirmed. “There are a lot of people with an artistic drive who ended up serving. If you get out of the military and you want to work in this industry, whether as an actor, writer, or director, the door is open to you.”
Roland is a mentor for the Writers Guild Foundation’s Veterans Writing Workshop, which helps veterans develop screenplays and pilots. SAG-AFTRA has also been holding classes for military veterans as well.
“When I first started working, I didn’t know any other veterans. I felt behind, but I learned that the industry is now starting to recognize that veterans carry professionalism, tact, and leadership skills with them from their service. To get anything made, it takes intense collaboration, which the military does well.”
The U.S. Air Force has had many recruiting slogans, used at various times to varying effect. The current Air Force slogan “Aim High, Fly-Fight-Win” is no “We’re Looking For A Few Good Men” or “The Few The Proud, The Marines.” But yet the USAF continues its effort to come up with something as sticky as “Semper Fi.”
Marine Corps slogan recognition will always beat any branch (and even some national brands… there are studies on this), but Air Force advertising has been like the Cleveland Browns trying to find a quarterback – they were on to something early, but after a while, it got confusing.
Here’s WATM’s list of Air Force slogans ranked from the best ideas to the worst:
1. “Aim High”
Easily the best slogan the Air Force ever used. Aim High is so good, the Air Force had to bring it back. It’s fast, snappy, memorable, and says all you need to know: we think we’re the best branch, so why try to join the Army or Navy? I don’t know why they changed it and they probably couldn’t tell you either but whatever they changed it to had to be the Merrill McPeak uniform of Air Force slogan.
2. “Uno Ab Alto (One From on High)”
This sounds less like Airmen and more like Gandalf the Gray. Or a Harry Potter spell. Looking for that badass Latin quote will get you into trouble, Air Force. I can’t fault them too much because this was before Aim High. Uno Ab Alto gets #2 because it’s a classier way of saying “Death From Above” (Mors Ab Alto) which I think is a far better recruiting slogan for the Drone Age. If you want to attract more drone pilots, just say what you mean.
The 7th Bomb Wing is ahead of the game.
3. “Aim High . . . Fly-Fight-Win”
Sloganeering as a result of surveys, meetings, and calls for suggestions: the true Air Force way. This latest iteration of “Aim High” ranks as #3 because it’s riding the coattails of #1.
This will likely not be replaced for a long time considering the amount of research, time, and money effort spent on coming up with it. It shouldn’t be a surprise to Air Force veterans that the Air Force put so much into changing their slogan only to lean on one they used a decade or so ago and adding a college fight song to it.
If they wanted to use things Airmen naturally say to each other as a recruiting slogan, they should have just listened to Airmen in squadron hallways, but this would probably result in the Air Force slogan being “Have a great Air Force day” “Happy Hour?” or “See you tomorrow, Doug.”
4. “The Sky’s No Limit”
Harkening back to the Air Force’s Cold War glory days, The Sky’s No Limit is actually not a bad one to fall back on if we’re just going to start resurrecting old lines. The test pilots of the days of yore were pretty ballsy, and with the Air Force’s expanding missions as an Air and Space Force, this is a good descriptive slogan, even if it’s a little vague.
The only real problem with this is a lot of the Air Force doesn’t really fly so for them, the sky’s no limit, but getting there certainly is. Believe it or not, some people who join the Air Force don’t want to fly. The fighting and winning are fun, though.
5. “Do Something Amazing”
While the Air Force has some heroic people working in incredible career fields (that is, people who do those amazing somethings), it also has cooks, plumbers, and lawyers. All are necessary to the Air Force mission (and are true-blue lifesavers when you really want or need one – trust me, you want these people to be your friends), but these aren’t the careers you think of when you’re considering joining the military. You might be disappointed when you’re thinking about all the amazing AFSCs you’ll cross-train into the moment you can. At least they’re not patronizing people by framing additional duties as a great activity.
Actually, you know what’s amazing? Spending an entire enlistment without ever having to see Tops In Blue.
Also, “amazing” is what a sorority girl calls her summer study abroad program in London.
6. “We Do The Impossible Everyday”
… And we do the hyperbolic so much more. Read some USAF EPRs for the most flowery language you’ve ever seen. The thesaurus was created for Air Force performance reviews. You need one to make it sound like your creepy subordinate deserves a goddamn medal for volunteering to watch people pee.
This line looks like the Air Force doesn’t know the meaning of the word impossible (Which is a much better slogan. Air Force, call me). The biggest problem with this slogan is that they also do the very, very possible all the time. Not every one gets the “impossible” job.
You know what’s possible? Getting booted out for your third alcohol-related incident because Frank’s Franks won’t put hot dogs on Anthony’s Pizza. You know who makes that possible? Air Force JAGs and security forces.
7. “No One Comes Close”
This wouldn’t have been so bad in retrospect, except you know who comes close? The Navy. They also have fighters and stuff. Not exactly the same missions, I know, but… close enough to make this slogan awkward.
8. “Cross Into The Blue”
This nebulous Blue. Context tells you it’s the sky but the ocean is also blue, for the record, and it’s a much more tangible blue to cross into. This would be a better line for trying to get Army people to come to the Air Force, but I doubt that would be the goal (Airmen use the term “Army Proof” for a reason).
9. “It’s Not Science Fiction, It’s What We Do Everyday”
This would be a better slogan for Scientology. I don’t remember Orson Scott Card writing about drone strikes in Pakistan but maybe somewhere a six-year-old is playing video games and ending terrorists. No one confuses drones with alien technology. The Internet had been around for a long time when these ads started. So too with night vision. Until DARPA puts those Iron Man suits in field tests, no one will ever make that connection.
America’s Airmen (for the most part) are not delusional about themselves. They don’t need to be. For all the “Chair Force” smack Airman take from other branches, troops like Ammo are awesome in their own way and don’t need to pretend they’re all combat controllers.
10. “We’ve Been Waiting For You”
Slightly ominous, it doesn’t really inspire as much as it implies the Air Force has been watching you while you sleep, staring at you from across crowded rooms, and following you home after school.
11. “Above All”
Unfinished thoughts probably always seem like a great idea for a slogan in meetings. Sure, I get the idea of putting your branch above everyone else’s as a way to foster esprit de corps, but it can be troublesome sometimes.
Every branch has their strengths, so let’s be real. Unlike this Air Force Training Instructor:
Another reason this slogan ranks so low is the lack of originality. Uber alles (above all) is the German national anthem.
12. “A Great Way of Life”
An older slogan which probably seemed appropriate for a time when the Air Force has to pull people from living the American Dream and get them into the Air Force, where they would sleep on the flightline and be prepared to bomb Russians into the Stone Age 24/7.
