This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan

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


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

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

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

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan
The caves even hold some of the world’s oldest oil paintings. (Image via Digital Journal)

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

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

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan
A drawing by Alexander Burnes in 1832 sparked curiosity and travel to the region. (Image via Wikicommons)

Then the Taliban took over and declared them idols.

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

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

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

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

(NATO, YouTube)

MIGHTY TRENDING

How Vietnam veterans can get a rare cancer from this parasite

A half century after serving in Vietnam, hundreds of veterans have a new reason to believe they may be dying from a silent bullet — test results show some men may have been infected by a slow-killing parasite while fighting in the jungles of Southeast Asia.


The Department of Veterans Affairs this spring commissioned a small pilot study to look into the link between liver flukes ingested through raw or undercooked fish and a rare bile duct cancer. It can take decades for symptoms to appear. By then, patients are often in tremendous pain, with just a few months to live.

Of the 50 blood samples submitted, more than 20 percent came back positive or bordering positive for liver fluke antibodies, said Sung-Tae Hong, the tropical medicine specialist who carried out the tests at Seoul National University in South Korea.

“It was surprising,” he said, stressing the preliminary results could include false positives and that the research is ongoing.

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan
Members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in combat on Hill 875 during the Vietnam War (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Northport VA Medical Center spokesman Christopher Goodman confirmed the New York facility collected the samples and sent them to the lab. He would not comment on the findings, but said everyone who tested positive was notified.

Gerry Wiggins, who served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969, has already lost friends to the disease. He was among those who got the call.

“I was in a state of shock,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be me.”

The 69-year-old, who lives in Port Jefferson Station, New York, didn’t have any symptoms when he agreed to take part in the study, but hoped his participation could help save lives. He immediately scheduled further tests, discovering he had two cysts on his bile duct, which had the potential to develop into the cancer, known as cholangiocarcinoma. They have since been removed and — for now — he’s doing well.

Also Read: This is the parting wisdom of a Marine dying of cancer

Though rarely found in Americans, the parasites infect an estimated 25 million people worldwide, mostly in Asia.

Endemic in the rivers of Vietnam, the worms can easily be wiped out with a handful of pills early on, but left untreated, they can live for decades without making their hosts sick. Over time, swelling and inflammation of the bile duct can lead to cancer. Jaundice, itchy skin, weight loss, and other symptoms appear only when the disease is in its final stages.

The VA study, along with a call by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York for broader research into liver flukes and cancer-stricken veterans, began after The Associated Press raised the issue in a story last year. The reporting found that about 700 veterans with cholangiocarcinoma have been seen by the VA in the past 15 years. Less than half of them submitted claims for service-related benefits, mostly because they were not aware of a possible connection to Vietnam. The VA rejected 80 percent of the requests, but decisions often appeared to be haphazard or contradictory, depending on what desks they landed on, the AP found.

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan
A quote from Abraham Lincoln on a sign at the Department of Veterans Affairs Building in Washington, DC. | Photo via Flickr

The number of claims submitted reached 60 in 2017, up from 41 last year. Nearly three out of four of those cases were also denied, even though the government posted a warning on its website this year saying veterans who ate raw or under-cooked freshwater fish while in Vietnam might be at risk. It stopped short of urging them to get ultrasounds or other tests, saying there was currently no evidence the vets had higher infection rates than the general population.

“We are taking this seriously,” said Curt Cashour, a spokesman with the Department of Veterans Affairs. “But until further research, a recommendation cannot be made either way.”

Veteran Mike Baughman, 65, who was featured in the previous AP article, said his claim was granted early this year after being denied three times. He said the approval came right after his doctor wrote a letter saying his bile duct cancer was “more likely than not” caused by liver flukes from the uncooked fish he and his unit in Vietnam ate when they ran out of rations in the jungle. He now gets about $3,100 a month and says he’s relieved to know his wife will continue to receive benefits after he dies. But he remains angry that other veterans’ last days are consumed by fighting the same government they went to war for as young men.

Also Read: VA begins awarding compensation for C-123 agent orange claims

“In the best of all worlds, if you came down with cholangiocarcinoma, just like Agent Orange, you automatically were in,” he said, referring to benefits granted to veterans exposed to the toxic defoliant sprayed in Vietnam. “You didn’t have to go fighting.”

Baughman, who is thin and weak, recently plucked out “Country Roads” on a bass during a jam session at his cabin in West Virginia. He wishes the VA would do more to raise awareness about liver flukes and to encourage Vietnam veterans to get an ultrasound that can detect inflammation.

“Personally, I got what I needed, but if you look at the bigger picture with all these other veterans, they don’t know what necessarily to do,” he said. “None of them have even heard of it before. A lot of them give me that blank stare like, ‘You’ve got what?'”

MIGHTY HISTORY

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution

The success of the American Revolution was far from certain in the early months of 1781. The patriots managed to gain French support and survived five years of fighting yet had still not been able to win a decisive victory.


But after a fake retreat baited a ruthless British commander into a bloody ambush, the tide slowly began to turn in the Americans’ favor and eventually led to the Crown’s defeat later that year.

In March 1780, the British invaded South Carolina and captured Charleston. When the crown won a lopsided victory at the Battle of Camden, it strengthened their hold on the southern colonies and routed the Continental Army in the south.

General George Washington sent Gen. Nathaniel Greene to take command the Patriots in the south. Greene immediately dispatched Gen. Daniel Morgan into the Carolina backcountry to harass Lord Cornwallis and interdict his supply lines. In response, Cornwallis sent Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, a brutal young commander, to stop Morgan.

Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton by Sir Joshua Reynolds, in the uniform of the British Legion, wearing a “Tarleton Helmet“.
National Gallery, London. (Joshua Reynolds – Official gallery link)

The next January, Tarleton learned of Morgan’s presence and began a pursuit. Morgan began retreating north to avoid being caught between Tarleton’s and Cornwallis’ forces. Flooded rivers slowed his progress. Morgan decided to stand and fight Tarleton rather than get caught attempting to cross a river.

Although Morgan had a formidable force of over 1,000 men, Tarleton did as well. Unfortunately for Morgan, the majority of his force consisted of colonial militiamen, untested in battle. Morgan’s “green” militia had a tendency to break and run at the first hint of a real fight. Morgan knew it. Tarleton knew it. But Gen. Morgan was a clever chap.

He decided to use the untested militia as bait to draw Tarleton into a trap. Morgan devised an ingenious, if unorthodox, tactical plan. The Cowpens, a flat grazing area in backcountry South Carolina would be the place to make his stand. He used three lines of men to oppose Tarleton’s advance.

The first consisted of sharpshooters to harass the British and pick off officers. The sharpshooters would then fall back to the second line, made up of militiamen. The militia would fire off two volleys before feigning a rout and retreating to the third line. Morgan wanted the British to assume they defeated an untrained militia force and charge forward. Instead of finding a fleeing militia they would meet Lt. Col. John Howard’s colonial regulars holding the third line. In reserve, Morgan had a small force of Continental cavalry.

At dawn on January 17, Tarleton arrived at Cowpens and advanced on Morgan. Tarleton’s arrogance played right into Morgan’s trap. Although slightly outnumbered, the British had more cavalry, regular infantry, and artillery – which the colonials lacked.

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan
This painting depicts the British regulars engaging the Continentals at close range.

The British launched a frontal assault with infantry in the center and dragoons on the flanks. As they advanced, patriot sharpshooters hit the dragoons hard, taking out numerous officers and disorganizing their advance. They fell back to the second line to join the militia, as planned. When the Redcoats pressed the attack, militia fired off two volleys then began their false retreat. That’s when the British cavalry unexpectedly charged, sending the militia into a real retreat. They flew past the third line where they were supposed to reform.

The Continental cavalry, led by  Lt. Col. William Washington (cousin of  George Washington) came out of nowhere on the British right flank and dispersed their cavalry. The remaining British were still lured into the trap by the retreating militia and engaged the Colonial regulars.

Sensing victory, Tarleton committed his reserve infantry. When Lt. Col. Howard gave ordered his men to face the British reserve, a miscommunication sent them into retreat. Morgan, seeing this, quickly rode and turned the men around. They turned and fired a near point-blank volley into the advancing British infantry. It was the same trick the Americans were using in the center and it worked like a charm.

The rebels then surged into the demoralized British from all directions. As Morgan’s third line rushed forward with bayonets, the cavalry attacked from the right flank while the once-retreating militia reformed and hit the left. Many British soldiers surrendered on the spot. The rest fled.

Tarleton attempted to rally his men. He was met by Lt. Col. Washington who engaged him in hand-to-hand combat. Washington narrowly avoided being killed when his trumpeter appeared in time to dispatch a charging Redcoat. Tarleton escaped with what remained of his force.

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan
The Battle of Cowpens, painted by William Ranney in 1845. The scene depicts an unnamed black soldier (left) firing his pistol and saving the life of Colonel William Washington (on white horse at center).

The battle lasted one hour but was a decisive victory for the Americans. The British lost over 100 killed, over 200 wounded, and over 500 captured along with two cannons. The Americans lost 12 killed and 60 wounded.

Cornwallis, fed up with the Americans, marched to meet them himself. He won a pyrrhic victory at Guilford Courthouse before seeking refuge at Yorktown. Gen. Washington laid siege to Yorktown and received the British surrender there on October 18, 1781.

MIGHTY TRENDING

A Spanish fighter fired and lost a missile near Russian border

A Spanish air force Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jet accidentally fired an air-to-air missile during an a routine training exercise over southeast Estonia on Tuesday afternoon, and authorities have not been able to locate the missile or what is left of it.


The Spanish jet fired the missile — an advanced medium-range air-to-air missile, or AMRAAM, made by US defense firm Raytheon — a little before 4 p.m. local time over the village of Pangodi as it returned from an exercise with another Spanish jet as well as two French Mirage 2000 jets.

The exercise was carried out in an area reserved for such activity about 60 miles from the Russian border. All of the planes are based in Siauliai in northern Lithuania, and the jet that launched the missile was able to return to the base.

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan

An AIM-120 AMRAAM being loaded onto an F-16 fighter jet.

(USAF)

The missile’s last location was about 25 miles north of the Estonian city of Tartu. It was reportedly fired northward, but the trajectory and its final location are not known. The 12-foot-long missile has a range of about 60 miles and carries a roughly 50-pound high-explosive warhead.

The missile has a built-in self-destruct mode for such occasions, but it’s not certain that it was activated, and the weapon may have landed on the ground.

The Estonian Defense Ministry has launched a search for the missile using helicopters, and emergency services in the area have asked residents who happen upon the missile or parts of it not to approach it.

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan

Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas

Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas said on Facebook that there were “thank God no human casualties,” and called the incident “extremely regrettable.”

“I am sure that the Estonian defense forces will, in cooperation with our allies, identify all the circumstances of the case and make every effort to make sure that nothing like this happens again,” he added.

Estonia’s defense minister also ordered the suspension of all aerial military exercises in the country’s air space until the incident was resolved.

The Spanish Defense Ministry also opened an investigation.

“A Spanish Eurofighter based in Lithuania accidentally fired a missile without causing any harm,” the ministry said in a statement. “The air-to-air missile has not hit any aircraft. The defence ministry has opened an investigation to clarify the exact cause of the incident.”

NATO’s Baltic air-policing missions were set up in 2004 , after Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania the alliance, to assist the new members with air defense and deter Russian aerial incursions in the area. Spanish jets have done five of the three-month air-policing tours, leading them in 2006 and 2016 and taking part in 2015 and 2017.

The current Spanish deployment is composed of 135 personnel and Eurofighters jets. It began on May 1 and will conclude on August 31.

Jets from NATO countries deployed on air-policing missions have had regular encounters with Russian jets over the Baltics, though there were no reports of Russian aircraft in the area when the missile was fired on Tuesday.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

How John Wayne got rid of the KGB agents hired to kill him

It seems like so many dictators just love movies. We all do, but absolute power takes it to a whole new level. Gaddafi had a channel set up just to play his favorite movie – his one favorite movie. Kim Jong-Il kidnapped his favorite actors and actresses to star in North Korea’s movies. Then, of course, the next natural step for these guys is directing movies.


Kim Jong-Il made several films. Benito Mussolini pitched to Columbia pictures. And even Saddam Hussein made a $30 million war epic. But Joseph Stalin was the Soviet Union’s “ultimate censor.”

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At the time, global Communism was still very much a growing threat, one Stalin wanted to continue to spread around the world – under Soviet leadership.

He saw how much power and influence films – and the stars in them – held over large audiences. He saw it in Nazi German propaganda during the Second World War and he used it effectively himself to further his own personality cult.

So when he saw John Wayne’s power as an virulent anti-Communist on the rise, he ordered the actor killed and then sent (allegedly) more than one hit squad to do the job. He saw the Duke as a threat to the spread of Communism around the world – and especially in America.

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan

According to the book John Wayne – The Man Behind The Myth, Soviet filmmaker Sergei Gerasimov told Wayne of the KGB plot in 1949. What the Duke and his Hollywood friends did to the hit squad is mind blowing.

Obviously not one to let a thing like Communist assassins get him down, Wayne and his scriptwriter Jimmy Grant allegedly abducted the hitmen, took them to the beach, and staged a mock execution. No one knows exactly what happened after that, but Wayne’s friends say the Soviet agents began to work for the FBI from that day on.

But there were other incidents. The book also alleges KGB agents tried to take the actor out on the set of 1953’s Hondo in Mexico. A captured sniper in Vietnam claimed that he was hired by Chairman Mao to take the actor out on a visit to troops there.

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan

Stalin died in 1953. His successor, Nikita Khrushchev, met privately with John Wayne in 1958 and informed him that the order had been rescinded. Wayne told his friends Khrushchev called Stalin’s last years his “mad years” and apologized.

The entire time Wayne knew there was a price on his head, he refused the FBI’s offer of federal protection and didn’t even tell his family. He just moved into a house with a big wall around it. Once word got out, though, Hollywood stuntmen loyal to the Duke began to infiltrate Communist Party cells around the country and expose plots against him.

Wayne never spoke of the incidents publicly.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Marine ‘Hero of Nasiriyah’ is retiring

While the saga of Private First Class Jessica Lynch, a soldier assigned to the 507th Maintenance Company who was captured by Saddam’s forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom, is well known, the incredibly heroic story of the attempt to rescue that unit isn’t. Now, the brave Marine behind that rescue attempt is retiring.

According to a report by the Marine Corps Times, Sergeant Major Justin LeHew is set to retire after 30 years of service in the Marine Corps. His most recent assignment has been with the Wounded Warrior Battalion — East, based out of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

LeHew became a legend while serving as a platoon sergeant with Company A, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, Task Force Tarawa during the initial stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom. When the chain of command learned about the dire situation the 507th Maintenance Company was in, they sent LeHew’s unit to try to rescue the soldiers.


According to his Navy Cross citation, when they arrived on the scene, LeHew helped his Marines evacuate four soldiers from the beleaguered maintenance unit. Then, an intense, three-hour-long firefight broke out. When an AAV-7 was destroyed, LeHew sprang into action.

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan

One of the AAV-7s destroyed in the Battle of Nasiriyah. Justin LeHew earned the Navy Cross for heroism in retrieving dead and wounded Marines from a similar vehicle.

(USMC photo by Master Sergeant Edward D. Kniery)

According to a release by the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, he made multiple 70-yard sprints to the destroyed vehicle, retrieving nine dead and wounded Marines, picking body parts out from the wreckage — all while under fire from the enemy.

He received the Navy Cross for his actions while on another deployment to Iraq with C Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. Around the time he was awarded the Navy Cross, he would again distinguish himself in combat — this time in Najaf. During a battle against insurgents, he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire, helping, once again, to evacuate the wounded, including taking one Marine with a sucking chest wound straight to a forward operating base. For his actions, he received the Bronze Star with the Combat Distinguishing Device in 2005.

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan

After his second tour in Iraq, LeHew held a number of senior leadership positions.

(USMC photo)

Since then, LeHew has held a number of senior NCO assignments. LeHew has also an obstacle in the Crucible named in his honor. In the opinion of this writer, LeHew also makes the short list of people who deserve having a ship named after them.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a Navy admiral left Marines hanging during a Japanese attack

The Marines on Wake Island had a last stand that belongs with the Alamo in terms of its legendary status. One Marine, Henry Elrod, became a legend during that stand.


What is not as well known is that there was an effort to try to either relieve or evacuate the Marines from Wake Island. Samuel Eliot Morison described that operation in “The Rising Sun in the Pacific,” Volume III of his 15-volume History of United States Naval Operations in World War II.

 

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan
Most of the F4F Wildcats defending Wake Island were lost in the initial attack. The remaining would also fall to the Japanese, but not before sinking the Kisaragi battleship. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Within days of the Pearl Harbor attack, Adm. Husband E. Kimmel started the effort to help the Marines on Wake.

Kimmel saw a chance to catch part of the Japanese fleet by surprise using Wake as a form of bait. Given that Wake was 2,300 miles from Pearl Harbor, there was no time to waste.

That said, the expedition still took time. All three carriers in the Pacific Fleet would take part. But there were a few problems. The

USS Saratoga (CV 3) was the carrier that had the planes of VMF-221, 14 F2A Brewster Buffalo fighters (utter pieces of junk, but that is another story). In a fateful decision, Kimmel put Rear Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher in charge of Task Force 14, which had the mission to steam into Wake Island.

Fletcher would command from the cruiser USS Astoria (CA 34).

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan
U.S. Navy Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo fighters pictured during a training flight from Naval Air Station (NAS) Miami, Florida (USA). 14 of these planes were slated to reinforce the Marines on Wake Island. (US Navy photo)

Vice Adm. William F. Halsey, in command of Task Force 8 on the USS Enterprise (CV 6), would be held in reserve. Vice Adm. Wilson Brown, on board the USS Lexington (CV 2), would carry out a diversionary raid on the Marshall Islands.

Shortly after the expedition departed, Kimmel was relieved by Vice Adm. William Pye, pending the arrival of Chester W. Nimitz at Pearl Harbor. The expedition made its way towards Wake, but Fletcher was seemingly obsessed with his destroyers’ fuel state. Much as the Civil War-era Gen. George McClellan temporized about pressing the attack against Robert E. Lee in late 1862, Fletcher would take time the Marines could not afford to get the fuel he thought he needed for his ships.

Even after messages from the Marines on Wake reported the presence of enemy dive bombers and their desperate situation, he chose to fuel on Dec. 22. Morison would note that the destroyer with the least amount of fuel still had almost 90,000 barrels of fuel oil in its tanks.

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan
Frank Jack Fletcher. (US Navy photo)

Even with the difficult refueling, the USS Saratoga was 425 miles from Wake at 0800 on Dec. 23, where the Marines were in desperate combat with the Japanese. Pye called off the Wake Relief Expedition when word of the landings reached Pearl Harbor. Morison notes that the Marines had actually wiped out the invasion force on Wilkes Island, and it took time to convince the hard-fighting Marines to surrender. They would spend almost four years in Japanese prison camps. Almost 100 of them would be massacred on Oct. 5, 1943.

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan

Inexplicably, Fletcher would still be assigned seagoing commands after the failure of the Wake Relief Expedition. The USS Lexington would be lost during the Battle of the Coral Sea. The USS Yorktown (CV 5) would be sunk at the Battle of Midway (where Fletcher did the smart thing and let Raymond Spruance take the lead).

Fletcher would leave Marines hanging again at Guadalcanal, when a decision to pull back the carriers would lead to the disastrous Battle of Savo Island, where the USS Astoria and three other heavy cruisers would be sunk.

Fletcher was wounded when the USS Saratoga was torpedoed at the end of August, 1942. After that, he’d be shunted off to backwater commands until the end of World War II. He died in 1975.

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The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (July 21 edition)

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MIGHTY TRENDING

Why Russia and Japan still haven’t signed a WW2 peace treaty

When Japanese President Shinzo Abe addressed a packed audience at the Eastern Economic Forum in September 2018, held in the Russian Far East city of Vladivostok, he had a direct message for his host.

He appealed to Vladimir Putin, like he does every time the two leaders meet, to help expedite the signing of a treaty that would formally, and finally, end World War II.


A little later, Putin turned animatedly to Abe. “You won’t believe it, but honestly, it’s a simple thought, but it came to my mind just now, right here,” he said. “Let’s sign a peace agreement by the end of the year,” he told Abe, “without any preconditions.”

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese President Shinzo Abe.

The room erupted in applause, and Russian state media hailed the offer as a breakthrough. “This is a sensation,” gushed a Rossia-24 presenter covering the event. “Unbelievable progress has been reached.”

But as Putin and Abe prepare for talks in Moscow on Jan. 22, 2019, a territorial dispute that has remained unresolved since the war continues to stall efforts toward a Russo-Japanese peace deal, and analysts say there is little indication the latest round of negotiations will change that.

‘Inherent part of Japan’

For the past 70 years, Japan has waged a dogged diplomatic campaign to reclaim what it calls its Northern Territories, a handful of islands off the coast of Hokkaido, its northernmost prefecture, that the Soviet Union captured in the final days of World War II.

Today they are referred to by Moscow as the Southern Kuriles, an extension of the archipelago that extends southward from Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula.

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan

Japan established sovereignty over the islands in dispute — Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan, and a group of islets known as Habomai — in an agreement with the Russian Empire in 1855. They are still considered by Tokyo to be an “inherent part of the territory of Japan.”

“There’s a historical and ancestral aspect to this discussion from the Japanese standpoint,” says Stephen R. Nagy, an associate professor with the department of politics and international studies at International Christian University in Tokyo. “Many feel they have left the lands of their ancestors.”

For Russia, the Kuriles provide its naval fleet with access to the Pacific, and serve as a symbol of the Soviet role in the World War II victory.

Following the war, the two countries failed to sign a peace treaty, although the Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration of October 1956 formally ended hostilities and opened diplomatic relations between the two sides. The declaration also annulled previous Soviet claims of war reparations against Japan and provided for two of the disputed territories — Habomai and Shikotan — to be returned to Japan following the conclusion of a formal peace treaty.

When Putin and Abe followed up on their Vladivostok meeting with talks in November 2018 in Singapore, they agreed to use the 1956 agreement as a foundation for further discussion. But that leaves Putin’s offer of “no preconditions” in question.

What comes first?

After talks in Moscow in January 2019 between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Japanese counterpart, Taro Kono, Moscow made clear that Japan must accept Russian sovereignty of the disputed territories before any peace treaty is signed. “Questions of sovereignty over the islands are not being discussed. It is the Russian Federation’s territory,” Lavrov was quoted as saying.

And there have been key developments since 1956: namely, the deepening of the U.S.-Japanese alliance, and more recently the decision to station a U.S. missile-defense system on Japanese territory. The Japanese press has reported that Abe assured Putin no U.S. bases would be built on the islands once under Japanese possession, a fear that Russia has voiced many times. But Japan’s partnership with the United States remains a sticking point.

Artyom Lukin, an international-studies expert at the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, says there is little reason to believe a treaty will be hammered out immediately.

“I don’t think that anything substantive, anything which could be pronounced publicly, will come out of this meeting,” Lukin says of the Jan. 22, 2019 talks. “They may make a tentative, preliminary agreement, but because the issue is so complex they’ll need more high-level meetings before the issue is settled. My guess is that we’ll see no public announcement until Putin’s planned visit to Japan in June.”

Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia In Global Affairs, says that Putin’s statement in Vladivostok was blown out of proportion. In fact, Lukyanov argues, the Russian president was just reiterating a long-held stance.

“The Japanese position is the territorial issue first, and then, after having settled that, we can discuss the peace treaty,” Lukyanov says. “And the Russian position, strongly supported by Putin in that speech, is just the opposite — first normalize the relationship and then maybe we can discuss this issue.”

Lukin agrees. “I wouldn’t read too much into Putin’s statement in Vladivostok,” he says. “I think we should pay much more attention to Abe’s statement in Singapore, when he said that Japan was ready to negotiate on the basis of the 1956 declaration. For me this basically means that Japan is ready to accept the fact that it can’t get from Russia anything more than Habomai and Shikotan. So the question is, how much and what will Russia demand from Japan in exchange for those two islands.”

Generosity not popular

At a press briefing in Tokyo following Putin’s appearance with Abe in Vladivostok in September 2018, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga insisted that Japan’s position remained that “the Northern Territories issue is resolved before any peace treaty.” But few expect Russia to yield.

An opinion survey carried out in November 2018 by the independent pollster Levada Center found that only 17 percent of Russians support the handover of the disputed territories to Japan in exchange for a peace deal to end World War II. Almost three-quarters were against the idea.

Russian Protesters Decry Possible Territory Handover To Japan

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Russian state media has helped keep those numbers up. On Jan. 13, 2019, flagship news program Vesti Nedeli dismissed the Japanese suggestion that the islands be returned before a treaty is ratified.

“We have the hypersonic Avangard rocket, we have the hypersonic Kinzhal,” host Dmitry Kiselyov said, referring to two nuclear-capable weapons ceremoniously unveiled by Putin during his state-of-the-nation address in March 2019. “We don’t need anything from Japan…. And how can we politely explain that one should behave politely?”

In November 2019, the independent Russian daily Vedomosti wrote in an editorial that “much time has been lost” in settling the Kuriles question. “The Kremlin has succeeded in reviving imperialist passions,” it wrote. “Any territorial concession after the annexation of Crimea will damage Putin’s image as a gatherer of Russian lands, and will raise the level of discontent among his traditional support base.”

Lukyanov says that Putin is aware of Russian public opinion and unlikely to advance such a controversial cause at a time when his approval ratings are already slipping.

“Any territorial concession in any country is a very unpopular move, and to make it, a leadership should be in a strong position,” he says. “Theoretically, I can imagine that something like this would be doable immediately after the Crimean takeover five years ago, but now the situation is different, and the whole atmosphere in the country is much less optimistic, because of economic and other problems. And in this situation, to give such a juicy piece to opponents, to accuse Putin of unpopular territorial concessions, that’s certainly not what he needs right now.”

In recent weeks, several rallies have been held across Russia to protest the possible handover of the islands. On Jan. 20, 2019, some 300 nationalists and members of the Russian far right gathered in central Moscow, chanting slogans including “Crimea is ours! The Kuriles are ours!” and “We won’t return the Kuriles!”

In its bid for a diplomatic breakthrough, the Japanese leadership has suggested that Russia’s cession of the islands would open up trade with its Asian neighbor at a time of debilitating Western sanctions. But Lukyanov describes as a “primitive interpretation” the notion that Russia might relinquish the Kuriles because it needs Japan for its economic development.

“Russia’s real calculation is much more geostrategic,” he says. “Because Russia’s drift toward Asia is inevitable and will continue, because the whole of international politics is shifting to the East, and to Asia.”

The Russian leadership is aware of the risk of becoming overly dependent on China, he adds.

“For Russia, strategically it’s much more important to have a stable and constructive relationship with the big powers in Asia — South Korea, Japan, India, and Indonesia — all those that might play a role as counterweights to China. And this, to me, is the only reason why the whole discussion [about the Kuriles] is still going on.”

Also read: Yes, Japan and Russia are technically still at war.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Afghan forces retake district from Taliban forces

The governor of Afghanistan’s northern province of Baghlan says Afghan security forces have recaptured a strategic district from Taliban fighters who have controlled the area in recent weeks.

Governor Abdulhai Nemati told RFE/RL the government’s offensive to retake the district of Nahrin ended on the morning on Sept. 4, 2018, after the Taliban withdrew during the night.

Nemati said at least six Taliban fighters were killed and 14 were wounded during an operation that began early on Sept. 3, 2018. Nemati did not provide casualty figures for government forces.


RFE/RL’s correspondent in Baghlan Province reports that hundreds of civilians fled their homes during the fierce 24-hour battle, which destroyed several houses in the district.

One disabled woman in the area told RFE/RL that she was “among very few people” from her neighborhood that did not flee the fighting.

“Almost everyone in our neighborhood fled. I couldn’t join them because of my disability. Had I been able to walk I would have left, too,” the woman said.

“People fled carrying their belongings,” a local man said. “Old and young, women and children, all fled, some by foot, some on donkeys.”

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan

Afghan National Civil Order Policemen stand in formation, Dec. 27, 2011.

(Photo by Lance Cpl. David Perez)

Nemati said government forces were continuing a “search and clearing operation” in theNahrin district on Sept. 4, 2018.

There was no immediate comment about the battle from the Taliban.

Meanwhile, in the nearby province of Balkh, Afghan security forces have launched an offensive against Taliban fighters who seized a series of villages to the west of Mazar-e Sharif on Sept. 2, 2018.

Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanesh said late on Sept. 3, 2018, that government security forces hoped to retake the Chari area of Balkh’s Dawlatabad district “soon.”

The Taliban in recent months has carried out a series of operations to expand its control over rural areas in northern Afghanistan and has briefly taken control of some urban areas in Afghanistan, including parts of the city of Ghazni to the southwest of Kabul during August 2018.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

A former SecDef dispels myths about the Tet Offensive

Around midnight on Jan. 30, 1968, Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army troops began a massive surprise attack on U.S., South Vietnamese, and allied forces across South Vietnam.


The Tet Offensive, as it came to be known, was actually a three-phase campaign, lasting from Jan. 30 – March 28, May 5 – June 15, and Aug. 17 – Sept. 23.

“The event really defined the course of the rest of the [Vietnam] war and how it ended, which was a pretty inglorious ending,” said former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

Hagel, who was with the 47th Infantry Regiment in Vietnam during Tet, spoke at the “Vietnam: The Tet Offensive” panel discussion, Jan. 25, at the National Archives.

