Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fury - Film Critique

Set within the onslaught of WWII, Fury provides a practical and raw depiction of warfare and the cruelty of mankind. Highly inappropriate in terms of language and realistic carnage, Fury succeeds as an emotionally striking film designed for the audience to be overwhelmed by shock along with the experience of the characters surviving in a chaotic swirl of savagery, abuse and forgotten morals.

Appreciatively, the historical accuracy of military units and weaponry were utilized as a main element, examples of WWII era trademarks such as grenades, smoke bombs, mortars, rapid fire and a mass of US tanks proceeding 
Allied fire appears as red lasers to assist the audience's sight
in converging columns through a series of hedgerows weeks after the commencement of D-Day. A prominent example of US firepower was displayed through a glimpse of the air force which passed by overhead while a battalion of Sherman tanks led by tank Fury confronted a German Tiger and an SS brigade as the Allied forces strove to conclude the war by subduing town after town as the unit continued to press on into Germany.
Norman's introduction to Don & tank unit: Fury
However, the direction of the plot intended not to glorify the military but to expose trampled virtue. This theme is emphasized through the demoralization of Norman Ellison, a youth who’s loss of innocence is continually stressed throughout the course of the film. Introduced as a bumbling clerk-typist disgusted by injustice, he is swiftly taught a lesson by his commander, Don "Wardaddy" Collier, who physically forces him to murder a captured German POW, an act signifying the first tainting of his character with his first shedding of blood.
Don orders Norman to finish the POW, arguing that war is "to kill or be killed."
From this point, he is further instructed to engage in improper relations with a German girl, the diminishing of their purity, and finally through the manner in which he strikes down his enemies with artillery fire while chanting curses at the oncoming barrage of Nazi forces before his tank. During the finale, his companions entitled him “machine” as that is what he has become, a machine of war devoid of compassion; the young soldier no longer seeing his enemy as a human being but rather as a target to be extinguished for the sole purpose of an end goal swamped with vengeance.
Norman stands atop his gunner hatch
Surprisingly, Fury highlights that it is but a German soldier who is to be merciful upon Norman. Ironically, the soldier appears to be roughly the same age, a fact that not all Germans are monsters and that many are caught up within the throes of war, similarly sharing Norman’s fate. The German’s compassionate gesture harkens the trace of what Norman has lost; that noble former self he had intended to maintain. His inner commitment to displaying justice regardless of the immorality around him is expounded by how Norman’s terrified eyes stare up in desperation at the German soldier who kindly smiles and deliberately chooses to spare the life of the young boy covered in mud and the blood of his fallen comrades.
An impactful theme laced throughout Fury is the portrayal of tarnished morality. This motif is visible in Norman and through the example of a character Boyd Snicknamed “Bible,” a Christian who poses as the moral compass of the tank. Although Bible displays grace and is a channel pointing towards salvation, he additionally serves as an overpowering presence in certain instances, specifically in the scene where he aloofly sits on the tank, refraining from looting while soldiers plunder the captured town and while at the dinner table in the German home. His presence reminds his platoon leader that they have a duty to respond to, one of which does not allow a pretense of peace while at war.

Boyd "Bible" Swan receives orders that Fury is to proceed further into the Rhine
However, Bible’s consequential nature also falters in the face of moral indignity, wherein he remained silent when there were appropriate times in which he should have stood resolutely for an actual execution of ethics instead of standing disapprovingly by as his company devalue and humiliate the German ladies and in another instance when they cuss, jeer and erupt into praise over the massacre of Nazis with the desire to extend their suffering. Ultimately, Bible’s character offered the dim light of salvation and a purpose beyond the harsh reality experienced in Europe, 1945. His unexpected demise could even be argued as a pardon from God, concealing Bible within Himself in order for the Christian to not experience as much pain in his instant death compared to the lingering doom awaiting those remaining within Fury.
I heard the voice of the Lord calling, "Who will go for Us?" And I said, "Send me."
While this film does not receive a high recommendation, as the characters were difficult to find endearing, I appreciated the director’s attempt to portray a realistic account. Despite the artistic intention, I found myself hardly caring whether they survived for I had become disenchanted by their adverse behavior, deplorable logic, inhumane treatment of women and thoroughly disgusted at the militant culture that subjected its own soldiers to promote such brutality to simply prove the point that its either your death or your enemy’s in war, regardless of how practical and base that notion is.
Conclusively, Fury presents a harsh exposé of American soldiers during WWII – showing how a fierce, typically drunk and foul-mouthed, mismatched band of soldiers were able to loosely unify around the tank that they were willing to sweat, bleed and die within in order to protect one another and preserve the pursuit championed by the Allied forces. The film climaxes with Norman being heralded as a hero yet such praise starkly resonates with the fact that they are indeed heroes, but heroes that compromised their morality for the sake of unrealized ideals accomplished through anything but just means due to succumbing to animalistic tendencies and debase ethics justified by war. Their sacrifice, no matter how gallant a demise, does not justify previous brutality and the battalion’s blatant disregard of righteousness.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I'm Off to Europe!

Hello! I have yet to post a new entry in quite awhile but I promise I'm working on some good content to show you soon!

Now, this blog features historical/educational information and yet, I'd like to make it a bit more personal. In order to accomplish this, I've decided that I might post reviews on some of my purchases or the locations I've visited. If there is anything in particular you'd like to see or are interested in, please comment below :)

Some exciting news is that I'll be traveling to Europe for the first time! I can't believe I'll finally be standing before the Eiffel Tower and wandering about Trafalgar Square in about a week. You can just sense my bursting enthusiasm I'm sure.

The Seine at night

Besides seeing monuments and elaborate architecture that I've longed to witness my entire life, I'm most excited about trying those famous French baguettes and hopefully manage to enjoy an hour or so by the Seine while sipping coffee at a charming little cafe.

If only in my dreams!

Speaking of which, if you're into French history or fabulous movies like Marie Antoinette, you should check out my website on the Palace of Versailles!

I created this website as a university assignment. I can guarantee that you won't be disappointed and you might learn a surprising thing or two, especially regarding 18th century Parisian fashion including why wigs and mouse fur were used!

I'll be back after my trip,

Much love and many blessings to you all until then!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Loyalty of the Golden West

Loyalty of the Golden West:
The Internment of Japanese Americans

During World War II, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, nearly 120,000 Japanese-Americans were forcibly relocated to internment camps. Those who lived along the West Coast, whose loyalty to the United States was previously unquestioned, instantaneously faced prejudice and discrimination as public opinion viciously turned against citizens of Japanese descent. As the media circulated the devastating horrors experienced at the Hawaiian naval base, Americans grew nervous, apprehensive that another such bombing could occur closer to home. Fear prompted accusations to arise as those who supported the internment program desired to associate Japanese living along the Pacific with potential threats of espionage.
Notice of the Order posted in 1942
On February 19, 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, approving the government-enforced evacuation of supposed enemies to the state, gathering those of Japanese, German and Italian heritage in order to relocate these American citizens to relocation centers set in desolate portions of California, Idaho, Wyoming and other remote Western states. Although a portion of Europeans were evacuated, Japan alone faced massive removal. Roosevelt, prompted by the administration, enacted this ordinance primarily due to perceiving Japanese citizens as a threat to national security.
Traveling to internment camps

Realizing that the public had been swayed to segregate the Japanese, most burned or buried any possessions considered un-American such as records, books and even family heirlooms. Despite attempts to mask their identity and prove that they were assimilated into American culture; the Japanese were easily identified and resented by their neighbors, especially farmers who despised agrarian competition and the overwhelming presence Japanese farmers enjoyed in California’s central valley where they experienced economic success. Assuming that cultural and ethnic links to Imperial Japan would encourage reconnaissance, the United States government rapidly secured the majority of the U.S. Japanese population which resided within close proximity to the warring empire due to their position on the Golden Coast.
An example of Japanese segregation in Idaho

Within a forty-eight hour period, thousands of Americans claiming Japanese nationality found themselves within the custody of the Immigration and Naturalization Service which shuffled these exiles living in vulnerable zones into makeshift facilities. Although the bulk of these individuals were U.S. citizens by birth, two-thirds were forced to leave their homes, sell their businesses and pack only two suitcases per person within a two week period.

