Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel signing the ratified surrender terms for the German military in Berlin. (Wikimedia)

On this day in 1945…

…the representatives of Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, Germany’s supreme military command, signed the German Instrument of Surrender in the presence of Allied and Soviet commanders, officially ending the Second World War in Europe. (Pictured above, Chief of the Supreme High Command of the German Armed Forces Wilhelm Keitel signing the ratified surrender terms for the German military in Berlin.)

Although the 26 countries that officially opposed the Axis Powers of World War II are now best known collectively as the Allies or Allied Powers, their formal name midway through the war was the United Nations. This followed a declaration on January 1, 1942 that would form the basis of the modern U.N. (which was founded in its current form on June 26, 1945).

The names for the four leading combatants of the alliance — the U.S., U.K., Soviet Union, and China — includes The Big Four, The Trusteeship of the Powerful, and The Four Policemen.

The origin of the term Axis stems from a treaty signed by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in October 1936. Mussolini declared shortly after that all other European countries would henceforth rotate on the Rome-Berlin axis, thus creating the term “Axis”. The name stuck following the 1940 Tripartite Pact that brought Japan into the alliance.

Articles of Interest: Mercenaries and Fragmented Forests

How private military contractors are changing the future of warfare…

The private military industry allows you to fight wars without having your own blood on the gambling table. And drones just do that as well. If you think about this as an arms-control issue, both [drones and private military companies] should be part of the same category, because they allow national governments to get involved in fighting without actually having citizens do it. And that creates moral hazard for policymakers, because it lowers the barriers of entry into conflict.

Technology allows [private armed groups] to punch above their weight class. And technology’s ever cheaper, ever more available, and so drones and other types of technologies—weapons systems, night-vision goggles—that’s all on the open market as well. So we’ve got an open market for force, swishing around with these markets of technologies. Supply and demand are going to find each other, and that allows a very small group of people to do some big damage.

Forests are fragmenting, at great cost to biodiversity…

[M]ore than 70% of remaining forest is within just 1km (about 0.6 miles) of an edge, while a 100 metre stroll from an edge would enable you to reach 20% of global forests … In Europe and the U.S., the vast majority of forest is within 1km of an edge – some of the most “remote” areas in these regions are a stones throw from human activity.

If you want remote forests on a large scale you’ll have to head to the Amazon, the Congo, or to a lesser degree, central and far eastern Russia, central Borneo and Papua New Guinea.

[B]y drawing together scientific evidence from seven long-term fragmentation experiments, Haddad and colleagues show that fragmentation reduces biodiversity by up to 75%. This exacerbates the extinction risk of millions of forest species, many of which we still don’t know much about.

The survival of large, carbon-rich trees – the building blocks of any intact forest ecosystem – is reduced in smaller and more isolated forest fragments. These patches thus fail to maintain viable populations, which over time are doomed – an “extinction debt” yet to be paid.

There is nothing wrong with technology in the classroom…

Students who have adapted to and now rely on using technology shouldn’t be cut off from this resource in the classroom. Many students use technological tools to overcome learning differences, to organize information, to engage in discussions that help them think through material. And they are more successful because of it. Some students with learning challenges have adapted to using technology without having to report a disability and announce that disability to their classmates or professors. Professors might not know that students in their classrooms are dealing with learning disabilities and are succeeding because of assistive technology. These students may not be registered with the “Office of Disability Services”, they might not be “diagnosed”, and have their learning differences medicalized — but then again, why should they have to in order to use the tools that help them?

Where the world’s economic elites live…

London is on top, besting New York City, which fell to fourth place. San Francisco, previously number four, has fallen out of the top 20 entirely. Singapore rises into the top 10, to number three, and Hong Kong is up three spots from 2013, to five. The top 10 also has two new European entrants: Frankfurt has the sixth most ultra-high-net individuals, and Paris has the seventh. Osaka, Beijing, and Zurich round out the top 10.

The dominance of Asian cities illustrates a larger trend. For the first time, Asia overtook North America as the region with the second-largest growth in ultra-high-net individuals. The wealthy in Asia also now hold more money overall than those in North America: $5.9 trillion compared to $5.5 trillion. However, Europe still reigns supreme, with the greatest growth in the number of super-rich and with the wealthiest super-rich overall. Europe’s high-net individuals hold $6.4 trillion.

[Adjusted for population,] smaller cities dominate. Geneva tops the list, with 144 super-rich individuals per 100,000 residents, followed by Swiss counterpart Zurich, with 71. Home to fabled Swiss banks, these cities have long been the favored locations of global plutocrats. As the table below shows, Singapore and Hong Kong retain their high placement, ranking third and fifth, respectively. London drops to eighth, New York to 19th, Paris to 24th and Tokyo to 32nd.

America And The Booming Global Arms Trade

Like every other industry in the 21st century, weapons manufacturing has become increasingly globalized, especially in a world of rising powers and subsequent anxieties about security, rivalry, and terrorism. Al Jazeera reports on the latest study by the well respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which found that the arms trade has never been stronger:

SIPRI researchers Pieter D. Wezeman and Siemon T. Wezeman found that the “volume of international transfers of major weapons” between 2010 and 2014 was 16 percent higher than it had been in the prior four years.

The United States was the biggest exporter during that period, ahead of Russia and China. American weaponry accounted for 31 percent of all exports between 2010 and 2014, the study states.

“It is by far the largest exporter, and its exports are definitely increasing,” Siemon Wezeman told Al Jazeera. “It’s gaining on the main competitors. There are a number of reasons for that, of course. A very important one is that a number of markets where the U.S. is normally quite strong are gaining again, especially the Middle East.”

Perhaps it is unsurprising that the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nation would play a major role in the global weapons trade. Having far and above the largest and most technologically advanced military has helped cultivate and sustain a well-developed domestic sector for researching and producing all sorts of weapons of war, which can then seek more markets and profits abroad (especially as the U.S. has an interest in propping up particular states for geopolitical reasons).

Courtesy of SIPRI

Sure enough, the world’s former superpower — and some would say re-emerging global power — is not that far behind in supplying the world with weapons. Most of the remaining exporters are also major powers, although a few (namely Italy, Spain, and Ukraine) reflect the presence of one or two companies, rather than any international power projection.

As for the main drivers of this industry:

Middle Eastern states such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel accounted for about one-third of American exports. But American weapons manufacturers also shipped a significant chunk of their output to Asia and Oceania, in particular Korea and Australia. Wezeman also cited India as a “new market for the U.S.,” and a source of growth.

India, in fact, has dramatically increased importation of foreign arms, bringing in 140 percent more weaponry between 2010 and 2014 than it had between 2005 and 2009. The country now leads in arms imports, followed by Saudi Arabia, China, and the United Arab Emirates.

And if you think Americans’ declining interest in propping up an ever-more expensive and bloated military will help things, on the contrary: private sector manufacturers are only more likely to make up the difference for fewer domestic purchases abroad:

“The USA has long seen arms exports as a major foreign policy and security tool, but in recent years exports are increasingly needed to help the U.S. arms industry maintain production levels at a time of decreasing U.S. military expenditure,” said Fleurant in a statement accompanying the SIPRI report.

According to Wezeman, the United States government has an interest in maintaining those production levels because some of the revenue from exports goes into research and development.

“Without exports, the U.S. arms industry would survive,” he said. “It’s just that for the U.S. government, R&D would become more expensive because nobody’s sharing the burden with them.”

The export market for American arms manufacturers will likely grow “from 5 to 10 percent of their total output to 25 or 30 percent, maybe more,” he said.

Below is a graph showing the 65-year trend in major weapons transfers internationally.

SIPRI

China’s Forgotten Contributions to World War II

Like the Soviet Union, China played a large but understated role in history’s greatest conflict, essentially doing to Japan what the Russians did to its German ally: draining Axis troops and resources through a constant and ferocious battle of attrition, all while the Western Allies opened up another invasion route. China had been fighting Japan long before the world war had even broken out, and its experiences were by far among the longest and bloodiest of any participant.

Yet this vital contribution is barely acknowledged among the more prevailing U.S.-centered version of events. At most, the Chinese — again, like the Russians — are footnoted as allies who did do some fighting, yet are not accorded due credit for the sheer scale and strategic importance of their contributions (not always purposefully, although the Cold War did not endear us to giving the Communist enemy much credit for helping end the war of all wars).

Oxford historian Rana Mitter has endeavored to resolve this problem with the new book Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-1945which explores the full breadth of China’s experience of the war, from the Japanese invasion that took place years before, to the political chaos the followed the conqueror’s expulsion.

Judging from an interview with the author on Pacific Standard, the book seems both comprehensive and balanced, revealing modern China’s own complex relationship with its past (unlike the other Allies, the Chinese remain comparatively more reserved about their World War II experience, for reasons the article touches on).

