Friday, May 30, 2008

World War II Veterans Are Dying at Rate of More Than 1,000 a Day

The Associated Press has released a story about the current death rate of World War II veterans.

Once 16 million strong, U.S. veterans of World War II are dying at a rate of more than 1,000 a day and now number about 2.5 million, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates.
In terms of when these vets will no longer be with us, the current estimate is 2020. The AP quotes a historian form a World War II museum.

... judging by the passing of the World War I veterans, we're predicting they will all be gone by 2020.

Veterans have come to see the importance of making sure their history is record. A Navy Cross recipient said:

There was a time when it was difficult to talk about some parts of it. But not any more. Now it's important to get it down.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Eastwood Rejects Racist Charge on WWII Films

Clint Eastwood has responded to criticism from Spike Lee concerning his World War II movies: Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima.

During a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival, Lee said:

There were many African-Americans who survived that war and who were upset at Clint for not having one [in the films]. That was his version: the negro soldier did not exist. I have a different version. (Alberge)
Lee went on to explain that there were blacks who fought at Iwo Jima.

It’s not like he could say he didn’t know. It was a conscious decision not to have any black people. (Alberge)
Eastwood fired back in an interview with Germany's Focus magazine claiming the charge was nonsense.

Does he know anything about American history? The U.S. military was segregated til the Korean War, and the blacks in World War Two were totally segregated. The only black battalion on Iwo Jima was a small munitions supply unit that came to the beach.

The story was about the men who raised the flag and we can't make them black if they were not there. So tell him: Why don't you go back and study your history and stop mouthing off! (Reuters Life!)

Alberge, Dalya. "Spike Lee accuses Clint Eastwood of erasing black GIs from history." Times Online.

Reuters Life! "Eastwood rejects Lee's criticism of his WW2 films." Reuters.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Goliath: The Nazi Remote-Controlled Bomb

The Goliath was designed to be an expendable, mobile bomb. In other cases, it was used to clear mines and bunkers. Early models used batteries, but the life-span was short. Later versions were powered by a gasoline engine.

Quick Stats:
  • First Battle: Sevastopol - June 7, 1942
  • Total Production: 7,579 units
  • Speed: 5-12 miles

A German pioneer prepares to guide a Goliath remove-controlled vehicle against an enemy bunker.

An operator controlled the vehicle via a telephone cable spooling out from the rear of the Goliath to a joystick control box. The length of the cable was 2,000 feet. This proved to be one of the its fatal flaws. Once Allies learned of the vehicles, they could easily sever the wire.

It took 5-6 men to prepare a Goliath for use. In Poland, an easy defense was discovered by putting simple blockades in the streets that would stop the Goliaths from moving forward.

Goliaths were used on every front fought by the Nazis.

German soldiers prepare Goliaths on October 1, 1944, the day before the Warsaw Uprising collapsed. Poles had such success against full-size tanks that the Germans used their remote-controlled miniatures most extensively - and most successfully - in Warsaw.

A close view inside an uncovered Goliath shows a simple, dependable, and ultimately expendable remote-controlled vehicle.

McCall, Jack H., Jr. (Winter 2007). Arms and Men: German Remote-Controlled Vehicles of World War II. MHQ: the quarterly journal of military history, 19(2), 45-47.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

John Adams on Why He Studies Politics and War

During his second trip to France (1780) as an ambassador attempting to rally support from European countries for the American Revolution, John Adams reflected on his current role in life in a letter to his wife.
I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study paintings, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain. (McCullough, pp. 236-237)
While he had no immediate artists in his children or grandchildren, there were plenty of lawyers, politicians, and even a president.

Future generations of the Adams family saw the type of professions and hobbies John Adams wished for his descendants. Henry Adams (1838-1918) was a Harvard professor and historian who wrote several biographies and a 9-volume history of the United States. Brooks Adams (1848-1927) was a historian who correctly "predicted that by 1950 the United States and Russia would be the two major powers in the world". (Cooper)

Cooper, John S. 2000. Presidential Children: The Adams Family Children.