Japanese occupying the Fresno fairgrounds
Before being transferred to official camps, most Japanese loitered in racetracks and fairgrounds for months, only sheltered by meager tents and rations. Upon arrival to camps such as Manzanar, the occupants were instructed to build their own lodging. Overcrowded and ill-prepared, Japanese deportees survived in poor living conditions without plumbing or cooking facilities and inadequate supplies. Rationing cost forty-eight cents per internee and was served by camp members in halls housing roughly three hundred occupants. The camps housed pitiable barracks surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards.

Japanese families being escorted by military personnel
Some families were disrupted as members were separated and placed in one of the ten major internment centers while a few died from the lack of medical care and emotional distress.
A crowded mess hall
Those in desert regions endured harsh terrain and elements while every camp suffered bouts of food poisoning, extreme temperatures and unsanitary, communal lavatories and bathrooms. However, inmates were most concerned about their future for they were left uninformed regarding the duration that their internment would last. Though grieving economic loss and humiliation, Japanese unity emerged. Camps constructed civic councils, operated hospitals and newspaper services while churches offered education, choral and spiritual enlightenment.

Nurse Aiko Hamaguchi assisting Toyoko Ioki at the Manzanar Center
Civilians provided entertainment, enjoying movie screenings, sumo wrestling tournaments, recitals and the fruits of their gardens. In 1943 all internees over the age of seventeen were given a loyalty test, asking them to swear allegiance to their nation and defend her from any foreign or domestic attack. Detainees were allowed to leave the concentration camps if they were willing to join the U.S. Army, an offer that most refused.
Returning to barracks after a church service
Harrowingly, no American placed in the internment camps were officially charged with espionage nor were they provided with a trial. Two important legal cases eventually clamored against Japanese internment. Despite arguing that Japanese’ Fifth Amendment rights were violated by the U.S. government based on discriminatory claims, Hirabayashi v. United States (1943), and Korematsu v. United States (1944) both lost as the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government. These cases occurred before Brown v. Board which would establish the doctrine of equal citizenship in 1954.
Families returning from internment camps with assistance
Two years after signing the Executive Order, President Roosevelt repealed the decision, allowed internees to return home and closed the final internment camp in 1945. However, this blatant override of constitutional power and racism alienated Japanese citizens who saw their citizenship tarnished by the very nation claiming equality for all. Although many faced hostility after their release, most decided to rebuild their lives while 5,766 natural born Japanese renounced their American citizenship and returned to Japan. Eventually, America issued government apologies and reparations to Japanese Americans for the property and years they had lost.

Manzanar Relocation Center in Central California
Japanese-American internment serves as one of the most sweeping deprivations of constitutional rights in American history. The Executive Order and forced relocation of hundreds of thousands of citizens deprived equal protection under the law which guarantees the Fifth Amendment, due process of law and the individual right to work, own property and live freely. Despite suffering injustice, this period of detainment serves as a warning, urging America to not stumble from her core values in order to ensure that such a denial of justice will not have the opportunity to occur again in the proceeding decades.

Suggest Reading:

American Council on Public Affairs . "Issei, Nisei, and Kibei." Displaced Japanese-Americans. Fortune Magazine, April 1944.

Without a Country. Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1947.

Outcasts! The Story of America's Treatment of Her Japanese-American Minority. Fellowship of Reconciliation, 1944.

Yoosun, Park. "Facilitating Injustice: Tracing the Role of Social Workers in the World War II Internment of Japanese Americans." Social Service Review 82.3 : 447-483.

Wozniacka, Gosia. "Memorial site to mark Japanese American detention during WWII." Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. (accessed March 17, 2014).

"Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214(1944): The U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Internment." History Matters. (accessed March 17, 2014).

"Ansel Adams's Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar." Library of Congress. (accessed March 17, 2014).

RLBARNES. "FEBRUARY 19, 1942: Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 and Japanese Internment During World War II.” U.S. History Scene. (accessed March 17, 2014).

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Visiting Monticello

Monticello, Jefferson’s “little mount” is a national historic landmark upheld by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation which runs the house as a museum and interactive estate. Inheriting land from his father, Jefferson began construction at twenty six and eventually accomplished the plantation in 1772 upon which he cultivated tobacco and wheat. After acquiring modern architectural ideals from his time spent in Europe after the death of his wife, Martha Skelton, Jefferson decided to renovate his homestead into a neoclassical structure. Throughout his presidency, from 1809 until his death in 1826, he continued to remodel-a process which was adapted by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. The private non-profit organization purchased the property in 1923 and currently operates Monticello as a museum and educational institution.

