It happens so often, it is almost routine. An aircraft is trying to take out a ground target, and moves in to drop its bombs. The bombs then leave the plane, head down to the ground, and blow the target into smithereens. That’s how it’s supposed to work, and it does.
Unless it doesn’t. The fact is, even routine operations can be risky. Refueling in flight is one of those – and that has seen its share of close calls where things have gone wrong.
The action of dropping bombs on target has its dangers, too. One very iconic series of photos from World War II shows a United States Army Air Force B-17 get hit by a bomb dropped by another B-17, shearing off the stabilizer. None of that B-17’s crew got out.
But those are not the only cases. When you are dropping millions of bombs, sometimes things go wrong. It’s particularly likely when you have a new plane or a new bomb. The Air Force had an entire office at Elgin Air Force Base known as SEEK EAGLE to certify ways to carry and drop various external stores.
The video below shows some of these close calls, where bombs and external fuel tanks don’t do what one would expect in the routine action of dropping the tanks or a bomb. Some of these look spectacular, like the clip featuring a F-111 Aardvark dropping what appears to be a fuel tank. Other scenes show the weapons hitting the planes as they head down, or missing by a matter of inches.
Think of this video as yet another reminder that even in peacetime, the risks are very great for those who defend their country.
There are many different routes to becoming an officer within the U.S. Armed Forces. Military academies and ROTC programs are common, but only one in-road immediately garners respect, admiration, and loyalty — we’re talking about Mustang officers. A ‘Mustang’ is a prior-service officer who did their time before jumping from the green side (enlisted) to the gold side (officers).
You can often point them out in a crowd. They’re a bit older than most butterbars, they already have that sharp-as-a-KA-BAR glare, and they’re probably a bit hungover.
Now, this isn’t meant to bash officers who were not previously enlisted. In fact, this list is meant to spotlight the reasons why Mustangs get more love and what all officers will eventually learn with time. Mustangs just have a head start.
1. They don’t need to be taught the small stuff.
There are a lot of minor details in military life that you simply can’t learn from books. The most important difference between a Mustang and a fresh officer is learning the constant give-and-take that comes with leadership.
There is an extremely fine line between earning respect through leading by example and being a knowledgable leader. If an officer hides in their office, they alienate their troops. If they put their nose in troops’ business, they’re micromanaging to the point of exhaustion. Each officer must forge their own path. Mustangs just have a better understanding of what it’s like to deal with officers of both types.
2. They’ve made the same dumb mistakes as the lower enlisted.
One aspect of leadership that no leader wants to deal with is learning someone you’re in charge of messed up. Troops are a direct reflection of the officers over them and when it’s found out that a subordinate “goofed,” the chain of command asks just one question to the officer: “What’s wrong with your Joe?”
Fresh officers tend to drop the hammer — either because they don’t know the proper response or they believe it’ll set an example. Despite being former NCOs, Mustangs will wield the hammer to the appropriate level to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Oftentimes, it can just be as simple as letting the NCO smoke the problems out of the subordinate.
3. They take on more important tasks than their peers.
An officer’s reputation depends entirely on the actions of their troops. Good officers have faith in their troops and maintain focus on what’s important — building skills needed for warfighting and doing the menial tasks that just need to get done — instead of chasing the tasks that net them a shiny new award.
There are no specific right answers to finding a good task balance for your troops but there definitely is a wrong answer: forgetting to factor morale into this equation. Mustangs just tend to watch their own lane and put themselves in the boots they once wore.
4. They don’t mind getting their hands dirty with their troops.
Rank has its privileges. If the officer needs to do their own work, they’ll stay in their lane. If the only hold up is the Joes’ dirty work, officers have the choice of “supervising” the NCOs supervising the troops, or they can lead by example, get their hands dirty, and earn a bit more trust (once again, consider alienation versus micromanaging).
Mustangs have swept their fair share of motor pools and they’ve filled their fair share of sandbags. They can dive back into that world every now and then without getting labelled as a micromanager.
5. They would never say something as stupid as, “well, Sergeant Major, technically, I outrank you!”
Yes, as with all formalities and regulations, the dumb butterbar is technically correct. The proper response from an E-9 isn’t to immediately open a can of whoop-ass on the unfortunate soul, but rather to turn to their officer equivalent with a deadpan look and ask them to unf*ck that officer before they do.
A Mustang knows that NCOs often have a battle-buddy that outranks them…
6. They aren’t sour if they aren’t saluted.
There’s a time and place for saluting. Of course, it shows the proper respect to officers, but even officers get tired of “chopping logs” when they have to salute every three seconds.
If a Mustang knows their troops respect them, they don’t need a hand raised to their eyebrow to prove it. They’ll still expect the salute for formality’s sake, but they know it’s not the end of the world should a troop forego one. Plus, you’ll never see a Mustang get worked up when they’re not saluted in a combat zone.
