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[l] at 6/3/20 7:00am

Peter Suciu

Security, Asia

https://www.reutersconnect.com/all?id=tag%3Areuters.com%2C2017%3Anewsml_RC1748B89570&share=true It is undergoing sea trials.

The first domestically-built Chinese aircraft carrier, Shandong, is now undergoing sea trials, China state television reported this past weekend. The carrier, which is named for China’s Shandong Province, was delivered to the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in December at the naval port in Sanya in Hainan Province.

Military analysts have suggested that the carrier remains much less capable than its U.S. Navy counterparts, but it serves as a stepping stone to more powerful carriers. Moreover, it has been seen as a symbol of national prestige, one that could be used as a potential platform for expeditionary missions abroad. It is China’s second aircraft carrier, but its first carrier, the Type 001 Liaoning was rebuilt from the hull of the incomplete Soviet-era “aircraft-carrying cruiser” Varyag.

The Shandong had left her home port of Dalian in late May on her maiden voyage for training since being commissioned five months ago. The current sea trials are reportedly to test the performance of weapons and equipment, as well as to improve the level of aircraft carrier training but also to further enhance the crews’ ability to perform missions and tasks.

While domestically built, the 55,000-ton Shandong is still a modified version of the Liaoning, which means it shares not only a similar layout but also many of the limitations. The carrier lacks catapults and instead launches planes via a bow-mounted ramp—something that significantly limits the weight of the aircraft as well as how much weaponry and even fuel that those planes can carry.

The Shandong does have design improvements that will enable it to embark and operate a larger air wing of 40 aircraft, including 36 fighters. China’s primarily carrier-based fighter is the J-15 Flying Shark, an aircraft that is derived from the Russian Su-33 Flanker aircraft design. The multirole fighter jet, which entered service in 2015 and has been compared to the U.S. Navy’s two-seat FA-18 Super Hornet, was designed to operate from carriers equipped with a ski ramp rather than from a catapult.

According to Navy Recognition, China has also reportedly announced plans to develop a carrier-capable variant of its J-20 fifth-generation stealth fighter and/or a carrier-capable variant of its FC-31 fifth-generation stealth fighter to complement or succeed the J-15 on catapult-equipped Chinese carriers. The J-20 is Chinese flagship stealth fighter, and its weapon systems were spotlighted at the 2018 Zhuhai Airshow, while the FC-31is noted for relying on design elements from other countries fighter programs—notably the United States’ F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The Chinese military is also reportedly developing a carrier-based stealth drone aircraft that could be used on the carriers.

The PLAN has also announced that it may deploy both the Shandong and the Liaonging for the first in exercises to be conducted this summer—but both carriers conducted combat readiness last month in the Yellow Sea.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

Image: Reuters

[Author: Peter Suciu] [Category: Security]

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[l] at 6/3/20 6:30am

Peter Suciu

Security, Americas

https://www.boeing.com/resources/boeingdotcom/defense/autonomous-systems/echo-voyager/echo_voyager_gallery4_960x600.jpg Cheaper and better?

What the United States Navy wants and what the United States Navy will be able to afford in the coming years is unlikely to match up, and as it continues to address increasingly powerful Chinese and Russian navies, this could give a lot of people many a sleepless night. China is currently testing out the Shandong, its first domestically-built aircraft carrier while Russia continues to bolster its fleets in a slow but methodical manner.

As the same time President Trump cut the Navy’s shipbuilding budget by $4 billion, according to the 2021 budget request outlined earlier this year, the Navy would acquire 44 vessels through 2025—down from a planned 55 vessels.

To address those concerns will require the U.S. Navy to consider other options—and among those could include autonomous weapons including robot submarines.

According to a report from Defense One, an internal study from the Office of Secretary of Defense is exploring ways that a large robot submarine force could free up the larger manned boats for more complex missions. The study, which was spearheaded by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s internal think tank, the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation Office, recommended that the Navy invest in as many as 50 of the extra-large unmanned underwater vehicles (XLUUV).

Such an endeavor would be a fraction of the cost of the Navy’s Virginia­-class attack submarines.

The study also envisioned the fleet of 2045 and recommended that the Navy drop to nine carriers from its current 11 but add dozens of large and medium-sized unmanned vessels as a cost saving measure. Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs) along with unmanned semi-submersibles could lay mines, launch attacks and even provide intelligence.

Ominously the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has already been making good progress with its own USVs, and those could help the Chinese fleet match the U.S. and U.K. fleets in undersea warfare. Fortunately, the U.S. Navy has been working on an autonomous submarine platform dubbed “Orca,” and in February 2019 awarded Boeing a $274.4 million contract to build four (later increased to five) of the XLUUVs.

The Orca is based upon Boeing’s Echo Voyager and Echo Ranger undersea drones but essentially super-sized. Initial applications for the Orca could include land-launched operations—which could lead to surface and undersea launches. However, at 50-tons the Orca may be too large to be launched form a submarine or ship at the current time, but the planning is to have it pair with a surface “mother ship” or from a larger submarine, such as the Virginia-class. These larger vessels could then coordinate command and control, receive information and in some cases even direct mission activity for the undersea drone.

Missions could include those that are too dangerous for a larger manned boat.

The Washington Post reported that the Navy’s Orca is about 300 times less costly than a $3.2 billion Virginia-class submarine—but noted that the biggest threat to the Navy program isn’t China but rather the lack of lobby to rival the giant defense contractors.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

Image: Boeing

[Author: Peter Suciu] [Category: Security]

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[l] at 6/3/20 6:24am

Ethen Kim Lieser


Many local business owners in Minneapolis are still struggling after their restaurants and stores were vandalized during the protests. Some still have their windows and entrances boarded up to keep out the violent protesters.

Many local business owners in Minneapolis are still struggling after their restaurants and stores were vandalized during the protests over George Floyd. Some still have their windows and entrances boarded up to keep out the violent protesters. I walked the streets of this fine city to get a sense of where things stood, and while I did capture amazing scenes of people trying to heal, the amount of damage I saw was staggering. Below is just a snapshot of some of what I was able to witness with my own eyes: 


A vandalized gas pump near where George Floyd died in Minneapolis on June 2. Photo by Ethen Kim Lieser

National Guard troops guard a chicken restaurant in Minneapolis on June 2. Photo by Ethen Kim Lieser

A National Guard troop patrols an intersection in Minneapolis on June 2. Photo by Ethen Kim Lieser

National Guard troops respond to community support at an intersection in Minneapolis on June 2. Photo by Ethen Kim Lieser

A gas station sits vandalized near where George Floyd died in Minneapolis on June 2. Photo by Ethen Kim Lieser

A restaurant with boarded-up windows in the Uptown area in Minneapolis on June 2. Photo by Ethen Kim Lieser

Businesses in the Uptown area of Minneapolis on June 2. Photo by Ethen Kim Lieser

A Korean restaurant in the Uptown area of Minneapolis on June 2. Photo by Ethen Kim Lieser

Landmark’s Uptown Theatre in Minneapolis is still temporarily closed on June 2. Photo by Ethen Kim Lieser

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek and Arirang TV. He currently resides in Minneapolis.

[Author: Ethen Kim Lieser] [Category: Politics]

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[l] at 6/3/20 6:01am

Ethen Kim Lieser


Interstellar object ‘Oumuamua' first captured our attention when it whizzed through our solar system more than two years ago. Apparently, it’s still not done making headlines.

Interstellar object ‘Oumuamua first captured our attention when it whizzed through our solar system more than two years ago. Apparently, it’s still not done making headlines.

According to a new study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, scientists are suggesting that the cigar-shaped ‘Oumuamua could be made of hydrogen ice. Although hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, it’s hardly ever observed in a solid form.

“We developed a theory that explains all of ‘Oumuamua’s weird properties,” the study’s co-author Gregory Laughlin, a professor of astronomy in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said in a statement.

“We show that it was likely composed of hydrogen ice. This is a new type of object, but it looks like there may be many more of them showing up, going forward.”

The study notes that hydrogen ice is often present in the cores of molecular clouds, which form the basis of stars. Researchers believe that ‘Oumuamua could contain hydrogen ice after it passed by one of these molecular clouds in deep space. This particular theory could also explain the object’s speed.

“As ‘Oumuamua passed close to the sun and received its warmth, melting hydrogen would have rapidly boiled off the icy surface,” Laughlin said, “providing the observed acceleration and also winnowing ‘Oumuamua down to its weird, elongated shape—much as a bar of soap becomes a thin sliver after many uses in the shower.”

It is possible that these iceberg-like objects made of hydrogen could be quite prevalent in our solar system, and studying them closely may offer researchers new data and information about how stars and planets initially form.

“Their presence would be an accurate probe of the conditions in the dark recesses of star-forming clouds and provide a critical new clue for understanding the earliest phases of the still-mysterious processes that generate the birth of stars and their accompanying planets,” Laughlin said.

‘Oumuamua, which means “a messenger that reaches out from the distant past” in Hawaiian, was first spotted by the Pan-STARRS project at the Haleakalā Observatory in Maui.

To keep its odd shape, ‘Oumuamua may have experienced extreme heating during flybys of its native star, and the eventual cooling caused it to develop a hard surface crust.

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek and Arirang TV. He currently resides in Minneapolis.

[Author: Ethen Kim Lieser] [Category: Space]

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[l] at 6/3/20 6:00am

Lisa Dikomitis, Alina Buture, Fayyaz Ahmed


A cluster headache is more than just a headache but a severe neurological condition that is often misdiagnosed.

Cluster headache is more than just a headache. It is a severe neurological condition, sometimes known as a “suicide headache” because many patients have suicidal thoughts during attacks. The pain experienced during a cluster headache attack is excruciating and is said to be comparable to the pain of childbirth. Such attacks can last from 15 minutes to three hours and can occur several times per day. The pain is almost always on one side and typical features of an attack may include bloodshot or teary eyes, droopy eyes and a runny nose or blocked nostrils.

Around one in 1,000 people experience cluster headache. It’s perceived as a rare disease, but in fact is as common as well-known neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease. Getting the right treatment for this condition is difficult, as our recent study showed.

We found that many healthcare professionals do not know cluster headache or how to diagnose the condition. This has serious consequences for those suffering. Our research also shows patients regularly face long delays and undergo unnecessary procedures and referrals to specialist care before receiving the correct diagnosis and treatment.

Our team examined the understandings and experiences of cluster headache and the impact of the condition. GPs and neurologists who work in the north of England, were interviewed by a medical sociologist. We explored their knowledge around the diagnosis and treatment of cluster headache, how they usually refer patients to a specialist, and the ways they communicate with other clinicians.

Our main finding is that cluster headache is neglected among health professionals. Many healthcare professionals do not know what a cluster headache is. This frequently leads to misdiagnosis of the condition and huge delays in receiving the correct diagnosis. Some clinicians interviewed in the study were not aware of cluster headache, while others thought that cluster headache is the same as “cluster migraine”, which can cause nausea and sensitivity to light alongside severe head pain.

Our interviewees gave plenty of examples of the consequences a patient faces when they don’t receive a timely and correct diagnosis. Cluster headache is often misdiagnosed as migraine or trigeminal neuralgia (a severe, sudden form of face pain), but also as sinusitis or dental problems. Patients occasionally undergo unnecessary procedures, such as teeth extraction, sinus washouts and intracranial surgery because they are in despair.

The condition has a huge impact on sufferers’ everyday life and they try all kinds of treatments hoping to find some relief from the excruciatingly painful attacks. Indeed, cluster headache can have significant influence on a patient’s mental health and on their ability to remain in employment. People with cluster headache often suffer from severe mental health conditions, such as chronic depression, suicidal thoughts and may self-harm. Family, friends and employers often don’t grasp the severity of the condition and the enormous impact it has.

Challenges with treatment

Due to the nature of the attacks, cluster headache is treated differently compared to other headache conditions, like migraine or a tension-type headache. These are normally treated with painkillers – but if these occur frequently they will require regular preventive treatment. Cluster headache attacks are treated with nasal sprays or injectable medication (triptans) and inhalation of oxygen.

Our study also highlights tensions between primary and secondary care around prescribing these treatments because of the cost. Sometimes GPs don’t follow the treatment instructions received from neurologists in secondary care. This is especially the case if GPs think the suggested medication is not cost effective.

For example, the injectable triptans were often not prescribed because of their high cost. Some GPs instead prescribed cheaper oral triptans. But these are not effective for cluster headache patients. Many interviewed clinicians were not aware of the prescription policies for oxygen, which is an effect treatment for cluster headache.

GP participants in our study rarely referred patients with cluster headache symptoms to neurologists. When patients get referred, it is more likely to provide the patient with reassurance that their condition is not life-threatening. In some cases, patients with cluster headache get referred to neurologists to begin specialised treatments for cluster headache, such as the drugs verapamil and lithium.

Our study shows an urgent need to increase awareness of cluster headache among health professionals and the general public. This will prevent misdiagnosis and delays in diagnosis.

Lisa Dikomitis , Professor in Anthropology and Sociology of Health, Keele University

Alina Buture , PhD researcher, Hull York Medical School, University of Hull

Fayyaz Ahmed , Professor of Clinical Neurology, University of Hull

 This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters

[Author: Lisa Dikomitis, Alina Buture, Fayyaz Ahmed] [Category: Health]

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[l] at 6/3/20 5:15am

Tom Nolan

Society, Americas

Despite efforts to promote de-escalation as a policy, police culture appears to be stuck in an 'us vs. them' mentality.

The unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd after being pinned to the ground by the knee of a Minneapolis police officer has left parts of U.S. cities looking like a battle zone.

Night after night, angry protesters have taken to the street. So too have police officers dressed in full riot gear and backed by an arsenal that any small military force would be proud of: armored vehicles, military-grade aircraft, rubber and wooden bullets, stun grenades, sound cannons and tear gas canisters.

The militarization of police departments has been a feature of U.S. domestic law enforcement since the 9/11 attacks. What is clear from the latest round of protest and response, is that despite efforts to promote de-escalation as a policy, police culture appears to be stuck in an “us vs. them” mentality.

Setting up the enemy

As a former police officer of 27 years and a scholar who has written on the policing of marginalized communities, I have observed the militarization of the police firsthand, especially in times of confrontation.

I have seen, throughout my decades in law enforcement, that police culture tends to privilege the use of violent tactics and non-negotiable force over compromise, mediation, and peaceful conflict resolution. It reinforces a general acceptance among officers of the use of any and all means of force available when confronted with real or perceived threats to officers.

We have seen this play out during the first week of protests following Floyd’s death in cities from Seattle to Flint to Washington, D.C.

The police have deployed a militarized response to what they accurately or inaccurately believe to be a threat to public order, private property, and their own safety. It is in part due to a policing culture in which protesters are often perceived as the “enemy.” Indeed teaching cops to think like soldiers and learn how to kill has been part of a training program popular among some police officers.

Arming up

Police militarization, the process in which law enforcement agencies have increased their arsenal of weapons and equipment to be deployed in an array of situations, began in earnest in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

In the years that followed, domestic law enforcement in the United States began a strategic shift toward tactics and practices that employed militarized responses to even routine police activities.

Much of this was aided by the federal government, through the Defense Logistics Agency’s 1033 Program, which allows the transfer of military equipment to local law enforcement agencies, and the Homeland Security Grant Program, which gives police departments funding to buy military-grade weapons and vehicles.

Critics of this process have suggested that the message sent to police through equipping them with military equipment is that they are in fact at war. This to me implies that there needs to be an “enemy.” In cities and, increasingly, suburban and rural areas, the enemy is often those “others” who are perceived to be criminally inclined.

The consequences of this militarized police mentality can be deadly, especially for black Americans.

A study of police-involved deaths between 2012 and 2018 found that on average, police kill 2.8 men every day in the U.S. The risk of death at the hands of an officer was found to be between 3.2 and 3.5 times higher for black men compared to white men.