I drove through thick Virginian wood until I reached the site prized atop a secluded buff in Charlottesville, Virginia. The villa overlooks the surrounding landscape and a grand visitors’ center that rests at the base of Monticello. Decorated by a naturalistic layout, the epicenter contains a ticket office, fountain, picnic tables, and a store that guests can browse while waiting to load onto a bus which carries tourists to the guided tour area. Once divided into a group, I was escorted about the premises by a tour guide. We approached the house along a gravely road and eventually I vaulted the steps of Monticello herself. Beginning at the Entrance Hall, the tour then proceeded to the study, library, private bedrooms, and parlor. Once the tour concluded on the balcony, visitors were allowed to roam freely.

Highly interested in horticulture, botany and agriculture, Jefferson entertained a lifelong pursuit of beautifying his grounds, establishing and nurturing an impressive flower and vegetable garden and vineyard. Fortunately the Garden Club of Virginia managed to reconstruct Jefferson’s garden to its current state, providing the public with a greenhouse blooming with over one hundred and five different species. I took advantage of this opportunity to explore the gardens, Jefferson’s prized orchard, and slave quarters along Mulberry Road before paying my respects at the family graveyard.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the statesman’s home was the welcome in which Thomas greeted his many visitors. Stunning his guests with revolutionary architecture and a personal reception, Jefferson also desired to impart his guests with a sliver of knowledge, an appreciation for culture and a portion of America’s rich history. He impressively furnished the Entrance Hall with maps, fossils, antlers, hides and various artifacts which Lewis and Clark had collected along their expedition, a mission personally sponsored by the Third President.
Serving as a museum and conversation piece, the Entrance Hall is filled with natural relics, Native American finery and artistic pieces that were meant to entertain and educate Jefferson's house guests. A humorous finding within this scene is that of a bust of Alexander Hamilton, his political opponent, fixed to eternally gaze across at the stony replica of Jefferson. A rather amusing detail is that Jefferson crafted his own likeness slightly larger than the Federalist. My tour guide explained that the two adversaries were intended to be “opposed in death” as they were in life; serving as a motivational challenge for Jefferson whenever he passed his threshold.

However, my favorite portions of Jefferson’s house were the parlor and the “Madison” room. Honorably, the Jefferson family referred to the west wing of the house as the Madison room for James and Dolly frequently visited and would often enjoy months of their dear friend’s company. On the other hand, the parlor featured as a living room specifically intended for discussion and entertainment. Jefferson is famously known as a violinist while many of his family members were also talented musicians who enjoyed hours of conversation, dancing and chess. The family would typically gather in the evenings to read. Virginia Randolph, Jefferson’s granddaughter, later recalled that sometimes while she was reading she would see him “raise his eyes from his own book, and look round on the little circle of readers and smile.” Reading would prove to be one of Jefferson’s greatest joys and in order to accommodate his company; Thomas installed a variety of chairs and sofas about Monticello, such as the campeachy chair.

Known as “siesta” chairs, Jefferson was often seen reclining in one with a book. Encouraged to try out the comfortable chair, I kindly took up the offer. I highly recommend its luxurious charm but inwardly cringed at the price of another campeachy I found in the store. I moved on from the chair and soon became fascinated by the numerous innovations Jefferson crafted which were showcased about the parlor. Jefferson is credited for designing a revolving closet, a dumbwaiter system based on the French dinning style, a weighted clock and even a dual pen which aided his many annotations.

Besides hosting notable figures that inspired Jefferson’s personal ideology, Jefferson also decorated the parlor and many of his private studies with busts of his close companions including Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, George Washington and even the distant Marquis de Lafayette. As I highly regard the French general, I was delighted to discover that his likeness was scattered about Monticello. Perhaps inspired during his tenure as Minister to France, Jefferson borrowed heavily from the French. Utilizing their sliding doors, modernized color schemes and artistic patterns, Jefferson designed his beloved home in an unconventional method unfamiliar to Colonial America.

