Remembrance Day 2013

lest-we-forgetIt goes by many names the world over. In Canada, Britain and Australia, we call it Remembrance Day. In the United States, it’s called by Veteran’s Day. In New Zealand, France, Belgium and Serbia, it’s known as Armistice Day. And to the Polish, it’s Independence Day since the end of World War I was also the occasion when their country achieved statehood.

Interestingly enough, the war that it originally commemorates also goes by many names. To those who fought in it, it was the Great War, but also the “War to end all wars”, as no one who lived through it could fathom that any nation would ever go to war again. And to those who have went to war again just 27 years later, it would come to be known as World War I or the First World War.

remembrance-day-poemRegardless of the name, November 11 is a day when people the world over come together to mark one of the worst periods in our history, celebrate those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and reflect upon the terrible lessons that were learned. And while it is easy to look upon the world and imagine that we’ve learned nothing, I choose to believe otherwise.

When the world went to war in August of 1914, the news was greeted with general elation for those involved. In Berlin, Paris and London, crowds emerged to celebrate the fact that their nations were mobilizing against their enemies. In Canada, people readily volunteered to serve overseas and “fight the Hun”. The propaganda mills of every nation were running overtime, stoking the fervor of war, claiming rightness, and that God was on their side.

Royal_Irish_Rifles_ration_party_Somme_July_1916Four years later, few retained these romantic notions of war. Those who survived the carnage were known as “The Lost Generation”, and those born after the war entered into a world struggling to leave the memory behind and get back to normal. When war was once again declared in 1939, few were enthused, and the general attitude was one o fear.

In fact, part of the reason “Appeasement” – the strategy of giving in to Hitler’s demands, or accommodating Japanese and Italian expansion in Africa and East Asia – was permitted was because no one wanted a repeat of the last war. Even in the Axis nations of Germany, Japan, and Italy, the general public entered the war only reluctantly, convinced they had no choice and fearful for how it might turn out.

Berlin-1945_croppedSix years, 70 million lives, 1600 cities, and several attempted genocides later, the victorious nations of the world once again came together with the common goal of lasting world peace, human rights and economic development. This was embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Court of Justice, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group.

Despite the prevailing mood that a new “Cold War” was already brewing between east and west, the word’s “Never Again” were spoken by people on all sides. After two World Wars and the near total-destruction of many nations, it was understood that the world would not be able to endure a third. Somehow, and despite the arms race of the latter of the half of the 20th century, peace would endure.

Cuban-missile-crisis-photo-from-Oct-29-1962Lucky for all of us, the Cold War ended some two decades ago and the specter of World War III with it. While many wars took place during the intervening period and there were a few close calls (The Cuban Missile Crisis being foremost), a nuclear crisis was continually avoided because all sides understood that no one would emerge the victor.

Today, wars still rage in the underdeveloped regions of the world and even amongst the so-called “developed” nations – the rational ranging from fighting extremism to trying to foster nation building. Nevertheless, I can’t help but look back today and think that those who died and sacrificed so much taught us something invaluable and enduring.

nuclear1Sure, the Great War did not end all wars, nor did those that followed it. But with every mistake, with every new sacrifice, with every new conflict, surely we have learned something. Were it not for the UN and the spirit multilateralism the prevailed after the Second World War, World War III may have been unavoidable, and might still be a possibility.

And while there were still wars between proxy nations during the Cold War, Korea and Vietnam taught us the futility of political conflicts, a lesson which helped end the Iraq War sooner and with less loss of life than would have otherwise been possible. These sentiments have since been applied to the war in Afghanistan and the drone wars, two more unpopular campaigns that are sure to end in the near future as well.

holocaustWhat’s more, the genocide of the Jewish, Roma and Slavic peoples all across Europe taught us the evils of ethnic cleansing and man’s capacity for hate, lessons which have helped us confront and combat genocide in former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Darfur, East Timor and elsewhere. They have also forced us to contemplate genocides which have taken place on our soil, in Australia, Canada, the US and Latin America.

To look at the state of the world today, it is easy to grow cynical and say that we’ve learned nothing. But when you consider that fact that we no longer live in a world where total war is seen as glorious, where two superpowers are aiming nuclear-tipped missiles at each other, and where aggression and genocide are actively ignored or accommodated, you begin to appreciate what we have and who made it possible.