For one very specific reason… (Photo by Sgt. Conner Robbins)
7. Their heads aren’t up their asses.
Let’s face it: Everyone who becomes an officer has their own idea of leadership and hopes to etch their name into military history books — but there are steps they must take. Every officer they read about in books was once a young lieutenant. It takes time. It takes making mistakes. It takes years to learn your own leadership style. No one ever comes out of the gate and immediately changes the world.
Relax. Stay humble. Everything can be summed up with the phrase, “trust is a two-way street.” Mustangs trust their troops and the troops will make sure their name is remembered fondly.
Babasoloukian — aka “Babalou” — tells a story that illustrates how easy it is for trainees to fall into traps set by their drill sergeants…or just actually fall…even when they’re told specifically not to fall (common sense would suggest that you wouldn’t have to tell someone that but…boots amirite?)
A genius moment is when one of the enlistees doesn’t know the difference between an Armenian and a Kardashian.
Maybe genius isn’t the right word?
But hey, when it comes down to it, all military personnel are well aware that our great nation faces threats of all shapes and sizes, whether it’s ISIS, al Qaeda, or Kardashian.
Back in civilian life, there are plenty of high-intensity jobs that are perfect for those veterans who need a little more action than a cubicle can provide. Check out this list of 7 extreme occupations:
The Army’s decision to change its marksmanship training and make the test more realistic has a lot going for it. If signed into policy, it will hopefully make soldiers more lethal. But there’s a basic piece of physics that a lot of soldiers, especially support soldiers who often fire at paper, don’t think about when firing, that will become more important if the Army really does get rid of “paper” qualifications: gravity and bullet rise/drop.
And this isn’t a purely academic problem. Not understanding the role of gravity on rifle marksmanship will make it more likely that shooters fire over the tops of targets in the middle of the range while qualifying. We’re going to start below with the quick guidance troops can use at the range. After that, we’ll go into the theory behind it:
Rifle ranges are fun! If you know what you’re doing.
(U.S. Army Spc. Garrett Bradley)
The general guidance
Hello shooters! If you’re a perfect shooter, who has no issue hitting targets, keep doing what you’re doing, don’t read this. In fact, a shooter perfectly applying the four fundamentals of marksmanship, meaning their point of aim is always center mass at the time they fire, will never miss a basic rifle marksmanship target regardless of whether or not they understand bullet drop. So, feel free to go watch cat videos. Congrats!
If you are missing, especially missing when firing at the mid-range targets, then start aiming at the targets’ “belly buttons” when they’re between 100 and 250 meters away. Only do this at ranges from 100 to 250 meters. Do not, repeat, do not aim low at 300-meter targets.
I originally got this advice from an artillery observer turned military journalist at Fort Bragg who qualified expert all the time, and it really does help a lot of shooters. If you want to know why it works, keep on reading.
An Army table from FM 3-22.9 illustrating the rise and then drop of M885 ball ammunition fired from M4s and M16s.
The theory behind it
Right now, soldiers can take one of two tests when qualifying on their rifles. They can fire at pop-up targets on a large range or at a paper target with small silhouettes just 25 meters away. The paper target ranges are much easier for commanders and staff to organize, but are nowhere near as realistic.
For shooters firing at paper targets 25 meters away, their point of aim and point of impact should be exactly the same. Point of aim is the exact spot that the shooter has lined up their sights. Point of impact is where the round actually impacts.
An M4 perfectly zeroed for 300 meters, as is standard, should have a perfect match between point of aim and point of impact at both 300 meters and 25 meters. So, when a shooter is firing at a paper target 25 meters away, the rounds should hit where the shooter is aiming. But bullets don’t fly flat, and shooters used to paper who get sent to a pop-up range under the new marksmanship program will have to learn to deal with bullet drop.
Properly zeroing your rifle is super important.
(U.S. Army Pfc. Arcadia Jackson)
First, a quick primer on the ballistics of an M4 and M16. The rounds are small but are fired at extremely high speeds, over 3,000 fps. But they aren’t actually fired exactly level with the weapon sights, because the barrel isn’t exactly level with the sights. Instead, the barrel is tilted ever so slightly upward, meaning the bullet is fired slightly up into the sky when a shooter is aiming at something directly in front of them.
This is by design, because gravity begins affecting a bullet the moment it leaves the barrel (up until that point, it is supported by the barrel or magazine.) Basically, the designers wanted to help riflemen shoot quickly and accurately in combat, so they tilted the barrel to compensate for gravity. The barrel points up because gravity pulls down.
And the designers set the weapon up so these effects would largely cancel each other out at the ranges that soldiers operate at most often. This worked out to about 300 meters, the same ranges the Army currently tests soldiers on their ability to shoot.
Basically, the barrel’s tilt causes the round to “rise” for the first 175 to 200 meters of flight when it runs out of upward momentum. Then, gravity overcomes the momentum, and it starts to fall.
An E-type silhouette is 40 inches tall. If a shooter aimed at the exact center of the target, that would be the red dot. An M4’s rate of bullet climb with M885 ball ammunition would create a point of impact at the blue dot, 6 inches above point of aim. M16s have an even more pronounced bullet rise.