And there appears to be a correlation between militarization and police violence. A 2017 study analyzed spending by police departments against police-involved fatalities. Summarizing their results in The Washington Post, the authors of the study wrote: “Even controlling for other possible factors in police violence (such as household income, overall and black population, violent-crime levels and drug use), more-militarized law enforcement agencies were associated with more civilians killed each year by police. When a county goes from receiving no military equipment to $2,539,767 worth (the largest figure that went to one agency in our data), more than twice as many civilians are likely to die in that county the following year.”

And it isn’t just individuals who suffer. Behavioral scientist Denise Herd has studied the community effect of police violence. Writing in the Boston University Law Review earlier this year, she concluded that “violent encounters with police produce a strong ripple effect of diminishing the health and well-being of residents who simply live in areas where their neighbors are killed, hurt, or psychologically traumatized.”

The trauma from the video of George Floyd in clear distress while a uniformed officer knelt on his neck is evident in the reaction it has provoked.

The need to address the escalation of police confrontations – both during protests and in individual encounters – was a focus of the last big push for police reform, after the killing of a unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. As with the case of George Floyd, it led to violent scenes in which protesters confronted militarized officers.

Just months after the Ferguson unrest, President Obama set up his Task Force on 21st Century Policing. It recommended the implementation of training and policies that “emphasize de-escalation.” It also called on police to employ tactics during protests “designed to minimize the appearance of a military operation and avoid using provocative tactics and equipment that undermine civilian trust.”

By the evidence of the last few days, a number of police departments have failed to heed the message.

Tom Nolan is Visiting Associate Professor of Sociology at Emmanuel College.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters

[Author: Tom Nolan] [Category: Society]

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[l] at 6/3/20 5:00am

Peter Suciu

Security, Asia

https://www.reutersconnect.com/all?id=tag%3Areuters.com%2C2019%3Anewsml_RC12F732D8E0&share=true Would that work?

Last week the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense announced that it is seeking to purchase Harpoon coastal batteries from the United States. Deputy Defense Minister Chang Che-ping confirmed the military’s intentions to lawmakers at a committee meeting, which was reported by the local media in Taiwan.

The island nation, which the government in Beijing sees as a breakaway province, has already developed its own anti-ship missile, the Hsiung Feng II (HF-2), which was developed in the 1990s. As far back as 20 years ago there were plans to replace the HF-2 with the American made RGM-84 Harpoon. It serves in dozens of countries on a number of platforms.

Taiwan has also developed its Hsiung Feng III, a supersonic missile that uses solid-fuel propellant as a booster and liquid fuel to power a ramjet. It was originally conceived as an anti-ship missile, but its range is limited to just 75 to 90 miles. With that in mind, Taipei has taken another look at the American Harpoon—and it isn’t the only power in Asia that sees the potential of the aging U.S. missile platform.

In April, the United States Department of Defense (DoD) Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced that the State Department had approved the foreign military sales of the AGM-84L Harpoon to India.

Taipei will still have to make a formal request to Washington, but given that the weapon was sold to India, it is largely suggested that such a sale could be quickly approved. The Taiwan military seeks to acquire the missiles by 2023.

According to a report from The Drive, Chang wasn’t clear exactly which type of Harpoons that Taiwan was seeking, but it would likely be the Block II variants. The Taiwan Air Force already has air-launched Block II AGM-84L Harpoons in its arsenal, while the island nation’s Navy has submarine-launched UGM-84Ls. Two former U.S. Navy Kidd and Knox-class ships serving with Taiwan also are armed with the older surface-launched RGM-84 variants.

Tensions have increased in the region in recent months.

In April, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) aircraft carrier Liaoning, sailed past Taiwan in a show of Chinese naval strength in the region while the American aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) was sidelined in port in Guam due to an outbreak of the novel coronavirus among its crew.

Also in April, to mark the 70th anniversary of the PLAN, Beijing announced that it had created a new unit of marines, even as China had approved the reduction of its army by 300,000 soldiers. That signaled a shift in military strength from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to the PLAN Marine Corps—and according to reports, the latter force could grow by 400% from 20,000 marines to more than 100,000.

Given that Beijing is ramping up an amphibious force, has a second carrier that is undergoing sea trials and continues to expand its presence in the region it is no wonder that Taipei seeks to ensure that it has the right counter-measures in place.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

Image: Reuters

[Author: Peter Suciu] [Category: Security]

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[l] at 6/3/20 4:45am

Kris Osborn

Security, Americas

https://www.reutersconnect.com/all?id=tag%3Areuters.com%2C2005%3Anewsml_PBEAHUODPAR&share=true The Navy is moving quickly to acquire and deploy a new fleet of high-tech ship-to-shore amphibious landing craft to expedite newer strategies of amphibious assault. This plan would use fast-moving, tank-transporting vessels able to find and penetrate enemy shorelines—and off load forces for attack.

The U.S. Navy is moving quickly to acquire and deploy a new fleet of high-tech ship-to-shore amphibious landing craft to expedite newer strategies of amphibious assault. This plan would use fast-moving, tank-transporting vessels able to find and penetrate enemy shorelines—and off load forces for attack.

The service is now building its first 15 Ship-to-Shore Connectors (SSC) through a $386 million deal with Textron Systems to bring a new, high-tech force of craft to replace the Navy’s longstanding, combat-tested Landing Craft Air Cushions.

The acquisition of new SSC’s helps advance a much-discussed Navy strategy to better enable large amphibs to function as “mother ships” coordinating large numbers of smaller manned and unmanned drone vessels. Textron’s upgraded Ship-to-Shore Craft includes lighter-weight composite materials, increased payload capacity, modernized engines and computer-automated controls. Perhaps of greatest significance, the SSCs are engineered to carry 70-ton Abrams tanks from amphibs at sea to land attack.

Also, SSC’s new Rolls Royce engines have more horsepower and specialized aluminum to help prevent corrosion, when compared with existing LCACs. Textron engineers also say the SSC is built with digital flight controls and computer automation to replace the traditional yoke and pedals used by current connectors. As a result, on-board computers will quickly calculate relevant details such as wind speed and navigational information, according to Textron information.

Navy’s 72 existing LCACs, in service since the 80s, can only transport up to 60-tons, reach speeds of 36-knots and travel ranges up to 200 nautical miles from amphibious vehicles. The first several SSCs, which have been built and launched on the water, bring a new level of computer networking, combat-power transport technology and emerging elements of advanced maritime propulsion systems. The new SSC’s have also moved to a lower frequency for ship electronics, moving from 400 Hertz down to 60 Hertz in order to better synchronize ship systems with Navy common standards. Along with these properties, the new craft uses hardware footprint reducing advances to lower the number of gear boxes from eight to two.

In effect, future “ship-to-shore” amphibious attacks will look nothing like the more linear, aggregated Iwo Jima assault. A Naval War College essay on this topic both predicts and reinforces Navy thinking.

“The basic requirements of amphibious assault, long held to be vital to success, may no longer be attainable. Unlike the Pacific landings of World War II amphibious objective areas could prove impossible to isolate,” the paper, called “Blitzkrieg From the Sea: Maneuver Warfare and Amphibious Operations,” states. (Richard Moore, 1983)

LCACs can access over 70-percent of the shoreline across the world, something the new SSCs will be able to do as well. Designed with over-the-horizon high-speed and maneuverability, LCACs are able to travel long distances and land on rocky terrain and drive up onto the shore. Referring to a more dispersed or disaggregated amphibious attack emphasis, the Naval War College essay describes modern attack through the lens of finding “surface gaps” to exploit as a way to bypass or avoid “centers of resistance.”

Dispersed approaches, using air-ground coordination and forward-positioned surveillance nodes, can increasingly use synchronized assault tactics, pinpointing advantageous areas of attack. Not only can this, as the essay indicates, exploit enemy weakness, but it also brings the advantage of avoiding more condensed or closely-configured approaches far more vulnerable to long-range enemy sensors and weapons. Having an SSC, which can bring a heavier load of land-attack firepower, weapons and Marines, helps enable this identified need to bring assault forces across a wide-range of attack locations. None of this, while intended to destroy technologically sophisticated enemies, removes major risks. After all, Russian and Chinese weapons, including emerging 5th-generation fighters, DF-21 anti-ship missiles claimed to reach 900-miles, and rapidly-emerging weapons such as drones, lasers and railguns are real concerns.

The Navy accepted delivery of the first of the next generation landing craft, Ship to Shore Connector Craft 100, on February 6, 2020, a statement from Naval Sea Systems Command said. Craft 100 is the developmental unit for the next-generation landing craft and will be located in Panama City, Florida where additional testing and crew training will be conducted.”

The second craft, LCAC 101, has been going through Navy Builder’s Trials for assessment of its operational readiness, the Navy said. 

Kris Osborn is the new Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Image: Reuters

[Author: Kris Osborn] [Category: Security]

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[l] at 6/3/20 4:30am

Arash Javanbakht

Politics, Americas

Whether Trump is the cause or effect of the changes in America’s collective attitude, an attribute of our current president is his eagerness and ability to use fear for intimidation of those who disagree with him, and subordination and shepherding of those who support him

Tribalism has become a signature of America within and without since the election of President Trump. The nation has parted ways with international allies, left the rest of the world in their effort to fight climate change, and most recently the pandemic, by leaving the World Health Organization. Even the pandemic was not a serious issue of importance to our leaders. We did not care much about what was happening in the rest of the world, as opposed to the time of previous pandemics when we were on the ground in those countries helping block the progress so long as it was China’s or the European Union’s problem. This marks drastic change from previous U.S. altruistic attitude, including during the World War II.

Whether Trump is the cause or effect of the changes in America’s collective attitude, an attribute of our current president is his eagerness and ability to use fear for intimidation of those who disagree with him, and subordination and shepherding of those who support him.

Fear is arguably as old as life. It is deeply ingrained in the living organisms that have survived extinction through billions of years of evolution. Its roots are deep in our core psychological and biological being, and it is one of our most intimate feelings. Danger and war are as old as human history, and so are politics and religion.

I am a psychiatrist and neuroscientist specializing in fear and trauma, and I have some thoughts on how politics, fear and tribalism are intertwined in the current events.

We learn fear from tribe mates

Like other animals, humans can learn fear from experience, such as being attacked by a predator, or witnessing a predator attacking another human. Furthermore, we learn fear by instructions, such as being told there is a predator nearby.

Learning from our tribe mates is an evolutionary advantage that has prevented us from repeating dangerous experiences of other humans. We have a tendency to trust our tribe mates and authorities, especially when it comes to danger. It is adaptive: Parents and wise old men told us not to eat a special plant, or not to go to an area in the woods, or we would be hurt. By trusting them, we would not die like a great-grandfather who died eating that plant. This way, we accumulated knowledge.

Tribalism has been an inherent part of human history, and is closely linked with fear. There has always been competition between groups of humans in different ways and with different faces, from brutal wartime nationalism to a strong loyalty to a football team. Evidence from cultural neuroscience shows that our brains even respond differently at an unconscious level simply to the view of faces from other races or cultures.

At a tribal level, people are more emotional and consequently less logical: Fans of both teams pray for their team to win, hoping God will take sides in a game. On the other hand, we regress to tribalism when afraid. This is an evolutionary advantage that would lead to the group cohesion and help us fight the other tribes to survive.

Tribalism is the biological loophole that many politicians have banked on for a long time: tapping into our fears and tribal instincts. Abuse of fear has killed in many faces: extreme nationalism, Nazism, the Ku Klux Klan and religious tribalism have all led to heartless killing of millions.

The typical pattern is to give the other humans a different label than us, perceive them as less than us, who are going to harm us or our resources, and to turn the other group into a concept. It does not have to necessarily be race or nationality. It can be any real or imaginary difference: liberals, conservatives, Middle Easterners, white men, the right, the left, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs. The list goes on and on.

This attitude is a hallmark of the current president. You could be a Chinese, a Mexican, a Muslim, a Democrat, a liberal, a reporter or a woman. So long as you do not belong to his immediate or larger perceived tribe, he portrays you as subhuman, less worthy, and an enemy.

Retweeting “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat” is a recent example of how he feeds, and feeds off of such divisive and dehumanizing tribalism.

When building tribal boundaries between “us” and “them,” politicians have managed very well to create virtual groups of people that do not communicate and hate without even knowing each other: This is the human animal in action!

Fear is uninformed, illogical and often dumb

Very often my patients with phobias start with: “I know it is stupid, but I am afraid of spiders.” Or it may be dogs or cats, or something else. And I always reply: “It is not stupid, it is illogical.” We humans have different functions in the brain, and fear oftentimes bypasses logic. In situations of danger, we ought to be fast: First run or kill, then think.

This human tendency is meat to the politicians who want to exploit fear: If you grew up only around people who look like you, only listened to one media outlet and heard from the old uncle that those who look or think differently hate you and are dangerous, the inherent fear and hatred toward those unseen people is an understandable (but flawed) result.

To win us, politicians, sometimes with the media’s help, do their best to keep us separated, to keep the real or imaginary “others” just a “concept.” Because if we spend time with others, talk to them and eat with them, we will learn that they are like us: humans with all the strengths and weaknesses that we possess. Some are strong, some are weak, some are funny, some are dumb, some are nice and some not too nice.

Fear can easily turn violent

There is a reason that the response to fear is called the “fight or flight” response. That response has helped us survive the predators and other tribes that have wanted to kill us. But again, it is another loophole in our biology to be abused. By scaring us, the demagogues turn on our aggression toward “the others,” whether in the form of vandalizing their temples, harassing them on the social media, of killing them in cold blood.

When demagogues manage to get hold of our fear circuitry, we often regress to illogical, tribal and aggressive human animals, becoming weapons ourselves – weapons that politicians use for their own agenda.

The irony of evolution is that while those attached to tribal ideologies of racism and nationalism perceive themselves as superior to others, in reality, they are acting on a more primitive, less evolved and more animal level.

Editor’s note: This article is an updated version of an article that originally was published Jan. 11, 2019.

Arash Javanbakht is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Wayne State University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters

[Author: Arash Javanbakht] [Category: Politics]

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[l] at 6/3/20 4:00am

Warfare History Network

History, Europe

Crews of U.S. M5 Stuart light tanks from Company D, 761st Tank Battalion, stand by awaiting call to clean out scattered Nazi machine gun nests in Coburg, Germany. 25 April 1945. U.S. Army. “Who the … asked for color?” Patton said. “I asked for tankers.”

In the Academy Award-winning film Patton, the setting was all wrong when actor George C. Scott delivered General George S. Patton Jr.’s famous speech about making the “other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” The real Patton presented that speech on October 28, 1944, in France to the soldiers of the 761st Tank Battalion, the first ‘Negro’ armored unit in the history of the U.S. Army to see combat.

The 761st had paused after a breathless dash most of the way across France for final checkups and repairs prior to battle when Patton’s entourage roared up. The general, wearing his notable ivory-handled pistols, vaulted to the hood of an armored car and shouted, “Men, you are the first Negro tankers to ever fight in the American army. I have nothing but the best in my army. I don’t care what color you are, so long as you go up there and kill the Kraut. Everyone has their eyes on you and is expecting great things from you. Most of all, your race is looking forward to your success. Don’t let them down, and, damn you, don’t let me down. They say it is patriotic to die for your country. Well, let’s see how many patriots we can make out of those German SOBs.”

Desegregating the Draft

Prior to 1940, assumptions about the inferiority of black soldiers as combat troops dominated military thinking. Blacks were segregated into support and service units to provide cooks, stevedores, truck drivers, orderlies, and other noncombat personnel. Only five black commissioned officers served in the Army in 1941, three of whom were chaplains.

“As fighting troops, the Negro must be rated as second-class material,” declared Colonel James A. Moss, commander of the 367th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Division, “this primarily [due] to his inferior intelligence and lack of mental and moral qualities.”

“In future war,” said Colonel Percy L. Miles, “the main use of the Negro should be in labor organizations.”

Patton shared this view in a letter he wrote to his wife, Beatrice: “A colored soldier cannot think fast enough to fight in armor.”

Nonetheless, the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 stated, “In the selection and training of men under this act, there shall be no discrimination against any person on account of race and color.” The White House immediately issued a policy statement saying that, regardless of the act, segregation in the armed forces would continue.

As war loomed on the horizon, all-black units commanded by white officers were quickly formed. Among these units were the 5th Tank Group, composed of three battalions of armor—the 758th, 761st, and the 784th. It was generally assumed that a white officer attached to a “colored” outfit was “safe” in that blacks would never be sent to war.

Facing Discrimination

The 761st was activated at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, on April 1, 1942. Major Paul Bates, who had received armor training under General Patton, assumed command of the battalion in May 1943. His ambition was to lead his battalion into battle.

Major Bates became visible. He was always out in front, training with his men—in the swamps and in the mud and in the steamy Louisiana drizzle that made a man feel like he was bathing in a pot of Cajun gumbo. Morale improved. The battalion developed an esprit de corps. Black men held their heads higher and affected a cocky tanker’s walk with barracks cap tilted saucily to one side. Most still believed, however, that all the training was flash and polish toward no end.

“We ain’t gonna see nothing but rattlesnakes in Louisiana until this war be over,” said Private L.C. Byrd, whose comment was indicative of the sentiment that prevailed in the ranks of the black battalions.

Whites treated the black tankers with suspicion. The 761st tankers endured segregation down in “the swamp” where they were isolated from most facilities and had to walk a mile to the main gate and the bus station. Blacks waited until last to get on the buses when they received passes, and they always had to stand up at the back. Bus drivers wore pistols to enforce the rules and protect themselves from unruly blacks. If a black person failed to obey or committed some minor infraction, such as refusing to get up to let a white soldier take his seat, the driver stopped at the nearest MP station or law enforcement office where the offender was dragged away.

The 761st Black Panthers “Come Out Fighting”

The 761st Tank Battalion trained for over two years at Camp Claiborne and at Camp Hood, Texas, before it finally received orders for overseas movement on June 9, 1944, only three days after the Allies made the D-Day landings in Normandy. Three months later, the battalion departed New York aboard the British troop transport Esperance Bay, coming ashore in Britain on September 8. Initially assigned to the Ninth Army, it was reassigned on October 2 to General Patton’s Third Army.

According to a widely circulated story, Patton personally asked for the Black Panther Battalion, so-called because of the unit’s shoulder patch showing a black panther and the motto “Come Out Fighting.” Patton reportedly sent a message to the War Department requesting more tanks—the best available. The only tank unit left was made up of Negro troops.

“Who the … asked for color?” Patton shot back. “I asked for tankers.”

Fully armed, the 800-man 761st was equipped with 54 M4 Sherman tanks in three companies and a “mosquito fleet” company consisting of 15 smaller M5 Stuart tanks.

“Tommy Cookers” in France

The medium Sherman main battle tank was the primary U.S. and British weapon when it came to armor. It was equipped with a 75mm main cannon plus two .30-caliber machine guns and heavy .50-caliber machine gun mounted on top of the turret. The nimble Sherman’s emphasis was on speed, mobility, and maneuverability. Powered by a 450 horsepower V-8 gasoline engine, it weighed 35 tons, including its five-man crew, and could reach speeds of nearly 30 miles per hour over a range of 100 to 150 miles.

Although the Sherman was faster, more reliable, and could fire at a faster rate than its enemy counterparts, the German Panther and Tiger tanks commanded greater accuracy and range with their main 75mm and 88mm guns. German armor was thicker, the tanks had wider tracks, and they burned diesel rather than gasoline fuel, which made these tanks less likely to explode and burn when hit. The British nicknamed the Sherman “Ronson” after the American cigarette lighter, which advertisements had claimed, “Lights the first time every time.” The Germans called the Shermans “Tommy Cookers.”

The 761st landed in Normandy on October 20, 1944, and dashed 400 miles across France in six days to catch up with Patton at Nicolas de Port. The Black Panthers were detailed to link up with Maj. Gen. Willard S. Paul’s 26th Infantry Division as the Allies continued to squeeze an iron ring around Germany from every direction. It was a week before the attack on the fortress city of Metz that General Patton delivered his famous pep talk to his newest tankers. As he finished and climbed down from the hood of the armored car, he noticed young Corporal E.G. McConnell standing at attention.

“Listen boy,” Patton growled, “I want you to shoot every damn thing you see—church steeples, water towers, houses, old ladies, children, haystacks. Every damn thing you see. This is war. You hear me, boy?”

Corporal Howard Richardson turned to his company commander, Captain David Williams: “Sir, that old man is crazy as hell,” he said. “Did you see the way his eyes roll around when he talks? That’s no bullshit about him being a hornet. I’m more afraid of him than I be of them Krauts.”

First Casualties of the 761st

The rumored “big offensive” against entrenched German defenses kicked off at dawn on November 8. The 26th Infantry, with Patton’s Panthers attached, would fight in the same sector where it had fought in 1918—on ground south of Chateau-Salins through Moncourt Woods to a hill northwest of Chateau-Salins. Opposing it were the German 11th and 13th Panzer Divisions.

Repeated Allied bombing had cracked the Dieuze Dam, flooding the valley of the Seille River and low-lying areas. The terrain was treacherous, and the area was a thoroughly miserable place for a battle. The duel began with the ear-piercing shriek of a German 88. Artillery explosions walked mushrooms of smoke across the lowlands as the Germans attempted by sheer weight of numbers and ferocity to knock off attacking American infantry and supporting tanks.

Captain Williams’s cheery voice broke onto his company’s radio band, speaking “Harlemese” although he, like most commanding officers at this time, was white: “Now, looky here, ya cats. We gotta hit it down the main drag and hep some of them unheped cats on the other side. So let’s roll on down de Seventh Avenue and knock ‘em, Jack.”

An aid man with a medical detachment in the rear of the formation, rather than a tanker, became the battalion’s first soldier killed in action. Private Clifford Adams was rendering aid to a wounded G.I. when a shell landed almost on top of him. No one expected him to be the battalion’s first casualty.

Other events unfolding in the rear would affect the Black Panther Battalion as profoundly as anything the Germans threw at it on the assault line. While the fury of the opening battle rolled like thunder all along the length of the front line, a small enemy patrol crept through woodland thickets to where Colonel Paul Bates stood on the hood of his Jeep watching the fight. Submachine gun bullets splattered into the Jeep. A slug caught the colonel, knocking him, seriously wounded, to the ground. The commander the Panthers had trusted and depended on, who had developed their pride as a fighting unit, had fallen on the first day of battle.

A tanker called Smitty transported executive officer Major Charles Wingo to the front to assume command. Wingo did not last long. Smitty got out of his tank.

“Where’s Major Wingo?” Corporal E.G. McConnell asked. “He went nuts,” was the response. “He might not be plumb chicken, but he sure got henhouse ways. He gets out and looks down there and starts shaking all over like a stray dog passing razor blades in the rain. He took off in a Jeep to the rear.”

First, the colonel was seriously wounded. Now, the executive officer had deserted his men in combat, leaving the battalion without leadership when the men needed it the most. Although Wingo had not yet seen combat, he was evacuated for “combat fatigue” and never seen again. Lt. Col. Hollis E. Hunt transferred from another battalion to assume command..

The Heroic Sam Turley

In spite of some of the detrimental assessments of black soldiers in combat, the Black Panthers distinguished themselves almost immediately, even though they were not expected to perform as valiantly as white soldiers. During the approach to Morville, Charlie Company’s tanks got bogged down behind a cleverly concealed antitank ditch 15 feet wide, four feet deep, and studded at the bottom with steel spikes. It was snowing heavily, and devastating mortar and artillery fire rained down on the exposed assault force. Buried mines erupted in a broad, deep swath among the American tanks and soldiers. Tracers cracked and wove designs across the white field. A number of tanks were hit in the initial volley of enemy fire. Several blazed brightly.

Tankers abandoned broken mounts and headed toward the rear, helping each other, dragging or carrying wounded. Others scrambled into the freezing muddy water at the bottom of the antitank ditch, which was soon filled with marooned and wounded tankers and infantrymen.

First Sergeant Sam Turley’s tank was one of the first hit. Realizing that the soldiers trapped in the ditch were doomed unless they escaped right away, Turley ran up and down the ditch shouting for soldiers to head uphill toward higher ground where they might find cover. The last anyone saw of Turley, he had jumped out of the ditch to provide covering fire for escaping soldiers. He stood straight and tall behind the ditch, snow swirling around him, ammo belts thrown over his shoulders, a spitting .50-caliber machine gun held close to his hip to absorb its recoil.

Turley continued to shoot until German counterfire ripped into his body. As he crumpled to earth, his finger froze to the trigger, and the gun continued to bang. A direct hit from an 88mm shell killed him outright.

“We Got a Job to do”

Suffering heavy casualties, the men of the 761st drove on toward Metz, rough going against rain, mud, cold, snow, driving sleet, and a determined enemy. Sergeant Ruben Rivers, a farm boy from Oklahoma and now a tank commander, got out of his machine under heavy fire to attach a cable to a section of dragon’s teeth obstacles and pull it out of the way so his platoon could proceed. A day or so later, a mine detonated underneath Rivers’s tank and shredded the flesh of his leg. Medics cleaned and dressed the wound and attempted to administer morphine for pain. Rivers pushed them away and refused to be evacuated.

“Captain, you’re going to need me,” Rivers assured the Able Company commander, Captain David Williams. “We got a job to do.”

Wounded though he was, Rivers led an echelon of tanks that blazed its way into a small village blocking the approach to the important rail and communications center of Guebling.

“Don’t go into that town, Sergeant!” Rivers’s platoon leader radioed. “It’s too hot in there.”

“Sorry, sir,” Rivers responded. “I’m already through that town.”

Rivers lost a second tank the next day. He commandeered another tank and remained in the fight. That night, a medic warned the sergeant that his wounds were getting gangrene. Rivers still refused evacuation.

“Tomorrow’s going to be tough,” he asserted. “Another day won’t make any difference.”

Fighting continued in and around Guebling. By dawn of the third day of battle, Rivers and his crew had destroyed at least two enemy tanks and killed over 300 Germans. Mark IV panzers and several German tank destroyers rumbled out of the fog. “I see them!” Rivers radioed. “I’ll fight them!”

Outnumbered and outgunned, Rivers and Technical Sergeant Walter James darted their two Shermans from cover and fought a delaying action that allowed Americans caught in the open to withdraw and regroup. A shell finally caught Rivers’s tank and cracked it like an egg shell. A second armor-piercing shell finished the job. The tank commander who refused to withdraw was dead.

Rolling Up the Maginot Line

The enemy continued to bitterly contest every inch of ground. Third Army units spearheaded toward the Maginot Line and, beyond that, Germany’s Siegfried Line. Black Panthers learned to live with war and its constant dangers. It was more terrible than anything they could have imagined.

Combat stripped away the everyday business of skin color, religion, and social class. White soldiers and black soldiers lived together, or at least side by side, in a common condition of discomfort and danger. Only in rear areas was race an issue.

After Corporal E.G. McConnell was wounded at Honskirch, he was evacuated to a field hospital where he was the only black man. One day, a major general paid a visit to cheer up the heroic wounded. He paused when he reached McConnell and asked in an attempt at humor, “What’s wrong with you, boy? Got the claps?”

The remark, an echo of an old stereotype pertaining to supposed black promiscuity, cut McConnell like a rapier. He turned his head away and lay there in humiliation. He could hardly wait to get back to the front line. It may have been precisely because of such stereotypes and because of low expectations from white observers that Patton’s Panthers became determined to prove they were warriors equal if not superior to their white comrades in arms.

Allied forces hit the French-built Maginot Line, now garrisoned by German troops, on December 9, 1944, and pushed through the defenses. The 761st rolled onto German soil. Sergeant Willie McCall got out of his tank and looked around. “So this,” he said, spitting contemptuously, “is the home of superman?”

To Relieve Bastogne

At precisely 5:30 am on December 16, 1944, an American sentry in the quiet Ardennes Forest radioed headquarters to report innumerable “pinpoints of light” suddenly flickering all along the German line. The “pinpoints” were the muzzle flashes of hundreds of German artillery pieces. The ensuing roar and concussion of the German guns were the opening shots of Hitler’s desperate Ardennes Offensive, which resulted in the Battle of the Bulge.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, ordered Patton to break off his advance in the Saar and turn northward to relieve the besieged town of Bastogne, which was astride a key crossroads. The 761st, now commanded by Major John F. George, received orders to dash to the Ardennes with the rest of the Third Army. The 761st was assigned to support elements of the 87th Infantry Division in the recapture of the village of Tillet, which was located some 15 miles west of Bastogne and less than three miles from the Marche-Bastogne Highway, a major German supply route.

Fighting along broken roads and trails, the 761st and the 87th plowed through heavy opposition to cover the 25 miles toward Tillet during six days of combat. The Germans fought savagely to hold their ground, exacting a high price in American casualties.

The elite Begleit Brigade of the 13th Panzer Division, whom the Black Panthers had fought earlier in the Saar Basin, waged a grueling defense in the dense pine woods south and east of Tillet. Enemy fortifications were carefully planned and backed by numerous machine gun nests, self-propelled guns, mortars, and armor. Allied tanks, artillery, and infantry tried to take Tillet and end the seesaw battle to win the St. Hubert Road. All had failed, beaten back by stubborn German defenses.

“I Say We Fight it Out”

On the night of January 4, 1945, Captain David Williams of Able Company sent a runner back to Major George with a message that he feared the Germans might have surmised that his men were short of supplies and that they could launch a counterattack. He was not sure that Able Company could hold on if attacked in force. Williams was to have been reinforced by airborne units that had not yet arrived. George responded for Able Company to hold its ground and then to launch an attack of his own to capture Tillet the following morning.

Williams gathered his platoon leaders and noncommissioned officers in a house in the village of Gerimont. “I’m not going to mince words,” he said, looking as tired, ragged, filthy, and unshaved as the other men in the room. “If the Germans attack us, we can’t hold them. I guarantee you that if we resist, they’ll kill us all. I’m the company commander, but I’m going to bow out of this one. This is one decision you guys have got to make. Do you want me to wave my underwear or do you want to fight it out?”

For a long minute no sound came except the low moaning of the winter wind. Finally, Sergeant Walter Lewis slapped his coffee cup on the table and stood up. “We can’t give up, captain,” he said. “It wouldn’t be right. I say we fight it out.”

That broke the tension. Nervous laughter filled the cottage, and the vote was unanimous. “Done!” Captain Williams concluded. “If Walter wants to fight it out, then we’ll fight it out.”

Axis Sally and the “White Man’s War”

To Williams’s relief, the airborne reinforcements arrived overnight, pulling into Gerimont over snow so frozen it cracked and popped under the pressure of the vehicles. The German counterattack failed to materialize. The first action against Tillet was launched at dawn. As tankers crept through early morning fog and snow, Axis Sally jammed American radio transmissions with her propaganda.

“Good morning, Negro soldiers of the 761st,” she crooned. “I am sorry that you will die today in Tillet. Our fight is not with the Negroes in America, and your fight is not with us. Your fellow Negroes are rioting in Cleveland. Your commander, Captain Williams, is leading you to death and destruction. He is white and not one of you. Your battalion commander, Major George, is also white and not one of you. Leave your tanks now and return home to Cleveland where you are needed and you will not be killed.”

Axis Sally played Louis Armstrong’s “I Can’t Bring You Anything But Love, Baby” to accompany Patton’s Panthers into combat. During the fighting, notable for its raw savagery, it was never clear at any moment to the men of the 761st whether they were winning or losing.

“They’ve hit me three times!” tank commander Frank Cochran responded to an inquiry, “but I’m still giving ‘em hell.”

Crusty Captain Charles “Pop” Gates of the 761st personally led a successful 10-tank assault on a German-held hilltop outpost that proved to be the last obstacle to taking the town. Tillet finally fell on January 7, 1945. A German prisoner seemed stunned to see black men in uniform. “What are you doing here?” he asked Sergeant Johnny Holmes in English. “This is a white man’s war.”

