RealClearHistory Articles

10 Railroads That Made America Great

Brandon Christensen - May 16, 2019


Choo! Choo! On May 10, 1869, just four years after the end of the Civil War, a golden spike was driven into the ground at Promontory Point, Utah, in order celebrate the completion of the republic’s first transcontinental railroad.

Today, in May of 2019, the American railroad system is recognized as the best in the world, at least when it comes to efficiency in regards to moving freight, but this wasn’t always the case. Here are the 10 Railroads that Made America Great.

10. Union Pacific Railroad. The Union Pacific was responsible for laying the track from Omaha to Promontory Point. The men who worked for the company had to build a railroad through the Rocky Mountains and the Uintas. The railroad was a government charter, so it faced severe operational difficulties from the get-go. Still, Washington managed to pour enough money into the Union Pacific that it achieved its goal. By the time the railroad dissolved in 1880 (less than 20 years after its founding), the Union Pacific had united the coasts of the American republic.

9. The Central Pacific Railroad was the line that came from the west in order to meet the Union Pacific in Utah. The CP’s line started in Sacramento and had to be built through the Sierra Nevadas and the high-altitude desert of the Great Basin. The Central Pacific was also a government charter, and therefore also faced stiff operational challenges, including corruption and labor strife. The Central Pacific Railroad is probably most famous for the Chinese laborers it hired to build its track.

Wilson's, Jackson's Legacies Take Hits, Grant's Stock Rises

Howard Tanzman - May 9, 2019


Since World War II, historians, newspapers, and institutions have performed surveys of presidential reputations. There is unanimous agreement placing George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson at the top of the list. Franklin Pierce, Millard Fillmore, and James Buchanan are consistently at the bottom.

However, there are several Presidents whose reputations have either significantly improved or worsened since these surveys started. Some examples follow below.

Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was the first president to come from a humble background. Before Jackson, the first six Presidents were college-educated aristocrats from either Virginia or Massachusetts.

Jackson was the founder of the modern day Democratic party. He considered himself the “champion of the common man.” The movement was called, ‘Jacksonian Democracy.’ One of his signature issues was opposition to Bank of the United States. He felt this institution had too much power and favored the wealthy. After a fierce political battle, Jackson succeeded in eliminating the bank. Jackson also strongly supported the Union against South Carolina’s attempt to nullify a Federal tariff bill by threatening the use of military force. State’s rights and nullification later became issues leading up to the Civil War.

'Another Fine Mess' in the Middle East

Steve Feinstein - April 11, 2019


“Well, that’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.”—Laurel and Hardy, c. 1930’s.

There is no question that the Middle East Arab-Israeli-oil situation is one of the world’s most enduring and vexing problems. Almost every economically significant country in the world has a major stake in how this scenario plays out and most countries orient and arrange a large part of their foreign policy and energy strategy with Middle East considerations front and center in their planning.

What if the United States had been presented with the opportunity to circumvent the Mid-East Jewish-Arab-oil crisis before it had a chance to metastasize into the worldwide scourge it is today? The opportunity did, in fact, present itself in 1945. Unfortunately, the United States—under FDR—failed to capitalize on it and thus the world today lives in constant danger caused by the flashpoint of those seemingly unending, unsolvable regional tensions.

The missed opportunity was the result of FDR's mishandling of his historic meeting with King Abdel Aziz Ibn Saud of Arabia on Great Bitter Lake in the Suez Canal on Feb. 14, 1945. FDR’s actions here essentially created the 70+ year economic and political tensions and conflicts regarding oil that continue to afflict international relationships and define the national security and oil acquisition strategy of virtually every developed country in the world today. Most of the damaging international energy related circumstances in the present-day world were set in motion by FDR’s actions at that meeting.

10 of History's Most Important Alliances

Brandon Christensen - April 4, 2019


April 4, 1949, marks the founding of NATO, or North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which means that the alliance turns 70 years old this year. The anniversary has inspired the usual op-eds from conservatives, liberals, and libertarians, but while these opinions about NATO may be predictable, they may also be useful for understanding broader patterns in contemporary American society.

