Iraq War, 15 Years Later

Exactly 15 years ago today, president George W. Bush announced that the United States was going to attack Iraq with a campaign of “shock and awe” and then invade and occupy the country due to weapons of mass destruction that were never to be found.

Estimates are that up to 500,000 Iraqis were murdered or killed as “collateral damage” or as a result of the war.

15 years on, Iraqi leaders, like Prime Minister al-Abadi, worry about corruption and about getting torn apart by US and Iran as each try to influence and control Iraq:

To see how al-Abadi plans to do that, TIME sat down with him in his office, inside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, in the palace where Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq until the U.S. invasion in March, 2003. During the discussion, Abadi spoke about the “epidemic” of corruption in his country, what it will take to keep ISIS from regrouping, as well as regional issues such as the war in Syria and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Prime Minister was also frank about the support Iraq received from Iran, and pleaded with the Islamic Republic and the U.S. not to turn his country into a battlefield for any proxy conflict. “Keep your differences away from Iraq,” he said.

Iraqi members of parliament, meanwhile, worry about the US using the fight against ISIS as an excuse to re-occupy the country:

Knooz Media quoted MP Ali al-Morshidy as saying Sunday that the U.S. administration is plotting to expand its “military bases in Iraq under the pretext of fighting the Islamic State (IS) group and providing security advice for the Iraqi government.”

The American public, meanwhile remains fairly divided by people who say the war was worth it and those who say it wasn’t:

Nearly half (48%) of Americans say the decision to use military force was wrong, while slightly fewer (43%) say it was the right decision, according to a Pew Research Center survey, conducted March 7-14 among 1,466 adults. Current opinions about the war in Iraq are little different than in early 2014, when 50% said the decision to use force was wrong and 38% said it was right.

For a more in-depth Iraq war veteran perspective, you can listen to a fascinating interview from Vince Emanuele, an Iraq war veteran and community organizer.

Gen. David Petraeus, who led U.S. forces in Iraq during the difficult “surge” period, was asked about the war.  And while he could not say much about the success of the war, he had nothing but good things to say about the Americans who sacrificed and fought in the war:

“I think everybody who was in Iraq, who served there, who knows the sacrifice it entails, who knows the cost in blood and in treasure… has been frustrated to see how the country slid back after we left in late 2011,” Petraeus said in an exclusive interview. “But at the end of the day, I think we also have a degree of quiet pride that when our country needed us, we answered the call.”

The “truly remarkable Americans” who joined the military after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks knew that their country would send them to war, said Petraeus, who added that it was an incredible privilege for him to lead U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Our job was to do what our country needed us to do to carry out the policies that were decided,” Petraeus said. “We certainly did that to the best of our ability. The accomplishments during the surge, in particular in Iraq, were truly historic, if you think about driving violence down by some 85% and bringing a country back together that had been on the verge of an all-out Sunni-Shia civil war.”


The Stratford Heist.

It started with a man who staged a fake play on Shakespeare’s gravestone.  Why would he do it?  In reality, he wanted to scan the grave with a radar device to prove that Shakespeare’s grave actually had a compartment with hidden works inside.  He came up with the theory from clues left at the alter:

Green began to concoct a story surrounding a well-known cypher at Shakespeare’s grave. While researching his story, he visited The Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, where William Shakespeare was not only baptized but also buried. Green studied the known cypher and tried to come up with some fictional solution.

Instead of coming up with a solution for his book, he noticed a small, real-life discrepancy. This discrepancy was the key to cracking the previously unsolvable code. Now, he just needed to prove his theory beyond a shadow of a doubt and to do that, he would need a plan, which he later dubbed ‘The Stratford Heist’.

Instead of uncovering secret works, however, it appears that the scan instead uncovered the fact that the Bard’s skull was likely stolen many years ago by grave robbers:

A story often dismissed as wild fiction, that 18th-century grave robbers stole Shakespeare’s skull, appears to be true, archaeologists have said.

The first archaeological investigation of Shakespeare’s grave at Holy Trinity church in Stratford-on-Avon has been carried out for a documentary to be broadcast by Channel 4 on Saturday.

The most striking conclusion is that Shakespeare’s head appears to be missing and that the skull was probably stolen from what is a shallow grave by trophy hunters.

Peter Freuchen and his wife Dagmar Cohn

In this 1947 photo, we see arctic explorer Peter Freuchen and his fashion illustrator wife Dagmar Cohn.  Continued below the photo . . .


Freuchen stood 6’7” and participated in several arctic journeys, including a 1,000 mile dogsled trip across Greenland.  He also stared in an Oscar-winning film and wrote more than a dozen books (fiction and nonfiction, including his Famous Book of the Eskimos).  In 1926, he lost a leg to frostbite and amputated his gangrenous toes himself.

During one misadventure, he escaped from a blizzard shelter by cutting his way out of it with a frozen knife fashioned from his own feces.

0733d7d12907adb63482a1b2a013c6b9During World War 2, he was involved in the Danish resistance against Germany and was imprisoned and sentenced to death by the Nazis before he escaped to Sweden.

His first wife was Inuit and his second was a Danish margarine heiress.  He bacame friends with Jean Harlow and Mae West.

And, last but certainly not least, won $64,000 on The $64,000 Question.  He had quite an adventurous life!

Credit: Kottke, Peter Freuchen.