Sergeant Holmes offered him a cigarette. “You ain’t got no black or white when you’re over here and the nation is in trouble,” he replied. “You only got Americans.”

Colonel Bates had promised to return after being wounded during the battalion’s first day of combat. He kept that promise and resumed command of the 761st on January 17. The battle-hardened battalion had changed considerably during his absence. Many of the old timers from the days at Camp Claiborne and Camp Hood were gone, some of them dead and many of them wounded. Over 30 percent of the outfit had been replaced since November.

Breaking the Siegfried Line

After the Battle of the Bulge, the Black Panthers received orders to proceed to Saverne, France, and temporarily attach to the Seventh Army to break through the Siegfried Line. That fight began on March 20, 1945, and was a slugfest all the way.

The Germans had placed pillboxes and camouflaged artillery and machine guns in the woods and in the fields on both sides of narrow roads leading to key towns. Sherman tanks confronted the enemy head-on, while soldiers hastily dismounted whenever the columns encountered opposition and moved up through the high ground to root out the enemy infantry.

The important town of Silz occupied a vital crossroads at the bottom of a gradual decline. Charlie and Baker Companies, led by Captain Gates and Captain Johnny Long, were assigned to support infantry in capturing it. Artillery fire touched off a German ammunition dump, which erupted in a spectacular explosion and set the town afire. Flames licked back at the darkness as tanks led the attack, sweeping in so fast that German antitank positions were caught by surprise and captured without firing a single shot.

As Americans stormed into one side of the blazing town, a German column of at least 100 trucks, horse-drawn artillery, and antitank guns fled out the other side. Hitler’s armies were abandoning the Siegfried Line and running for their lives. This was a rare opportunity to trap significant numbers of enemy troops and capture or annihilate them. Blood lust boiled through the veins of the men whose only thought was to pay back those who had been killing and wounding their comrades for months.

The tanks of the 761st caught up with the Germans where the road twisted into a series of S curves, devastating the enemy column. Debris, dead horses, shattered guns, artillery pieces, and vehicles were burning along the road, and dead enemy soldiers littered the scene. Bates ordered tank dozers forward to clear the road.

Crossing the Rhine

As part of Task Force Rhine, the 761st Tank Battalion crossed that great river in March. During the fight to the last great natural barrier on the German frontier, the tankers had destroyed 31 pillboxes, 49 machine gun emplacements, 29 antitank guns, and 11 ammunition trucks. Twenty antitank guns and seven towns had been captured, while 833 Germans had been killed and 3,210 taken prisoner. Five American tanks had been lost, and 300 tons of ammunition had been expended.

On March 30, 1945, the battalion arrived in Langenselbold, Germany. The end of the war seemed in sight. Patton’s Panthers began a drive across the Reichland, cruising the Autobahn, overrunning airfields, and firing on enemy troops hidden along the highway. Refugees were always present, and the gaunt, gray-clad prisoners trudged toward the rear.

Charlie Company of the 761st captured Vehlenstein Castle in Neuhaus, Germany, reinforcing the G.I. belief that the war was nearly over. Hitler’s Luftwaffe chief, Reichsmarshal Hermann Göring, had claimed the castle when the Nazis came to power and stored in it many priceless art objects that had been looted from occupied territories.

It was inevitable that advancing American troops should also begin encountering Nazi concentration camps during their rapid push across Germany in the spring of 1945. Most of the men of the 761st did not know the camps existed until one morning when elements of the battalion drew up before a labor camp surrounded by barbed wire. Stunned tankers climbed out of their vehicles and gazed at sights of unspeakable horror.

On April 28, 1945, Radio Milan announced that Italian Fascist Dictator Benito Mussolini had been executed by communist guerrillas. Two days later, Hitler and his mistress, Eva Braun, committed suicide in their Berlin bunker. The 761st Tank Battalion reached the city of Steyr, Austria, on the banks of the Enns River, on May 5, 1945. Over 100,000 German soldiers, fleeing the advancing Soviet Red Army, surrendered to American troops, who herded them into a large field that had become a makeshift holding facility.

130,000 Axis Casualties

By the end of the war, the 761st Tank Battalion had been in combat for 183 continuous days. During this time, it participated in four major Allied campaigns in six different countries and was attached to three separate American armies and seven different divisions. The Black Panthers had inflicted more than 130,000 casualties on the enemy. Eight black enlisted men received battlefield commissions, while 391 received decorations for heroism, including one Medal of Honor awarded posthumously to Sergeant Ruben Rivers, seven Silver Stars, three of them posthumous, 56 Bronze Stars, and 246 Purple Hearts. Three officers and 31 enlisted men had been killed in action, and 22 officers and 180 enlisted men had been wounded. In 1998, the 761st Tank Battalion received a much delayed Presidential Unit Citation.

On VE Day, tanks of the 761st lined up beside a small bridge along the Enns River. General George S. Patton Jr. stood up in a Jeep, tall and straight. The soldiers of the 761st saluted smartly. The general returned the salute and drove on. The great warrior wore a quiet, satisfied look on his face. He had asked for the best tankers, and he had gotten them.

Charles W. Sasser is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army Special Forces. He resides in Chouteau, Oklahoma.

Originally Published August 16, 2016

This article by Charles W. Sasser first appeared in the Warfare History Network on June 21, 2017.

Image: Crews of U.S. M5 Stuart light tanks from Company D, 761st Tank Battalion, stand by awaiting call to clean out scattered Nazi machine gun nests in Coburg, Germany. 25 April 1945. U.S. Army.

[Author: Warfare History Network] [Category: History]

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[l] at 6/3/20 3:30am

Peter Suciu

Security, Americas

By U.S. Air Force/Denise Boyd - http://www.af.mil/News/Photos.aspx?igphoto=2000439033 (image link), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31500912 How does that work?

The United States Air Force has been experimenting with turning its cargo and transport planes into munitions trucks that could drop bundles of weaponry. This would refine the concept for an “arsenal plane” that could haul huge numbers of munitions into combat, and have the cargo planes work alongside bombers.

Through a partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) successfully released simulated “palletized” munitions from a MC-130J, a multi-mission, combat transport and special operations tanker. The three airdrops were made at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah this past January.

The Phase I operational demonstration munitions were stacked upon wood pallets—Combat Expendable Platforms (CEPs)—which were deployed via a roller system. AFSCO used the MC-130J Commando II since its cargo area supported the release of multiple, relatively large munitions using tried and proven procedures. The drops included five CEPs with six simulated munitions.

These included four Cargo Launch Expendable Air Vehicles with Extended Range (CLEAVERs). These long-range, high precision weapons can destroy enemy targets.

“In the end, the demonstration accomplished all objectives,” said Jerry Provenza, the AFRL CLEAVER program manager. In the three airdrops, all five CEPs separated cleanly from the aircraft, and the munitions separated from the CEPs.

“This successful [demo] is evidence of our commitment to evolve innovative weapons concepts and enhance our partnership with AFSOC to meet the needs of the National Defense Strategy,” added Col. Garry Haase, the director of AFRL’s Munitions Directorate. “CLEAVER represents a different approach to launching large numbers of long-range weapons, which will bring a new dynamic to the high-end fight.”

In future demonstrations, AFSOC will release CLEAVER glider vehicles, powered vehicles, and full-up vehicles with optional warhead and terminal guidance.

The employment of these weapons directly advances the Air Force palletized munitions experimentation effort, an innovative concept in which a multi-engine platform carrying large quantities of network-enabled, semi-autonomous weapons accompanies remotely piloted aircraft and fighter jets in combat missions.

One advantage for making such a transformation is that the Air Force has quite a number of cargo planes available, and it operates some 600 C-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster and C-5 Galaxy cargo planes. The C-130 has been doing its job of hauling men and material around the world for nearly 80 years but likely will remain in service for at least the next decade or longer.

This isn’t the first time that the Air Force has sought to convert a cargo plane into an armed aircraft. During the Vietnam War C-47 and C-130 transports were transformed into gunships, armed with multiple 7.62 mm miniguns that could selectively fire either 50 or 100 rounds per second. The former transport planes were prized for their endurance as these were designed to stay aloft for long periods, while their size allowed them to carry substantial weapon and ordnance loads.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

Image: Wikimedia

[Author: Peter Suciu] [Category: Security]

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[l] at 6/3/20 3:15am

Robert Earle, Jung Park, Karl Schmedders


Governments are all deciding which struggling companies to help out in the COVID-19 pandemic

Governments are all deciding which struggling companies to help out in the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the many looking for help, some have a strange deathly pallor.

This is nothing to do with whether they trade in sectors whose futures look very uncertain – though many do. For years, these companies have been struggling to pay the interest on their large debts, let alone the principal, despite the long period of very low interest rates. Some were on their way to failure. The buoyant economy before coronavirus kept them just about stumbling along.

There are many of these zombies in our midst, and whatever public money they receive means less available for firms that were healthy before the pandemic. Morgan Stanley estimates that as many as 16% of US companies are zombies, while there are plenty in Asia and Europe too.

Bad medicine

Various countries have given financial aid to the private sector in recent months, including extending credit and grants to companies. More aid is likely on the way. As more and more companies run into trouble, governments will have to decide when and how to step in.

Even in better times during the last three years, US bankruptcies averaged 23,000 firms per year. Some of them may have failed because of zombie firms, since research suggests they crowd out credit from other candidates even in the best of times

In normal circumstances, however, business failures are actually good for society – tragic as they are for business owners and their employees. The victims are able to take risks and try new things, without which there can’t be progress. This “creative destruction”, as the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter described it, is a necessary part of capitalism. Governments and central bankers rightly fight the effects of recessions on citizens – this year’s cash payments to American workers would be an example – but recessions are often necessary corrections to over-exuberance in business.

So while the pandemic is very unusual, in one sense we must view it like any recession. For this reason, governments don’t need to worry about the business failure rate but about the excess failure rate – for example, US bankruptcies hit around 60,000 firms in 2010, so that may be a useful yardstick this time around.

Zombie handling

The US government, among others, has left itself open to propping up zombies by offering emergency relief to all struggling businesses, regardless of their financial picture before the pandemic. The rush of American small businesses to access funding illustrates how quickly money can move in the wrong direction. It demonstrates the need to think out the rules carefully in advance.

It would have been smarter to focus on mechanisms that choose between struggling businesses. Whereas under the emergency relief programme, banks lend to any business knowing the government will cover the debts, one option for the future is to just to stimulate bank lending and let banks choose who to lend to. This way they have skin in the game and the weak can be allowed to fail.

Another option would be to let vulnerable companies work themselves out in the normal bankruptcy reorganisation process (Chapter 11 in the US, administration in the UK). For example, the biggest US airlines spent almost all their free cash flow on share buybacks over the last decade, sometimes going heavily into debt to do so. This benefited their shareholders and bondholders, so it’s appropriate that they take the hits. Once a company has been reorganised, government aid could then be made available to prop up the “good” parts that remain.

Some will argue that certain firms are too big to fail. Japan resisted letting their big companies die in the “lost decade” of the 1990s, but when it did the economy improved. South Korea had a similar experience with Daewoo.

Some have tried to make the same argument about Virgin Atlantic being too big to fail today. A look at the financials suggests the UK government was likely correct to initially reject its request for £500 million in state aid, especially as Virgin had not tried to seek investments from other sources.

The airline lost money in 2017 and 2019 and warned a year ago that it would not make a profit for at least another two years because of Brexit and high fuel costs. Owner Richard Branson is now trying to put together private funding of around £450 million on the basis that he can then reapply for government assistance. He shouldn’t be given that assistance. In any case, it may be unnecessary if he sells some of his other business interests.

One country that has some protection against zombie firms is Germany. Before a company can receive funding from state-owned German bank KfW, the authorities must be satisfied that it was in solid shape before the crisis. This could be a useful model for other countries.

In short, the best way to help the economy is either to let zombie companies resurrect themselves through the bankruptcy process or just return to the grave. Yes, there will be economic pain if these companies fail – including job losses. But rather than providing government aid to these zombies, it might be better directed at their former employees. For example, the Swiss government is putting more money into unemployment insurance. Feeding zombies will just make the recovery longer and slower, crowding out more worthy enterprises and wasting resources.

Robert Earle , Lecturer in Management, University of Zürich

Jung Park, Research Fellow in Data Science, International Institute for Management Development (IMD)

Karl Schmedders , Professor of Finance, International Institute for Management Development (IMD)

 This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters

[Author: Robert Earle, Jung Park, Karl Schmedders] [Category: economy]

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[l] at 6/3/20 3:00am

Peter Suciu

Security, Americas

https://www.reutersconnect.com/all?id=tag%3Areuters.com%2C2011%3Anewsml_GM1E77C0L1J01&share=true Here's what we mean.

As The National Interest previously reported, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been working with industry to develop distributed, secure and trusted-computing for heterogeneous swarms of autonomous vehicles—namely drones.

These could be deployed in swarms to overwhelm an enemy and thus have earned the apt anagram AFADS for Armed, Fully-Autonomous Drone Swarm. These would have the ability to locate, identify and even attack targets without human interaction. Advances in computer power, processing speed and AI are rapidly changing the scope of what these platforms are able to perform without needing human intervention.

The U.S. Army isn’t alone in developing weapons that would rely on swarm tactics, as the U.S. Navy has also begun to develop ways that autonomous platforms could engage an enemy with swarming attacks, but now the question is being asked whether drone swarms are actually a type of WMD?

Freelance researcher and analyst Zachery Kallenborn, who specializes in chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons, CBRN terrorism, drone swarms, and emerging technologies, published a paper “Are Drone Swarms Weapons of Mass Destructions?” that asked that question.

The paper was prepared for the United States Air Force Center for Strategic Deterrence Studies, and it addressed what exactly is a WMD.

There are at least 20 definitions, used by the United States government alone and these include six categories: nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons; chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) weapons; CRBN and high-explosive (CBRNE) weapons; and CBRN that cause massive destruction or kill large numbers of people. Also included as WMD are weapons that cause massive destruction or kill larger numbers of people, which does not necessarily include or exclude CBRN weapons. Finally, there are also WMDs or similar effects, potentially including CBRNE weapons and other means of causing massive disruption such as a cyberattack.

Kallenborn explained, “WMD can be considered distinct from conventional weapons based on their degree of harm, morality, and method of action. WMD are literally ‘weapons of mass destruction.’ They can cause significantly more harm than traditional weapons.”

He added that while swarms could serve as strategic deterrent weapons, the availability of other defenses make them less ideal for this role, especially compared to nuclear weapons. In that regard, the swarm drones are more of an offensive weapon. Ominously, this could include a scenario where, “particularly nefarious states may be drawn to drone swarms and AFADS as genocidal weapons.”

Other potential dangers addressed include the ability for drone swarms to strike commercial aircraft when launched by terrorists from outside an airport, thus lowering the operational risk because the attack could avoid a security checkpoint.

Fortunately, there are already defenses to counter such attacks. This could include low cost-per-shot weapons such as lasers, rail guns and even conventional machine guns that could target swarms of drones. High-powered microwaves could also be used to disrupt or destroy the electronics within the drones, suggested Kallenborn, and he added that swarms could be used to defeat other swarms.

The Pentagon has already pondered that option, and the Army is reportedly already developing a counter-drone kill chain. While small it is easy to see how swarms of drones could indeed be weapons of mass destruction.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

Image: Reuters

[Author: Peter Suciu] [Category: Security]

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[l] at 6/3/20 2:30am

Warfare History Network

History, Americas

Postcard of the concrete ship Atlantus, Cape May Point, N.J. Circa 1930-1945. Boston Public Library/Tichnor Brothers. When the United States finally entered World War I in 1917, steel became scarce, and at the same time the demand for ships increased. With the advent of World War II, steel was once again in short supply.

It is a fact that war has sparked some amazing innovations. It has at the same time spawned incredible desperation. The attempt by the U.S. Navy in both world wars to construct seagoing vessels made of concrete would seem to be a combination of the two at first glance.