Conservatives, for instance, are split on the issue. Traditionalist and religious conservatives want Washington to come home, while more secular and business-oriented conservatives continue to argue that the United States is indispensable to a world beset by dark forces. This foreign policy difference of opinion among conservatives mirrors the widening split in domestic conservative politics more generally.

Liberals have a predictably convoluted stance that also mirrors domestic political trends: They don’t know if NATO is good because of its military connections, but they do know the alliance should still be funded by taxpayers anyway because of its good intentions.

Libertarians are as split as conservatives, but theirs is a split at the international level rather than domestic. Most American libertarians argue that the United States should leave NATO, but most European libertarians think the alliance is still necessary. These are understandable positions, given each side’s neighbors, but NATO plays a bigger role in European domestic politics, too. Without the alliance, the populist surges in Europe would not have as many constraints tying them down. As Dutch political theorist Edwin van de Haar points out, alliances fit in well with the libertarian preference for more fluidity between states.

Bloody, Cruel Aztecs Didn't Last Long

Iain Ramsey - March 28, 2019


The mythology of the Aztec civilisation is filled with ancient and wild stories of creation, zoomorphism and brutality. The Aztecs dominated central Mexico in the 1400s and early 1500s and according to legend, they came to Mexico from an ancient land called Aztland. Although Aztec mythology is not as extensive as its Greek or Roman counterparts - mainly because lots of Aztec history was lost after the Spanish Conquest and because the Aztec Empire survived less than 100 years (1430-1521) – it is a mythology full of splendid Gods and human sacrifices performed in honor of these Gods.

The Aztecs valued highly the skills of warriors above all others, and this emphasis allowed them an advantage against rival tribes in the region. This meant the Aztecs could collect tribute from their rivals which led to them becoming the largest military empire in central Mexico. They built immense buildings of grandeur design and flourished in the arts. Where the Aztecs differed from other Mesoamerican civilizations was their penchant for human sacrifice. Although human sacrifice to the Gods was common amongst the tribes in Mexico at that time, the Aztec culture took it to a higher level. Thousands of sacrifices in a single day was not uncommon. The Aztecs dictated that human blood be fed to the sun God - Huitzilopochtli – for the sun to rise each day. Sacrifices were conducted at the top of pyramids in front of spectators. Hearts were cut from living victims and blood would flow down the steps at all hours of the day and night.

Aztec Gods were numerous and were worshipped daily. Everyday items as well as colors, animals’ numbers and dates of the calendar had special meanings because each was associated with a deity – a rattlesnake, for example, was thought to represent the Aztec creator God, Quetzalcoatl. Although due to the abundance in tribes and civilisations around the Mexico and Southern American area, many Aztec beliefs were absorbed from earlier civilisations who had already developed a body of myths and legends, notably the Olmecs and the Toltecs. The Maya of southern Mexico also shared many religious and mythological traits and traditions with the Aztecs.

The Creator God - Quetzalcoatl

10 Most Brutal Massacres in History

Brandon Christensen - March 14, 2019


March 16, 1968 was the Mai Lai Massacre in Vietnam, where American soldiers brutally extinguished a Vietnamese village and contributed to the public turn against the war against communists in the former French colony. Five hundred people died. That’s brutal, but here are the 10 most brutal massacres in world history:

10. Chinese massacre of 1639. Chinese communities had existed all over southeast Asia for centuries, mostly as merchants, but sometimes as scholars too. This had both good and bad effects. One of the bad effects was that China’s merchant class tended to be wealthier than the locals they provided goods and services to, and every now and again Chinese communities were massacred by indigenous inhabitant. The 1639 massacre in the Philippines was especially brutal, as 17,000 to 22,000 people were slaughtered in a joint Filipino-Spanish venture.

9. Massacre of Praga (Nov. 4, 1794). 20,000 people in Praga, a suburb of Warsaw, were massacred by Russian troops after the latter conquered the city during the Kościuszko Uprising of 1794. For some reason I thought to compare this to the Boston massacre in 1770, where 5 died. There are not a lot of massacres in the Anglo-American world, at least not on the scale that we find elsewhere throughout history.