Then a 21-year-old private first class, Hagel, just two months in country, said his mechanized infantry unit sustained heavy casualties in the vicinity of Long Binh.

The attack was a complete surprise, he said. What happened in Long Binh was typical of what was happening across the country.

The U.S. had completely underestimated the strength of the North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong guerrilla forces from South Vietnam, he said. It came as a shock to the American public and turned public opinion against the war.

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan

One of the myths of Tet, he said, is that it was a big enemy military victory, he added. It wasn’t. “Our military actually did very well considering.”

Erik B. Villard, a historian with the U.S. Army Center of Military History, said there were other myths about Tet, some of which he wrote about in his Center for Military History book, “Combat Operations: Staying the Course, October 1967 to September 1968.”

One myth, he said, was that the North Vietnamese orchestrated a number of major battles prior to Tet in the autumn of 1967 to draw U.S. forces away from the cities so they would be in a better position to succeed in capturing the urban areas.

The real story is more interesting, he said. The 1967 battles were local and regional campaigns, planned over the spring and summer of that year.

The idea for the Tet Offensive did not even occur to the enemy at the time, as their strategic planning process tended to be short-term and, at times, very chaotic, he said.

Also, why would they want to launch a major battle in November 1967, just months before Tet when full strength would be needed? There wouldn’t be adequate recovery time, he said, noting that the National Archives provided some key documents he used in his research.

Also Read: 17 wild facts about the Vietnam War

A second myth, Villard said, was that Gen. William Westmoreland, the commander of American forces in Vietnam, “was wedded to this notion of victory through attrition; that the way to succeed was to kill enough of the enemy that you crossed this imaginary threshold and you could just kind of grind your way toward success.

“Westmoreland deserves far more credit than he’s gotten in my view,” he added.

He was a shrewd person who understood the value of pacification and cutting enemy supply lines, as he was doing in secret operations to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Villard noted.

A third myth, he said, is that U.S. military policy changed when Westmoreland was replaced by Gen. Creighton Williams Abrams Jr. in June 1968, in the middle of the Tet Offensive.

Abrams and Westmoreland saw mostly eye-to-eye on strategy, he said. The mission continued to be defending bases and lines of communication, as well as air interdiction operations and supporting pacification.

Pacification was a term used at the time to denote counterinsurgency operations, which included advise and assist missions and winning over the loyalty of the local population.

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan
Group of Soldiers from ARVN with SFC Norman A. Doney, 5th S.F. Group Abn., 1st S.F., Vietnam, Sept. 1968.

Policy didn’t actually change until after mid-1969 when Vietnamization took hold, he said. Vietnamization consisted of drawing down U.S. forces and transferring responsibility to the South Vietnamese forces.

The buildup of forces into 1968 and the draw down a year later had already been planned on Westmoreland’s watch, he said.

Merle L. Pribbenow II, an author specializing in the Vietnam War, with five years of service in Vietnam during the war as a CIA operative, said that a widespread myth was that the Tet Offensive was a well planned and executed enemy attack.

That’s completely false, he said, referencing documents and interviews of NVA and VC commanders after the war.

Many of those generals became bitter with the way they and their units were treated by their own military and political leaders and the high numbers of casualties that resulted, he said.

“We focus on how we felt Army commanders screwed up and were unprepared. [The North Vietnamese] were saying the exact same things again and again,” he said.

After the war, the Vietnamese did tactical reviews and battle studies, just as the U.S. Army did, to learn lessons and assess strengths and weaknesses, he noted.

The takeaway from that assessment, he said, was that the communists acknowledged that a lot of the poor decision-making during Tet resulted from underestimating U.S. military response, as well as the loyalty of the South Vietnamese people.

Like the Americans, the communists also inflated their own body counts, minimized their failures, and exaggerated their accomplishments, he said.

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan
The 47th Infantry Regiment takes the offensive May 1968 in South Saigon. Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was with the 47th Infantry in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive and he spoke about it at the National Archives Jan. 25, 2018. (Photo from Kenneth Pollard)

The biggest problem, he added, was that shortcomings were not reported up the chain of command and authorities refused to listen to subordinates.

As a result of the assessment, he said the military leadership of Vietnam decided on a new approach. From then on, leaders were instructed to encourage subordinates to tell the truth, even if it wasn’t something they wanted to hear or went against their own thinking.

Gregory Daddis, an associate professor of history and director of Chapman University’s Master of Arts program in War and Society, said another myth was that the U.S. media was to blame for the lack of political will after the Tet Offensive.

There’s a tendency, he said, to find someone to blame when a bad outcome occurs.

Looking back 50 years ago to the Tet Offensive gives everyone an opportunity to gain a better perspective on everything that took place, he said.

An important takeaway from Tet, he said, is that sometimes military action might not be the best tool in all situations to achieve the desired political effect.

Hagel added that “in the end, war is determined not by military might but by the support of the people. We found ourselves on the wrong side of that.”

