Two months after a U.S. drone strike killed a preeminent Iranian general, the Pentagon’s top two military leaders said President Donald Trump made the right decision, one that has deterred Iran’s terrorist activities in the region.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that it was the right call to kill Iranian Quds Force leader Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, describing him as a “terrorist leader of a terrorist organization that killed many, many Americans, wounded thousands more.”
Sen. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, said she agreed with the decision to carry out the Jan. 2 missile strike on Soleimani’s vehicle in Baghdad and asked Esper to talk about how the attack has affected Iran.
“It’s now been two months. Can you share at all what you have seen?” McSally asked. “I believe we have heard from you and others that it was a body blow, the impact that that is having on Iran’s terrorist activities.”
Esper said it’s clear that “taking him off the battlefield has set back the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] and the Iranian government with regard to spreading their malign activity through the region.”
“I think at the same action, we have restored deterrence to a degree,” he said. “And so, for all those things, I still believe it was the right call made by the commander in chief.”
Iran retaliated for the death of Soleimani by firing 15 ballistic missiles at Al Asad Air Base, an installation in Iraq that houses U.S. troops. There were no immediate casualties in the attack, but since then more than 100 U.S. service members have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury from the concussive effects of the missiles.
At the hearing, Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, asked Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley to reflect on the decision to carry out the strike on Soleimani.
“We all know General Soleimani wasn’t in Iraq on vacation,” Sullivan said. “He was there targeting the killing of more American service members, which he has a long history of doing.”
Milley responded by saying, “I believe the intelligence was compelling; I believe it was imminent” of Soleimani’s “command-and-control role and what he was about to do.”
“I believe that I, Secretary Esper, the president and many others would have been culpably negligent had we not taken the action we did … because I think many Americans would have died as a result,” Milley added. “I believe it was the right thing to do then, and I still believe that. And I believe we contributed to reestablishing deterrence of aggressive action from Iran.”
In the aftermath of the Soleimani strike, the Pentagon ordered thousands of soldiers and Marines to the Middle East to prepare for future Iranian aggression.
When Chad Hennings won the top award for College Football’s best inside lineman in 1987, it significantly raised his stock for the NFL draft. He would need it. Despite being the best in the game in his day, he still wasn’t drafted until the 11th round. The reason is that Hennings played football at the Air Force Academy, and would have to serve four years in the military before he could pursue his NFL dreams.
He wouldn’t have to do that today. Defense Secretary Mark Esper just signed a new memo, laying out the guidelines newly-graduated academy athletes need to pursue professional sports careers instead of entering the military.
Hennings spent four years as a pilot and would actually get his last four years waived by the Air Force. By the time he got to the Dallas Cowboys, he was already 27 years old – almost elderly by NFL standards. Luckily for Hennings, he really was one of the best linemen ever to play the game. After his first start in 1992, he went on to win three Super Bowls and snag 27.5 sacks before retiring after the 2000 season. But other athletes weren’t so lucky.
The issue of letting service members who can play at a professional level attempt that dream has been hotly debated by both pro sports fans and policymakers in Washington. The NCAA is big business now, and the NFL is even bigger, generating 5 million and .1 billion in annual revenues, respectively. The pressure to maintain popular talent is definitely on, but the service academies mean more than just big bucks for big-time athletes. They’re supposed to, anyway. There are many who are against the idea.
One in particular.
Before the Obama Administration, academy athletes were required to fulfill their service obligations. The Obama Administration allowed academy athletes to defer their service if they were good enough to be drafted by the NFL. Shortly after Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds was allowed to be drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2016, the Pentagon rescinded that policy. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis believed the academies “exist to develop future officers,” and those trained officers should fulfill the expectations of their education.
President Trump stepped in in June 2019, saying there was such a short window of talent between their college career and potential professional sports careers, that academy athletes should be allowed to try and take advantage. On Nov. 15, 2019, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper signed a memo that dictates what the athletes must do to try and take advantage – which includes getting permission from the SECDEF and either serving their commitment or paying the government back for their education.
These days, academy grads usually owe the military five years of service after graduation. Under the new athletics policy, once permission is obtained from the Secretary of Defense, the athlete must agree to return to the military and serve those five years. The waiver is then reviewed by the DoD every year while the athlete is in his pro sports position. If they can’t pass the medical standards when they get to the military, they’ll serve five years in a civilian job. If they don’t do either of those, they’ll be charged for their education.
It’s not impossible for service academy grads to serve first and then join the NFL. In addition to the Cowboys’ Chad Hennings, Navy’s Roger Staubach, Mike Wahle, and Phil McConkey as well Army’s Glenn Davis and Alejandro Villanueva all had successful NFL careers after serving their obligations.
Zeppelins, as it turns out, are slightly more durable than your average dollar store water balloon. Maybe that’s why they were a staple of the U.S. military of the time. The Hindenburg Disaster aside, 20th-Century airships were built to go the distance – and they did.
The United States was the only power to use airships during World War II, and they used them to great effect. Some 89,000 ocean-going ships were escorted by K-series airships during the war, and only one was lost to the enemy, the Panamanian oil tanker Persephone. The U.S. used them in both theaters of war, conducting minesweeping, search and rescue, photographic reconnaissance, scouting, escort convoy, and anti-submarine patrol missions.
The massive hanger No. 2 near Tustin, California filled with six airships. Each airship is nearly 250 feet long.
For their anti-submarine missions, K-class airships were equipped with two .50-caliber Browning M2 machine guns and 4 Mark-47 depth charges. The ships flew on helium (the Hindenburg was filled with hydrogen, and thus became a fireball), which the United States had a monopoly on at the time, and was able to operate them safely. Airships were not just a child’s balloon, they were made with solid, vulcanized rubber to hold air in. But just shooting a blimp wouldn’t take it down, their gas bags were much more effective and could take a few shots.
Other airships that were used by all forces included barrage balloons. These unmanned aerial vehicles pulled double duty in both obscuring the target cities or ships from incoming fighters and bombers while protecting the area around them using the metal tethers that kept them attached to the earth. The tethers would tear through enemy aircraft as they attempted to buzz by the balloons.
A Navy K-class airship at Gibraltar, 1944. The 1400-foot Rock of Gibraltar is in background.
For the entire duration of the war, only one K-ship was ever lost to the enemy. K-74 was shot down by a German U-boat in the Straits of Florida in 1943. Of the 10-man crew who went down in the airship, nine survived, and the only lost crewman was eaten by a shark awaiting rescue. The U-boat was assaulted by Allied bombers trying to limp back to Germany and was sunk.
The Navy continued to use blimps to patrol the American coastline until 1962, despite their unique abilities to stay aloft for more than a day at a stretch and the ability to sniff out submarines better than any alternative at the time. The U.S. even tested the effects of a nuclear blast on its K-ships, believing it could be armed with nuclear depth charges.
A hacker who got ahold of sensitive US military documents tried to sell them on a dark-web forum — only to find there were no buyers. The hacker was forced to lower his price to $150.
After a team of undercover analysts from Recorded Future’s Insikt Group embedded themselves with users from the dark-web forum, they came across the hacker who exploited a simple vulnerability on Netgear-brand routers.
Through this exploit, the hacker gained access to documents belonging to a US Air Force service member stationed at the Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, and documents belonging to another service member believed to be in the US Army.
The sensitive files included a maintenance manual for the MQ-9A Reaper drone, a list of airmen assigned to a Reaper drone unit, manuals on how to suppress improvised explosive devices, and an M1 Abrams tank manual.
Although the materials do not appear to be classified, the information was still prohibited from being “released to another nation without specific authority” and was intended for “military purposes only.”
The hacker also tapped into live footage of surveillance cameras at the US-Mexico border and NASA bases, and an MQ-1 Predator flying over the Gulf of Mexico.
The MQ-9A Reaper
(U.S. Air Force photo)
The hacker claimed to have stolen “classified” information from the Pentagon, but Insikt Group’s analysts say their interactions with the hacker painted a less sophisticated picture. After building a rapport with other users on the dark-web forum, analysts chatted with the hacker and discovered he possessed “above amateur” abilities and may have been part of a group within a larger group.