Monticello remains an internationally acclaimed portion of world heritage, the only American house to be protected by the United Nation’s as an invaluable treasure and resource. Fun and interactive, the Monticello website is well organized with professional and engaging graphics and a surplus of links that are categorized according to Jefferson’s personal life, the architecture and the overall layout of his home. The website is user friendly and makes observing different portions of the site accessible while offering educational field trips, behind the scenes tours and holiday packages.
Additionally, the site features an elaborate greeting center and shop which contains authentic recipes, cheeses, wines, candles and books relating to the 18th century as well as tourist merchandise. The tour was an appropriate length and set at an affordable price although I wish one was allowed to study the rooms to a greater extent during or after the tour. In addition to receiving funding from private sponsors, the horde of annual tourists provides an ample income to regulate and improve the grounds for public history. Overall, this historic site is properly managed and maintained by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation which has successfully operated Monticello and intends to preserve the legacy of Thomas Jefferson for generations.

Suggested Reading:

Hatch, Peter J. “A Rich Spot of Earth”, Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello.
Fleming, Thomas. "The Jew Who Helped Save Monticello", The Jewish Digest, February 1974: 43–49.
"Monticello (Thomas Jefferson House)". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2014.

Monday, February 24, 2014

"I Have a War to Finish" - The Legacy of Leo Major

One of the most celebrated Canadian soldiers, Leo Major served in World War II as well as the Korean War. His actions earned the Distinguished Conduct Medal, a prestigious award only two other Canadians have received yet he has achieved this honor twice. Born in Massachusetts on January 23, 1921, his family soon relocated to Montreal, Canada. Suffering a tempestuous relationship with his father, Leo ran away from home to live with his aunt. Once he completed high school, the lack of career opportunities prompted him to enlist in the Canadian army. He was placed in the Regiment de la Chaudiere, sent to Scotland to train as a sniper and was selected as a member of the elite squadrons to engage D-Day operations.
Leo writing a letter after being hospitalized
Landing on Normandy, he survived the dash across the beaches and single-handedly captured a German Armored Vehicle that conveniently contained German Army codes. During a melee with an SS Patrol, he managed to kill several soldiers before one launched a phosphorous grenade at him. The blast caused him to lose vision in an eye. Although medical doctors prepared to evacuate him to England, he defiantly refused by stating, “No way! Sorry, but I have a war to finish.”
           He now wore an eye patch over his left eye, chuckling that he appeared like a pirate. Instead of wallowing over his loss, he cheerfully stated that he only required one eye to serve his country. The man’s steeled resolve allowed his skill to flourish despite his marred vision and after healing sufficiently, he resumed combat. Shortly following the summer of 1944, forces clashed in the Battle of Scheldt, wherein Leo captured ninety three German soldiers in Holland. Scouting the location of a missing Canadian infantry unit during a reconnaissance mission, Leo came across his captured compatriots. Swiftly he ambushed two German troops with the intent to make them his prisoners. Successfully doing so, a nearby garrison witnessed the activity. Believing their commander had surrendered, they followed suit, allowing Leo to march roughly one hundred prisoners back into the Allied camp.

A video homage to the French-Canadian war hero

February 1945 rumbled through as did the Padre. Leo assisted by loading corpses from a destroyed Tiger Tank onto the vehicle, and as just as the driver ignited the engine, the carrier struck a tank mine. Leo’s body collided with the ground, causing him to instantly black-out. He was loaded onto a stretcher, driven thirty miles away to a field hospital and yet again instructed to return home. The doctor’s report revealed that three portions of his back were broken along with four ribs and both ankles. Not daunted in the slightest, Major devised an escape route during his week-long recovery. He hitched a ride onto a jeep which drove him to Nijmegen where he stayed with a family for a month before returning to his regiment in March. Precisely during this time, his unit approached Zwolle, a resisting Belgian city enduring German occupation. Volunteering along with his close friend Willy Arseneault, the men desired to contact the Dutch Resistance and overrun the city despite the fact that their orders were to only calculate the amount of Germans stationed within Zwolle. Accidentally giving his position away, Willy was gunned down by machine fire which sent Leo into a rage. Major slung Arsenault’s weapon and his own rifle onto his back, grabbed a German machine gun from the now-dead sentry who had shot Willy then crept into town under the cover of darkness.
Willy & Leo
Major’s strategy resembled maniacal flailing as he ran through the city ambushing troops. He consistently captured German soldiers, a reported ten times throughout the night, then escorted them to the Canadian troops positioned along the city’s periphery before heading back to satisfy his grief. His vicious attack convinced the Nazi troops that a grand force had infiltrated the city, whereas it was merely a single man wielding three machine guns and a sack of grenades who sprinted throughout the city shrieking and firing at any visible Axis soldier. One of the most notable events of his killing spree was when he found his way into an SS club and managed to kill four high-ranking officers before burning down the Gestapo’s headquarters. Before the sun rose, the entire German force had evacuated the city and returned control to the Dutch. At 5:00 am, Leo arrived back at camp after collecting the remains of his friend. Alone and exhausted, Leo served as Zwolle’s liberator.
DCM Award Ceremony
This victory heralded his first DCM. However, he rejected the award, believing his commander, General Bernard Montgomery, was incompetent and unqualified to award such a medal - a bold claim issued from a lowly private to the Canadians' Allied High Commander. Although he did not accept the award, he is credited for his service and soon gleaned another DCM for his service in the Korean War where he captured and held Hill 355 against the 64th Chinese Army which had driven the Third US Infantry off the slope.

          Leo had quietly resumed civilian life but returned to war when Canadian commander Dextrase asked him to serve as his Corporal in 1951. By this point, the Americans appeared surrounded. Fortunately, Leo Major’s sniper division crept up and recaptured the hill. Success was not easily won for the Canadian force bravely mustered a three day counter-assault until reinforcements arrived although Leo had been ordered to retreat. According to General Dextrase, Leo ought to have received at least eleven DCM’s for his actions in WWII alone for he viewed the one-man army as the epitome of the Allied soldier.
Zwolle celebrating one of Leo's visits
Concluding the war, Leo returned to Montreal and lived with his family until his death in 2008. He made numerous trips to the Netherlands and was further honored by being dubbed an honorary citizen of Zwolle. Leo continues to be revered by the citizens of Zwolle and his fellow Canadians who feature his exploits in their educational curriculum. His fearless determination and devotion ought to be recognized and applauded for his selfless dedication to duty and liberty.


Suggested Reading:

Brown, George A. For Distinguished Conduct in the Field: The Register of the Distinguished Conduct Medal 1939-1992. Eastbourne: Antony Rowe Ltd, 2009. Leo Major (accessed February 24, 2014).

Zuehlke, Mark. On to Victory: The Canadian Liberation of the Netherlands, March 23—May 5, 1945 (Canadian Battle). Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, August 2010.—May-ebook/dp/B003Z9JMRK/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1393269404&sr=8-2&keywords=Private Leo Major (accessed February 24, 2014).

"Liberator of Zwolle: Léo Major, the forgotten hero." (accessed February 24, 2014).

"Léo Major - War Hero." Youtube. (accessed February 24, 2014).

"Leo Major." The Hero Construction Company. (accessed February 24, 2014).

"Divergent Portraits of War: If you saw him sitting in a hotel restaurant along the Stationweg in this old walled city, your gaze likely wouldn't linger." Canada. (accessed February 24, 2014).

Fowler, T.R. "LÉO MAJOR, DCM and BAR." kvacanada. (accessed February 24, 2014).

Monday, February 10, 2014

Beasts of Burden: The Animals of WWII

For centuries mankind has waged war, implementing new technologies and strategies; thriving through combat-transforming innovation. Since the dawn of the Neolithic Revolution, forces have employed animals into service positions, endeavoring to develop militaristic tactics. Common beasts of burden, such as elephants, horses, mules, and camels were utilized for transportation methods and engineering purposes while 20th century conflicts witnessed the use of messenger pigeons, canines, dolphins and even bears. These animals not only provided emotional support but offered a unique advantage that often altered the course of war.