The Airmen of the Strategic Air Command era were pretty badass in their own right. Nowadays, this would mean highlighting the golf course, gym, the dorms (and the Airmen who live there), the DFAC, and all the stupid shit young Airmen tend to do when they get to their first duty station.
Every April, many Americans join energy cooperatives and utilities across the US in celebrating National Lineworker Appreciation Day. Roughly 114,930 lineworkers work around the clock to keep 328 million Americans connected to energy, and there is perhaps no better image to illustrate the gravity of the job and the sacrifices lineworkers make than Rocco Morabito’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning photo “The Kiss of Life.”
As a young newspaper photographer for the Jacksonville Journal, Morabito, who served as a ball-turret gunner on a B-17 with the Army Air Corps in World War II, was on assignment on July 17, 1967, when he happened upon a very troubling scene. Lineworker Randall G. Champion had been working on a utility pole when he contacted one of the power lines and absorbed more than 4,000 volts of electricity. According to First Coast News, the powerful current shot through Champion’s body, burning a hole in his foot as it exited, and he fell back, hanging unconscious from his safety harness at least 20 feet off the ground.
Fellow lineworker J.D. Thompson, who was working on the ground nearby, had been hired by Jacksonville City Electric (now Jacksonville Electric Authority) four years earlier on the same day Champion was hired. Realizing his friend was in trouble, Thompson’s emergency training kicked in, and he sprinted toward the pole.
In the 2008 documentary “Kiss of Life,” Morabito says when he arrived on the scene he heard people on the ground screaming and then saw Champion dangling. He snapped a single photo before rushing back to his car to radio back to the Journal’s newsroom and tell them to send an ambulance. Then he quickly reloaded his Rolleiflex camera with a fresh roll of film and rushed back to the scene.
By then, Thompson was ascending the pole, and when he reached Champion, he thought his friend was surely dead.
“His face—his cheeks were just blue, and there was no movement to him, no breathing, nothing going on there,” Thompson says in the Kiss of Life film.
He started administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a lifeless Champion.
“I was putting air in him as hard as I could go and also trying to reach around him and hit him in the chest,” Thompson told First Coast News.
“When he actually started breathing, I can remember it was just like a hiccup or something,” Thompson says in Kiss of Life. “He just kind of jerked a little bit, and I knew there was some life there then.”
Thompson yelled down to workers on the ground: “He’s breathing!” He unhooked and rigged Champion’s harness so he could get him down to the ground. Just before he reached the ground, Champion regained consciousness. Disoriented, he began flailing and kicking.
“I started fighting, trying to get loose from the wire because I didn’t realize I had been out, and I thought I was still on the wire,” Champion says in a 1985 interview featured in Kiss of Life.
Thompson and the other workers calmed Champion down and lay him down on some grass to wait for the ambulance.
Morabito, having captured the entire sequence of events, raced back to the Journal’s newsroom, and the paper’s editors pushed back their printing deadline to get the photo in the paper that day. After it was published, the wire services picked it up, and it ran on the front page of newspapers all over the country and was even distributed internationally.
In Kiss of Life, the narrator notes that, “After saving a man’s life, [Thompson] quietly went back to work. A thunderstorm was on the way, along with power outages. J.D. would be at it until 3 in the morning.”
Telling his story in the film, Thompson deflects the suggestion that his actions were heroic. Perhaps for him it really was just another day at the office for a lineman. But as he recalls his supervisor’s praise after the incident, viewers get a glimpse of what appears to be a more honest reaction to how it affected him.
“[Our supervisor] was proud of the fact we had helped this fella,” he says with a southern drawl. “I felt at that time, you know, that, well, I did it …”
Thompson then trails off as he’s overcome by emotion. His chin slightly quivers, and his jaw tightens as he stares off camera, lost in the memory of the day he saved Randall Champion’s life. The film then cuts to the interviewer’s next question: “Did you feel like a hero?”
“No … no,” he says.
According to the film, Champion was angry when he saw the photo in the newspaper the next day, and his daughter, Ann Dixon, offered this explanation: “He told us that he always kissed us goodbye in the mornings before he would go to work. And all he could remember as he lay in the hospital was he didn’t kiss us goodbye that morning, and he could have easily never had the opportunity to do that again. And that really weighed heavy on his heart.”
In 1991, Champion suffered a second injury in the line of duty, coming in contact with 26,000 volts (roughly six times more voltage than the 1967 incident) while carrying out his duties as a lineman. He suffered third-degree burns to his face and hands, according to the Orlando Sentinel. By that time, Thompson was the chief of the division where Champion worked at Jacksonville Electric Authority, and he told the Sentinel, “I’ve got 26 of these trouble men (linemen are sometimes called trouble men) working every day, and I worry about them every day.”
According to a 1997 Florida Times-Union article, the surge from 26,000 volts of electricity burned off the side of Champion’s nose, his lip, the top of his forehead and one of his fingers. He spent five weeks in the burn unit at Orlando Regional Medical Center and almost six months at Memorial Rehabilitation Hospital, where Thompson visited him regularly as he underwent plastic surgery and rehabilitation.
Initially paralyzed by the incident, Champion eventually regained movement but had to use a wheelchair to get around. He retired from JEA in 1993 after 30 years of service. In 2002, he died at age 64.
Morabito worked for the Jacksonville Journal for 45 years, retiring in 1982, according to the Florida Times-Union. He died April 5, 2009 after a long, full life.
Thompson retired from JEA in 1994 after 31 years of service, and today, JEA uses Morabito’s iconic photo and the incredible story behind it in its orientation training for new lineworkers.
Every spring, American Public Power holds an annual Lineworkers Rodeo where one of the timed events requires lineworkers to put on gear, climb a 40-foot pole and rescue an injured man. The record for this feat is 43.33 seconds.
April 18 is National Lineworker Appreciation Day (though the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association celebrates it on the second Monday of April each year). Those who are familiar with the noble, difficult and dangerous work these men and women do have no problem celebrating lineworkers throughout the month of April and beyond. As the saying goes, “Thank a lineworker, because when the lights go out, so do they.”
Today and always, Americans should celebrate the service and sacrifice of the men and women who keep the power on across the United States.
In June 1919, the bulk of the German High Seas Fleet was sitting at anchor at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. The cruiser Emden sent out the message, “Paragraph 11; confirm.” Then, all 74 of the warships in the natural harbor attempted to scuttle themselves en masse, and 52 successfully destroyed themselves before British sailors were able to beach them or stop their sinking.