“I wouldn’t say that they possess skills of highly advanced threat-actors,” Andrei Barysevich, a researcher at Recorded Future, told Business Insider. “They have enough knowledge to realize the potential of a very simple vulnerability and use it consistently.”
Analysts say they have a “good level of confidence” of the hacker’s identity, and are coordinating with Homeland Security officials in their investigation. A DHS representative declined to comment on the matter and the affected Air Force drone unit did not respond to requests for comment.
He didn’t fear the Reaper
The hacker may not have been fully aware of the nature of the information he possessed. At one point, he complained that he was unable to find interested buyers for the files — which he believed were highly valuable. He ultimately lowered his price.
“I expect about 0 or 0 for being classified information” he said, according to a transcript.
In an attempt to make a quick sale, he was also “proactive in giving” samples to analysts, which in turn allowed them to determine whom the documents were stolen from.
“[It] clearly shows he had no knowledge of how much this data may cost and where and whom to sell it to,” analyst Barysevich said. “He was attempting to get rid of it as soon as possible.”
After Barysevich’s team alerted US officials, the vulnerable computers were taken offline. That move ultimately cut off the hacker’s access to the files.
The hacker, who is believed to live in a poverty-stricken country in South America, said his internet connection was slow and that, because his bandwidth was limited, he did not download as much information as he had hoped to, prior to finding a willing buyer.
Instead, he relied on screenshots and shared them with the analysts, who say they believe he was still unable to find a buyer.
A password impasse
The Netgear router vulnerability, which dates back to 2016, allowed hackers to access private files remotely if a user’s password is outdated. Despite several firmware updates and countless news articles on the subject, thousands of routers remain vulnerable.
A simple search on Shodan, a search engine for devices connected to the internet, reveals more than 4,000 routers that are susceptible to the attack.
“We’re literally talking about thousands of systems,” Barysevich said. “And many of them appear to be operated by government employees.”
Hackers, like the one Barysevich’s team encountered, would scan large segments of the internet by country, identify which routers would have a standard port used by private servers, and then use the default password to discover private files.
It’s difficult to match the contents of the files with their owners, but that’s not exactly the point. It’s a brute-force method with only one goal in mind: to find valuable data and exploit it.
“Sadly, very few understand the importance of properly securing wireless access points [WAP], and even fewer use strong passwords and understand how to spot phishing emails,” Recorded Future said in a report.
“The fact that a single hacker with moderate technical skills was able to identify several vulnerable military targets and exfiltrate highly sensitive information in a week’s time is a disturbing preview of what a more determined and organized group with superior technical and financial resources could achieve.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
As President Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam to defuse one potential nuclear showdown, America’s perennial rival Russia is upping the ante on the new Cold War’s latest arms race: hypersonic nuclear weapons.
It doesn’t help that a Cold War-era nuclear arms limitation treaty is also in the midst of being dismantled by both the United States and Russia. In recent days, the U.S. has accused the Russians of repeatedly violating the Intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty, going so far as threatening to pull out of it entirely. Russia vowed a “tit-for-tat” response to the American declaration.
And now the Russian media are entering the discussion.
No, not the Trololo Guy.
According to the Wall Street Journal, one of Russia’s most influential state-run media channels boasted about the Kremlin’s first strike capabilities against the United States during its Sunday night prime-time recap of the news of the week. The Kremlin mouthpiece specifically mentioned that precision strikes against the Pentagon and Camp David could hit the United States in less than five minutes.
They also mentioned that a U.S. response to the attack would take another 10 to 12 minutes. The Russians cite this advantage due to their positioning of Russian missile subs carrying Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missiles.
A Tsirkon cruise missile during a test fire.
The Tsirkon missile was first successfully tested in 2015 and has since been developed to reach speeds of eight times the speed of sound. Its operational range is upwards of 300 miles or more. Being so close to the U.S. and capable of such speed would make it difficult to intercept with current U.S. ballistic missile technology. The missile travels covered by a plasma cloud which both absorbs radio waves and makes it invisible to radar, according to Russian military sources.
Tsirkon missiles are at the center of the newly heightened tensions between the two powers. Washington contends the Tsirkon violates the 1987 INF Treaty, along with several other missiles developed by the Russians in the years since. When Washington threatened to redeploy short- and medium-range nuclear forces in Europe, it was too much for Russian state media. That’s when they began lashing out and naming targets.
Other potential targets listed included Jim Creek, a naval communications base in Washington, as well as the Pentagon. Camp David is the traditional vacation home of the sitting American President, and was a clear shot at President Trump. There was no mention of Trump’s Florida Mar-a-Lago resort, where he spends much of his free time.
An active-duty US Marine captain wrote a stinging op-ed for the Marine Corps Gazette, going through all the problems he sees with the Department of Defense and the Marine Corps in addition to recent failures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The biggest problem, according to Capt. Joshua Waddell, is “self-delusion.”
“Let us first begin with the fundamental underpinnings of this delusion: our measures of performance and effectiveness in recent wars,” he wrote. “It is time that we, as professional military officers, accept the fact that we lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The active-duty infantry officer, who served with and lost Marines under his command with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, in Afghanistan, didn’t come to this conclusion lightly. He said it took several years for him to accept that, with the goal of improving the system.
A case in point, he says, is a comparison of the US military with other adversaries.
The Pentagon’s budget dwarfs the combined defense spending of the next 10 countries. The Army and Marine Corps are arguably the best-trained fighting forces in the world. The Air Force has the most high-tech aircraft and weaponry, while the Navy maintains nearly 20 aircraft carriers — far more than adversaries like Russia and China that have only one each.
These stats should mean the US military is unstoppable, but the budget, talk of being the best in the world, and other claims it makes don’t square with measures of effectiveness, Waddell writes.
“How, then, have we been bested by malnourished and undereducated men with antiquated and improvised weaponry whilst spending trillions of dollars in national treasure and costing the lives of thousands of servicemen and hundreds of thousands of civilians?” he wrote.
“For example, a multibillion-dollar aircraft carrier that can be bested by a few million dollars in the form of a swarming missile barrage or a small unmanned aircraft system (UAS) capable of rendering its flight deck unusable does not retain its dollar value in real terms. Neither does the M1A1 tank, which is defeated by $20 worth of household items and scrap metal rendered into an explosively-formed projectile.
“The Joint Improvised Threat Defeat Organization has a library full of examples like these, and that is without touching the weaponized return on investment in terms of industrial output and capability development currently being employed by our conventional adversaries.”
His article isn’t just a critique; Waddell offers several solutions to get the military out of the “business-as-usual” mindset that looks good in PowerPoint briefs but doesn’t translate to success on the ground.
While military leaders typically complain to Congress that constrained budgets have a “crippling” effect on the military, Waddell says the military should work more efficiently with the money it has. He gives an example of a nation already doing this: Russia.
Moscow’s military budget is about $52 billion, versus Washington’s proposed defense budget of $583 billion. Yet with far less money, Russia has been a consistent thorn in the US’s side in Syria, Ukraine, and now Afghanistan. That’s not to mention Moscow’s success in cyberwarfare.
“This is the same Russian military whom the RAND Corporation has estimated would be unstoppable in an initial conventional conflict in the Baltic states, even against the combined might of the NATO forces stationed there,” Waddell wrote. “Given the generous funding the American people have bequeathed us to provide for the common defense, is it so unreasonable to seek an efficient frontier of that resource’s utility?”
Waddell’s critique includes a call to fix inefficiencies between the Defense Department getting gear to war fighters, as some have to buy things they need because they don’t get there before they deploy. Waddell also calls for an audit of the Marines to see whether there are redundant efforts among contractors.
“There is no reason we should be paying twice for the same work or, as is often the case, paying government personnel for work that they have instead outsourced to more capable contractors for tasks within the government worker’s job description,” he wrote. “I would be willing to bet that a savvy staff officer with access to these position and billet descriptions as well as contracting line items could save the Marine Corps millions of dollars by simply hitting Control+F (find all) on his keyboard, querying key tasks, and counting redundancies.”
It’s unclear how much of an effect this op-ed would have on any changes. The Marine Corps Gazette is read mostly by senior Marine leadership, but whether that translates to taking this captain’s advice in an institution that is resistant to change is an open question.
