Category Archives: military history

July 29, 2014, 4:01 pm


Q 002213The 100th anniversary of World War I is upon us, and for the next four years, there will be a flood of remembrances, celebrations, and lamentations. There will be books, web sites, and TV shows. Yours truly (self-aggrandizement warning!) is currently appearing on the History Channel in one of those shows. What I hadn’t thought about until just now was that there will also be a fair proportion of that remembrance that is, to put it impolitely, bollocks.

This came to me while reading Adam Hochschild’s op-ed in the Times on why World War I was so bloody. His essential thesis is that the war was so terrible because the generals fighting ignored warnings from previous wars that would have given them a sense of what was about to happen. Good imperialists all, they “cherry-picked” their historical examples from colonial wars, and ignored conflicts that didn’t tell such comforting tales:

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March 10, 2014, 5:07 pm

Ending the War

In 1945, as World War II ended in the Pacific, people turned to reestablishing small things:

That day the commander of the British Landing Force and two other officers visited the grave of Will Adams at the nearby village of Hammamate. Adams, who was born at Gillingham, near Chatham, in 1575, was the first Englishman to land in Japan and lived there from 1600 until his death in 1620. The grave and memorial were found to be in excellent order, the stone steps having been freshly swept and flowers placed on the memorial by one Mazi Kobayashi, chief of the Neighbourhood Association. The keeper of the grave, Sintaro Furuoya, had been evicted in March 1945 by the Army authorities, who established a lookout post alongside the memorial. Furuoya, a spry little man of 70, arrived at BLF Headquarters next day and was presented to Vice-Admiral Rawlings, who expressed his appreciation of the care…

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March 5, 2014, 6:04 pm

Baghdad Bob, Redux

Russian troops in Crimea? Don’t be silly:

The defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, dismissed visual evidence — including numerous photographs and video clips taken by foreign correspondents and residents of the region — as “an act of provocation,” the state news agency Itar-Tass reported. Asked about viral video said to show soldiers on the Crimean side of the Kerch Strait, at the peninsula’s closest point to southern Russia, admitting that they were Russian, the minister said anyone who made such a claim was uttering “complete nonsense.”

Mohammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, Saddam’s minister of information – aka “Baghdad Bob” – from 2003:

The Iraqi information minister stands in front of the cameras, a grim smile on his face, a military beret on his head, and declares forcefully, “There are no American troops in Baghdad!” Meanwhile, black smoke rises in the distance behind him, weapons fire can be…

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February 21, 2014, 8:26 pm

Refinding Heroism

President Obama will retroactively award Medals of Honor to 24 servicemen passed over in earlier wars because of their race or creed:

The unusual presentation will culminate a 12-year Pentagon review ordered by Congress into past discrimination in the ranks, and will hold a particular poignancy hosted by the nation’s first African-American president. Although the review predates Obama’s tenure, he has made addressing discrimination in the military ranks — including ending the ban on gay and lesbian service members — a priority as commander in chief. The recipients, which the White House will announce Friday afternoon, served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Collectively their award ceremony will mark the single largest batch of Medal of Honor recipients since World War II, when more than two dozen service members were honored in the conflict’s last days. Just three of those to be …

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February 10, 2014, 8:17 pm

This Month In Military History, February 1945 Edition

January 28, 2014, 1:00 pm

The Leading Edge: Robert Thompson and Vietnam

Our second Leading Edge takes us to the provinces of Vietnam to figure out what exactly the US meant when it talked about “pacification.” Robert Thompson, a graduate student at the University of Southern Mississippi, is working on a dissertation on exactly that, and here he explains it for us.

“Pacification” is a broad term that encapsulates all the ambitions of both military and civilian entities. It is a single word, describing a much more complex reality. My project (at the dissertation stage right now) is a study of language and wartime priorities in Phu Yen Province during the Vietnam War, figuring how how that word reflected reality. An examination of “pacification” shows that the prevailing definition points towards the existence of only one war in southeast Asia. Continuity, not change, best characterized the Vietnam War. “Conventional” large unit warfare under General…

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January 17, 2014, 7:13 am

Pressing Down

From “address made by Sgt. McLin Sheddan Choate of Battery F, 113th Field Artillery at the 65th reunion in 1983.”

At 11:00 am on November 11, 1918, after years of war, the firing ceased. The silence was as if one was in a small room and the ceiling was pressing down until you could hardly breathe. Then the realization came that it was all over–like an explosion. “Thank God. It is all over.”

From the Library of Congress Veterans Collection.

