Category Archives: History

Doolittle Raid: 75th anniversary


The Doolittle raid was 75 years ago today. 80 men in 16 B-25 Mitchells took off of the USS Hornet (CV-8) on April 18, 1942 to attack mainland Japan.

The Navy has a good write-up here. (These U.S. military histories are an important resource.)

Of the 16 B-25s: “15 crashed in occupied China, where the Japanese inflicted brutal reprisals against the Chinese populace in Chekiang province. One B-25 landed intact at Vladivostok, where the Soviets interned it and its crew.”

The reprisals were indeed brutal.  The Chinese paid the biggest price of all.

Of the Raiders, 3 were killed in combat, 8 captured (of which 3 were killed, and one died in captivity).

The Soviets were unwilling to release the crew they recovered until the end of the war. While that may seem strange now, they were not at war with Japan. To send them home would risk them being seen as participants. (A few years later, they disassembled and duplicated the B-29 from one that they got that way.)

USS Hornet got back safely, but did not survive the year. The one currently on display in Alameda, California, is the USS Hornet (CV-12), which was commissioned the next year.

Poison gas

As part of the epigraph I used to lead my novella The Time Bridge at Orion, George Orwell wrote, “Poison gas, the machine-gun, the submarine, gunpowder, and even the crossbow were similarly denounced in their day.” This was about the V1 missiles being fired on London at the time.

It is interesting that Orwell put poison gas in the same category as these other weapons. That was war. You do what you need to do. He was very practical about it.

Some people like to think of WMDs as being out of bounds, never to be used — ever. They wish to think the same of torture. But in reality, WMDs are merely being reserved for whatever may be the most dire of emergencies. Treaties on poison gas say “never” but history says something else. People will do what they feel they need to do.

This shouldn’t apply to Assad. He had other options. His recent use was probably just a test to see what the price would be. All of these boundaries will shift when Iran has nukes. The restraints on chem and bio warfare may then be loosened as well.

This may become a much more dangerous world.

H. L. Mencken on anarchists

The last round of Berkeley riots reminded me of this quote from H. L. Mencken:

“To the average American or Englishman the very name of anarchy causes a shudder, because it invariably conjures up a picture of a land terrorized by low-browed assassins with matted beards, carrying bombs in one hand and mugs of beer in the other. But as a matter of fact, there is no reason whatever to believe that, if all laws were abolished tomorrow, such swine would survive the day. They are incompetents under our present paternalism and they would be incompetents under Dionysian anarchy. The only difference between the two states is that the former, by its laws, protects men of this sort, whereas the latter would work their speedy annihilation.”

You may have seen it around. Glenn Reynolds posted it several years back on Instapundit (no relation to his source), and still finds it well worth an occasional requote. But I hadn’t seen it after the Berkeley riots.

This comes from Mencken’s The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (1913), which may be found at Project Gutenberg. That passage fits the Black Bloc to a tee. I can’t help but think that the surrounded paragraph could almost fit the backstory of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, where their society had been rescued (or taken over) by military veterans.

H. L. Mencken is generally remembered today for his observations and quotes that had been collected over time. It is remembered less that he opposed the New Deal and U.S. involvement in World War II. He was definitely not a fan of FDR. He had stopped writing his columns before the war, but you can find a few quotes from his later years. I had almost used one for a chapter epigraph in One Thousand Years. Another of his quotes is tentatively set for use in my upcoming sequel. (More on that later.)

Why they burn

Berlin book burning May 10, 1933 — (from image in U.S. public domain)

Berlin book burning May 10, 1933

Do you remember why Ray Bradbury’s firemen burned books? I thought of this again when I saw that the free speech advocates over the pond at English Pen were screening the movie version of Fahrenheit 451.

I confess to being skeptical whether they’ll get to the original reason, but maybe they will. Their announcement quotes from the book:

“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it.” — Ray Bradbury

Like most people, I’d forgotten Bradbury’s reason until The Observer’s Ryan Holiday reminded us of the real reason we need to stop trying to protect everyone’s feelings:

If you’d asked me what it was about before last week, I would have told you: “Firemen who burn books.”