Vimy RidgeBut most importantly of all, to say we’ve learned nothing is to disrespect those who made the ultimate sacrifice, not to mention those who came home forever changed and scarred. For these veterans, servicemen and women, and people who risked life and limb to ensure that war would bring peace, that people would remain free, and that greater evils would not be allowed to prevail, saying “it was all in vain” renders what they did for the rest of us meaningless.

With that in mind, I’m very happy to announce that next year, in April of 2014, my family and I will be visiting Europe to witness the Centennial of World War I. While we’re there, we will be visiting the grave sites of those who died overseas, several battlefield from the First and Second World War, and will bear witness to one of the greatest historic events in our lifetimes.

My father made the trip once before and remarked with awe how to people over there, the wars are not something that are commemorated once a year, but on a regular basis. But next year, it is expected to be especially poignant as people from all over the globe converge on Flanders to pay their respects. I expect it to be very eye-opening, and you can expect to be hearing about it the moment I get back!

A sober and reflective Remembrance Day to you all. Peace.

remembrance_day___poppy_day_by_daliscar

Nukemap 3D: Bringing Nuclear War to your Home!

nukemap3Ever wonder what it would look like if a thermonuclear device hit your hometown? Yeah, me neither! But let’s pretend for a moment that this is something you’ve actually considered… sicko! There’s an online browser-based program for that! It’s called Nukemap3D, and uses a Google Earth plug in to produce a set of graphics that show the effects of a nuclear weapon on your city of choice.

All you have to do is pick your target, select your favorite thermonuclear device, and you can see an animated mushroom cloud rising over ground zero. The creator was Dr. Alex Wellerstein, an Associate Historian at the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics in College Park, Maryland, who specializes in the history of nuclear weapons and nuclear secrecy.

nukemap3-1Interestingly enough, Wellerstein’s inspiration for developing Nukemap 3D came from his experience of trying to teach about the history of nuclear weapons to undergraduates. As people who had completely missed the Cold War, these students naturally didn’t think about the prospect of nuclear war much, and had little to no cultural association with them.

Events like Hiroshima and the Cuban Missile Crisis were essentially ancient history to them. For him and his wife, who teaches high school, it was always a challenge to get students to relate to these issues from the past and seeing how they related to the present. Specifically, he wanted his students to address the larger issue of how one controls a dangerous technology that others find desirable.

nukemap3-2And given how inundated young people are today with technology, he believed an online browser that allowed children to visualize the effects of a nuclear attack seemed just like the thing. The concept originally grew out of his own research to determine the size of the Hiroshima bomb versus the first hydrogen bomb versus a modern nuclear weapon.

After producing a web page with the relevant info in 2012, he began receiving millions of hits and felt the need to expand on it. One of the things he felt was missing was info on additional effects of nuclear blasts, such as radioactive debris that comes down as fallout, contamination that can extend for hundreds of kilometers in all directions, and how this can spread with prevailing winds.

NuclearDetonationsIn addition to being a pedagogical tool which can help students appreciate what life was like during the Cold War, Wellerstein also hopes his site could help combat misinformation about modern nukes. All too often, people assume that small devices – like those being developed by North Korea – could only cause small-scale damage, unaware of the collateral damage and long-term effects.

Another use of the program is in helping to combat ideas of “instant apocalypse” and other misconceptions about nuclear war. As we move farther and farther away from an age in which nuclear holocaust was a distinct possibility, people find themselves turning to movies and pop culture for their information on what nuclear war looks like. In these scenarios, the end result is always apocalyptic, and by and large, this is not the case.

nuclear1In a war where nuclear confrontation is likely, civilization does not simply come to an end and mutants do not begin roaming the Earth. In reality, it will mean mass destruction within a certain area and tens of thousands of deaths. This would be followed by mass evacuations of the surrounding areas, the creation of field hospitals and refugee camps, and an ongoing state of emergency.

In short, a nuclear exchange would not means the instantaneous end of civilization as we know it. Instead, it would lead to an extended period of panic, emergency measures, the presence of NGOs, humanitarian aid workers, and lots and lots of people in uniform. And the effects would be felt long after the radiation cleared and the ruins were rebuilt, and the memory would be slow to fade.

Hiroshima, after the blast
Hiroshima, after the blast

Basically, Wellerstein created Nukemap 3D in the hope of finding a middle ground between under exaggeration and over exaggeration, seeking to combat the effects of misinformation on both fronts. In a nuclear war, no one is left unaffected; but at the same time, civilization doesn’t just come to an abrupt end. As anyone who survived the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can attest, life does go on after a nuclear attack.

 

The effects are felt for a very long time, and the scars run very deep. And as those who actually witnessed what a nuclear blast looks like (or lived in fear of one) grow old and pass on, people need to be educated on what it entails. And a graphic representation, one that utilizes the world’s most popular form of media, is perhaps the most effective way of doing that.

In the meantime, be sure to check out Nukemap 3D and see exactly what your hometown would look like if it were hit by a nuclear device. It’s quite… eye-opening!

Source: gizmag.com

 

News from Mars: Another (Planned) Mission!

mars-mission1When it comes to generational milestones, those of born since the late 70’s often feel like we’re lagging behind previous generations. Unlike the “Greatest Generation” or the “Baby Boomers”, we weren’t around to witness Two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the death of JFK, Neil Armstrong, or the FLQ Crisis. For us, the highlights were things like the development of the PC, the birth of the internet, Kurt Cobain, and of course, 9/11.

But looking ahead, those us of belonging to Generation X, Y, and Millennials might just be around to witness the greatest event in human history to date – a manned mission to Mars! And while NASA is busy planning a mission for 2030, a number of private sources are looking to make a mission happen sooner. One such group is a team of UK scientists working from Imperial College London that are working to mount a a three person mission to Mars.

mission-to-marsThe planned mission consists of two spacecraft, the first of which is a Martian lander equipped with a heat shield that will send the crew off into Earth’s orbit. The second craft would be a habitat vehicle, which is the craft that the crew would live in during the voyage. The habitat vehicle would consist of three floors, and measure in at around 30 feet (10m) tall and 13 feet (4m) in diameter.

The astronauts would be situated in the lander during takeoff, and would move to the habitat when the dual-craft reaches Earth orbit. Once the astronauts are safely within the habitat, a rocket would shoot the dual-craft off on its journey to Mars, which would take nine months to arrive, less than the approximately 300 days that most projections say it will take.

Mars_landerOnce In space, the dual-craft would then split apart but remain connected by a 60 meter (200 foot) tether. Thrusters from both vehicles would then spin them around a central point, creating artificial gravity similar to Earth’s in the habitat. Not only would this help the astronauts feel at home for the better part of a lonely year, but it would also reduce the bone and muscle atrophy that are associated with weightlessness.

The craft would be well-stocked with medicine to ensure that the crew remained in fine health for the nine month transit. Superconducting magnets, as well as water flowing through the shell of the craft, would be employed to help reduce both cosmic and solar radiation. And once the dual-craft reaches Mars, it would tether back together, the crew would move back into the lander, and then detach from the habitat descend to the Martian surface.

Mars-mission-2This mission would also involve sending a habitat and return vehicle to Mars before the astronauts arrived, so the crew would have shelter upon landing as well as a way to get home. The crew would spend anywhere from two months to two years on Mars, depending on the goals of the mission and the distance between Mars and Earth. On the way back home, the mission would dock with the ISS, then take a craft back to Earth from there.

What’s especially interesting about this proposed mission is that each stage of it has been proven to work in an individual capacity. What’s more, the concept of using water as a form radiation shielding is far more attractive than Inspiration Mars’, which calls for using the astronauts own fecal matter!

Unfortunately, no real timetable or price tags have been proposed for this mission yet. However, considering that every individual step of the mission has been proven to work on its own, the proposed overall journey could work. In the meantime, all us post-Baby Boomers can do is wait and hope we live to see it! I for one am going sick of hearing Boomers talk about where they were when Apollo 11 happened and having nothing comparable to say!

And be sure to enjoy this video of the University College London team discussing the possibilities of a Mars mission in our lifetime:


Sources:
bbc.co.uk, extremetech.com

The Birth of an Idea: Fascis Ardens!

Inspiration is a funny, fickle thing! As I’m sure anyone who’s ever attempted to write knows, ideas seem to come when you least expect them. On the one hand, a person can go months without coming up with an original idea. And then, just like that, inspiration can strike suddenly and without warning. You find yourself not only coming up with an idea, but the concept for a full-length novel!

That’s what happened to me this weekend. Myself and my wife were preparing to head up island to see her family. I was contemplating books that deal with the concept of alternate history, and how ones that deal with alternate outcomes to World War II and the Civil War seem to be especially popular. In the former case, you have The Man In the High Castle by Philip K Dick and Fatherland by Robert Harris, two seminal novels that address what would have happened had Germany won the war.

In the latter case, you have stories like A Rebel In Time by Harry Harrison and The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove, which merge time travel and alternate history to examine what would have happened if The South had won the Civil War.

In both novels, the plot revolves around a single or group of White Supremacists who use a time machine to bring modern guns to the Confederate Army. This allows the South to prevail, which they hope will prevent the rise of the Civil Rights movement, the end of Apartheid, and other equality movements.

That’s when it hit me! Why the heck hasn’t anyone done an alternate history story where White Supremacists go back in time to make sure Germany won the Second World War? Sounds like something that ought to have been done by now; but to my knowledge, no one’s tackled it yet. I got to thinking long and hard about it, about the plot, characters and potential twists. Eventually, I had what I felt was the bare bones of an idea. It varies slightly from the premise I just mentioned, but in ways I think work! I plan to call it…

Fascio
For those familiar with the Fascist movement of the 20th century, the concept of the Fascio is probably a familiar one. This was basically just a bundle of sticks with an axe tied on that was set afire at public gatherings. The ritual dates back to Ancient Rome, where the burning of these ceremonial bundles was meant to symbolize lighting the way to the future. Italian Fascists, under Mussolini, especially loved this ancient ritual, which they used to draw a connection to the past as much as to point to the future. Like all Fascist rituals, it was an inherent contradiction, more regressive than progressive in nature. But hey, the Fascists didn’t do logic…

Plot:
The story opens in 2050, where the world is reeling from the worst ravages of climate change and Fascist parties are once again taking hold of Europe and North America in response to numerous humanitarian crises. Two young history enthusiasts, believing that the worst is coming, decide to take advantage of an experimental new technology: Time Travel!

Using a machine they gain access to, the duo plan to travel back in time to Germany in 1920, where they plan to find a despondent young military officer named Hitler. Using futuristic technology, they plan to kill him without leaving a trace, and return to the future where things are surely to be much better.

Unfortunately, the time machine sends them to 1941 by accident. Unsure that they will be able to use the machine again in the future, they resolve to kill Hitler during the height of World War II, before he can enact the Final Solution and invade Russia. Relying on their knowledge of history and advanced technology, they manage to kill Hitler at his headquarters weeks before the Battle of Britain was to end and Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of Russia) began. After making a hasty retreat, they jump in the return module and set course of the future.

However, once again the machine drops them off in the wrong year. Rather than traveling 109 years into the future, they arrive in 1962, at roughly the same time as the Cuban Missile Crisis from their own timeline, and find a world starkly different than the one they read about in history books. Rather than finding a world dominated by the two superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union, two different but equally menacing empires are in place. On the one side, there’s the Pan-American Alliance, led by the US, and on the other, the Axis Forces.

After combing through some records at the local library, they learn the terrible truth: assassinated Hitler in 1941, rather than ending the Second Word War, led Germany to victory. Without Hitler’s questionable and erratic leadership, Germany avoided making several mistakes which were directly attributable to him. For one, Germany did not give up the Battle of Britain a few weeks shy of victory. By choosing to maintain their operations against the RAF and its coastal airfields, they eventually overcame Britain’s air defenses. This allowed them to come to a cease fire agreement which took Britain out of the war.

Then, in 1942, they invaded Russia and were successful in capturing Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad, all within the space of a year. This led to the creation of Germania, an Empire which reached from Northern France to the Ural Mountains. In the Mediterranean, Italy became the dominant power, with possessions in the Balkans and all across North Africa. The US still went to war with Japan in the Pacific, where they were victorious, but in Europe, the Nazis and their Fascist allies were never defeated.

Thus the world was divided into two major power blocs. The US, Canada, Mexico and all of South America joined together and maintained alliances with India, Japan, China and Australia to safeguard against expansion into Asia and the Pacific. Germany, Italy, and their subservient allies came together to dominant Eurasia and set their eyes on the Middle East, Africa, and further East. Both sides developed nuclear weapons, and by 1960, tensions had reached an all-time breaking point.

Hence, the two historians bear witness to a different “Missile Crisis”, which still takes place in 1962, but was between the Axis and Allies, and actually took place. When the bombs begin to fall, they die, since the future they left is now erased from existence. In their last few moments, they realize the folly of tampering with timelines. Such things are just too complicated for people to handle!

And I was thinking about a possible epilogue chapter where the two main characters meet each other in the alternate future they have now created. The world they live in is a post-apocalyptic landscape, roughly ninety years since World War III, where life is hard and people live by a new form or “Iron Rule” – the rule of survival at all costs. Not sure, we’ll see…

So that’s my latest idea, a time traveling alternate future addressing World War II and the rise of neo-fascism in today’s world. I humbly submit to my followers for their approval. So tell me, what do you think?

Remembering Neil Armstrong

“That’s one small step for man… one giant leap for mankind.”

-Neil Armstrong, July 20th, 1969

This iconic statement is the most famous to ever be uttered by a human being and still serve to inspire hope and fire the imagination, even after 43 years. Today, the world has lost one of the greatest historical figures of the 20th century, the man who was the first to walk on the moon and speak the words that signaled the beginning of a new era.

Yes, after decades of living large and inspiring countless people all over the world, Neil Armstrong passed away at the age of 82. According to statements made by the Armstrong family earlier today, Neil died following complications from heart-bypass surgery he underwent earlier this month, just two days after his 82nd birthday on August 5.

Best known for being the commander of Apollo 11, the NASA mission that sent a manned spacecraft to the moon, Neil will forever be remembered for doing what countless people have dreamed of doing since the dawn of time. After years of training, planning, development and testing, he and astronaut Edward “Buzz” Aldrin became the first to not only slip the bonds of Earth’s gravity, but the first to walk on a celestial body that was not Earth.

This achievement, great in its own right, was also of extreme historical significance. Taking place during the height of the Cold War, only six years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Armstrong’s first steps on the moon provided a generation beguiled by arms races and fear with a sense of accomplishment and pride. His words, which were spoken on behalf of, and directed to, all of mankind even helped bridge the gap between East and West. Though there was a race on to see who could reach the Moon first, all of humanity shared in the celebration that a man, any man, had actually attained what many thought was unattainable.

And although he never retired from the public eye after that momentous achievement, Neil was nevertheless a very private man compared to his peers. Whereas Edward Aldrin and astronauts like John Glenn and Harrison Schmitt went on to become public figures, doing guest appearances on TV shows and running for political office, Neil did very little to draw attention to himself. This was, according to his closest friends and family, because of his intensely private nature.

In fact, according to James Hansen, author of “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong,” Neil was often confounded by all the attention and accolades he received as a result of his historic accomplishments. As Hansen stated in an interview with CBS, “All of the attention that … the public put on stepping down that ladder onto the surface itself, Neil never could really understand why there was so much focus on that.” Wow. Humility on top of everything else, that’s the way to go!

Apparently, attempts were even made to try and coax Armstrong into running for public, but he repeatedly refused. Instead, Neil spent his post-Apollo 11 career committed to furthering the fields of aviation and space explorations from behind the scenes and never once tried to exploit his fame. In fact, his last known public appearance was in November of 2011 when he appeared before Congress to received the the Congressional Gold Medal (pictured above).

I think I speak for us all when I say he will be missed, and definitely not forgotten. I think I speak for us all when I say that the remembrance ceremonies and honors conferred on his name will be tremendous! Ironic, considering Neil probably would have refused them all 😉 RIP Neil Armstrong. May you forever walk amongst the stars!

***As a side note, I would also like to say that I hope the various conspiracy theorist of the world, the people who insist that this historic achievement was a hoax, or that it was actually filmed in a studio, take the time to bow their heads and hold their tongues. We are all entitled to our opinions, but such conspiracy theories are not only an insult to history and the intelligence of people who witnessed the event, its also an insult to this man’s memory. Please take this day to focus on something else, like the conspiracy behind putting fluoride in the water, Area 51, or 9/11 being an inside job, k? Many thanks, weirdos!***