SAN ANTONIO – USAA, the country’s fifth largest property-casualty insurer, will be returning $520 million to its members. This payment is a result of data showing members are driving less due to stay-at-home and shelter-in-place guidance across the country. Every member with an auto insurance policy in effect as of March 31, 2020, will receive a 20% credit on two months of premiums in the coming weeks.
As a member-owned association, USAA historically returns a portion of profits to members. In 2019, we returned $2.4 billion in dividends, distributions and bank rebates and rewards. This brings the total amount returned to members since January 2019 to nearly $3 billion.
“We understand the impact this pandemic is having on our country, and especially our military community and their families, many of whom also are working on the front lines of the crisis. Returning premiums provides timely help for our members,” said USAA President and CEO Wayne Peacock. “USAA has been facilitating the financial security of military members for nearly 100 years, and this is another way we can serve them well.”
Early data trends show USAA members are heeding the calls to suspend nonessential travel, leading to fewer miles driven and fewer accidents.
How it works
Members will automatically receive a credit applied to their bill. They do not need to call, and no additional action is required.
Ways USAA is providing financial relief for members
This is just one of several steps USAA has taken to provide financial assistance to members, including:
Special payment arrangements are available to assist members experiencing financial difficulties. USAA will not cancel members’ auto or property insurance policies or charge fees due to late payments on USAA auto and property insurance coverage through June 17, 2020.
Expanded auto insurance coverage for members who use their personal vehicles to deliver food, medicine and other goods for commercial purposes.
USAA Bank is offering special payment assistance programs for eligible members including a 90-day credit card payment deferral, a 60-day payment extension on consumer loans, and special mortgage and home equity line of credit payment assistance.
USAA Life Insurance Company is offering special payment arrangements on life and health insurance policies, including a 60-day extension to the 30-day grace period.
USAA Life Insurance Company is waiving and reimbursing deductibles and co-payments for coronavirus-related testing received on or after Feb. 4, 2020, for members who have USAA Medicare Supplement plan.
USAA Investment Management Company is reducing managed portfolio fees 50% (effective April 1 through May 20‚ 2020).
Additionally, USAA has taken steps to help ensure its employees stay safe and able to serve members by enabling nearly all 35,000 employees to work from home and committed .4 million to help military-focused and other nonprofits respond to this pandemic.
For most people, going to the gym is a safe place for people to work out and burn off stress. Unfortunately, not all gym goers show up for the right reasons. They show up to watch others break a sweat and find an angle to hit on people.
Now, it’s okay to meet and interact with other patrons while you’re at the gym. In fact, it’s recommended for everybody to open lines of communication when the situation presents itself. However, there are definitely people that don’t know how to find ways of producing normal interactions.
Instead, they watch people they’re attracted to from far away, looking for an excuse to start up a conversation or any type of communication. These are called “gym creepers.” Although they tend to work out every so often, their mission is to hit on every person they find attractive — until someone gives in.
Most gym creepers don’t even know they’ve been secretly given that title. So we came up with a list to let you know if you’re one of them.
When you first enter the gym, you’re usually greeted by a staff member at the check-in desk. It’s their job to be as helpful as possible. This doesn’t mean you should start flirting with them immediately because they smiled at you when you entered.
There is nothing wrong with carrying on a light conversation with one of them, however, if you continually become a chatterbox every time you see them because you think you’ll eventually score a date — you might be a gym creeper.
Staring at people in the mirror
This is one of the ultimate signs you’re a gym creeper. If you’re lifting weights and roll your eyes in the direction where a cute guy or girl is workout via the mirror, there is a good chance you’re gym creeping. It’s okay to look at an attractive person once in a while during a rest period, but when you start staring, that’s when things can get weird.
People in the gym are highly mobile as they move from one workout station to the other. That’s pretty standard. If a good-looking gym patron that was working next to you gets up and travels to a new area to continue their exercises and you follow them to stay close, you might be a gym creeper.
Most people will get a pass if this minor stalking occurs once or maybe twice. But when it continues from area-to-area, you’re definitely a gym creeper.
Asking your gym crush random questions
Some people will do practically anything to get a chance to talk to their gym crushes. But, unless that moment happens naturally, it’s pretty awkward to walk up to them with a random question.
“Do you lift here often?”
Yes, they do. And yes, they’ve heard that question before. Cue eye-rolls from everyone else nearby.
President Donald Trump’s relationship with Europe has been characterized by him attacking NATO for what he perceives as failures to meet the defense-spending goals alliance members have agreed to work toward.
At the end of July, prominent German political scientist Christian Hacke wrote an essay in Welt am Sonntag, one of the country’s largest Sunday newspapers, arguing Germany needed to respond to uncertainty about US commitment to defending European allies by developing its own nuclear capability.
“For the first time since 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany is no longer under the U.S.’s nuclear umbrella,” Hacke argued, according to Politico Europe.
“National defense on the basis of a nuclear deterrent must be given priority in light of new transatlantic uncertainties and potential confrontations,” Hacke said. Divergent interests among Germany’s neighbors made the prospect of a joint European response “illusory,” he added.
Hacke is not the first in Germany to suggest longstanding ties with the US have fundamentally changed.
In June, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Europeans “need a balanced partnership with the US … where we as Europeans act as a conscious counterweight when the US oversteps red lines.” Maas compared Trump’s “America First” policies to the policies of Russia and China.
While concern about Trump is very real, Germany is treaty-bound not to develop nuclear weapons, and discussions of doing so are seen as little more than talk.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas
(Sandro Halank, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 3.0)
“Germany developing nuclear military capability, a nuclear weapon, a nuclear deterrent, will never be in the cards ever,” said Jim Townsend, an adjunct senior fellow in the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.
“Things nuclear are always hot in Germany,” said Townsend, who spent eight years as US deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy. “This is not something that’s going to change and all of a sudden the Germans are going to think seriously about developing a nuclear capability. That’s just not going to happen.”
Others in Germany were also dismissive.
Journalist and defense expert Christian Thiels described the discussion as “a totally phony debate” and referred to Hacke’s argument as a “very individual opinion.” The same question was discussed “by very few think-tankers media people one year ago,” he added, “to zero effect.”
Wolfgang Ischinger, head of the Munich Security Conference and a former German ambassador to the US, argued that Germany’s pursuit of nuclear weapons would set an undesirable precedent.
“If Germany was to relinquish its status as a non-nuclear power, what would prevent Turkey or Poland, for example, from following suit?” he wrote in a response to Hacke. “Germany as the gravedigger of the international non-proliferation regime? Who can want that?”
German plans to phase out nuclear energy likely preclude the development of nuclear weapons, Townsend said, and, as noted by Marcel Dirsus, a political scientist at the University of Kiel in Germany, politicians who can’t convince Germans to support spending 2% of GDP on defense are unlikely to win backing for nuclear weapons.
This is not the first round of this debate.
Not long after Trump’s election, European officials — including a German lawmaker who was foreign-policy spokesman for the governing party — suggested French and British nuclear arsenals could be repurposed to defend the rest of the continent under a joint command with common funding or defense doctrine.
In mid-2017, a review commissioned by Germany’s parliament found Berlin could legally finance another European country’s nuclear weapons in return for protection.
There have been suggestions that “what Europe should do is depend on the French, the French nuclear capability, and the Germans pay into that and thereby kind of fall under the French nuclear umbrella,” Townsend said.
“Well, that’s not going to happen either,” he added. “As cool as it sounds for a think-tank discussion, in reality the French would never do that.”
French President Emmanuel Macron has advocated closer defense cooperation between France and Germany, but Paris has in the past expressed reservations about ceding control of its nuclear weapons. (The UK’s plans to exit the EU complicate its role in any such plan.)
Townsend said the debate was unnecessary, given that its premise — the loss of US nuclear deterrence — was unfounded.
“Trump notwithstanding, the US nuclear guarantee is not going anywhere,” he said. “No matter where we might be domestically as we talk about Europe or as we talk about NATO, we’re not going. Our nuclear guarantee is going to be there.”
But Trump has changed the way Europe thinks about its defense. Some welcome discussion of Germany acquiring nuclear capability, even if they don’t support it.
Ulrich Speck, senior visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin, said on Twitter that while he didn’t favor “Germany becoming a nuclear state,” he did believe “there is a debate looming with the many question marks over the US with Trump, and that it’s better to have the debate. Germany needs to think through nuclear deterrence.”
“It’s crucial for Germany and Europe that we have a strategic debate,” Ulrike Franke, an analyst with the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Politico Europe. “What Germany is slowly realizing is that the general structure of the European security system is not prepared for the future.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Life in the military is fantastic, but being a lifer isn’t for everyone. One of the greatest pieces of legislative success for the veteran community was the creation of the GI Bill. It opened the door for countless veterans to finally spread their wings and get a leg up in the civilian marketplace, rewarding their service with a launchpad.
Because of the GI Bill, many civilians who went straight to college from high school have their first interactions with a veteran. And it’s a good thing. You’re both in school, so there’s some common ground — thus helping bridge the ever-growing civilian-military divide. However, not all civilians approach veterans with the best opening lines.
The following are questions and comments that make veterans grit their teeth almost immediately.
These dumb-ass discussions are made even better when no one but the veteran understands that they’re f*cking with everyone just to watch their reactions.
1. “You’re a vet. What’s your opinion on the war/politics/the latest hot-button issue?”
In a smaller, more intimate setting, it’s fine to ask us about our opinions on things. Hell, we’re kind of known for making 30-minute-long rant videos from the front seats of our trucks.
But putting us on the spot in the middle of a classroom discussion is not cool. If the conversation is clearly leaning to one side, you’re setting the veteran up to be the enemy for standing up for anything military related. Ask this question and you’re either going to get an extremely heated debate or a completely zoned-out vet.
Not everyone can get their dream job — but vets with the GI Bill are given a chance, and you’re damn right they’re going to try.
2. “Why are you going for X degree and not something in security?”
The great thing about the GI Bill is that it can be applied for any college degree course. If the veteran wants to get out and follow their childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian, an artist, or whatever — more power to them. They earned that right by serving their country.
Bringing up the fact that they’re going to be making far less money by doing what they love as opposed to doing what they did in the military all over again isn’t going to make that realization any easier.
The sad truth is that most veterans will keep their demons to themselves. Some random d*ckhead isn’t going to sudden change that.
3. “So, like, did you see some bad stuff over there?”
Ranger Up hit this one on the head perfectly. No veteran wants to talk about that kind of thing with some random stranger they just met. Either they didn’t and harbor some guilt over the fact that they didn’t share the same burden as many of their brothers, they’re dealing with very real, resulting stress in a highly personal manner, or they’re going to overload the curious civilian with the grim details they actually don’t want.
After months of friendship, a veteran might be willing to open up about what happened out there — probably over a beer or seven — but never when it’s said in a half-joking manner.
College life may be stressful, but have you ever had someone in your company lose a pair of NVGs in a porta-john? I thought so.
4. “Why are you veterans so…”
Offensive? Overly polite? Loud? Reserved? Drunk? This one is a catchall for the wide spectrum of awkward questions that lump veterans into a single box.
Veterans come from literally all walks of life, from every place in the United States (and abroad), and are made up of the same folks that make up the rest of the population. Pretty much the only unifying thread that can be accurately applied to every single veteran is that we’re comfortable in bad situations.
5. “It’s alright bro. You got back in one piece!”
Post-Traumatic Stress is called an invisible wound for a reason. Vets who live with the pain of what happened back in the day won’t easily show it and walk around wearing a happy mask around people they don’t know.
Just because that veteran made it back alright doesn’t mean that their buddy did, too. Even if that veteran wasn’t anywhere near the front line, saying something so ignorant trivializes the experiences of troops who didn’t have the same luxury.
Also, if you really want to get specific, a large percentage of the prolific killers who were in the service were kicked out before even serving a single enlistment. So…
6. “You’re not one of those crazy vets who’ll snap at any moment, right?”
Here’s a piece of news for you: If you compare the veteran population average to the civilian average in terms of homicides and other violent crimes, veterans are actually less likely to commit such acts.
In fact, veterans with combat experience who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress are, once again, far less likely to commit violent crime than the average civilian. So, no, I’m not going to snap — are you?
We may have taken a detour, but we’ll get there.
7. “I would have joined, but I came here instead”
The veteran you’re talking to signed up and now they’re in the exact same boat as you! Except instead of having student-loan debt, they’ve got a few more years of life experience on you.
The reason this statement bothers veterans is that there’s an underlying assumption here that veterans are uneducated or that they wouldn’t have been able to get into college without Uncle Sam’s help. Oh boy, is that wrong. Fun fact: The ASVAB, the test required by all troops to qualify them into military service, is actually much more difficult than the college SAT or ACT.
The absolute lowest ASVAB score that will allow you to enlist is 31, which means you must be in the 69th percentile of scores among the general population. When SATs were graded out of 1600, the 69th percentile was roughly a 950 — which gets you into about 2/3rds of all universities and colleges around the country.
Just keep in mind that if you mess with one of our sisters, she was trained to shoot at targets at a max effective range of 300 meters.
8. “You don’t look like a veteran”
Just like the “lumping all veterans in one box” comment, this one implies that there’s this singular build for all troops. Well, there are skinny troops, there are fat troops, and there are muscular troops. There are troops of every race, religion, and creed. It’s the uniform and hair-cut standards that make us all alike.
But as bad is this one is for most troops, it’s almost always flung at our sisters-in-arms. Even though women make up 17 percent of the U.S. Armed Forces, male civilians tend to act shocked when they learn that a female served. It’s belittling.
Maybe one day when I finally put that underwater basket-weaving degree to good use… maybe…
9. “You’re so lucky you got the GI Bill”
Wrong. And f*ck you. That’s not how it works. Luck had nothing to do with all the hard work it took to serve in the military the minimum of three years required to get 100% access to the GI Bill. Luck, in my opinion, is being born into a family where mommy and daddy can pay for everything — but that’s none of my business.
If you want to be technical, a lot of veterans still take out student loans to help make ends meet. The GI Bill pays for a lot, but it doesn’t pay for everything.
If there was a real weakness in the system of the early United States, it was slavery. The practice of slavery kept a lot of American ideals just out of reach and was used against the young country on multiple occasions. During the War of 1812, the British attempted to exploit this weakness by training a group of former slaves to fight for a country that needed them to fight as free men.
War of 1812 re-enactors, bring the Battle of Pensacola back to life, using the British Colonial Marines.
These days when we think of Colonial Marines, we’re thinking of the gung-ho Space Warriors from the movie Alien. But back when Lord Cochrane decided to resurrect his Corps of Colonial Marines, he was set on fighting the Americans on their home turf.