(Francis Filch original, CC BY-SA 4.0, Red dots by Logan Nye)
So, when an M4 is properly zeroed to 300 meters, then the point of aim and point of impact should be exactly level at 300 meters. But remember, it’s an arc. And the opposite side of the arc, and the bullet is falling to level with the sights at 300 meters. The opposite side of the arc, the spot where the bullet has climbed to the point of aim, is at 25 meters.
So, when firing on an Alt C target at 25 meters, a shooter would never notice the problem because the point of aim and point of impact would match.
But when firing on a pop-up range with targets between 50 and 300 meters, some people will accidentally shoot over the target’s shoulders or even the target’s head. That’s because an M4 round has climbed as much as 6 inches at 200 meters and is only just beginning to fall. (An M16 round climbs even higher, about 9 inches, but those weapons are less common now.) That can put the round’s point of impact at the neck of the target, a much thinner bit of flesh to hit.
So if a shooter has a tendency to aim just a little high when under the time pressure of the range, that high point of aim combines with the climb of the point of impact to result in a shot over the head. If the shooter aims just a little left or right, they’ll miss the neck and hit air.
The easy way to compensate for this is to imagine a belly button on the targets between 100 and 250 meters. That way, the 4-6 inches that the point of impact is above the point of aim will result in rounds hitting center of the chest. If the shooter aims a little high, they are still hitting chest or neck. Left and right is just more abdominal or chest area.
Obviously, if the shooter is aiming in the dirt, they could still hit abdominal but might even bury the round if they’re really low.
But, remember, this only applies to targets between 100 and 250 meters where the rise of the round from the tilted barrel has significantly changed the point of impact. Shooters should just aim center mass at the 50 and 300-meter targets.
And, if all of this is too complicated, don’t worry too much about it. Perfectly shot rounds, with all four fundamentals of marksmanship perfectly applied, will always hit the target anyway. That’s because the Army uses E-type silhouettes at all the distances where this matters, and E-type silhouettes are 40 inches tall. If the point of aim is center mass, then the round’s climb of 6 inches will still put the point of impact in the black.
Destin Sandlin, the former Army engineer behind the YouTube channel Smarter Every Day, shot video of see-through suppressors and then went through the video in slow motion, discussing exactly how these weapon accessories work to mask the location of a shooter.
See Through Suppressor in Super Slow Motion (110,000 fps) – Smarter Every Day 177
Suppressors are often referred to as “silencers” in popular media, but that’s a misnomer that has been clearly debunked in the last few years. So let’s take a quick look at what it does instead of silencing the sound of the weapon.
When is weapon fired, a pocket of cool air and powder is suddenly ignited, creating a massive stream of extremely hot gases that propel the round from the barrel. This process also creates an audible explosion that can alert everyone in the area as to where the shot came from.
Suppressors work by channeling the explosive gases through channels, often cut into a series of chambers, in such a way that the gases escape over a longer period of time, mostly after they’ve already cooled and returned to normal volume. This doesn’t eliminate the sound, but instead turns it from a solid single explosion to a sort of muted thunderclap with a short roll to the sound.
Typically, this process takes place inside a metal “can” that contains the suppressor, making it impossible to see the flow of the gases. But as this video shows, high-quality acrylic can serve the same purpose, allowing you to see the flow of the gases. The best example is the second demonstration in the video, and you can actually see the process in its stages.
First, the suppressor captures the gases leaving the barrel in a large chamber near the muzzle. But then, as that superheated gas is captured, the suppressor channels a lot of the gases over a diamond-patterned area which contains the heat until it dissipates. The gases don’t escape until after the bulk of the heat is gone, making the sound much quieter.
Of course, this process does have some drawbacks. First, a large amount of heat that would normally pass into the air is instead captured in a can near the barrel, increasing the amount of heat that remains in the barrel. This shortens barrel life and reduces how many rounds a shooter can fire in a short period of time without melting the barrel.
It can also affect the ballistics of the round fired and the accuracy of the shooter as it changes the flow of gases and adds weight to the barrel.
In recent weeks, Wall Street has talked a lot about the fears of a coming recession, fueled by a drop in government bond yields. The casual investor may have no idea what this means for them, but for homeowners in the military and beyond, it means now is the perfect time to refinance a mortgage.
What any potential refinancer needs to know is that the falling bond yield is pushing mortgage rates to their lowest levels in three years. In November 2018, the interest rate was steady at five percent. Eight months later, the interest rate in now at 3.6 percent and looking to fall further.
This isn’t some shady internet ad, promising easy money on Obama-era mortgage laws or new Trump-era government home loans – those certainly exist and everyone should be wary about trusting easy money. But the drop in mortgage rates comes directly from Freddie Mac, whose rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.6 in August 2019. The reason is that the 30-year rate is linked to 10-year Treasury Bonds. The rate of return on those bonds just fell to their lowest since October 2016.
