22 October 2007

Postcard from WWII Battlefront Delivered 64 Years Later

A postcard mailed by a Japanese soldier 64 years ago from a Southeast Asian battlefront during World War II was delivered to its recipient in Japan on Friday.

The card was intercepted by Allied soldiers and kept in the US as a souvenir for nearly 60 years. The son of the US soldier gave it to a Japanese exchange student in the hopes that it would find its way to the intended recipient. The search took several years, but the message was finally delivered.

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17 October 2007

WWII Manual for Iraq is Surprise Bestseller

When your current orders aren't clear, and you don't know how to deal with the locals, it is good to know that the University of Chicago Press is there for you. The academic publisher has just completed a rush order of 5,000 copies of Instructions for American Servicemen in Iraq during World War II.

The manual was originally created for US servicemen being sent to Iraq to assist the British troop contingent already in the country. Although Iraq was nominally independent since 1932, the country was largely a British protectorate. When the government of Arab nationalist Rashid Ali began to be a little too friendly with Nazi Germany in 1941, British troops landed in Basra to take formal control of the country, and stayed until 1947.

The manual for American troops has several passages that still apply just as well sixty years later:

"Don't be boastful or arrogant when talking to Iraqis."

"Never stare at or try to talk to Iraqi women."

"Learn a few Arabic phrases."

"Remember that Arabs are some of the most relentless guerrilla fighters in the world."

"Use your best manners."

The one that I wish Donald Rumsfeld et. al. had read is "American success or failure in Iraq may well depend on whether the Iraqis (as the people are called) like American soldiers or not. It may not be quite that simple. But then again it could."

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11 October 2007

P.O. Box 1142, WWII Interrogators Speak

There was a very nice little article in the Washington Post this past weekend about a group of veterans sharing their war-time stories with the American public. There have been many such articles, especially since Ken Burns turned such reminiscences into a 14-hour documentary.

But this group of men was a little different. These 80-90 year-olds were the US Army's professional interrogators in WWII. They worked at a facility known only by its mailing address, P.O. Box 1142, and tucked into Virginia's Fort Hunt, along the Potomac River near Washington, DC. Here, the interrogators questioned Nazi scientists, U-boat men, officers, and leaders. Holding cells were bugged, and, in violation of the Geneva Convention, the Red Cross was not told of their location until they were transferred to a normal POW camp.

However, these veterans never committed the sort of physical and mental abuse now being meted out at Gitmo and CIA "black sites". Instead they often found that games of chess or even steak dinners did more to loosen the lips of their German captives. Many of these veterans made clear while they were being honored by the Army and the National Park Service for their war-time service, they did not approve of the move that America has made towards the new 'harsh interrogation' techniques that in the 1940's were more often found in the hands of the Gestapo than in the US Army.

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02 October 2007

Pocket Battleship to Fit in Your Gararge

At the start of WWII in Europe, Britain faced the task of bottling-up small, but heavily-armed German Kreigsmarine in order to protect her sea lanes from raiders. However, some of the German Navy was already at sea, notably the Graf Spee. Alternately called a "armored cruiser" or "pocket battleship", she occupied a role that was fast enough to evade any ship that could outfight her and powerful enough to outfight any ship who could catch her (a description that was also applied to American frigates of the late 1700s). The Graf Spee was cornered off the coast of South America by three British cruisers in the Battle of the River Plate. After docking in Montevideo, the ship's captain fell for a British ruse, assuming that a massive naval flotilla awaited him at sea, and scuttled the ship on December 17, 1939.

But now the Graf Spee sails again! A gentleman in Maine, William Terra, has rebuilt the ship at 1:20 scale, finishing a six-year project. The 30-foot model has a crew of two and 15 horsepower engine giving her a cruising speed of 15 mph. Terra plans to arm his ship with paintballs, and is looking for challengers.

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