I plan on reading the book soon, and I recommend you all check out the interview hyperlinked in the preceding paragraph. It really sold me on why this is such an important effort, especially the following quote:

The scale of China’s involvement in the war was massive. Chiang, for example, fielded four million troops at the Nationalist’s height, while China as a whole lost an estimated 14 million in the war. Had China folded, Japan’s capacity to fight the U.S. or even the Soviets would have been vastly amplified.

For point of reference, the U.S. suffered total of over 420,000 combat deaths in the entire war — a sobering contrast to China’s very different experience in the war (especially as half to two-thirds of Chinese deaths were civilians).

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety

If you look at the Pentagon’s official list of how many nuclear weapons accidents, serious accidents, we have — what they call “broken arrows” — the list contains 32 accidents. But I was able to obtain a document through the Freedom of Information Act that said just between the years 1950 and 1968, there were more than 1,000 accidents involving nuclear weapons. And many of the serious accidents I found don’t even appear on the Pentagon’s list. So I’m sure there were many more that I was unable to uncover that occurred.

The problem today is that we have very aging weapons systems — both in the United States and Russia. It’s very old technology. Our principle nuclear bomber, the B-52, hasn’t been built since John F. Kennedy was president. Our principle land-based missile, the Minuteman III, was put into the ground originally in 1970. [It] was supposed to be retired in the early 1980s, and the infrastructure is aging — the wiring, the computers in our Minuteman launch complexes use 9-inch floppy discs. There’s all kinds of potential for problems there — and in Russia, the same thing.

—  Eric Schlosser, in an interview with NPR about his new book on nuclear weapons.

Video — Superpower for Hire: Rise of the Private Military

Today’s post will be light but no less interesting. Vice Media, known for covering many interesting but neglected cultural and sociopolitical topics, has a short documentary on the controversial private military industry, which has risen in both influence and popularity across the world. Though its only 14-minutes long, it offers a pretty good look at this largely hidden world.

Given the rising number of low-intensity conflicts in many parts of the world, and the preference for dealing with through non-governmental means, this will certainly not be the last we hear of PMCs. What are your thoughts and reactions regarding this video?

Check out other Vice videos here.

Arlington National Cemetery

Few symbols are more iconic on Memorial Day than Arlington National Cemetery, which is located in Arlington County, Virginia, directly across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial. Like Memorial Day, this historic treasure has its origins in the American Civil War, which remains the deadliest conflict in U.S. history. 

It was established during the war on the grounds of Arlington House, which had been the estate of the family of Mary Anna (Custis) Lee, wife of Confederate general Robert E. Lee and a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington (George Washington’s wife). Most military personnel who died in battle near Washington, D.C., were buried at the United States Soldiers’ Cemetery in Washington, D.C., or Alexandria Cemetery in Alexandria, Virginia, but by late 1863 both were nearly full.

On July 16, 1862, Congress passed legislation authorizing the U.S. federal government to purchase land for national cemeteries for military dead, and put the U.S. Army Quartermaster General in charge of this program.In May 1864, Union forces suffered large numbers of dead in the Battle of the Wilderness, leading Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs to find eligible sites for large new military cemetery. Within weeks, his staff recommended Arlington Estate: it was high and free from floods, had a view of the capital, and was aesthetically beautiful. Moreover, as the home of the supreme commander of the Confederate States of America, its confiscation had an important political purpose. 

The government acquired Arlington at a tax sale in 1864 for $26,800, equal to $400,000 today. Mrs. Lee did not appeared in person but rather had sent an agent, who was turned away. In 1874, Custis Lee, the eldest son of Robert E. Lee and the heir to the property, sued the government for ownership of Arlington. In 1882, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor, deciding that Arlington had been confiscated without due process. Congress subsequently returned the estate to him, and shortly after Custis Lee sold it back to the government for $150,000 (over $3.2 million today) at a signing ceremony with Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln.

On May 13, 1864, William Henry Christman was the first soldier to be buried (although burials were not formally authorize until June 15, 1864). The date or name of the first African American burial is unknown but said to have occurred on either July 2 or July 3, 1864; Arlington did not desegregate its burial practices until 1948 under President Harry Truman. The southern portion of the land now occupied by the cemetery was known as Freedman’s Village, a settlement for freed slaves. Over 1,100 freed slaves had lived there during and after the Civil War. They were evicted in 1888 when the estate was repurchased by the government and dedicated as a military installation.

The first national Memorial Day ceremony in Arlington National Cemetery was conducted by President Herbert Hoover on May 30,1929. Commemorated on the last Monday of May, Memorial Day honors men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War – the bloodiest war in American history – and became an official federal holiday in 1971.

Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades. Cities and towns across the United States host Memorial Day parades each year, often incorporating military personnel and veterans. Some of the largest parades take place in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. Additionally, many people take the opportunity to reflect on the noble sacrifices made by our troops throughout history and to this day.   

Victory Day

Russia’s iconic “Iwo Jima” moment — the raising of a flag over the Reichstag, during the seminal Battle of Berlin (2 May 1945).

Yesterday, May 9th, was Victory Day (also known simply as the Ninth of May) a holiday that commemorates the defeat of Nazi Germany by the  USSR, which ultimately ended the Second World War in Europe. Although celebrated by most former Soviet republics (especially Belarus and Ukraine, which bore the brunt of the conflict), it is an especially big event in the Soviet Union’s successor state, Russia, where it is known as the “Great Patriotic War.”

Victory came at a tremendous cost: the Eastern Front was by far the largest and bloodiest theatre of World War II, and the deadliest conflict in human history, claiming the lives of over 30 million people (half or more being civilians). The USSR lost at least 9 million soldiers — a third of them in Axis captivity — and just as many civilians, if not more. Some sources suggest that as many as 17 to 27 million Soviet citizens were killed, while others have calculated that perhaps as many as 20 million Soviet civilians lost their lives.

By comparison, the United States lost over a quarter of a million men for the entire war, and fewer than a 3,000 civilians, while the Germans lost 5 million troops on the Eastern Front (and perhaps another one to two million civilians when the Russians invaded). So many young men were killed that the USSR’s population was nearly 50 million less than it should have been, given the families that these men would’ve had. To this day, many former Soviet states have an imbalance between men and women, having not fully recovered from the scale of dead men.

This is a scale of carnage and death that is difficult to grasp. Think of all the pain and suffering caused by loss of several thousand troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans). Now amplify that anguish by several million, with nearly 20% of some countries wiped out (namely Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and Poland). The human mind simply can’t process that level of death. How the Soviets managed to move on and rebuild is beyond me.

And while the Soviet Union came out of the war victorious, was economically and structurally devastated. Much of the combat took place in or around densely populated areas, and the brutal actions of both sides contributed to massive loss destruction. The property damage inflicted on the USSR by the Axis invasion was estimated at a cost 679 billion rubles, probably a trillion or more dollars by today’s standards. The siege of a single city, Leningrad, alone cost 1.2 million lives, while the fight over another city, Stalingrad, cost a similar number of lives and by some accounts became the single largest battle in history — not to mention a turning point in the entire war.

In all, the combined damage consisted of complete or partial destruction of 1,710 cities and towns, 70,000 villages/hamlets, 2,508 church buildings, 31,850 industrial establishments, 40,000 miles of railroad, 4100 railroad stations, 40,000 hospitals, 84,000 schools, and 43,000 public libraries. Over 20 million sheep, goats, horses, and other cattle were also slaughtered or driven off. Western Russia, as well Ukraine and Belarus, still bear signs of this devastation (in some cases, fragments of bone and metal have been dug up, though that also happens in Western Europe occasionally).

There is no denying that this sacrifice was instrumental in winning the war. The Russians were dealing with around 85 percent of Axis forces, and German armed forces suffered anywhere from 80 to 93 percent of its military deaths in the Eastern Front. If the USSR had capitulated, Allied forces would have had to contend with a lot more resistance. The war would have been far bloodier and more drawn out. The Russians nearly bled themselves dry in our place.

But this wasn’t merely the result of bravery and stereotypical Russian resoluteness (though those were certainly factors). The markedly brutal nature of warfare on the Eastern Front was the result of the often willful disregard for human life by both sides: Hitler and Stalin each used terror and mass murder to further their aims, and had no qualms about leading millions to their deaths in the name of victory. This included victimizing their own troops and civilians, through mass deportation, threats of execution for cowardice, and human wave attacks.

And keep in mind that all this is in addition to atrocities carried out by the Nazis, including routine massacres of civilians and the brick-by-brick destruction of entire communities (and their inhabitants). There was simply no parallel to this on the Western Front. According to Time:

By measure of manpower, duration, territorial reach and casualties, the Eastern Front was as much as four times the scale of the conflict on the Western Front that opened with the Normandy invasion.

