These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines

Khalid Elhassan - September 2, 2019

There are history’s broad outlines, known to many, and there are history’s minor details, known mostly just to history buffs. And there are fascinating but often overlooked details, that might alter one’s perception of history, altogether. Following are forty things about amazing facts that might enhance or alter your perception of history.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
John R. Brinkley implanted goat testes into men, claiming they would cure erectile dysfunction. All That Is Interesting

40. The Doctor Behind the Great Goat Testicles Transplant Craze (Part 1)

There might exist greater understatements than “men care about their penises“, but if so, they are probably few. Men always worried about their family jewels. Throughout history, you’d never find a shortage of those eager to cash in on such concerns. Not least when it comes to the ability – or in this case the inability – to get it up. Before Viagra came along and ruined the party. Many charlatans, quack doctors, witch doctors, and self-declared witches had a field day peddling cures for sexual malaise. Even today, despite medical breakthroughs in treating erectile dysfunction, a plausible promise to improve men’s penis is one of the easiest moneymakers out there.

Few made as much out of problematic penis fixes as did “Dr.” John R. Brinkley (1885 – 1942). He became known as the “goat glands doctor“, but might be better thought of as the “goat testicles transplant doctor. The “Dr.” is in quotes because Brinkley simply bought a medical degree from diploma mill. He then began practicing medicine after moving to Milford, Kansas, where he opened a clinic specializing in men’s sexual performance. For $25, Brinkley injected his patients with nothing more than colored water, plus a promise that it would turn them into tigers in bed. Like many charlatans, Brinkley demonstrated that a conman need not be brilliant, so long as his marks are dumb. And willing to spend their money.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
John R. Brinkley. Legends of America

39. How Brinkley Became The Goat Gonad Doctor (Part 2)

Brinkley’s sexual performance cures were clearly bunk. At best, they created a placebo effect with some whose problems stemmed psychologically rather than physically. However, between his tireless self-promotion, over-the-top personality, and eagerness to believe, Brinkley soon became known as a “miracle worker” in restoring penises to rightful performance. One day in 1918, a patient walked into Brinkley’s clinic, complaining about trouble “getting it up”. The doctor cracked a joke about how the man would have no problem if he had goats’ testicles – goats having a particular reputation back then for virility. At some point after doctor and patient stopped laughing, they figured “why not?“, and decided to go ahead and put goat balls in the man’s testes. Brinkley even offered the man $150 if he went along with the experiment.

The patient claimed that all was good, and Brinkley publicized the success of the operation, hoping to drum up more goat testicle transplants. Soon, Brinkley was performing up to 100 transplant operations a week in his clinic, charging his patients $750 (about $10,000 in 2019 dollars) per. The crude procedure simply placed the goat gonads within a man’s testicle sac, and the patient’s body would then typically absorb the goat tissue as foreign matter. Medically speaking, the operation had no impact whatsoever – other than the occasional infection. But there was no shortage of patients convincing themselves – or at least going out of their way to convince others – that they were now as virile as goats. Those who were not were typically too embarrassed to open themselves to ridicule, for failing to get it up even with goat balls.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
A 1922 news story about Brinkley. WNC Magazine

38. Goat Gonad Mania (Part 3)

Brinkley’s procedure became so popular, that his schedule became jam-packed. Patients began bringing their own goats, personally selected by them after observing their prowess, to implant their gonads in their testes. Although many patients came down with infections and quite a few died – in addition to inadequate medical training, Brinkley’s surgery was poorly sterilized, and he often operated drunk – Brinkley’s popularity kept growing. It increased after he put on a show for the press in 1920, during which he performed 34 goat testicle transplants. The press and public ate it up. He hired an advertising agent, who coined the phrase that Brinkley’s procedure turned hapless men into “The ram that am with every lamb“.

Brinkley was actually not unique back then: he had a rival, who specialized in transplanting monkey balls into men’s testicles. However, goat gonads caught on more than monkey balls, and as Brinkley’s fame grew, he widened the list of ailments cured by his procedure to include flatulence, dementia, and cancer. By 1922, he was a celebrity, and traveled to LA to perform a transplant on a Los Angeles Times editor. While in California, he made over $40,000 – serious money back then – from surgeries performed on Hollywood stars. Brinkley liked the West Coast so much, he decided to set up a practice there, complete with a goat farm. However, the California Medical Board denied him a license, after finding his resume was “riddled with lies and discrepancies“. Undaunted, Brinkley returned to Kansas, and expanded his Milford clinic.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
Operating room at Brinkley’s hospital in Milford, Kansas. Pintrest

37. From Goat Testicle Transplants to Radio Doctor (Part 4)

Whatever his shortcomings as a doctor – and those shortcomings were legion – Brinkley, a savvy entrepreneur, quickly grasped the potential of the then-new medium of radio. In 1923, he bought what came to be America’s fourth-biggest radio station, KFKB, chiefly to market his medical practice. Before long, Brinkley was prescribing medications to his listeners: people would write him, with $2 included in the envelope, and he would diagnose them on air, then prescribe medication. The medication was typically only available in a Brinkley-owned pharmacy, or one with whom he had cut a deal for a cut of their profits. However, all good things come to an end. In 1923, California tried to extradite Brinkley, but Kansas’ governor refused to hand him over.

However, bad press – especially from a rival radio station on a mission to expose Brinkley as a fraud – continued to hound the goat gonads doctor. His popularity began to decline after stories emerged that he ran a filthy operating room and Brinkley frequently performed surgery while intoxicated. By 1930, it emerged that Brinkley had signed over 40 death certificates for patients who died during his goat testicle transplants. As a result, Kansas’ Medical Board revoked his license, stating that Brinkley “has performed an organized charlatanism … quite beyond the invention of the humble mountebank“.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
John R. Brinkley during his run for governor. Fountain City Frequency

36. End of the Road For the Goat Gonads Guru (Part 5)

Six months after Brinkley lost his medical license, the feds refused to renew his radio station’s license, finding that his broadcasts were mostly advertising, in violation of the license, as well as being obscene and against the public interest. The twin blows from the state and federal authorities put a major crimp on Brinkley’s cash flow, and things quickly began to go south for him. Other than appeal, there was little he could do about the lost radio license, but to get the medical license back, he had an ingenious solution: run for governor of Kansas. As governor, he could appoint his own members to the Medical Board, and thus get his license back.

He launched his campaign for governor just three days after losing his medical license, with a vague platform of public works, lower taxes, higher old-age pensions, and education. Despite being a near last-minute write-in candidate, Brinkley got almost 30% of the vote. He would have won, but the state’s Attorney General intervened at the last minute to change the rules for write-in votes: only those writing Brinkley’s name as “J. R. Brinkley” would have their votes counted. That disqualified 50,000 Brinkley ballots, which would put have put him over the top had they been counted. Brinkley ran again in 1932, but lost. He then faded away, pursued by numerous medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits. By the time John R. Brinkley died in 1942, he was stone broke.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
Portrait of Al-Hakim, the Mad Caliph. Wikimedia

35. The Mad Caliph, One of the Middle Ages’ Weirdest Rulers (Part 1)

The Fatimid Caliph Abu Ali Mansur (985 – 1021), better known by his regnal title Al-Hakim bi Amr Allah (“Ruler by God’s Command”), and better yet known by the nickname “The Mad Caliph”, was one of the medieval era’s weirdest rulers. Among other things, he was afflicted with megalomania that led him to declare himself an incarnation of god. While other rulers who declared themselves gods ended up with universal scorn, the Mad Caliph actually ended up with some adherents. And not just ones who adhered out of fear, but sincere ones who continued their reverence for Al-Hakim long after his death. Indeed, to this day he is still viewed as a divine incarnation by the Druze sect in the Middle East, and is seen as a religiously important figure by some Shi’a Muslims.

