History of the Middle East (the two-minute version)

Via Maps of War, a very cool animated map of the major military conquests that defined the history of the Middle East. (Press ‘Play’ on the map below to see the animation.)

Hat tip to Google Blogoscoped.

Found: one (1) Nazi aircraft carrier, slightly waterworn

Here’s an item I noted and filed away this summer: back in July, a Polish oil company stumbled across the sunken wreck of the Graf Zeppelin, an aircraft carrier built (but never fully completed) by Germany shortly before the Second World War. (And here’s some additional speculation about its ultimate fate.) Although it never saw combat action and was scuttled in the final stretch of the war, it had the distinction of being the only carrier in Germany’s fleet. As usual, Wikipedia’s got the gritty details.

It’s a pretty monumental artifact of the war, and not surprisingly the Russians have been quick to lay claim to it. It’s also good fodder for those always-entertaining “what-if” questions: what if Germany had focused more heavily on its naval forces, supplementing its famous submarine fleet with a carrier task force or two? (Of course, as any Axis and Allies player knows, that’s just not practical–the money is much better spent building tanks with which to invade Russia, and even if Germany managed to launch a carrier, those pesky British would just immediately fly over and sink it.)

WW2: identifying the turning points

Here’s an interesting piece looking at the key “turning points” of the Second World War and wondering what the war might have looked like had those events gone differently.

I think there’s a general tendency when discussing WW2 (and most any other major conflict) to focus too heavily on specific “pivotal points” in isolation, overlooking their place in the context of the broader trends of the war. Individual decisions and pivot-points in a historical event as big as WW2 flow from years’ worth of cultural, military, and economic trends. But that depressing thought aside, it’s always fun to look at an event in history and ask “what if?”

“England expects that every man will do his duty”

I’m two weeks late in noting this, but October 1805 was a very busy month for a certain one-armed British admiral. On the anniversary of Trafalgar, US News & World Report just ran a good article discussing the battle and its importance in the grand scheme of European history.

A historicity city: Berlin

We recently returned from two weeks in Germany. We had a really good time, and also got some ideas for some Historicity subjects. Since we began and ended our trip in Berlin, I thought I’d begin with it.

We stayed in the Kurfürstendamm neighborhood on the way in and out of the city. Apparently even Germans don’t try to pronounce this; we saw it abbreviated as “Ku’damm” everywhere (though curiously called “Ku’damn” here, maybe Lonely Planet doesn’t like it there). Ku’damm’s main reason for being seems to be the many malls, department stores, and boutiques lining its main drag, and is right across the Tiergarten from a bunch of historical stuff we didn’t see, such as the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate.

When I was in England several years ago, the scars of World War II were apparent in the urban landscape–remains of bombed-out buildings and entire towns and neighborhoods consisting of immediate post-war rebuilding. This was no surprise to me; the blitz was familiar to me from literature as well as from history classes. I was less aware of the devastating effect of Allied bombs on Germany in late WWII as well as after the war was over. Everywhere we went in Germany, one of the main points in every town was how much of the town had been destroyed in the war, and how the town had gone about rebuilding.

In the midst of Ku’damm is a bombed-out out church next to a tower built of blue glass blocks. Adjacent to the square in which the church stands is a big mall, the Europacenter, which houses the Tourist Information office. I asked the lady there what this was; she said that it was a church bombed in World War II and left standing as an anti-war monument. We went over and investigated: the church is the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, built by Kaiser Wilhelm II in honor of his grandfather, Wilhelm I, and decorated inside with mosaics pertinent to the Hohenzollern family.

The church’s official site is here, it’s in German only. More on Berlin and the rest of our trip from us, hopefully soon!

Damn the torpedoes! Farragut, Louisiana, and the Civil War

Given the strategic importance of the Mississippi River in the American Civil War, New Orleans was an obvious target for the Union navy. Here’s a good overview of the Civil War in Louisiana. New Orleans itself surrendered in 1862 to Union forces led by David Farragut, who later in the war coined the famous phrase “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” during a dramatic encounter in Mobile Bay:

Aboard Hartford, Farragut entered Mobile Bay, Alabama, 5 August 1864, in two columns, with armored monitors leading and a fleet of wooden ships following. When the lead monitor Tecumseh was demolished by a mine, the wooden ship Brooklyn stopped, and the line drifted in confusion toward Fort Morgan. As disaster seemed imminent, Farragut gave the orders embodied by these famous words. He swung his own ship clear and headed across the mines, which failed to explode. The fleet followed and anchored above the forts, which, now isolated, surrendered one by one. The torpedoes to which Farragut and his contemporaries referred would today be described as tethered mines. –quoted from the Naval Historical Center site

Here’s a more detailed account of New Orleans’ surrender to Farragut. Much later, Farragut’s name was used for a class of destroyers built in the 1930s, as well as several individual ships since then, and even a starship in a Star Trek episode.

Unpleasant anniversary

If you can tolerate yet another WW2 link, here’s a moving piece about Hiroshima and its place in Japanese cultural memory.

The way the world ends

The Second World War has always been a topic of interest to me, but it’s been especially on my mind as the 60th anniversary of the war’s end approaches. Today I started reading Max Hasting’s Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, which sets out to tell the tale of the bloody, drawn-out, and surprisingly difficult defeat of Germany after D-Day.

Armageddon asks a simple question: why did it take the Allies so long to defeat Germany after D-Day?

I first took note of Hasting’s book when Christianity Today flagged it as one of 2004’s top 10 books. This interview with the author several months ago cemented my interest. Hastings, from the interview:

I have always had a nagging fascination with what happened [after D-Day], in particular with why the Allies didn’t win in 1944. At the beginning of September 1944, most of the Allied leadership, with the notable exception of Winston Churchill, was completely convinced that the war was going to be over by the end of the year. In the West, the Germans seemed completely beaten. The Western Allies had overwhelming superiority in tanks, aircraft, everything—you name it. So I wanted to look at this question of why we didn’t end the war in 1944. Secondly, and almost as important, virtually all the books that have been written about this period look at either the Eastern or the Western front—not both. And I wanted to set the two in context: to see what happened to the Western Allies in the context of what happened with the Soviets.

I’ll report back again when I’ve finished the book.

The atomic decision, 60 years later

On the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima, newly-uncovered information provides fresh perspectives on Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bomb.

terrorism and the law

In 1942, eight men landed on U.S. soil, tasked by the Nazi government to carry out acts of sabotage within the U.S. One of them, himself actually an American citizen who had returned to Germany at the beginning of World War II, informed on the project to the FBI. The eight men were arrested, tried by a military court directed by FDR himself; and the six of them who did not cooperate were executed shortly thereafter.

This incident has direct implications for us today, since these tribunals are the precedent for the incarceration and trials of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

A new book discusses the case of the Nazi saboteurs, and argues that these proceedings allocate too much power to the executive branch, both then and now. Various accounts of the incident can be found at U of C law, the FBI, and about.com. The text of a 1942 White House press release about the incident is here.