Cochrane first formed his Colonial Marines in response to a lack of proper Redcoats on British-held Caribbean territories. He believed a fighting force made up of men born and raised in the islands of the Caribbean would be hardier than importing British regulars from overseas. Having grown up around the tropics (and the diseases that come with the region) the men would be less prone to illness, a major problem with armed forces of the time.
For the slaves, enlistment meant instant freedom. Cochrane’s Marines served admirably from 1808 until they were disbanded two years later.
It was during this time Great Britain was fighting one of her greatest wars, the war against French Emperor Napoleon. Napoleon was considered by many in the British service to be an existential threat to the home islands, and as such, Britain drew on a large number of imperial troops, manpower, and resources to fight Napoleon in Europe. The problem was they also drew on resources that didn’t belong to the Empire, namely, American sailors. Since many of the American sailors were born in Britain, they rationalized, they could be impressed into the Royal Navy from American merchant ships.
This didn’t sit well with the Americans. For that (and a host of other reasons, many of which were less than noble) the United States declared war on its old mother country. For Cochrane, Britain was now fighting a world war. When appointed commander of the North American station, Cochrane realized the immediate need for more men, so he resurrected his Colonial Marines.
Cochrane, creator of the Colonial Marines, also masterminded the burning of the White House.
Cochrane raised his new Colonial Marines in Florida, which served a strategic purpose, being so close to the former colonies. There, the unit was able to bolster the strength of British positions so close to Georgia and South Carolina. Its proximity to the land border of the U.S. also served to help raise men for the unit, taking in as many escaped slaves as it could train. The idea of an armed band of former slaves so close to the slaveholding South alarmed many in the former colonies.
The former slaves were lauded for their performance in combat by the Admiralty, who marveled at their discipline and ferocity. Colonial Marines participated in the Chesapeake Campaign during the War of 1812, which saw some of the heaviest fighting between the British and the Americans. This campaign included the Battles of Bladensburg, Baltimore, and Fort McHenry, as well as the burning of Washington. The Colonial Marines fought so well, it was said that Admiral George Cockburn preferred the Colonial Marines to regular Royal Navy Marines.
Francis Scott Key may have made references to Britain’s Colonial Marine force at Fort McHenry in “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The Colonial Marines were largely disbanded after the war’s end, but they weren’t abandoned. Some were still in the King’s service, being sent back to Britain or to Canada. Those who opted to leave the continental United States with the British forces were either in service on the island of Bermuda, or became civilian farmers, maintaining their status as free men.
For those who stayed in Florida after the war, the British allowed them to keep their fortifications and their arms, along with a substantial sum of money. But now that the war was over, Southern American slaveholders, still unhappy about the presence of a trained military force of armed former slaves so close to their homes decided to move on them. Under the command of Gen. Andrew Jackson, the Americans invaded Spanish Florida and burned the fort.
When you see them at airports, you probably don’t give them a second thought. Cessna aircraft are very common and are, typically, privately owned. But what you may not know is that the United States military — and a fair number of allies — used basic Cessnas for nearly a quarter-century. In fact, these planes saw service in both the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Now, the Department of Defense didn’t call them Cessnas. Their official designation was the L-19 (later the O-1) Bird Dog. The Army ordered this plane in the wake of the 1947 divorce with the Air Force (and the establishment of the 1948 Key West Agreement). At the time, the Army was looking for a scout plane that could also serve as an artillery spotter.
The Cessna design was slated for introduction in December, 1950. Just six months before then, the Korean War broke out — and the artillery spotter, though effective in its primary mission, quickly proved capable of much more, handing a variety of missions ranging from medical evacuations to general liaison.
One of the most famous O-1s — this plane made a landing on USS Midway (CV 41) as South Vietnam fell.
The Army and Marine Corps bought over 3,200 of these planes. While the planes proved useful in Korea, it was in Vietnam that they would become legends. There, the Bird Dogs were used by forward air controllers, or FACs, to accurately spot for close-air support. The jets bringing that support to troops on the ground were very fast. Without the guidance provided by the Bird Dogs (who had a much more clear view), they stood a greater chance of missing the intended target — in the worst cases, this resulted in landing air strikes on American troops.
The rockets this Bird dog packs aren’t to kill the enemy – they just provide an aiming point.
(US Air Force)
In Vietnam, the Bird Dog also acquired some armament in the form of rocket pods. These weren’t to attack enemy forces, but instead served as a means to mark targets for jets carrying the heavy firepower. Over 500 Bird Dogs were lost in Vietnam.
In 1974, the Air Force retired this plane, but it was passed down to other countries, including South Vietnam.
Watch the video below to learn how this unassuming airframe became a military legend in Vietnam!
You may know Chuck Yeager as the man who broke the sound barrier, but back in the 1980s, he was also pitching a new fighter jet — one that arguably would have been on par with some of today’s fighters.
That jet was the Northrop F-20 Tigershark. First known as the F-5G, it was a program to give American allies an advanced multi-role fighter to replace older F-5E/F Tiger IIs. The Tiger was a good plane, but arguably at a disadvantage against jets like the MiG-23 Flogger. The Soviet Union was also widely exporting the MiG-21 Fishbed and the world needed a response.
American allies had a problem, though. Under President Jimmy Carter, the United States would not release the F-15 Eagle or F-16 Fighting Falcon to many of them. Israel got lucky, and was able to buy the planes, but most other allies had to settle for something less capable. Northrop’s privately-funded venture fit the bill.
The F-20 replaced the two J85 turbojet engines typical of the F-5E with a single F404 turbofan, like those used on the F/A-18. It also had the ability to fire the AIM-7 Sparrow, a semi-active radar-guided missile. Northrop also got Chuck Yeager to serve as the pitchman.
The F-20 proved to be very easy to maintain, was cheap (aviation historian Joe Baugher notes that a $15 million per plane price tag was quoted), and had a number of advances that made it a capable interceptor. MilitaryFactory.com notes that the F-20 had a top speed of 1,500 miles per hour and a range of 1,715 miles. Three prototypes were built, and a fourth would have had more fuel capacity and the ability to use drop tanks.
The problem was, even with Chuck Yeager pitching it, the Air Force and Navy didn’t want the plane. The last chance for this plane’s success came and went when the Air National Guard declined to replace F-106 Delta Darts and F-4 Phantoms with it, opting instead for modified F-16s. Learn more about this fighter-that-could-have-been below:
The US Marine Corps has identified the six Marines who were killed when their planes crashed off the coast of Japan early December 2018.
On Dec. 6, 2018, an F/A-18 Hornet collided with a KC-130 aerial refueling tanker, sending both aircraft into the sea. Only one of the two fighter pilots walked away from the crash, and all five of the tanker crew members were lost. The lone survivor was released from the hospital Dec. 13, 2018.
Capt. Jahmar F. Resilard, a 28-year-old F/A-18 pilot, was declared deceased last Dec. 7, 2018, while American and Japanese forces continued to search for the KC-130 crew members, who were officially declared dead Dec. 11, 2018, when military search and rescue efforts concluded.
The five Marines who were killed serving aboard the aerial refueling tanker were Lt. Col. Kevin R. Herrmann, 38, Maj. James M. Brophy, 36, Staff Sgt. Maximo A. Flores, 27, Cpl. Daniel E. Baker, 21, and Cpl. William C. Ross, 21. The oldest member had served in the Marine Corps for 16 years. Three were married, two with children.
The Marines released the following video honoring the dead.
