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Soldiers’ gear through the centuries: So different, so similar
08:22 am



1066 huscarl, Battle of Hastings
“‘The Anglo-Saxon warrior at Hastings is perhaps not so very different from the British “Tommy” in the trenches,’ photographer Thom Atkinson says. ‘At the Battle of Hastings, soldiers’ choice of weaponry was extensive.”
With the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand a few weeks ago, we’re now in for four-plus years of grim remembrance. That may be the reason for the recent appearance of this grim, enthralling set of pictures, documenting in exquisite detail the exact gear issued to British military personnel for thirteen major conflicts spanning the years 1066 (you ought to know that date) to the present day.

The photos were taken by Thom Atkinson, and some of his thoughts as well as other commentary that goes with the set are reproduced with the pictures—U.K. terminology such as “draughts” has been retained, but some spellings have been Americanized, deal with it.

The pictures tend to emphasize the soldier’s role as an unwilling participant in combat. Drained of anyone’s specific personality and reduced to ordnance and the many other essential items—invariably issued in a top-down fashion by military planners—what remains are the two essential imperatives of a soldier’s lot: to kill as many of the enemy as possible and to survive the weeks, months, or years of panic, desperation, despair, fatigue, hunger, rage, etc., not to mention the major trauma to the body that is a live potentiality at any moment.

No amount of technology can do away with the fact that war always demands that its participants push beyond all extremes: extremes of environment, extremes of fatigue, extremes of risk, extremes of pain. If it were not so—if it were not the case that any combatant (below a certain rank, in the actual theater of war) on either side can die at any time—it would not be war, it would be something else.

Thus the materials and the methods change, but the ends remain pretty similar: tools to chop, tools to dig, tools to divert, tools to stab, tools to enable solace, tools to feed, tools to launch projectiles, tools to orient. And so forth. And that’s why these pictures, aside from Mr. Atkinson’s clear intent in highlighting it, all seem eerily the same.

1244 mounted knight, Siege of Jerusalem
“Re-enactment groups, collectors, historians and serving soldiers helped photographer Thom Atkinson assemble the components for each shot. ‘It was hard to track down knowledgeable people with the correct equipment,’ he says. ‘The pictures are really the product of their knowledge and experience.’”

1415 fighting archer, Battle of Agincourt
“Having worked on projects with the Wellcome Trust and the Natural History Museum, photographer Thom Atkinson has turned his focus to what he describes as ‘the mythology surrounding Britain’s relationship with war.’”

1485 Yorkist man-at-arms, Battle of Bosworth
“‘There’s a spoon in every picture,’ Atkinson says. ‘I think that’s wonderful. The requirement of food, and the experience of eating, hasn’t changed in 1,000 years. It’s the same with warmth, water, protection, entertainment.’”

1588 trainband caliverman, Tilbury
“The similarities between the kits are as startling as the differences. Notepads become iPads, 18th-century bowls mirror modern mess tins; games such as chess or cards appear regularly.”

1645 New Model Army musketeer, Battle of Naseby
“Each kit represents the personal equipment carried by a notional common British soldier at a landmark battle over the past millennium. It is a sequence punctuated by Bosworth, Naseby, Waterloo, the Somme, Arnhem and the Falklands—bookended by the Battle of Hastings and Helmand Province.”

1709 private sentinel, Battle of Malplaquet
“Atkinson says the project, which took him nine months, was an education. ‘I’ve never been a soldier. It’s difficult to look in on a subject like this and completely understand it. I wanted it to be about people. Watching everything unfold, I begin to feel that we really are the same creatures with the same fundamental needs.’”

1815 private soldier, Battle of Waterloo
“Kit issued to soldiers fighting in the Battle of Waterloo included a pewter tankard and a draughts set.”

1854 private soldier, Rifle Brigade, Battle of Alma
“Each picture depicts the bandages, bayonets and bullets of survival, and the hooks on which humanity hangs: letter paper, prayer books and Bibles.”