21st June 1919: The German fleet is scuttled at Scapa Flow
It’s important to remember for this story that wars have two ending points. There’s the armistice that stops the actual fighting, and then a lengthy peace process will usually result in a full treaty ending the war. After the armistice ended World War I fighting on Nov. 11, 1918, a large portion of the German navy was interned for the treaty process.
The navy had been largely sidelined during the war thanks to a British blockade, so it was largely intact that November. And the Allied powers, in order to ensure that Germany went through with the peace process, demanded that the nation’s most powerful and modern fleet be sequestered at a neutral port.
But, no nearby neutral port agreed to accept the ships, and so 70 of Germany’s best vessels were sent to the British harbor at Scapa Flow, a natural harbor that housed one of the British fleets. Four other German ships would later meet them there.
Three German ships, the Emden, Frankfurt, and Bremse, enter Scapa Flow on November 24, 1918.
When the German ships were officially handed over on November 21, literally hundreds of ships and thousands of people were present to watch the event. Over 190 Allied ships escorted the first batch of 70 German ships to surrender, making that day the largest concentration of naval power in the history of mankind, even if 70 of the ships had breech blocks in their guns to prevent a sudden return to hostilities.
But the fleet languished there for months. Morale on the German ships was bad during the war and worse while they were confined to ships on short rations in British territory. And the German commander had an order from his superiors to prevent the seizure of the ships by any means necessary.
The German navy seems to have believed that the ships would eventually be returned, Britain wanted to see them scrapped, and the rest of the Allies wanted to divvy them up. But as the negotiations in France made it clear that Germany would not get the ships back, German Adm. Ludwig von Reuter planned for how to destroy his own fleet.
A German destroyer largely flooded at Scapa Flow in 1919.
He didn’t know that the deadline had been extended to June 23, but this actually worked out well for him. The British commander had plans to seize the German ships on June 23 if the German diplomats still hadn’t signed the treaty by then.
And so the ships suddenly began to sink. The German sailors raised their German navy flags from their masts for the first time since they had arrived in the harbor. British sailors in the harbor quickly alerted their own fleet as to what was happening, and the fleet rushed back to save what it could.
A good half of the German fleet had already disappeared, the water was one mass of wreckage of every description, boats, carley floats, chairs, tables and human beings, and the ‘Bayern’ the largest German battleship, her bow reared vertically out of the water was in the act of crashing finally bottomwards, which she did a few seconds later, in a cloud of smoke bursting her boilers as she went.
The German admiral proceeded to the British flagship and declared that he had “come to surrender my men and myself. I have nudding else.”
British sailors were quickly dispatched to the sinking ships to re-close the valves and pump water out. Some British sailors nearly drowned in this endeavor, but they saved 22 of the ships as 52 settled into the mud at the bottom.
A salvage crew works on the largely underwater German battleship Baden after the Scuttling at Scapa Flow. The partially submerged ship at the left is the cruiser Frankfurt.
The British sailors were under orders to only kill those Germans who refused to close valves when ordered or who resisted British actions to save the vessels. Nine German sailors were killed, but there is some controversy over whether all these sailors had resisted or not.
Still, it was the single largest loss of naval power in one day in human history, even though it was a calm day and no battle had actually taken place.
Republican Sen. John McCain, an internationally renowned Vietnam War hero who served for 30 years in the Senate representing Arizona, died Aug. 25, 2018, due to complications stemming from brain cancer.
His office said in a statement that his wife Cindy McCain and their family were alongside him when he died.
“At his death, he had served the United States of America faithfully for sixty years,” his office said.
McCain, 81, was a part of many of the past three decades’ most significant political moments. He was the 2008 Republican presidential nominee in a contest he lost to President Barack Obama. He also sought the presidency in 2000, mounting a primary campaign against President George W. Bush.
A graduate of the Naval Academy, the Arizona Republican followed both his father and grandfather, who were four-star admirals, into the US Navy, where he carried out airstrike missions.
During a 1967 bombing run over Hanoi, McCain’s plane was shot down, nearly killing him. He was captured by North Vietnamese forces and spent six years as a prisoner of war, suffering brutal beatings at the hands of his captors, which left him with lifelong physical ailments.
He quickly lost 50 pounds and saw his hair turn white. His captors did not treat his injuries from the plane crash.
Because his father was named commander of US forces in Vietnam that same year, the North Vietnamese offered to release McCain early. He refused unless every prisoner of war taken before him was also released. He was soon placed in solitary confinement, where he would remain for the next two years. He was not released until March of 1973.
Photograph of John McCain after his release from captivity.
(National Archives photo)
Upon returning to the US, McCain was awarded a number of military medals, including two Purple Hearts. He soon set his sights on politics and ran for an Arizona congressional seat in 1982, winning a tough primary and subsequently the general election.
In 1986, he ran for the Senate seat vacated by longtime Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater, who was the Republican presidential nominee in 1964. He won that election as well, and he has been reelected to the Senate for five additional terms — most recently in 2016.
Early in his Senate career, McCain became embroiled in the “Keating Five” scandal. McCain was one of five senators who received campaign contributions from Charles Keating Jr. and was later asked by Keating to prevent the government from seizing his Lincoln Savings and Loan Association.
McCain met twice with regulators to discuss the government investigation. He later returned the donations and admitted the appearance of it was wrong. The episode led McCain to become a leader on campaign finance reform, which included the passage of the McCain-Feingold Act.
During his 2000 campaign for president, the press became enthralled with the candidate who won over a reputation as a “maverick,” rebuffing his party’s conservative orthodoxy at the time. He famously traveled on a bus called the “Straight Talk Express” during his 2000 bid.
U.S. Sen. John McCain speaks to a group of Soldiers before re-enlisting them during an Independence Day celebration in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 4, 2013.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Dustin Payne)
In 2008, McCain fared far better. He won the Republican presidential nomination but ultimately was defeated by Obama in a year in which he faced defending an unpopular war in Iraq and a faltering economy under the Bush administration. McCain selected then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, a move criticized by some as having opened the floodgates for the Republican Party to be infiltrated by a number of far-right candidates who went on to be elected.
After the 2008 campaign, McCain returned to the Senate, his stature even more prominent, leading on national security and military issues.
He was diagnosed with brain cancer early in his sixth term. He battled through it, returning to Congress this past summer. In perhaps his last signature political moment, McCain cast a dramatic vote against his party to stop the repeal of Obamacare, coming to the floor in the middle of the vote before pausing and pointing his right thumb down. The moment highlighted a contentious relationship between the senator and President Donald Trump.
The type of brain tumor with which he was afflicted, glioblastoma, is particularly aggressive and difficult to treat. He had been receiving chemotherapy, but his family announced in August that he would no longer seek medical treatment.
McCain is survived by his seven children and his second wife, Cindy, whom he married in 1980 following a 15-year marriage to Carol Shepp.
Most famous among his children is Meghan, who is a prominent conservative pundit and cohost of ABC’s “The View.” During a December episode, former Vice President Joe Biden consoled her and said that if “anybody” could overcome that cancer, it was her father.
“Your dad is one of my best friends,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The movie “12 Strong” arrives in theaters this Friday, and tells the harrowing story of the first U.S. special forces mission in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The following is the second part of an Army.mil exclusive three-part feature recounts the events of the Green Berets’ first mission in Afghanistan, as they sought to destroy the Taliban regime and deny Al-Qaida sanctuary in that country.
ON THE GROUND
Special operations forces have a famously tight bond. As the Green Berets stepped off the SOAR’s highly modified MH-47 Chinooks into Afghanistan, they stepped back in time, to a time of dirt roads and horses. They stepped into another world, one of arid deserts and towering peaks, of “rugged, isolated, beautiful, different colored stones and geographical formations, different shades of red in the morning as the sun came up,” said Maj. Mark Nutsch, then the commander of ODA 595, one of the first two 12-man teams to arrive in Afghanistan. The world was one of all-but-impassable trails, of “a canyon with very dominating, several-hundred-feet cliffs.” It was a world of freezing nights, where intelligence was slim, women were invisible, and friend and foe looked the same.
They arrived in the middle of the night, of course, to the sort of pitch blackness that can only be found miles from electricity and civilization, at the mercy of the men waiting for them. “We weren’t sure how friendly the link up was going to be,” said Nutsch. “We were prepared for a possible hot insertion. … We were surrounded by — on the LZ there were armed militia factions. … We had just set a helicopter down in that. … It was tense, but … the link up went smoothly.”
The various special forces teams that were in Afghanistan split into smaller three-man and six-man cells to cover more ground. Some of them quickly found themselves on borrowed horses, in saddles meant for Afghans who were much lighter and shorter than American Green Berets. Most of the Soldiers had never ridden before, and they learned by immediately riding for hours, forced to keep up with skilled Afghan horsemen, on steeds that constantly wanted to fight each other.
But that’s what Green Berets do: they adapt and overcome. “The guys did a phenomenal job learning how to ride that rugged terrain,” said Nutsch, who worked on a cattle ranch and participated in rodeos in college. Even so, riding requires muscles most Americans don’t use every day, and after a long day in the saddle, the Soldiers were in excruciating pain, especially as the stirrups were far too short. They had to start jerry-rigging the stirrups with parachute cord.
“Initially you had a different horse for every move … and you’d have a different one, different gait or just willingness to follow the commands of the rider,” Nutsch remembered. “A lot of them didn’t have a bit or it was a very crude bit. The guys had to work through all of that and use less than optimal gear. … Eventually we got the same pool of horses we were using regularly.”
Nutsch had always been a history buff, and he had carefully studied Civil War cavalry charges and tactics, but he had never expected to ride horses into battle. In fact, it was the first time American Soldiers rode to war on horseback since World War II, and this ancient form of warfare was now considered unconventional.
“We’re blending, basically, 19th-century tactics with 20th-century weapons and 21st-century technology in the form of GPS, satellite communications, American air power,” Nutsch pointed out.
And there were military tactics involved. Even the timing of the attacks was crucial. Nutsch remembers wondering why the Northern Alliance wanted to go after the Taliban midafternoon instead of in the morning, but it accounted for their slower speed on horseback, while still leaving time to consolidate any gains before darkness fell. (They didn’t have night vision goggles.)
Supported by the Green Berets, Northern Alliance fighters directly confronted the Taliban over and over again. Some factions, like Nutsch’s, relied on horses for that first month. Others had pickup trucks or other vehicles, but they usually charged into battle armed with little more than AK-47s, machine guns, grenades and a few handfuls of ammunition. Meanwhile, the Taliban had tanks and armored personnel carriers and antiaircraft guns they used as cannons, all left behind by the Soviets when they evacuated Afghanistan in the 1980s.
It took a lot of heart, a lot of courage. “We heard a loud roar coming from the west,” said Master Sgt. Keith Gamble, then a weapons sergeant on ODA 585, as he remembered one firefight. “We had no clue what it was until we saw about 500 to 1,000 NA soldiers charging up the ridge line. I called it a ‘Brave Heart’ charge. What the NA didn’t realize was that the route leading up the ridgeline was heavily mined. The NA did not fare too well, as they received numerous injuries and had to retreat. We continued to pound the ridge line with bombs until the NA took it that evening.”
“They weren’t suicidal,” Nutsch, who worked with different ethnic groups, agreed, “but they did have the courage to get up and quickly close that distance on those vehicles so they could eliminate that vehicle or that crew. We witnessed their bravery on several occasions where they charged down our flank (to attack) these armored vehicles or these air defense guns that are being used in a direct fire role, and kill the crew and capture that gun for our own use.”
The Arleigh Burke class of guided-missile destroyers is huge – and they are some of the most powerful ships in the world.
These 9,000-ton ships are armed with a five-inch gun, two Mk 41 vertical-launch systems (with 90 to 96 cells), two triple 324mm torpedo tubes, and a 20mm Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon System. Some even carry two MH-60R Seahawk helicopters.
But sometimes, the firepower ain’t the solution. Far from it, in some cases. Say the Iranians are up to their usual… antics. That is when the destroyer will need to move.
The ship can go fast – over 30 knots, thanks to her gas turbine propulsion. She also can turn – and for a ship this big, she turns on a dime.
Do those turns matter? You bet they can. The fast turn can help avoid one of those “fast attack craft” the Iranians use. If a torpedo is fired, the turn can also buy time once the ship’s AN/SLQ-25 Nixie goes off.
Torpedo seekers do not have a long range, so the turn at high speed can allow the ship to escape an attack.
You can see the destroyer USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) make one of these high-speed turns in this video below. Making such a turn does take practice – mostly because if the gear ain’t stowed right, there is likely to be one hell of a mess. But a mess to clean up is much better than a torpedo hit.
As Coast Guard paychecks went undelivered Jan. 15, 2019, as the result of an ongoing partial government shutdown, the service’s top officer urged its members to stay the course.
In a public letter published Jan. 15, 2019 on his social media pages, Adm. Karl Schultz said the day’s missed paycheck, to his knowledge, marked the first time in the history of the nation “that service members in a U.S. Armed Force have not been paid during a lapse in government appropriations.”