“It is with heavy hearts that we announce the names of our fallen Marines,” U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Mitchell T. Maury, the commanding officer for the Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 (VMGR-152), said in a statement Dec. 12, 2018. “They were exceptional aviators, Marines, and friends whom will be eternally missed. Our thoughts and prayers remain with their families and loved ones at this extremely difficult time.”
The Corps has suffered a number of deadly aviation mishaps in recent years, including a KC-130T crash in Mississippi last year that killed 15 Marines and a sailor.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Godzilla’s roar has long been considered one of cinema’s most iconic and recognizable sounds. Oft-copied or otherwise homaged, the original and rather unique roar terrified audience goers in the 1950s and has been built upon to dramatic effect in the numerous sequels and remakes since. So how did they actually make the original sound and where did the idea for Godzilla come from in the first place?
As for the idea behind the monster, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was looking for a project to work on after another film he was involved with got scrapped. Given the popularity of such films as King Kong among Japanese audiences, he decided to create a similarly themed movie. Except in this case, the monster would function as a not so subtle metaphor for the devastation of nuclear destruction and its radioactive aftermath ‚ hence Godzilla being a prehistoric creature awakened and energized by atomic explosions, and who in turn shoots a radioactive heat beam out of its mouth, leaving a wake of death and destruction, with many survivors in turn suffering from radiation sickness.
As for the final version of the creature itself (and, yes, while in Western versions Godzilla is generally referred to as a “he”, in the Japanese versions the creature is an “it”), before the iconic design we know today was settled on there were differing ideas on how to best realise the monster. An idea that was proposed early on before being eventually rejected was to make Godzilla resemble a large gorilla/whale hybrid, more or less mimicking the whole King Kong thing, but making the animal somewhat amphibious too. (Note here, the name Godzilla ultimately derives from the Japanese name “Gojira”, which is in turn a portmanteau of “whale” and “gorilla”.)
Behind the scenes photograph from the set of Godzilla Raids Again.
This whale/gorilla hybrid idea was initially proposed by Tanaka. However, when an artist was brought in to create a design for the creature based on this general idea, it was quickly rejected because the results ended up looking too human-like; they wanted something much more unique and ancient looking.
Switching it up, sculptor Teizo Toshimitsu and art director Akira Watanabe decided to base the design of Godzilla on that of dinosaur, specifically the T-Rex, with elements of other dinosaurs such as the Iguanodon and modern reptiles like the alligators thrown in. On top of that, to double down on the atomic radiation association, they put keloid scars all over its body, which would have been familiar to Japanese audiences, with these scars commonly showing up on survivors of the nuclear blasts.
As for Godzilla’s exaggerated dorsal fins, these originally were not meant to serve any purpose in the 1954 film, and were simply added to give the creature a more distinctive silhouette. However, it would ultimately be established that they can be used by Godzilla to absorb nearby radiation or even as a weapon.
After creating the monster, Godzilla needed a voice. As it was designed to be an unnatural combination of various creatures both alive and dead, the sound crew found it especially difficult to come up with something that worked for its roar. According to famed composer Akira Ifukube, who created both Godzilla’s roar, the sound of its footsteps, and composed the film’s soundtrack, sound engineers went to a local zoo and recorded the roars and cries of virtually every animal there to try to come up with something usable.
They then tried a number of combinations of these sounds to create something distinct, failing each time because the resulting roar always sounded too familiar. Ikufube notes that the engineers eventually got so desperate they even tried distorting the cries of random animals like herons to the point that they were unrecognisable, but nothing was satisfactory.
The problem, at least in Ikufube’s eyes, was that the roars of other animals, even when heavily distorted, still sounded too natural. What they really wanted was a unique sound like nothing ever heard from an animal before, but still animal-like, and a little terrifying. Thus, scrapping all the previous sounds, despite working under an incredibly tight deadline, Ikufube decided to look at other potential means to make the roar. For the solution, he states, “For the roar of Godzilla, I took out the lowest string of a contrabass and then ran a glove that had resin on it across the string…. The different kinds of roars were created by playing the recording of the sound that I’d made at different speeds.”
And just as a brief aside here when talking about the tight deadline in scoring movies in Japan at the time, when asked about whether his now iconic music for Godzilla was among his favorite compositions, Ikufube stated,
Unlike American film score composers, Japanese film score composers are given only three or four days in which to write the music for a movie. Because of this, I have almost always been very frustrated while writing a score. I therefore can’t select any of my scores as favorites.
Going back to the roar, the resin on the glove helped create the added friction needed while being dragged across the string to make a noticeably grating sound that would hopefully cause a feeling of unease in those who heard it— akin to nails on a chalkboard, but with a lot more depth.
Attempting to recreate some version of Ikufube’s sounds for the 2014 version, Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn, who created the new roar, stated, “We dissected that original roar and figured out exactly which key musically it was in, which is a C to D on the piano, and the finishing bellow that has the same notes on a lower octave. We figured out the timing, cadence and musical pitch of that original roar, and then started to experiment with different ways to re-create it.”
After a whopping six months of experimenting, they settled on a combination of sounds, though as to how they came up with them, they’ve promised to take that secret with them to the grave. Said Aadahl, “I think more so than any other sound effect we’ve designed, we have a certain protectiveness over that sound. It’s when you’re giving voice to something, you’re giving it its soul. And if we tell everybody exactly how we did it, people will think of that when they hear the roar, and we want them to think of Godzilla.”
Scene from Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
That said, what little they have revealed is that the sound, much like Ikufube’s, was the product of friction using something man-made, rather than modifying an animal sound. They also note that over the course of their experiments they played with things like car doors with rusty hinges, as well as rubbing the heads of drums, among other things. They further state they found that using the plastic sole from a hiking boot on the strings of a double bass produced the closest they could get to the original roar in their experiments.
During the course of all of this, to get an even more unique sound, Van der Ryn states, “We bought a microphone that was able to record above the range of human hearing. We started experimenting will all different types of sounds — sounds that we couldn’t actually hear when we were recording. But when we slowed them down into the human range of perception, we had an incredible palette of normally invisible sounds that people normally don’t get to hear.”
Finally, to get proper echo sounds, as well as what it would sound like from within a building or a car, etc. (basically different ways it might be heard in the final film), they managed to convince the band Rolling Stones to let them use their tour speakers. They then set everything up outside at various locations at Warner Brothers studios, and simply blared the roars at high volume and recorded the result from various other locations nearby.
Naturally, they got some complaints about this, with Aadahl stating, “The neighbors started tweeting, like, ‘Godzilla’s at my apartment door! And we were getting phone calls from Universal Studios across town, because tour groups were asking, ‘What’s all that commotion going on down in the valley?’ The sound that we were playing actually traveled over 3 miles… 100,000 watts of pure power.”
Going back to the original Godzilla, if you’re wondering about the aforementioned footstep sounds, according to Ikufube, the story behind those was,
One of Toho’s electrical engineers made a simplistic amplifying device some time before production on GODZILLA – KING OF THE MONSTERS got underway. It was just a box that had several coils connected to an amplifier and a speaker in it. When you struck it, the coils would vibrate, and a loud, shocking sound would be created. I accidentally stepped on the device while I was conducting the score for a movie that was produced shortly before GODZILLA – KING OF THE MONSTERS was made. I said, “What the heck is that?” when I heard the noise that was produced. When I was asked to create Godzilla’s footfalls, I decided to use the device.
Ever wonder how they made the sound effect for the lightsaber? Well, wonder no more, sound engineer Ben Burtt states, “In the booth where we projected the films… Those projectors would make a hum. They weren’t running, they were idling, the motors would just sit there with this kind of magical, mysterious humming sound that I thought was musical in a way and I thought that’s probably what a lightsaber would sound like… And I was searching for some other element, and I had a tape recorder with a broken mic cable that the shielding had come off of and when I walked passed a television set in my apartment it picked up the hum from the picture tube directly into the broken wire, and that made a buzz, and I thought, that’s a great buzz, that sounds dangerous… normally a sound person doesn’t want a buzz or a hum, but in this case a buzz and a hum was the answer.”
Moving on to the famous “Star Wars scream”, more properly known as the “Wilhelm Scream”, heard in hundreds of movies, this was created via the vocal talents of Sheb Wooley, perhaps better known for his hit 1958 song “Purple People Eater”. The genesis of the scream was that Wooley had an uncredited part in the first film the scream was heard in, a 1951 film called Distant Drums. At one point during the film, Captain Quincy is leading his soldiers through a swamp when one of them gets attacked and dragged under by an alligator, screaming in the process. During post-production recordings, Wooley recorded various vocal sound effects for the film, including a batch of screams.
So why was it dubbed the “Wilhelm Scream” if the man who did the scream was named Sheb Wooley? After being plucked from the Warner Brothers stock sound library, the scream was used in the 1953 film The Charge at Feather River, starring Guy Madison as Private Wilhelm. The sound effect is used when Private Wilhelm is shot in the thigh with an arrow. The scream was nicknamed “Wilhelm” from then on.
The Hollywood tradition / inside joke of purposefully using the Wilhelm scream in a variety of films began with aforementioned sound effects designer Ben Burtt, who worked on numerous films, including Star Wars as noted. He noticed the scream being used in certain Warner Brother’s films, such as Them in 1954, Helen of Troy in 1956, and The Green Berets in 1968. Burtt then began slipping the Wilhelm Scream into every movie he worked on, beginning with George Lucas’s Star Wars: A New Hope. And it just sort of caught on from there.
Mitsuo Fuchita was just shy of 40 years-old during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. When he took off in the observer’s deck of a Nakajima B5N2 ‘Kate’ torpedo bomber that day, he probably never imagined he would spend much of the rest of his life in the country he was set to destroy.
Commander Fuchita was in the lead plane of the first wave of bombers that hit Hawaii that day. He was the overall tactical commander in the air and led the attacks that destroyed American air power on the ground and crippled the Navy’s battleship force — a strike group of 353 aircraft from six Japanese carriers.
It was Mitsuo Fuchita who called the infamous words “Tora! Tora! Tora!” over the radio to the other Japanese planes.
He later wrote:
“Like a hurricane out of nowhere, my torpedo planes, dive bombers and fighters struck suddenly with indescribable fury. As smoke began to billow and the proud battleships, one by one, started tilting, my heart was almost ablaze with joy. During the next three hours, I directly commanded the fifty level bombers as they pelted not only Pearl Harbor, but the airfields, barracks and dry docks nearby. Then I circled at a higher altitude to accurately assess the damage and report it to my superiors.”
Fuchita next led the Japanese bombing of Darwin, the largest enemy attack ever wrought on Australia. He then led attacks on British Ceylon — now known as Sri Lanka — where he sank five Royal Navy ships.
He was still aboard the Akagi during the Battle of Midway, perhaps the most pivotal naval battle in American History.
When Midway began, Fuchita was below decks, recovering from appendicitis. He could not fly in his condition so he assisted other officers, coming up to the bridge during the fighting. When Akagi was evacuated that afternoon, Fuchita suffered two broken ankles as the bridge, already burning, exploded.
He was soon promoted to staff officer rank and spent the rest of the war on the Japanese home islands. Fuchita was even one of the inspectors who went to assess Hiroshima after the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city.
When WWII ended, he left the Navy and converted to Christianity after reading a pamphlet written by Jacob DeShazer, one of the Doolittle Raiders who was captured after the raid. He was converted by the pamphlet but was astonished upon meeting DeShazer a few years later.
He called the meeting his “day to remember,” referencing the attack on Pearl Harbor. The experience with the Doolittle Raider changed him “from a bitter, disillusioned ex-pilot into a well-balanced Christian with purpose in living,” Fuchita wrote after the war.
After his conversion, Fuchita toured the United States and Europe as a traveling missionary, regretting the loss of life he inflicted during the war. America, the country he attacked in 1941, eventually became his permanent residence. He wrote numerous books about his wartime experiences and conversion to Christianity.
Though he spent much of the rest of his life in the U.S., Mitsuo Fuchita died in Japan in 1973.
For five months in mid 2017, Emily Mason did the same thing every day. Arriving to her office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, she sat at her desk, opened up her computer, and stared at images of the Sun — all day, every day. “I probably looked through three or five years’ worth of data,” Mason estimated. Then, in October 2017, she stopped. She realized she had been looking at the wrong thing all along.
Mason, a graduate student at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., was searching for coronal rain: giant globs of plasma, or electrified gas, that drip from the Sun’s outer atmosphere back to its surface. But she expected to find it in helmet streamers, the million-mile tall magnetic loops — named for their resemblance to a knight’s pointy helmet — that can be seen protruding from the Sun during a solar eclipse. Computer simulations predicted the coronal rain could be found there. Observations of the solar wind, the gas escaping from the Sun and out into space, hinted that the rain might be happening. And if she could just find it, the underlying rain-making physics would have major implications for the 70-year-old mystery of why the Sun’s outer atmosphere, known as the corona, is so much hotter than its surface. But after nearly half a year of searching, Mason just couldn’t find it. “It was a lot of looking,” Mason said, “for something that never ultimately happened.”
The problem, it turned out, wasn’t what she was looking for, but where. In a paper published today in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, Mason and her coauthors describe the first observations of coronal rain in a smaller, previously overlooked kind of magnetic loop on the Sun. After a long, winding search in the wrong direction, the findings forge a new link between the anomalous heating of the corona and the source of the slow solar wind — two of the biggest mysteries facing solar science today.
Mason searched for coronal rain in helmet streamers like the one that appears on the left side of this image, taken during the 1994 eclipse as viewed from South America. A smaller pseudostreamer appears on the western limb (right side of image). Named for their resemblance to a knight’s pointy helmet, helmet streamers extend far into the Sun’s faint corona and are most readily seen when the light from the Sun’s bright surface is occluded.
Observed through the high-resolution telescopes mounted on NASA’s SDO spacecraft, the Sun – a hot ball of plasma, teeming with magnetic field lines traced by giant, fiery loops — seems to have few physical similarities with Earth. But our home planet provides a few useful guides in parsing the Sun’s chaotic tumult: among them, rain.
On Earth, rain is just one part of the larger water cycle, an endless tug-of-war between the push of heat and pull of gravity. It begins when liquid water, pooled on the planet’s surface in oceans, lakes, or streams, is heated by the Sun. Some of it evaporates and rises into the atmosphere, where it cools and condenses into clouds. Eventually, those clouds become heavy enough that gravity’s pull becomes irresistible and the water falls back to Earth as rain, before the process starts anew.
On the Sun, Mason said, coronal rain works similarly, “but instead of 60-degree water you’re dealing with a million-degree plasma.” Plasma, an electrically-charged gas, doesn’t pool like water, but instead traces the magnetic loops that emerge from the Sun’s surface like a rollercoaster on tracks. At the loop’s foot points, where it attaches to the Sun’s surface, the plasma is superheated from a few thousand to over 1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit. It then expands up the loop and gathers at its peak, far from the heat source. As the plasma cools, it condenses and gravity lures it down the loop’s legs as coronal rain.