8. Cyprus massacre (June - September 1570). In June of 1570 the Ottoman Empire laid siege to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, which was controlled politically by Venice, the wealthy city-state on the Italian peninsula (see RealClearHistory’s coverage of Venice here [https://www.realclearhistory.com/search/?q=venice]). The Christians on Cyprus held off the Ottomans for about four months, but sheer numbers, as well as disjointed politics in Europe, meant that the inhabitants of Cyprus would eventually be governed from Istanbul (not Constantinople). Cyprus, of course, continues to be split between a Greek (Christian) half and a Turkey (Muslim) half.

Nothing Terrific About Seaver's Latest News

Carl Cannon - March 12, 2019


Fifty years ago today, Ted Williams, the newly minted manager of the Washington Senators, brought his squad to Dodgertown -- the Los Angeles Dodgers spring training complex in Vero Beach, Fla. The once innovative facility was no longer state-of-the-art, but Teddy Ballgame was gracious about it.

“This is the nicest camp I’ve seen,” he said. “This place has character.”

It had characters, too, including Tommy Lasorda, then the manager of the Dodgers Triple-A team. As the left-handed Lasorda threw batting practice that day, a puckish fan yelled that Lasorda didn’t exactly remind anybody of Sandy Koufax, the future Hall of Famer who’d retired from the Dodgers three years earlier. “I throw just as hard as Koufax,” Lasorda told the heckler. “It just doesn’t get up there as quick.”

Nothing seemed to move fast in Florida that spring. On March 12, 1969, Los Angeles Herald Examiner sportswriter Melvin Durslag noticed a sign at the Dodgertown canteen and newsstand that read “COLLIER’S: AMERICA’S MOST EXCITING MAGAINE. GET YOUR COPY TODAY.”

Commanders in Chief Who Became Commander in Chief

Howard Tanzman - March 12, 2019


George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, and Dwight Eisenhower served as our chief military commander before entering the Oval Office.  How did this experience affect their presidencies?

George Washington

Washington’s military career began in 1754 with the French and Indian War. His first mission, involving a fort near Pittsburgh, ended with surrender to the French. A subsequent expedition, led by British General Edward Braddock, ended in disaster. But Washington got credit for his bravery in battle and for organizing the retreat.  Washington gained valuable military experience despite serving in these losing battles.

During the Revolutionary War, Washington won daring victories at Trenton and Princeton. But he also lost key battles on Long Island and New York, allowing the British to capture New York City. He then lost at Brandywine and Germantown, resulting in British control of Philadelphia.  Monmouth, the last battle in the north, was a draw. Afterward, the war moved to the South, where other generals led the Americans.

10 Worst Space Disasters in History

Brandon Christensen - March 8, 2019


This week marks the anniversary of the recovery  of the remains of Challenger’s crew on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. On March 10, 1986, the Navy and NASA announced that they had found a compartment that contained the remains of the ill-fated space shuttle’s crew.

When I think about space disasters, I am reminded of the space battle between Earth and Trisolaris in Liu Cixin’s fantastic sci-fi novel. Stay with me here. Liu Cixin’s Dark Forest novel needs to be read. In the novel, humans make contact with a nearby alien civilization, who proceed to make plans to invade earth, wipe out its human population, and re-populate it with themselves. The first battle between Earth’s space forces and the would-be invaders ends badly for Earth, as thousands of space warships are destroyed in a matter minutes by a Trisolaran probe. The novel brings up an uncomfortable theory that humans have been all-too-willing to neglect: what if the universe is a hostile, deadly place instead of a curious one? Nick Nielsen is asking important questions about humanity’s place in the stars, and Caleb Scharf is doing wonderful work explaining how life in the universe is likely to confront us at this stage of our development.

Despite the massive amount of attention that surrounds space flight disasters, only four have actually happened in space, and only 18 people have died in space (14 astronauts and four cosmonauts). This is due to the vast amounts of effort, planning, intelligence, and energy that go into space flight. In fact, most of the deadliest disasters happen on earth during the preparation phase, where painstaking practice is undertaken in order to execute space flight to perfection. So, in honor of those who have given their lives for humanity’s place among the stars, here are History’s 10 Worst Space Disasters:

10. Columbia (February 1, 2003). The Columbia Space Shuttle had served NASA and the United States for 22 years before it exploded in space upon re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. In 22 years, Columbia had flown 27 space flights before disaster struck on the 28th mission. The destruction of NASA’s second space shuttle put the entire program on hold for two years, and supplies to the International Space Station had to be flown in by a public-private Russian space agency, Roscosmos (which has since become nationalized).

Civility and the Johnson–Nixon Transition

Benjamin Allison - March 3, 2019


After being sworn in as the 37th President of the United States, Richard Nixon called for a time of national renewal and reunification, hoping to heal the wounds wrought by the divisiveness of the 1960s, which — between President Lyndon Johnson’s “withdrawal speech,” Martin Luther King Jr.’s and Robert F. Kennedy’s assassinations, and the chaotic Democratic National Convention —  had found its ultimate expression in the election of 1968.

Though Nixon handily defeated Democrat Hubert Humphrey and Independent George Wallace in the Electoral College (301–191–46), he only won 0.7 percent more of the popular vote than Humphrey. Clearly, the country’s divisions ran deep, but not as deep as they might have run, had it not been for the restraint of President Johnson.

On Oct. 17, 1968, just a few weeks before the election, Johnson began hearing reports that the Nixon campaign had engaged in secret negotiations with the South Vietnamese government, through lobbyist Anna Chennault. The administration had struggled to bring all parties of the Vietnam conflict to the negotiating table since late March. On the other hand, Nixon’s cronies had worked against the peace talks since April. They discouraged the South Vietnamese from joining the negotiations, promising that they would receive a better deal from the as-yet-unelected Nixon administration.

This interference with official U.S. diplomatic initiatives violated the Logan Act (1799), which outlawed unauthorized contacts between private citizens and foreign powers.

10 Ancient Wonders That Still Exist in Iraq

Brandon Christensen - February 28, 2019


On Feb. 28, 1991, Operation Desert Storm was declared over and the United States emerged as the clear leader of a new world order. As this week’s Historiat column explains, Desert Storm deserves to be hailed for its multinational success and its example in regards to global cooperation. But something didn’t go right because in 2003, America went back to Iraq, with far fewer allies in tow, and has stayed there ever since.

Iraq is home to many ancient empires and as (or if) it develops economically, more of the treasures of these ancient civilizations will surface. Iraqi archaeology techniques will become more sophisticated. The splendors of ancient Mesopotamia will eventually be revealed to the world. As of today, only the ruins of the Babylonians and Romans can be positively identified and worked on by archaeologists.

Centuries of static Ottoman governance have so far condemned the architectural feats of the Arabs, Persians, Assyrians, and other peoples who built their societies in Mesopotamia to the dustbin of history. The post-World War I British-ruled Iraq blessed looting. The Ba’athists who viciously lorded over Iraq continued the Ottoman practice of allowing Iraq’s ancient splendors to collect dust. The Americans unleashed a smorgasbord of looting and destruction. And everybody knows how awful ISIS has been in regards to humanity’s ancient artifacts.

Despite all this, Iraq’s ancient treasures are slowly but surely being discovered and worked over by archaeologists from around the world. Here are 10 ancient treasures still in Iraq:

10 Airports Named After Heroes

Brandon Christensen - February 21, 2019


Hey, let’s get right to the point this weekend:

10. O’Hare International Airport (Chicago). Named after Edward “Butch” O’Hare, the pilot who single-handedly turned back nine heavy bombers trying to attack his aircraft carrier, Chicago’s O’Hare is one of the most recognizable in the world. O’Hare was America’s first WW II ace.

9. Bradley International Airport (Hartford). Hartford, Conn. is actually one of America’s busiest, most prosperous cities. It used to be home to the Hartford Whalers, a professional hockey team that plied its trade in the NHL. Bradley is named after a 24-year-old pilot (“Eugene M. Bradley of Antlers, Oklahoma”) who died in a dogfight exercise in August of 1941. Bradley’s P-40C fighter plane crashed at Windsor Locks Army Air Field during a training flight, and the field was subsequently named after him.

8. Mitchell International Airport (Milwaukee). Named after Billy Mitchell, the “father of the U.S. Air Force,” Milwaukee claims Mitchell as its own since he grew up in the city. It probably helps that Mitchell’s grandfather was a prominent economic and political figure in Milwaukee, too.

10 Reasons to Love 'Silent Cal'

Brandon Christensen - February 14, 2019


This week’s Historiat post focused on Calvin Coolidge’s deft use of the radio, at that time a new medium of mass communication, to reach the American people. While doing research for the post it quickly became apparent to me that Silent Cal is one of the most understudied presidents in American history, on par with the likes of Grover Cleveland, Chester Arthur, or Rutherford Hayes. Here are 10 Reasons to Love Silent Cal:

10. He was a small government conservative, which is probably why he doesn’t get a lot of attention from historians, who lean overwhelmingly to the left of the political spectrum. Small government conservatives avoid crazy world wars and expansive, expensive federal policies that attempt to remake American society into a utopian image. Often, they are elected to clean up the messes made by predecessors who tried to use their power to fight major wars and remake American society. Coolidge was one such example of a small government republican foisted into the role of president in order to clean up the mess made by a big government ideologue.

9. Fought against racism. Silent Cal spoke out often against the chronic racism of the South and its party, the Democrats. Lynching had gotten so bad in the 1920s that the Republican Party made anti-lynching legislation part of its platform in the early part of the 20th century. Coolidge tried to push through anti-lynching legislation that would make that heinous act a federal crime, but as an executive there was not a whole lot he could do about it except use his bully pulpit (which he did, and often). He used his bully pulpit (and the new medium of radio) to speak out in favor of racial equality and against the white supremacist ideology that dominated the South and the Democratic Party at the time. Kurt Schmoke, the President of the University of Baltimore, has a great, short essay on Coolidge’s fight against the K.K.K. during his presidency.

8. A true constitutional federalist. Coolidge’s anti-lynching stance is all the more remarkable because he was, by and large, a man who sought to keep the federal government limited. The lynchings were so heinous, however, that Coolidge and other Republicans believed federal legislation was necessary to fight the Klan. America’s 30th president was far more careful when it came to other kinds of federal legislation, though. Coolidge vetoed several bills given to him by Congress, including a spending bill that would have given World War I veterans significantly more money thanks to a budget surplus (Coolidge’s veto was overridden). Coolidge also routinely vetoed farm subsidies, and at one point deigned to remind the American people that “farmers have never made much money,” and “I do not believe we can do much about it.” In five years Coolidge vetoed 50 bills (music to a libertarian’s ears).

Sobering Stats: 15,000 U.S. Airmen Killed in Training in WW II

Robert Blanchard - February 12, 2019


World War II was immense. So many numbers boggle the mind. Every day from Sept. 1, 1939-Aug. 14, 1945, 27,000 people were killed. That’s nine 9/11s every day for six years. Nearly 14 million Americans served during the war, the U.S. manufactured 300,000 airplanes. Even narrowing the focus, the numbers still amaze.

Three of every four German submariners died. The Soviets killed more of their own soldiers than total U.S. combat deaths. Even those who have studied the war for years cannot help but be stunned by such figures and many, many more.

But even more than 70 years on, there are still relatively unexplored areas of the war whose numbers are also quite astonishing. So it is with the number of Americans killed during aircrew training. The number of pilots and crew that died in training accidents in the U.S. during the war is 10 times the number of American deaths on D-Day. The heroism of those that stormed the Normandy beaches has been celebrated in countless books and movies.

Yet the fact that 15,000 young men died in aircrew training in the U.S. is virtually unknown. Aviation was still in its infancy during the 1930s. Only a tiny fraction of Americans had ever been on a plane. Even civil aviation was far from safe, military aviation even less so. In 1930, the accident rate for military aviation was 144 accidents per 100,000 flying hours. By 1940, the rate had been reduced to 51 accidents per 100,000 hours, a reduction of more than two thirds. But even this improved rate would be considered intolerably unsafe today.

