After the end of World War II and the fall of Nazi Germany, two major global powers emerged: Russia in the east, and the United States (along with its NATO allies) in the west.
More than anything, the Cold War was an arms race. Both sides had built up their nuclear arsenals during the war, and both were fearful of having less firepower than the other. Many people thought that an all-out nuclear war was imminent.
During this period, the U.S. military came up with the idea of dropping a nuclear bomb on the moon as a show of force.
Leonard Reiffel was the physicist who headed the project at the U.S. military-backed Armour Research Foundation in the late 1950s.
In 2000, he sat down for an interview with The Observer to tell the story:
“It was clear the main aim of the proposed detonation was a PR exercise and a show of one-upmanship. The Air Force wanted a mushroom cloud so large it would be visible on earth…
The explosion would obviously be best on the dark side of the moon and the theory was that if the bomb exploded on the edge of the moon, the mushroom cloud would be illuminated by the sun.”
Reiffel also pointed out that a big influence on the idea was the fact that we were lagging behind in the “Space Race”.
In July of 1955, during the height of the Cold War, the United States announced that it would be launching satellites into space. Not to be outdone, Russia announced their own satellite project four days later. The U.S. lost that leg of the race when Russia launched Sputnik in October of 1957.
Reiffel voiced his concerns as a scientist about the idea of nuking the moon, but they seemed to fall upon deaf ears:
“I made it clear at the time there would be a huge cost to science of destroying a pristine lunar environment, but the US Air Force were mainly concerned about how the nuclear explosion would play on earth.”
In 1958, officers from the Air Force had asked Reiffel to ‘fast-track’ a project to investigate what a nuclear explosion on the moon would look like, and what it’s effects would be.
So he hired none other than a young Carl Sagan to do the calculation of how a nuclear mushroom cloud would expand in the low gravity environment on the moon.
Sagan, who pioneered for the study of potential life on other planets, would later become famous for popularizing science in mainstream culture with his show “The Cosmos”.
Despite the highly classified nature of the project, it was later revealed to his biographer that Sagan actually discussed parts of the project in his application for the prestigious Miller Institute graduate fellowship at Berkley (he got in, of course).
Either way, top-secret project A119: ‘A Study of Lunar Research Flights’, never came to fruition. Reiffel ended his story by saying,
“Thankfully, the thinking changed. I am horrified that such a gesture to sway public opinion was ever considered.”
A spokesman from the Pentagon would neither confirm nor deny the reports. Read the full story from the Guardian here.
As the United States has ramped down their military presence in Iraq, the militant groups have been ramping up their attacks.
One of these groups, ISIS, which stand for The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams, is proving to be particularly dangerous. The group captured the city of Falluja, just 40 miles west of Iraq’s capital of Baghdad, back in January, and currently control much of northern Iraq.
Fighters from the militant group have also been aiding the rebels fighting against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Their eventual goal is to create an islamic state across the Syrian-Iraqi border.
This past Monday (6/10/2014) ISIS forces struck the city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city with nearly 700,000 people. The ISIS attack was unexpected and swift: many of the U.S.-trained Iraqi police forces and troops fled their posts in the face of the advancing militants, some even abandoning their uniforms, according to the Washington Post.
The next day, Mosul’s regional governor announced that the militants had looted the city’s central bank, stealing 500 billion Iraqi dinars (equal to $429 million) in cash. The terrorist group also seized a large amount of gold bullion from the bank.
According to the International Business Times, this makes ISIS now the world’s richest terrorist group. Aside from the cash and gold, the militants also seized a considerable amount of U.S.-supplied military weapons and military equipment. They also freed 1,000 inmates from Mosul’s central prison.
ISIS began after a number of hyper-extreme Al-Qaeda members were kicked out for being too violent. The group is led by the fiery Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, a former top man in the Al-Qaeda hierarchy.
Interestingly enough, Abu Bakr was in American custody just five years ago, at Camp Bucca military detention center in Iraq. Camp Bucca was closed in 2009, however, and sometime after that, Abu Bakr was released.
The details are unclear, but one theory posited by The Telegraph is that he was released and amnestied along with thousands of other prisoners as the U.S. prepared to pull out of Iraq.
Whatever the case may be, ISIS, with Abu Bakr at its head, is becoming increasingly powerful, with a significant presence in both Syria and Iraq now.
ISIS is taking advantage of this, promoting themselves as the alternative to Iraq’s corrupt government. Despite their reputation for violence against American troops and Iraqi government forces, the group has been fairly gentle with Mosul’s civilians. One woman, asked if ISIS had been harming residents, said,
“No, no, no. On the contrary, they are welcoming the people.”
A police officer from Mosul who abandoned his post after seeing the Iraqi troops flee voiced the worries of many Sunni’s in Mosul: that Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is targeting the Sunnis (Sunnis and Shiites are the two major islamic denominations):
“Maliki wants to end the Sunnis. Can you tell me how many Shiites are arrested on terror charges? Almost all those in prison are Sunnis. He is targeting us. I want to go back to Mosul, but we are afraid we’ll see another Falluja.”
With no reason to trust the Iraqi government, which has proved it can’t even protect citizens in its second largest city, Iraqi citizens have to be realistic about their options- often times tolerating the militants offers the best chance of survival
But don’t be fooled though. ISIS’s Mr. Nice Guy routine probably won’t last for very long.
They recently distributed a leaflet in Mosul, which detailed a number of new rules to be implemented in the coming days, including forbidding alcohol and cigarettes and requiring women to, “stay home and not go out unless necessary.” It also stated that anybody working with the government would be killed unless they sought “repentance.”
And yesterday, the terrorist group tweeted this picture of a decapitated Iraqi police officer, with the caption: “This is our ball. It’s made of skin #WorldCup”
Going to war is one of the most traumatic experiences anyone could ever imagine enduring. Every year, hundreds of soldiers return home from combat with serious cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.
Struggling to re-adjust back into civilian society while simultaneously trying to cope with the psychological side-effects of being exposed to combat often leads war veterans to abuse alcohol and other drugs.
But a new study co-authored by Cristel Russell, a marketing professor with American University’s Kogod School of Business, and researchers from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research suggests that soldiers who actually kill in combat are in fact less likely to abuse alcohol after being discharged.
Here’s Russell talking about the results of the study:
“We were very surprised by the findings. Most previous research supported the prediction that more traumatic experiences would lead to more negative health outcomes, such as alcohol abuse. We found the opposite- that the most traumatic experiences of killing in combat actually led to a decrease in alcohol abuse post-deployment.”
So why is it that taking the life of another, arguably the most traumatic thing a soldier can experience, leads to a smaller likelihood of alcohol abuse?
The researchers believe that the strange finding is the result of mortality salience. The theory is basically that taking the life of another human being increases a soldier’s sense of their own mortality and vulnerability, making them less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors. Here’s Russell again:
“We reason that a possible explanation may be that soldiers who experience killing during combat become more aware of their own vulnerability to death. Mortality salience is known to have effects on decisions that people make including, in our case, the decision to not take risks and abuse alcohol, presumably to live longer.”
To collect the data, the researchers surveyed 1,397 troops from an Army National Guard Infantry Brigade Combat Team three months before and after their deployment between 2005-2006. The surveys, answered anonymously, asked the soldiers questions about their substance use, with questions about combat experiences added to the post-deployment questionnaire.
The survey revealed that overall, alcohol use increased from 70.8% pre-deployment to 80.5% afterwards, and alcohol abuse increased by over 125%, from 8.51% to 19.15% post-deployment.
Russell and her team plan to do more research into how mortality salience effects soldiers’ behavior after they return from war.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have lasted almost 15 years now, costing the United States between $4-6 trillion (with a “T”) dollars since they began back in 2001.
A significant portion of that money has gone to buying weapons and munitions for the soldiers. But what happens to these weapons when the soldiers are sent home?
“As President Obama ushers in the end of what he called America’s “long season of war,” the former tools of combat — M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers and more — are ending up in local police departments, often with little public notice.”
That quote is from a New York Times article published last Sunday, an article that tells the story of how, under the Obama administration,
“police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.”
One of these pieces of military weaponry is the MRAP (mine-resistant ambush-protected) armored vehicle. A total of 432 MRAP’s have made their way into the fleets of police departments around the country.
The graphic below shows where all of those MRAP’s were sent, as well as giving tallies of the all the military-grade equipment that has found its way into local department since the program started. Click the image to view the full-size version.
So why are so many weapons flowing into local police forces? Is it because they are facing increasingly dangerous scenarios? Many would argue that this is the case, and while it does have some truth to it, this is simply an excuse.
The real reason for local police departments taking in all of these weapons is basically that the government has nothing better to do with them- if the police don’t want them, they’re turned into scrap:
“The Pentagon program does not push equipment onto local departments. The pace of transfers depends on how much unneeded equipment the military has, and how much the police request. Equipment that goes unclaimed typically is destroyed. So police chiefs say their choice is often easy: Ask for free equipment that would otherwise be scrapped, or look for money in their budgets to prepare for an unlikely scenario. Most people understand, police officers say.”
The situation often pits the community against itself. Neenah, Wisconsin, a small city with very low levels of violent crime, is one of the cities set to receive one of the military’s armored vehicles.
When word got out about the police department’s plans to acquire the vehicle, some residents, like father Shay Korittnig, weren’t too happy about it:
“It just seems like ramping up a police department for a problem we don’t have… This is not what I was looking for when I moved here, that my children would view their local police officer as an M-16-toting, SWAT-apparel-wearing officer.”
William Pollnow Jr. is a city councilman in Neenah who decided he would be the one to ask, “Why are we doing this?” However, the argument on the other side is almost unbeatable. Here’s another excerpt from the Times article:
At the Neenah City Council, Mr. Pollnow is pushing for a requirement that the council vote on all equipment transfers. When he asks about the need for military equipment, he said the answer is always the same: It protects police officers.
“Who’s going to be against that? You’re against the police coming home safe at night?” he said. “But you can always present a worst-case scenario. You can use that as a framework to get anything.”
The biggest problem most people have with this heightened militarization of local police forces is that it’s being done, for the most part, without the knowledge of the public.
None of the cities taking in these weapons are holding town hall meetings, public forums or referendums to let the citizens decide whether or not to add fully-automatic machine guns and armored vehicles to the force.
I won’t be one of those people who sits here and tells you the government is about to start an all-out war against the people, using cops as infantry, because I just don’t see it.
What I will say is that, in my humble opinion, the increased militarization of police forces nationwide is both unnecessary and unsettling.
For more info, I highly recommend this New York Times piece- they did an extremely thorough job of covering the whole story from all angles.
BONUS: This great infographic details the cost of different parts of our military, comparing it to the average household income, as well as costs like college tuition, healthcare, and a new home. Click the image to view the full-size version:
When you think of drones, you probably think of covert military strikes or black ops surveillance. Some of you might even think of Amazon’s drone delivery system:
So it comes as a surprise to most people hearing that the Federal Aviation Administration approved the first commercial use of drones to none other than oil mega-giant British Petroleum, better known as BP.
The drone, designed by California-based drone manufacturer AeroVironment, made its first commercial flight in Alaska this past Sunday (6/8/2014).
The drone is a Puma-AE (All Environment) model, which is actually one of the most widely-used models in the U.S. military. It measures five feet long and has a 9-foot wingspan.
AeroVironment agreed to a five-year contract with BP. Though the drone will do some 3D-mapping and wildlife monitoring (as well as the occasional search-and-rescue mission), its main purpose will be to patrol hundreds of miles of oil pipelines in Alaska.
One of the main reasons that the FAA gave BP approval for the drone is that it will be flying predominantly over uninhabited wilderness; using drones in urban areas raises many more questions about safety and privacy.
Despite the fact that the National Transportation Safety Board actually ruled in March that the FAA had no jurisdiction to regulate small autonomous and remote-controlled aircraft, this approval suggests that the FAA intends to do just that.
Off the western coast of Mexico, about 150 miles west of Guadalajara, lies a pair of uninhabited islands with a very peculiar history.
Formed by volcanic activity thousands of years ago, the islands have never been settled upon by anybody. In the early 1900s, the Mexican government decided to use the islands for military explosives testing, creating a number of extraordinary caves and rock formations on the islands.
Check out some pictures of the islands below:
In the late 1960s, world-famous scientist and environmental activist Jacques Cousteau led an international outcry about the testing, prompting the Mexican government to turn the islands into a national park.
Hunting, fishing and human activity are prohibited on the island, though visitors are allowed to check out the hidden beaches and caves created by the explosions.
The biodiversity of the islands is legendary. Visitors regularly report seeing sea turtles, manta rays, octopus, dolphins, and humpback whales, as well as thousands of species of tropical fish.
Earlier today, the residents of three small villages in Nigeria took their security into their own hands. Facing more than 300 well-armed Boko Haram fighters, the villagers, poorly trained and ill-equipped, fought courageously, foiling the attack and killing upwards of 200 Boko Haram members.
In the month that has passed since Boko Haram kidnapped nearly 300 girls from a school in Chibok, Nigeria, the government has done little to protect members of other villages in the area. So the residents of the villages of Menari, Tsangayari and Garawa made sure that they would be ready in the event that Boko Haram attacked again.
One of the villagers who fought against the militants talked to Nigeria’s Premium Times after the attack, saying,
“We have told them (Boko Haram) that they cannot take their attacks to our village because, we have taken measures both security wise and spiritually to prevent them.”
In the wee hours of the morning, the Boko Haram force attacked Menari, where they killed 60 people. But news of the attack spread very quickly, and the villages of Tsangayari and Garawa were more than ready for the militants when they arrived.
The villager who spoke with the Premium Times continued,
“They wanted to attack us just the way they did in Bama, Konduga and Damboa, but we got the wind of it and all of us laid ambush for them; when they neared the village, we opened fire using our Dane duns, double barrel rifles and bows-and-arrows. Most of them who were shocked took to their heels, but many of them died, some that were injured have been caught alive and are with the security people as I am talking to you.”
The villagers were able to seize 90 motorcycles (Boko Haram fighters’ vehicle of choice), three all-terrain vans and even an armored tank, as well as killing at least 200 of the militants. A relief worker in the area estimated that the number may actually be closer to 250.
This incident seems to have really brought the brutality of the group to the forefront, despite the fact that less than a month earlier, Boko Haram shot and burned 59 male students at another Nigerian boarding school, telling the girls to leave and go find husbands (Boko Haram is extremely conservative, believing women should not be educated and should play a traditional domestic role in the family).
Earlier today, the Obama administration announced that it would be increasing its role in the search effort, sending a team of military, intelligence and law enforcement personnel to assist the Nigerian government.
I’m all for doing anything that might increase the chance of returning the kidnapped girls to their families, but please excuse me for being cynical about this latest news. For me, it immediately recalls memories of the botched #Kony2012 campaign.
If you need a refresher, back in 2012, the non-profit group Invisible Children launched a campaign with the goal of raising awareness about Josef Kony, leader of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army), and his practice of kidnapping young boys and turning them into child soldiers.
Following the explosion of the #Kony2012 campaign, both local forces (like the Ugandan army) and specialized foreign units (like the U.S. Special Forces) stepped up their activity in the region, with hopes of capturing Kony and ending his reign of terror once and for all. Two years later, he is still at large (most likely in a remote area of the Central African Republic), with many of his LRA soldiers still with him.
My point is this- when we hear about horrific crimes like Boko Haram’s recent mass-kidnapping, we respond with our most unrefined emotion: anger.
We get pissed off that such backwards and extreme ideologies like those espoused by Boko Haram even still exist in our modern world. We get pissed off that the local governments are either too corrupt, too scared or simply too apathetic to really do anything about the crimes. We get pissed off that some people aren’t as pissed off about the tragedy as we are.
When we get mad, we get vindictive. We hear about the horrific things being done to the girls in begin to equate justice with vengeance, while completely losing track of the real issues here.
Everybody seems to want to send in all our best guns (figure of speech) and shoot Boko Haram out of the jungles where they’re hiding- this is simply unrealistic. The central region of Africa has millions of square miles of virtually uncharted “bushlands” (African use the term “the bush” to describe uninhabited dense areas of forest).
Trying to track down Boko Haram and the kidnapped girls would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack… if that needle was constantly moving locations and was way more familiar with the layout of the haystack than you.
The American government is famous for saying it won’t negotiate with terrorists (even though we’ve done so on many occasions). If Obama were to announce right now that we were negotiating a ransom for the girls, he would likely be blasted in the media as a spineless terrorist-appeaser.
But would that really be so bad? Try to remove your emotions from the decision- nobody likes the thought of rewarding people for committing heinous crimes like this kidnapping, but we’re already three weeks removed from the original crime: what are our chances of recovering even a fraction of the girls (alive) using force? I’d say that chance is almost zero.
Boko Haram promulgates a message that western culture (specifically western education) is evil, and that western powers like the United States are trying to spread evil progressive ideologies and create modern-day forms of colonialism. We cannot give them more ammunition for their propaganda machine.
One thing our foreign policy “experts” haven’t seemed to grasp in recent years is how we constantly create more enemies for ourselves by taking the bait of fringe militant groups. Look at Al-Qaeda for example: how many future insurgents did we create from all of the “collateral damage” (ie. civilian deaths) that resulted from our stubborn obsession with eradicating this group?
One of the biggest reasons why we are disliked by many people in other countries is that we are perceived as a schoolyard bully who is constantly trying to police the whole world. Sending in our special forces to fight a guerilla war in the jungle with an army that has no uniform and is full of young kids is just asking for trouble.
Boko Haram’s leadership would use this move as proof that the U.S. cared less about the girls’ well-being than about their own strategic interests in the region. And they would definitely make sure to publicize all of the graphic images, especially the ones of dead children (even if the kids were child soldiers).
Because of these factors, I think that negotiation is clearly the better option. It has the highest likelihood of recovering the girls safely and the lowest likelihood of becoming another black eye on our foreign policy record. Plus, it would show we cared more about the principles of equality and universal education than we do about maintaining a military presence around the world.
And if it was successful, why couldn’t we just go after Boko Haram afterwards? They would no longer have any leverage in the situation and the fact that we made sure to secure the girls first would probably make it a lot less likely that people would be suspicious of ulterior motives.
Obviously, we can’t ignore the fact that we would be, in effect, helping to fund Boko Haram by paying them a ransom for the girls. But we have to ask ourselves what’s more important to us: the lives of the girls, or revenge against Boko Haram. The latter will always be an available option, but we may be quickly running out of time to accomplish the former.
Yesterday evening, a U-2 spy plane, a Cold War-era aircraft that is still in use by the U.S. government today, entered air space monitored by the Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center.
Upon entering this airspace, the U-2 caused a glitch by overloading a computer system at the center.
As a result of the glitch, the system re-routed hundreds of flights in an attempt to avoid the spy plane, despite the fact that it was flying at an altitude of 60,00 feet (about 20,000-30,000 feet higher than passenger aircrafts).
The glitch caused delays and headaches for tens of thousands of travelers arriving to, departing from and/or passing through the Los Angeles International Airport.
Sources told NBC News that the spy plane had a U.S. Defense Department flight plan, and confirmed that the aircraft was a “Dragon Lady”, a nickname for the U-2.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not spoken officially about the incident or released many details yet. FAA spokeswoman Lynn Lunsford did respond to an e-mail from Reuters with this:
“We aren’t confirming anything beyond what we already said about it being a software issue that we corrected.”
Tsutomu Yamaguchi may very well have been both the luckiest and most unlucky man ever.
On August 6, 1945, he was riding a small trolley across the city of Hiroshima. Yamaguchi recalls hearing the roar of an aircraft engine in the skies above during the ride, but thought nothing of it, since warplanes were constantly flying overhead during that time.
What Yamaguchi didn’t know was that this was no Japanese plane- it was the U.S. Bomber the Enola Gay, preparing to drop a 13 kiloton uranium atom bomb on the city.
Yamaguchi stepped off the tram at approximately 8:15 a.m. He looked up and saw the Enola Gay passing overhead. Then he saw two small parachutes (these chutes were attached to the warhead, though he couldn’t see the bomb itself).
Seconds later, the scene turned to chaos. Here’s Yamaguchi describing the moment of impact:
“[There was] a great flash in the sky and I was blown over.”
Yamaguchi was less than three kilometers away from the bomb when it detonated. The shock waves from the explosion ruptured his eardrums and the bright flash of light left him temporarily blinded. The heat from the warhead also seriously burned on the left side of his upper body. The last thing he remembers before passing out is seeing the mushroom cloud rising skyward.
He eventually regained consciousness, and was able to crawl his way to an air raid shelter, where he spent the night. Upon arriving at the shelter, he found his three work colleagues who had also survived the blast. All four of them were engineers from Nagasaki who had just happened to be sent to Hiroshima for work that day.
The next morning, Yamaguchi and his three colleagues left the shelter, wanting desperately to return home to try to make sense of what had just happened. On their way to the train station they passed horrific scenes of destruction, including countless charred and dying bodies.
They finally reached the station, boarded the train, and made the 180 mile journey home to Nagasaki. Yamaguchi, who was in a pretty bad state upon returning home, had his wounds tended to and bandaged as soon as he arrived back in Nagasaki.
Despite the seriousness of his injuries, Yamaguchi decided he was well enough to return to work on August 9th, just three days after the Hiroshima explosion. Upon returning, Yamaguchi recounted the tale to his boss and co-workers, who were horrified yet amazed at the same time. When he described how the bomb had melted metal and totally evaporated parts of the city, Yamaguchi’s boss Sam simply couldn’t believe it. He asked Yamaguchi,
“You’re an engineer. Calculate it. How could one bomb…destroy a whole city?”
According to Yamaguchi, it was at the exact moment that Sam asked this question (11:02 a.m.) that another blinding flash of light penetrated the room they were in: the second bomb had just been detonated in Nagasaki.
Though many people are unaware of this, the second bomb’s original target was the city of Kokura, but since Kokura was obscured by clouds that morning, the U.S. military switched the target city to Nagasaki.
Miraculously, not only did Yamaguchi survive the second blast, but so did his wife and baby son. The family spent the next week or so in an air raid shelter not far from the ruins of their home.
Yamaguchi was one of about 160 people who survived both blasts, but is the only one who was officially recognized by the Japanese government as an eniijuu hibakusha (double bomb survivor) in 2009, a year before his death.
After the war, Yamaguchi spent the rest of his life speaking out against nuclear proliferation. Speaking about his experiences a few year before passing away, Yamaguchi decribed his life as a, “path planted by God,” and said,
“It was my destiny that I experienced this twice and I am still alive to convey what happened.”
Yamaguchi finally succumbed to the radiation poisoning in his body in 2010, when he passed away from leukemia just two years after his wife died from liver and kidney cancer. He was 93 years old.