And if you’d asked me why on earth they did that, I would have answered just as confidently: “Because a tyrannical government wanted them to.”

There is a trend afoot to conveniently remember the works of authors like Ray Bradbury and Aldous Huxley as warnings against distant totalitarianism and control. But this only scratches the surface of what these books are about.

Note that he said “conveniently remember.” That trend has only gotten worse. Or better, depending on your point-of-view.

Bradbury’s society did not burn books because of the government. Holiday quotes the book:

“You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset and stirred. Ask yourself, What do we want in this country above all? People want to be happy, isn’t that right? … Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag. Take your fight outside. Better yet, to the incinerator.”

It’s the people rioting in the streets that want your books burned. Perhaps it’s not so much that Bradbury saw this coming but that it has often been this way.

It was the German Student Union that organized burning books with the SA brownshirts in Nazi Germany.

Raumpatrouille: 1960s German SF

Raumpatrouille (Space Patrol) was a seven-episode German science fiction show in the ’60s. The style was somewhat reminiscent of the movie Forbidden Planet.

YouTuber Rewboss gives a short but thorough explanation for English speakers:

The show is well worth a look. The first episode is here. Be sure to turn on the subtitles for a translation.

This is what people in the ’60s thought the future would be like. Expect more than a few scenes to be unintentionally funny. The dancing in the background reminds me of SNL’s Sprockets, which adds to the charm.

All seven episodes are available on YouTube. Some videos don’t have the English subtitles, but there is an alternative if you look around.

Patrolling the seas in a new era

Found via OldNFO J.L. Curtis, who says Hawaii’s last P-3 squadron is leaving: “1937-2017… 80 years of maritime patrol squadrons is ending this week.”

This is one of history’s milestones. That was the first takeaway.

From Stars & Stripes: Last 3 planes from Navy patrol squadron to depart Hawaii for new home in Washington state.

This part was funny to me:

“This is an old bird, and I think we’re lucky that we’re catching and being able to be a part of this, because the new P-8s and new aircraft that are coming out now, they tell you what’s wrong through a computer,” said Young, who’s deploying with VP-9. He said he likes the fact that the P-3 is “old-school. It’s mechanical.”

I know that feeling. There were still P-3Bs flying when I was in the Navy, and I remember thinking that very same thing about their avionics. (I suppose the difference between a P-3B and P-3C didn’t matter as much to those in the cockpit.)

But I see this as more than wistful memories of P-3s. The Navy will still be flying those for a few more years. They just won’t be doing it out of Hawaii in significant numbers. Instead, they will only have a P-3C detached from Whidbey Island, Washington, until two P-8A Poseidons replace them. Only two.

It’s not so much about the P-3s leaving. They’ve had various types of aircraft before that. Think of the squadrons of PBYs flying out of there in WWII, then Marlins in the 1950s, P-2s and P-3As during the Vietnam War, followed by the P-3B through P-3E’s (although, apparently, VP-9 stopped with the P-3C). It is patrol operations in Hawaii that are practically closing up shop.

Part of this is that the Navy’s needs and budgets have changed. I’m hoping that another part is in greater capabilities of newer technologies. Perhaps some of that will be in the P-8. Then there are the roles played by the new satellites and drones.

Even here, the robots are taking over. That was the second takeaway.

Ike’s speech and the military-industrial complex


This is the chart for 2013 proposed discretionary spending. I found it on a third-party politician’s Twitter feed with some idle thought about how society could advance if we didn’t spend so much on the military. It shows defense spending at a whopping 57%.

Notice that Health, Housing & Community are only 5 and 6%. It sounds like General Jack D. Ripper (of Doctor Strangelove) was running the government.

The trouble is, it’s obviously deceptive. The chart lists discretionary spending, which is not the entire budget.