January 15, 2014, 4:43 pm

Frenzied Finance

Real estate bubbles did not pop into existence in the 21st century. There’s a long tradition of land speculation in American history, something of which I was reminded of during my research today. I was reading the 1943 memoirs of Colonel Edwin Bowden, a career Army officer, and he was discussing his involvement in the Florida land boom of the 1920s. As one historian described the boom:

There was nothing languorous about the atmosphere of tropical Miami during that memorable summer and autumn of 1925. The whole city had become one frenzied real-estate exchange. There were said to be 2,000 real-estate offices and 25,000 agents marketing house-lots or acreage. The shirt-sleeved crowds hurrying to and fro under the widely advertised Florida sun talked of binders and options and water-frontages and hundred thousand-dollar profits; the city fathers had been forced to pass an ordinance for…

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December 31, 2013, 3:51 pm

The Military, Unleashed


Until the pendulum swings back and Congress proves willing to issue declarations of war in circumstances that permit no-holds-barred fighting, the military will continue to be asked to act with finesse.

is a myth. There has never been an American war in which Congress permitted “no-holds-barred fighting.” Even in World War II, perhaps as close as we’ve ever gotten, the US deliberately refrained from using chemical or biological weapons. The US has always limited what it is willing to do in wars, sometimes to a greater degree, sometimes to a lesser. Imagining that it hasn’t doesn’t help our understanding of the past, or our understanding of the present.

December 24, 2013, 9:12 pm


Alan Turing was pardoned by the Queen this past week. I use “pardon” because it is the official word, but the reality is that the British government should have begged forgiveness of Turing’s family. This blog has talked about Turing before. What I said then stands now:

It is nonetheless some small form of redemption, for the British government more than Turing, who himself actually needed nothing in the way of absolution.

The British government would absolve itself even more by revisiting those persecuted gay men and women who were not famous historical figures and “pardoning” them as well. Governments, almost inevitably, have to be wicked. This would make the British government at least a bit less so.

December 17, 2013, 7:57 pm

The Guns of Fredericksburg

Flamethrower in action
Marines 5

[Guest post! Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai of Angelo State University returns and is kind enough to write for Edge on memorializing the Pacific War in Texas. Post and photos copyright K. Wongsrichanalai 2013.]

On the face of it, Fredericksburg, Texas could be any other tourist town in America with its small local craft stores brimming with knickknacks and its main street embracing the image of a town very much in touch with its roots. Founded by German immigrants in the nineteenth century, this central Texas town has capitalized on its past to tempt travelers from Austin (only an hour and a half away), San Antonio (one hour away), and other regions of the country with sweet and tempting aromas of freshly baked German pastries, frothy beer steins, and piles of sausage, schnitzel, sauerkraut, and, at one spot in particular, the best peach bread pudding you’ll ever…

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December 16, 2013, 3:53 pm

Your Flow Of Touch Screens And High Fructose Corn Syrup

HeaderlogoThe Duffelblog is the military equivalent of The Onion and frequently just as funny. Today, a (fictional) serviceman responds to a 1st grader’s letter:

Despite my distaste for limp platitudes, I am, by all rights, a patriot. For this reason, I find your depiction of our nation’s flag with six stars and five stripes particularly offensive. The United States flag has fifty stars, one for each state, and thirteen stripes to symbolize each of the original colonies. Perhaps if even a fraction of the $680 billion blown on this war had been reapportioned to public education you would know this.

Well worth a place in your regular rotation.

December 12, 2013, 8:22 am

Military & Political History Linkage

Two military history links worth a look:

Underwater D-Day Wrecks:

A unique expedition to map sunken allied vessels off the Normandy Coast has revealed stunning never-before-seen images from beneath the waves. Using state-of-the-art sonar technology, experts have shone light on ships, submarines and even tanks which still lie at the bottom of the sea, 70 years after D-Day.

The creation of Gettysburg National Cemetery:

The Union soldiers and Gettysburg civilians that looked over the battlefield on July 4th saw a level of death and destruction that was overwhelming and seemingly impossible to take care of. Faced with over 7,000 human bodies to bury and many more wounded to care for, the Union army only paused for a day before it too left Gettysburg in pursuit of Lee’s retreating army, leaving doctors behind to care for the living and provost marshals to organize the civilian…

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December 11, 2013, 7:44 am

Flags Reflected, 2013


November 26, 2013, 5:15 am

Snatching The Victuals From The Table, Or, The Munich Of The Middle East

Piece of Paper
Piece of PaperLG

“The German dictator, instead of snatching the victuals from the table, has been content to have them served to him course by course.” Winston Churchill, October 5, 1938.

Bret Stephens, at the Wall Street Journal, writes a…well…basically loses his mind:

After World War II the U.S. created a global system of security alliances to prevent the kind of foreign policy freelancing that is again becoming rampant in the Middle East. It worked until President Obama decided in his wisdom to throw it away. If you hear echoes of the 1930s in the capitulation at Geneva, it’s because the West is being led by the same sort of men, minus the umbrellas.

Worse than Munich, 1938; worse than Paris, 1973. Just worse. The worst.

The column is impressively unhinged. The treaty with Iran will cause all sorts of disasters in the six months it lasts. Apparently, both the Saudis and…

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