(St. Louis Federal Reserve)
What this means is that suddenly your homeowner dollar goes a little bit further, considering the cost of taking out a new loan or refinancing an old one just dropped. According to Caliber Home Loans, a lending company who specializes in military and veteran homebuyers, the rule of thumb used to be that the interest rate for a new mortgage must be about two percentage points below the rate of a current mortgage for refinancing to make sense.
With new low- and no-cost refinancing from Caliber and other lenders, refinancing could make sense any time – especially right now, given the latest interest rates. A refinance could reduce overall interest while reducing a monthly payment. If you acted right now, you wouldn’t be alone, not by far. Falling rates boost the U.S. housing market.
It’s important to think of your home as an investment, too.
“My applications are up across the board,” said Angela Martin, a Nashville, Tenn.-based loan officer told the Wall Street Journal. “Every time the Fed starts talking is when my phone starts ringing off the hook.”
What Martin means is the Federal Reserve just cut the benchmark interest rate after a few successive rate hikes. This is when people start looking for a better deal. But be wary – lenders will sometimes employ different perks after a rate drop to entice customers to accept things like credits at closing instead of a lower rate.
For military families and veteran homeowners, look into military-oriented lenders like Caliber Home Loans. Caliber and companies like it specialize in the needs and benefits afforded to military members and veterans. Caliber is also a proud sponsor of the 2019 Military Influencer Conference, a three-day conference of service members, veterans, and spouses who work to elevate the military veteran community.
This past week, the 65th anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement, saw the return of 55 troops’ remains by the North Koreans to the United States. A U.S. Air Force C-17 flew into Wonsan, North Korea, to pick up the remains before returning them to Osan Air Base, South Korea.
The troops who received the remains wore white gloves and dress uniforms. The remains of the deceased were placed in boxes and each box was draped in the United Nations’ flag — not Old Glory. Now, before you get up in arms about it, know that there’s a good reason for using the UN flag.
And so began the first of many wars between Capitalism and Communism.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. P. McDonald)
The Korean War began on June 25th, 1950, when the North sent troops south of the 38th parallel. Shortly after the invasion, the newly-formed United Nations unanimously opposed the actions of North Korea.
The Soviet Union would’ve cast a dissenting vote if they hadn’t been boycotting participation in the United Nations for allowing the Republic of China (otherwise known as Taiwan) into the security council instead of the People’s Republic of China (communist mainland China). Instead, the Soviets and the communist Chinese backed the fledgling communist North Korea against the United Nations-backed South Korea.
The South Korean loss of life totaled 227,800 — quadruple every other nation combined.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Brian Gibbons)
Historically speaking, the United States was not alone in fighting the communists. Nearly every UN signatory nation gave troops to the cause. While America had sent in 302,483, the United Kingdom sent 14,198, Canada sent 6,146, Australia sent 2,282, Ethiopia sent 1,271, Colombia sent 1,068 — the list continues.
South Korea contributed almost doubled the amount of every other nation combined at 602,902, which doesn’t include the unknown number of resistance fighters who participated but weren’t enlisted. These numbers are astounding for conflict often called “the Forgotten War.”
Since then, nothing has really changed except the regimes.
United Nations troops fought en masse against the communist aggressors. The North had pushed the South to the brink, reaching the southern coastal city of Pusan by late August 1950. When United Nations forces entered the conflict at the battle of Inchon, the tides shifted. By late October, the battle lines had moved past Pyongyang, North Korea, and neared the Chinese border in the northwest.
It wasn’t until Chinese reinforcements showed up that the war was pushed back to where it all started — near the 38th parallel. These massive shifts in held territory meant that the dead from both sides of the conflict were scattered across the Korean Peninsula by the time the armistice was signed on July 27th, 1953.
North Korea hasn’t been much help as even they don’t always know which battle the remains were from. Which, you know, could have at least been a start.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kelsey Tucker)
The first repatriation of remains happened directly after the war, on September 1st, 1954, in what was called Operation Glory. Each side agreed to search far and wide for remains until the operation’s end, nearly two months later, on October 30th. 13,528 North Korean dead were returned and the United Nations received 4,167 — but these numbers were only a portion of the unaccounted-for lives. America alone is still missing over 5,300 troops. South Koreans and UN allies are missing even more.
Over the years, many more remains were found and repatriated. Throughout the process, South Korea was fairly accurate in the labeling and categorizing of remains. North Korea, however, was not. To date, one of the only written record of Allied lives lost behind enemy lines comes from a secret list, penned by Private First Class Johnnie Johnson.
His list — a list he risked his life to create while imprisoned — identified 496 American troops who had died in a North Korean prisoner-of-war camp. Though this list has been the basis for some identifications, it accounts for just one-fourteenth of American missing fallen.
Today, the names, nationalities, and service records of a still-unknown number of fallen troops have been lost to time.