1916 private soldier, Battle of the Somme
“While the First World War was the first modern war, as the Somme kit illustrates, it was also primitive. Along with his gas mask a private would be issued with a spiked ‘trench club’ – almost identical to medieval weapons.”

1944 lance corporal, Parachute Brigade, Battle of Arnhem
“Each photograph shows a soldier’s world condensed into a pared-down manifest of defenses, provisions and distractions. There is the formal (as issued by the quartermaster and armorer) and the personal (timepieces, crucifixes, combs and shaving brushes).”

1982 Royal Marine Commando, Falklands conflict
“From the cumbersome armor worn by a Yorkist man-at-arms in 1485 to the packs yomped into Port Stanley on the backs of Royal Marines five centuries later, the literal burden of a soldier’s endeavor is on view.”

2014 close-support sapper, Royal Engineers, Helmland Province
“The evolution of technology that emerges from the series is a process that has accelerated over the past century. The pocket watch of 1916 is today a waterproof digital wristwatch; the bolt-action Lee-Enfield rifle has been replaced by laser-sighted light assault carbines; and lightweight camouflage Kevlar vests take the place of khaki woolen Pattern service tunics.”

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Draft dodger John Wayne made pro-Vietnam war propaganda
06:23 am


John Wayne

“Peace is Tough,” Jamie Reid

While perusing the YouTube channel of the fine and friendly folks at Troma Entertainment (the geniuses behind such subversive classics as The Toxic Avenger, Surf Nazis Must Die and ‎Class of Nuke ‘Em High), I came across a very different kind of B movie, the John Wayne-hosted “docu-drama,” No Substitute for Victory, and believe me, it’s way more disturbing than anything Troma ever put out. The structure is a pathos-rich tapestry of on-the-ground footage, interviews with soldiers, talking heads and military uppers, newsreels for “political context” (to show the impending threat of communism), and emphatic rallying from The Duke, himself. It opens with gunfire from a helicopter, then Wayne’s absurd drawl, setting the mood for the film in no uncertain terms:

“Ladies and gentleman, a long time ago, Abraham Lincoln made a statement; ‘To sin by silence when you should speak out, makes cowards of men.’  It’s time we spoke out about Vietnam, and the most obvious, yet the most ignored threat ever faced by free people in the history of the world. The street demonstrators demand that we get out of Southeast Asia so that there will be peace. Where do they get the idea that there’ll be peace just because we quit?

We can’t stop the war by givin’ up, and we sure can’t settle anything by tryin’ to bargain with a winning enemy at the peace table.This was a war that was going on a long time before Vietnam, and will go on whether we pull out or not. We can’t stop the war by giving up, and the way it is now, we’re not programmed to win, because of the politicians and civilians that we’ve let stick their nose in it.”

It then cuts to a soldier who was stationed in Vietnam, but now flies helicopters commercially. He opines that he “was there to fight the communists, and try to win. But our politicians wouldn’t let us.”

Then back to Wayne, who asks, incredulously, “What kind of a war is this that we’re not supposed to win?”

It’s a mesmerizingly vulgar little piece of work, with no more subtly or insight than a chain email forwarded from a Fox News-watching senior citizen. Director Robert F. Slatzer was also a B movie director, though with none of the wit or acuity one might see in a Troma film—his 1968 biker girl film, The Hellcats, is most famous for being skewered in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. To give you an idea of how contrived his direction is, there’s a brief speech by Sergeant Barry Sadler himself, while his hit, “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” plays in the background. It’s the sort of corny nationalist twaddle that you could laugh at a lot more easily if there weren’t a body count.