A hulking gray stone façade lay for years in the surf off Sunset Beach at Cape May, New Jersey. It appeared to be the skeletal remains of some strange vessel with the bow protruding upright from the water. The waves lapped its ghostly shape as if it was always intended to be a forlorn breakwater. This was the remnant of the SS Atlantus, a relic from one of the strangest programs the U.S. Navy has ever undertaken.

Concrete ships were not unheard of prior the Atlantus and her World War I-era contemporaries. The oldest known concrete ship was a dinghy built by Joseph Louis Lambot in southern France in 1848. The boat was featured at the 1855 World’s Fair. In the 1890s, an Italian engineer named Carlo Gabellini built barges and small ships out of concrete. Numerous small concrete boats were built in the England in the first decade of the 20th century, and one of these ships, the Violette, built in 1917, is now a boating clubhouse on the Medway River. This makes her the oldest concrete ship still afloat.

A Shortage of Steel

When the United States finally entered World War I in 1917, steel became scarce, and at the same time the demand for ships increased. The U.S. government invited a Norwegian named N.K. Fougner to head a study into the feasibility of building ships made of ferro-concrete, or concrete reinforced with steel bars. In August 1917, Founger had successfully launched the first cement ship, the 84-foot Namsenfjord, and the United States wanted to see what he could do to expand its fleet using inexpensive alternative materials.

Based on the study, President Woodrow Wilson approved the Emergency Fleet program, which commissioned the construction of 24 concrete ships for the war effort. The ships would be used for transport purposes, mainly as steamers or oil tankers.

Meanwhile, a businessman named William Leslie Comyn took the initiative and formed the San Francisco Ship Building Company to begin constructing the newly authorized vessels. The first American concrete ship, a steamer named the SS Faith, was launched in March 1918 and cost $750,000 to build. By the time the war ended eight months later, construction had begun on only half the fleet at a cost of $50 million, and none of the concrete ships had actually been completed. Several companies had joined the effort by this time, including the Liberty Ship Building Company based in Wilmington, North Carolina. Eventually, a dozen ships were completed and sold to private companies which used them for commerce, storage, and scrap.

What became of the World War I fleet was almost as intriguing and bizarre as the concept of concrete ships itself. The SS Atlantus was a steamer eventually purchased for use as a ferry landing. During construction of the landing, the Atlantus broke free from its moorings in a storm and grounded on the beach in Cape May where it remained for decades. The SS Cape Fear was another steamer. It collided with a cargo ship in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, shattered and sank, killing 19 crewmen. The SS Palo Alto was an oil tanker that was turned into a dance club and restaurant at Seacliff Beach, California, and is now a fishing pier.

Another tanker, the SS San Pasqual, was damaged in a storm in 1921 and eventually purchased by a Cuban company in 1924. It was run aground off Cuba in 1933 and used for a time as a prison. Later outfitted with machine guns and cannon in World War II, it was used as a lookout post for German submarines. Today, it is a 10-room hotel accessible by boat from mainland Cuba. The SS Sapona was a steamer sold for scrap but then converted into a floating liquor warehouse during Prohibition by a rum runner from the Bahamas. She was grounded off the shore of Bimini during a hurricane, and all the liquor inventory was lost.

A number of the ships were sunk as breakwaters or converted to floating oil barges in Texas and Louisiana. The SS Peralta was an oil tanker turned into a fish cannery and finally a floating breakwater in British Columbia, Canada. She is the last of the World War I fleet still afloat. The first concrete ship, the SS Faith, was used to carry cargo for trade until 1921, when she was sold and scrapped as a breakwater, also in Cuba.

Reviving the Concrete Fleet

With the advent of World War II, steel was once again in short supply. In 1942, the U.S. government decided to revisit the experiment with concrete ships, and the United States Maritime Commission contracted McCloskey & Company of Philadelphia to construct a new fleet, again to total two dozen ships. Thirty years of improvements in concrete would make this new fleet lighter and stronger. Construction started in July 1943, and the ships were built at an amazing rate with one being launched every month. They were appropriately enough named after pioneers in the science and development of concrete, including a Roman engineer named Vitruvius Pollio who lived in the first century bc.

Two of these ships did see combat service.  In March 1944, the SS David O. Saylor and the SS Vitruvius set sail from Baltimore for Liverpool, England, to join the fleet preparing for the D-Day invasion. An American merchant mariner named Richard Powers was on the maiden voyage of the Vitruvius. He was offered a return voyage aboard the luxury liner Queen Mary in exchange for helping to sail Vitruvius to England.

Powers went to the docks in Baltimore where the Vitruvius was moored. He said the ship was unlike anything he had ever seen. Upon boarding the vessel, Powers noticed it was made of concrete and he became concerned as to whether it would get him and his shipmates across the Atlantic. He said he felt better once he realized the ship’s hold was being filled with lumber.

“We left Baltimore on March 5, and met our convoy just outside Charleston, South Carolina,” Powers recalled. “It wasn’t a pretty sight: 15 old ‘rustpots.’ There were World War I-era ‘Hog Islanders’ (named for the Hog Island shipyard in Philadelphia where these cargo and transport ships were built), damaged Liberty Ships.”

A Panamanian ship built in 1901, and the other concrete ship, the David O. Saylor, were also part of the group. Powers said the motley fleet looked like a floating junkyard. The ragtag flotilla made the crossing to Liverpool in 33 days without incident.

Powers reckoned, “The U-Boats were not stupid enough to waste their torpedoes on us.”

“It was the 4th of July Multiplied Tenfold”

Once the Vitruvius docked, it was the subject of great curiosity, with many of the locals coming to the port to see it. Powers recalled that one old gentleman tapped the hull with his cane to make sure it was actually made of concrete as he could not believe it. One day, Army engineers came aboard with several cases of dynamite and set up charges in the holds. Vitruvius rendezvoused at Portsmouth with other ships destined to be blockships sunk as part of the artificial Mulberry harbors to form a breakwater and landing piers off the coast of France in support of the D-Day landing.

On June 1, 1944, the ship again headed out to sea. About two days into the voyage, the captain called all hands on deck and read a letter from General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied commander in Europe, telling the crew they would be making history by participating in the invasion of Normandy.

One thousand American merchant mariners were among the crews of the blockships. There were nearly 100 American and British freighters, from ancient tramps to comparatively new Liberty ships, making their way into the choppy English Channel at a snail’s pace of five knots. A low-flying German reconnaissance plane, U-boat, or E-boat would have been quite curious about the mission of these ships as almost every one of them bore obvious defects. Some had gaping torpedo holes in their sides, while the structures of others were mangled from collisions or mine explosions. But they limped along with an even more puzzling heavy naval escort of planes and destroyers, their mission and purpose surely a mystery to any observer. All the while they had their antiaircraft guns manned around the clock against attack. Perhaps their benign appearance served them well. Crossing the Channel on D-Day brought no harm to the Vitruvius and her companion vessels that were soon destined for a watery grave. The Army had stationed armed troops on board, but their services were not needed.

D-Day was cloudy, and the Luftwaffe had surrendered air supremacy over the Channel.  Occasionally, a German plane would make a flyover and every ship would open fire with its antiaircraft armament.

Powers mused, “It was the 4th of July multiplied tenfold.”

The panorama that presented itself to the crews of the blockships off the coast of France was awe inspiring to Powers and his shipmates —battleships with heavy guns blasting the shoreline, destroyers, destroyer escorts, and every kind of landing craft imaginable. Those aboard the blockships had a bird’s-eye view of the landing craft heading for shore, the fighting on the beach, and the bodies floating in the water. Powers was glad to be on a ship even if it was made of concrete.

On D-Day + 1, the crew tried to maneuver Vitruvius to its assigned position, but German artillery prevented them from doing do. They tried again on day three with the same result. Finally, on D-Day + 4 the ship got into position and the crew was offloaded to an LCI (Landing Craft, Infantry). After several attempts, engineers set off the dynamite that sank the Vitruvius in the shallow water off Normandy, leaving about half the ship still visible above the waterline.

By the end of D-Day + 1, a total of 89 ships of this fleet of merchant has-beens had carried out one of the most difficult and dangerous operations of the Normandy invasion. The remainder of the fleet, including Vitruvius, did follow shortly thereafter. The concrete ships had been sunk a mere 1,000 yards off the beaches that comprised the hottest combat zones of the invasion. Their upper decks formed a steel breakwater, calmed the waves and swells, and allowed the thousands of smaller landing craft to hit the beaches safely to deliver soldiers and war matériel.

The End of the Concrete Ships

The crews were ferried to a troopship that took them back across the Channel to Bourne-mouth, England. By then the merchant mariners were hungry due to the extra time it had taken to sink the ships. They had actually run out of food aboard the Vitruvius and many of her sister blockships. The British fed the crews a meal of cabbage, boiled potatoes, and hard rolls, and Powers said they were grateful for it.

Thousands of Merchant Marine vessels supported the invasion by ferrying troops and supplies to the invasion beaches, but perhaps no other ships performed so unique and critical mission, intentionally designed end in their sinking. Military engineers saw no other way to form the critical breakwaters rapidly, and the lumbering hulks led by two of the concrete fleet filled the bill admirably.

True to the promise, all the blockship crews were put on the Queen Mary except for five who volunteered to stay in Liverpool as replacements for seamen killed or wounded. Richard Powers was among the volunteers, so after his epic ordeal he missed his chance to sail on the Queen Mary.

The fate of the remaining World War II concrete fleet was not as unique or entertaining as their predecessors of World War I. Nine were sunk as breakwaters for a ferry landing in Virginia, two are now wharves in Oregon, and seven are still afloat as part of a breakwater on the Powell River in Canada. The World War II fleet ended America’s experiment with concrete ships, one of the most unusual naval projects in history.

This article by randt Heatherington first appeared in the Warfare History Network on November 1, 2016.

Image: Postcard of the concrete ship Atlantus, Cape May Point, N.J. Circa 1930-1945. Boston Public Library/Tichnor Brothers.

[Author: Warfare History Network] [Category: History]

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[l] at 6/3/20 2:00am

Thomas Stanton, Kieran Phelan


Natural fabrics could be as bad for the environment as their synthetic counterparts.

We have all become more aware of the environmental impact of our clothing choices. The fashion industry has seen a rise in “green”, “eco” and “sustainable” clothing. This includes an increase in the use of natural fibres, such as wool, hemp, and cotton, as synthetic fabrics, like polyester, acrylic and nylon, have been vilified by some.

However, the push to go “natural” obscures a more complex picture.

Natural fibres in fashion garments are products of multiple transformation processes, most of which are reliant on intensive manufacturing as well as advanced chemical manipulation.

While they are presumed to biodegrade, the extent to which they do has been contested by a handful of studies. Natural fibres can be preserved over centuries and even millennia in certain environments. Where fibres are found to degrade they may release chemicals, for example from dyes, into the environment.

When they have been found in environmental samples, natural textile fibres are often present in comparable concentrations than their plastic alternatives. Yet, very little is known of their environmental impact.

Therefore, until they do biodegrade, natural fibres will present the same physical threat as plastic fibres. And, unlike plastic fibres, the interactions between natural fibres and common chemical pollutants and pathogens are not fully understood.

Fashion’s environmental footprint

It is within this scientific context that fashion’s marketing of alternative fibre use is problematic. However well-intentioned, moves to find alternatives to plastic fibres pose real risks of exacerbating the unknown environmental impacts of non-plastic particles.

To assert that all these problems can be resolved by buying “natural” simplifies the environmental crisis we face. To promote different fibre use without fully understanding its environmental ramifications suggests a disingenuous engagement with environmental action. It incites “superficial green” purchasing that exploits a culture of plastic anxiety. Their message is clear: buy differently, buy “better”, but don’t stop buying.

Yet the “better” and “alternative” fashion products are not without complex social and environmental injustices. Cotton, for example, is widely grown in countries with little legislation protecting the environment and human health.

The drying up of the Aral Sea in central Asia, formally the fourth largest lake in the world, is associated with the irrigation of cotton fields that dry up the rivers that feed it. This has decimated biodiversity and devastated the region’s fishing industry. The processing of natural fibres into garments is also a major source of chemical pollution, where factory wastewaters are discharged into freshwater systems, often with little or no treatment.

Organic cotton and Woolmark wool are perhaps the most well known natural fabrics being used. Their certified fibres represent a welcomed material change, introducing to the marketplace new fibres that have codified, improved production standards. However, they still contribute fibrous particles into the environment over their lifetime.

More generally, fashion’s systemic low pay, deadly working conditions, and extreme environmental degradation demonstrate that too often our affordable fashion purchases come at a higher price to somebody and somewhere.

Slow down fast fashion

It is clear then that a radical change to our purchasing habits is required to address fashion’s environmental crisis. A crisis that is not defined by plastic pollution alone.

We must reassess and change our attitudes towards our clothing and reform the whole lifecycle of our garments. This means making differently, buying less and buying second hand. It also means owning for longer, repurposing, remaking and mending.

Fashion’s role in the plastic pollution problem has contributed to emotive headlines, in which purchasing plastic-fibred clothing has become highly moralised. In buying plastic-fibred garments, consumers are framed complicit in poisoning the oceans and food supply. These limited discourses shift accountability onto the consumer to “buy natural”. However, they do little to equally challenge the environmental and social ills of these natural fibres and the retailers’ responsibilities to the

The increased availability of these “natural” fashion products therefore fails to fundamentally challenge the industry’s most polluting logic – fast, continual consumption and speedy routine discard. This only entrenches a purchasable, commodified form of environmental action – “buying natural”. It stops the more fundamental reassessment of fast fashion’s “business as usual”, that we must slow.

Thomas Stanton , PhD researcher in the Geography and Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, University of Nottingham

Kieran Phelan , PhD Researcher in economic geography, University of Nottingham

 This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters

[Author: Thomas Stanton, Kieran Phelan] [Category: Environment]

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[l] at 6/3/20 1:45am

Warfare History Network

History, Americas

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, center left, lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as Army Maj. Gen. Bradley A. Becker looks on at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., March 11, 2016. U.S. Department of Defense/Marvin Lynchard The grim but necessary task of caring the the war dead was the responsibility of the Army’s graves registration units.

The very nature of war means that some participants will be killed and others will be wounded. While battlefield medics and the surgical teams who care for the wounded have been hailed as unsung heroes, and books and articles have been written about them, very little has been said about the men of the U.S. Army Quartermaster Branch’s Graves Registration units.

Since the dawn of warfare, the problem of what to do with dead bodies littering a battlefield has been an uncomfortable question for commanders. While it is unpleasant to think about violent death and the decomposition process, it is a reality that must be faced by all who go to war—and their families.

Ancient armies simply stripped the dead of their armor and weapons and allowed the natural processes to reclaim the physical remains; graves and tombs were, for the most part, reserved for kings, emperors, generals, and the wealthy nobility. As the common ancient soldier usually carried no means of identification, burial, if there was burial, was in a shallow, common mass grave. At other times, bodies might be piled up and a funeral pyre lit.

Accounts have been written by soldiers at Waterloo, Gettysburg, and the Somme describing the unforgettable stench of hundreds of decomposing corpses on the battlefield; the liberators of Nazi concentration camps, too, have vividly written about the overwhelming, permeating, sickly-sweet stench of mass death, so disposing of the dead has become a priority. 

As the centuries passed, what to do with the remains of dead soldiers became more formalized. For those killed on foreign battlefields, a more-or-less swift burial was the norm; bringing the dead home for burial, a process that could take weeks before the advent of airplanes, was not an option.

Also, before the introduction of M1940 identification tags, the so-called “dog tags” of World War II, and the more recent science of DNA, being able to identify a particular dead soldier was a haphazard affair. Before going into battle, Civil War soldiers sometimes wrote their names and the names of their next of kin on a scrap of paper that they put in a pocket or pinned to their uniforms.

In his book, Soldier Dead: How We Recover, Identify, Bury, and Honor Our Military Fallen, author Michael Sledge writes, “Only those closest to the dead and to the combat situation will make the choice to risk bringing back the bodies of the dead, as it is an intensely personal decision.”