The Coast Guard, the only military service to fall under the Department of Homeland Security, is also the only service with payroll affected by the shutdown, which began Dec. 22, 2018. The Coast Guard was able to issue final paychecks for the year, but will be unable to distribute further pay until a budget deal is reached or another appropriation agreement is made.
Coast Guard Cutter Munro navigates through the Oakland Estuary en route to the cutter’s homeport of Coast Guard Island in Alameda, California.
(US Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew S. Masaschi)
In all, some 55,000 Coast Guard active-duty, reserve and civilian members are going without pay; the number includes 42,000 active-duty service members.
Coast Guard civilians have been on furlough or working without pay since the shutdown began.
“Your senior leadership, including [DHS] Secretary [Kirstjen] Nielsen, remains fully engaged and we will maintain a steady flow of communications to keep you updated on developments,” Schultz said in his letter. “I recognize the anxiety and uncertainty this situation places on you and your family, and we are working closely with service organizations on your behalf.”
Schultz added that Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, the service’s official military relief society, received a million donation from USAA to support those in need. The American Red Cross will help distribute the funds, he said.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Jon Adams from Coast Guard Station Venice, Louisiana, tows a vessel that was disabled approximately 25 miles south of Venice.
(U.S. Coast Guard Photo courtesy of Coast Guard Station Venice)
“I am grateful for the outpouring of support across the country, particularly in local communities, for our men and women,” Schultz said. “It is a direct reflection of the American public’s sentiment towards their United States Coast Guard; they recognize the sacrifice that you and your family make in service to your country.”
The Coast Guard, Schultz said, had already many times proven the ability to rise above adversity.
“Stay the course, stand the watch, and serve with pride,” he wrote. “You are not, and will not, be forgotten.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Do some people call you a Space Cowboy? Or do they call you a Gangster of Love?
Well, if they do, have we got the job for you!
NASA recently announced that it is accepting candidates for its next astronaut class. The goal is to have humans on the Moon by 2024 with the next step of setting foot on Mars by the mid-2030s.
Dubbed the Artemis Generation, this new class of space cadets will make up the core of what should be the most historic period of space exploration since the Apollo Program.
“America is closer than any other time in history since the Apollo program to returning astronauts to the Moon. We will send the first woman and next man to the lunar South Pole by 2024, and we need more astronauts to follow suit on the Moon, and then Mars,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We’re looking for talented men and women from diverse backgrounds and every walk of life to join us in this new era of human exploration that begins with the Artemis program to the Moon. If you have always dreamed of being an astronaut, apply now.”
The last time NASA took applications, over 18,000 people applied for what would end up being 11 spots.
The odds are against you right?
Probably! (Successfully applying through USAJobs is the first difficult hurdle. View the job here.)
You may be a genius when it comes to knowing everything during comment wars on Facebook, but to be an astronaut, you have to be educated in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) field with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. (the University of Hard Knocks doesn’t count sorry) plus at least three years of proficiency in your field. Advanced degrees go a long way.
If you want to be a pilot (the new Orion might be the new transport for Americans), you must have over 1,000 hours of command pilot experience under your belt.
People usually focus on the science and education portion of being an astronaut without realizing that physical fitness is a major part of being accepted. Astronauts used to be only military men, but with the expansion of applicants into the civilian side, NASA makes sure that everyone that makes it into the interview stage (by this time down to 120 from 18,000) can pass a strenuous physical and medical exam.
It will probably be a bit more complicated than this.
As a civilian, you get paid GS11 to GS14 wages. If you are in the military still, you will get your typical military pay based on your rank and time in service.
If you made it past the initial selection, interviews and physical and medical exams, then you have to go through nearly two years of Astronaut training. What does that entail?
Here are some of the things you will have to learn and show proficiency in:
Candidates must complete military water survival and become SCUBA qualified to prepare them for spacewalk training. Astronaut Candidates must pass a swimming test in their first month of training. They must swim three lengths of a 25-meter pool without stopping, and then swim three lengths of the pool in a flight suit and sneakers. They also have to tread water for 10 minutes wearing a flight suit.
Candidates are exposed to problems associated with high (hyperbaric) and low (hypobaric) atmospheric pressures in the altitude chambers and learn to deal with emergencies associated with these conditions.
Additionally, candidates are given exposure to space flight during training in modified jet aircraft (the Vomit Comet) as it performs maneuvers that produce weightlessness for about 20 seconds. This sequence is repeated up to 40 times in a day.
Finally, Astronaut Candidate Program will require successful completion of the following:
International Space Station systems training
Extravehicular Activity skills training
Robotics skills training
Russian Language training (We beat the Ruskies to the Moon but now have to ask them for a ride…. Until the Orion is ready)
In the mid-1990s, U.S. oil company Unocal attempted to secure a gas-pipeline deal with the Taliban, which had seized control of the Afghan capital, Kabul, after a devastating civil war.
It was the United States’ first attempt to forge a partnership with the fundamentalist Taliban regime, which was not recognized by the international community.
Unocal even flew senior Taliban members to Texas in 1997 in an attempt to come to an agreement.
Zalmay Khalilzad, who had served as a State Department official when Ronald Reagan was president, worked as a consultant for the now-defunct company.
Khalilzad, who met with the Taliban members in the city of Houston, publicly voiced support for the radical Islamists at the time. The “Taliban does not practice the anti-U.S. style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran — it is closer to the Saudi model,” Khalilzad wrote in a 1996 op-ed for The Washington Post. “The group upholds a mix of traditional Pashtun values and an orthodox interpretation of Islam.”
Negotiations over the pipeline collapsed in 1998, when Al-Qaeda bombed two U.S. embassies in Africa. By then, the terrorist group, led by Osama bin Laden, had relocated from Sudan to Afghanistan, where it was offered safe harbor by the Taliban.
Suddenly, the Taliban went from a potential U.S. economic partner to an international pariah that was hit by U.S. sanctions and air strikes.
Three years later, the United States invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban regime after Al-Qaeda carried out the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania that killed nearly 3,000 people.
But now, after waging a deadly, nearly 19-year insurgency that has killed several thousand U.S. troops, the Taliban has regained its status as a potential U.S. partner.
On February 29, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement aimed at ending the United States’ longest military action. The deal lays out a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in return for various security commitments from the insurgents and a pledge to hold talks over a political settlement with the Afghan government — which it so far has refused to do.
The deal — signed before a bevy of international officials and diplomats in Doha, Qatar — has given the Taliban what it has craved for years: international legitimacy and recognition.
Meanwhile, the agreement has undermined the internationally recognized government in Kabul, which was not a party to the accord.
The architect of the deal was Khalilzad, the U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, who secured a deal following 18 months of grueling negotiations with the militants in Qatar. The Afghan-born Khalilzad had served as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq in the intervening years since working as a Unocal adviser.
“There’s a 20-year bell curve, from 1998 to 2018, when the Taliban went from partner to peak pariah and now back to partner,” says Ted Callahan, a security expert on Afghanistan. But the “changes that have occurred have been less within the Taliban movement and more based on U.S. instrumentalism and war fatigue.”
The extremist group’s transformation to a potential U.S. ally was considered unthinkable until recently.
During its brutal rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban oppressed women, massacred ethnic and religious minorities, and harbored Al-Qaeda.
Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the Taliban has killed tens of thousands of Afghan civilians, fueled the illicit opium trade, and sheltered several terrorist groups.
“U.S. officials are selling the Taliban as a partner when it is anything but,” says Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at a Washington-based think tank, the Foundation for Defense Of Democracies, and editor of the Long War Journal. “This is a fiction made up by U.S. officials who are desperate for a deal that will cover the military withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
Radicalized In Pakistan
The Taliban, which means “students” in Pashto, emerged in 1994 in northwestern Pakistan following the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
The predominantly ethnic Pashtun group first appeared in ultraconservative Islamic madrasahs, or religious schools, in Pakistan, where millions of Afghans had fled as refugees. Funded by Saudi Arabia, the madrasahs radicalized thousands of Afghans who joined the mujahedin, the U.S.-backed Islamist rebels who fought the Soviets.
The Taliban first appeared in the southern city of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, in 1994, two years after the mujahedin seized power in the country. Infighting among mujahedin factions fueled a devastating civil war that killed more than 100,000 people in Kabul.
The Taliban promised to restore security and enforce its ultraconservative brand of Islam. It captured Kabul in 1996 and two years later controlled some 90 percent of the country.
Neighboring Pakistan is widely credited with forming the Taliban, an allegation it has long denied. Islamabad was among only three countries — including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — to recognize the Taliban regime when it ruled Afghanistan.
The Taliban was led by its spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, the reclusive, one-eyed cleric who was a mujahedin. Omar died of natural causes at a hospital in Pakistan in 2013, with the group’s leadership covering up his death for two years. He was believed to be leading the Afghan Taliban insurgency from within Pakistan.
War-weary Afghans initially welcomed the Taliban, which cracked down on corruption and lawlessness and brought stability across much of the country.
But the welcome was short-lived. The religious zealots enforced strict edicts based on their extreme interpretation of Shari’a law — banning TV and music, forcing men to pray and grow beards, making women cover themselves from head to toe, and preventing women and girls from working or going to school.
The Taliban amputated the hands of thieves, publicly flogged people for drinking alcohol, and stoned to death those who engage in adultery. Executions were common.
Besides its notorious treatment of women, the Taliban also attracted international condemnation when in 2001 it demolished the 1,500-year-old Buddhas of Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan, a testament to the country’s pre-Islamic history and a treasured, unique world cultural monument.
‘We Were All Scared’
Orzala Nemat is a leading women’s rights activist in Afghanistan. Under Taliban rule, she risked her life by creating a network of underground girls schools across the country. Classes were held secretly in living rooms, tents, and abandoned buildings. The teachers were often older girls or educated women.
Girls attending the classes would often come in twos to avoid suspicion and carry a Koran, Islam’s holy book, in case they were stopped by the Taliban.
“We were all scared,” says Nemat, who now heads a leading Kabul think tank. “They would probably flog us, put us in prison, and punish us [if we were caught].”
Under the Taliban, Isaq Ahmadi earned a living by playing soccer for one of the dozen teams created and funded by various Taliban leaders in Kabul. While the Taliban banned many sports and other forms of public entertainment, soccer and cricket thrived.
“It was a very difficult and dark time,” he says. “There were no jobs, food shortages, and no public services.”
During Taliban rule, the United Nations said 7.5 million Afghans faced starvation. Even then, the Taliban restricted the presence of aid groups in Afghanistan.
The Taliban regime generated most of its money from Islamic taxes on citizens and handouts from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, its only allies. The Taliban failed to provide basic needs and Kabul lay in tatters after the brutal civil war of 1992-96.
The Taliban attracted the world’s attention after the September 11 attacks on the United States. The regime had harbored bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders responsible for the terrorist attacks. But the Taliban steadfastly refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders for prosecution and, in October 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan.
By December, the Taliban regime was toppled with help from the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. Most Taliban leaders, including Al-Qaeda founder bin Laden, evaded capture and resettled in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the southwestern city of Quetta, where its leadership is still based.
By 2005, the Taliban had reorganized and unleashed a deadly insurgency against foreign troops and the new democratically elected government in Kabul. Despite U.S.-led surges in troops and an escalation in air strikes, international and Afghan forces were unable to stop the Taliban from extending its influence in the vast countryside.
The Taliban enjoyed safe havens and backing from Pakistan, a claim Islamabad has denied. The insurgency was also funded by the billions of dollars the group made from the illicit opium trade.
Today, the militants control or contest more territory — around half of the country — than at any other time since 2001.
Meanwhile, the Kabul government is unpopular, corrupt, bitterly divided, and heavily dependent on foreign assistance. Government forces have suffered devastatingly high numbers of casualties against the Taliban.
Negotiating An End To War
In the fall of 2010, U.S. officials secretly met a young Taliban representative outside the southern German city of Munich. It was the first time the Taliban and the United States showed they were open to talks over a negotiated end to the war.
But in the intervening years, meaningful U.S.-Taliban talks failed to take off, hampered by mutual distrust, missed opportunities, protests by the Afghan government, and the deaths of two successive Taliban leaders.
For years, U.S. policy was to facilitate an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process between the Kabul government and the Taliban. But with the Taliban refusing to negotiate with state officials — whom they view as illegitimate — the peace process was deadlocked.
Controversially, U.S. policy changed in 2018 when Khalilzad was appointed as special envoy for peace and he opened direct negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar without the presence of the Afghan government. Eighteen months later, the sides signed the landmark deal aimed at ending the war.
“The U.S. has been sidelining the Afghan government for years, first by refusing to allow it to be involved with negotiations, then by signing the deal without the Afghan government as a partner,” Roggio says.
“The Taliban maintains the Afghan government is merely a ‘puppet’ of the U.S,” he adds. “The U.S. has done everything in its power to prove this point.”