Coronal rain, like that shown in this movie from NASA’s SDO in 2012, is sometimes observed after solar eruptions, when the intense heating associated with a solar flare abruptly cuts off after the eruption and the remaining plasma cools and falls back to the solar surface. Mason was searching for coronal rain not associated with eruptions, but instead caused by a cyclical process of heating and cooling similar to the water cycle on Earth.
(NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory/Scientific Visualization Studio/Tom Bridgman, Lead Animator)
Mason was looking for coronal rain in helmet streamers, but her motivation for looking there had more to do with this underlying heating and cooling cycle than the rain itself. Since at least the mid-1990s, scientists have known that helmet streamers are one source of the slow solar wind, a comparatively slow, dense stream of gas that escapes the Sun separately from its fast-moving counterpart. But measurements of the slow solar wind gas revealed that it had once been heated to an extreme degree before cooling and escaping the Sun. The cyclical process of heating and cooling behind coronal rain, if it was happening inside the helmet streamers, would be one piece of the puzzle.
The other reason connects to the coronal heating problem — the mystery of how and why the Sun’s outer atmosphere is some 300 times hotter than its surface. Strikingly, simulations have shown that coronal rain only forms when heat is applied to the very bottom of the loop. “If a loop has coronal rain on it, that means that the bottom 10% of it, or less, is where coronal heating is happening,” said Mason. Raining loops provide a measuring rod, a cutoff point to determine where the corona gets heated. Starting their search in the largest loops they could find — giant helmet streamers — seemed like a modest goal, and one that would maximize their chances of success.
She had the best data for the job: Images taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, a spacecraft that has photographed the Sun every twelve seconds since its launch in 2010. But nearly half a year into the search, Mason still hadn’t observed a single drop of rain in a helmet streamer. She had, however, noticed a slew of tiny magnetic structures, ones she wasn’t familiar with. “They were really bright and they kept drawing my eye,” said Mason. “When I finally took a look at them, sure enough they had tens of hours of rain at a time.”
At first, Mason was so focused on her helmet streamer quest that she made nothing of the observations. “She came to group meeting and said, ‘I never found it — I see it all the time in these other structures, but they’re not helmet streamers,'” said Nicholeen Viall, a solar scientist at Goddard, and a coauthor of the paper. “And I said, ‘Wait…hold on. Where do you see it? I don’t think anybody’s ever seen that before!'”
A measuring rod for heating
These structures differed from helmet streamers in several ways. But the most striking thing about them was their size.
“These loops were much smaller than what we were looking for,” said Spiro Antiochos, who is also a solar physicist at Goddard and a coauthor of the paper. “So that tells you that the heating of the corona is much more localized than we were thinking.”
Mason’s article analyzed three observations of Raining Null-Point Topologies, or RNTPs, a previously overlooked magnetic structure shown here in two wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light. The coronal rain observed in these comparatively small magnetic loops suggests that the corona may be heated within a far more restricted region than previously expected.
(NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory/Emily Mason)
While the findings don’t say exactly how the corona is heated, “they do push down the floor of where coronal heating could happen,” said Mason. She had found raining loops that were some 30,000 miles high, a mere two percent the height of some of the helmet streamers she was originally looking for. And the rain condenses the region where the key coronal heating can be happening. “We still don’t know exactly what’s heating the corona, but we know it has to happen in this layer,” said Mason.
A new source for the slow solar wind
But one part of the observations didn’t jibe with previous theories. According to the current understanding, coronal rain only forms on closed loops, where the plasma can gather and cool without any means of escape. But as Mason sifted through the data, she found cases where rain was forming on open magnetic field lines. Anchored to the Sun at only one end, the other end of these open field lines fed out into space, and plasma there could escape into the solar wind. To explain the anomaly, Mason and the team developed an alternative explanation — one that connected rain on these tiny magnetic structures to the origins of the slow solar wind.
In the new explanation, the raining plasma begins its journey on a closed loop, but switches — through a process known as magnetic reconnection — to an open one. The phenomenon happens frequently on the Sun, when a closed loop bumps into an open field line and the system rewires itself. Suddenly, the superheated plasma on the closed loop finds itself on an open field line, like a train that has switched tracks. Some of that plasma will rapidly expand, cool down, and fall back to the Sun as coronal rain. But other parts of it will escape – forming, they suspect, one part of the slow solar wind.
Mason is currently working on a computer simulation of the new explanation, but she also hopes that soon-to-come observational evidence may confirm it. Now that Parker Solar Probe, launched in 2018, is traveling closer to the Sun than any spacecraft before it, it can fly through bursts of slow solar wind that can be traced back to the Sun — potentially, to one of Mason’s coronal rain events. After observing coronal rain on an open field line, the outgoing plasma, escaping to the solar wind, would normally be lost to posterity. But no longer. “Potentially we can make that connection with Parker Solar Probe and say, that was it,” said Viall.
Digging through the data
As for finding coronal rain in helmet streamers? The search continues. The simulations are clear: the rain should be there. “Maybe it’s so small you can’t see it?” said Antiochos. “We really don’t know.”
But then again, if Mason had found what she was looking for she might not have made the discovery — or have spent all that time learning the ins and outs of solar data.
“It sounds like a slog, but honestly it’s my favorite thing,” said Mason. “I mean that’s why we built something that takes that many images of the Sun: So we can look at them and figure it out.”
This article originally appeared on NASA. Follow @NASA on Twitter.
Mohammed bin Salman’s elevation to crown prince of Saudi Arabia in 2017 set the stage for him to pursue aggressive policies that included confrontations with many rivals around the region.
But changes to the royal line of succession and decisions by the 32-year-old crown prince at home and abroad have undermined the kingdom’s longstanding stability and left him in doubt about his own safety, according to Bruce Riedel, the director of the Brookings Institution’s Intelligence Project.
Prince Mohammed is reportedly aware of the growing enmity.
“Fearing for his security, the crown prince is said to spend many nights on his half-billion-dollar yacht moored in Jeddah,” Riedel wrote for Al-Monitor, where he is a columnist.
Prince Mohammed reportedly dropped a half-billion dollars on the 440-foot-long yacht, named Serene, in late 2016 after spotting it while vacationing in the south of France.
He bought it from a Russian billionaire who moved out the day the deal was signed, and the vessel includes two helipads, an indoor climbing wall, a fully equipped spa, and three swimming pools.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud.
(DoD photo by Glenn Fawcett)
But Prince Mohammed bought it as he helped push severe austerity at home, including major spending cuts and a freeze on government contracts. Such spending is often used to quell dissent.
“It’s a floating palace longer than a football field and with many perks,” Riedel wrote of the yacht. “It is also a potential escape hatch.”
‘A foolish and dangerous approach’
The main foreign-policy issues that have raised ire toward Prince Mohammed are the now four-year-old war in Yemen — his signature initiative — and the blockade of Qatar.
Criticism of Prince Mohammed’s bloody and disastrous war in Yemen, which has subjected many Yemenis to famine and disease, has been brewing inside Saudi Arabia for months, according to Riedel.
A video of Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz — the half-brother of King Salman, the father of Prince Mohammed — publicly blaming Prince Mohammed for the war went viral in the kingdom in September 2018.