Of the 55 remains transferred this week at Wonsan, none have been identified. There is no way of knowing who that troop was, which country they were from, or, to some degree, if they were even enlisted at all. Until they are properly identified, they will be covered by the United Nations’ flag to show respect, regardless of which nation they served.
On Apr. 6, 1944, Marines and sailors aboard Naval vessels located in the Pacific were going about their regular workday knowing the enemy was planning something soon — something big.
On the nearby island, the Japanese gathered every operational plane remaining in their arsenal. Many of the Kamikaze pilots were inexperienced but highly devoted to the Empire.
Once they were armed and loaded, the flying fleet took off in waves heading toward their American targets.
As the suicidal pilots reached their target, they began an attack that would supersede any air raid in history. Over the course of two days, over 350 enemy planes imposed absolute havoc on the allied vessels.
As American forces defended themselves with well-trained fighter pilots and ship gunners, the enemies’ ambitious nature proved costly.
The Japanese crashed over 1,900 planes in choreographed kamikaze dives around Okinawa — sinking a total 126 ships and damaging 64 others.
The U.S. Army is slowing down its timeline to acquire a fleet of Joint Light Tactical Vehicles, an armored Humvee replacement that some have criticized as being better suited to past wars.
The Army’s $178 billion proposed budget for fiscal 2021 earmarks $894.4 million to buy “1,920 JLTVs of various configurations as well as 1,334 JLTV-T companion trailers,” according to a Feb. 10 Army statement.
“They are reductions; they are not cuts,” Maj. Gen. Paul Chamberlain, director of Army budget, told reporters at the Pentagon. “We are extending the production life for JLTV.”
The Army began slowing its JLTV acquisition strategy last year, announcing it would buy 2,530 JLTVs in fiscal 2020, a significant reduction from its 2019 purchase of 3,393 vehicles.
The JLTV was one of 93 programs the Army cut or reduced last year, putting roughly billion in savings toward the Army’s ambitious modernization effort.
Last April, then-Secretary of the Army Mark Esper said that the JLTV was essentially designed to fight a war with the kind of improvised explosive device (IED) threats that existed in Iraq.
The JLTV became a modernization priority for the Army and Marine Corps in the early days of Iraq, after the Humvee proved unable to protect troops from deadly IEDs.
Army leaders said last year that the service was considering lowering its procurement objective of buying 49,000 JLTVs by the mid-2030s.
Now Army budget officials say that the service has extended JLTV’s production life until 2041.
“The total number remains the same; it’s just over a longer period that it is going to be procured,” Chamberlain said.
Oshkosh Corp. was selected in August 2015 over Lockheed Martin Corp. and AM General LLC to build the JLTV, but Army budget officials said Tuesday that the service may award another competitive JLTV contract in 2022 to get a better deal.
“Normally, we do that to drive price down on the end-state, so if you have competition in the production space, you will eventually get some savings out of it,” John Daniels, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for Plans, Programs and Resources, told reporters at the Pentagon.
In the spring of 1970, U.S. forces attempted to fracture an NVA supply line in the Vietnam jungle, as 79 soldiers from Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry came under a vicious attack and became trapped in a heavily bunkered NVA fortification — unable to escape.
With nowhere to run, the troops began taking heavy casualties.
The hellish area was covered in thick towering trees which ruled out any possibility of dropping off extra supplies or evacuating the wounded. The only way to get to the ambushed men was from the ground.
If these ground troops were to lose this area to the enemy, the hope of an offensive victory would have died. The men at the point of attack managed to pull their wounded brothers out of harm’s way and quickly render care. The American forces formed a secure perimeter with the men they had left.
“Human instinct tells you to stay on that ground don’t move, return fire, don’t move,” Ken Woodard of Charlie Company explains during an interview. “You can get killed.”
The men did just that, without being ordered.
They were then able to create a base of fire putting rounds down range — buying time.
It sounds like a big job description: “Queen’s Champion and Standard Bearer of England.” Although these days, the title seems more ceremonial than functional, it still sounds like a big deal. Since the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, whomever holds the Manor of Scrivelsby in Lincolnshire, England, also has to fight for the monarch at their coronation, should a challenger arise in the middle of it.
Francis John Fane Marmion Dymoke is the current champion, but this is his father, the previous champion. A World War II veteran, he died in 2015.
The Dymokes have been the standard bearers for the reigning English monarch since the mid-14th Century, and would ride into Westminster Abbey in full shining armor, on a horse, in full plumage and regalia. To repeat, they ride a horse into Westminster in the middle of a coronation. They then throw a gauntlet – they literally throw a gauntlet – on the ground and announce that whomever dares challenge the King or Queen’s right to the throne must face him in combat. When no one does, the new monarch then drinks wine from a golden cup to honor his or her Champion.
The King or Queen could not fight in such combat unless it were someone their equal who would challenge them, and that usually meant a war.
The tradition has taken a few different forms over the last few monarch coronations, and was left out of Queen Victoria’s coronation entirely.
And sadly, at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, the Champion did not get to throw the gauntlet or threaten the crowd, but he did his duty to carry the Royal Standard in the procession. When Prince Charles (or at this rate, William) takes the throne, this is a tradition we in America would like to see revived to its full former glory.
Astryx_x asks: Do suppressed memories actually exist?
We’ve all seen it in movies — a character will be going along in their lives blissfully unaware of some extremely traumatic event in their long distant past… that is, until a bit of syrup dribbles onto their cheek and they are transported back in their mind to that time they were abducted by aliens. Suddenly, they remember everything. But do such repressed memories actually exist?
It turns out that while only a few decades ago the idea of repressed memories was an extremely popular notion among psychologists, including many a person being thrown in prison when someone would randomly recover such a traumatic memory from their childhood after undergoing psychotherapy to retrieve it, the issue is a fair bit more controversial today.
According to a study conducted at the University of California, Irvine, published in the Journal of the Association for Psychological Science in 2013, approximately 60%-90% of psychologists (varying based on therapist type) who are clinicians still believe that repressed memories exist in some cases, though generally considered to be rare. Further, 43%-75% think these repressed memories can be retrieved with proper methods. In stark contrast, approximately 70% of research psychologist believe there is no such thing as repressed memories. So what’s going on here?
(Photo by Hal Gatewood)
To begin with, on the research psychologist side, their stance is largely backed by the fact that, as noted by famed psychologist Chris French of the University of London, “There is no convincing evidence to support the existence of the psychoanalytic concept of repression, despite it being a widely accepted concept.”
Despite this, many clinicians still believe it is. As to why, Lawrence Patihis of the aforementioned study illustrating the divide between clinicians and researchers speculates:
clinicians are more apt to trust clinical experience, while researchers tend to trust experimental research… there are many anecdotal reports of cures coming from retrieving repressed memories, but at the same time, credible experimental evidence of it does not exist…
Further stacking the evidence on the side of the researchers, it turns out that traumatic events that induce a strong emotional response, which are so often the subject of supposed repressed memories, tend to be the ones we remember the best.
That said, traumatic events can, and often are, ultimately forgotten, particularly when said events don’t actually induce a significant emotional response — for instance, if a child and not really understanding the event was of what would normally be categorized as the traumatic variety and thus there isn’t an associated strong emotional response. These tend to be forgotten at much higher rates, similar to what you’d expect from any given memory.
In fact, in one study Recall of Childhood Trauma: A Prospective Study of Women’s Memories of Child Sexual Abuse, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, it’s noted that 38% of the adults studied who had a high probability of being abused as children based on documented evidence had forgotten about it as adults.
In one case, one of the participants who was adamant she was never sexually abused, was asked a follow up question if she knew anyone that had been “in trouble for his or her sexual behavior”. Eventually the woman did remember her uncle had. She stated: “I never met my uncle, he died before I was born. You see, he molested a little boy. When the little boy’s mother found out that her son was molested, she took a butcher knife and stabbed my uncle in the heart, killing him.”
In fact, that is exactly what happened, except in this case, the woman being interviewed was one of three children the uncle had allegedly done this to, resulting in the mother of one of the children murdering him with a knife. The now adult woman in the study had only been four years old then — a time when few remember anything of their lives, traumatic or not.
Similarly, in a case study reported by The Recovered Memory Project, a woman named Claudia was involved in a group therapy session to help with weight loss when for whatever reason she began remembering being sexually abused by her older brother when she was little. Her brother had died in Vietnam approximately 15 years before, and their parents had essentially left his room and belongings alone. When she returned home, Claudia searched the room and found not only a set of handcuffs in his closet, but a diary in which he supposedly recorded his, to quote, “sexual experiments with his sister.”
From many such cases as these, as should come as no surprise to anyone — humans forget things all the time, and later sometimes remember them. It’s just that studies to date don’t really demonstrate that the brain is actively repressing these memories as is so widely believed among the general public, and to a lesser extent clinical psychologists.
While this might otherwise be a mundane issue only worth psychologists arguing over, it turns out it’s actually a pretty pernicious one thanks to the way clinicians classically tried to recover these memories, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s when the idea of recovering repressed memories was en vogue. This was often done in cases when forgotten traumatic events were thought by the therapists as the cause of things like depression and anxiety in a given client.
It turns out, many of the methods used by psychologists came to be discovered as textbook ways to get people to create false memories.
To begin with, to illustrate how easy it is to plant a false memory, in one early study, now famed memory researcher Dr. Elizabeth Loftus and co. decided to see if they could implant a false memory into people of having been lost at a shopping mall when five years old. Their method here, as explained by Dr. Loftus was,
We prepared a booklet for each participant containing one-paragraph stories about three events that had actually happened to him or her and one that had not. We constructed the false event using information about a plausible shopping trip provided by a relative, who also verified that the participant had not in fact been lost at about the age of five. The lost-in-the-mall scenario included the following elements: lost for an extended period, crying, aid and comfort by an elderly woman and, finally, reunion with the family.