Road Map For Afghanistan
The prospect of the Taliban returning to the fold as part of a future power-sharing agreement has fueled angst among Afghans, many of whom consider the militants to be terrorists and remember the strict, backward societal rules they enforced when they were in power.
More than 85 percent of Afghans have no sympathy for the Taliban, according to the Asia Foundation’s 2019 survey. Urban respondents (88.6 percent) were more inclined than rural respondents (83.9 percent) to have no sympathy for the militants.
But the Taliban’s adherence to ultraconservative Islam and the Pashtun tribal code has struck a chord with some currently living under the movement’s thumb in rural Afghanistan, which has borne the brunt of the war and where life has improved little. But those ideas are largely alien in major urban centers that have witnessed major social, economic, and democratic gains over the past 18 years.
“The main difference is that the Taliban of today, like Afghans generally, are more worldly in terms of their exposure to media, their increased engagement with various international actors and, at least for the leadership, the greater wealth they command, both individually and as a movement,” Callahan says.
But the Taliban’s “fundamental approach to governing, which is very maximalist and involves the imposition of a uniform moral order, stands in stark contrast to the more liberal norms that have evolved since 2001, mainly in urban areas.”
Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, millions of girls have gone to school and continue to study, women have joined the workforce in meaningful numbers, and dozens of women are members of parliament and work in the government or diplomatic corps.
Afghanistan also has a thriving independent media scene in an area of the world where press freedoms are severely limited. Under the Taliban, all forms of independently reported news were banned.
There was only state-owned radio, the Taliban’s Voice of Sharia, which was dominated by calls to prayer and religious teachings.
The independent media have come under constant attack and pressure from the Taliban and Islamic State militants, which have killed dozens of reporters. The attacks have made Afghanistan one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists.
The Taliban has been projecting itself as a more moderate force, pledging not to monopolize power in Afghanistan. But few believe that the militants have changed.
“There is little difference between the Taliban of 1994 and the Taliban of today,” Roggio says. “If anything, the group has become more sophisticated in its communications and negotiations. Its ideology has not changed. Its leadership has naturally changed with the deaths of its leaders [over the years], but this hasn’t changed how it operates.”
The Taliban has said it will protect women’s rights, but only if they don’t violate Islam or Afghan values, suggesting it will curtail some of the fragile freedoms gained by women in the past two decades.
Many Afghan women fear that their rights enshrined in the constitution will be given away as part of a peace settlement with the Taliban. The constitution guarantees the same rights to women as men, although in practice women still face heavy discrimination in society, particularly in rural areas.
But the Taliban has demanded a new constitution based on “Islamic principles,” prompting concern among Afghan rights campaigners. As an Islamic republic, Afghanistan’s laws and constitution are based on Islam, although there are more liberal and democratic elements within it.
Farahnaz Forotan launched an online campaign, #MyRedLine, in March 2018. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan women have joined the campaign to speak about the freedoms and rights they are not willing to give up in the name of peace with the Taliban.
Forotan, a journalist, says she wanted to let Afghan decision-makers know that peace cannot be achieved at the expense of the rights and freedoms of the country’s women.
“Almost everything has changed from that time,” she says, referring to Taliban rule. “We have made a lot of progress. We have a civil society, an independent press, and freedoms. People are more aware of their social and political rights.”
Many Afghans support a negotiated end to the decades-old war in Afghanistan, but not at any price.
“I support the peace process with the Taliban, but only if women’s freedoms are safeguarded,” says Ekram, a high-school student from the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, a relatively peaceful and prosperous region near the border with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.
“Under no circumstances do we want a peace deal that sacrifices our freedoms and democracy,” Ekram says. “That wouldn’t be peace at all.”
The Aletti Hotel bar was reserved for field-grade officers. The bartender served drinks to an out-of-place group of muscular soldiers; one had a pair of jump boots slung over his shoulder by the laces. Their antics over the next hour grew too much for the other bar patrons to handle, and they were asked to leave, not the proper send-off for their last Saturday in Algiers before they would receive new assignments in war-torn Europe.
Jim Russell — an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Jedburgh who had three combat jumps into North Africa, Italy, and Sardinia to his name — hopped into the driver’s seat of their three-quarter-ton truck. A pair of jump boots sat next to his leg. John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway had purchased them earlier in the evening at the Allied Forces Headquarters PX. Hemingway, simply known as “Jack,” was the eldest son of Ernest Hemingway, widely proclaimed as one of the greatest American literary figures of the 20th century. He was leaving for jump school in the coming days and had managed to convince Russell to grab a nightcap at a civilian sidewalk cafe located on the outskirts of town.
The rumbustious group of OSS commandos funneled into the cafe. Hemingway would bring his jump boots with him everywhere but decided to leave them within his view on the truck’s dashboard. The commandos were soon engulfed by curious “threadbare urchins” who begged to shine and polish their footwear, in a clever diversion. Hemingway’s prized jump boots were snatched from his sight, and the thief disappeared around the corner of a back alley. Hemingway, Russell, and the others gave chase and watched as the Arab thief threw the jump boots over a wall and into a courtyard.
Now the commandos were furious, as their drunken night turned from a celebration into a violent encounter. Three of the thief’s friends arrived holding knives. In an instant, all of the thieves were disarmed, sprawled flat on their backs, and on the receiving end of a well-choreographed lesson in hand-to-hand combat. The thieves had picked the wrong set of American soldiers that night because despite their heavy drinking, all were unarmed combat instructors for the OSS.
Hemingway never found his beloved jump boots, and he ended his night with a court-martial. An Arab workman threw a rock at their truck while they were returning to the OSS training base in Chréa. The commandos jumped out and beat the man senseless. The man reported the incident, and although Hemingway and Russell didn’t take part, they were threatened with being thrown out of the OSS.
An upcoming airborne operation was their saving grace because the planning stages were moving forward and they couldn’t be replaced. Hemingway’s orders to jump school were canceled, and he reported to a colonel leading a Jedburgh mission.
The Fly-Fishing Commando
Jim Russell had experience as a seasoned radio operator. Hemingway described Russell as “the complete antithesis of an OSS staff person.” The OSS had gained two reputations since its inception in 1942, one as an extremely competent paramilitary force and another as “Oh So Social” for its staff officers’ participation in diplomatic cocktail outings.
“Part of our OSS team at Le Bousquet, with a downed U.S. flier, seated left. I am in the center, Jim Russell, right, and two French ‘Joes.'” Photo courtesy of The Hemingway Project.
Russell and Hemingway, however, wouldn’t be handling the radios on this mission. Two French noncommissioned officers named Julien and Henri were tasked with the job. Their mission was to parachute into occupied France, take over existing information networks, and support the local resistance forces in their insurgency against the Germans.