Doolittle Raid Was About American, British Morale

Steve Feinstein - February 10, 2019


History is always relevant if we’re willing to learn from it. A good example is the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo Japan on April 18, 1942. By way of quick background, the United States was forced into World War II after the surprise Japanese attack on our naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Japan had been aggressively moving against other countries in the Pacific realm for several years, taking territory and raw materials to satisfy its expansionist aims.

The Japanese correctly saw the U.S. Pacific Fleet, stationed at Pearl, as the biggest threat to their continued activities and so devised a plan to mount a surprise attack on Dec. 7, 1941 against our forces. The surprise worked. The attack sank or disabled eight of the nine battleships in the fleet (only the USS Pennsylvania, in dry dock, escaped major damage), destroyed dozens of aircraft on the ground and killed more than 2,300 U.S. military and civilian personnel, all for the loss of only 29 Japanese aircraft.

The following day, Dec. 8, 1941, the Japanese attacked our main air base in the western Pacific, Clark Field in the Philippines, destroying dozens of U.S. fighters and bombers on the ground, effectively neutralizing our military strength in that region. Therefore, in less than two days, the Japanese dealt the U.S. military two huge defeats, setting the stage for the fall of the Philippines and leaving the entire Pacific essentially unprotected from Japanese attack.

What is less known but unquestionably just as significant as the dual attacks on Pearl Harbor and Clark Field is the Japanese sinking of the British battleships Repulse and Prince of Wales in the South China Sea, just three days after Pearl Harbor, Dec. 10, 1941. The British had dispatched significant naval forces to protect their interests in the Pacific, especially then-colony Singapore, from Japanese aggression. Britain, although a small country in terms of landmass and population, had long been among the world’s pre-eminent naval powers. From Admiral Nelson’s many decisive victories in the late 1700’s-early 1800’s (culminating with his defeat of Napoleon’s fleet off of Trafalgar in 1805) to Admiral Jellicoe’s leading the British Grand Fleet in all-out battleship warfare against Germany’s High Seas Fleet at Jutland in 1916 to the powerful mastery of the seas enjoyed by the Royal Navy right through the beginning of World War II, British naval tradition was a source of national pride and identity, very much part of the fabric of their culture.

10 Walls That Have Actually Been Built

Brandon Christensen - February 7, 2019


You knew this was coming. At some point in time, you just knew. I’ll skip straight to the facts, folks. I’m not going to use this space to bag on President Trump or the European populists who want to keep refugees from the Middle East out. Walls have been a part of human history as long as trade and government have been a part of human history. It’s just a fact of life. Here are 10 walls in history that have actually been built:

10. Let’s start off with the easiest one: the Great Wall of China. Technically a series of fortifications that began in the 7th century BC, the Great Wall of China as it is popularly depicted - stone walls with carefully-placed watch towers hemming and hawing through lush, green mountain sides -- was built to keep invaders from the north out. The Great Wall was also useful for customs officers and other government officials trying to keep tabs on economic activity. Contrary to popular myth, the Great Wall of China is not a man-made object you can see from the moon (that honor belongs to the Kennecott Copper Mine in Utah and the “greenhouse complex” in Andalusia, Spain).

9. Walls of Constantinople (4th century-1453). Begun in the 4th century with Constantinople’s founding as the new capital city of the Roman Empire, the Walls of Constantinople grew more elaborate and famed abroad as the city grew older and more established. (For example, the famed Theodosian Walls -- double walls built to the west of the original wall -- were constructed in the early part of the 5th century.) Constantinople’s walls survived sieges by Arabs, Russians, Persians, non-Ottoman Turks, and Bulgarians. The walls survived cannons and naval bombardments from the seas surrounding the city. For 900 years the Walls of Constantinople protected the inhabitants of Christianity’s capital city. It is ironic, then, that Constantinople’s walls first fell, in 1204, to Venetian mercenaries (among other factions) during the Fourth Crusade. In 1453, the Walls of Constantinople once again buckled, this time for good, to the forces of the Ottoman Empire.