“I have watched Marines charge headlong into enemy fire and breach enemy defenses with the enemy’s own captured IEDs in order to engage in close combat,” Waddell wrote. “This same fighting spirit from which we draw so much pride must be replicated by our senior leaders in leading comprehensive reform of our Corps’ capabilities and in creating a supporting establishment truly capable of fostering innovation.”
Leaving the sights and sounds of modern day Saigon, we began our journey to the Central Highlands of Vietnam. As we left the city that I had come to feel comfortable in and approached the outlying rural areas, I felt a heightened sense of awareness.
Even though I knew this was 2017 and the war was far behind, my head was on a swivel and my eyes were constantly searching for threats. Intellectually, I understood that the jungles and hills of Vietnam held no threats, but my emotional side equally felt the need to be aware.
The pungent smells of the countryside – logs and vegetation burning to clear land, outdoor cooking alongside the road, and unrestricted vehicle exhaust were the same smells I had encountered years before and brought back a familiar feeling and sense of nostalgia. The remembered rubber plantations from my previous years in Vietnam have given way to rolling fields of coffee, but the same farmers living at the edges of the fields are the same people, just doing what needs to be done to provide for their families.
The brown soil of the areas around Saigon turned to red clay as we moved into the plateaus of the Central Highlands and the lowland farmers begin to turn in to descendants of the Montagnard tribes that I had worked with years ago.
Passing through Gia Nghia I think of an old friend, Martha Raye – comedienne, nurse, Army Reserve Officer and teammate of many Green Berets.
Stopping at a truck stop for a lunch of Pho, Jason’s favorite dish, I can look west across a valley and in the distance can see what I’m pretty sure is Cambodia. I spent a lot of time there and it feels surreal to see it in such a serene setting.
Driving into the lowering night and through a heavy rain storm, I feel my gut tightening as we approach the city of Buon Ma Thuot. It’s almost a physical action to push down the emotions that are starting to well up inside me as we get closer and closer to the city.
The new U.S. national security adviser has told Russia’s U.S. ambassador that Moscow must address U.S. concerns on election meddling, the “reckless” nerve-agent attack in Britain, and the situations in Ukraine and Syria before relations can substantially improve.
A White House statement on April 19, 2018, said John Bolton, who took over from H.R. McMaster on April 9, 2018, made the remarks in a meeting with Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov.
“At the first meeting between the two in their current roles, they discussed the state of the relationships between the United States and Russia,” the statement said.
“Ambassador Bolton reiterated that it is in the interest of both the United States and Russia to have better relations, but that this will require addressing our concerns regarding Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the reckless use of chemical weapons in the United Kingdom, and the situations in Ukraine and Syria,” it added.
Several global issues have raised tensions between Washington and Moscow despite President Donald Trump’s stated goal of improving relations between the two countries.
The U.S. intelligence community has accused Russia of a widespread cyberhacking-and-propaganda campaign aimed at influencing the 2016 presidential election vote.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
The United States and Europe have slapped sanctions on Russia for its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The U.S. military has assailed Russia for its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and says it holds Moscow responsible for an alleged chemical weapons attack.
Meanwhile, the United States has said it supports Britain in a dispute with Russia over the March 4, 2018 poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury. Britain has blamed Russia for the attack.
Moscow has denied it interfered in the U.S. election, said it had nothing to do with the Skripal poisonings, and claimed the allegations of a chemical attack in Syria are false.
The 69-year-old Bolton, a former UN ambassador, has served as a hawkish voice in Republican foreign-policy circles for decades. Among his more controversial stands, he has advocated for preemptive military strikes against North Korea and war with Iran.
Since 1996, “the Crucible” has been the subject of Marine recruits’ nightmares. It serves as the final test you must complete in order to officially and finally earn the title of United States Marine. During this 54-hour event, your platoon is split into squads, each led by one of your drill instructors, and each recruit must take a crack at being squad leader.
Throughout boot camp, you become accustomed to getting 8 hours of sleep and enjoying 3 meals per day, but during the Crucible, you’ll get just 6 hours of rest and three MREs to last you the whole 54-hour period. You’ll have to face down physical challenges throughout the day to test your mettle and see if you really have what it takes to be a Marine.
Here are some tips for surviving.
Remember — you’ll need this skill for the rest of your career.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Yamil Casarreal)
Work as a team
Most of the challenges you’re going to face are team-based. You and the other recruits have developing individual strengths throughout boot camp, but you may not yet have developed great teamwork skills. The Crucible will, essentially, force you to figure it out.
Don’t be a weak leader.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Joseph Jacob)
When you’re selected to be the squad leader, be loud, be firm, and don’t be afraid to use the powerful voice you’ve spent the last three months perfecting.
Even if you plan ahead, be prepared to be hungry the whole time.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Carlin Warren)
Plan your meals
For the love of Chesty Puller, don’t scarf down your only meal for the day. Divide up your snacks and save the main meal. It sucks, but it’s better than going hungry in the second half because you ate everything during the first.
Just say, “f*ck it.”
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Chief Warrant Officer 2 Pete Thibodeau)
Don’t be afraid to do anything
Hopefully, during boot camp, you’ve learned the importance courage since it’s one of the core values of the Corps. If you’re not brave yet, the Crucible is filled with challenges that will make sure you are before you become a Marine.
Just get back up and keep moving.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Joseph Jacob)
You may fail some challenges, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get to try again. So, don’t get discouraged when you’re getting smoked by a drill instructor.
Embrace the suck and you’ll make it through.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Yamil Casarreal)
Have a positive attitude
A positive outlook will get you through any situation. Even if you’re sitting on the cold dirt at 3 am when it’s less than 30 degrees outside, if you can find a way to be positive, you’ll get through it. If you learn this during boot camp, the rest of your military career will be a piece of cake.
When it comes to medieval torture devices, there’s always one particularly nasty tool that instantly comes to mind: the iron maiden. It’s brutal. It’s essentially a metal coffin with spikes on the inside. Once the door closes, the person trapped inside will have the spikes pressed into their flesh — in key positions, of course, to prolong the suffering.
By many, it’s been written off as a myth. They claim that any existing iron maiden devices are simply recreations, and that the originals were never really used. But what makes this device particularly peculiar is that it may have started out as a myth — a device so cruel that it found a place in local ghost stories — but eventually became a reality.
The Athenians had the “Brazen Bull” which was a hallowed metal bull that you’d stuff victims in before setting it on fire. The Greeks also didn’t f*ck around.
The first recorded use of a spiked contraption to crush enemies to death (yeah, historians record these sorts of things) was in Sparta, around 200 BC. Under the demand of the bloodthirsty tyrant, Nabis, the Spartans constructed a statue in the likeness of his wife, only the statue had what were essentially bear traps for arms. It was also said to have spikes on the inside of the hand, so nobody could escape her grasp. Sounds like he had a pretty high opinion of his betrothed, right?
Nabis could open the deadly device and toss into it anyone he pleased. He’d do this to either make political gains, punish anyone who didn’t pay his exorbitant taxes, or, simply, to alleviate his boredom. Given his preferred hobbies, it’s easy to see why his rule didn’t last long. He was the last free leader of Sparta — he quickly lost the support of his people and a war with Rome.
The iron maiden may not have been used back then, but it was cool enough to inspire a metal band in 1975 London.
Throughout the following ages, various torture techniques sprang up alongside new reasons to torture people — but they weren’t elaborate, wife-shaped, metal coffins filled with spikes. There are no historical records of an iron maiden being used as a torture device throughout the medieval ages. Now, that’s not to say that it wasn’t used — it just wasn’t written about.
The first written record of an iron maiden surfaced in the 18th century, when historian Johann Philipp Siebenkees wrote about a particularly cruel 1515 execution. Siebenkees’ works, however, were never seen as credible and, ultimately, it was treated as a hoax. But his work inspired his morbid, industrious readers. Many people created iron maidens after his so-called “historical accounts.”
The most famous of these more-modern maidens was the Nuremberg Virgin — a wooden iron maiden with the head of the Virgin Mary on it. Stories say it was used to “cleanse the pagans,” but it was actually made in 1800s Nuremberg — 300 years after Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation and long after the era of paganism.