What they ultimately found was after asking people to recall the events with as much detail as possible (a question many a clinical psychologist would ask, among other methods), almost 1/3 of the people involved remembered this experience.
In yet another similar study at Western Washington University, parents of students reported various events that had happened to their children. The researchers then asked the students if they could give their version of the story to illustrate how people remember things differently. They also planted a false story within these real ones about either being hospitalized as a child or having had a birthday party with a clown and pizza at the age of 5. It was also confirmed with the parents that neither of those things had ever happened.
Illustrating the power of suggestion, not a single student remembered the false event the first time they were interviewed about it. Yet in the second interview 1/5th of them remembered it after thinking about it for a while. Some even eventually remembered the event in incredible detail, including specific people visiting them in the hospital, for instance.
In yet another study by that same research group, this time they went with the subjects having to evacuate a store as a child when the sprinkler system went off, drenching everyone, or having spilled a giant bowl of punch at a wedding directly on the parent’s of the bride. Once again, nobody remembered the false memory the first time. But the second time almost 1/5th did, including, again, with some remembering remarkably vivid and small details.
Going yet more traumatic and somewhat controversial, there have been studies where researchers implanted false memories of everything from people almost drowning as children to being demon possessed — all with similar results.
Of course, in many of these cases, the idea was fed to the subjects and some of them then created the detailed false memories based on that suggestion. So how did this correlate to methods used by clinical psychologists in the late 20th century and to a lesser extent now?
As one example, we have imagination therapy, where patients are asked to imagine an often traumatic event and not worry about whether it happened or not — a once very popular method for trying to draw out repressed or forgotten memories.
For example, as famed sex therapist Wendy Matlz once stated, she would tell her patients to “Spend time imaging that you were sexually abused, without worrying about accuracy proving anything, or having your ideas make sense …. Ask yourself … these questions: What time of day is it? Where are you? Indoors or outdoors? What kind of things are happening? Is there one or more person with you?… Who would have been likely perpetrators? When were you most vulnerable to sexual abuse in your life?”
In studies looking at whether this type of imagination therapy increases the likelihood of implanting a false memory, one study’s subjects were asked a series of questions about a made up event of running toward a window as a child then tripping and breaking the window with their hand as they fell. It turns out the act of imagining that it happened increased about 1 in 4 of the participant’s confidence that the event had actually happened, vs. only about 1 in 10 reporting an increase in confidence when not asked to imagine the event had occurred.
Other studies have shown that the more frequently subjects were made to imagine a made up event, the more and more likely they are to later state that the event actually happened.
(Photo by Robina Weermeijer)
In yet another study, using these type of guided methods as well as hypnosis, participants were made to supposedly recover memories from directly after they were first born. Of course, the researchers at Carleton University actually simply implanted specific memories. Incredibly, 95% of the people being studied using guided mnemonic restructuring came to remember some memories from directly after birth and on the other hand, 70% who were subjected to hypnosis also recovered these so-called “impossible memories”. Also important to note was that about half of both groups also remembered the specific memory from shortly after being born that the researchers had completely made up.
Dr. Loftus states of all this,
Research is beginning to give us an understanding of how false memories of complete, emotional and self-participatory experiences are created in adults. First, there are social demands on individuals to remember; for instance, researchers exert some pressure on participants in a study to come up with memories. Second, memory construction by imagining events can be explicitly encouraged when people are having trouble remembering. And, finally, individuals can be encouraged not to think about whether their constructions are real or not. Creation of false memories is most likely to occur when these external factors are present, whether in an experimental setting, in a therapeutic setting or during everyday activities.
This very unfortunately resulted in cases like Nadean Cool. In 1986, she went to see a psychiatrist who in turn used a variety of popular techniques including hypnosis to try to see if she had any repressed memories about being abused as a child. In the end, what surfaced were memories of being raped, being forced into bestiality, eating babies, watching her friend get murdered, being forced to be involved in a satanic cult, etc. At one point the psychiatrist in question even decided she had at least 120 distinct personalities, one of which was somehow that of a duck. And then to add to the bizarreness of the whole thing, the psychiatrist had an exorcism performed on her to get Satan out of her body…
Of course, after years of this, it ultimately became clear none of these things had actually happened to her and they were simply false memories inadvertently implanted by her psychiatrist over time using these various methods.
In another famous case, one Beth Rutherford’s therapists used similar methods to try to recover repressed memories in 1992, only to have her vividly remember her mother holding her down while her father, a minister, raped her countless times over the course of seven years, starting when she was just seven years old. This included twice getting her pregnant and then painfully aborting the pregnancies using a coat hangar…
Naturally, the whole thing ruined her father’s career and reputation, among other devastating effects on all involved. But it turns out none of that actually happened either, which Beth ultimately discovered, among other evidence, when she went in for an examination and it turns out not only was it very clear she’d never been pregnant, but it was also the opinion of her doctors that she was clearly still a virgin.