McCullough, David. 2001. John Adams. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Breaching the Walls of Academe - Concerning Military History

John A. Lynn (professor of University of Illinois) takes an in-depth look at the state of Military History in the Academic world: Breaching the Walls of Academe: The Purposes, Problems, and Prospects of Military History

John rightfully identifies the study of Military History as follows:
military history is the study of military institutions and practices and of the conduct of war in the past. This definition frustrates those whose real interest is in the causes or the consequences of war. Certainly these are terribly important matters and involve military factors, but they are much broader than military history per se. Doubtless, some would disagree with my definition, but I will stick with it.
I'll stick with it too, John.

At one point, John identifies males as the main audience for military history. It's tough to argue with that concept, but his revelation on the subject is humorous.

Why do I say male? Let me tell you a story. My younger son used to collect esoteric comic books, some of them graphic novels. Before he had his driver’s license, I would on occasion take him to the shops that specialize in this literature. One of these shops also boasted two sections of used books, so while my son rummaged earnestly among the comics, I looked at the books. Oddly enough, two sections at the back of the store were boldly labeled “Women’s Books” and “Men’s Books.” This intrigued me, so I first ambled over to the women’s books, expecting to see feminist literature—I do live in a university town after all. Instead, the entire section was composed of romance novels. Next I walked over to the men’s books, expecting perhaps Playboy and Sports Illustrated, but all the books were popular World War II histories. It then struck me that popular military history really constitutes the male equivalent of the romance novel.

With a stack of random military books and recent magazines on my desk, I can't remember the last time my wife had the urge to pick one up and read it.

The article goes on to detail the different types of study in this genre and the various debates/camps of thought over the past few decades. John offers examples and book/journal recommendations throughout. It's a good overview for those who are interested in learning more about the study of military history.

Universal Newsreel: 3rd Army blasts Nazi Strongholds (November 2, 1944)

Here's a classic Universal Newsreel from November of 1944. It starts off with Patton's 3rd Army blasting through German lines.

Other headlines in the newsreel include:
  • Free Greeks Hail Allied Deliverance
  • Marines Take New Palau island
  • U.S. Envoy To France Takes Post
  • Hindu Leaders Hold Confab
  • Romanian Bomb Ruins
  • First Pictures MacArthur's Return To The Philippines

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

John Adams and the Constitution of Massachusetts

After seeing HBO's John Adams mini-series, I was inspired to read the book the series was based on by David McCullough. As usual, I've come across discrepancies between the movie and the book (e.g. omissions, liberties).

The biggest omission I've come across so far is the work John Adams did on the Constitution of Massachusetts. After a year and a half in France, Adams came home in 1779 and was almost immediately chosen as a delegate to the state constitutional convention. John Adams, Samuel Adams, and James Bowdoin were put on a committee to draft the constitution. Samuel and James selected John to work on it alone.

On October 30, 1779, after a month and a half, printed copies were ready for the convention to review. The constitution was inspired by existing state constitutions and Adams' previous work in his Thoughts on Government. Excerpts from the state constitution were later found in some form or another 10 years later in the United States Constitution.
All men are born free and equal, among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness (Article I).

The people have a right to keep and to bear arms for the common defence. And as, in time of peace, armies are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be maintained without the consent of the legislature; and the military power shall always be held in an exact subordination to the civil authority, and be governed by it (Article XVII).
Although there were some alterations, they were minor and Adams was still proud of his work. Afterwards, Adams would state to a friend:
I take vast satisfaction in the approbation of the Massachusetts Constitutions. If the people are as wise and honest in the chose of their rulers, as they have been in framing a government, they will be happy, and I shall die content with the prospect for my children (McCullough, p. 224).
The mini-series keeps Adams in France for an extended period of time neglecting to write his wife until he eventually asks her to join him. In reality, he made it home after a year and a half, wrote the constitution, saw it ratified, and he headed back to France with 2 of his sons (John Quincy and Charles).

As for the importance of the constitution, McCullough says it best:

As time would prove, he had written one of the great, enduring documents of the American Revolution. The constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the oldest functioning written constitution in the world (McCullough, p. 225).

With a life as rich as John Adams lived, it is easy to leave out some aspects, but this is one I would have attempt to squeeze into the 7-part mini-series.

Full Text of Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1780)

McCullough, David. 2001. John Adams. New York: Simon and Schuster.