For the American military, the past century has put more emphasis on retrieving the bodies of the fallen, even when retrieving the fallen puts others at risk. And who can forget the scene in The Longest Day, when John Wayne, playing battalion commander Lt. Col. Ben Vandervoort, looks up at his dead paratroopers hanging from trees at Ste. Mere Eglise and orders, “Down! Get them down!”

During World War II, Graves Registration Service (GRS) teams were deployed to land shortly after the first wave of amphibious troops hit the beaches to remove the dead from view, as it was felt that subsequent reinforcements, for morale purposes, should be spared the sight of dead comrades. Except for perhaps a few soldiers who had previously been employed in a morgue or funeral home, the handling of corpses, especially of those who had died a bloody and violent death, was a new and unpleasant assignment for GRS troops.

Blosville Cemetery in Normandy

During the Normandy invasion, Sergeant Elbert E. Legg, a member of the 4th Platoon, 603rd Quartermaster Graves Registration Company, attached to the U.S. VII Corps, volunteered to arrive in one of the 82nd Airborne Division gliders at Landing Zone “W” on D-Day to quickly establish a Graves Registration collection point because, as he said, “The schedule called for the Graves Registration unit and its vehicles to arrive on the beach about D+3. This would be too long for mass casualties to go unprocessed on the battlefield. Estimates of battle dead for establishing the beachhead ran as high as 10,000 American soldiers.”

After coming in by glider on the afternoon of June 6, 1944, Legg set up a temporary cemetery in a pasture bordered by hedgerows. He recalled that the first temporary cemetery was established near the village of Blosville, about three miles south of Ste. Mere Eglise, “an area with crashed gliders strewn everywhere and hundreds of parachutes hanging from hedges, trees, and houses.” The Blosville Cemetery was one of six American cemeteries established in a radius of about 20 miles.

At the outset, Legg noted, the Blosville Cemetery was intended to be temporary and primarily serve the 82nd Airborne Division. Shortly thereafter, jeeps began arriving with dead soldiers; the drivers stood back, not wanting to become involved. Legg, too, recalled his initial squeamishness: “For the first time in my life, I touched a dead man. I grabbed the leg of one of the bodies and it rolled onto the ground. As I struggled, the drivers gave in and assisted me with the remainder of the bodies. There were now 14 dead lying in a row and more loaded vehicles were driving into the field.”

Recruiting Labor For the Task

A Lieutenant Fraim, the Graves Registration officer for the 82nd, introduced himself to Legg and told him to establish a temporary cemetery in the area while he went into Blosville to draft volunteer civilian labor to dig the graves. Legg said, “When asked how he would pay the workers, he displayed a musette bag full of invasion French francs intended for that purpose.”

Legg returned to the pasture and stuck his heel in the ground. “This would be the upper left corner of the first grave. I found an empty K-ration carton and split it into wooden stakes. I paced off the graves in rows of 20 and marked them with the stakes. I had no transit, tape measure, shovels, picks, or any other equipment needed to establish a properly laid out cemetery. I also lacked burial bags [mattress covers], grave registration forms, and personal effects bags. The situation rapidly exceeded what had originally been planned for the one-man Graves Registration unit, and this was still the first day.

“Lieutenant Fraim returned and said he had arranged for about 35 Frenchmen to start digging graves the next morning. By this time about 50 bodies awaited burial. I found an abandoned foxhole in the middle of an orchard and set up housekeeping. Sleep came easily as the fatigue of the day’s events had begun to take its toll.”

The next morning Legg saw a column of Frenchmen coming his way down the road, “carrying a mixture of picks and shovels and lunch pails. All the men were very old or crippled in some way. It took little time to assign them to digging graves. There was little conversation since I spoke no French and they spoke no English. The long row of bodies and marking stakes made it apparent what was to be done.” All 50 bodies were buried that day, with more arriving all the time.

“About 1600 hours on D+1, Lieutenant Fraim came by to inform me that I should stop work and move with the other troops located around Les Forges crossroads to a safer location. The Frenchmen were paid and instructed to return when they again saw activity around the cemetery. All graves were closed and a military chaplain came to conduct an all-faith burial service. I … headed for a group of vehicles forming near the crossroads.”

Processing Hundreds of Bodies

The next day Legg returned to the cemetery near Blosville where he found the French labor detail waiting to be told what to do. He said, “During the previous night, a sharp firefight had taken place around the crossroads and apple orchard area. Battle debris was everywhere, including German helmets, weapons, and gas masks. The cemetery area had not been disturbed. This was D+2 and the bodies were piling up, including about 25 enemy dead. Lieutenant Fraim arrived in mid-afternoon and said he would look for more laborers for the next day. He indicated he would also check to see if he could get German prisoners-of-war to assist with the digging.

“A few more bodies were interred on D+2, and several more rows of graves were marked off. The laborers were encouraged to return early the next day and to bring their friends. Before they left, I had them dig a slit trench near the hedgerow at the corner of the cemetery. This was covered by a tent shelter-half and would serve as my home for Graves Registration activities during the coming days.”

Over the course of the next week, Legg was extremely busy. By D+3, he said, “Bodies above ground now numbered in the hundreds, with about half being German. About 70 Frenchmen arrived and dug over a hundred graves. I was pressed to do even rudimentary processing of the bodies.”

At the Blosville Cemetery, a Quartermaster Service Platoon with vehicles, pick axes, and shovels arrived. “About 150 German prisoners of war also arrived and were assigned digging duties,” Legg said. “Activity was picking up. The big limitation was processing bodies to insure proper identification and security of personal effects. A second plot of 200 gravesites was marked off to provide work space for all the diggers. French laborers were now handling and moving all bodies.

“This level of activity continued until D+7 when a portion of my unit, the 4th Platoon, 603rd Quartermaster Graves Registration Company, arrived and took over the operation of the cemetery. They found much of the work had to be done over, including relocation of all bodies. About 350 Americans and 100 Germans were underground by this time. Several hundred Germans awaited burial, but the backlog of American dead was less than 100.”

6,000 Graves

Legg noted that weapons, ammunition, and equipment that had once belonged to the deceased were piling up at the cemetery. “Most bodies arrived fully clothed and with web gear,” he recalled. “Some had gas masks and small-arms weapons, and nearly all had some sort of ammunition and rations. All usable government equipment was taken from the bodies. Initially, all government-issue equipment was thrown into a big pile and made available to anyone who wanted it. When the 4th Platoon arrived to take over the cemetery, personnel were assigned to sort the equipment and secure the ammunition. The French laborers watched longingly as most American bodies were buried with their jump boots. Later they were allowed to take the heavy leather boots from some of the German dead.”

By the time Operation Cobra, the St. Lô breakout, took place and Allied forces moved east into central France, this cemetery contained over 6,000 Allied graves. They were later disinterred and reburied at the huge American Military Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, atop the bluff overlooking Omaha Beach. Today a small monument at the Les Forges crossroads marks the location of the Blosville Cemetery.

Recovering the Dead

As procedures for collecting the combat dead evolved, it became the responsibility, whenever possible, of the frontline infantry and/or medics to retrieve their fallen comrades and evacuate them through battalion and regimental areas to the division collection point, where GRS men were standing by for the next step in the processing operation; in some cases, it was GRS personnel who were also tasked with the retrieval.

Retrieving battlefield remains proved to be extremely problematic in some theaters of operation. A Quartermaster Branch report noted that problems of Graves Registration services in the Pacific area were more complex than in Europe due to the extended area over which fighting took place. “In New Guinea, for example,” the report said, “consolidation of cemeteries has become necessary, due to the fact that group burials took place at widely scattered points and temporary battlefield cemeteries were established close to the actual combat area. Isolated graves were marked with improvised crosses fifteen feet high in order to permit future identification.

“The nature of the country in New Guinea, however, has proven an obstacle to search teams. Isolated graves are sometimes located far in the mountainous interior, and overland transportation, confined to native trails, is slow and difficult. Some New Guinea natives refuse to disinter bodies, and this means that at times the actual digging must be done by limited Graves Registration personnel. The task of locating isolated graves is sometimes complicated by the rapid growth of vegetation, the tall kunsi grass in some areas, and the dense jungle undergrowth in others.

“Confronting Graves Registration Service units in New Guinea is also the arduous task of recovering bodies from air crashes. Expeditions have been sent out from all bases to locate crashed aircraft and transport the bodies back for burial in military cemeteries. These expeditions into the densely forested, mountainous interior of the country sometimes cover great distances and must be accomplished on foot with the aid of native carriers. Steep native trails winding over mountain peaks are the only means of access to this country, parts of which have seldom been traversed by white men.”

Retracing the Bataan Death March

Even after the fighting was long concluded, challenges remained. According to the Quartermaster Corps’ official history of the Graves Registration Service, in May 1945 the Army’s 601st Graves Registration Company undertook its most difficult assignment when it began retracing the route of the infamous Bataan Death March to recover and identify the remains of Americans who died during that journey.

From Mariveles, a town at the southern tip of Bataan, Highway No. 3 stretches northward through the towns of Balanga, Orani, and Bacolor, and runs 120 miles north to the town of San Fernando, where the six-day march ended. All along this route lay the bodies of Americans, English, Dutch, and Filipinos, unclaimed and unidentified after nearly four years of war. With the capitulation of the Japanese on Bataan early in the spring of 1945, the Army set to work to track down all information that might lead to the identification and proper burial of the remains of Bataan’s heroic defenders.

Army officials decided that the task might be simplified if an actual participant of the Death March could be found, a man who knew the route, the names of some of the victims, and the places where men had fallen. The only person still in the Philippines at that time who had participated in the march was Master Sergeant Abie Abraham, released from Cabanatuan Prison by the 6th Rangers in January. At the personal request of General Douglas MacArthur, Abraham, a 19-year Army veteran, consented to help the 601st in its efforts.

The problems faced by the Army were many. There were no official Army records of either the men on the march or the men who had died at the hands of the Japanese. Men of the 601st had no idea what three years of tropic rains and rapid growth of vegetation could do to hastily-dug graves. Also, there remained the greatest problem of all—proper identification of bodies.

Identifying a Fallen Soldier

Because of the lack of official information, Graves Registration officials turned to Filipino civilians for aid. The first platoon of the 601st, under the command of Lieutenant Manuel Nieves, contacted civilians in the town of Balanga, about halfway up from Mariveles, the starting point. Public officials of the town were asked to announce to the townspeople that any information they might possess would be of great value. At Sunday church services priests asked their congregations for cooperation.

A public meeting was held in the square of Balanga, and Sergeant Abraham was introduced as a survivor of the Death March. He told of seeing some of his comrades die when the weary, tortured marchers reached the town, and questioned the natives as to the disposition of the bodies.

At this point, Mario Bugay, a resident of the barrio, said that he had seen a burial take place near his home. Upon questioning it was learned that the man had not died on the march itself but had been killed a few months later while on a work detail in Balanga.

Bugay was asked how the man buried there was killed. “He was very weak at that time,” Bugay replied. “The Japanese called for him but he could not move, so the guard clubbed him to death. He was buried by his comrades.”

Bugay went on to describe the man as   about 5 feet 11 inches tall, quite thin and pale. Another Filipino, Alfredo Pardillo, stated that he knew the name of the American soldier from an epitaph on the grave. Questioned as to how he could remember the name for such a long period of time, Pardillo answered, “I can remember the name, sir, because I have read it here during unforgettable times.”

When the body was found and disinterred, evidence of a fracture on the left side of the skull was discovered, substantiating Bugay’s story. It was also possible to make a dental chart to establish identity by checking against War Department files.

Conflicting Witnesses

Unfortunately, not all recoveries were so easily accomplished. Six months after the job was started, very few bodies had been positively identified.

In all towns where meetings were held, Sergeant Abraham was introduced and did his best to search the natives’ fading memories for information. At first the Filipinos were reluctant to assemble, remembering the meetings held by the Japanese at which machine guns and rifle butts exercised persuasion. American understanding and kindness soon won their confidence, however, and the numbers of volunteers gradually increased.

As the weeks went by and clues began to lead to conclusions, it became apparent that, although many individual graves and common graves amounting to small cemeteries could be found, this was merely the beginning of the process. Many more complicating factors arose. In some cases, after the passage of the Death March, entire towns were driven into the hills by the Japanese and in the void that was left no one remained to care for the dead. Swollen streams and tropical rains washed away many of the shallow, makeshift graves and, in some instances, scavenger animals had taken their toll.

Although fearing detection and retribution by the Japanese, brave Filipinos sometimes carried bodies hundreds of yards from the road, burying them in swampy land or rice paddies, and causing conflicting stories to arise. Witnesses to any event will always have slightly different versions, and in this case varying evidence on the location of graves had to be taken into account and investigated.

“Approaching San Fernando, Casualties Were Naturally the Heaviest”

The Filipinos’ love for trinkets became another barrier to success. From many talks with the natives along the route, it was evident that they had come into possession of many souvenirs, such as officers’ bars, NCO stripes, unit insignia, and identification tags. These “souvenirs,’’ either given to them by American soldiers or taken from the bodies of the dead, became naturally final and absolute identification factors of some of the dead.

Some of these had long ago been lost by the Filipinos, and some had become such prized possessions that their owners were reluctant to part with them. Graves Registration officials promised the natives that they would not be deprived of their souvenirs; the Army merely wished to examine them for possible evidence.

As each grave was found it was marked with a white cross, and detailed, scaled maps were made of the grave location. At one point near Bacolor, a few miles south of San Fernando, a white cross stood in a ditch by the roadway. A little farther south, about a hundred yards from the highway in a wet, marshy field, the graves of 20 unidentified dead were marked and staked off. The 601st had orders to disinter for proper burial only identified bodies so, while work toward that end continued, the dead lay in their initial resting places.

Sergeant Abraham noted, “Approaching San Fernando, casualties were naturally the heaviest. By this time, after nearly six days of marching, we were all about done for, and the Japs didn’t hesitate to use their rifles and bayonets on stragglers. I was in good condition from my days as boxing coach of the 31st Division, so I managed to make it.”

Disregarding all danger, and despite their many casualties during two years of battle in the Pacific, the officers and men of the 601st Graves Registration Company were a well-seasoned group with very high morale and a strong focus to find every American lost during the Death March. But even today, some 70 years later, not all of the dead have been accounted for. 


According to Army Field Manual 10-63 (“Graves Registration,” 1945, which superceded FM-630, 1941), one Graves Registration company was assigned to each corps having at least three divisions. Given the size of command they were expected to service, the GRS companies were, during large engagements, chronically understaffed and overworked.

Once the dead had been brought to the collection point, a medical examination was made to establish the cause and certainty of death, and attempts at identification were conducted if the deceased had not otherwise been identified. In most cases the dog tags provided sufficient information but, when the tags were missing, the deceased soldier’s pockets were searched for other evidence, such as a letter from home or a photo of a wife or girlfriend. In some cases, a note written by the dead soldier’s superior or comrades before the body was evacuated provided the needed information. Sometimes a distinguishing feature, such as a birthmark or tattoo, or even laundry marks on clothing and serial numbers on watches, helped in the identification process.

Using these identifiers, the body would be placed in a mattress cover, blanket, or shelter-half fastened with large safety pins and buried in a temporary cemetery with a grave marker (usually a wooden cross or marker with a Star of David) bearing the identity of the deceased. At the time of burial, if a deceased soldier had both of his dog tags, one was left on the body and the other was affixed to the grave marker. Whenever possible, a chaplain of the same faith as the deceased performed the burial rites.

In too many instances, however, a soldier’s identity could not be discerned (perhaps because of being too badly mangled, fragmented, burned, or intermixed with other remains) and his grave would be simply marked “Unknown.” Identifying a group of victims, say, of an airplane crash or a crew incinerated inside a tank was always problematic, and every effort such as examining fingerprints and dental records was exhausted before declaring the dead “Unknown.”

Once the victim was identified, the War Department was notified by the field command and a telegram was dispatched to the deceased’s next of kin that began, “The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your son [husband, father, etc.] has been reported killed in action….” This was usually followed by a personal letter of condolence from the deceased’s unit commander.

After the deceased’s commanding officer had a chance to examine the fallen soldier’s personal effects to ensure that no items that would cause embarrassment or additional heartache for the next of kin (such as pornography or letters from, or photographs of, a mistress), the effects were sealed in a personal effects bag and shipped first to the Army Effects Bureau at the Kansas City Quartermaster Depot in Kansas City, Missouri. Great care was taken to ensure that the personal effects bags were not stolen or pilfered.

There the effects were carefully inventoried, soiled garments laundered, any government-issue articles removed, foreign money (except for souvenir money) converted to U.S. currency, and any cash or negotiable checks deposited in a bank to the credit of the next of kin. The property was then packed for storage pending receipt by the Effects Bureau of a shipping order. Only after all this was done were the effects sent to the next of kin.

In addition to taking charge of bodies retrieved from the battlefield, GRS units were also involved in taking care of the remains of service personnel who died in field hospitals of combat- or non-combat-related causes.

A Moving Battlefield

As was often the case on the fast-moving battlefields of World War II, Americans frequently came across enemy, Allied, and civilian dead. In these cases, too, GRS personnel were given the responsibility of identifying, whenever possible, the names of the dead and placing them in well-marked temporary graves (the U.S. government compensated land owners whose fields were used as temporary cemeteries); the GRS units had, as part of their personnel roster, draftsmen whose duty it was to draw accurate maps of all the graves. Field Manual 10-63 specifies that GRS companies were “not authorized nor equipped to perform embalming.”

On occasion, GRS personnel found themselves in danger from the battle still going on around them. Enemy snipers were as fond of picking off noncombatant medics and GRS men as they were shooting at fighting men. And, as FM 10-63 warns, “In the search for bodies, great care should be used to avoid booby traps and anti-personnel mines that may have been placed under bodies by enemy forces.”

Personnel who died at sea, if it were not practical to return them to land, were “buried” at sea in weighted mattress covers; the latitude and longitude of the burial locations were then reported to high authority.

The Graves at Malmedy

In 1997, Major Scott T. Glass, then commander of the Forward Support Company, U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Lion Brigade, Vicenza, Italy, wrote a report on Graves Registration activities as they concerned the SS massacre of American POWs near Malmedy, Belgium.

As is well known, on December 17, 1944, an armored Kampfgruppe from the 1st SS Panzer Division, commanded by SS Colonel Joachim Peiper, encountered the U.S. Army’s Battery B, 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion on the road at Baugnez. After a brief fight, the woefully outgunned Americans surrendered to the Germans. Under orders to show no mercy, even to prisoners of war, Peiper’s men herded the Yanks into a snow-covered field and opened fire on the unarmed captives, killing 80 in a matter of minutes.

Some of the Americans played dead in the snow while a handful of others managed to escape into the nearby woods or took shelter in buildings but were soon flushed out and shot. Before World War I, the Malmedy area had been part of Germany. Local families had contributed sons to the German Army in World War II. In fact, local residents had pointed out to German troops the hiding places of some American soldiers attempting to escape the massacre. Once the killing was over, Peiper’s column moved on to other objectives.

Late that afternoon, American commanders heard rumors of a massacre of POWs near Malmedy. Recovery of the remains to confirm what had happened and also to gather and preserve evidence for a possible war crimes investigation became primary goals. However, it was not until January 13, 1945, almost a month after the slaughter, that American units recaptured and secured the Baugnez area.

The U.S. First Army headquarters selected a unit for recovery operations and deployed an Inspector General (IG) team to exercise overall control of the remains collection mission. The 3060th Quartermaster Graves Registration Service Company’s 4th Platoon drew the assignment of recovering, processing, and identifying the bodies. 

The platoon arrived in the Malmedy area and entered the massacre site on January 13. Fortunately, snow had fallen several times since the massacre and a fresh layer covered the bodies. Temperatures had hovered below freezing, and the Germans had made no attempt to bury the bodies. These factors combined to keep the remains remarkably preserved.

The 3060th personnel conferred with the IG team, physicians, and representatives of the 291st Engineer Battalion before establishing recovery operations procedures. Operations began at the massacre field on January 14, 1945, and ended late the next day.

72 Bodies Found

Throughout the operation, the recovery field remained a frontline combat area. American infantry units had dug foxholes across a corner of the field, and German artillery observers could see the activity around the crossroads area. On several occasions, incoming German artillery fire forced temporary suspension of the work. In some cases, the shelling mangled some of the remains, complicating recovery and identification.

Heavy snowfall, enemy shelling, and a lack of available eyewitnesses to the atrocity prevented the Graves Registration soldiers from conducting thorough, systematic searches to locate all of the widely scattered remains. Still, over the next four months, the surrounding area yielded an additional 12 sets of remains, all of which were later identified.

Location of individual remains required assistance from a platoon of the 291st Engineer Battalion, which used mine detectors to locate the bodies from the metal of gear or personal effects. When mine detectors located a set of remains, soldiers used brooms to sweep away the snow covering the bodies.

Graves Registration personnel assigned each set of remains a two-digit number. A total of 72 bodies were found at the massacre site. Two Signal Corps combat cameramen photographed the initial location and general condition of each body. After the photographs had been taken, GRS personnel removed each body to a nearby road. In addition to being frozen, most bodies had also adhered firmly to the ground and, in some cases, to other remains. After separating remains from the ground and each other, a careful search under the bodies yielded more personal effects. These effects, if any were found, accompanied the body as soldiers removed it from the field on an ordinary stretcher. Workers removed neither equipment nor personal effects from any remains during the recovery process.

Litter teams from the 3200th Quartermaster Service Company and the 291st Engineer Battalion carried the remains several hundred meters along a road leading to Malmedy to a point secure from German observation. There the teams loaded the remains onto trucks for the short trip to the processing site.

Processing the Malmedy Dead

The 3060th set up processing operations in an abandoned railway building in Malmedy. The building had bomb and artillery damage to its roof and walls and had no running water and no electricity to permit night operations. However, it was the best available facility that combined space, proximity to the recovery site, security, and access to operation support. Processing operations ceased at nightfall.

Other advantages of the railway building included a tile floor for laying out the remains and the building’s relative obscurity, which sheltered it from public view. The temperature inside stayed a little above freezing, and workers had to set up several coal-burning drums to provide some heat.

Upon entering the railway station, 3060th Quartermaster Company workers placed the remains on the tile floor and then moved them to tables for processing. They then removed any bulky, outer winter garments that would impede examination of body wounds. Processing included searching these garments for personal effects that might assist with identification. These personal items would prove valuable later.

The 3060th soldiers filled out emergency medical tags, collected and secured personal effects such as pens, letters, watches, and wallets. Processing included a preliminary identification. Usually a single identification tag around the neck of a deceased could establish identity sufficiently.

If processors did not find a tag around the neck of the victim and instead found a tag somewhere else such as in a pocket, a search of other personal effects was required to establish identity. Common practice for laundry marking at that time required American soldiers to mark the last four numbers of their Army service number on their clothing. This provided another way to check the identity of Malmedy victims.

Fingerprints also helped establish identity. In some cases, processors used hypodermic needles to inject water in the remains’ digits to firm and fill out fingertips to allow a quality fingerprint. Almost none of the Quartermaster soldiers who were processing remains had received formal mortuary training before deploying to Europe, although a considerable number had already seen combat and the resulting human wreckage. This skill was one that had been specifically identified as critical and taught to new soldiers of the 3060th in France.

The 3060th Quartermaster Company soldiers lacked rubber gloves, aprons, and other similar gear to insulate them from thawed ice, blood, and bodily fluids. The standard-issue leather, cold weather gloves provided a poor substitute, becoming thoroughly soaked quickly. To solve this problem, workers discarded pairs of gloves after one or two sets of remains, but this created a severe demand for a scarce supply item.

Autopsies Reveal the War Crimes at Malmedy

Shortly after initial processing, three U.S. Army Medical Corps physicians, under close observation by the First Army IG team, performed autopsies on each set of remains. The autopsy team in nearly every instance used the two-digit number assigned in the massacre field to track and record the procedures. It was still possible that the massacre survivors could have been mistaken and the dead soldiers had died as a result of combat injuries. First Army headquarters meant to specifically determine if death had resulted from combat action or shooting after capture.

A survey of the 72 autopsies and photographs of remains on file indicate at least 20 had potentially fatal gunshot wounds to the head inflicted at very close range, in addition to wounds from automatic weapons. Most head wounds showed powder burns on the skin. An additional 20 showed evidence of small caliber gunshot wounds to the head without powder burn residue. Another 10 had fatal crushing or blunt trauma injuries, most likely from a German rifle butt. This easily confirmed suspicions that a serious atrocity actually did occur.

Only a couple of the personal effects registers or autopsy records mention the remains having identification tags. As thorough as the effects search and autopsy records are, it can be assumed that the massacred soldiers were not wearing their identification tags at the time of death. Why the soldiers in the Malmedy massacre did not have their identification tags on is not known.

This made recovery of personal effects associated with each set of remains critical to identification. Effects most valuable for identification purposes included pay books, wallets, rank insignia, small Bibles and religious tracts, rings, watches, and personal letters found on or under the remains. Despite the almost complete absence of identification tags worn on the remains, 3060th Quartermaster soldiers identified all the remains with 100 percent certainty.


After processing, identification, and autopsy, each set of remains received a tagged mattress cover as a burial shroud. Several times daily during the recovery operation trucks evacuated the processed remains to a temporary U.S. military cemetery at Henri-Chappelle, Belgium, about 25 miles north of Malmedy, that served units operating in the area. Today it is a permanent American military cemetery holding some 8,000 remains.

America’s Permanent Military Cemeteries

After the war, beautifully landscaped, permanent American military cemeteries were established on land generously donated by the liberated countries, and all of the bodies buried in the temporary cemeteries were re-interred in the permanent sites; the temporary cemeteries were then closed.

Each cemetery has been granted use of the site in perpetuity by the host government to the United States, tax and rent free. All of the American cemeteries in foreign lands are under the jurisdiction of and maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia.

Some of the next of kin, however, wanted the remains of their loved ones brought back to the United States and either re-buried in their local cemetery or in one of the many national cemeteries (such as Arlington) around the country. Beginning in 1947, a program for the repatriation of bodies was initiated and until the 1960s when it was discontinued, it was possible to have bodies returned from a foreign grave to the United States at government expense. A large number (171,000) took advantage of this offer, but 97,000 others chose to let their loved one rest among his comrades in the land for which he had fought and died.

Obviously, when dealing with dead and horribly mangled human remains, many of which may be in an advanced stage of decomposition, the mental effect on Graves Registration soldiers is certain to be great. Major Glass recognized this in his 1997 report: “Mortuary affairs soldiers, as well as the soldiers who assist with recovery operations, will definitely experience some emotional or mental discomfort because of the extremely taxing nature of these duties. This discomfort may range from mild to severe. The discomfort and its effects might not manifest themselves immediately.

“Commanders must recognize these facts and plan ways to offset them, especially if the unit will need augmentation from other units to accomplish its mortuary affairs missions. Ways to reduce mental stress include chain of command involvement and assistance from chaplains, psychologists, and social workers. This should be an essential part of peacetime preparation.”

359 American WWII Military Cemeteries

After the war, a Quartermaster report noted, “As of April 6, 1946, there were a total of 359 American military cemeteries containing the remains of 241,500 World War II dead. Estimated number of World War II service dead is 286,959 [that figure has since been raised to around 359,000, although estimates are higher still]. Of this number 246,492 have already been identified: Of the 40,467 who were unidentified as of March 31, 1946, the remains of 18,641 have been located by Graves Registration units. The remaining 21,826 were not reported located up to that time. Of those 18,641 remains which have been located, 10,986 now repose in military cemeteries and 7,655 in isolated graves.”

In addition to eight World War I American cemeteries in Europe, there are also 12 in Europe from World War II (France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, and Italy), one in England, one in North Africa (Tunisia), and one in the Philippines. Except for those remains that may, in the future be found on the battlefields, no further burials may be made in the cemeteries under the American Battle Monuments Commission’s jurisdiction. On occasion, remains are found (even today there are groups of local volunteers digging in the battlefields of Europe in hopes of finding and repatriating war dead) and are respectfully buried in the nearest military cemetery to where the body was located, unless the family requests otherwise.

At some of the cemeteries, many of the local people have lovingly adopted the grave of an American soldier who is unknown to them but has become their “adopted son,” and regularly place fresh flowers at the grave as a way of quietly thanking him for his sacrifice.

Although the name of the Army Graves Registration Service has been changed to Mortuary Affairs, the mission remains the same: to spare no effort in the recovery, identification, return, and burial of deceased personnel, and to assist families during an emotionally difficult time of bereavement.

This article by Mason B. Webb. We first appeared in the Warfare History Network on December 24, 2018.

Image: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, center left, lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as Army Maj. Gen. Bradley A. Becker looks on at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., March 11, 2016. U.S. Department of Defense/Marvin Lynchard

[Author: Warfare History Network] [Category: History]

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[l] at 6/3/20 1:38am

Warfare History Network

History, Americas

M72 LAW at Fort Benning. 1960. U.S. Army. The United States military of the Vietnam era deployed its own version of the infantry squad level shoulder fired anti-tank weapon.

Among the most effective and feared weapons of the communist North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong insurgency during the Vietnam War was the rocket-propelled grenade, commonly known as the RPG. These were simple weapons originally designed and manufactured in the Soviet Union. The RPG-2 and the follow-on RPG-7 were perhaps the best-known types of these weapons that entered service in Vietnam. During the conflict, these RPG types were known as the B-40 and B-41.

A shoulder-fired anti-armor weapon, the RPG traces its roots to the latter years of World War II as the Soviets developed and tested its predecessor, the PG-70. The RPG-2 entered service in 1949 and was mass produced in the Soviet Union, both for use by the Red Army and for the export market. The weapon was also produced under license in other countries. The simplicity of the RPG-2 and its light weight of just under 10 pounds were attributes that made it ideal for squad level anti-tank operations.

The basic RPG consists of a 40mm tube and fires a high explosive anti-tank grenade such as the Soviet PG-2. Although it may be operated by a single soldier, it has most often been deployed with a two-man team. Firing involves the simple steps of cocking with the thumb, aiming, and then pulling the trigger. Once the grenade exits the tube, six stabilizer fins deploy, and the grenade is accurate up to about 160 yards with a maximum range of nearly 220 yards.

During the Vietnam War, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces regularly encountered the RPG. Particularly effective against the high-silhouetted M113 armored personnel carrier, as well as against tanks and low-flying helicopters and other aircraft, the RPG developed a formidable reputation and remains common around the world.

The LAW Enters Combat in 1963

The United States military of the Vietnam era deployed its own version of the infantry squad level shoulder fired anti-tank weapon. Like the RPG, the M72 LAW (Light Anti-Tank Weapon) traces its lineage to the World War II era. The LAW was influenced first by the German panzerfaust and then the American M1 bazooka. The one-shot disposable LAW made its debut with the U.S. military in 1963 and remains in limited use.

The 66mm weapon consists of a high explosive anti-tank rocket or grenade placed inside a pair of tubes, one fitting within the other. In preparation for firing, the inner tube telescopes to the rear, and the operator acquires the target and pulls the trigger. The LAW weighs only 5.5 pounds, and its effective range is similar to that of the RPG at more than 150 yards and a maximum range of 220 yards. The projectile has been documented to penetrate nearly 10 inches of armor.

In Vietnam the LAW was once recalled due to malfunctions resulting in the warhead exploding while the rocket was in flight. It was reissued after safety modifications were completed. More recently, the LAW has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan where its light weight and low cost have made it ideal for urban combat or instances when enemy vehicles are encountered.

Since the Vietnam War, the LAW has been in service with the armed forces of more than 30 countries, including Israel, Egypt, Australia, South Korea, and Great Britain.