John Wayne with Marines in Vietnam, 1966
Of course, it’s fairly predictable that John Wayne, the archetypal all-American “man’s man” cowboy do a little bit of right-wing agitprop, but it’s worth noting that Wayne famously “deferred for [family] dependency reasons” during World War II. He said he’d enlist after a couple more movies, but he never seemed to get around to it. He did, however, manage to make thirteen films while the war raged on, many of which dealt with the subject of war—that’s kind of the same thing, right? (It’s also worth noting that at the time of this film’s release, 1970, public support for the war was rapidly waning, even among the white working class “hard-hat” types who were arguably Wayne’s audience.)

But John Wayne’s “performance” in No Substitute for Victory feels very little like a rote recitation of bellicose talking points. His colloquial disgust with “the reds” is downright overwrought, even histrionic at times, despite his characteristic folksy anecdotes and turns of phrase. I believe his faith in the righteousness of the war was genuine. Then again, he was an actor, and chickenhawks always crow the loudest.

Anyway, I was always more of a Lee Marvin girl

Via Troma Movies

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
I’d rather watch George Lucas’ 1966 student film, ‘Freiheit,’ than any of those godawful ‘prequels’
07:17 am


Star Wars
George Lucas
student film

George Lucas has managed to fashion one of the strangest careers in all of cinema. First, he created one of the biggest (if not the biggest) movie franchises of all time. Then, he took the legacy of that phenomenon and perverted it beyond all recognition. And as if contaminating the childhoods of a million nerds wasn’t enough, he became highly litigious, threatening to sue anyone who so much as referenced Star Wars in a fan parody—he even tried to sue lobbyists during the Reagan administration over the nickname of the Strategic Defense Initiative missile program! Yes, it’s fair to say that no one quite hates George Lucas as much as Star Wars fans hate George Lucas. The guy seems like kind of a dick.

But in the spirit of goodwill towards men, I think it’s only fair that we go back to a time when Lucas was an idealistic young film student, making movies to actually emotionally engage people. Freiheit is a short Lucas made in 1966, and it’s certainly not something you’d expect from the man who brought us Jar Jar Binks. In less than three minutes, a young man (played by—get this—Randal Kleiser, the future director of Grease) attempts to dash across the border from East to West Germany. He is shot after a near escape, and he dies with a rabble of narrations on freedom.

It’s a student film in every sense of the word—dramatic and heavy-handed, and arguably overly-literal in its messaging. It’s also really impressive. The action shots show amazing instincts. The pacing builds anticipation. The editing is crisp. Even the blue tint to the film gives a cohesion to the cinematography—what would have been a busy setting is now austere and cool. It’s almost enough to make me forgive him. Almost.

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Remember the women & children of Iraq: Fouad Hady’s heartwrenching reports

Fouad Hady contemplates a 15-year sentence in a Saddam-era women’s prison cell
Whether under Saddam Hussein’s abysmal regime or in this post-“liberation” era, we tend to think of Iraq in terms of power and its players—mostly leaders and soldiers and mostly men.

Nine years after he fled Baghdad for Australia, Melbourne-based reporter Fouad Hady has helped change that by travelling back to his home country to file long-form reports from the ground for the Dateline program on Australia’s public SBS One channel.

In 2009’s “City of Widows,” Hady first surveys the miserable poverty of Baghdad’s outlying Al-Rashad district before being told of the Saddam-era womens’ prison, some of the cells of which are now occupied by refugees from other areas. Downtown in the city—which is home to 80,000 of Iraq’s 750,000 widows—he finds a burgeoning movement of women in loss.

“Deadly Legacy”—filed last month—finds Hady reporting from Fallujah, which was the site of massive anti-insurgent operations during which American troopes used munitions made with depleted uranium. Hady’s reporting on the city’s astronomical rates of cancer, infant mortality and leukemia speaks for itself.

These two reports are staggering in their eye-level view of some of Iraq’s afflictions before and after Saddam. No matter your position on that war, these should also prove instructive to those clamoring for action against a far more formidable foe like Iran. War against that country would make this look like a game of croquet. 
Click to see City of Widows on YouTube
After the jump: see Deadly Legacy on YouTube…

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment