Arch Stanton Guest Post: Episode 22 in Today I Learned – CIA Filipino Vampires

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Usually when I write these posts, the choice title is pretty obvious – someone’s name or a self-explanatory descriptor of the event. But today – whoo boy, ‘CIA Filipino Vampires’ sounds like a Cards Against Humanity-themed Mad Lib, but really only skims the surface. Let’s unravel a new spool of wonderful tales of American imperialism!

The background – the Philippines, post World War II. The Philippines had strongly resisted Japanese occupation during the war, but eventually succumbed to their superior forces and weaponry. After the war, a new government was installed consisting most of people who had originally folded to the Japanese because the United States didn’t really seem to give a shit who was left in charge. A national rebel force – the Hukbalahap – was vehemently anti-Japanese and embraced communism, which meant they were about to get heavily fucked with by the CIA due to the Philippines being a highly-strategic point. Was it actually a strategic point? Unlikely, beyond its general value as part of the Truman Doctrine wherein the US would oppose any form of communism anywhere in the world, hence the Korean and Vietnam War. But “lack of strategic value” has never stopped America from getting involved!

Anyway, the United States wanted to quell this rebellion with as little effort as possible – again, probably because it wasn’t THAT valuable as an asset, but fuck if the Soviets were going to have it. The CIA elected to deployed Air Force Brigadier General Edward G Lansdale to settle the conflict. Why Lansdale? Because he was a fierce believer in the idea of “psychological operations” – psyops at the time – and believed he could resolve this little tete a tete with a bit of mental brutality.

Lansdale sent in some locals to mingle around critical villages the CIA needed to push the rebels back. The locals returned to their towns with tales of an “aswang” – not a Google autofill of your last weird search, but Filipino vampires of lore – telling villagers and rebels alike they had seen the mythical creatures in the area, looking for victims to reap for blood. Aswangs are a somewhat ambiguous term, as some areas think of them as shape-shifting ghouls, others as evil spirits, and others as warlocks. Lansdale, seeing as he was part of the CIA in the 50’s, decided “fuck it – this aswag is gonna be a vampire.”

Lansdale sends these rumors swirling through villages, and had his forces sit back a few days to let these vampire stories take root in the rebels. Some indefinite point down the line, CIA forces hid along rebel patrol routes, and silently snatched the last man in the group. The patrol would end back in the village before realizing they had lost a man somewhere during the rotation. During this window, Lansdale’s men would puncture the poor sap’s neck, hang him upside to drain him of his blood, and then drop his body back near the patrol route so a rescue team looking for their missing comrade the next morning would stumble across it. Being superstitious (if you were a 1950s Filipino villager rebel) or an idiot (my term), these rebels would find a body mutilated in exactly the pattern heard in previous rumors. Being superstitious (1950s Filipino term) or cowards (my term), the Hukbalahap bailed the hell out of the area after only one incident of bloodletting, allowing the CIA-backed Filipino forces to casually takeover a tactically-useful hills.

While certainly the most historically entertaining tidbit (albeit in a Patrick Bateman-esque way), the aswang was not the end of Lansdale’s psyops in the Philippines. Lansdale had American aircraft buzz villages where suspected rebels were hiding, and blast the names of the rebels gained through counter-intelligence over loudspeakers, threatening death unless they immediately surrendered. If you were some poor Filipino rebel, I would imagine this a good indication to flee the town or surrender. This tactic proved to be a pretty effect means to rustling out rebels, but Lansdale preferred a more psychotic approach. Using the same tactics of eliciting the names of suspected rebels, the Filipino army would sneak into the village housing these rebels and paint an enormous eye on a wall facing the house of each suspected rebel. The “eye of God” was even more compelling than the loudspeakers; to quote Lansdale’s memoirs: “The mysterious presence of these malevolent eyes the next morning had a sharply sobering effect.” Rebels tended to disband immediately under the painted eyes rather than continue to fight.

Looking back on this tale of psychological warfare, my biggest question remains – were the rebels ACTUALLY terrified of these mythological attacks becoming reality, or were they frightened by the American operative who kidnapped and drained their comrades of blood in the jungle? A question as old as time!

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Arch Stanton Guest Post: Episode 21 in Today I Learned – Straw Hat Riots of 1922

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You know how you aren’t supposed to wear white after Labor Day, or wear black shoes or a black belt with khakis, or avoid clashing patterns? Imagine there were legitimate social repercussions of these rules beyond petty gossip (except the black shoes and brown belt – c’mon, you look like you’re about to lecture me on your PC setup at a high school dance). The Straw Hat Riots are the result of people being downright indignant about perceived dress code faults. Why, you could stay they were riotous!