This article by Michael Haskew first appeared in the Warfare History Network on August 26, 2015.

Image: M72 LAW at Fort Benning. 1960. U.S. Army.

[Author: Warfare History Network] [Category: History]

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[l] at 6/3/20 1:00am

Mindy Aisen

Healthcare, Americas

Here’s what happens in phase 1, 2, 3 clinical drug trials.

For COVID-19, like all illnesses, the drugs and vaccines to treat or prevent the disease must be backed by rigorous evidence. Clinical trials are the source of this evidence.

With vaccines and drugs for the coronavirus already entering human testing, it is important to know what the different phases of clinical trials are testing for. I am a neurologist with the Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute at the University of Southern California. Our team has been developing and overseeing all phases of clinical trials for decades. I am here to help you understand this complicated and important process.

Preclinical trials

The earliest indications about whether an intervention is effective and safe come from preclinical trials. This research is done in the laboratory using cells or animals.

Researchers can get some information about safety and efficacy of a treatment from preclinical trials, but the results do not say whether what they are testing is safe or works in people.

Once a treatment shows promise in preclinical trials, researchers begin the process of working through the phases that have been established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These phases are designed to do two things: protect patients during the process and make sure that the drug or treatment works.

Phase 1 trials

Phase 1 trials are focused on safety. Researchers monitor kidney, liver, hormone and cardiac functions to look for adverse affects in human volunteers. They also look for biological signs of efficacy related to what they are hoping to treat. For example, if a trial was testing a vaccine, researchers might monitor immune activity to see if it increases.

Phase 1 clinical trials typically take around two months and involve small numbers of participants, usually 20 to 100 healthy volunteers or people with the condition that the intervention may treat. Researchers give the participants a range of medication dosages to help determine the lowest possible effective but safe dose. Some, but not all, phase 1 studies are randomized and placebo controlled, meaning that some portion of the subjects are given the real treatment and some get a placebo that does nothing. Neither the subject nor clinician knows who is receiving which treatment.

Drugs that pass phase 1 trials can be considered likely safe, but whether they work or not still remains to be seen.

Phase 2 trials

In phase 2 trials, researchers focus on seeing if the treatment works, finding the safest effective dose and determining what symptoms, tests or outcomes are the best measures of efficacy of the treatment. Determining the best measures of success is important for designing the final stage of testing.

All phase 2 trials are randomized and placebo controlled.

This stage of research can take months to years, and only about one-third of drugs in phase 2 trials make it to the next phase.

In phase 2 trials, researchers give the drug to hundreds of subjects and watch for safety through regular testing. To measure effectiveness, researchers look at clinical responses such as the length of illness, severity of the illness or survival rates. Direct measures of a disease – such as the amount of virus in a person’s cells – are also monitored, as well as biomarkers – signals in the body that researchers know are changed by the targeted disease.

At this point, the researchers will use all the information they have gained to design the phase 3 trial. They decide what measures to use, the doses to test and the type, or cohort, of people to test.

If there is evidence in either phase 1 or phase 2 that the drug or vaccine is unsafe or ineffective, the teams will stop the trial.

Phase 3 trials

Phase 3 trials are where researchers look to see if people that get the treatment are statistically better off than those don’t. The trials are randomized and placebo controlled, and use the measures of success chosen from the phase 2 trial. Phase 3 trials are also designed to find any rare side effects of a treatment.

In order to get statistically meaningful data, phase 3 trials are big, normally including a few hundred to 3,000 people.

This is the final step before a drug is approved for public use. After a phase 3 trial is finished, the FDA puts together a panel of independent scientists to review the data. The panel decides, based on evidence of success and prevalence of side effects, if the benefits of the drug outweigh the risks enough to approve it for widespread use.

According to the FDA, only 25%-30% of drugs in phase 3 trials get approved.

Phase 4 trials

Phase 4 trials are used to test approved treatments for the same medical condition but in a different dose or time frame or group of people. For example, a phase 4 trial could be used to test if a drug that’s already approved for adults is safe and effective for children.

When a drug that’s been approved for one purpose is studied for a different medical condition – for example, testing the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for COVID-19 – this is not a phase 4 trial. This is a phase 2 or 3 trial because it is designed to answer those early questions about how well the treatment works for the new condition.

A critical eye for medical news

News headlines are full of trial results concerning COVID-19 interventions. It’s easy to get excited when reading about a new drug or vaccine. But early successes do not guarantee a treatment will work.

COVID-19, like Alzheimer’s, is a complex disease, and clinical trials to test treatments are particularly challenging, with highly variable outcomes. The process for drug and treatment approval is long, but is designed to guarantee that what a physician gives you will do help, not hurt, you.

Mindy Aisen is a Clinical Professor of Neurology at the University of Southern California.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters

[Author: Mindy Aisen] [Category: Healthcare]

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[l] at 6/3/20 12:15am

Veronica Shleina


In China, where the pandemic hit first, media reports are already suggesting a spike in divorce filings.

The coronavirus pandemic has put new pressures on relationships and many are feeling the strain. With families locked in houses, schools closed and job losses on the horizon, it’s perhaps inevitable that this unusual time will cause many people to re-evaluate or end their relationships.

In China, where the pandemic hit first, media reports are already suggesting a spike in divorce filings.

Ayesha Vardag, one of the UK’s leading divorce lawyers, has predicted a surge in cases after lockdown ends. If this happens, the legal system may not be able to cope, with cases clogging the court system and firms being overloaded with petitions.

An outdated system based on fault

That’s partly because England and Wales are governed by 50-year-old divorce legislation. It contains only one ground – “irretrievable breakdown” – which can be proved by the existence of any of the following five factors: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years separation with consent from both parties or five years separation with no consent required.

In other words, a fast divorce in England and Wales usually requires fault on behalf of one of the parties. This was illustrated most clearly in the 2018 case of Tini Owens, whose husband refused to divorce her and who lost her petition to have her divorce granted in the Supreme Court. Owens’ case led to renewed calls to end fault-based divorce.

The current divorce legislation has been widely criticised in the academic world for being outdated and encouraging couples to exaggerate each others’ poor behaviour in order to secure a fault-based divorce so they do not have to wait for two years after separating. A 2017 study found that 62% of people who filed for a divorce and 78% of defendants thought proving fault made the process more bitter.

Now, in the context of coronavirus, throwing accusations just to prove that your relationship is over seems particularly unfair, especially when it might not be infidelity but a simple lack of personal space to blame for a break-up.

There is currently legislation before the UK parliament that proposes an end to fault-based divorce in England and Wales. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill seeks to “end the blame game” by allowing either one or both parties to state that the marriage has broken down irretrievably; furthermore, if one party wants the divorce, the other party will not be able to contest it, as happened in the case of Tini Owens.

The bill would allow some time for the parties to agree on practical arrangements - the minimum period is to be 20 weeks. However, the current six-week waiting period before a final decree will potentially be retained

And while the new legislation provides an opportunity to improve, it will still leave England and Wales lagging behind other countries that have a more liberal approach more suited to post-pandemic separations.

Divorce à la française

The French approach in particular might offer a solution. France introduced divorce by mutual consent in the 1970s. Since 2016, the civil code has allowed parties to agree that their marriage has broken down without the involvement of a judge.

Lawyers acting for both parties oversee the procedure, checking that the agreement and deadlines are observed. Afterwards, the parties are given 15 days to reconcile and if they decide to proceed, the agreement is given to a notary who verifies it and monitors compliance with the arrangement.

After a certain date the divorce agreement becomes binding. In total, the procedure costs €50 (£45). In the UK, by contrast, a divorce costs £550.

In the French example, if a couple has property to divide, a notary must be involved to oversee the division. A fee of 1% of the total value of the assets is charged, depending how much the parties hold in common.

The family court gets involved only when a child requests to be heard or special jurisdiction has to be exercised because a child is in danger.

End the emotional toll

Divorce is a serious legal separation. Making it less complex would not make people change their mind on their marriages overnight. What it would do is save the emotional toll for those who have drifted away and would like to separate quickly and peacefully.

Lockdown has been challenging enough – simplifying the separation afterwards would save the confrontation between parties and harm to their extended families.

There will be those whose relationships will survive this difficult time, but those whose will not deserve a chance to wipe the slate clean.

Veronica Shleina , PhD Candidate, Visiting Lecturer in Law at University of Hertfordshire, City, University of London

 This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters

[Author: Veronica Shleina] [Category: Society]

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[l] at 6/3/20 12:00am

David Salkever

Coronavirus, Americas

Those feeling the most financial stress are much less likely to seek medical care if they experience coronavirus symptoms.

Preventing deaths from COVID-19 depends on people who get it seeking treatment – which also allows authorities to track down whom they came in contact with to reduce spread.

But, as the economic pain and joblessness caused by the statewide lockdowns continue to grow, more Americans are experiencing severe strains on their personal finances. This threatens our ability to contain the pandemic because those feeling the most financial stress are much less likely to seek medical care if they experience coronavirus symptoms, according to my analysis of a recent Federal Reserve survey.

As an economist who studies how individuals make health care choices, I worry that in the coming months even more people will consider forgoing vital treatment to pay rent or some other bill – especially as the extended unemployment benefits, rent moratoriums and other relief are set to expire soon.

‘Just getting by’

The Fed conducts a survey of the economic health of U.S. households every quarter, most recently near the end of 2019. In April, it conducted a supplementary but similar survey to quickly gauge how people were handling the coronavirus crisis. Results of both surveys were released on May 14.

The Fed tries to measure financial stress in three key ways. Its surveys ask respondents if they are unable to pay all their monthly bills, couldn’t cover a US$400 emergency expense, or are “just getting by” or worse.

Even before the pandemic hit, the picture wasn’t pretty. In October, when the fourth-quarter survey was conducted, 42% of employed respondents reported fitting at least one of these descriptions, while over 8% said they fit all three. Those figures jumped to 72% and 20% for low-income workers.

But by April, tens of millions of people who had jobs in October lost them as most nonessential businesses across the U.S. either closed or reduced their services. The unemployment rate shot up to 14.7% that month – the highest since the Great Depression – and is expected to climb further when the May data are released on June 5.

The Fed’s April survey, however, paints an even broader picture of the economic impact of the pandemic. In that survey, about 28% of the previously employed respondents said they either lost their job, were being furloughed, had their hours cut or were taking unpaid leave. This has been financially devastating to many, with 68% of this group reporting one of the stresses listed above and 28% saying they were experiencing all three, regardless of income level.

Forgoing medical care

Separate questions in the surveys demonstrate just how strong the link is between financial and physical health.

The October survey also asks those respondents if they had skipped a doctor’s visit during the previous 12 months because of the cost. More than 20% of those who reported one of these financial stresses said they had, while almost 46% of those with all three said so.

In April, the Fed asked a more timely question: “If you got sick with symptoms of the coronavirus, would you try to contact a doctor?”

A third of those respondents who also said they’re experiencing all three financial stresses said “no.” This is especially significant because, unlike the October question, it describes a current, known threat, rather than referring to a previous medical issue of unknown severity. And the widely reported urgency and seriousness of the coronavirus suggests someone wouldn’t treat the decision to seek a doctor’s care or advice lightly.

Relieving the stress

That was back in April, less than a month into the coronavirus lockdowns. If the same questions were asked today, I believe the numbers would look a lot worse.

In the middle of a serious pandemic, we don’t want sick people avoiding treatment because they’re worried they won’t be able to put food on the table. This would likely worsen the spread of the coronavirus and make it a whole lot harder to contain.

As Congress debates additional measures to mitigate the economic and financial effects of the pandemic, it would be wise to keep in mind the connection between financial stress and individual decisions to seek medical care.

[You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter.]

David Salkever is Professor Emeritus of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters

[Author: David Salkever] [Category: Coronavirus]

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[l] at 6/2/20 11:30pm

Amy Werbel

History, Americas

The postal service delivers a common bond that has helped shape American society for more than 250 years.

Americans overwhelmingly support a federal bailout for the cash-starved United States Postal Service. They view the USPS as a vital civic institution – one that despite a crisis brought on by massive debts and falling revenue continues to reliably deliver medicine, communications and absentee ballots that allow Americans to vote safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

Equally important, the postal service delivers a common bond that has helped shape American society for more than 250 years. Research for my recent book on the postal inspector Anthony Comstock introduced me to the prominent role the postal service played in enabling Americans to conceive of themselves as a singular nation.

Sending a letter from Virginia to New England in 1640 was no easy task. Settlers in Southern Colonies mostly relied on the open seas to deliver their mail, and more than three times as many vessels followed trading routes to Europe than to the Northern Colonies.

In the fall months, when crops sailed from Charleston and Virginia to New Amsterdam and Boston, letters traveled in a ship captain’s mailbag. Chance determined whether these letters reached their destination.

Beyond these insecure routes, settlers in early North American Colonies enjoyed precious little ability to communicate among themselves, which did not bode well for our nation’s future.

Mail delivery takes off

The ability to send overland letters evolved significantly by the end of the 18th century thanks to the expansion of “post roads,” especially between Boston and New York. But mail delivery remained infrequent and unreliable.

It was not until Benjamin Franklin was appointed deputy postmaster for the Colonies, in 1753, that mail delivery modernization truly took off. During his tenure, Franklin instituted numerous innovations unique to America.

Until 1753 postmasters were not paid. Printers, nonetheless, had jockeyed for these positions to expand the circulation of their own publications and deny mail service to competitors. But in 1754 Franklin established a subscription model that assured pay to printers and post riders. And in 1758 he insisted that all news sheets be delivered because they “are on many Occasions useful to Government, and advantageous to Commerce, and to the Publick.”

In doing so, Franklin contributed to an early American culture of free speech, which recognized the benefits of competing ideas and shared knowledge.

Together with postmaster William Hunter of Virginia, Franklin also instituted changes that vastly extended the flow of information among the Colonies. These included improved accounting methods and home delivery for the price of a penny.

In 1763, the two men rode 1,600 miles on horseback from Virginia through New England to improve the service. They laid the groundwork for improvements in routes and timetables that led to an explosion of low-cost communications throughout the Northern Colonies.

In the years leading up to the American Revolution, newspapers and pamphlets flooded the Colonies, facilitating a shared outrage over British tyranny and condescension, and solidarity among the citizens of the fledgling nation.

The Continental Congress appointed Franklin as the nation’s first postmaster general in May 1775. Franklin, in turn, oversaw the rapid transition of the Colonial network he had helped create into the first post office of the United States.

After the Revolutionary War, George Washington declared that a democratic republic required an unprecedented diffusion of “knowledge of the laws and proceedings of Government.” He convinced Congress to support a sweeping expansion of postal routes that circulated mail and news with greater scope and reliability.

By 1800, nearly 21,000 miles of postal routes connected Americans living in disparate climates and economies – from Sandy Point, Maine to Natchez, Mississippi. Just a generation later, French statesman Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at the reach of the post service, writing that there was “no French province in which the inhabitants knew each other as well as did the thirteen million men spread over the extent of the United States.”

United in ‘fellow feeling’

Today there are few elements of American life that unite us. We have no national health service, which amid COVID-19 is uniting the United Kingdom in “fellow feeling,” as Queen Elizabeth II described recently.

What we do have is the USPS, a constitutionally acknowledged resource that still connects us all. Today it operates 31,322 post offices, as far-flung as Pago Pago in American Samoa and Hinsdale, New Hampshire, the nation’s oldest continuously operating post office. With mail circulation down by a third since the COVID-19 outbreak and continued attacks on the service by Republicans eager to privatize, the U.S. Postal Service faces grave danger.

Unlike its private sector competitors, the USPS does not depend on profitability, and keeps its promise to reach all Americans, no matter the cost. Half a million postal workers continue to make this equitable service possible, providing binding threads that draw us together in our American version of “fellow feeling.”

When congressional leaders consider proposals to bail out the USPS, they should weigh the value of this cherished and historic service in uniting our country.

Amy Werbel is Professor of the History of Art at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters

[Author: Amy Werbel] [Category: History]

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