8. Kano city wall in Nigeria (11th-14th centuries). The walls protecting the west African city of Kano were 50 feet high (the Walls of Constantinople, in contrast, reached up to about 40 feet). Although intimidating, the city walls of Kano did not protect its inhabitants for long. In 1513 the powerful Songhai Empire and its cannons conquered Kano and the city lost its independence for good, passing from one empire to another up to the present day, when it grew to be the second largest city in Nigeria and the de facto capital of the republic’s Muslim north.

MacArthur's 10 Most Important Battles

Brandon Christensen - January 31, 2019


Douglas MacArthur was born on Jan. 26, 1898, and went on to become one of the most important Americans of the 20th century. He made important contributions to military strategy, political theory, educational reform, and world peace. Shadowing MacArthur is also a great way to shadow the republic’s rise to global prominence. In celebration of the man’s day of birth I thought it’d be a good idea to highlight the 10 most important battles he took part in.

10. Occupation of Veracruz (April - Nov. 1914). It seems tough to fathom today, in 2019, but the United States military invaded and occupied an important port city of Mexico less than 100 years ago. The Mexicans were in the throes of a revolution when American troops arrived in Veracruz, and one side of the Mexican conflict was allied with the Americans, so it wasn’t like Washington just invaded its neighbor for the heck of it. The Occupation of Veracruz was not like the Mexican-American War. Calvary in 1914 meant horses, not tanks. In MacArthur’s career, not his lifetime but just his career, the U.S. military went from horseback to air power.

9. Second Battle of the Marne (July - Aug. 1918). Like most of World War II’s famous American leaders, MacArthur fought in World War I. The Second Battle of the Marne was the last German offensive of World War I and it was massive. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers died. Many more were wounded. MacArthur was there, leading from the front lines, and probably earning one of the many medals he accumulated throughout the war.

8. Battle of Chosin Reservoir (Nov.-Dec. 1950). Fought on the Korean Peninsula, take a quick moment to reflect on the rapid, violent change that catapulted the United States from regional hegemon in 1914 to world power less than half a century later. And MacArthur served in the military throughout the whole change. The Battle of Chosin Reservoir decisively ended MacArthur’s plans for reuniting Korea under one banner and established the two-country situation of the Korean Peninsula found today. One hundred and twenty thousand Chinese troops pushed 30,000 American, Korean, and British troops out of what is now North Korea and changed the trajectory of the Korean War once and for all. It also led to MacArthur’s political downfall, as his increasingly public calls to attack China’s coastline (with atomic bombs) angered Washington and eventually led Truman to dismiss MacArthur.

10 Warships That Simply Disappeared

Brandon Christensen - January 24, 2019


On Jan. 25, 1968, an Israeli submarine called the INS Dakar went missing along with her entire 69-man crew. For 30 years the Dakar was subject to much speculation, searching, and, thanks to the actions of the Israeli government, conspiracy theorizing. In 1999, her remains were found in between the islands of Cyprus and Crete, at a depth of 9,800 feet. The best reporting on the INS Dakar can be found here. Apparently, the hull simply collapsed after the crew dived too quickly. But official denials from the Israeli military, and a 2005 interview with an Egyptian naval officer stating that he was part of a crew that had sunk the Dakar, complicate the picture.

To make matters even more interesting, three other submarines disappeared in 1968. (I’ll get back to them shortly.) The disappearance of warships is nothing new to history buffs, but here are 10 disappearances, aside from the INS Dakar, you may not have heard about:

10. HMAS Sydney & Kormoran (lost: November 1941). So, in 1941, two light cruisers, one German and the other Australian, got into a fight in the water and both vessels were destroyed. Hundreds of survivors from the Kormoran (German side) were found floating in life rafts and on nearby islands, but no survivors were ever found from the Aussie cruiser. The two vessels, or what was left of them, were finally recovered in 2008.

9. U-47 (lost: March 1941). The U-47 was one of many German submarines that disappeared during he course of World War II, but thanks to the exceptional talents of German record keepers, it is known that U-47 was one of the most successful U-boats of World War II: she sank 31 Allied shipping vessels all by herself. In late February of 1941, U-47 left for a mission off the coast of Ireland, but she never returned. Unlike many of the warships on this list, U-47 has never been recovered and nobody knows exactly what happened to her.