But this didn’t stop one of modern history’s most vicious despots from creating one for himself. Uday Hussein, the sociopathic, murderous son of the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, was said to have had his very own modern recreation of a functioning iron maiden in his compound.
When U.S. troops raided the compound, they found that the device was very much used. By the time it was discovered, many of its spikes had been worn down, the surrounding floors were stained with blood, and it was no secret that Uday had any Iraqi athlete that didn’t perform to his expectations tortured or executed. Now we know how.
In April of last year — for the third time in two months — Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has discovered a major American warship lost during World War II. The Brooklyn-class light cruiser USS Helena (CL 50) was discovered nearly 75 years after she was sunk during the Battle of the Kula Gulf. According to the announcement, USS Helena lies just over 2,800 feet below the surface of the ocean near the island of Vella Lavella.
USS Helena (CL 50) firing her main guns during the Battle of Kula Gulf. The flashes proved to be an excellent aimpoint for Japanese torpedoes.
In 1943, Helena, her sister ships (USS Honolulu (CL 48) and USS St. Louis (CL 49)), and four destroyers attempted to intercept ten Japanese destroyers. The Americans quickly eliminated one of the Japanese vessels, but Helena‘s guns didn’t have flashless powder, making her a perfect target in the night sky for Type 93 Long Land torpedoes.
Francis X. McInerney on board the Baltimore-class heavy cruiser USS Helena (CA 75) in 1949. McInerney received the Legion of Merit for the rescue of 165 crewmen from the light cruiser USS Helena that had been sunk in 1943.
Three torpedoes hit the Helena and she quickly sank. Meanwhile, the Americans fatally crippled a second Japanese destroyer and damaged two more. The story doesn’t end there.
Most of the Helena‘s crew managed to escape the sinking vessel. Unlike the commander of the USS Juneau (the wreckage of which was discovered by Paul Allen just a month before finding Helena), Captain Gilbert C. Hoover insisted on rescuing any and all surviving crew. Under the command of Captain Francis X. McInerney, the destroyers USS Nicholas (DD 449) and USS Radford (DD 446) turned around to rescue survivors. In the midst of the rescue efforts, two Japanese destroyers came back. McInerney turned to fight, telling the Helena survivors, “Hang on! We’ll be back for you!”
It would take 11 days, but McInerney would eventually fulfill that promise. Eventually, over 700 survivors from the cruiser would be rescued. For his actions, McInerney he received the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, and the Legion of Merit. The Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS McInerney (FFG 8) was named in his honor.
Long after around 7,800 soldiers died in the three day battle of Gettysburg, tourists and ghosts hunters claim to encounter the fallen.
The remote village offers over ten different ghost tours that run year round for guests to get a glimpse of the supernatural at several prominent sites from the battlefield. People report the sunken gut feelings along with hearing faint echos of the battle that occurred.
The site of the infamous downhill bayonet charge at Little Round Top is a common location for sightings of energy balls (or will-o’-wisps) spiraling around the forests. Captured on photo, many believe it to be enough proof that they need.
Another hot spot for spirits in Gettysburg is Sach’s Bridge. The 100-foot expanse not too far from the battlefield is frequently covered in fog.
A group of paranormal investigators went to the bridge to try and get photos or EVP recordings. While there, the fog came back in. They say that they saw lights, heard the sounds, and claim shadowy figures rushed past them.
And then there’s the graveyard.
Visiting the graveyard at night is can be unsettling. The fog returns and ghost hunters say that the ghosts want them to leave. The wind ‘pushes’ the visitors away from the grave stones.
Now, there is a perfectly logical reason for all of these. The will-o’wisps of Gettysburg could be floating dust and pollen, since most sightings of “orbs” come during the spring time. There’s nothing supernatural about fog appearing before sunrise and lingering throughout the day. And even in the final picture, snow melting from the gravestone first isn’t unique.
Skeptics can poke holes in nearly everything about the paranormal activities in Gettysburg as being hyped by the locals to keep tourism up. Still, nothing takes away the gut feeling of being on the hallowed grounds of the most pivotal battle in American history.
