Rocket Woman

 Rocket Woman

Flying a rocket-propelled plane can be deadly even for an experienced test pilot. Everything happens faster than in a conventional plane and a light touch on the joystick can cause the plane to spiral out of control.  In 1942, Messerschmitt AG, an aircraft manufacturer, needed a pilot to test their Me 163a (later renamed Me 163b) rocket plane.  

The plane was basically a pilot’s seat and joystick strapped to a rocket.  The rocket burned at 1800º centigrade with a back thrust of about 4500 horsepower.  At takeoff the plane reached speeds of 220 – 250 m.p.h.  Once the undercarriage detached, the plane could accelerate to 500 m.p.h. and climb to 30,000 feet in less than two minutes.  Landing was difficult because the plane approached the landing strip at 145 to 150 m.p.h. and had to be landed like a glider

A Dose of Frontier Soldiering

A Dose of Frontier Soldiering

On a cold day in February 1877, an emigrant named Emil A. Bode volunteered for the infantry.  Bode listed his civilian job as laborer, but was unemployed, most likely as a result of the Panic of 1876 when Wall Street losses tanked the economy.  Unemployment is still a primary motivation for joining the military.

Bode (pronounced Bodie) passed the entrance physical and in March 1877, he enrolled in Company D, 16th Infantry Division.  After two months in the army, Bode’s first payday arrived.  A long row of conmen, professional gamblers and prostitutes were waiting to relieve the soldiers of their pay and most of the men were broke by sunset.  Bode noted that this pattern repeated every payday.

Things Will Go Wrong

Everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult. These difficulties accumulate and produce friction.  The friction arises because every action in a war depends on each individual involved.  This theory of friction was created by Carl von Clausewitz.  

He argued that in a war, decisions are made with three-fourths of the needed information hidden in a fog of uncertainty.  As a result, the best plan of action may fail due a mental lapse, a mistake, or a misunderstanding of a single individual.

A Chameleon

A Chameleon

Eighty years ago on September 1, 1939, World War II began. One German who came through the war mostly unscathed was Eugen Dollman.  Dollman came from an aristocratic family with roots in both Bavaria and Austria.  He graduated magna cum laude from a university in Munich with a degree in history.  In 1927, he moved to Rome to continue his studies.

Dollman seems to have spent very little time doing scholarly research. Most of his time was devoted to socializing.  As a German national and minor aristocrat, he was invited to parties hosted by the German ambassador, Ulrich von Hassell. (Hassell was part of the anti-Hitler opposition. He was murdered in 1944 during the purges following the July 20, 1944 assassination attempt against Hitler.)

The Amorous Agent

The Amorous Agent

She was beautiful and looked fragile, but years of skiing had strengthened her body.  She faced death many times without flinching.  She also seduced virtually every male agent with whom she worked.  After her death in 1952, a group of her lovers formed a club to protect her reputation.  In the 1950’s, women who slept around were sluts, even if they were also war heroes.

Christine Granville (Krystyna Skarbek) was born in 1908 into an aristocratic Polish family.  Her father, Count Jerzy Skarbek, married a Jewish heiress who converted to Catholicism.  Jerzy soon resented his wife’s Jewish heritage which denied them access to the top tier of society and the fact that her money saved his ancestral estates from bankruptcy.   He eventually abandoned her.

Traveling Companion from Hell

Traveling Companion from Hell

Group tours are only as enjoyable as the people who join you on the tour. In 1413, an English tour group suffered from one of the most obnoxious, tactless twits to ever join a package tour.  Her name was Margery Kempe.

Margery Kempe was born around 1373 in present-day King’s Lynn, England into a prosperous merchant family.  Her father was the mayor of the city.  At an early age, Margery committed a sin that left her worrying about her chances of getting into heaven. 

A Cold Night in Paris

A Cold Night in Paris

On a bitterly cold night in November 1407, a group of men lay in wait along the Rue Vielle du Temple.  The street is in the Marais which today is one of the toniest areas of Paris. The men had spent days building their cover story and tracking their quarry.  Around 8 pm, Louis of Orleans rode down the street accompanied by several squires.

The assassins crowded round Louis’ entourage as their leader bellowed, “kill him!”  As many as a dozen men attacked.  They were armed with swords, knives, bow and arrow, and axes.  Louis was knocked to the pavement and in less than ten minutes, he was dead, hacked to pieces with his skull split from crown to jaw.  One of his squires lay dead beside him. The assassins fled to the scene of the crime. By the next day, they had slipped out of Paris.

Sex and the Election

Sex and the Election

Mudslinging has always been featured in our political elections.  The mud often involves attacks against women and their presumed or actual sexual activities.  One of the most famous of these attacks was against Rachel Jackson. 

Rachel married at an early age to a ne’er-do-well. They soon divorced and she moved back to Nashville, Tennessee, where she met and married Andrew Jackson.  Unfortunately, her divorce was not final when they married.  After discovering their error, they remarried legally.  No one would have cared about their marital status if Andrew hadn’t decided to run for president in 1824.  

The Seduction of Nationalism

The Seduction of Nationalism

Our country has been insulted! Our honor is at stake!  Declare war now!  

In 1870, the French press howled for a military response to the rise of Prussia. The French feared that they would soon be eclipsed by the economic and military power of Prussia. They believed they still had the best army in the world and could win easily.  They fell into the trap of jingoistic nationalism.

