Tagged: Misc

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

On 7 May, 1824 Ludvig Van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Opus 125 was performed for the first time in Vienna, Austria. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was his last full symphony and is the first example of a symphony that uses a chorus and vocalists. The Symphony used Frederich Schiller’s poem “Ode to Joy” as the basis for the vocal and choral presentations in the final movement. Beethoven’s Ninth was popularized for modern audiences as a Christmas song in America (by its inclusion as the basis of the score for the Greatest Christmas Movie of All Time, Die Hard?) and was coopted by the European Union for its anthem.

The Kosovo War: NATO Bombs the Chinese Embassy

Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, May 1999

In the spring of 1999, NATO began the first combat operations since its formation in 1949 by conducting an air campaign against Serbian militias and Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) troops in Kosovo in order to try and stop the ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Albanians there. After weeks of fruitless bombing in uncontested air space, the Milosevic regime refused to come to the negotiating table, and even accelerated their program of ethnic cleansing.

Despite being another historical example of air power failing to win a war by itself, NATO doubled down on failure and expanded their air campaign to include targets inside Serbia and Montenegro. On 7 May 1999, while attacking infrastructure targets in Belgrade, NATO accidently bombed the Chinese Embassy, killing three Chinese diplomatic workers, wounding 30 more, and created a massive international incident. In June, only the threat of NATO land power brought the Slobodan Milosevic and the FRY govt to the negotiating table after his Russian backers offered no counter. In June, the UN authorized peacekeepers to the region, to include Russian and NATO troops, to stop the ethnic cleansing and allow the return of refugees.

The Bishkek Protocol

Armenian woman clutching AK-47 (photo by
Armineh Johannes)

Since 1988, two former Soviet Republics, Armenia and Azerbaijan fought over the Nagorno-Karabakh region in the Lesser Caucuses Mountains after the Armenian population voted to secede from Azerbaijan and join Armenia. The Nagorno-Karabakh War was fought through the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. On 5 May 1994, Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a cease fire agreement in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, temporarily halting their destructive war. The agreement left the unrecognized Republic of Artsakh as the defacto ruling government of the area as neither Armenia could annex the region nor Azerbaijan control it.

Leonard Dawe, MI5, and the Daily Telegraph Crossword Puzzles

Leonard Dawe, Daily Telegraph crossword editor

In the 2 May 1944 morning edition of London’s Daily Telegraph, the British Secret Service, MI5, saw “Utah” in the answers for the daily crossword puzzle. This was only days after the disaster at Slapton Sands, and troops killed there were slated for “Utah”, the secret code name for their landing zone on the Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy. In April, other secret landing zone code names, “sword”, “gold”, and “juno” (the British and Canadian beaches), had also appeared in Daily Telegraph crossword puzzles, but they were common puzzle words and deemed coincidences. But the word “utah”, coming so close after the Slapton Sands incident, surely could not be a coincidence. MI5 immediately placed Leonard Dawe, the paper’s crossword puzzle creator under surveillance. Dawe was headmaster at a prestigious English public (read: private) school. He did the puzzles for the paper on the side as an intellectual exercise for himself and his students, and then gave the puzzles to the Telegraph. MI5 considered bringing him in but decided to wait.

During the war, MI5 had an extraordinary amount of success in finding, capturing, and turning German agents in Great Britain. Virtually all the information the Abwehr, the German intelligence agency, was receiving from the British Isles was planted by MI5. They planned to continue this with Dawe.

But for the next month, they could find nothing sinister about Dawe. This was despite more secret code words appearing in the puzzles: On 22 May, “omaha” appeared, the beach on which the US 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions were supposed to land. On 27 May, “overlord” appeared, the code name for the invasion of France. On 30 May, it was “mulberry “, the code name for the artificial harbors that were developed in great secrecy to supply the Allied armies over the beaches. And on 1 June, 15 down “god of the sea (7)” was “neptune”, the naval operations in support of Overlord. In spite of constant surveillance, MI5 had no idea how Dawe was receiving his information. With the invasion scheduled for 5 June, a mere four days away, they decided to dispense with the subtleties.

MI5 arrested Dawe, and ransacked his home and office. They found nothing incriminating. Needing evidence, they then forcefully interrogated him, and still the headmaster kept professing his innocence. MI5 still didn’t believe him but he refused to change his story. As a precaution, MI5 kept him in isolation until well after the invasion began even with the school wondering where he went.

Eventually Dawe was deemed innocent and released, and only years later, were the reasons discovered for the coincidences. In creating the crossword puzzles, Dawe only came up with half of each puzzle. He asked his students to come up with words to fit the rest. Once he had the words complete, he would then write the clues and submit it to the paper. The code words were appearing because the children frequently interacted with the soldiers and listened in on their conversations while they were on leave in London. Although the specific location and timings of the landings were not common knowledge among the soldiers and sailors, the code names themselves were. The students heard the soldiers talk about “Sword”, “Gold”, or “Omaha”, and if they fit, incorporated those fascinating words into Dawe’s puzzles.

The First ANZAC Day

ANZAC Day 1916

On 25 April 1916, the first anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli, the British Commonwealth commemorated the Australian and New Zealand troops that fought and died on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey during the First World War. The original commemoration set the format that we still follow today: the day’s activities started off with a dawn parade (to signify the traditional time of the landing) and sunrise mass, followed by a boozie coffee breakfast, a mid morning non-denominational service with a two minute moment of silence, with sports, a bit of gambling, and a march in the afternoon.

The Rwandan Genocide

Rwandan National Genocide Memorial (Photo by author)

After Germany’s loss in World War I, the mostly ethnically homogeneous colony of Rwanda (now a very small nation in east central Africa bordering Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Congo) was given to the Belgians for administration. The native people of the area had two social classes: the minority Tutsi and the majority Hutu. The only distinctions between them were the number of cows a person owned. When a Hutu man obtained ten cows, he and his family became Tutsi with certain social privileges. If they dropped below ten cows, they became Hutu. Over the next 50 years, the Belgians favored the Tutsi minority and used them to rule over the colony more effectively.

Eventually, the race obsessed Belgians (and Europeans and Americans of the 19th and 20th centuries in general, and even today) assigned the Tutsis and Hutus tribal/racial status and forbade any social movement, ending centuries of social mobility between them. Identity politics (exasperated by “tribal” ID cards) eventually led to resentment of the ruling Tutsi from Hutus. When democratic reforms were introduced in the 1950s and 60s, the Hutu majority made sweeping gains. The Hutu used their new found political advantage to secure state structures and resources, legislative and executive powers, and seek revenge on the “oppressive” Tutsis. For the next 30 years, the history of Rwanda is scarred by reoccurring cycles of violence as Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda fought each other in a series of civil wars, wars with Tutsi dominated Burundi, and tense cease fires between the tribes and countries of the region, as they all prepared for the next cycle to begin again.

On 6 April 1994, the tentative peace of the early 90s was destroyed when the moderate presidents of Rwanda and Burundi were assassinated. On 7 April, Hutu extremists in the Rwandan government and military rounded up all prominent Tutsis and murdered them. Once all Tutsis in any Rwandan official capacity were dead, the Hutu unleashed their gangs and militias to exterminate all Tutsis and Twa (pygmies) in the country and extolled all loyal Hutus to murder their Tutsi neighbors. The militias and Hutu gangs widely distributed machetes to Hutus so they could kill any Tutsi they found: man, woman or child. Any who did not do so were killed with the Tutsis as well. Over the next 100 days 1.1 million Tutsis, Twa, and moderate Hutus were massacred, the majority by machete.

That’s 11,000 people a day for the next three months, or one person murdered every eight seconds.

The international response was tepid at best and complicit at worst. The United Nations Mission to Rwanda (UNAMIR), led by Canadian Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, was established to oversee the most recent cease fire and transitional government, but was powerless to stop the genocide. Some of the first murders of the Rwandan Genocide were ten Belgian peacekeepers guarding the Tutsi interim prime minister after they were ordered to surrender when there was confusion whether they were allowed to use force to defend their charge. Most of the Rwandan staff were specifically targeted early in the genocide which paralyzed UNAMIR. Several impromptu safe havens for Tutsi and moderate Hutus were established, most notably Kigali’s football (read: soccer) stadium where Dallaire had his headquarters. However, most were abandoned by UNAMIR troops when the UN Security Council ordered Dallaire to concentrate on evacuating foreign nationals. Tens of thousands were left to their fate.

After decolonization in the 1960s, the Hutus fell under France’s “Françafrique” special relationship with its and Belgium’s former African colonies. Despite reports of mass rape and genocide, this special relationship bled over into the United Nations’ and the world’s response to what was happening in Rwanda. France sent troops to assist UNAMIR in evacuating citizens, but refused to evacuate Rwandan nationals with Tutsi identification cards, even if they were married to a French citizen. Hundreds of Tutsis were detained by French troops and turned over to Hutus to be killed. Furthermore, France and the United States blocked all efforts to assist Dallaire. Two weeks after the start, they pushed through UN Security Resolution 912 which reduced UNAMIR from 2500 troops to 270, barely enough to protect the stadium. The United States had lost soldiers during a UN mission in Somalia the previous October (“Blackhawk Down”) and President Bill Clinton refused to become involved militarily in Africa again. Clinton was quoted as saying “Leave it (Rwanda) to its fate”, and didn’t permit his staff to speak the word “genocide”.

The Tutsi had to save themselves.

Paul Kagame, the leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a Tutsi organization based in Burindi resumed the Rwandan Civil War after it was obvious that the UN would not stop the killing. The RPF invaded Rwanda on 8 April and made steady progress toward Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, while chasing the newly formed Hutu government across the country. Kagame’s forces received a steady influx of new recruits and captured the city in June. Later that month France launched Operation Turquoise, ostensibly to stop the genocide, but actually to prevent Kagame from seizing the southwestern fifth of the country and protect Hutu genocidaires and Hutu refugee camps in Zaire.

30% of the Twa (pygmy) population and 75% of the Tutsi population in Rwanda was murdered between April and June 1994.

The Rwandan Genocide was the opening act of the Great African War, which killed an additional 5.4 million people in the Congo and the African Great Lakes region over the next 14 years.

Dungeons and Dragons

In 1969 and 1970, friends Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson regularly played a miniature based Napoleonic tabletop wargaming system at the Lake Geneva Wargaming Conference (GenCon). However, their games in those years became smaller and soon revolved around special individual soldiers and their stories. In 1970, they transferred the concept to a medieval setting because Gygax, a Dark Age enthusiast, found the appropriate miniatures. They used the rules from the game “Chainmail”, which Gygax had written with a friend, to resolve individual actions. Together, they developed a generic fantasy wargaming system that focused solely on individuals and their stories instead of armies and groups of soldiers.

In 1971, Arneson added a storytelling role to the referee, a fixture in the contentious world of tabletop wargaming, who was usually a neutral observer and adjudicated disputes. The “Game Master” guided the players on quests and played the monsters. At Gencon that year, Arneson and a few of his friends ran Gygax and a few of his friends through a “six level dungeon” where the big bad at the end was a “troll in magic armor”. Gygax was enamored with the “funhouse” aspect of the game and immediately saw the creative and commercial possibilities. Over the next year Arneson and Gygax developed the rules for their game, which then went by the working title “Blackmoor”, and created a fictional and vaguely Tolkein-esque setting centered on “The Great Kingdom” for use with the system.

In December 1973, they formed Tactical Studies Rules with two other friends to self-publish their new tabletop gaming system because no established gaming company was interested. The first run of the newly named “Dungeons and Dragons” was only 1000 copies that were assembled in Gygax’s garage. On 26 January 1974, Gary Gygax invited everyone over to his house for the first session of Dungeons and Dragons which only became available to the public that day.

The Historical Profession Is Committing Slow-Motion Suicide

The Historical Profession Is Committing Slow-Motion Suicide

“…Yet as the historical discipline (like much of the American academy) became more professionalized, especially after World War II, it also became more specialized and inward-looking. Historical scholarship focused on increasingly arcane subjects; a fascination with innovative methodologies overtook an emphasis on clear, intelligible prose. Academic historians began writing largely for themselves. “Popularizer” — someone who writes for the wider world — became a term of derision within the profession…”

“…The result of these changes is a discipline that feels remarkably parochial to students or anyone outside the ivory tower. As Harvard’s Jill Lepore, the profession’s leading exception to these trends, recently pointed out, “The academy is largely itself responsible for its own peril. The retreat of humanists from public life has had enormous consequences for the prestige of humanistic ways of knowing and understanding the world.”

The second issue, closely related to the first, is the hostility toward certain kinds of historical inquiry. Decades ago, the subfields of political history, diplomatic history, and military history dominated the discipline. That focus had its costs: Issues of race, gender, and class were often deemphasized, and the perspectives of the powerless were frequently ignored in favor of the perspectives of the powerful. During the 1960s and after, the discipline was therefore swept by new approaches that emphasized cultural, social, and gender history, and that paid greater attention to the experiences of underrepresented and oppressed groups. This was initially a very healthy impulse, meant to broaden the field. Yet what was initially a very healthy impulse to broaden the field ultimately became decidedly unhealthy, because it went so far as to push the more traditional subfields to the margins.

Two historians, Fredrik Logevall and Kenneth Osgood, have noted that “American political history as a field of study has cratered … What was once a central part of the historical profession, a vital part of this country’s continuing democratic discussion, is disappearing.” Political history, however, is a growth industry compared to diplomatic history and military history. Scholars who study strategy and statecraft, diplomacy and policymaking, and the causes and consequences of war are often labeled as old-fashioned, methodologically unimaginative, and ideologically conservative. As a recent chair of a prominent history department recently explained to us, the discipline of history does not consider exploring and understanding the decisions of state leaders or military officials to be interesting, important, or innovative. Not surprisingly, those who study these subjects are a dying breed within major American history departments…”

The Battle of San Pietro

The Battle of San Pietro. In 1941, Director John Huston was basking in the limelight of his Hollywood blockbuster, “The Maltese Falcon”, a ground breaking masterpiece that starred Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Peter Lorre and brought film noir into the main stream. 27 months later, in December of 1943, US Army Captain John Huston and his film crew were attached to the 143rd Infantry Regiment of the 36th Infantry Division. The division was trying to force its way through the Bernhardt Line via the Mignano Gap into the Liri Valley. The last obstacles were in front of them: the village of San Pietro Infine and the flanking mountains of Monte Sammucro and Monte Lungo. The battle raged from 8 to 18 December, 1943.

CPT Huston was there to make documentary films for the US War Department. And in December and January 1943 he would shoot the controversial “The Battle of San Pietro”. If you have an extra half an hour, it’s worth watching.

The film does an excellent job explaining the battle to civilians. The film was originally 55 minutes long but was ruthlessly edited by Gen George Marshall down to 36 minutes so it could be shown in theatres prior to the actual movies. He wanted to make it mandatory viewing so American civilians at home would understand what their Army was doing. However, it was never released to the general population during the war. The War Department suppressed it because of its gritty realism (for the time), the dead bodies, and its “anti-war” tone. Huston replied that if he ever made a pro-war film, he should be shot. It was quietly released to the public in 1946.

Some notes:

-Gen Mark Clark’s intro was filmed while the battles for Anzio and Cassino were fought in January 1944. Was he trying to justify something?

-The failed Italian attack on Monte Lungo was highly publicized because it was the first use of Allied Italian troops fighting alongside Americans. The Italians were rushed into the fight so they could be part of the overly optimistic expected breakout and capture of Rome. They weren’t ready and paid for it.

-About 30% of the film was shot after the fact using “dramatic reenactments” by 36th Division soldiers and Italian civilians in San Pietro Infine. Most of the recreated shots are of soldiers walking around, the shots in the town, and of the civilians. The difference between the actual footage and the recreated footage is obvious.

-All the dead bodies are real.

-The civilians were actual citizens of San Pietro Infine, but they had to be cleaned up first. It took several weeks for them to recover from their hellish ordeal living in the caves outside of town before they were ready to film.

-The only factual inconsistency was the name of the church. In the film it is said to be “St Peter’s”, but the church is actually St Michael’s. John Huston didn’t want to break up the flow of the film with the difference.

-Almost all of the American soldiers in the film would be killed, captured, or seriously wounded during the 36th Division’s failed assault across the Rapido River a month later in January 1944.

The Invasion of Leros

In September 1943, the British occupied the Italian held Dodecanese Islands in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Germans saw this as an attempt to force neutral Turkey to side with the Allies. In a lightning swift air, ground and naval campaign, the Germans retook most of the islands, including the largest, Rhodes. In spite of Allied air and naval superiority everywhere else in the Mediterranean, the British had 5000 badly needed troops trapped on the island of Leros. Prior to the German offensive, that the Axis could trap Allied troops anywhere in the Mediterranean Sea in late 1943 was considered unfathomable.
 
The German hold on the area was so secure that several evacuation attempts resulted in severe losses to British aircraft and ships. On 12 November 1943, the Germans landed and captured the entire garrison. The prisoners included the trapped entireties of the Long Range Desert Group, the Special Boat Squadron, and almost all of the veteran, elite, and storied British raiding forces from the campaigns in North Africa and the Aegean.
 
After the war, the evacuation of the trapped British soldiers on Leros would be the ultimate objective for the protagonists in the Alistair MacLean novel, “The Guns of Navarone” whose ending was much more palatable for American and British audiences. The novel was made into the blockbuster 1961 movie of the same name starring Anthony Quinn, David Niven and Gregory Peck. These fictionalized versions of the events in the Aegean in late 1943 gave a new meaning to the phrase, “Based on a True Story”.