Saudi Arabia’s turn on Qatar reportedly came as a surprise to many US officials, frustrating them even as US President Donald Trump castigated the Qataris. The blockade has been unwelcome within Saudi Arabia — one cleric has been arrested and faces execution for criticizing it — and has split the Gulf Cooperation Council, Riedel wrote.
Prince Mohammed’s roundup of powerful business executives and members of the royal family in 2017 may have been his biggest domestic miscalculation. It spooked investors and led to capital flight, diminishing confidence in Prince Mohammed’s ability to manage economic issues.
President Donald Trump meets with Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, and members of his delegation, March 14, 2017.
(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
Among the dozens of businessmen and princes who were arrested was Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, the leader of the Saudi national guard, the kingdom’s premier fighting force, which, along with the campaign in Yemen, may further alienate Prince Mohammed from the military.
The removal of Prince Mutaib was seen as likely to stir discontent, and Salman’s moves, particularly the roundup, have fed the impression inside the kingdom of Salman “as someone who has disturbed the status quo for the sake of massive personal enrichment and political aggrandizement,” according to Rosie Bsheer, a history professor at Yale.
Salman remains the most likely heir as long as his father is alive, but his actions have helped make the kingdom the least stable it has been in 50 years, according to Riedel. Should King Salman, now 81, die in the near future, succession could be disputed, and the process to appoint the next king could turn violent.
“The Trump administration has given Saudi Arabia a blank check and supports its war in Yemen,” Riedel wrote. “The crown prince has been touted by the White House. It’s a foolish and dangerous approach.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
At this spot on the western side of the Dnieper River in central Ukraine, some 30,000 Soviet soldiers died under Nazi artillery during World War II. Yet, on this hot June day, there’s nothing to suggest that this particular place was once on the deadliest front of the deadliest war in human history.
“What horrors happened here,” says my 55-year-old Ukrainian father-in-law, Valeriy Deriy, who is a Red Army veteran of the Cold War. “Can you imagine?”
We’ve hired a zodiac boat for the day, embarking from a yacht club in the riverside town of Horishni Plavni. To get to the so-called Island of Death, our captain weaves through narrow, overgrown channels that branch off the main course of the Dnieper River.
Tucked away in a dense forest on the island, there’s an old Soviet war memorial. You’d hardly notice it from the water, unless you knew what to look for. Valeriy explains that one can still find evidence of war in the surrounding woods. Old artillery pieces, bullets, rifles, and boots. That sort of stuff.
“Some people want to forget the past. But it’s impossible,” he tells me. “It’s always there.”
Between August and December 1943, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union fought the battle for the Dnieper River. It was one of World War II’s largest battles, comprising some 4 million soldiers stretched along a nearly 900-mile-long front.
After Nazi Germany’s defeat at the Battle of Kursk, the Soviets pressed their advantage and pushed the Nazis back across Ukraine. The third longest river in Europe, the Dnieper — which runs roughly north to south down the middle of Ukraine to the Black Sea — was a natural physical obstacle for the advancing Red Army.
The Nazis took to the heights on the western bank to set up their artillery, which they used to devastating effect. The Red Army crossed the river under heavy fire, improvising makeshift means to get across. Soviet losses were staggering — accounts vary, but roughly 400,000 Red Army soldiers died in the Dnieper River battle of 1943.
The Other Side
Earlier, Valeriy and I stand at a spot on the opposite, eastern bank of the Dnieper River.
“My great-grandfather said the water ran red with blood in the war,” Valeriy says as we stand on the riverbank, looking to the other side.
Valeriy explains that his great-grandfather fought in that Dnieper River battle, and he crossed the river at this very spot. Right where we’re standing. I’m left a bit speechless.
His great-grandfather couldn’t swim, Valeriy continues, but Soviet commanders would have him shot if he’d refused the crossing. So he held on to a log for flotation and kicked his way across. Somehow, he survived.
“It was October, and the water was already very cold,” Valeriy says, shaking his head. “What a nightmare.”
Today, at this spot where so many died in World War II, there’s a simple old Soviet memorial crumbling, halfway reclaimed by the forest. A dilapidated Soviet tank and artillery piece sit in the foliage, too. But that’s it. You have to rely on your imagination to appreciate what happened here.
There’s not a cloud in the sky and the hot breeze feels good on my face. On a day like this, it’s hard to appreciate what happened here about 77 years ago. I can hardly imagine the fear felt by Soviet soldiers as they stood at that same spot on the river shore, looking to the far side like lost souls about to cross the River Styx.
And then I remember what it was like to stare across no man’s land in eastern Ukraine. I remember the fear I felt under the Russian artillery and sniper shots. And I imagine, at least a little, what those Soviet soldiers must have felt.
The trench lines in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region — where Ukrainian troops have fought a war since 2014 to keep a Russian invasion force at bay — are only about five hours away by car. We could be there by dinner, if we wanted to.
True, we’re much too far from the trenches to hear the daily rumble of battle, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The war is always there.
Standing on the riverbank, Valeriy says to me: “History has been hard on Ukraine. But things will get better. We’re fighting for our democracy, just like your country did. And we’ll win it, too. Just like you did. I still have hope that my daughter and my grandchildren will see an amazing, free Ukraine.”
Still looking across the river, facing the same divide his great-grandfather once faced, Valeriy adds: “We’ll get there.”
Valeriy never served in Afghanistan. He was posted instead to East Germany and worked in signals intelligence, a specialty that paved the way for his future civilian career as a German language interpreter.
“It was an unwritten rule in the Soviet army that only one brother would have to be in Afghanistan at a time,” Valeriy explains. “And my brother went in my place.”
Valeriy’s older brother, Sergiy, was drafted into the Red Army and served in the war in Afghanistan from 1982 to 1984.
In fact, both brothers had volunteered for the war. But their mother had secretly gone to military officials and asked that only one son be allowed to go. Sergiy ultimately volunteered without Valeriy’s knowledge. It wasn’t until their mother died in December 2012 that Valeriy learned the truth.
Sergiy was a sergeant in a signals unit deployed near the Salang Tunnel in the Hindu Kush Mountains. The combat he experienced was terrible, Sergiy tells me, but he doesn’t go into much detail about the war very often. And when he does, his eyes adopt a distinctly distant look, as if he’s looking past me, in an attempt to articulate memories that no words could ever really recreate.
Today, both Deriy brothers live in the town of Horishni Plavi — it’s where my wife, Lilya, grew up.
On a warm June afternoon, our family gathers at a park by the Dnieper River to grill shashlik — Ukraine’s version of a barbecue. Both Sergiy and Valeriy are wearing NASA baseball caps, gifts from me and my wife.
It’s the first time we’ve all been together since the coronavirus lockdown was lifted on June 5, and we’re in good spirits. We make toast after toast until our legs are a little wobbly. We’ve brought along an iPhone speaker and grill the meat while we cycle through a playlist of staple rock hits — songs by bands like the Scorpions, Led Zeppelin, Metallica. That’s my in-laws’ favorite kind of music. Mine too.
We end up cooking more meat than we could ever hope to eat in a day. And we maintain a steady pace with the cognac toasts. And, as it’s prone to do, the conversation between Valeriy, Sergiy, and myself returns to the ongoing war in Ukraine’s east.
“The Russians were never our friends. Stalin invaded us, and now Putin has, too,” Sergiy says. “The only county that ever really cared about us was the United States.”
“We’ll never forget what your country has done for us,” he adds, speaking specifically about America’s delivery of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.
Then Valeriy abruptly stands.
“Please,” he says, beckoning me to shake his hand, “I want to shake the hand of a citizen of the country that put a man on the moon.”