White phosphorous, often known by the nickname “Willie Pete,” is possibly one of the oddest and most controversial weapons on military frontlines, including in American units. Its use as a chemical weapon is banned, but its use as an incendiary weapon is simply limited, and use as a signaling device is fine.
First, let’s look at why some weapons are illegal, especially chemical weapons. Chemical weapons work by interrupting human processes, some via very gruesome means. Mustard gas causes extreme respiratory irritation, sometimes to the point that those hit by it will develop fatal lung infections. Sarin gas can cause muscle convulsions, paralysis, and respiratory arrest. Both can permanently disfigure people.
In other words, gruesome ways to be wounded or killed.
As a chemical weapon, phosphorous can be released as a gas that is breathed in by the enemy, burning the insides of their lungs and killing them by cooking them from the inside out. Or, it can be introduced into enemy water supplies to poison them. It’s illegal to use phosphorous in either of these ways.
But phosphorous is a peculiar beast because, while there are no legally accepted military uses for sarin or mustard gas, there are accepted uses of white phosphorous, because it can also burn people externally or its white smoke can be used to screen troop movements or mark battlefield locations.
The chemical burns at about 86 degrees Fahrenheit. And, when burning, phosphorous emits 5,000 degrees of heat. So, it can spontaneously combust on a warm day, and it can easily sustain its own reaction once it gets going. If it’s cold outside, then even a small charge in an artillery shell can ignite the reaction.
Once it’s burning, phosphorous emits clouds of thick smoke. For infantry and other maneuver troops attacking an enemy position, that means phosphorous smoke can block the view of defenders trying to kill them. This use of phosphorous is completely legal. It can also be used to mark enemy positions which, again, is completely legal.
But if you release still-burning phosphorous into the air and get that onto people, then it’s extremely dangerous. Phosphorous, again, will continue burning as long as it’s exposed to oxygen and above 86 degrees. So, if a chunk lands on a person’s shoulder, it will stay above 86 degrees and will keep releasing 5,000 degrees of heat until it runs out of fuel or is drowned in water or mud.
But even drowning phosphorous won’t work long-term in human skin, because it will re-ignite from the body heat the moment the water stops flowing. So, in Vietnam, American troops learned to cut the chunks of phosphorous out with knives if any friendlies were hit.
This use of phosphorous is legal, as long as the shooter takes “care” to prevent exposing civilians to the weapon.
And this is the thing that some groups will point to as insane. If it’s illegal to use it as a chemical weapon, how can you use the chemical as a weapon without it being a chemical weapon?
Well, first, everything is a chemical, and pretty much all weapons that aren’t iron or stone rely on chemical reactions of some kind. Bombs are explosive chemical reactions. Napalm and other incendiary weapons rely on chemical reactions that release a lot of heat, burning the flesh of enemy troops. It’s not a chemical reaction that is banned, or the release of heat. Chemical weapon laws really only apply to those weapons which directly interact with the target’s cells.
But heating the cells up, as you would with napalm, is legal.
And that’s how white phosphorous, as an incendiary weapon, works. It’s stored safely encased, then fired against an enemy, exposing it to the air and igniting it in the process. Once the burning phosphorous hits enemy troops, it sears them. A World War II test of phosphorous smoke screens found that, when fired against mock German defenders, the smoke screen would kill or seriously wound 40 percent of the defenders before the U.S. infantry arrived to fight them.
War Dept Film Bulletin 55 White Phosphorus VS High Explosive 1943 (full)
And that’s why, as long as the weapon is legal in any context, there will be an incentive for commanders to use it. Without overhead cover, 40 percent of the defenders could be knocked out by the smoke screen. By the smoke screen. High explosive mortar rounds used in the same World War II test generated only 24 percent casualties.
Remember, the point of war is to force an enemy into submission to achieve some political goal. It’s gruesome, but it always includes humans killing humans, and explosions and burning are accepted methods of killing each other in war.
And so, the question that will confront investigators looking into Israel’s actions will be, “How was the weapon used? And did it cause undue damage to civilians?” Those are the same questions they would have to look at if a bomb was dropped on a church or hospital.
Was this a valid military act, or maybe a valid act that went awry? Or was a commander deliberately harming civilians?