Notoriously, World War II is famed for using messenger pigeons, dogs and war horses due to their sensory benefits and adept skills which could be honed. In order to recognize their service, the United Kingdom established the Dickin Medal in 1943. This award honors animals of WWI and WWII who have displayed “gallantry or devotion to duty.” The majority of these recipients adhere to pigeons and dogs, such as Lady Astor, a pigeon who carried an Allied message to North Africa despite a broken leg and a wing tarnished by gunfire while another pigeon, Gustav, flew one hundred and fifty miles to England to deliver the first official news of D-Day’s success. In 1944, Paddy made the fastest recorded crossing of the English Channel to deliver messages from Normandy, travelling two hundred and thirty miles in four hours and five minutes. Pigeons' natural homing devices, small stature and flight were used as a means of strategic intelligence. These birds were assembled into special units and viewed as highly prized combatants that were protected by the American and British army which launched sixteen thousand pigeons throughout the course of WWII.

Simon, the HMS Amethyst's cat, while injured from a cannon blast which killed 17 members of the UK crew, continued to protect the ship's dwindling rations from rats
Animals were engaged in every theater of war, serving as comrades-in-arms and altruistic companions. It was a common practice for soldiers to smuggle their pets from home or for an entire squadron to adopt an animal as a mascot for their battalion. Australians typically brought kangaroos on board while Russians and Germans were known to relish their cavalry.

Wojtek boxing with a comrade
One of the more far fetched mascots and soldiers appeared in Wojtek, an intimidating, artillery shell-carrying bear who fought alongside a Polish Regiment at Monte Casino. Besides overwhelming German nerves, he additionally captured a spy, enjoyed boxing with soldiers and later retired to the Edinburgh zoo. Although not all stories are quite as remarkable as Wojtek’s, the majority of mascots were pets who had been abandoned due to the devastation of war. Through adoption, an advantageous liaison formed between the soldiers and the stray cat, dog or bird that was taken in by a company. Cared for and fed, pets simultaneously returned gratitude by providing companionship for distraught men who were thousands of miles away from the soil and comforts of home. Referred to as “buddies,” military units of WWII established an enduring bond between themselves and their animal companions as displayed by Marine Burckhardt and his adopted kitten.
Marine Cpl. Edward Burckhardt adopted the kitten he found at Suribachi, Iwo Jima in 1945.
However, man’s best friend presided as the most efficient counterpart to martial affairs. Roughly ten thousand dogs were instituted into the military and were prized for their keen hearing, incomparable sense of smell and obedience. Allied forces as well as the Axis powers comprehended the unique role dogs played, their importance in war and thoroughly used that realization to the fullest extent. Most were trained to track enemies, guard supplies, protect units, serve as messengers, detect weapons and explosives as well as rescue drowned pilots.
Beauty with her P.D.S.A. Owner
A shining example of ingenuity, Beauty, a Wire Haired Fox Terrier and a recipient of the Dickin Medal, worked with the British civil defense throughout the war. She located sixty three other animals alongside their owners who had become trapped in the wake of London’s bombing. Rex, a rescue dog, saved sixty five lives after the blitz and also received the Dickin Medal in 1945. In addition to Allied breeds, German Shepherds became a famous symbol of the Third Reich’s authority while Great Danes were used to deploy bombs into tunnels or trenches. Disturbingly, the practice of “suicidal dogs” emerged as a Russian tactic. In such occurrences, bombs were attached to a dog’s collar before the Soviets released it towards the enemy as a last-ditch attempt to destroy oncoming tanks and vehicles.

Despite barbarianism and the horrors of war, compassion and endearment existed between the soldiers and the animals they worked, fought and died besides. These heroes proved their intelligence and steadfast loyalty, as captured by photographs stored in the National Archives and through military exhibits such as the New Orleans “Loyal Forces: The Animals of World War II” that document self-sacrificing creatures whose exploits saved hundreds of lives.

"Let the Soldiers Take a Short Sleep" (Czechoslovakia, 1945). Photo by G. Lipskerov


Suggested Reading:

Auel, Lisa B. "Buddies Soldiers and Animals in World War II." Prologue Magazine 28 (1996), (accessed February 10, 2014).

Dixon, Mary. "The National World War II Museum honors four-legged veterans with Loyal Forces: The Animals of World War II." The National World War II Museum: New Orleans. (accessed February 10, 2014).

"In pictures: Heroic dogs." BBC News. (accessed February 10, 2014).