10 Women Who Beat Hillary to the Punch

Brandon Christensen - January 17, 2019


On Jan. 24, 1966, Indira Gandhi became the first female Prime Minister of India, which was at that time one of the newest democracies in the world. Mrs. Gandhi was elected Prime Minister by Congress after an assassination took out her predecessor.

This fact is all the more astounding when you realize just how massive India is. There are now over one billion people living in India and another 362 million in Pakistan and Bangladesh, making the Indian subcontinent one of the most densely populated places on the planet.

I couldn’t help but think of Hillary Clinton when I grasped the enormity of Mrs. Gandhi’s accomplishment. I don’t pay attention much to politics, especially around election season, and I couldn’t help but smirk to myself when I thought of Mrs. Clinton’s quixotic quest to become the first female president of the United States. Silly American politicians, thinking only of themselves and how they can get themselves to the front of the line. Here are 10 women who beat Hillary to the punch:

10. Indira Gandhi (1966-77 & 1980-84). The most important fact to point out here is that Mrs. Gandhi had absolutely no relation to Mahatma Gandhi, one of the leaders of the Indian rebellion against the British empire. An assassination brought her down in 1984, just as one had brought down her successor in 1966. Democracy is a fragile creature, and the fact that India has survived for so long as a democracy is nothing short of miraculous. One of Mrs. Gandhi’s bodyguards murdered her, by the way, after her heavy-handed tactics led to brutal communal violence.

5 Facts About Emancipation Proclamation

& Brandon Christensen - January 10, 2019


On Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the famous Emancipation Proclamation, which, he argued, freed the slaves in the Confederacy. Today, Americans and others celebrate Lincoln’s proclamation as one of the major highlights of the modern world. Chattel slavery was finally abolished in arguably the last industrialized country on earth. The truth, however, was a bit more complicated than the celebratory narrative that schoolchildren are familiar with. Slavery in the Confederacy and the broader United States was part of a global network that used unpaid, coercive work to accomplish tasks that needed to be done. Here are five reasons the Emancipation Proclamation is more complicated than meets the eye:


5. The Emancipation Proclamation was a coldly calculated political move. Abraham Lincoln was like many, if not most, northerners in the U.S.: he loathed slavery as an institution but he didn’t like black people, either. Yet Lincoln understood that the war between North and South was about slavery above all else. He understood that to defeat the Confederacy, he was going to have to crush its peculiar institution and the ideas it stood for. So, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in the midst of the war, when morale was low in the North and victory an unsure outcome. (For those of you who are particularly passionate about an unpopular but morally superior position, such as ending the war on drugs, keep at it. Abolitionist sentiment was always extremely low in the United States, despite occasional public outbursts of anger over lynchings in the news cycle.)

4. The Confederacy was, for all intents and purposes, an independent country. When Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the Confederacy had long since declared independence from the United States and set up a federal government of its own. Montgomery, Ala. acted as its capital city until 1861, when the Confederacy’s government moved to Richmond, Va. Lincoln viewed Richmond’s diplomacy with the British and French as the most dangerous element of the Confederacy’s secession. If Richmond could somehow manage to get a world power on its side, the consequences for the future of the republic would be dire. For London and Paris, the calculations were a bit different. If either one joined the side of the Confederacy, the other would officially join the north and a global war could ensue. The Confederacy lobbied especially hard for the British to fight on their side, but there was one issue London’s hawks, the factions that wanted a war with Washington, couldn’t get past.

3. The British Empire ended slavery in 1833. Good intentions abounded when London abolished the slave trade in 1833, but ending the slave trade soon took on a life of its own for the British Empire, and before long, the United Kingdom began fighting a continuous stream of wars in Africa under the pretense of abolishing slavery. Ending the global slave trade meant that London could push into the interior of Africa and claim large swathes of territory for the crown, and all in the name of liberty. The British were not stupid, of course. London picked off what was left of the Dutch Empire in Africa, but the Portuguese slave trade was left alone as was French-claimed Africa. The British Empire’s abolition of the slave trade in its territories enlarged the territory of the empire in Africa but also put a significant dent in the profits of slave owners in British-governed territory in the New World and Old.