Archive for April, 2018

Spies and Plotters

What’s the best way to handle and punish spies who give information to America’s enemies? In World War I, the different options split the country.

On one side was Sen. George Chamberlain (D-OR), whose bill introduced in Congress would have tried spies by court martial. On the other side was President Woodrow Wilson, a fellow Democrat, who called the bill “unconstitutional, unnecessary, and uncalled for.”

Sen. Chamberlain defended his position, arguing that his bill would adapt an antiquated interpretation to modern times:

The term ‘spy’ has had a very limited meaning in the past. It is unknown to the criminal law of the United States. A spy as such may only be punished by military law.

Our enemy of today uses very different tools from those employed at the time when spies were used to obtain information from the enemy. Germany has introduced new devices. The greatest injury wrought on us is not by the technical spy, but by sabotage, the destroyer of property by violence, the spreader of propaganda, and in other insidious and injurious ways.

By the Act of 1806 it was shown that Congress had the constitutional power to subject to court-martial civilians who acted as spies, as the word was then employed; in my opinion it has the same power today to subject to court-martial civilians who commit acts just as injurious to the members of our army and navy.

Ultimately, the senator’s position — and not the president’s — won out. Upon the 1950 adoption of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), spies are court martialed.

A recent example from 2016 is Lieutenant Commander Edward Lin: born in Taiwan, became an American citizen in 1998, but when serving in the military was suspected of giving secrets to China. Lin was court martialed and is now serving six years.

Spies and Plotters: Chamberlain Defends Drastic Bill Which He Withdrew — The Trials of Enemies in England, France, and Italy (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 28, 1918

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Written by Jesse

April 26th, 2018 at 12:27 pm

Posted in Debate,Politics

World’s Scientists in Life-and-Death Race

“These pictures are six months old,” says a quote from an army officer to begin this 1918 article, “so the devices they show are, of course, perfectly obsolete.”

World War I sparked a massive technological boom, a silver lining to an otherwise horrific blemish on humanity’s history. That would come to be true of World War II a few decades later as well. As this 1918 article describes:

“It is probable we would have had to wait a generation or two, without the stimulus of war, for the development of the airplane into a safe and practical vehicle, or for a satisfactory method of utilizing the antiseptic properties of chlorine, or for a feasible process of fixing atmospheric nitrogen — to mention only a few outstanding advances in the fields, respectively, of physics, medicine and chemistry.”

Neil DeGrasse Tyson made a similar point at his eloquent Rice University commencement address in 2013, challenging the graduates to innovate without the impetus of war:

If you go to Kennedy Space Center in Florida, there is that section of his speech. ‘We’ll go to the moon before the decade is out.’ And it sends chills up your spine, because he galvanized an entire nation.

But what’s missing on the granite wall behind, where this is chiseled in, is the other part of the speech, where he introduces the war driver. No one ever spent big money just to explore. No, no one has ever done that. I wish they did, but they don’t. So we went to the moon on a war driver, but that’s conveniently left out in the granite wall behind Kennedy.

20 years after we landed on the moon, George Herbert Walker Bush wants to give a similar kind of rabble rousing speech that Kennedy did. July 20th, 1989, he goes to the steps of the Air and Space Museum in Washington, an auspicious day, commemorating the moon landing. An auspicious moment. And he puts a lot of the same language in his speech, reflecting on Columbus’ voyages, all the great explorers of the past, saying it’s our time. It’s time to go to Mars.

It got costed out at $500 billion. It was DOA in Congress at $500 billion. But wait a minute, that was going to be spent over about 30 years. You divide $500 billion by 30, that’s about $16 billion a year — that’s NASA’s annual budget. You could have just made that the trip to Mars.

But people got spooked by the money. Why? You know what else happened in 1989? Peace broke out in Europe, that’s what happened in 1989. The war driver evaporated. No, we didn’t go to Mars. And people are saying, ‘Oh, we lost our drive. We lost our will.’ No, it’s the same will we’ve ever had. We just weren’t threatened. That’s a sobering thought.

 

World’s Scientists in Life-and-Death Race: Allies Now Outstripping Teutons in Discovery and Invention, Which Have Been Speeded Up to Greater Progress in the Last Four Years Than in Previous Four Decades (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 21, 1918

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Written by Jesse

April 19th, 2018 at 2:36 pm

The Atlas of Modern War

What was the cause of surging American military superiority in 1918? New York University Mechanical Engineering Professor Collins P. Bliss outlined how the prior century had been a frenzy of technological development in the art of warfare. (Including the usage of the phrase “motor traction” in the very early years of vehicles, before we’d really settled on a term for it.)

In the last hundred years the evolution of war has been more marked than in any other period since the invention of gunpowder… The familiar developments of the present conflict — the use of the submarine and airship, trench warfare, the employment of artillery on an unprecedented scale, especially in forming the barrage, the greatly extended use of the machine gun, the substitution of motor traction for horses, and the effective marshaling of numbers of men so immense that it had been conceived hitherto to be impossible to keep such forces in the field as mobilized and effective combatants — are all based upon a background of engineering skill. The engineer has led the way in bringing about this transformation of warfare. Without his ever-present help the new appliances would be useless in affecting the results of battles and campaigns.

In his 2016 book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari makes a similar point about technological developments in the century since 1918 as well — arguing that it helped lead to a dramatic decrease in war, especially since WWII or so:

While the price of war soared, its profits declined. For most of history polities could enrich themselves by looting or annexing enemy territories. Most wealth consisted of material things like fields, cattle, slaves and gold, so it was easy to loot it or occupy it. Today, wealth consists mainly of human capital and organizational know-how. Consequently it is difficult to carry it off or conquer it by military force.

Consider California. Its wealth was initially built on gold mines. But today it is built on silicon and celluloid — Silicon Valley and the celluloid hills of Hollywood. What would happen if the Chinese were to mount an armed invasion of California, land a million soldiers on the beaches of San Francisco and storm inland? They would gain little. There are no silicon mines in Silicon Valley. The wealth resides in the minds of Google engineers and Hollywood script doctors, directors and special-effects wizards, who would be on the first plane to Bangalore or Mumbai long before the Chinese tanks rolled into Sunset Boulevard. It is not coincidental that the few full-scale international wars that still take place in the world, such as the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, occur in places where wealth is old-fashioned material wealth. The Kuwaiti sheikhs could flee abroad, but the oil fields stayed put and were occupied.

Let us pray these developments only continue in the century ahead, especially in the places where there are still full-scale international wars.

 

The Atlas of Modern War: On the Shoulders of the Engineer Falls a Tremendous, Ever-Increasing Burden, Due to the Extraordinary Technical Demands of the Present Day (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 14, 1918

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Written by Jesse

April 15th, 2018 at 10:17 am

Posted in History,War

Baseball as Means of Keeping the Doctor Away

With the MLB season just resuming again last week, let’s take a trip back to 1918, when the two biggest sports were baseball and boxing. Basketball and football were very much secondary on the popularity scale.

A recent conversation with my brother speculated about which people from 2018 would still be remembered by the general public in 100 years, with my brother suggesting that LeBron James would, under the logic that “Babe Ruth is still remembered 100 years later.” But even Babe Ruth hasn’t truly passed the 100-year test yet — although his professional baseball career began in 1914, he didn’t truly start becoming a legend until the 1920s, with his first MVP award not until 1923.

In this 1918 article, the biggest baseball players mentioned at the time and included in the featured illustrations were Ty Cobb, Charley Herzon, and Willie Keeler — none of whom are much remembered by anybody today outside of hardcore baseball fans. Just goes to show that you never really know who or what will last in the public consciousness.

This article describes how baseball was as much a psychological sport as a physical one:

“Then the discovery was made. The habit of many seasons had become somehow altered. He no longer swung with ease in a parallel to the ground. Instead he popped flies and hacked the ball toward the ground. The points found, it was necessary to discover what made the change.

“On examination again, it was brought out that a few enlarged glands in the neck, from some poor teeth, would become a little sore only when his bat was swung as he had originally trained, namely, on the horizontal. It was not much of a pain, but unconsciously for a month he had avoided that important movement. A batting “slump” was the result. Once the diagnosis was made, despite some delay in the removal of the cause, he resumed the horizontal swing and his restored batting average became apparent.”

Baseball as Means of Keeping the Doctor Away: How the Expert Batter Needs the Vigor and Sharpened Senses of Perfect Health — A Little Psychology on the Side (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 7, 1918

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Written by Jesse

April 8th, 2018 at 12:33 pm

Posted in Health,Sports