Two Bullets That Changed the World

Two Bullets That Changed the World

At 10:10 am on June 28, 1914, two people were murdered and the world changed forever.  The murders of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife Sophie are considered the spark that started World War I.  Their deaths didn’t have to start a war.  Their deaths were an excuse used by nations fighting for military superiority. 

In 1914, the world looked much like today with a globalized elite controlling most of their nations’ wealth, labor unrest, and unsettling social changes. Nationalism and a belief in racial superiority guided government policies. 

Five Minutes with an 88

Five Minutes with an 88

On June 6, 1944, more than 130,000 ground troops and 23,000 airborne troops flooded into Normandy on D-Day, but a week later they were behind schedule as the Allies struggled to break out from their beachhead.

The British reached Bayeux on June 7th four miles shy of their D-Day objective, the city of Caen.  Whoever controlled Caen also controlled access to the Caen Canal, the northern Orne River and entry into northeastern France, but Caen couldn’t be reached. 

Coolness Under Fire

Coolness Under Fire

George Henry Thomas was born in 1816, near Yorktown, Virginia, into a family of prosperous farmers.  At the age of 15, his family narrowly escaped being murdered during Nat Turner’s slave revolt when their farm was attacked.  Despite his narrow escape, Thomas never exhibited prejudice, treating everyone equally and fairly.  

When Thomas was 19 years old, he received an appointment to West Point Military Academy. One of his roommates was William Tecumseh Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant, arrived as a plebe during his final year.   Thomas received his commission in 1840 and was a career officer. 

Failure Was the Only Option

Failure Was the Only Option

At 10:00 am on July 20, 1944, Graf Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg arrived at Hitler’s headquarters in Ukraine to attend the daily military briefing.  On the drive from the airfield, he armed a bomb in his briefcase. It can’t have been easy; Stauffenberg was missing an eye, his right hand and two fingers of his left hand, due to combat injuries. 

The military conference took place in a wooden hut. Stauffenberg’s briefcase was propped against a table leg near Hitler.  Stauffenberg soon excused himself and left the room. A few minutes later around 12:40 pm the bomb exploded, disintegrating the building and killing several people instantly. 

Songs of Love, Songs of War

Songs of Love, Songs of War

As the Dark Ages faded into the feudal world of the Middle Ages, a new form of popular music developed. The songs told stories about knights and ladies, forbidden love and battles. These pop tunes were known as chansons d’amour (songs of love) and chansons de geste (songs of war).

Songs of love resembled modern “historical romances” (aka bodice-rippers) with heart-broken lovers and cuckolded spouses.  Songs of war created an idealized image of knights and often ended in a heroic death, like Song of Roland.

Adolf is Dead!

Adolf is Dead!

The toilets overflowed.  The air reeked of sewage and too many bodies.  The ground shook from a constant artillery bombardment that knocked concrete chunks from the ceiling. Some inmates risked death above-ground just to get a breath of less rancid air. 

Under the ruined flower beds in the garden of the New Reich Chancellery, diehard loyalists huddled in the Fuhrerbunker.  Most stayed drunk, even in the presence of Hitler who was a teetotaler.  He didn’t notice because he was higher than a kite on drugs.  

Fighting in the Dark

Fighting in the Dark

The Confederate troops advanced at 4:00 pm on November 30, 1864 as the daylight faded. They were serenaded by military bands as they advanced toward Franklin, Tennessee. They crossed open fields spreading in an arc from the Harpeth River on their right flank to Carter’s Creek Pike on the left flank.  

They had marched all the way from Atlanta, Georgia after evading the Union forces commanded by General William T. Sherman.  Sherman’s troops laid a 50-mile wide swathe of destruction through Georgia on the way to South Carolina, but managed to lose track of the opposing army. Confederate General John Bell Hood marched back to Tennessee hoping to either draw the Union forces after him or to reclaim Tennessee for the South. Tennessee had been under Union control since 1862.

Witness to Secession

Witness to Secession

“What a dear, delightful place is Charleston,” proclaimed Mary Chesnut, in March 1861.  Mary loved the nightly dinners and dances while her husband was a delegate to the secession convention.  South Carolina became the first state to secede from the U.S.

Mary Boykin Chesnut was born into a South Carolina family that owned plantations in South Carolina and Mississippi.  Her father was a prominent Nullifier.  Nullifiers argue that the Constitution’s 10th Amendment reserves all powers to the states unless specifically assigned to the federal government; and therefore federal laws don’t apply to a state without the state’s consent.

A Man for the Ages

A Man for the Ages

A polymath is an exceptionally educated person; someone who is an expert in many subjects.  Maimonides is the perfect example.  He was good at everything.

Maimonides was a scientist who studied mathematics, astronomy, and logic. He was a philosopher who wrote treatises on ethics and politics.  He was also a lawyer and a medical doctor, serving as the personal physician to the Muslim caliph in Cairo.  In addition to these secular topics, he was a rabbi who still influences Jewish law. 

The Vietnam Generation

The Vietnam Generation

Each generation faces a major political or social upheaval that forever shapes their view of the world.  For baby boomers, that event was the Vietnam War.  How did we get involved in that mess?

America’s involvement in Vietnam started after World War II, as the Cold War began. Vietnamese nationalists, like Ho Chi Minh, helped the Allies defeat the Japanese occupation in the expectation that Vietnam would become independent.  They were wrong.