Here is actual federal spending for 2015 (different years, but the numbers are close enough). It puts defense spending at only 16%.

Use of the first chart is actually more deceptive than you’d think. These are federal budget numbers. The states and cities have their own budgets and taxes. That’s where most of the education spending is at, which distorts comparisons to the defense budget. The state healthcare budgets are massive as well.

That brings me to President Eisenhower’s 1961 speech on the military-industrial complex: Does this mean he was making a mountain out of a molehill? No, and here’s where it gets interesting:

For historical numbers, you need to compare to GDP for comparisons to mean anything. You can get the historical tables here. In particular, look at: Table 3.1—Outlays by Superfunction and Function: 1940–2021. (Note: This is an .XLS file.) National defense was a mere 1.7% of GDP in 1940.

It went to 5.5% of GDP in 1941 (when Woody Guthrie wrote the song, “C for Conscription“ before changing his tune), then 17.4, 36.1, 37.0 to 36.6% in 1945. It dropped back down to around 5% after the war, but then rose to 12.9% of GDP in 1952.

Defense spending was still at 9.1% in 1961, but dropping, when President Eisenhower left office. That’s the context of his famous speech on the military-industrial complex on this day in 1961. He wasn’t worried about a military take-over. It was about the focus of our money, resources and power becoming an end in and of itself. You could run into the same issues when another part of the government gets too much attention.

The numbers went down again as the Vietnam War came to its end. They were as low as 4.5% in 1979, then rising and peaking at 6.0 during the Reagan years, and then finally subsiding as the Cold War ended. Defense spending never saw those numbers again. Not even the War on Terror, Afghanistan and Iraq, brought them back. They didn’t rise above 4% until 2008. They were at 3.3% in 2015.

Along those lines, people fretted about bringing back the draft during the war in Iraq. But that was plainly fearmongering. We had a larger military during the Reagan years, and that was without a draft. I wouldn’t be surprised if that politician pushing the above discretionary spending chart had been among those trying to scare people about a draft.

The Battle of the Bulge

It’s been 72 years since Operation Watch on the Rhine began, the surprise attack through the forests of the Ardennes, starting what we know as the Battle of the Bulge. Hitler had hoped that a victory here could force the Allies (minus Stalin) to the peace table. The Allies were caught completely by surprise.

Rand Simberg reposts an excerpt of his alternative newspaper story “on how today’s media would have reported it.” The full piece at his link is worth a read.

I can’t say that my own work (and one character in particular) wasn’t inspired by his stories.

“We Pledge Allegiance”

I’ve been watching the various preview videos for season two of The Man in the High Castle. There are a number of them.

If you’ve been on safari for the last few years, this is based on the book of the same name by Philip K. Dick. Both the book and the TV series take place in an alternative 1960s America where the Allies lost WWII. And lost it badly. The U.S. was partitioned between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

Here’s one of the videos via YouTube, which I believe is the opening scene of this second season:

The show is produced by Amazon and available online. The first episode of season 1 is available free. The trailer to this second season is here. From there you should see links to other clips.

In any event, this scene is interesting in another way: It shows the students of this school reciting a Nazified version of the Pledge of Allegiance. One might think they would be using a Hitler salute rather than the conventional hand over the heart. They don’t until the very end. In reality, what we think of nowadays as a Hitler salute was also called the “Bellamy salute,” after Francis Bellamy. That’s the guy who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance.*

Bellamy salute, 1941

Bellamy salute, 1941

This was, in fact, how most people used to do the pledge. It only changed in 1942, for obvious reasons. Now, people find it funny that Nazis did it without realizing how common this salute had been for decades.

My guess is that the show’s producers either didn’t know this history, or decided it would be better to use the form that most people know about. There are reasons to give the audience what’s more familiar. That would make it feel more real even if it’s less.

* Francis Bellamy was the cousin of Edward Bellamy, the writer of 1888’s Looking Backward: 2000–1887.