Naturally, in both the cases of Beth and Nadean, neither were too pleased at having been put through all that mental trauma, plus having put others they loved through similar stress and hardship, when it was eventually demonstrated that none of these recovered memories ever happened.
Perhaps the most famous case of all of these was that of Eileen Franklin, who would later go on to author a book called Sins of the Father documenting the saga as she saw it. In her case, when she was a child one of her friends, eight year old Susan Nason, was raped and murdered. Nason’s body was discovered two months later, but the killer never identified. That is, until Eileen was an adult and her own daughter allegedly turned to look at her one day and reminded her so much of her friend, that suddenly she remembered witnessing her own father, George Franklin, raping and murdering Nason right in front of her.
Soon enough, Franklin was arrested, tried and convicted, despite there being no real evidence other than this recovered memory.
Finally, six years after being imprisoned, the ruling was overturned by a federal appeals court who, among other things, noted that the prosecutors’ entire case depended on the accuracy of repressed memories which were unreliable. Yet, in this case were taken as absolute fact, despite the lack of corroborating evidence. The appeals court also criticized the judge involved for not allowing the defense to introduce evidence that all of the pertinent facts of the case Eileen supposedly remembered had actually appeared in news accounts of the crime which Eileen was privy too.
This was particularly important as much of the confidence that Eileen’s memories were real came from the fact that many of the details she recalled did indeed match up with the evidence in the case.
Not long after Franklin was released after six years in prison, prosecutors were initially going to forge ahead to attempt to get Franklin thrown back behind bars. But then a few pertinent pieces of information came out that resulted in them moving to dismiss the charges.
First, Eileen had alleged that she had recovered another memory of her father raping and murdering someone else, this time an 18 year old woman whose murder at that point was also unsolved. However, when a DNA test was done on the semen recovered in the case it didn’t match George Franklin’s DNA. Further, minutes from a meeting at his work at the time this particular murder took place showed Franklin had been at that meeting at the fire station he had worked at. Thus, unless he had discovered a way to be two places at once, he couldn’t have done it.
The nail in the coffin on the origin case was when Eileen’s sister, Janice, told the prosecutors that Eileen allegedly told her that she’d remembered the events of the case in question while being hypnotized, contrary to what Eileen and Janice had stated during the trial. If true, this made those memories unreliable in the eyes of the court thanks to a Supreme Court ruling on a similar case, and thus the prosecution finally decided to have the charges dismissed.
Eileen still, however, at least at that point, firmly maintained she remembered these things happening and was still convinced her father was guilty of this and other alleged crimes from later recovered memories she had of him raping her as well. But as the aforementioned psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, who was called to testify in this particular case, noted during the whole ordeal,
I have little doubt that Eileen Franklin believes with every cell of her being that her father murdered Susan Nason. But I believe there is a very real possibility that the whole concoction was spun not from solid facts but from the vaporous breezes of wishes, dreams, fears, desires. Eileen’s mind, operating independently of reality, went about its business of collecting ambiguities and inconsistencies and wrapping them up into a sensible package, revealing to her in one blinding moment of insight a coherent picture of the past that was nevertheless completely and utterly false. Eileen’s story is her truth, but I believe it is a truth that never happened.
Illustrating the potential scope of the problem of false memories and court cases, Dr. Loftus would later state in her TED talk,
In one project in the United States, information has been gathered on 300 innocent people, 300 defendants who were convicted of crimes they didn’t do. They spent 10, 20, 30 years in prison for these crimes, and now DNA testing has proven that they are actually innocent. And when those cases have been analyzed, three quarters of them are due to… faulty eyewitness memory.
Of course, moving back to recovered memories, there really are people who were abused or witnessed or endured traumatic things as children and then later completely forgot about it, so few are willing to reject the memories of everyone who has such recollections later in life, even when “recovered” through therapy. It’s just that, as Dr. Loftus states,
The one take home message… is this: Just because someone tells you something with a lot of confidence and detail and emotion, it doesn’t mean it actually happened. You need independent corroboration to know whether you’re dealing with an authentic memory, or something that is a product of some other process.
She goes on, “…many people believe that memory works like a recording device. You just record the information, then you call it up and play it back when you want to answer questions or identify images. But decades of work in psychology has shown that this just isn’t true. Our memories are constructive. They’re reconstructive. Memory works a little bit more like a Wikipedia page: You can go in there and change it, but so can other people.”
So to sum up — while some psychologists still think repressed memories are a thing, there really isn’t presently much data backing up the notion vs the simpler explanation that people have just forgotten things like they forget most of what happens in their lives. Further, given that it’s absurdly easy to get people to remember things, even of the extremely traumatic variety, that never actually happened, trying to distinguish between real and false memories is something of an effort in futility without outside hard evidence.
In the end, it turns out human memory is incredibly fallible, but few of us want to accept that so much of what we remember in life didn’t happen quite, or in some cases at all, like we remember it. This, unfortunately, occasionally leads to people being convicted of sometimes even extreme crimes that they didn’t actually commit.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.