The son of the Fatimid Caliph Abu Mansur and a consort named Al Azizah, Al-Hakim became Caliph at age 11 following his father’s death. The Mad Caliph’s mother was a Christian, and that opened him to allegations that he was an insufficiently zealous Muslim, and that he was soft on Christianity. It seems those accusations got to him, so he went out of his to prove his Muslim chops, and demonstrate that he was no Christian puppet. As in way, way, out of his way: he launched an unprecedented wave of persecutions against Christians in his empire, and ordered the destruction of Christian churches and monuments.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, destroyed by the Mad Caliph and rebuilt after his death. Christianity Today

34. The Mad Caliph Overcompensates (Part 2)

Caliph Al-Hakim wanted to demonstrate that being born to a Christian mother did not make him a soft Muslim. So he departed from the tolerance hitherto displayed by Muslim rulers to Christians and Jews. He went on a religious persecution bender, destroying synagogues and churches. This included the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem; it housed the cave where Jesus is thought to have lain before his resurrection. The Mad Caliph also banned pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He added to that by ordering Christians and Jews to wear distinguishing clothing to identify them. Jews suffered further humiliation by being required to wear bells. Al-Hakim made sure of this so they could be identified by sound as well as sight.

Al Hakim’s weirdness went beyond his religious persecutions. It included what must be one of history’s most bizarre consumer protection practices, ever. The Mad Caliph reportedly used to walk through the markets of Cairo, looking for deceptive merchants. All while accompanied by a giant African slave named Masoud. Whenever he came across a merchant cheating his customers, Al-Hakim would order Masoud to sodomize the crook publicly. Right then and there. To this day, people in Cairo threaten to “bring Masoud” when dealing with a merchant whom they suspect of trying to cheat them.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
Inauguration of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883. Wikimedia

33. The Brooklyn Bridge’s Inauspicious Opening

The Brooklyn Bridge, over the East River and connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan, was opened in 1883. Still in use almost a century and a half later, it is a New York City icon, and a National Historic Landmark as the world’s first steel-wire suspension bridge. Like many major infrastructure projects, particularly those of the 19th century, building the bridge, whose construction began in 1869 and lasted for 14 years, was no picnic. Workers toiled in poorly ventilated underwater chambers where many of them ended up with decompression sickness, while some were outright paralyzed. However, the work went on, and when the bridge was finally completed and opened to the public on May 24th, 1883, it was a sensation, marked by fireworks and civic pride. Then disaster struck six days later, and dampened the good mood.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
The disaster on the Brooklyn Bridge. Getty Images

May 30th, 1883, was a holiday, so crowds headed for the newly opened Brooklyn Bridge’s promenade – NYC’s highest vantage point back then. A pedestrian bottleneck formed on the Manhattan side, and as the tightly packed crowd pressed forward, some people were pushed down a short flight of stairs. People screamed, and with some jumping to the erroneous conclusion that the bridge was about to fall, a stampede ensued. In the resulting chaos, twelve people were crushed to death, and hundreds more were injured. Subsequent investigation pinned the disaster on a failure to place cops along the span, to keep the crowds dispersed and moving. It became standard practice thereafter for policemen on the bridge to keep people moving along.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
Things getting out of control during 10 Cent Beer Night. The Dollop

32. The 10 Cent Beer Fiasco (Part 1)

1974 was a bad year for the Cleveland Indians: the team sucked, and fans made their displeasure known by staying away. To boost attendance and drum up business, management brainstormed and came up with a promotion that would go down in infamy as one of Major League Baseball’s worst ideas: bargain basement-priced beer. The Indians informed their fans that the June 4th, 1974, game against the Texas Rangers would feature 12-ounce beers at the ballpark, sold for just a dime instead of the regular 65 cents price. In of itself, the cheap booze was not a problem: the Indians had offered a 10 cent beer night in 1971. However, cheap booze in a game against the Rangers was a bad mix: a bench-clearing brawl in the teams’ last meeting a week earlier in Texas, had left many Indians fans harboring a grudge against the Rangers.

Promotion Success… and then Failure

The promotion worked far better than expected, with over 25,000 showing up that night. However, most were not there for the game: the concession stands were jam-packed with people buying up to half a dozen beers at a time. Everyone – the young, the old, the drunk, and the soon-to-be drunk – was chugging down the bargain brew, then staggering back for more. It did not take long for fans to get wasted, and in the second inning, after the Rangers hit a home run, a heavyset woman was thrown out after she stormed the field and flashed her big boobs at the crowd, then tried to kiss the umpire. The crowd went wild, then fans began passing joints. Then firecrackers began going off all over the place, making the place seem like a war zone. It was still early innings, and things were about to get way worse.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
One of many drunk streakers on 10 Cent Beer Night. ESPN

31. Things Get Worse (Part 2)

When the Rangers hit another home run, a naked man rushed the field and slid into second base. Whatever injuries and burns he got from sliding naked on the dirt are unknown, because security failed to catch him. To be fair, they probably did not try that hard: would you go out of your way to try and grapple with a drunk naked dude covered in dirt? In the meantime, the beer lines grew longer at the concession stands, and the already drunk fans soon started getting grouchy. The Indians’ management noticed the increasing belligerence of the inebriated crowd, and hit upon another idea that must have seemed brilliant to them at the time: let the fans get their beer directly from the beer trucks outside the ballpark.

The thirsty fans threw aside a picnic table as they stampeded for the beer trucks. Unfortunately, the Indians’ management had failed to beef up staffing or security for the trucks: they were overseen by two teenaged girls, who quickly fled when things went haywire. With no one to stop them, the fans treated the beer trucks like their private kegs, with some even drinking straight out of the trucks’ hoses as if they were straws. Things got rowdier yet, when a pair of drunk dudes got up on the wall, and started mooning the crowd. They loved it. And it was still just the fifth inning (for non-baseball fans, the game has nine innings). There was still a way to go before the night would be over.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
Rangers players putting a beatdown on a drunk assailant. Mental Floss

30. Drunken Chaos Reaches a Crescendo in Cleveland (Part 3)

Halfway through the game, with chaos engulfing the Indians’ ballpark, a Rangers player was hit by a ball. The crowd loved that as well, and by now, having gone from the jolly drunk phase to mean drunk mode, they began shouting: “HIT HIM HARDER!” Against that backdrop, the Rangers’ manager Billy Martin, an alcoholic who had supposedly once taken a hit out on an umpire, came out to argue a call. The home crowd did not like that one bit, and before long, plastic cups were raining down from the stands. They were followed soon thereafter by a hail of firecrackers so intense that the Rangers’ bullpen had to be evacuated for the players’ safety. Somebody made an announcement, asking the fans to stop throwing trash on the field, but that only emboldened them to redouble their efforts.

Soon, the fans were throwing not just plastic cups and firecrackers, but just about anything they could get their hands on, including hot dogs, rocks, batteries, trash cans, and ripped-out seats. One Rangers players estimated that at least 20 pounds of hot dogs had been thrown at him. So many streakers were getting on the field, that piles of clothes began to form up. By then, it should have begun to dawn on the Indians that they might have skimped on security: they had hired only 50 personnel to secure the entire ballpark. However, there was a huge disconnect between what should have happened and what did. How did management actually handle the mounting crisis? By the 8th inning, just about anybody in charge, or who worked for the Indians’ administration, had left.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
Texas Rangers players fleeing for their lives from drunk and hostile Indians fans. The Daily Dose

29. The Climax in Cleveland (Part 4)

In the 9th inning, a heavily inebriated fan jumped into the field, grabbed an outfielder’s cap, and began running around wildly. When he finally dropped the cap, the livid outfielder kicked him. At that point, the Rangers’ manager Billy Martin, who had never been known for having a cool head, grabbed a baseball bat. Turning to his players and rallying them like a Civil War colonel pumping up regiment for a bayonet charge, Martin urged his team: “Boys! Let’s get em!” Following their leader, the Rangers stormed the field with their bats, to do battle with the fans who by then had knives, chains, and other improvised weapons. In the ensuing battle between the Texans and the Indians fans, things started out well for the Rangers, but it did not take long before the locals’ numbers began to tell, and they got the upper hand.

