Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Churchill advocating the initiation of gas warfare in World War II

“It is absurd to consider morality on this topic when everybody used it in the last war without a word of complaint from the moralists or the Church. On the other hand, in the last war the bombing of open cities was regarded as forbidden. Now everybody does it as a matter of course. It is simply a question of fashion changing as she does between long and short skirts for women.”

--Winston Churchill, as quoted by Barton J. Bernstein in “Why We Didn’t Use Poison Gas in World War II,” American Heritage, 1985 August/September

Poison gas in World War I

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

“Mustard gas did not need to be inhaled to be effective — any contact with skin was sufficient. Exposure to 0.1 ppm was enough to cause massive blisters. Higher concentrations could burn flesh to the bone. It was particularly effective against the soft skin of the eyes, nose, armpits and groin, since it dissolved in the natural moisture of those areas.”

Canadian soldier with mustard gas burns
ca. 1917

“Chapter XVI: Practical Hints for Treasure Seekers”

“If one is unable to finance an expedition aboard a swift, black-hulled schooner, it is always possible to dig for the treasure of poor Captain Kidd and it is really a matter of small importance that he left no treasure in his wake. The zest of the game is in seeking. A pick and a shovel are to be obtained in the wood-shed or can be purchased at the nearest hardware store for a modest outlay. A pirate's chart is to be highly esteemed, but if the genuine article cannot be found, there are elderly seafaring men in every port who will furnish one just as good and perjure themselves as to the information thereof with all the cheerfulness in the world.”

--Ralph D. Paine, The Book of Buried Treasure, 1911

Cuba - Fidel, Che, Hemingway

“There’s a strange secular trinity in Cuba: Fidel is the Holy Father, Che is the martyred son, and Hemingway is the mysterious but powerful Holy Ghost.”

--David Lansing, “Papa’s story changes at Finca La Vigía,” 2009 March 19

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Toblerone Line

“Despite the effort put into building the line over several years, the Swiss, lacking sufficient modern weaponry, and having seen the methods used on European battlefields, were under no illusion that they had built an impregnable barrier. The best they could hope for was to make the enemy pay dearly for any victory. It was considerably less obvious in 1940 than it is today that Hitler would not invade, especially after German troops had swept into neutral Belgium and neutral Norway.”


after you've bought ten swampy acres of cutover forest in Michigan, and the idyllic version we often imagine (yours is not a country background; most people's isn't)

“In our imaginations, as well as in our literature, we often carry an image of life in the country that is a conglomeration of our favorite fantasies. We see a 'little place in the country' as the best reward for a life of city labor in 'commerce,' and as the realization of our deeply-felt hopes for what a pleasant life should be. Somehow we regard country life as more complete than city life, its pleasures more natural and its rhythms more in tune with the seasons and with the earth. Country vs. city has been a standard literary conflict for hundreds of years; and almost always it is country life that wins the tussle....

“Today as we look at our cities we really do find an appalling situation. In older, more established places like Philadelphia we find an inner city area where murder is commonplace and where huge blocks of buildings stand abandoned and condemned. In more 'futuristic' cities such as Los Angeles the inhabitants have escaped the concentration of a central area, but the result is that they move about enclosed in small glass and steel cubicles, isolated from a polluted sky, from the earth and from each other. The great freeways, built to promote speedy transport, developed traffic jams that often return the traveler to something slower than the speed of grandpa's horse and buggy.

“The effect of this urban deterioration is to disenchant us with city life, and to bolster our image of the country as an escape--as an ideal, 'natural' way of life. Removed as most of us are from the realities of rural living, we cling to a fantasy version of 'life on the land,' even embellishing the benefits of the country to the level of poetry. The dirt and dangers of city life take a poor second place to the imagined pleasures of the white farmhouse on a country lane....

“How To Tell If Homesteading Is For You

Try to look at yourself objectively. If you grew up in Paramus, New Jersey and have had no experience with country living, ask yourself: Why do I want to leave the kind of life I am living? What am I really looking for in the country? Make a list of the rewards you expect. Especially, tote up what talents or interests you have that you think will enable you to live happily in the new and foreign environment.

“Answering difficult questions like these (and others discussed later) is important, and doing so early on in your thinking may save you misery and money later on. Many city people do need a change or move, but they don't necessarily need to move to rural Maine or British Columbia. If, on the one hand, yours is not a country background (and most people's isn't), you will have much to learn, and to give up. You have, in other words, every reason to assume that you would not be happy as a homesteader.

“On the other hand, you may discover you are genuinely frustrated by not being a homesteader (which you probably knew long ago). In any case, take a very long look at your motives. Look at your skills, your ability with tools, your preferences for entertainment, and your opinion on weeding gardens. The best time for having second thoughts is while you're still contemplating the trade-in value of your green Cadillac, not after you've bought ten swampy acres of cutover forest in Michigan....

“This chapter has emphasized not the pleasures and rewards of homesteading, but the hard work and care required in beginning this kind of country life. The reason is this: It is very easy to drive through the country and find the white farmhouse and red barn that seem the epitome of country life. It is far better to realize that this quaint country place likely has no plumbing, no central heating, has sagging floors and rotted sills, poor insulation, and a damp cellar. It is likely to have no adequate water supply. The land around it may be eroded or pocked with rusty farm machinery hidden in the weeds. Out back may be a rotted and sagging barn and the remains of an old fruit orchard. This bleak picture probably is an exaggeration, but it is no more extreme than the idyllic version we often imagine.”

--David E. Robinson, The Complete Homesteading Book: Proven Methods for Self-Sufficient Living, 1974, illustrated by Paula Savastano

Friday, March 19, 2010

the felt tents of his encampment

“In the 1190s a young and somewhat embittered Mongol who had become khan of his people began to seek revenge for slights and injuries to them by the Tatars (another nomadic nation). Within a few years he was accepted by all the Mongol tribes as their 'universal khan,' or, in their own tongue, 'Chinghis Khan.' Mispronounced in Arabic, this name became 'Genghis Khan' to Europeans. He proved to be the greatest conqueror the world has ever seen, terrorizing Europe and Asia alike. But Chinghis also built up something much more like a true empire than any other nomad chief, even though its only capital was the felt tents of his encampment....

“The unity of Chinghis Khan's empire had given way to a loose connexion of khanates ruled independently by Mongol princes, but with much in common. A sort of Mongol federation stretched at its greatest extent over something like a sixth of the old world's land surface. Its communications were good and well policed and the Mongols made intelligent use of their conquered subjects. They enlisted them in their armies, while Chinghis used Chinese civil servants to run his taxation system and borrowed the Turkish script in order to write down the Mongol language.... The Great Khans came to see themselves as somewhat like Chinese emperors. They expected other peoples to pay them tribute, not to negotiate with them as equals, and believed they exercised a universal monarchy on behalf of their own sky god. Yet they were tolerant in religion and the diversity of belief at the Mongol court impressed Christians.”

--J.M. Roberts, A Short History of the World, 1993

if you examine it closely

“The history of ideas is a history of gradually discarding the assumption that it's all about us. No, it turns out, the earth is not the center of the universe—not even the center of the solar system. No, it turns out, humans are not created by God in his own image; they're just one species among many, descended not merely from apes, but from microorganisms. Even the concept of 'me' turns out to be fuzzy around the edges if you examine it closely.”

--Paul Graham, “See Randomness,” 2006 April

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

American Soldiers Committing Murder, Rape, War Atrocity, and the Rare Heroism of Hugh Thompson

Vietnam, Son Tinh, My Lai
1968 March 16
photo by Ronald L. Haeberle

"From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Warrant Officer One Hugh Thompson, Jr., a helicopter pilot from an aero-scout team, witnessed a large number of dead and dying civilians as he began flying over the village — all of them infants, children, women and old men, with no signs of draft-age men or weapons anywhere. Thompson and his crew witnessed an unarmed passive woman kicked and shot at point-blank range by Captain Medina. The crew made several attempts to radio for help for the wounded. They landed their helicopter by a ditch, which they noted was full of bodies and in which there was movement. Thompson asked a sergeant he encountered there (David Mitchell of the 1st Platoon) if he could help get the people out of the ditch, and the sergeant replied that he would 'help them out of their misery'. Thompson, shocked and confused, then had a conversation with Second Lieutenant Calley, Platoon Leader of 1st Platoon, who claimed to be 'just following orders'. As the helicopter took off, they saw Mitchell firing into the ditch.

"Thompson then saw a group of civilians (again consisting of children, women and old men) at a bunker being approached by ground personnel. Thompson landed and told his crew that if the U.S. soldiers shot at the Vietnamese while he was trying to get them out of the bunker that they were to open fire at these soldiers. Thompson later testified that he spoke with a lieutenant (identified as Stephen Brooks of the 2nd Platoon) and told him there were women and children in the bunker, and asked if the lieutenant would help get them out. According to Thompson, 'he [the lieutenant] said the only way to get them out was with a hand grenade'. Thompson testified that he then told Brooks to 'just hold your men right where they are, and I'll get the kids out'. He found 12 to 16 people in the bunker, coaxed them out and led them to the helicopter, standing with them while they were flown out in two groups.

"Returning to My Lai, Thompson and other air crew members noticed several large groups of bodies. Spotting some survivors in the ditch Thompson landed again and one of the crew members entered the ditch. The crew member returned with a bloodied but apparently unharmed child who was flown to safety. Thompson then reported what he had seen to his company commander, Major Frederic W. Watke, using terms such as 'murder' and 'needless and unnecessary killings'. Thompson's reports were confirmed by other pilots and air crew.

"For their actions Thompson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and his crew were awarded Bronze Star medals. In 1998, their medals were replaced by the Soldier's Medal, 'the highest the US Army can award for bravery not involving direct conflict with the enemy.' The medal citations said they were being awarded 'for heroism above and beyond the call of duty while saving the lives of at least 10 Vietnamese civilians during the unlawful massacre of non-combatants by American forces at My Lai'. The veterans also made contact with the survivors of My Lai."

Monday, March 08, 2010

how cultural that is

“One morning, while applying bug repellent, I was watched by an older Pirahã man, who asked Everett what I was doing. Eager to communicate with him in sign language, I pressed together the thumb and index finger of my right hand and weaved them through the air while making a buzzing sound with my mouth. Then I brought my fingers to my forearm and slapped the spot where my fingers had alighted. The man looked puzzled and said to Everett, 'He hit himself.' I tried again—this time making a more insistent buzzing. The man said to Everett, 'A plane landed on his arm.' When Everett explained to him what I was doing, the man studied me with a look of pitying contempt, then turned away. Everett laughed. 'You were trying to tell him something about your general state—that bugs bother you,' he said. 'They never talk that way, and they could never understand it. Bugs are a part of life.'

“'O.K.,' I said. 'But I’m surprised he didn’t know I was imitating an insect.'

“'Think of how cultural that is,' Everett said. 'The movement of your hand. The sound. Even the way we represent animals is cultural.'”

--John Colapinto, “The Interpreter: Has a remote Amazonian tribe upended our understanding of language?”, The New Yorker, 2007 April 16