The fact is, as monstrous as Stalin was, and as brutal as the Soviets tended to be (before, during, and after the war), we arguably needed that kind of viciousness on our side in order to win. To put it crudely, Soviet Russia was the bad cop in the war. It took playing Hitler at his own cruel game to put a stop to him, and only the USSR was willing and able to do so. Such is the nature of war. The horror and destruction of the Eastern Front proves exemplifies, in the most extreme example, the fact that most conflicts are hardly black-and-white, nor are they matters of honor and glory. It’s simply about winning in whatever way you can, period. There’s no romanticizing that, although we can certainly do so for the average Soviet soldier who was mixed up in all this, and fought valiantly to the end.

All this stands in contrast to the Allied experience. We Americans would remember the conflict very different, simply because our conduct and memory of the war was much cleaner – we were a democracy fighting a conventional conflict against a fraction of the enemy’s forces. We weren’t occupied and invaded.* We didn’t need to use heartless and self-destructive tactics (nor could we, given the vast differences in the ethics of our political and military leadership).

I’m in no way denigrating the U.S. contribution to the war effort (nor that of other Allied members), especially considering that America helped prop up the USSR during the earlier stages of the way until it could recover its own industrial output.  Moreover, the U.S. did much of the heavy lifting in the Asian theatre — although the Russians, not to mention the Chinese, played a much underrated role in that effort as well (indeed, the latter’s costly resistance to the Japanese was instrumental to weakening them).

I’m simply noting the obvious fact that World War II could not have been won without the Soviet Union, at least not without investing far more of our own blood, money, and time. It’s very unfortunate that few people outside of Russia seem to realize that – as if the sacrifice itself wasn’t horrific enough, it’s barely even acknowledged.

So while the Russians, as well as other Europeans, celebrate their hard-fought victory over Nazi oppression, there’s a level of somberness that underlies all that glory that we can barely relate with. They’ll keep on romanticizing of course, as humans are wont to do. And indeed, the typical soldier deserves it. But we mustn’t forget just how messy and gray most of these conflicts tend to be. With all that said, my heart goes out to the tens of millions of men, women, and even children who fought and died in the single most horrific conflict in human history.

The International Arms Market

The Economist’s #Dailychart  from yesterday revealed the countries that buy and sell the most weapons. The United States, Russia, Germany, China, and France accounted for three-quarters of international arms exports over the past five years, with the first two taking the lion’s share of the export market (largely a legacy of the Cold War, which led both nations to build up a massive and still influential indigenous arms industry).

 

Other major arms dealers include the U.K., Spain, Ukraine, Italy, and Israel. Only 10 other countries, mostly in the developed world, have some sort of presence in the global arms market.

Notably, China — which was once a net importer of weapons, mostly from the U.S.S.R. — has tripled its share of exports in that time, overtaking France and set to surpass Germany as the third largest arms dealer (it still receives almost as many weapons as it sells, however). Germany’s significant role in arms dealing is interesting given the country’s otherwise pacifistic and low-key foreign policy, which is characterized by a reluctance to intervene in international affairs.

Some of the bigger importers include rising powers like India, China, and to lesser degrees Pakistan and South Korea. The Persian Gulf nations of the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia also top the list, as does the tiny but influential city-state of Singapore (which is said to have one of the most advanced and well-trained armed forces in the world). Australia’s fairly high import rate likely reflect’s its growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region and its desire to play a bigger role therein.

Needless to say, this is revealing stuff. Read more about it here.

No Glory For Killed Soldiers

The following was a very interesting read, although I wonder if the issues described in the excerpt and wider article are really anything new in American history (or for that matter, military history in general).

Throughout history, our nation’s greatest leaders have understood on a deeply personal level that however honorably a soldier acquits himself, he can die in vain, and that it is the responsibility of the leaders and citizenry to see to it that they don’t. Our country has lost its sense of that responsibility to a horrifying extent. Our generals have lost the capability to succeed and the integrity to admit failure. Our society has lost the courage and energy to hold them accountable. Over the last decade, our top leaders have wasted the lives of our sons, daughters, and comrades with their incompetence and hubris. After each failure, our citizens have failed to hold them accountable, instead underwriting new failed strategies as quickly as their predecessors with our apathy and sense of detachment. And then we use the tired paeans of “never forget” and “honor the fallen” to distract ourselves from our guilt in the affair. When we blithely declare that they did not die in vain, we deface their honor by using it to wipe the blood from our hands.

Thomas E. Ricks, Yes, Marcus. They Did Die in Vain.

What are your thoughts?