As Billy Martin’s routed men fled the field, pursued by hostile Indians fans, it was only good fortune that kept the Texans players from getting killed that night. The Indians’ manager, realizing that the Texans were about to get slaughtered, got his own players to arm themselves with bats, and rushed them onto the field to protect the Rangers. In the end, riot police and a SWAT team arrived to break it all up. By then the tally for the night was over 60,000 beers consumed, almost 20 streakers, about 10 trips to the emergency room, and 9 arrests. The game could not be resumed in a timely manner, so the Indians ended up forfeiting because of their fans’ drunken antics, and because of their management’s boneheaded decision to enable that fiasco.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
Orion P. Howe. Civil War Talk

28. One of the Youngest People to Earn the Medal of Honor Joined the Army at Age 12 (Part 1)

Orion Perseus Howe, one of the youngest recipients of the Medal of Honor, was born in Ohio in 1848, then moved with his family to Illinois shortly before the start of the Civil War. When Orion was 12, he and his younger brother Lyston enlisted as musicians in the 55th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, in which their father served as regimental band leader. During his service, young Orion was present at 14 battles in which his regiment fought. His moment of fame came during the Vicksburg Campaign, on May 19th, 1863. During an assault on Vicksburg that day, the 55th Illinois charged and ended up pressed close to the Confederate lines. A vicious firefight ensued, that quickly exhausted the cartridge boxes of the Illinois men.

It soon became critical to secure a resupply of ammunition from the stocks in the rear. Unfortunately, the regiment was in an awkward position, such that anybody leaving its relatively covered position for the rear would have to cross hundreds of yards of relatively open ground that was swept by enemy fire. When the regimental commander sought volunteers to make the perilous sprint, Orion was one of those who stepped up. The volunteers began their dangerous dash to the rear to secure more ammunition, running full out up a rise that was swept by Confederate canister and rifle fire. One after the other, the brave men were killed, until only Orion remained, scrambling onwards to complete his mission.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
Plaque in Vicksburg National Military Park, commemorating Orion P. Howe’s exploits. US National Parks Service

27. Orion Howe Earns His Medal of Honor (Part 2)

As Orion Howe’s comrades held their breaths and watched, the boy made his way through a storm of enemy fire, with bullets, shot, and shell kicking up puffs of dust all around him. Stumbling, falling, but always rising again and moving on, Howe was severely wounded in the leg, but he gamely limped on until the crested the summit’s rise and disappeared from sight. Bleeding heavily and groggy from loss of blood, Orion managed to locate General William Tecumseh Sherman, and informed him of his regiment’s dire need of ammunition. Impressed by the boy’s demeanor and determination, Sherman ordered him to seek medical care, promising to see to it that the 55th Illinois would get the necessary resupply.

Sherman was so impressed by Orion, that he wrote Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, stating “I’ll warrant the boy has the elements of a man, and I commend him to the government as one worthy of the fostering care of one of its national institutions“. It took Orion several months to recover from his severe injury and rejoin his regiment. He re-enlisted, and was finally discharged in late 1864 as a corporal. After the war, he went to New York University, where he graduated from its dental school, before settling in Springfield, Missouri. Due to snafus at the War Department, he was not awarded his Medal of Honor until 1896, more than three decades after his exploits before Vicksburg. He lived to the age of 81, and died in 1930.

Also Read: 10 American Child Soldiers of the Civil War.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
Masashi Ito and Bunzo Minagawa. Paleric Blog

26. The Japanese Duo Who Refused to Surrender For Fifteen Years After WWII Ended

Imperial Japanese Army Sergeant Masashi Ito and Private Bunzo Minagawa were assigned to the Japanese garrison of Guam, when that island was invaded by American forces in 1944. In the fierce fighting that followed, most of Guam’s defenders were killed, but Ito and Minagawa were among the lucky few Japanese survivors. Japanese propaganda had convinced them that the US military treated its prisoners of war barbarically, so the duo were too afraid to surrender. Instead, they struck off deep into the island’s jungles and hid. And hid, and hid, and hid, then hid some more. Ito and Minagawa ended up spending a miserable 16 years cowering in Guam’s jungle, sleeping in the elements as their uniforms rotted away into tattered rags.

As Minagawa described it: “we ate roots, worms, grass, and grasshoppers. It’s no use telling you because you wouldn’t believe it. You can’t imagine such a life. We were sleeping every night in the rain on the ground“. The duo’s Robinson Crusoe existence took place only a stone’s throw from civilization: Guam is only 25 miles long and 8 miles wide, and at the time had a population of more than 60,000 people. The holdouts lasted until May 21st, 1960, when an emaciated and dazed Minagawa was discovered in the jungle and captured by locals. Ito was taken two days later. Asked by a reporter whether they had seen leaflets written by their relatives and dropped over the jungle years before their capture, they said “Yes, but we didn’t believe them. We thought it was propaganda”.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
A Grumman F6F Hellcat on a carrier flight deck in WWII. Pic Click

25. The Hellcat That Devastated the Japanese (Part 1)

Casual WWII buffs tend to know far more about the European fighter planes than their Asian counterparts. Perhaps that is understandable, considering the greater scale and intensity of combat in Europe, coupled with the higher stakes against the premier Axis power. It is nonetheless unfortunate, because it overlooks some fine airplanes of the Pacific War, and the brave men who flew them. One such airplane was the Grumman F6F Hellcat, the successor to the F4F Wildcat with which the US Navy began the war.

Shocked, American naval Aviators discovered their standard fighter, the F4F Wildcat, became outclassed, in many ways, by the Japanese Zero. The Japanese Zero boasted faster, more maneuverable, and longer-ranged stats. They adopted some ameliorative operational procedures and tactics in a bid to counter the Zero’s advantages and play up to the Wildcat’s strengths. Clearly, those measures became a stopgap. What it really needed? A new and improved fighter. Enter the Hellcat, which Grumman worked on as a successor to the F4F prior to America’s entry into the war. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor sped things up. It took what became the F6F Hellcat from the experimental stage to operational employment in just 18 months.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
‘The Ace Maker’, by Mark Karvon. Karvon Art Studios

24. Enter the Hellcat (Part 2)

The F6F Hellcat first flew in the summer of 1942, and made its combat debut in September 1943. It featured folding wings for easier storage in less space. This allowed aircraft carriers to carry a greater number of fighters. The new model became faster, more powerful, more maneuverable, and longer ranged than its predecessor, the F4F. It outclassed Japanese Zeroes in every way except maneuverability at low speed. The Hellcat became an instant hit, and proved itself such a success that within a few months, it had become the Navy’s standard carrier-based fighter. 12,275 of them were produced during the war, and they were the main platform which the US Navy used to clear the Pacific skies of enemy planes.