He concluded: “The sacrifices made by over 56,000 Americans who lost their lives and hundreds of thousands of individuals who were wounded, and all who served, were never really given much recognition for an assignment they didn’t choose. But they served and they served honorably, and did what their country asked them to do. And I think that’s a part of this story that needs to be told more often.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

What would happen if the Hanukkah story took place today

In 168 BCE, the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes IV set to quash Judaism among his subjects. Matthias the Kohein and his five sons fled to the hills and assembled a rag tag group of revolutionaries known as the Maccabees. The Maccabees fought the seemingly endless mercenary army until they reached Jerusalem and reclaimed the Temple Mount.


Three years to the day of Antiochus’ rampage against the Jews, the Maccabees held the dedication. The Festival of Lights as we know it came from this celebration and when the tiny jar of oil managed to keep the menorah lit for eight days.

As a fun thought experiment, and because I love AlternateHistoryHub, lets re-imagine and contextualize the Maccabean Revolt with today’s weaponry, training, and armies. To keep the completely fictional and arbitrary scenario fair, Matthias the Kohein and his sons are the Shayetet 13 – the Israeli equivalent to the Navy SEALs. They serve as both instructors and fighters for the rest of the revolt: made up of IDF personnel — because being a “normal” civilian isn’t exactly a thing in modern Israel.

The modern equivalent of the Seleucid Empire is a bit of a gray area. They hired many Syrian mercenaries, but they weren’t exactly modern Syria. Though it spanned across Turkey to India, its culture, customs, and religions were Hellenic. Since Greece and Israel are allies in real life, this seems to help avoid any pitfalls.

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Also pretend like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a while away because much of the revolution took place in the West Bank. (Image via MyJewishLearning.com)

As anyone who is aware of Israeli war history knows, Israel has a strong and constantly-tested military. While it has a 176,500 strong standing military, the number of fit military service troops is around 3,00,000. Their current defense budget if $18.6 billion annually and their Merkava main battle tanks are one of the most devastating in the world. All of that on top of a nuclear-triad option.

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan
And since this is a large scale revolt under the guidance of a Spec Ops group that is on par with our SEALs, they would use everything at their disposal. (Image via IDF Blog)

As for the Hellenic Armed Forces, their peacetime strength is around 113,500 troops with a total 4,000,000 fit for service troops. Their current defense spending budget is around $9.3 billion and they are the largest importer of conventional weapons in Europe and they have the highest G.D.P percentage towards military spending in the EU.

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan
As far as military might, they each fall around the same skill and fire power. After all, Spartan blood runs deep in the Greeks. (Image via Reddit)

Just by pure numbers alone, Israel would take the fight. That’s not even including the home-field advantage of an insurgency. Even if the Greeks were to hire entire mercenary companies to fight for them, an average mercenary company only has roughly 10k personnel and would eat most of their already dwarfed budget. In $366 billion dollar industry, the modern equivalent Seleucid Empire would just not have the funds to match the Maccabean Forces.

Just as they did over two thousand years ago, the Maccabees would reach the Temple Mount and rededicate it by lighting the golden menorah.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US has a secret knife missile that kills terrorists, not civilians

The US has developed a secret missile to kill terrorists in precision strikes without harming civilians nearby, and it has already proven its worth in the field, The Wall Street Journal reported on May 9, 2019, citing more than a dozen current and former US officials.

The R9X is a modified version of the Hellfire missile. Instead of exploding, the weapon uses sheer force to kill its target. “To the targeted person, it is as if a speeding anvil fell from the sky,” The Journal wrote.

What makes the weapon especially deadly is that it carries six long blades that extend outward just before impact, shredding anything in its path. The R9X is nicknamed “The Flying Ginsu,” a reference to a type of high-quality chef’s knife.


The missile, which can tear through cars and buildings, is also called “The Ninja Bomb.”

Development reportedly began in 2011 as an attempt to reduce civilian casualties in the war on terror, especially as extremists regularly used noncombatants as human shields. A conventional missile such as the Hellfire explodes, creating a deadly blast radius and turning objects into lethal shrapnel. That’s why it’s suitable for destroying vehicles or killing a number of enemy combatants who are in close proximity, while the R9X is best for targeting individuals.

The weapon is “for the express purpose of reducing civilian casualties,” one official told reporters.

The US military has used the weapon only a few times, officials told The Journal, revealing that this missile has been used in operations in Libya, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen. For example, the RX9 was used in January 2019 to kill Jamal al-Badawi, who was accused of masterminding the USS Cole bombing in 2000.

This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan

The USS Cole is towed away from the port city of Aden, Yemen, into open sea by the Military Sealift Command ocean-going tug USNS Catawba on Oct. 29, 2000.

(DoD photo by Sgt. Don L. Maes)

While the Obama administration emphasized the need to reduce civilian casualties, the Trump administration appears to have made this less of a priority. In March 2019, President Donald Trump rolled back an Obama-era transparency initiative that required public reports on the number of civilians killed in drone strikes.

Officials told The Journal that highlighting the new missile’s existence, something they argue should have been done a long time ago, shows that the US is committed to reducing civilian casualties.

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

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