France wasn’t some foreign land to Hemingway. His boyhood infatuation with fly-fishing materialized as he explored the rivers and streams around Paris with his father. His childhood was spent surrounded by his famous father’s friends: Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein. His first words were spoken in French, then English, Austrian, and German. The joys of running through the French countryside as a boy and fighting imaginary battles had become a devastating reality.
Their four-man team spent hours in their safe house studying maps, memorizing drop zones and names of contacts, and identifying intelligence on German troop movements. Hemingway had also assisted in previous planning phases to become familiarized with the process of how agents, including a woman and a one-armed man, were dropped into occupied France.
On the airfield’s tarmac, a British officer approached Hemingway before their jump and said, “You can’t take THAT with you, you know?” He was referring to Hemingway’s fly rod, which he deliberately packed in his gear wherever he went. “Oh, it’s only a special antenna,” he lied. “Just looks like a fly rod.”
Two B-17s took to the air. They were loaded with containers filled with weapons, ammunition, explosives, and radio equipment. One B-17’s belly gun turret had been removed, and the commandos used the hole in the floor to parachute safely to the ground. Hemingway’s first jump from a perfectly good airplane was during a real-world Jedburgh mission over France with zero training, and towing along his fly-fishing rod.
Capt. J.H.N. Hemingway, far right, training officer with the 10th Special Forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Screenshot from Hemingway’s autobiography Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
On the ground they linked up with the French resistance. While Russell and the French commandos were preoccupied with jury-rigging a radio transmitter, Hemingway ventured to a nearby water hole. “Limestone means rich aquatic life and healthy, well-fed trout,” Hemingway wrote in his autobiography. “I was in khaki, civilian garb not uncommon at the time, but wore no cap and there was a U.S. flag sewn to my right shoulder, but no insignia on the left.”
An overwhelming emotion of glee swept over him as he skipped down the mountainside with his fly rod, reel, and box of flies. As he entered the water, he didn’t study the flow of the stream as he normally would have and was oblivious of the world around him. A German patrol with their rifles and machine pistols marched toward him.
“They were all looking toward me and making what sounded like derisive, joking comments as they went along,” Hemingway wrote. “For the first time in my life I made a silent wish that came as close to a real prayer as I had ever come.”
He wished to not catch a fish because if he had, the German patrol would have stopped to watch and, under closer inspection, realized the fisherman had a US flag on his arm. They had mistakenly assumed he was the professional fly fisherman who fished for the local inn at Avesnes and continued their patrol.
This close call wasn’t the fly-fishing commando’s only brush with potential violence.
Escaping a German POW Camp
In October 1944, Hemingway took another assignment to recruit, infiltrate, and train allied resistance forces. While he traveled to his safe house with Capt. Justin Greene, who commanded the OSS team with the 36th Infantry Division, they stepped past a dead tank and into a German hornet’s nest. Greene walked up the slope and then immediately turned around and dove for cover, as if he had seen a ghost. Small arms fire and explosions followed close behind, and two German alpine soldiers appeared in Hemingway’s field of fire.
“After a hectic courtship, I finally got Puck to the altar in Paris, 1949.” Screenshot from Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
Another German opened fire from above Hemingway’s position, and he was hit with a single round. He dropped to the ground and tried to hide in a ditch as two more bullets ripped through his right arm and shoulder; grenade fragments peppered his side. He called out in German, surrendered, and immediately told them his cover story while they attended to his wounds. A German surgeon later threatened to amputate his arm, but he refused because, he reasoned, it was his casting arm.
Hemingway and Greene boarded the Luft Bandit en route for a German hospital prisoner of war (POW) camp. German civilians called their passenger train the Luft Bandit because it stopped often in tunnels and dense forests to escape American planes.
While in the POW camp, the commandos prepared for their escape. On March 29, 1945, US Army tank divisions broke 50 miles behind enemy lines to free US officers held in POW camps. Their intelligence, however, anticipated only 300 soldiers were being held in these camps — instead, the number averaged close to 3,000. Hemingway hitched a ride on one of these tanks as they rolled through an area the Germans used for army maneuvers and artillery practice.
“Preparing to net the catch on England’s Itchen River.” Screenshot from Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
From a distance of no farther than 3 yards, Hemingway was knocked off the tank’s turret by a Panzerschreck bazooka. He jumped onto another tank as American infantrymen decimated the hedgerow with their rifles and automatic weapons. Instead of staying with his rescuers, Hemingway decided to leave the tanks and travel on foot with another soldier. The next morning, six German Tiger tanks surprised and destroyed all 57 armored vehicles of the American tank division with overwhelming firepower.
Hemingway evaded German patrols for two days, surviving off raw rabbit and gardens of abandoned homes. He was nearly shot by a patrol of German teenagers who nervously trained their weapons on the unknown Americans. Hemingway spoke slowly in lousy German and was captured unharmed. For 10 more arduous days he and other prisoners death marched away from the evacuated Nürnberg POW camp to Bavaria. After a P-51 Mustang mistakenly strafed their position, they were forced to spell “US POW” on the ground. Once they arrived at their new home, which Hemingway called the biggest POW camp he had ever seen, they spent the next six months as POWs before being liberated on April 29, 1945. His once fit and healthy 210-pound body at the beginning of the war was a gaunt 140 pounds by war’s end.
Field & Stream
After World War II, Hemingway debriefed with X2, the OSS counterintelligence section, and took a commanding officer position at a German POW camp in Camp Pickett, Virginia. Hemingway kept alive his passion for fly-fishing after his service. He wrote for National Wildlife Magazine, describing his adventures hunting in Africa and trolling a fly behind a deep-sea fishing boat off the coast of Tanzania.
Screenshot from Jack Hemingway’s autobiography Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
“All together, while trolling and casting from shore and around a small atoll on the edge of the Pemba Channel, I caught twenty-seven different species of fish on the fly, including everything from small, brightly-colored reef species to dolphin in the blue water, and I had one big shark for a short while which had swallowed a tuna I was fighting,” he wrote in his autobiography.
In his 40s, Hemingway became the Northwest field editor for Field Stream, “which meant contributing an annual roundup of fishing prospects in my region and any other pieces I could produce that might fit,” he wrote in his autobiography. Hemingway also influenced decision making through the Federation of Fly Fishermen. As the commissioner of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, he successfully swayed the state to adopt a catch-and-release fishing law.
Jack Hemingway was the son of a famous writer and the father to famous children, but he was also a legend in his own right. The former OSS commando, American POW, fly fisherman, conservationist, editor, author, husband, and father died of heart complications in 2000 at age 77.