Versatile and rugged, F6Fs conducted fighter sweeps over Japanese airfields, flew combat air patrols to protect the forces below from aerial attack, and performed ground attacks in support of soldiers and Marines. Standard armament was six .50 caliber machines, but some planes substituted a pair of 20mm canon for two of the machine guns. F6Fs could also carry a pair of 1000-pound bombs, but its most destructive load for ground attacks were half a dozen 5-inch rockets, whose salvos exceeded a destroyer’s broadside. Although it did not enter service until the final two years of the conflict, the F6F downed 5156 enemy aircraft. Nicknamed “The Ace Maker” for the seeming ease with which its pilots achieved that status, with 307 Hellcat pilots becoming aces during the war, the plane achieved an enviable 19:1 kill ratio, and accounted for 75 percent of the US Navy’s air-to-air victories.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
Bill Mauldin stamp. United States Postal Service

23. The Cartoonist Who Got Under General Patton’s Skin (Part 1)

William Henry “Bill” Mauldin became famous during WWII as a cartoonist for the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, with his sardonic Willie and Joe cartoons, depicting the travails of a pair of disheveled combat soldiers. Born in 1921 in New Mexico, Mauldin studied cartooning at the Chicago Academy of Fine arts, before enlisting in the US Army in 1940. In uniform, he began drawing for the 45th Division’s newspaper, and his work caught the attention of Stars and Stripes. That newspaper began publishing his cartoons in 1943, and formally added him to its staff in 1944. Mauldin covered the fighting in Sicily and Italy, was wounded during the fighting around Salerno, and after D-Day, he was sent to France and accompanied the advancing GIs into Germany.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
The kind of Willie and Joe attitude that got under general Patton’s skin. Jim Keefe

While working for Stars and Stripes, Mauldin created Willie and Joe, two front-line GIs who frequently found themselves caught between the horrors of war and the frequently ridiculous expectations and directives of the Army’s chain of command. The irrepressible duo thus struggled from one cartoon to the next in order to triumph over both the Wehrmacht and their own rear echelon. However, not everybody was a fan of Willie and Joe, and the detractors included George S. Patton, who neither liked Mauldin nor his cartoon creations. Not least because Willie and Joe’s slovenly appearance went against the soldierly spit-and-polish image fetishized by Patton. More importantly, the cartoons made pointed jabs at the unrealistic fatuousness of the military hierarchy, including a cartoon ridiculing a directive from Patton that troops be clean-shaven at all times. In short, Patton viewed Willie and Joe as detrimental to morale and discipline.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
A Bill Mauldin WWII cartoon. Pintrest

22. Patton Chews Out and Threatens The Military’s Favorite Cartoonist (Part 2)

Patton ordered Mauldin to report to his headquarters, where he berated the cartoonist. He accused him of trying to incite a mutiny, described him as an “unpatriotic anarchist”. He even threatened him with jail. However, the GIs loved Willie and Joe. Patton’s boss, Eisenhower, correctly judged that the cartoons gave soldiers an outlet for frustrations that might otherwise bubble over and get expressed in more mutinous ways. So Ike ordered Patton to back off and leave Mauldin alone. The War Office also supported the cartoons, and helped Mauldin get them syndicated in the US. His work was deemed an asset to the war effort, precisely because they depicted the dark side of war. It showed the civilians back home that victory would not come easy, but would require considerable effort and sacrifice.

The cartoons were a hit with civilians back home, earning Mauldin a Pulitzer Prize in 1945. As Band of Brothers author, Stephen Ambrose described Willie and Joe: “[Mauldin] caught the trials and travails of the GI. For anyone who wants to know what it was like to be an infantryman in World War II, this is the place to start – and finish.” After the war, Mauldin published collections of his wartime cartoons and freelanced, before joining the St. Louis Post Dispatch. He won another Pulitzer Prize in 1959. This one is for a cartoon depicting the absence of freedom in the USSR. In 1962, by which point Mauldin’s cartoons were widely syndicated, he switched to the Chicago Sun-Times. His work also appeared in numerous magazines, such as Sports Illustrated and Life. Bill Mauldin died in 2003, aged 81, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
General John Sedgwick. Fine Art America

21. The Last Words That Eclipsed a Life

John Sedgwick (1813 – 1864) was born into a family of Revolutionary War veterans, including a grandfather who had served as a general alongside George Washington. Sedgwick graduated from West Point in 1837 and was commissioned as an artillery officer. He served ably, and was still in uniform when the Civil War broke out in 1861. Sedgwick was given command of a cavalry regiment, and by August, 1861, he was promoted to command his own brigade in the Army of the Potomac. By February, 1862, he had his own division. He fought bravely in the Peninsula Campaign, the Seven Days Battles, and Antietam, before he was given a corps. Sedgwick’s concern for his soldiers’ well-being won him the love of his men and the nickname “Uncle John”. Unfortunately, he is more widely remembered for his ironic last words than for his solid military career.

During the Overland Campaign in 1864, Sedgwick led his corps in the Battle of the Wilderness. On May 9th, 1864, at the start of the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Sedgwick positioned his artillery. But his troops came under sniper fire and got jumpy. Chiding them for their timidity under single bullets, he wondered how they would react when they confronted the massed enemy on the firing line. Ashamed, the men remained jittery. So Uncle John continued: “Why are you dodging like this? They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dista…“. At which point his pep speech was interrupted by a sniper bullet. It struck him in the face, beneath his left eye, and killed him instantly. He became the highest-ranking Union battlefield death of the Civil War.

These Facts Will Alter the Perception of Historical Timelines
Japanese admiral Yamamoto, US Commander in Chief, Pacific, Nimitz, and the Battle of Midway. Learnodo Newtonic

20. World War II’s Most Dramatic Five Minutes (Part 1)

Few countries have ever suffered as dramatic and sudden a setback as Japan did during a fateful five-minute stretch on June 4th, 1942. At 10:25 AM that day, Japan was mistress of the Pacific, had the world’s strongest naval aviation force, and was dictating the terms of the war. By 10:30 AM, Japan had effectively lost WWII. Japan had gone on a rampage after its sneak attack the previous December against the US fleet anchored in Pearl Harbor, and won a series of stunning victories. However, those wins did not seal the deal, and what Japan really wanted was a decisive engagement like the 1905 Battle of Tsushima, in which the Japanese annihilated the Russian fleet and effectively won the Russo-Japanese War. Pearl Harbor and subsequent victories had been successes, but none of them had been a Tsushima.

So the Japanese figured an invasion of Midway Island might lure what was left of the US Navy into showing up for a climactic showdown. Assuming that the US Navy had only 1 or 2 aircraft carriers in the Pacific, the Japanese launched their operation with 4 fleet carriers. However, American code breakers had cracked Japanese secret communications and knew of the upcoming attack. Moreover, the Americans had more carriers in the Pacific than expected. One had been transferred from the Atlantic, and another that had been damaged in an earlier battle and was expected to take months to fix, was rushed back into service after 48 hours of repairs. Thus, the Japanese would meet 3 US carriers, and an alert enemy waiting in ambush rather than one caught off guard.

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Japanese aircraft carriers aflame at Midway. YouTube

19. Disaster Strikes the Japanese (Part 2)

On the morning of June 4th, 1942, Japanese carrier warplanes raided Midway. Significant damage was inflicted, but a second strike was necessary. While readying their airplanes, the Japanese discovered that American carriers were nearby. Midway dead-ended and destroying aircraft carriers became increasingly important. So orders were given to switch the airplanes’ munitions from ground attack bombs to anti-ship bombs and torpedoes. While that continued, the American carriers launched their own strike. First to arrive were Devastator torpedo bombers: slow planes that flew low, steady, and straight, to launch their torpedoes. 41 Devastators attacked the Japanese carriers without fighter escort. 35 went down, without scoring a hit. The Japanese resumed refueling and rearming their planes to strike the American carriers. While the American torpedo bombers got slaughtered, a flight of American Dauntless dive bombers went in. The American bombers failed and went down while trying to locate the Japanese.