I stand and shake my father-in-law’s hand and feel proud of my country. And I’m particularly proud that he’s proud of my county, too.
A generation ago, we would have been enemies. Our countries were poised at opposite ends of the earth, ready to unleash nuclear Armageddon to destroy one another.
Today, we are a family.
No One Forgets
Located on the east bank of the Dnieper River, roughly 190 miles southeast of Kyiv, Horishni Plavni was founded by Soviet youth volunteers in 1960 as a place to live for workers in the nearby iron-ore mines.
Originally, the city’s name was “Komsomolsk,” a reference to the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League, or “Komsomol.” The town was renamed Horishni Plavni in 2016 as part of Ukraine’s decommunization laws—a set of measures that went into effect in 2015 to curb Russia’s cultural influence.
Across the country, all Soviet-era names of settlements and roads have been changed to new Ukrainian ones. All reminders and relics of the Soviet Union have been removed or made illegal — including playing the Soviet national anthem and displays of the hammer and sickle flag.
Horishni Plavni’s main thoroughfare was once called Lenin Street. Now it’s named Heroes of the Dnieper River Street. The statue of Vladimir Lenin that once stood in the city center is gone. Only an empty pedestal remains — a common sight in Ukraine these days.
Yet you can’t totally erase the past. World War II is too deeply ingrained in Ukraine’s national psyche, and its physical environment, to ever be forgotten.
Soviet-era war memorials still stand around Horishni Plavni. At a riverside park, children play on the marble ramps of a towering, Soviet-era war memorial. In a nearby field, a row of Soviet tanks are on permanent display. Teenagers sit in the shade of the turrets and drink beer and listen to music.
Despite all their years living under Soviet propaganda, my father-in-law and uncle-in-law have a surprisingly pro-American perspective on the war.
“The Soviet Union could have never won without American help under lend-lease,” Valeriy tells me, referring to the American policy from 1941 to 1945 to provide materiel assistance to the Soviet Union’s war effort.
“And thank God the Allies landed in France,” Valeriy adds. “Otherwise Stalin would have taken over all of Europe.”
No War Ever Ends
After our shashlik picnic is over, Sergiy visits his brother’s apartment, where my wife and I are staying. He brings with him a photo album from his time in the Soviet army, including his deployment to Afghanistan in the 1980s.
I’m thrilled to have a look and listen to his stories from the war.
Sergiy recalls how his commander in Afghanistan justified the Soviet war by the need to defend the Soviet Union from U.S. nuclear missile strikes.
“We were told that America was evil, and that we were fighting in Afghanistan to defend the world from America,” Sergiy tells me. “It was all a lie, of course.”
Incredibly, Sergiy bears no ill will toward the country — my country — that was responsible for the death of many of his comrades.
“The Soviet Union did the same to America in Vietnam,” Sergiy says of America’s covert effort from 1979 to 1989 to arm and finance Afghanistan’s mujahideen fighters to fight against the Soviets. “It was the Cold War, and we were enemies. And that’s what enemies do to each other.”
Now, Sergiy has welcomed me — an American veteran of another war in Afghanistan — into his family with open arms. More than that, I’d even say that Sergiy and I share a special bond because we share a common battlefield. We remember the same places, and in some cases, the same enemies. Sometimes, as I’ve learned, former enemies actually have more in common with each other than they do with their fellow citizens who know nothing about war.
As he goes through the old photos, Sergiy’s face flashes with various contradictory emotions. Pride and pain. Nostalgia and regret. For Sergiy, war was both the worst and the best experience of his life. Therein lies that great paradox that faces all soldiers who’ve home to live in peace.
If war was so terrible, why do we sometimes miss it?
Sergiy, for his part, remembers his friends from the army fondly. But there’s a dark cloud, too, that hangs over every good memory.
“The Soviet Union lied to me. They lied to all of us,” Sergiy says as he flips through the photo album’s pages.
He pinches his lips and slowly shakes his head.
“They wasted so many lives,” he adds.
Soldiers rarely fight for the reasons dictated to them by the governments that send them to battle. Rather, once the bullets start flying, a simple sense of duty to defend one’s friends, and to not disappoint their expectations, is what inspires one to act courageously.
Yet, once soldiers are separated from their wars for a while — either by time or by distance — the moral clarity of duty may erode, leading them to question the justice of their individual actions in combat. The simple kill-or-be-killed morality of combat no longer shields them from thoughtfully considering the consequences of the things they did in war.
In many ways, life in peace is much more complicated than life in war. That was certainly true for my uncle-in-law. Although Sergiy came through the war in Afghanistan physically unscathed, he was left irrevocably jaded about Soviet communism.
In 1985, just a year after his discharge from the Soviet Army, Sergiy began law studies at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine’s premier university.
“I felt so at peace. Finally, no war, no suffering. Only a bright future,” Sergiy recalls of his arrival in Ukraine’s capital city to begin his studies.
But it didn’t last. In April 1986, an explosion ripped through reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
The Chernobyl plant is located only about 60 miles north of Kyiv. And so, spooked by the threat of radiation, Sergiy was unsure whether he should stay in Kyiv to finish his law degree. The reborn optimism and happiness he’d felt just a year earlier, fresh from his wartime service, quickly gave way to feelings remembered from the war — dark feelings that he’d wanted to forget forever.
“When I was in Afghanistan, I always felt like death was chasing me,” Sergiy remembers. “And when I came back to Ukraine, I thought I could be free from that fixation on death. But Chernobyl happened, and here death finally caught me. A long and painful death. I remember I said to myself, ‘How ironic, death didn’t catch me in the war, but it did in civilian life.'”
Sergiy ultimately stayed in Kyiv to finish his law degree. After graduating from law school in 1991, he returned to his hometown of Horishni Plavni (then called Komsomolsk). The Soviet Union broke apart that year, further upending his world.
When Ukraine’s economy subsequently collapsed in the 1990s, Sergiy ultimately abandoned his law career and took up work as a hired hand. It was his only option to make a living. He never went back to practicing law.
My uncle-in-law, who is a devoutly religious man, has struggled with his demons from Afghanistan. And his family life has had its ups and downs. But he’s never given up hope for his country, even as Ukraine has gone through revolutions and an unfinished war to finally free itself from Russian overlordship.
“I try to stay positive, despite everything that’s happened to our country,” Sergiy says. “It would be so wrong not to believe in our future. I always have hope. It’s just a matter of time. Our future generations will be truly happy and free.”
As young men, Soviet propaganda told Valeriy and Sergiy that America was their mortal enemy. Yet, as older men, they’ve both shown the remarkable moral courage to abandon their former worldviews and embrace the promise of democracy.
Above all else, Valeriy and Sergiy now believe in the justice of freedom and democracy rather than conformity and communism. And the two Red Army veterans wholeheartedly believe that the United States is a force for good and a beacon of hope for freedom-loving people around the world.
It’s true that history hasn’t been kind to Ukraine, and my in-laws have not led easy lives.
Yet in spite of everything, their faith in America remains unbroken. And, with America’s promise lighting the way, they still extoll the justice of their own country’s democratic path, no matter its attendant hardships.
In the end, they choose to reject their Soviet past but not forget it. When the work of building a democracy gets tough, as it so often does, they look to the past to remember what they’re working so hard to achieve.
“Democracy hasn’t been easy, but I’d rather live as a free man than go back to the way things were before,” my father-in-law says.
Freedom, after all, usually means more to people who’ve experienced the alternative.