Somewhere in the late 19th century, men became stuffy about unwritten dress codes. I presume it was all the repressed sexuality of the late-Victorian age – maybe rubbing one out without being the subject of a tri-state scandal would have loosened the mood a bit. One particular rule became a particular sticking point – no straw hats after September 15th. This was an age when everyone wore hats outside all the time, lest you be some sort of psychopath, but straw hats were SUMMER ONLY, and after September 15th, men were to wear their finest felt hats. Why such a specific day? The New York Times once explained that any man who wore a straw hat after this day “may even be a Bolshevik, a communal enemy, a potential subverter of the social order.” Yes – you were a communist revolutionary if you doffed your cap during the wrong season and a day – A DAY – after September 15th. Take a second to appreciate that you can wear whatever fedora you prefer during any season, and you can jerk it scandal-free.

As started above, a sartorial faux pas currently only results in a side eyed glance or a tsk tsking of a mild taboo, but in the early 20th century, your hat would be torn off your head and stomped into dust by rowdy children if caught out of season, especially in fashionable New York City. It may be important to provide a bit of historical context – this is between the World Wars, where immigrants are flooding Ellis Island and settling down wherever they can, most of whom speak no English, let alone have any idea of the minutia of social codes. So imagine – a bunch of immigrants fleeing European fascism or starvation come to America only to have these little shits stomp on your nice hat you bought after fourteen hours in a factory that mauled your fingers. You would be pissed! And just think, this was before teens became Monster energy drink guzzling and Juul-vaping domestic terrorists.

In 1922, things had come to a head (pun 100% intended, a-thank you), and these prepubescent hooligans were roaring to get to the cap-snatching, so much so they started on September 13th! Why, these straw hat wearing gentlemen were just that! They weren’t Bolsheviks just yet! After hats had begun being snatched and stomped, gentlemen reacted predictably – by beating the shit out of some juveniles.  Bonfires of straw hats were started around New York City, and the police were called in. The first night resulted in seven people being convicted of disorderly conduct.

This was no one-day affair. The next three days involved riots of hat-stomping and child-fighting, with the police on full guard for “hat-hunting hoodlums”. Hat-wearers laced their caps with nails to inflict damage on any on potential snatchees, while gangs of teenagers started wielding bats, some with nails driven through the top. One person claimed a mob of 1,000 teens roamed through Manhattan grabbing hats, only to run into trouble when they clashed with dock workers who weren’t having it. The “1,000 person mob” part was disputed, but the daylong traffic standstill while dock workers fought teenagers was not. To reiterate – this is over straw hat etiquette shortly after World War I ended. Imagine being this mad about ANYTHING after surviving artillery shelling in a shit- and water-logged trench in Belgium.

Eventually the riots subsumed as gentlemen began to unveil their felt caps with the official season change, but 1922 was not the end of the stupidest riots in history – in 1924, a man was KILLED over his straw hat. I am of the opinion that human life was considered significantly less valuable across history until recently (note – this only applies to white Americans. Sorry rest of the world). There have been other riots related to apparel throughout American history (Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles when black and Hispanic youths were decidedly wearing TOO MUCH fabric during World War II so people got mad; the Hard Hat Riots when union construction workers started beating the shit out of anti-war hippies in 1970 in New York after appropriating their hatwear) (unrelated but how incredible is this country that there are THREE notable riots resulting from fashion choice?!?), but none will ever top the teens being mad about straw hats and subsequently organizing to bring New York City to a halt. I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve never been more proud to be an America or more terrified of roving gangs of teenagers.

Arch Stanton Guest Post: A Ranking of Global Titles and Honorifics

An ordered ranking of titles or honorifics I would liked preceding my name. To be clear, I will accept any of them, and the ranking is more or less arbitrary. Some warrant long discussion or clarification, some don’t. Don’t bitch about how I only included the masculine derivations – it’s not my fault history features almost entirely male rulers. I’ll do my best to summarize some of the more abstract ones. Starting from the bottom:

  1. Sir: The lamest of titles – seriously, they gave one to fucking Bono. I would almost be insulted if offered it. This is what the drive-thru attendant at McDonalds call you after he dipped his balls in your drink. This is what you say to the cop that just wrote you a ticket before you call him a fuckface under your breath. This is what your overweight gym teacher demanded you call him. I get its granted by the Queen, but c’mon, it’s shit. I bet the Queen is hoping she dies before she needs to knight a DJ. (Related – Clint Eastwood is knighted! Clint: 1. John: 0.) (Brief DD Interjection: FUCK YOU, ARCH! “I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a-hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.” – John Wayne)
  1. Elder: This is the guy who passes around the collection plate at church on Sunday mornings, basically to get out of wrangling his kids during the boring services. Hard pass.
  1. Laird: As a concept (the owner of a large and long-established Scottish estate) – awesome. As a title – unimpressive. Too similar to lard, and I don’t need to draw the comparisons.
  1. Boyar: An aristocratic member of Russia, next in rank to a prince. I knew a guy with the last name Boyar in undergrad, and he was a weirdo. He got married and had a kid within a year of graduating. No thanks. (DD Interjection: Boyar was far beyond “socially uncomfortable” – what a weird guy)
  1. Honorable: I hear it and think local or small-court judge, but televised!
  1. Earl: Has been repossessed in the name of American culture as the name of schlubby guys with far more attractive wives on sitcoms.
  1. Nawab: A Muslim ruler in South Asia. Doesn’t roll off the tongue.
  1. Prime Minister: It just seems so… petty. So European. Ugh.
  1. Pasha: A high-ranking Turkish officer.
  1. Lord: Not bad, but kind of played out with the rise of “Game of Thrones”. Lacks imagination.
  1. Imtiaz: Kind of a vague title for someone distinct or unique from Arabia.
  1. Szlachta: Legally privileged noble class of Poland – who wants that? And the title, it’s just so… Polish. No.
  1. Emir: A Muslim ruler or local military commander. Short, simple, kinda boring but not inoffensive.
  1. Lama: Buddhist teacher. He can really haul off and whack one – big hitters, the lamas – long into a ten thousand foot crevasse. You know what he says to me? Gunga galunga. So we finish eighteen and he’s going to stiff me, and I say, “hey lama, how about something for, ya know, the effort?” and he says, “oh there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed you will receive total consciousness.” So I got that going for me, which is nice.
  1. Samraja: An Indian king or prince, above a regular raj. The ‘sam’ complicates it.
  1. Count: Middle of the road British nobility. A middle of the road name for a middle of the road title.
  1. Sayyid: A Muslim descendant from Muhammad. Seems a bit blasphemous to me, but what do I know.
  1. Datu: Senior members of Phillipino royalty. Eh.
  1. Shah: Monarch of Iran. Sure, I’ll take it I GUESS.
  1. Cardinal: Senior member of Roman Catholic Church. Ho-hum.
  1. Kazoku: Japanese title for an individual in the line of succession.
  1. Marquess: British nobility. Before we get to the rest of the titles below, the order of importance, starting with the most significant title to the least: Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount, Baron. It just lacks that “UMPH” you want in a title ya know?
  1. Sharif: Someone of noble or highborn Arab class.
  1. Sheik/Shayks: Another Arab leader, but not quite a hereditary or noble birth, but still — “Sheik Stanton” works for me.  (DD: I love this)
  1. Maharaja: Sanskrit for “great or high ruler”. I could work with it.
  1. Junker: A young German noble or lord. Has really been bastardized into crappy or a drug addict, but kinda bangs as a sophisticated title. The associations drag it down a notch. I feel like you would be confused for a poor person in the Star Wars universe.
  1. Brahmin: Highest Indian class of priests, teachers and educators.
  1. Dauphin: Heir apparent to the French throne. A bit feminine for my taste, but feels regal regardless.
  1. Caliph: The primary Muslim civil and religious leader acting as a successor from Muhammad. Another one that is pretty great, but seeing as how whenever anyone hears it, all they think is “ISIS claimed they were the new caliph right?”, probably not something to be associated with if you ever want to fly on a public airplane again.
  1. President: Has lost it’s luster recently. They’ll let ANYONE be a president now.
  1. Suzerain: An individual placed in charge of another autonomous state in order to exude control – think a British appointment sent to India to run the country. A pretty rad imperialist concept if I may say so myself.
  1. King/Emperor: Overdone. Not against it, but very played out in modern culture. Taking one would get you confused with a competitive Dungeon Master or adult kickball league MVP.
  1. Duke: Sure.
  1. Senator: Not like our modern, American senators, who are feckless cowards in the face of the oncoming Trump Train, but in the Roman sense. If the former, much lower, but if the latter, I would be pretty comfortable with.
  1. Bishop: Technically below Cardinals (and Archbishops but we’ll do just the one), but do cardinals have the coolest chess piece named after them? They do not. Bishop is a rad title.
  1. Raj: Indian ruler. I like it.
  1. Viscount: The ‘vis’ makes it hella cool. I feel like a virtuous dignitary on an intergalactic space station. Getting to the good stuff now.
  1. Burgrave: A German ruler or governor of a town or castle. A little under the radar as far as titles go, but even if you didn’t know what it was, you’d think, “oh shit that’s a bad ass” when someone introduces themselves as Burgrave.
  1. Margrave: A Holy Roman Empire commander sent to maintain a border province of said empire. Castles are cool, but a whole province? C’mon, that shit is cool.
  1. Shogun: Japanese commander-in-chief. The Japanese have always had emperors who were considered the rulers, but shoguns controlled all the military might at a time in history when that was basically all you had if you claimed to be in power, so shoguns were the real heads of state in feudal Japan. Projects a sense that you are not to be fucked with.
  1. Jagir: A feudal lord in South Asia. It sounds like jaguar!
  1. Baron: The lowest of British nobility, but by far the coolest. You’d be impressed if you met a Duke or a Marquess, but you’d think “aww yeah this dude fucks” if you met a baron.
  1. Sultan: Muslim sovereign ruler. It just has the right panache, ya know?
  1. Chief: Not going to lie, this might be the best title if you think about it. What is a chief? He is all forms of government for an area, as well as the military leader and cultural epoch. Chiefs are cool, and, if assigned as it was originally intended, a truly bad ass title. It loses points because it has been so diminished by dudes in pop collars at bars trying to act like they want to fight and put someone down by sarcastically calling them “chief”. Way to go dildos, you ruined the coolest title.
  1. Hidalgo: Not the horse, but nobility on the Iberian peninsula who were exempted from taxes but owned little property. I am fascinated as to how that all worked. If I introduce myself as “Hidalgo Stanton”, you’re first thought would be ‘he doesn’t look Hispanic.’
  1. Czar: Russian emperors. Exudes superiority and power, and that’s really what this all about. Loses points for being eradicated as a concept in a basement somewhere during the Russian Revolution.
  1. Governor: Not in the American state sense, but like the head of state for a foreign territory or Caribbean island. THAT is the type of persona I wish to flaunt. “Here’s Governor Stanton, and welcome to our tropical paradise, would you like a rum-based drink out of a coconut with a little umbrella in it? Hell yes you do.”
  1. Sheriff: Probably the lowest ranking title here, but definitely one of the coolest. Seeing as how this is partially a Western movies themed blog, its high rank is doubly warranted.
  1. High Priest: Not just a regular priest, but like, higher. Typically Irish or Celtic in origin, but more widely accepted as “any non-Christian religious figure”. Christianity would call it blasphemous, but I would call it awesome.
  1. Kaiser: German for “emperor”. When you hear about kaisers, you are hearing about people who are not to be trifled with. Kaisers are here to fuck shit up, and I am on board.
  1. Sovereign: A bit vague and expansive for any particular definition, but typically used by imperial explorers or autocrats in reference to the rulers of another territory, used in order to convey their high rank without knowing the specific or preferred term for a ruler. You may get confused for a sovereign citizen slash someone who is definitely on multiple government watch lists, but it definitely has that je ne sais quoi I’m looking for. Radiates power and nobility, with a hint of intrigue.
  1. Viceroy: Similar to a suzerain, a ruler placed in charge to exercise authority over a colony on behalf of another state. I’ll be damned if the West didn’t come up with a lot of interesting ways to exert imperialist control over the rest of the world, all of which use bad ass titles. Similar to viscount, calling yourself Viceroy so-and-so makes me think you are a intergalactic strongman on a remote smugglers’ planet.
  1. Pharaoh: FUCK. YES. You know EXACTLY what is in store when you hear about Pharaohs, and that is definitely the title for me. You can squabble about the rankings, but you are incorrect if you pick anything other than Pharaoh as number one.

House of the Day (and Random Bidtits; 9/4/2018)

First off, HAPPY (belated) CAPITAL DAY!!!  Yes, it’s that time of year where we celebrate the hard-fought battles of capitalists past.  I’ve often struggled with officially moving the Capital Day holiday to the first Monday of March but I fear that without a September Capital Day to keep you grounded in the realities of elementary economics, you risk slipping into the throes of organized labor.  Let’s not let that happen.

Capitalism.  Because our financial lifeblood flows through this fount. (Thanks for the term, Uncle Ethan.  Since day one, Uncle Ethan has been a major source of inspiration for this blog.  And to quote a mutual friend, “sometimes I got the sugar, and he got the coffee.  Sometimes I got the coffee, and he got the sugar.”)

Plus one more shout-out to Arch Stanton.  Arch recently shared what has proven to be one of the greatest articles I’ve ever read.  It’s American Hippopotamus by Jon Mooallem.  Don’t let his New York Times leanings/credentials scare you, this article (https://magazine.atavist.com/american-hippopotamus) will entertain you for nearly two hours and it’s well worth your time.  You can also click the article link and listen to the audio version.  Reading this, I even learned about a new animal, the dik-dik.

Some of you may be aware that I have a FOB Ukrainian co-worker.  Today, someone asked her if she’s ever considered getting a tattoo.  She responded that she wouldn’t get one now but did consider getting one many years ago at the age of 12.  Before I could connect my brain with my mouth, I blurted out “of what, a map of Ukraine?  That would’ve been a great idea up until 2014.”  Other office mates shared a solid chuckle.  She turned commie red with embarrassment.

This readership may be aware that I’m an amateur real estate and property appreciator in my spare time (I prefer to surf the web rather than work on my spare tire).  As such, I’d like to begin a new category of posts around houses and real estate.  Postings on the topic will come far and few between.  Lucky you.  I won’t bore you with details like price or square footage – the photos are enough before I lose your ever-fleeting attention.  Today’s house of the day used to belong to something of a personal hero of mine: Howard Robard Hughes.  Without further ado, the house:

May the virtues of American Capitalism keep your arrow straight and true.

Arch Stanton Guest Post: Episode 19 in Today I Learned – Timothy Dexter

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I am sure you know someone in your life who is an idiot – not just a standard, run-of-the-mill idiot, but a truly world-class idiot who things just magically work out for regardless of their ineptitude. Oh, did you go to class and take notes and study and take practice exams, while this person showed up hungover (when they even bothered to show up) and didn’t study at all and still swung a better grade than you? Fuck that guy. This incredibly fortunate dipshit who had everything break their way would look at Timothy Dexter and be outright insulted by his good fortunate resulting from absolutely nothing of his own doing.

Timmy Dexter was born in 1747 in Massachusetts to parents who had emigrated from Ireland; in other words, Dexter was dirt poor and poorly educated, dropping out of eight grade. Before doing anything in his own life, he had a number of strikes against him – a poor Irish-American prior to the Revolutionary War of low birth. Shockingly, this was not as inhibitory as you may have expected. Dexter worked as a leather-working apprentice in South Carolina before schmoozing his way into a wealthy Massachusetts widow’s pants who was nine years his senior with four kids. Dexter knew enough to buy when demand was low – this will be a recurring thread.

While not playing much a role during the Revolutionary War (COWARD!), he spent thousands of dollars on heretofore worthless Continental currency. Fortunately for him, Congress moved shortly after to confirm this currency as the American dollar. Suddenly, Dexter had moved from upper-middle class to exorbitantly wealthy with a blind stroke of luck. A bit of backstory here – as an uneducated Irishman, the existing upper class did not approve of this idiot crashing their parties and acting as an equal. One source cited Bostonian elites wanting to bankrupt him by turning him on to the Continental currency which they were certain had no future. Obviously, this backfired because this is the luckiest idiot in the history of the planet.

Now an extremely wealthy, as well as an extremely new member of high society, Dexter could not be as easily boxed out. This did not stop other, better-educated and more knowledgeable members of the bourgeois from fucking with him endlessly. He was pressured/tricked into shipping bedpans to the West Indies – the elites thought this was hilarious, as the West Indies were full of detestable savages who shit in the streets. Joke’s on those assholes, because bedpans were in huge demand by local high-class ladies. Dexter made a killing on this joke. In a similar vein, some other jokers told him he should sell gloves to the South Sea/Polynesia islands – the joke being they’re all poor and disgusting and would never use gloves! Hilarious! Turns out, merchants crossing the Pacific Ocean bought them en masse to turn around and sell to the Chinese, who LOVED gloves.

You read the header – you know this is only the start. A common parlance of the era was ‘shipping cats to the Indies’ for irresponsible behavior, because the Indies were overwhelmed with stray cats at the time. Spoiler – Dexter heard this and thought ‘that seems like a great idea’. This rich asshole ran around Boston alleyways collecting stray cats, which he promptly dumped onto a southbound ship and marketed as a solution to widespread rat infestation. He sold BOATLOADS of stray cats to islands already filled with cats because he was clever enough to market them as a solution to rats. I always used to shit on marketing majors, but if they have a fraction of the guile of Timothy Dexter, then the insurmountable student loan debt will be worth it.

Is three instances of dumb luck enough to prove a point? Because there’s one more, and it’s a real doozy. In keeping with the ‘saying of the time used to illustrate a fruitless action’, Dexter latched on to “shipping coal to Newcastle”. This was not just a saying at the time, but one that has persisted across generations of Brits to demonstrate the pointlessness of an action due to Newcastle’s widespread fame as a economic powerhouse solely because of it’s ability to churn out coal to supply its factors as well as factories around the rest of England AND the colonies. Newcastle turned out coal like a minor US Senator turns out female summer interns. People everywhere laughed at what a remarkable idiot he was, and were excited to watch what would certainly be his final downfall. Somewhere between the bottles of champagne being popped, but before the cheers, Newcastle coal miners went on strike. Dexter sold his coal to the coal-producing capital of the world for a premium multiple times over.

Dexter, having made a fortunate at exporting the most useless shit on the planet to corners of the world were no one wanted it until they immediately did, decided to turn his attention elsewhere. He was going to publish a book! Remember when I said he dropped out of eight grade? This book was SHIT. The book, titled “A Pickle for the Knowing Ones”, was 8,847 (mostly misspelled) words, almost entirely without punctuation and entirely random capitalization, and included divergent tirades about how much Dexter hated his local politicians and clergy, as well as his wife. Who would want to read this bullshit? EVERYONE apparently. It got eight reprintings, with one addressing the concerns of a lack of punctuation with an addendum full of nothing but commas and periods with a note that readers could distribute them as they please. It’s like the exact opposite of reading my writing.

In his newfound fame, he developed a habit of bringing mistresses to the home he shared with his wife. When his wife, understandably outraged, would scream and yell at him, he would tell his new mistress to ignore her, as it was only the ghost of his ex-wife haunting his bachelor pad. I have never been more divided over “the greatest thing I have ever heard” or “the worst thing you could do to a spouse short of OJ Simpson”. Before long, Dexter was convinced most of his friends were around only because he was wealthy, and decided to fake his death, as one does when they wish to test the loyalty of their friends. Three thousand people showed up to the fake wake, which was immediately spoiled after he stormed out of the back of the hall to cane his wife for not crying hard enough. Gee, why wouldn’t she be upset that her shit-ass husband was dead. I believe this also settles the “awesome or horrible” debacle addressed earlier.

One critic had his disgust with the entire Timothy Dexter experience quoted as. “For what purpose are riches given to some men unless to display in more glowing colours the disgusting deformities of their Characters?”, but that guy still had no idea what was coming. Did you think we were done? Can you believe someone could be even more ridiculous then everything you had already read above? Because this is Timothy Dexter we’re talking about here. Despite the American revolution successfully seceding from the British and monarchy, he anointed himself a Lord. He bought an enormous palace which he covered in statutes of great men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon, Louis XVI, John Hancock, William Pitt, and, uhhh… himself. You’d think this was bold, but really these other guys were fortunate to be merely associated with a man whose placard read “I am the first in the East, the first in the West, and the greatest philosopher in the Western World”. You think you’ve seen luck go to someone’s head, but you will never make the mistake again after learning about Timothy Dexter, the man even myth couldn’t exaggerate.

Arch Stanton Guest Post: Episode 18 in Today I Learned – the Madagascar Plan

In June of 1940, Nazi Germany was kicking about Europe, just being a real group of assholes, as they were wont to do. As big a group of assholes they were, they had not yet evolved into their final asshole form – they were still the Charmeleon to the Charizard of terrible they would soon become. They were “reincorporating” surrounding nations, with France on the immediate horizon, but still had this issue with the Jews. They were EVERYWHERE, with prior efforts to force them to emigrate not taking hold as they had wished (many European Jews interpreted the Nazis’ hostile actions through Kristallnacht and programs encouraging them to leave as a sign they should leave, but many other stayed). Enter: the Madagascar Plan, where the Nazis would shove all the Jews onto boats and ship them to Madagascar.

(I apologize if this all seems too flippant for a truly atrocious period in human history, but I am trying to keep this as light as possible while avoiding being contemptuous, because I think this is an interesting wrinkle of history not many people are familiar with.)

The Nazis were manhandling the French, as everyone in history tends to (excluding all those years Napoleon fought the entire world and won), but the Nazi domestic leaders didn’t know what to with all these Jewish people they had been accumulating as they romped around the continent. Obviously, they couldn’t just STAY, because they were the root of all evil in the world, but they also were not embracing the opportunity to leave as they had hoped (estimates suggest roughly 250,000 of Germany’s 437,000 Jews had voluntarily left by 1939), when one of the heads of the German Foreign Office, Franz Rademacher, figured, ‘hey, the French have this huge tropical island we could drop all of them off at!’ This would get rid of the Jews, plus give them a beautiful tropical island all to themselves. I like to imagine Rademacher figured all these people who had lived in Europe for generations as cobblers or grocers being plotted in the middle of a jungle would lead to a whole bunch of wacky sitcom-esque hi-jinks with monkeys – think Gilligan’s Island but everyone is the Professor.

This would not be the case. Madagascar is a relatively inhospitable territory still today, so you can imagine what it was like in 1940. Yes, France had colonized it, but really only because Africa was treated like one of those game show cash boxes where a fan whips loose bills around – you just grabbed what you could regardless of the practicality or actual use. So Madagascar – useless, remote and inhospitable, with barren lands where the Nazis figured the Jewish population would succumb eventually to the brutal conditions anyway, all of this governed as a police state under the SS. So… the Nazis didn’t originally want to outright kill Jews, but was totally cool if they just, ya know, happened to die.

As of August 15, 1940, this plan was a go, with Adolf Eichmann calling for one million Jews per year for the next four years be relocated to Madagascar. Giving the eventual alternative, this could be confused as a humane alternative, but if we look closer, German experts estimated that – at best – 7,000 families could be reasonably accommodated on the vastly underdeveloped island, with many others stating 500 families was the best the Nazis could reasonable expect to live there. So this was not quite as benevolent as it originally seemed once you realize they were no longer okay if Jewish prisoners died, but were actively banking on the fact most would perish in order to make room for others.

How did this plan get so close to fruition and then fall apart? Reports suggest that this plan was considered so certain, construction of Polish ghettos were ceased nationwide. Germany had very few ships to spare for a long trip to the African coast, which was implausible due to the British blockade placing them essentially on lock-down. The Nazis figured, once they repossessed Madagascar from France, they would be on to hammering Britain into submission, relieving them of the blockade as well as supplying them with suitable merchant ships. Once they began to struggle against Britain, the Nazis turned for help to Soviet Foreign Minister Ribbentrop, who had originally endorsed the idea and agreed to ship Russian Jews as well to the island, but ignored the plea to help by lending ships.

The Nazis had kept the Jews imprisoned in ghettos around Poland, but figured they could be shipped to Siberia after they flipped the script on the Soviets and conquered them. If you’re rusty on your World War II history, England did not succumb to the Nazis, and Russia turned out to be a bit more of a dilemma than anticipated. Within a year, the Madagascar Plan was discarded and the Holocaust had began shortly after.

Lest we end on the most distressing of terms, let’s consider had this worked out. Not the Nazi resettlement plan, which was essentially a death sentence, but one of the earlier plans to do so (German and Polish Jews had independently investigated the legitimacy of relocating and establishing a Jewish state in 1885 and 1937, respectively). Had a fair number of Jewish families been permitted to settle without the existential threat of a police state that would just as prefer them dead, imagine if Madagascar had been used instead of modern-day Israel as a designated Jewish state.

Geographically, Madagascar is 226.6k square miles whereas Israel is 8.5k square miles if we include the disputed West Bank, and provides far more available natural resources like chromite, coal, salt and bauxite in addition to an expansive fishing and ocean shipping industry rather than a relatively small reserve of crude oil in Israel (sorry if this feels like a seventh grade social studies class). The Jewish population would likely have resisted this alien terrain seeing as how their religious beliefs lay just as significant a claim to Jerusalem and the region as do modern day Palestinians. Without really diving into that whole thing, we would probably STILL talk about a one- or two-state solution in Israel, albeit without nearly the intensity we currently do. The Jewish stereotype of well-educated white collar families would be likely be replaced with Jewish sea captains and miners, which is probably the furthest apart two stereotypes could be. A Jewish nation in the Indian Ocean would not face the persistent existential threat posed by Iran, Egypt and Syria, but would probably would find some new neighbors outraged by their presence (sorry native Malagasians!) (and let’s be honest, the Iranians – I have a hunch they’re going to piss-y with a Jewish nation-state no matter where it is). Madagascar would likely not be the forgotten outpost it essentially is today, and would not have immediately fallen in disrepair because the rest of the world forgot about it too. This is my new favorite historical what-if.

Arch Stanton Guest Post: Episode 17 in Today I Learned – Operation Paul Bunyan

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As we sit delicately on the precipice of World War III with North Korea while our Cheeto-dusted Commander in Chief pouts and yells at the North Korean Rocket Boy, let’s revisit an oft-forgotten incident that had the White House convinced World War III was about to break out in 1976 between American and South Korean forces and North Korea over a precariously located poplar tree.

Let’s set the scene here, which is essential to understanding why this particular poplar was of powerful political passions. On the western side of the demilitarized zone was a spot called Panmunjom. At Panmunjom, the North and South Koreans squabbled over a sliver of land. There was a South Korean/American outpost at the end of their designated property with a particular observation checkpoint directly on the edge of the North Korean property; soldiers called this little shed the “Point of No Return” – you were literally yards away from North Korean soldiers who would deliberately antagonize American soldiers and wave guns at them in an attempt to provoke a response which, if given would lead to escalation or possible kidnapping into North Korea. If you got kidnapped into North Korean – SPOILER – you would not be returning. Soldiers HAAAAAAATED this task, as you could imagine. Not only were you standing guard alone, you would be spit at (or on, in some instances), guns pointed at you, with black soldiers reporting slurs and monkey gestures thrown at them. Go ahead and scratch North Korea off your list of potential spring break ’19 destinations.

To protect soldiers standing guard from disappearing overnight from this outpost, a larger more secure watchtower was constructed and manned by the UN on an outcropping to look down from above. Great! Problem solved! Except in the spring, this one tree, this ONE FUCKING POPLAR TREE, would blossom and completely eclipse the outpost, defeating the entire point of the watchtower. The American outpost commander did exactly what any grumpy dad would do when an unkempt bush questionably located between a neighbor’s property and his own infringed on his own: he cut that bitch down.

The South Korean/American delegation sent ten men, including three Americans to cut this shit down. They trotted out to this disputed sliver of land, and began to chop away with axes at this tree. The North Korean commander came out, furious (again – this is the most tense neighborly-shrub dispute in the history of the world) and declared KIM IL SUNG HIMSELF had planted and nourished this tree, and they needed to stop immediately. Captain Arthur Bonifas, being the badass he was, turned his back to this tiny pouting Korean man and went back to chopping at the tree. The Northerner left and returned shortly after with approximately thirty men and again demanded the Southern delegation leave. Captain Bonifas, as he had done before, turned his back on the North Koreans, who did not take this insult twice, and proceeded to beat him. Chaos exploded, everyone panicked and split, and within twenty to thirty seconds, the scrum ended with two Americans in critical condition after being bludgeoned with the axes they had been using. Captain Bonifas and another soldier died from their wounds before the day was over.

“Outraged” seems to be a woefully insufficient way to describe the American response to this provocation. To further this feeling, the North Koreans quickly released a statement saying they requested a halt to the tree chopping, at which point they were attacked, and the causalities were the result of the Americans’ actions attacking them. The Americans “officially” considered three responses, but really only two and half-ish: 1. Full-on assault: This would essentially begin World War III, which is what everyone desperately hoped to avoid, especially the US who was already floundering in a bogged-down war in Vietnam at the same. 2. Nothing: This is the half-ish idea. Have you ever known America to stand down and avoid a confrontation? There was never a chance the Americans were going to let the murder of two soldiers slide while the North Koreans cockily egged them on from across the bridge. 3. “Cut down the tree with the aid of overwhelming force.” Fucking. Booyah.

On August 21, 1976, the Americans responded with extreme prejudice with Operation Paul Bunyan. After being elevated to DEFCON-3 (only the third time the military-readiness system had been that high, along with immediately after 9/11 and the Yom Kippur War between Egypt and Syria against Israel in 1973), the shit was about to hit the fan. At 8 am, two eight-man teams went to the tree covered in Kevlar and armed with axes and side arms. You will see how quaint those side arms are shortly. Men on the teams had to volunteer for the mission because leadership was legitimately concerned that the North Koreans would open fire and attempt to escalate the situation, so to be standing on a ladder with an ax mere yards away from a North Korean firing squad was what many would call “a big ask”. Now, these teams were not alone. With them into the questionable zone went two 30-man security platoons (considering the agreement that only thirty men from either side be allowed in the zone at once, this was provocative enough in itself). So here we are, with 76 men in the secured zone already while two men simultaneously worked a chainsaw on opposite sides of the tree.

A team from another company had activated denotation charges underneath the bridge and established a machine gun nest near the American outpost. The South Koreans organized a 64-man task force consisting of special forces specially trained in tae kwon do for close quarters combat, who showed up at the last minute with rifles, grenade launchers and claymore explosives strapped to their chests. So much for not escalating the situation. When South Korea commits, they fucking COMMIT.

The engineer teams are going to town on this tree. when the North Koreans noticed and responded with some 200 men with assault rifles and machine guns. Commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Vierra identified their response, and radioed in for the REAL shit. Twenty American utility helicopters outfitted with machine guns rose from behind the South Korean outpost, along with seven fully stocked Cobra helicopters hovering a few dozen yards away from the most fraught-over tree in world history, all with artillery targeted at the suddenly vastly outgunned North Koreans. One of the guys on the ground reported how it seemed the choppers covered the entire horizon behind them.

That is a hilarious amount of overkill to chop a tree down, but America doesn’t do hilarious overkill – they do downright PREPOSTEROUS. A fleet of B-52s stormed overhead from a Japanese airbase, each flanked by F-4s with South Korean F-5s and F-86s patrolling the airzone at higher altitude – although still low enough to be in sight of all parties on the ground. An American artillery unit settled a fleet of Hawk guided missiles on the ridge overlooking the questioned area, while the USS Midway stationed near Guam had earlier sent every plane on-board toward the area (along with three nuclear-capable bombers), which just so happened to be popping up on North Korean radar on a direct trajectory to Pyongyang at roughly 8:30 am. A separate air base in Japan had a dozen C-130s fueled and lined up on the edge of the runway nose-to-tail for further instructions. Henry Kissinger and President Ford both sat patiently in the Oval Office awaiting updates, prepared to hand down further commands should all the above somehow, staggeringly, not be enough.

So, for about forty-five minutes, four engineers took turns standing on the roof of a jeep pruning limbs off a tree, while North Koreans assembled and pointed a machine gun at them with fighter jets and bombers circled overhead with a dozen helicopters hovering behind them, with a platoon of South Korean lunatics strapping claymore explosives to their chest, all while the President sat and listened in.

The next day, North Korea had issued a statement accepting blame for the death of the American soldiers, the first time they had accepted any blame whatsoever for any skirmishes at any checkpoint, despite even the UN agreeing the were almost always responsible. The United States responded their apology was not accepted, but noted it was a step in the right direction as they wished to avoid escalating the situation any further. This is the story of the time North Korea thought they wanted some shit, to which America responded by taking its collective dick out and slapping it on their foreheads, for which the North Koreans then apologized for impeding the dick’s trajectory.

(Note – I primarily used an article from the Atavist (https://magazine.atavist.com/axes-of-evil-north-korea-dmz-tree-murders) for this. If this story interests you, and you want to read the specifics like how the on-ground commander jeopardized the lines of communication so the White House couldn’t interfere, or how they went about selecting the most physically imposing individuals for the “Point of No Return” outpost or, ya know, ACTUALLY journalism, I strongly recommend checking it out. It is indeed this outlandish and worth your time.)