Jones, Rob Lloyd. "Animals at War." Usborne Children's Books. (accessed February 10, 2014).

"PDSA Dickin Medal pigeons." People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA). (accessed February 10, 2014).

Swick , Gerald D. "Loyal Forces: The American Animals of WWII – Book Review." Armchair General. (accessed February 10, 2014).

Monday, January 27, 2014

White Death: Simo Häyhä

        Deemed one of the greatest snipers of all time, Simo Häyhä represents the resilience of the Finns against their Soviet adversaries during the Winter War coinciding with World War II. Born in the small town of Rautajärvi in 1905, Simo tasted Soviet oppression at an early age due to the close proximity to the Russian border. Häyhä enjoyed the rugged landscape of rural Finland and swiftly developed as a farmer and skilled hunter known for his marksmanship. This solitary lifestyle enhanced his prowess with weaponry, an aptitude proven vital during the oncoming Winter War.
In 1925, a seventeen year old Häyhä joined the Finnish Army for a year of mandatory service and achieved the rank of corporal. Eventually Simo Häyhä joined the Suojelskunta (Finnish Civil Guard) similar to the National Guard of the United States prior to being entangled in the Winter War under the 6th Company’s banner. Simo responded to the aid of his country when the USSR invaded in November, three months after the eruption of WWII in 1939. While drifting through the tundra, Simo concealed himself by wearing white camouflage and refused to use a scope for he noted that the sun would reflect off the glass and give his position away. Another innovation he utilized was to put snow in his mouth in order to deny a foggy exhalation from escaping his lips. He took every precaution to avoid tipping off Russian counter-snipers of his location; soldiers bent on deposing their most feared adversary whom they dubbed “White Death.” Such a title was legitimized by his impressive five hundred and five head count. Using a Mosin-Nagant rifle which suited his short stature, Häyhä achieved the highest recorded number of confirmed sniper kills in any major war.
(An account of Simo Häyhä's background & military experience)

       A tactical professional, Simo’s credited with two hundred deaths by way of a sub-machine gun in addition to his aforementioned glory. During the most brutal days of the Winter War, Simo’s company secured the demise of Soviet expansion. Defending the Kollaa region was nothing short of a miracle as exposed by the massive loss the Soviet Army suffered at the hands of Finns refusing to comply with communist invaders. "The Miracle of Kollaa" proved to be the epitome of the Finnish chant “sisu” which translates to “guts” or “fortitude” in which the Simo’s 34th Regiment, nobly clashed against twelve Soviet divisions which equated 160,000 men as opposed to the single Finnish unit. Striking fear into the hearts of the advancing Red Army, Simo took solace in the closely shrouded timber while forced to deflect artillery units specifically deployed to exterminate their lone, elusive threat. Despite invisibly stalking Soviets in temperatures as low as –40 °C, a Russian soldier struck his mark on March 6, 1940. The bullet exploded into Häyhä’s jaw, blowing away half of his face and yet survived. Although successfully retrieved from the battlefield, Simo slipped into a coma until he regained consciousness March 13, the very day the war ended.
After his recovery, Simo advanced to the rank of second lieutenant, a rapid promotional feat nonexistent in the Finnish military. Offering a transfixing quote, Simo explained his regret by stating that “I only did my duty, and what I was told to do, as well as I could.” Permanently disfigured, the humble man soared as a national hero. In his later years, the outdoors man occupied his retirement by hunting moose, breeding dogs and responding to interviews related to his wartime exploits. Häyhä embodies the spirit of Finland; having played a pivotal role through which his accomplishments contributed to preserving Finnish sovereignty. The great sniper and Finnish warrior encapsulated the strength of a nation reflected by his valiant service and calm resolve.


Suggested Reading:
"Simo Häyhä The White Death - World's Greatest Sniper." (accessed January 27, 2014).

"The Incredible Story of Finnish Sniper Simo Hayha.” (accessed January 27, 2014).

“Finland at War, 1939-45 Volume 141 of Elite series” (accessed January 27, 2014).

“Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939/40.”, William R. Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939/40.&pg=PP1 (accessed January 27, 2014)

“The Sniper Simo Hayha,” (accessed January 27, 2014).