Following the Bread Crumbs to the Enemy

Although near the point beyond which their fuel would be insufficient to make it back to their carriers, their commander, Wade McClusky, kept going. He was rewarded by spotting a lone Japanese destroyer below. Guessing that it was heading to rejoin its fleet, he used its wake as an arrow that led him to the Japanese fleet. It was caught at the worst possible time for an attack from dive bombers. The carriers were rearming and refueling, so their decks were full of bombs and torpedoes and gas. There was also no fighter protection – the Japanese fighters had gone down to intercept and destroy the torpedo bombers that had attacked at low level. They had not regained altitude, when the American dive bombers showed up high above and dove down. Within 5 minutes, 3 of the 4 Japanese aircraft carriers were burning. The fourth was sunk later that day. It turned the tide in the Pacific, and dealt the Japanese a defeat from which they never fully recovered.

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Jebe and one-eyed Subutail Pintrest

18. Genghis Khan Rewarded a Man Who Shot Him in the Neck By Making Him a General

Mongol general Jebe, born Zurgudai (d. 1225), began his military career as an enemy of Genghis Khan. During a battle in 1201, Zurgudai shot Genghis in the neck with an arrow, but Genghis survived, won the battle, and Zurgudai was captured. A wounded Genghis asked his captives who had shot him, and Zurgudai confessed. His honesty and courage impressed Genghis, soo he took Zurgudai into his service and renamed him “Jebe”, meaning arrow. Jebe quickly rose through the ranks, and within a few years, he was one of Genghis’ most capable generals. He was entrusted with independent commands such as an assignment to defeat Kuchlug, one of Genghis’ last remaining Steppe enemies, and the subjugation of his Kara Khitai state. Jebe accomplished the mission in quick order, capping off the conquest by beheading Kuchlug. He then rejoined Genghis, and took part in the conquest of the Khwarezmian Empire.

Setting the Stage

Once Khwarezm was subdued, Genghis gave Jebe and another trusted subordinate, Subutai, permission to lead a great cavalry raid. First, westward through northern Persia. Then they ventured up through the Caucasus, around the Caspian Sea, before turning east to return to Mongolia. Jebe’s masterpiece occurred during that raid, at the Battle of Kalka River in 1222. He and Subutai conducted a feigned retreat before a numerically superior army of Kievan Rus and Cumans.

Jebe lured the enemy into following him for nine days, before turning on the pursuers and slaughtering them down to a single man. That raid set the stage for a Mongol return fifteen years later. This time, in a full-force invasion that conquered Kievan Rus and overran Eastern Europe. Jebe, however, died in 1225, soon after his return from that raid, and did not live to harvest what he had planted or see the fruits of his work.

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Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmoviks attacking a German column during the Battle of Kursk, in 1943. Wikimedia

17. The Red Air Force’s Most Successful WWII Aircraft Was Also the Most Produced Airplane in Military History (Part 1)

With over 36,000 built, the Soviet Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik, nicknamed “The Flying Tank”, was the most produced military airplane in history. Designed in 1938, the Sturmovik’s most distinguishing feature was a 1500-pound armored tub that protected the pilot, engine, fuel tank, and radiator. That made it one of the toughest and most survivable airplanes of its day, nearly impervious to bullets and 20 mm cannon fire from below. That in turn gave Il-2 pilots the confidence to press and persist in attacks in the teeth of fierce ground fire that would have been foolhardy or even suicidal with other airplanes. Prototypes first flew in 1939, and Sturmoviks entered operational service in May, 1941. Armed with two 23mm cannons, two machine guns, and loaded with up to 1300 lbs of bombs plus 12 rockets, it carried a devastating punch.

The Sturmovik’s punch became stronger still in 1943, with the introduction of shaped charge bomblets. Weighing just 3.3 lbs, these bomblets could penetrate the thinner armor atop German tanks, and the Sturmoviks carried them in clusters of 192 to shower on enemy columns. Early in the war, insufficient training on the airplane, which had been introduced to operational squadrons only a month before the German invasion, meant that few pilots knew how to fully utilize its potential. Between that and inadequate fighter protection, Sturmoviks suffered appalling losses to German fighters. For example, during the first month of fighting, the Fourth Air Regiment lost 55 of its 65 Sturmoviks. Once reasonable fighter protection became available as the Soviets clawed their way back to aerial parity and then supremacy, and as Il-2 pilots gained experience, tactics improved and Sturmoviks began wreaking havoc.

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A restored Il-2 Sturmovik. Pintrest

16. The Sturmoviks Master the Battlefield (Part 2)

During the Battle of Stalingrad, Il-2 Sturmoviks helped seal the Soviet victory with a treetop level raid on the main airbase from which supplies were flown to the besieged Germans. They destroyed numerous cargo planes on the ground, shot down others, and damaged many more. That crippled an already struggling resupply operation, and hastened the trapped Germans’ surrender. By the time of the Battle of Kursk in 1943, Stormovik tactics had been further honed, and new ones introduced, such as the “Circle of Death”. That tactic involved groups of 8 or more Sturmoviks flying a circle around a target, each protecting the one ahead with its forward firing machine guns and cannons from enemy fighters. They then took turns to dive and attack the target, before rejoining the circle and allowing another plane to attack.

Sturmovik squadrons by then had also learned to operate in close coordination with ground forces to decimate the Germans, such as a mass Il-2 attack on July 7th, 1943, that was credited with destroying 70 German tanks in 20 minutes. Against soft targets such as supply convoys and troops caught in the open, Sturmoviks were even more murderous. So important was the plane to the Soviet war effort that when production numbers fell below expectations, Stalin wrote those responsible ” Our Red Army now needs IL-2 aircraft like the air it breathes, like the bread it eats. ... I ask you not to try the government’s patience, and demand that you manufacture more ILs. This is my final warning.” Unsurprisingly, production increased sharply soon thereafter.

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Khawarij. Shafaqna

15. Al Qaeda and ISIS’ Medieval Predecessor (Part 1)

The Khawarij (“Outsiders”) were radical fundamentalist early Islamic dissenters. Their concept of Takfir, whereby Muslims who disagreed with them were deemed apostates and thus not covered by the prohibition against killing fellow Muslims, furnished the philosophical foundations for modern terrorists such as the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS. They emerged during a succession dispute after the Prophet Muhammad’s death, between those who believed that leadership should be confined to Muhammad’s family and bloodline, and those who thought it should go to whomever the Muslim community chose. The former, a minority, coalesced around Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law Ali, and became known as the Shiites, or faction, of Ali. The latter, the majority, became known as the Sunnis. Muslims elected the first three Caliphs, or successors of the Prophet, from outside Muhammad’s family, bypassing Ali each time.

On the fourth try, following the murder of the third Caliph, Ali was finally elected. However, the third Caliph’s relatives accused Ali of complicity in the murder, and engineered the election of another Caliph, Muawiya. The rival Caliphs went to war, but before the issue was settled in battle, Ali agreed to arbitration. The Khawarij, who until then had supported Ali, opposed arbitration. Viewing the Caliphate as the collective property of the Muslim community, they argued that Ali had no authority to make a decision regarding who gets to be Caliph. Election by the community was the sole legitimate process for bestowing the Caliphate, argued the Khawarij, and the Muslim community had already elected Ali. By accepting arbitration to decide who would be Caliph, Ali was overstepping his boundaries and usurping a power of decision that was not his. So the Khawarij turned on Ali.

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The assassination of the Caliph Ali. Pintrest

14. Islam’s Early Terrorists Caused a Three-Way Civil War (Part 2)

The Caliph Ali went ahead with the arbitration, but it turned into a fiasco without settling the dispute or producing a result other than weakening him politically. The Khawarij soured on Ali, whom they now viewed as much of a usurper as his opponent. So they decided to get rid of both rival Caliphs, and hatched an assassination plot to kill them on the same day during Friday prayers. Ali’s assassins succeeded, but those sent after his rival Muawiya only wounded him. Muawiya thus became sole Caliph, thanks to a helping hand from the Khawarij’s botched plot that had killed his rival, but left him alive. The Khawarij challenged Muawiya as illegitimate, because he had gained the Caliphate by force of arms, instead of via election by the Muslim community.

The Khawarij’s democratic and egalitarian principles, commendable as they may have been, were more than counterbalanced by a fierce fanaticism that turned off many. They contended that backsliding or sinning, such as drinking alcohol, fornication, missing the daily prayers, failing to fast on Ramadan, or even idle gossip, rendered the sinner an apostate deserving of death. Accordingly, the Khawarij launched a program of terror against the Caliph’s supporters, as well as those who did not meet their purity standards, viewing them as apostates.

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Some of the Khawarij’s modern successors. Pintrest

13. Sowing the Seeds of ISIS, Over a Millennium Ago (Part 3)

As the struggle between the Khawarij and just about everybody else intensified, the fanatics grew in viciousness, and eventually viewed even neutral Muslims as enemies. As they saw it, neutral Muslims’ failure to support the Khawarij, despite what the Khawarij saw as the glaringly obvious righteousness of their cause, was proof that such neutrals were not Muslim at all. Instead, they were apostates, which made them kafirs (infidels). Since they were not really Muslims, the Khawarij reasoned, it followed that shedding their blood was no sin. That line of thinking was picked up over a thousand years later by modern philosophers of Islamic terrorism, whose writings furnished the intellectual underpinnings for nihilistic groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS.

Having absolved themselves from moral blame, the Khawarij went on a rampage in which atrocities abounded, from widespread torture and disfigurement of captives, to slitting the bellies of pregnant women, to massacres of entire villages and towns. Their most extreme subsect, the Azariqah in southern Iraq, separated themselves from the entire Muslim community and declared death to all sinners – defined as all who did not share the Azariqah’s puritanical beliefs – and their families. Their rebellion was eventually crushed, but embers remained. The Khawarij became the anarchists of Islam’s first centuries, an ever-present irritant and menace. Rejecting the authority of the Caliphate, they engaged in a campaign of terror and assassinations. They combined that with a low-level insurgency in backcountry regions, that would flare up every generation or two into a major rebellion that required considerable expense and effort to suppress.

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Rome (shaded red) in the days of Alexander the Great. Quora

12. Alexander the Great’s Early Death Might Have Saved Rome

Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire, then pushed beyond through Central Asia and into India, before his soldiers finally had enough and refused to march any further. Thwarted from further conquests in the east, Alexander began planning to conquer the west. Reportedly, he sent the pioneering Greek geographer Pytheas to the West on a scouting trip and spying mission. Some Ancient sources contend that Alexander planned to march westwards from Macedonia to Ilyricum, thence into Italy, before continuing on to Gaul and Hispania. Others claim that he planned to circumnavigate the Mediterranean by land, marching west from Egypt to conquer Libya, Carthage, Numidia, and Mauretania. He then intended to cross the narrows near the Pillars of Hercules to invade Hispania, then Gaul, before turning east to conquer Italy, then finally back to Macedon. In either route, Italy, and the small but rising Roman Republic therein, were on Alexander’s agenda.

Rome could have been Erased

If Alexander had invaded Italy, he probably would have extinguished the Roman Republic in its infancy. In addition to brilliant generalship, Alexander had in the elite Macedonian phalanx and Companion Cavalry the world’s best infantry and cavalry. Rome at the time was simply not in Alexander the Great’s league (see map above). A century and a half later, Roman legions bested the Macedonian phalanx in the battles of Cynoscephalae and Pydna, but the Roman legion of the 4th century BC had not yet evolved into the Ancient world’s best military unit. In Alexander’s day, the legion was still a spear-based force, a mixture of Greek and Samnite influences. The force was more akin to the traditional phalanx of Sparta, than it was to the 2nd-century sword-based legions that conquered Macedonia. How the world might have looked if Alexander had not died so young is one of history’s greatest what ifs.

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Surrender of Stettin’s garrison in 1806. Pintrest

11. The French General Who Bluffed a City Into Surrender

After his victory in the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt in 1806, Napoleon ordered a vigorous pursuit of the retreating Prussians. The Prussians were demoralized, when a cavalry brigade under General Antoine Lasalle approached the port city of Stettin, with 500 hussars under his command, and 2 light field guns. Stettin was well fortified, with a garrison of nearly 10,000 men and 281 cannons, commanded by General Friedrich von Romberg. Romberg had over 50 years’ experience, and a career that stretched back to the Seven Years’ War, during which he’d fought under Frederick the Great. The city was well provisioned by the British Royal Navy, whose supply-laden ships sailed in and out of the port with no hindrance. On the afternoon of October 29th, 1806, Lasalle sent a subordinate under flag of truce to demand Stettin’s surrender, promising to treat its garrison with all the honors of war.

Romberg refused, vowing to defend the city to the last man. An hour later, the emissary returned, this time with a more ominous message: “If by 8 AM you have not surrendered, the town will be bombarded by our artillery and stormed by 50,000 men. The garrison will be put to the sword, and the town will be plundered for 24 hours”. An alarmed Romberg consulted with the town leaders, who urged capitulation. That night, the details of the surrender were negotiated and finalized. The following morning, the garrison marched out in perfect order, and filed past the French to throw their arms down at their feet in a steadily growing pile. Lasalle became a national hero, while von Romberg became a laughingstock. The Prussian general was tried by court-martial in 1809, convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment for surrendering without a fight. He died two months later.

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The Novgorod. Flickr

10. The Russian Round Ship (Part 1)

In 1874, the Russian Navy commissioned the Novgorod, a monitor ship with a controversial design: it had a round hull. It quickly gained infamy as one of the worst ships in history. So clumsy it was compared to a floating soup dish, the 2500-ton Novgorod had six steam engines that drove six propeller screws. On the plus side, the ship was largely immune to ramming – a common tactic of the day – because it featured a 9-inch armored belt, its round shape deflected strikes, and its vital components were well inside the hull. It sported a pair of 11-inch guns, which were powerful for the era. It’s shape and flat bottom also gave it a draft of only 12 feet, allowing it to operate close to the coastline in shallow waters. Unfortunately, the Novgorod’s advantages were eclipsed by serious disadvantages.

The circular hull impaired handling. The Novgorod was unsteerable in a storm, and even in calm weather, it took 45 minutes to make a full circle. In rough seas, the wide flat bottom made the ship pitch so hard, that its propellers came out of the water. When moving, the blunt hull did not slice through the water to reduce its resistance, but pushed large volumes of water out of the way by sheer brute force. That made the ship extremely fuel-inefficient, causing it to consume coal at a prodigious rate. Besides design defects, the Novgorod had manufacturing defects as well. Low quality materials and shoddy workmanship caused recurring problems with the ship’s propulsion, from blades to shaft to drive, that lasted throughout the vessel’s entire career. Additionally, the Novgorod suffered from poor ventilation that no amount of troubleshooting could fix, even after installing ventilation cowls on the gun emplacements.

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Model of the Novgorod. Neatorama

9. The Round Ship Not Only Couldn’t Maneuver, it Also Couldn’t Fight (Part 2)

The Novgorod’s seaworthiness problems were matched by shortcomings in its core function as a fighting ship. Its two 11 inch guns had an exceptionally slow rate of fire, at 10 minutes per shot. The rotating mounts on which the guns were placed were also slow, and took 3 minutes to traverse 180 degrees. The problem became exacerbated by weak locks that caused the gun mounts to rotate on their own. The guns’ firing caused the ship to rotate uncontrollably. Because the flat bottomed vessel had no stabilizing keel to keep her in line and keep her guns pointed towards the target, the only solution was to moor the Novgorod in a fixed position. That essentially transformed her from a ship to a floating fortress anchored in place, with her guns pointed seaward.

The Novgorod and other round hulls were summarized thus by a naval historian: “they were a dismal failure. They were too slow to stem the current in the Dniepr, and proved very difficult to steer. In practice the discharge of even one gun caused them to turn out of control and even contra-rotating some of six propellers was unable to keep the ship on the correct heading. Nor could they cope with the rough weather which is frequently encountered in the Black Sea. They were prone to rapid rolling and pitching in anything more than a flat calm, and could not aim or load their guns under such circumstances”.

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North Vietnamese trucks on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Flickr

8. The US Invasion of North Vietnam

As described by Harry G. Summer in On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War, plans were drawn during that conflict for a US invasion of North Vietnam. Airborne landings north and west of Hanoi could help block off the Hanoi-Haiphong region, while an amphibious attack by three divisions struck the port of Haiphong. The Haiphong force would then advance on Hanoi and linkup up with the airborne troops there. With the Hanoi-Haiphong area secured, outside support would be drastically curtailed, as two major railroads from China would be severed, the country’s main seaport would be in American hands, and the lines of communications to the south would be interdicted. Starved of Chinese and Soviet arms, munitions, and supplies, and cut off from a steady infusion of North Vietnamese manpower, planners expected that organized communist armed resistance in South Vietnam would soon collapse.

Chinese Intervention

Deemed too dangerous, the plan would probably provoke China into joining the fray. In the Korean War, the previous decade, American and UN forces pursued the routed North Koreans all the way to the Chinese border, based on the mistaken belief that China would not intervene. Then the Chinese intervened and pushed the UN forces all the way back to South Korea. Chinese direct intervention in Vietnam risked an escalation that could drag in the Soviets, potentially triggering WWIII. Unlike the situation during the Korean War, the US no longer held an overwhelming nuclear superiority. By the second half of the 1960s, the Soviets had thousands of nuclear warheads and the means of delivering them to targets in America. US interests in Vietnam were deemed not worth the risk of such an escalation. The planned invasion of Hanoi-Haiphong was never carried out.

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Johnny Ringo. Pintrest

7. The Wild West Outlaw Who Was Murdered by Wyatt Earp

In the 1870s an aspiring Wild West bandit named Johnny Ringo (1850 – 1882) moved to Texas, where he joined a gang. He and his crew made a name for themselves during a spate of lawlessness and revenge killings between factions of German settlers and native-born Americans in Mason County, Texas, that became known as the “Mason County War“. Ringo was arrested, but he escaped from jail and fled to Arizona. There, in 1878, he offered whiskey to a man seated next to him in a bar, but when the man declined, Ringo shot off his ear. Soon thereafter he arrived in Tombstone, where he joined the Cochise County Cowboys and began an antagonistic relationship with famous lawman Wyatt Earp and his brothers. The Earps suspected Ringo’s involvement in an 1881 ambush that left Virgil Earp crippled, and in the murder of Morgan Earp on March 18th, 1882.

The Aftermath

Shortly after Morgan Earp’s murder, Wyatt Earp, a deputy US Marshall, formed a federal posse to hunt down those deemed responsible for shooting his brothers. Tombstone’s corrupt sheriff deputized Ringo in an attempt to shield him from the Earps. Within weeks, many of Ringo’s friends lay dead or fled the area. Although he denied involvement in the shootings of Virgil and Morgan Earp, Ringo left Tombstone until things calmed down. The Earps left Tombstone a few weeks later, and Ringo returned. Big mistake. A month later, they discovered his body beneath a tree with a bullet hole in the head. The death was ruled a suicide, but many suspected that Wyatt Earp had surreptitiously returned to exact vengeance. That theory, confirmed years later by Wyatt’s widow, who wrote in her memoirs that her husband had killed Johnny Ringo.

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A scenario that fortunately never came close to happening. Daily Express

6. Notwithstanding Avid Speculation, the Nazis Never Came Close to Having an Atomic Bomb

One of WWII’s greatest what-ifs revolves around how close the Third Reich came to building an atomic bomb. During the war, the Manhattan Project operated on the assumption that Hitler had an advanced nuclear program, that might bear fruit any day. So those in the know viewed America as being in a race against Germany over which country would first produce nuclear weapons. They could have relaxed on that front. After the war, it was discovered that the German nuclear program was nowhere near as advanced as had been assumed: early in their research, German physicists took a wrong turn, and followed it away from the path that leads to nuclear weapons. The war could have lasted another decade, and Hitler would have been no closer to possessing an atomic bomb in 1955 than he had been in 1945.

German Nuclear Physics Fails, Manhattan Project Thrives

Germany’s chief nuclear physicist, Werner Heisenberg, had nebulous ideas that splitting the atom could produce a powerful weapon, but he never understood how to turn nuclear fission into reality. Germany’s last atomic test in the spring of 1945 failed to achieve the preliminary first step of criticality – a self-sustaining chain reaction that the Manhattan Project had achieved in 1942. Criticality was the crucial foundation, without which an atomic weapon program could not succeed. Additionally, the German nuclear program lacked necessary support. After achieving criticality, it took America almost three years, with a massive investment of resources and the personal support and attention of the head of state, to successfully test the first atomic bomb. The Germans had not accomplished the criticality breakthrough by the time the war ended, and their nuclear program had never received anything close to the support enjoyed by the Manhattan Project.

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Modern reconstruction of a Spartan officer’s Xiphos. Hellenic Art

5. The Spartans’ Favorite Sword

The Spartans’ favorite sword was the Xiphos, in use by Ancient Greeks since the Bronze Age, and mentioned by Homer. It was a pointed and double-edged short sword, typically with a two-foot-long leaf-shaped blade. It was used for both cutting and thrusting. The xiphoi’s leaf shape distributed the blade’s weight more towards the tip. This put more mass behind the point of impact in cutting and hacking strokes. Because added mass means added momentum, it allowed the blade to cut more readily. Additionally, the leaf shape gave the blade a curve on both sides. Such curves were useful in push and draw cuts at close quarters. Designed for single-handed use, the xiphos was favored by Greek hoplites. The xiphoi became standard equipment when they marched off to war.

The Spartan Way

Xiphoi were originally made of bronze, which made their leaf shape blades easy to create because bronze, unlike iron and steel, is cast rather than forged. Getting the leaf shape for a bronze sword was simply a matter of pouring molten bronze into a leaf-shaped mold. By the 7th and 6th centuries BC, iron supplanted bronze in making xiphoi. They carried them in a baldric and hung under the user’s left arm. As ancient Greek warfare revolved around the phalanx, a spear-based formation, the xiphos was the hoplite’s secondary weapon. It was employed in close combat for situations in which the spear was ineffective or not ideal. The Spartans were noted for their use of the xiphos, and Spartan xiphoi blades were especially short, only a foot long. As they explained it, the goal was to draw Spartan warriors closer to their enemies.

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The Cuxhaven Raid. Weapons and Warfare

4. History’s First Naval Air Raid Occurred in WWI

Navies used airplanes for reconnaissance and observation from aviation’s earliest days. Then, on Christmas, 1914, the British Royal Navy used airplanes offensively for the first time. On that day, aircraft carried by seaplane tenders to within striking distance of Cuxhaven, bombed Zeppelin sheds and German naval facilities. Zeppelins and their potential to bomb London loomed large in British imagination. That was due in no small part to pre-war apocalyptic fiction such as H. G. Wells’ The War in the Air, which envisioned fleets of German dirigibles devastating cities around the world with bombs and reducing them to rubble. So plans were put in motion for preemptive raids on Zeppelin facilities to destroy them before they began bombing Britain. The result was the first instance in which air and sea power were combined to attack land targets.

Revolutionizing Warfare

Raids against Zeppelin sheds in Cologne, Friedrichshafen, and Dusseldorf reached some success. But Royal Flying Corps airplanes lacked the range to reach Cuxhaven. Ferries converted into seaplane tenders carried nine seaplanes close to Cuxhaven, escorted by Royal Navy cruisers, destroyers, and submarines. The seaplanes were then lowered and launched to reconnoiter the area. If they spotted Zeppelin sheds, they would bomb them. Only seven planes managed to take off and head inland, each armed with three 20-pound bombs. Results were negligible because of antiaircraft fire, low clouds and fog, plus the raiders’ tiny bombload. However, the raid revolutionized warfare by proving the feasibility of attacking land targets with seaborne aircraft. This became the first step towards the creation of aircraft carriers and the projection of force inland by naval aviation.

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A Comet tank. YouTube

3. The British WWII Tank That Was Arguably Better than the German Panther

Britain’s WWII tanks were generally mediocre. But late in the war, Britain introduced the Comet, one of the best tanks of the conflict. Powered by a reliable engine, the Comet combined decent armor with speed. Its birth was owed to the introduction of the German Tiger and Panther tanks in 1943. Britain needed a new tank to compete with them. Thus, the A34 Cruiser Tank Comet Mark I, Britain’s deadliest tank against enemy armor. Built on a modified chassis of Britain’s then-standard tank, the Cromwell boasted a larger turret ring for a larger turret. It could accommodate the 77mm HV gun. That gun was lethal against Panthers, the Comet’s German equivalent. At most ranges, it became deadly against Tigers as well. It was also superior to the Panther’s 75mm gun.


The Comet entered service in 1944, and its superiority over the Panther went beyond firepower. While the Panther had thicker armor, was roomier, and carried more ammunition, the Comet had a lower profile. It was also mechanically sounder, with a Rolls Royce Meteor engine – a conversion of the Merlin engine that powered P-51s and Spitfires. This made it far more reliable than the Panther’s Maybach engine. The Comet’s Christie suspension system also became more durable than the Panther’s. Weighing 11 tons less than its German counterpart, while powered by an engine that produced equivalent horsepower, the Comet had a better power-to-weight ratio that gave it greater acceleration and made it 6 m.p.h. faster. Comets continued in British service until 1958, and with other militaries until well into the 1980s. The Comet led directly to the development of the Centurion, Britain’s primary tank of the post-WWII era.

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The Laki Fissure. Colorado Public Radio

2. History’s Deadliest Volcanic Eruption (Part 1)

In 1783, the Icelandic volcanic fissure of Laki began spewing. The ensuing Laki Eruption was not one of history’s most powerful volcanic events. It was not a massive and violent explosion, like Vesuvius or Krakatoa or Tambora. It happened nothing like what most people imagine when picturing a volcano going off with a bang. Laki did not blow its top and release a massive amount of energy in a dramatic explosion. Indeed, the Laki Eruption did not explode once. Rather, it consisted of eight months of rumblings, with relatively small eruptions from time to time. Lava slowly seeped out of the side every now and then, while the volcano steadily spewed sulfuric dioxide gasses.

Laki was not a vigorous and energetic volcano. A tired and lazy one, the volcano steadily emitted gasses for eight months before it finally subsided and went quiet. Nonetheless, Laki became the deadliest volcanic eruption in human history. Its deadliness is a result of its steady release of gasses. The gasses included flourine and over 120 million tons of sulfuric dioxides, which produced fog and haze as far away as Syria. The flourine settled on Iceland’s grass, which gave grazing animals flouride poisoning and killed most of the island’s livestock. The loss of livestock in turn caused a quarter of Iceland’s human population to starve to death. However, that was not even close to the worst of it.

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Laki eruption. Research Gate

1. Laki’s Massive Death Toll (Part 2)

The death toll in Iceland from Laki was just the tip of the iceberg. Iceland remains sparsely populated, so the death of a quarter of its population did not make Laki history’s deadliest eruption. Beyond Iceland, the eruption led to a decline in temperatures in the northern hemisphere – winter temperatures in the US, for example, dropped 10 degrees Fahrenheit in 1783, and remained below normal for several years afterwards. However, Laki’s deadliest impact was not in the US or North America, either. The deadly impact was in Europe and the northern hemisphere, to the southeast of Iceland.


The summer of 1783 had been a particularly hot one. A rare high-pressure zone formed over Iceland that year; winds blew to the southeast. When Laki began spewing prodigious amounts of sulfuric dioxide into the sky, they were carried by the winds from Iceland. It created crop failures in Europe, drought in North Africa and India, and Japan’s worst famine. The eruption also caused a historic famine in Egypt, where a sixth of the population starved to death in 1784. It is estimated that the Laki eruption and its aftermath caused the deaths of an estimated six million people worldwide. This eruption made it the deadliest volcanic eruption in human history. It also illustrated low energy, large-volume eruptions, can have a greater impact than single massive explosive eruptions. Especially if these eruptions occur over an extended period of time.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

American Battlefield Trust – The Death of John Sedgwick

Anthony, Dave, and Reynolds, Gareth – The United States of Absurdity: Untold Stories From American History (2017)

Center for International Maritime Security – Circular Hulls: Dead Ends That Sound Awesome

Encyclopedia Britannica – Bill Mauldin, American Cartoonist

Encyclopedia Britannica – Al Hakim, Fatimid Caliph

Fox, Robin Lane – Alexander the Great (2010)

Gonick, Larry – The Cartoon History of the Universe III: From the Rise of Arabia to the Renaissance (2002)

Ha’aretz, October 18th, 2016 – This Day in Jewish History, 1009: The ‘Mad Caliph’ Destroys Jewish, Christian Sites in Fatimid Empire

History Net – Cuxhaven Raid: Britain‘s Bold Strike From the Sea

IslamiCity – Khawarij: A History of Violence

Legends of America – Johnny Ringo

Mauldin, Bill – Up Front (1945)

Military Factory – Grumman F6F Hellcat

National Interest, February 4th, 2017 – Russia‘s IL-2 Sturmovik ‘Flying Tank’: No Plane Has Been Built in Bigger Numbers (and it Helped Crush Hitler)

New Yorker, March 24th, 1962 – The Stragglers: Oh What a Miserable Life This Is!

Prange, Gordon W., et al. – Miracle at Midway (2014)

Scientific American, June 8th, 2013 – June 8, 1783: How the ‘Laki Eruptions’ Changed History

Snyder, Brad – The House of Truth: A Washington Political Salon and the Foundations of American Liberalism (2017)

Spiegel, March 14th, 2005 – The Third Reich: How Close Was Hitler to the A-Bomb?

Summers, Harry G. – On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War (1982)

Swords Swords – Xiphos Sword Analysis

Tank Encyclopedia – Comet Cruiser Tank A34

ThoughtCo – The Brooklyn Bridge Disaster

Wikipedia – John R. Brinkley

Wikipedia – Orion P. Howe