Abandoned Russian Space Shuttles (Burans) in Baikonur, Kazakhstan


In the late 1970s, the Soviet Union decided to essentially rip off the American space shuttle and create their own “bigger and better and more Soviet” version.  The result was the Buran spacecraft. While multiple Burans were built, only one flew in space for about 3 hours.  Then it was put into a building and locked away by the Soviets because the program was just too expensive to run.

Although the Burans live on, albeit in a degraded and failing state due to the natural elements and looters, the boosters that took the Buran to space were completely destroyed in 2012 after a storage roof caved in.  So these guys will probably never fly again (unless they were fully restored and the boosters completely reconstructed).

Recently, some European adventurists sneaked into the facility and took some incredible footage that you can watch on their youtube channel:

You can read more and see more incredible pictures from National Geographic here.

The Buran started off as a copy of the US space shuttle, but quickly took on a life of its own.  The Russians decided to go essentially pilotless, and in fact the one and only Buran flight was done without any crew.  It was essentially a spaceship drone.

If the Russians were able to do autopilot space missions, why couldn’t the Americans?  In Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff there is some discussion about the Mercury astronauts insisting on a design that would allow them to have more control over the space shuttle.  The pilots wanted to feel like they were flying the capsule and not just along for the ride, which was probably more in line with what NASA had in mind at the time.  After all, the Mercury ships were piloted by trained chimps on their test flights!

As for the Soviets, they were known for simply locking things up and walking away when they ran out of money.  And so, you have Russian space shuttles sitting out in the middle of nowhere, rotting away in the dustbin of history.



Allied military government of Germany refused to recognize homosexuals as victims of the holocaust

Everyone is aware of the atrocities by the German people and government that lead to the mass murder of millions of Jews and other minorities prior to and during World War 2.  But what many do not realize is that persecution against homosexuals continued after the concentration/extermination camps were liberated by the Allies.

The Allies did not acknowledge homosexual concentration camp survivors as victims of Nazi persecution.  Indeed, reparations and state pensions available to other groups were refused to gay men, who were still classified as criminals.

The persecution of homosexuals also extended to gay men who played a pivotal role in the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany.  For example, Alan Turing, the man credited with deciphering many German codes during the war and cracking the German’s famous “enigma” code machine, was tried in 1952 for criminal homosexual acts and forced to undergo chemical castration.  Soon after, he killed himself.

Unusual Airplane Designs



Sukhoi SU-47 (1997, 2 produced): Russian experimental fighter aircraft featuring an unconventional forward swept wing/canard configuration. Forward swept wings provide greater maneuverability over conventional wing shapes. A similar American aircraft is the earlier Grumman X-29, which was also experimental.



Antonov An-72 (1977): Soviet transport aircraft. The unconventional placement of the engines benefits from the Coandă effect (which I won’t pretend to fully understand) – the exhaust air flowing over the top of the wings increases lift, resulting in less runway distance required to take off.



Aero Spacelines Super Guppy (1965, 5 produced under both variants): Cargo aircraft made from a modified C-97J, designed to carry large payloads, such as other planes (NASA T-38’s shown).



Blohm and Voss BV-141 (1938, 13-28 produced): German WWII era reconnaissance aircraft, most striking for its asymmetric shape. The position of the cockpit allows for greater downwards visibility, which would be beneficial for the aircraft’s role. The much more conventional approach would be simply to use two engines, such as on the much more widely produced Focke-Wulf Fw-189.



NASA AD-1 (1979, 1 produced): Experimental aircraft built by NASA to test the viability of an oblique wing. The wing would start off normally, but could rotate once in flight.. The oblique wing reduces drag in a similar manner as variable sweep wings (F-111 shown), but the oblique wing has the benefit of reduced complexity (since there is only one moving joint as opposed to two), as well as reducing the shift in the centre of gravity and lift of the aircraft as the wing moves compared to a more typical variable sweep wing.



North American F-82 Twin Mustang (1945, 272 produced): The American military piston powered fighter aircraft, designed as a long range escort fighter. The F-82 was designed to escort B-29 bombers on missions ranging over 3200km as part of the planned invasion of Japan. Japan surrendered before any F-82’s entered service, although F-82’s did see active service during the Korean war.



Beriev Be-200 (1998, 9 produced): Russian amphibious firefighting, search and rescue, and maritime patrol aircraft. Mounting the engines above the wings greatly reduces the amount of water spraying into the engines. You can see this approach used on many other amphibious aircraft such as the Consolidated PBY Catalina.



Scaled Composites Proteus (1998, 1 produced): A one-off high-altitude high-efficiency aircraft designed by the legendary Burt Rutan (who could easily fill up a post of his own). The aircraft has an all composite air frame, greatly reducing its weight. The Proteus has set several altitude records, topping out at over 63,000 feet (double the typical cruising altitude of commercial airliners) and can fly at that altitude for ~18 hours.



NASA M2-F1 (1963, 1 produced): The M2-F1 was one of NASA’s many experimental unpowered aircraft built in the 60’s and 70’s to test the concept of lifting body aircraft, which typically lack wings and generate most or all of their lift from the airframe itself. These tests were mostly geared spacecraft re-entry. Being unpowered gliders, these test vehicles had to be towed into the air, including by a Cadillac convertible on at least one occasion. The SNC Dream Chaser is a modern example of such a lifting body, which is currently in competition for NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract.